The Edmonton Oilers made a number of moves on the first day of free agency, adding several players.  Going into free agency, many had expressed a concern that the loss or potential loss of players like Zack Stortini, Jean-Francois Jacques and Steve MacIntyre would leave them without toughness on the fourth line, but Steve Tambellini moved quickly to address that perceived need, adding Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk to the team.

Along the way, Tambellini also decided to take a chance on a reclamation project – Cam Barker, once a third overall draft pick, more recently waived by the Minnesota Wild.  Barker will almost certainly get a chance to fill the spot of Kurtis Foster, who was reportedly traded to Anaheim moments after the signing was announced.

Cam Barker’s reputation has taken a beating over the last few seasons.  In Minnesota, for instance, at least one fan wrote a lengthy explanation of why no team should be looking to Barker to fix their blue-line problems, which he summarized thusly:

To sum up, he is terrible positionally, he looks to have cinder blocks taped to his legs when he skates, has speed that rivals that of Andrew Brunette (no offense Andrew), has as much emotion on the ice as Johnny Five, and skated away from players that had destroyed Niklas Backstrom in the crease more times than should be allowed for an NHL defenseman.

The numbers, both contextual and scoring, aren’t encouraging either.

Statistic 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
5v5 PTS/60 0.60 0.76 0.17
5v4 PTS/60 7.27 3.36 1.68
QualComp 5 of 9 8 of 9
QualTeam 5 of 9 7 of 9
ZoneStart 58.9% 55.0% 50.8%
Rel. Corsi -2.6 -2.1 -3.7

2010-11 was a career-killer of a season for Barker.  His even-strength scoring, which has always been rather tepid, fell off a cliff into stone hands territory.  The power play, which is probably going to need to be his bread and butter if he is going to stay in the league, was not a friendly place for him the way it had been in the past.  Beyond that, he’s essentially a sub-average third-pairing defenseman at even-strength and has been for years – even when he was racking up the points in Chicago in 2008-09.

Can he bounce back?  It’s difficult to imagine him getting any worse.  the key hope here is that Barker can rekindle his power play performance – if he can do that, he will have value as an offensive specialist towards the bottom of an NHL depth chart.  He’s also still young enough that he at least has the potential to be more than that, though it’s probably asking too much for him to develop into a top-four guy.

The dollars – reportedly $2.25 million over one season – are a significant overpay, but for the Oilers that isn’t a major concern on a deal of this length.

It’s similar to the role that Kurtis Foster was expected to play for the Oilers.  Foster understandably struggled last season, but could bounce back for the Ducks after the worst offensive season of his career.

In Andy Sutton, the Oilers are getting back a tough, physical defenseman with some mobility issues.  Sutton’s 2010-11 wasn’t especially impressive, but he has shown himself a capable NHL defenseman in the past.  The numbers are as follow:

Statistic 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
5v5 PTS/60 1.47 0.65 0.13
4v5 TOI/Game 3:22 2:28 2:23
QualComp 6 of 8 6 of 8
QualTeam 1 of 8 7 of 8
ZoneStart 45.1% 48.7% 53.3%
Rel. Corsi -6.3 -7.8 -8.4

Sutton is a regular on the penalty kill (gee, a big, physical, defensive defenseman killing penalties?) and at his best can even add modest offensive contributions.  Generally he has been used as a defensive specialist (his season in 2009-10, split between Ottawa and the Islanders, was pretty special – he handled tough minutes prior to the trade).

He won’t win the Norris anytime soon, but provided that he can bounce back from a poor 2010-11 he should be a big help on the Oilers’ depleted blue line.