The case for the defence

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Any guesses what happens next?

It doesn't take a genius to see Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe has his ducks in a row with the intent of acquiring a goaltender between now and the NHL trading deadline March 9.

As Lowe, assistant GM Scott Howson and coach Craig MacTavish said in chorus after the Oilers added Dick Tarnstrom and Jaroslav Spacek to the mix Thursday, you can never have too many defencemen.

And you can't have too many bargaining chips when you're in pursuit of a goaltender, which is the only significant piece of the puzzle the Oilers are lacking if they're serious about going deep into the playoffs.

Right now, there's nothing simmering on the front burner - assuming Lowe keeps his sanity and continues to rebuff the New York Rangers trying to pitch him Kevin Weekes, who doesn't represent an upgrade over Mike Morrison or Jussi Markkanen.

That buys MacTavish time to look at Spacek and Tarnstrom, a pair of offensive-minded puck-movers who can play on the power play, and get a handle on who fits where in a blueline corps swollen to eight.

JUGGLING ACT

It also affords MacTavish the opportunity to cut back on ice time for Chris Pronger and Marc-Andre Bergeron, something he's been talking about for some time. It'll be a juggling act, but one MacTavish is willing to entertain until Lowe pulls the trigger on a trade.

"You can never have enough defenceman going into those stretch runs," MacTavish said. "It's a deal that happened early enough that we have a chance to bring these two guys in and evaluate.

"I don't know either player that well. We see them play somewhat. Spacek's stats look really good. Tarnstrom's stats looked really good the last year he played.

"We'll bring these two guys in and just see where they fit in. We're not in a hurry to do anything other than get a good look at them."

With Spacek and Tarnstrom arriving in time to skate with the Oilers for the first time today, MacTavish has not committed to playing either one of them against the Coyotes tomorrow.

"It's great to have the depth that we have on the back end," he said. "As the season progresses and the trade deadline comes up, if we want to address some other areas, you've got the depth on defence.

"Teams are always looking for defence. If we have to add a fourth-line guy or whatever, we can do that."

FROM THE MINORS

Whatever? A fourth-line guy? Nice try, coach. The whatever is Marc Denis or Andrew Raycroft or insert-name-of-coveted-stopper-here. The fourth-line guy will likely come from the minors and it'll likely be J.F. Jacques.

The downside of carrying eight defenceman is somebody has to sit. If that's Igor Ulanov, fine. If it's Tarnstrom being spotted into the lineup until Lowe packages him off, fine. If it's rookie Matt Greene, who has developed faster than anybody expected, well, that's not so good.

"Matt's played well the last little while," MacTavish said. "We want to keep him playing. We don't want to put him on the back burner, either. He's entitled, the way he's played, to get some good, significant ice time.

"Greene doesn't have to play every night. We'll keep him playing lots. He won't be sitting out any length of time. We know what we have there. We know what the potential is. He needs time to develop. We'll give him that time."

With Spacek making $2.25 million and Tarnstrom on the pad for $1.6 million and both being unrestricted free agents July 1, logic dictates one of them will be part of whatever package Lowe dangles. You're not going to get a top-drawer stopper for Ulanov and Todd Harvey.

Spacek will wear No. 6. Tarnstrom gets No. 33. Would it be too much to suggest Velcro instead of stitching for both name bars?

"On a day-to-day basis, we're constantly communicating on what our shortcomings are," MacTavish said of discussions with Lowe. "We're trying to improve ourselves. This gives us a couple of other irons in the fire."


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