Why Not Michal Rozsival?

Jonathan Willis
July 05 2012 10:57AM

If the Edmonton Oilers are having difficulty bolstering their blue line via trade, is there any reason for them not to talk to free agent defenseman Michal Rozsival?

Rozsival is a good fit for the Oilers’ top four in a few ways. He played that role last season for the Phoenix Coyotes – including in the playoffs, as the team advanced to the Western Conference Finals – and has a nice, well-rounded game. He has a hard (and right-handed) shot – though he didn’t get any power play time in Phoenix last season – a good outlet pass, and a conscientious two-way game. He’s not the fastest skater in the world but he’s sound enough positionally to make up for it. He’s not overly physical but does engage, and he’s not overly big but is certainly big enough (6’1”, 212lbs).

Last season, Rozsival saw second-pairing opposition and lots of time in the defensive zone. Despite the tougher minutes, he fared pretty well. He’s done much the same throughout his career – since the lockout, he’s a cumulative plus-55, and has only been a minus player in one of those seasons; more advanced statistical measures show much the same performance year-over-year. There’s also at least some chance that he outperforms next season – an injury in his first game of the year cost him the season’s first two months.

For the Oilers, Rozsival could fill in on virtually any pairing. With a pair of younger players – Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz – slated for big minutes on the right side, Rozsival’s dependability and versatility make him an excellent option. He can handle heavy minutes on even-strength and on the penalty kill, and while he wasn’t used on the power play last season he has had success in a secondary role in those situations since the lockout.

What would a contract look like? The money isn’t likely to be a problem – even in the current climate, he seems like a good bet to go for $3.0 million or less and at 34 it’s hard to imagine teams are lining up to offer him term. He’s not a long-term solution, but as a stopgap until the younger players are a little more proven and the top prospects are a little more NHL-ready it’s tough to argue that he isn’t ideal.

The only real question is injury. Rozsival has missed some time the last few years after being highly durable earlier in his career, and he did take an ugly-looking knee-on-knee hit from Dustin Brown in the playoffs. Any team signing him would need to be confident that he’s either at or will be at 100% in time for training camp.

Personally, I think Rozsival’s well worth talking to, as long as he’s open to a) playing in Edmonton and b) a relatively short-term deal. Certainly the Oilers’ defense looks a lot better with Rozsival as the fifth defender, Whitney as the sixth and Sutton in the number seven slot than it does with Whitney and Sutton on the third pairing and Peckham/Potter as the reserve guy. He’d be an excellent safety net in case Petry stumbles, Justin Schultz isn’t quite as good as advertised as a rookie, or Whitney isn’t completely healthy.

Not only that, but Rozsival can be expected to have a similar short-term impact to that of a player like Niklas Hjalmarsson, and the Oilers wouldn't need to send away anything to get him. The extra bodies on the team - guys like Omark, Peckham and Potter - can either be shopped for draft picks, or in the worst-case scenario put on waivers when the season starts.

This week by Jonathan Willis

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.