Spacek's out of Edmonton

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Kevin Lowe must feel like the golfer who can't put his entire game together at once.

On the day his putter and irons are dialed in, he can't hit a fairway to save his life. When he's driving like John Daly and hitting his wedges like lasers, he three-putts every green.

When he shores up his goaltending and assembles the most skilled and dynamic crop of young forwards in his tenure, his defence looks like high handicappers.

Or, just a plain handicap.

With Chris Pronger ironing out his personal issues in Anaheim, the Oilers were putting a lot of eggs in the basket of No. 3 defenceman Jaroslav Spacek. So when word came down yesterday afternoon that Spacek wasn't coming back, it left the hockey club seriously short-staffed on the blue-line and scrambling into Plan B.

TIME FOR 'PLAN F'

"Or, Plan F, as Craig MacTavish calls it," said assistant GM Scott Howson, a few minutes after Spacek's agent informed them of his client's decision to sign with a yet unnamed team. "The defence is a concern, and we're going to shore it up."

It's going to take a lot of shoring. Pronger and Spacek logged 27:59 and 23:39 minutes per night, quarterbacked the power play and made those all-important first passes on the breakout. As good as the forwards are, and as well as Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen played in the playoffs, the blue-line, or what's left of it, is shaping up to be the hockey club's soft, white underbelly.

"We'll sit down again, Kevin, MacT and myself and see where we go," said Howson, admitting the unrestricted free agent pool has been picked over, at largely inflated prices. "Jaro is a good player, we were obviously interested in having him back, but we're not going to run out there and immediately make an offer on somebody else because we lost him."

The Oilers were one of the final two teams on Spacek's short list and yesterday at about 4:30 p.m. he went the other way.

"We were willing to meet the price he was asking for, the money was similar on both sides, but he wanted to go to the other team for one reason or the other," said Howson. "It wasn't a case of he didn't like it here, but when you get to unrestricted and you get to choose your team, a lot of things can come into play. I didn't get the reason why he chose and, to be honest, I'm not very interested in it at this point."

The Oilers blue-line consists of Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Matt Greene and Marc-Andre Bergeron. They're counting on Ladislav Smid, the blue-chip 20-year-old acquired in the Pronger trade, to fill a spot and are currently negotiating with unrestricted free agent Dick Tarnstrom.

TARNSTROM HASN'T MADE UP HIS MIND

Tarnstrom told the club he was returning to Sweden to decide with his family whether to return to the NHL or play out his career in the Swedish Elite League.

They also have the advantage of cap room, meaning they can rent three or four players at mid-season, like they did with Spacek, Tarnstom, Roloson and Sergei Samsonov.

"The defence you see on October 5 may not be the defence you see on March 15," said Howson. "But it is an area of concern right now. We have to get it fixed in time for the season and then analyze where we are."

LATE HITS: Today is the deadline for Edmonton's restricted free agents to file for salary arbitration. Shawn Horcoff is going that route, while Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll and Joffrey Lupul haven't told the Oilers of their decisions yet.


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