Jaroslav Spacek isn't going to be an Oiler. The story doesn't say where he's going, but unless it's Calgary, it's pretty much irrelevant for my purposes. Actually, even then, it's irrelevant, that would just be kind of aggravating (the Flames signed Jeff Friesen, by the way, because evidently you can't have too many underachieving forwards).
So, yeah, that leaves the UFA defenceman pool horrificy thin. The available desirables, barely edited for quality, are Brian Leetch, Glen Wesley, Radoslav Suchy, Tricky Dick Tarnstrom, Igor "I heart" Ulanov (mostly on here for the Prez, and because he used to play for us), Nathan Dempsey, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Danny Markov and Eric Desjardins. Exactly none of those are what I would call ideal, though at this point I'd be willing to give Markov $2.5-$3mil for a few years, assuming both that we need him and that not playing with Chris Pronger could remind us how much Jason Smith's wheels have kind of fallen off, meaning a multi-year deal wouldn't hurt us much.
The other thing I find fairly intriguing is Leetch, who was Boston's third-ish defenceman (23:30 per game), and still a capable powerplay quarterback at this point (32pts, 17 on the PP). Whether he'd want to come finish his career in Edmonton is beyond me (reasonable guess: no), but maybe if we overpay a touch for one year, he'd be willing? Signing him for anything more than two years at about $2mil would be folly, but if he's affordable, a 24-minute, 30-point defenceman looks very, very appealing at this point.
Going away from UFAs, but keeping realistic, New Jersey's Paul Martin looks like a very good option. He's an RFA who only made $500k last year, but his performance is basically identical to Leetch's (37pts, 23:30 per game), meaning he's probably looking to triple that. Fortunately for us, as Grabia points out, the Devils have no cap space whatsoever, and even $1.5-$2mil a year would probably mean they let him walk (or are fiscally unable to keep him), and would only cost us a first- and second- or third-round draft choice. If that's too steep (a little), or we don't want to be underhanded, we could probably flip New Jersey a minimum-wage young defenceman (or a fourth-round pick) for his rights and sign him 3-4 years at $2mil a year (and tell him he'll be a number-two defenceman), meaning we wouldn't lose him as a UFA in a year's time (although, hell, even if we did, for a fourth-round pick, who cares?). You always hear New Jersey mentioned in trade talks with the Oil (a lot of stuff last year about Kozlov, among others), which assumes Lowe and Lamoriello at least have an open dialogue, which one assumes helps grease the wheels of salary dumps like this would be, but the fact they've never actually pulled a deal makes me slightly suspicious. Still, though, I consider this an entirely reasonable scenario. If, then, we take a flyer on Markov, and if we re-sign Tarnstrom as well (EDITED: I forgot about Smid, so maybe we don't even need to re-sign Tarnstrom if this doesn't work out, though if he's cheap, it couldn't hurt), as Tychkowski implies we're looking to do, our defence is:
Servicable, maybe too defensive-heavy on top and defensively-lax on bottom, but comparable to Carolina or Buffalo, whose 05/06 defence strategy is pretty much a best-case scenario for us right now. Markov, Smith and Staios are your go-to guys for shutting people down, Martin, Bergeron and Tarnstrom provide capable if unspectacular powerplay point-working (Matt Greene subs in as needed to make the corps a little more snarly).
There are, of course, plenty of other scenarios, even with New Jersey (Brian Rafalski makes $4.2mil, though I see the Devils dumping second-tier guys before first-tier), but in this one we keep our forwards more or less intact (hopefully, as I said before, we add another through signing; oh, on that note, Spector says Samsonov is close to signing with someone else, but there's still a few other good options, like Sykora) and still have some wiggle room to pick up a big-name free agent next year, or trade for a need throughout the season. This still, I suppose, is Cosh's dreaded not-$40mil team, but I don't understand why it matters how much we're spending if we're competitive. None of the UFAs are worth big money, and trading for big salaries might only weaken us further, so if we can build a playoff-capable team for $34-$35mil, I don't see reason for complaint. Is this team playoff-capable? About as close as we can get it without massive revamping.