In or out?
Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe wasn't tipping his hand at Rexall Place yesterday, but there's no doubt he'll be a player in the NHL trade deadline sweepstakes between now and March 9.
While he isn't naming names, Lowe, just back from Turin, is looking for a goaltender, secondary scoring up front and a veteran who can solidify the fourth line.
The need for help in a crease now cluttered by Ty Conklin, Mike Morrison and Jussi Markkanen is a no-brainer, and Lowe was working the phones long before he got back from Italy at the start of the week and huddled with assistant GM Scott Howson Tuesday.
We'll get a glimpse at his cards soon enough.
"That's all been done now," Lowe said. "It's up to me to try to achieve what we hope to do in the next eight or nine days.
"It's not a process that started yesterday. It's been ongoing for months. For me, personally, it's probably been the longest season in my career as a manager, but we're going to do everything in our power.
"Ownership is committed to making the team stronger, if we can. Hopefully, that will be the case."
After acquiring Dick Tarnstrom from Pittsburgh and Jaroslav Spacek from Chicago last month, Lowe has a surplus of veteran defenceman.
He also has youngsters like Marc-Andre Bergeron and Matt Greene emerging and pushing for playing time.
"The one thing I do feel confident about is that we do have a lot of assets," Lowe said.
"We really feel good about our drafting record over the last few years and we're prepared to move players if we need to make the team stronger for this year, without depleting the future of the hockey club."
Common sense dictates having all those bodies on the blue line will be Lowe's first bargaining chip -- although not the only one.
Lowe said yesterday he's not averse to trading away future draft picks, including upcoming first-rounders, if a potential deal warrants that kind of consideration.
"We certainly know all the teams that we have interest in players they have," Lowe said. "We're on the phones daily."
What Lowe, obviously, isn't going to do is tinker with the core of the team just to acquire a rental like pending unrestricted free agent Curtis Joseph of Phoenix, who'd be a short-term fix between the pipes.
Unless there's a home-run to be had -- Martin Biron of Buffalo does not qualify as that -- who is a sure-thing in the long-term, names like Jarret Stoll, Ales Hemsky and Raffi Torres are non-starters for Lowe.
"The key here is our core players are our young players," Lowe said. "This isn't about us trying to win for the final time or to get into the playoffs and try to win the Cup.
"We'd like to get in and have success this year and try, like everybody else, to win, but we'd like to think with the core group of guys and the young guys we've got coming we can be around for a few years."
With budget room to spare and more than a few teams in need of help in goal -- Vancouver, Colorado and Ottawa to name three -- Lowe isn't waiting for his phone to ring. He's making the calls.
"Whether or not I can get it done is another question," he said. "But, like I said, we have the resources in terms of assets and the owners have committed to trying to make the team stronger. We're all on the same page as to not depleting it so much that we risk the future."
NAME-DROPPING: While Lowe's likeliest targets in goal are Joseph and Biron, there's an outside chance he could make a pitch for Toronto's Ed Belfour, if the Maple Leafs go into sell-mode ... Don't be surprised if Lowe revisits acquiring Phoenix's Tyson Nash to bolster his fourth line ... Lowe knows Nash from his days in Kamloops and has inquired about him before ... Dallas Drake of St. Louis, Jim Dowd of Chicago and, to a lesser extent, Tyler Wright of Columbus are also of interest.