Oilers younger, cheaper, bigger

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

When you are attempting to overhaul a bloated mess like the Edmonton Oilers — a 30th place team with a first place payroll — it's not about what you get back on trade deadline day.

It's what you get rid of.

And GM Steve Tambellini rid himself of some contractual handcuffs Wednesday, freeing up some $4.3 million in cap space with a pair of buzzer-beating deadline moves.

He saves $1.6 million a year over the next four years on the Lubomir Visnovsky for Ryan Whitney deal and a further $2.7 million next season on Steve Staios for Aaron Johnson, whose $540,000 contract expires after this season.

Denis Grebeshkov wasn't getting a qualifying offer in the summer, so his $3.15 million contract was off the books regardless, but they did get a second round draft pick out of Nashville for him, giving Edmonton five picks in the first three rounds this summer.

"I felt good that we're able to accomplish a lot of the things we set out to do," said Tambellini. "We knew that we needed to make some change, we did that.

"We have a potential of 10 draft picks in the next draft. We've reduced our cap space significantly and acquired some talent that's bigger, with Ryan Whitney and Ryan Jones. It's a good first step."

If you're blowing things up and starting over, this is as good a place to start as any. In a classic case of addition by subtraction, Tambellini made the Oilers younger, cheaper and bigger, which is the only direction they can go right now.

"You can't accomplish everything, but we're very pleased with what we were able to attain out of the trade deadline," he said, adding the next step in the rebuilding effort will come at the draft.

"There needs to be change. Our players knew that, our coaching staff and management knew that," he said. "It's going to look different by the time we get to the draft and by the time we get to next season."

After being frozen solid by hopelessly cumbersome contracts, Tambellini finally has some room to maneuver. Not a whole bunch, but at least he's got one hand out of the shackles.

He can package one of his two second round picks with one of his better players and try for another pick in the top three, or maybe trade it for a warm body who can step right in.

"We've accumulated a lot of picks. We have a lot more options," he said. "And we'll explore other avenues at that time."

Visnovsky was Edmonton's best defenceman, but he's a steep cap hit (too steep for a guy who's 20th in scoring among defencemen) for a long time. He'll be pushing 37 when his contract expires in 2013 and the Oilers aren't expected to be fully rebuilt much before then.

In fact, a lot of fans wish the Oilers had a do-over in sending Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene to Los Angeles for him two years ago.

It remains to be seen how Whitney pans out. He was selected fifth overall in 2002 and this is already his third team, but Tambellini likes what he's getting.

"We wanted to get a little bigger, and Ryan is a big defenceman who can skate well, has a good shot, can play the power play and some PK. We also reduce the cap hit from $5.6 million to $4 million, which is significant for us.

"More importantly, we think we have a good person who's going to be part of bringing this organization to a better place."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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