Hunting high and Lowe

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

SAN JOSE -- Kevin Lowe would rather not leave it till the trade deadline.

He didn't last season, when he got a jump on the rest of the NHL by landing the defencemen he needed - Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom - six weeks before the March deadline.

Now, six weeks before this year's deadline (pushed up to Feb. 27), Lowe admits he's been beating the bushes for help on the blue-line.

"I'm looking around at all possible options," he said yesterday in San Jose, where the Oilers will close out their three-game road trip tonight. "This was about the time last year that teams started talking."

Lowe hit home run deals in revamping his blue-line last season, getting Spacek for Tony Salmelainen, and Tarnstrom for Jani Rita and Cory Cross.

WON'T BE SO EASY

While he'd like to chalk it up to brilliant negotiating, it was more a case of simple math: there were a bunch of non-playoff teams eager to dump the salaries of impending unrestricted free agents, and the Oilers were one of the few teams who saved enough cap space to scoop them up with half a season to go.

This year, the sneak attack won't be so easy. It's become clear that in the new NHL offensive defencemen who can lead breakouts and quarterback all those infinite power plays are worth their weight in gold, so everybody wants them. And, secondly, the playoff races are so tight that almost everyone thinks they can still make a run for it with 40 games left.

"Nobody is sure who's a buyer and who's a seller," said Lowe. "I suspect there's more teams that are still in it."

When demand is greater than supply, and the product is as coveted as a puck-moving defenceman, you get the inflated market in which Lowe is currently trying to deal.

"There could be more sellers in a month, and there could be opportunities there," he said, adding there's a limit to how much of a team's draft picks and youth can be spent on rent-a-players.

"We'll assess what we have and add if we can, but we're not going to mortgage the future."

He does, however, realize the need for someone whose skating and decision-making will relieve the defensive zone pressure and whose breakout passes will enable all those highly skilled forwards to hit the neutral zone in top gear.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

"There's a certain player that would help us out a lot," said Lowe, adding he probably won't add another defenceman for the sake of adding another defenceman. "We'll give our young guys a chance before we add just for the sake of adding. But if that certain kind of defenceman we covet is available, then we get him if we can."

They're in the process now of giving their young guys that shot. Jan Hejda is playing, and playing well, 24 minutes a night. Mathieu Roy is getting a chance and rookie Tom Gilbert, drawing rave reviews in the AHL, will join the team today.

"(Hejda) never really got the opportunity early, and we regret that now, watching him play, because he's been as good as anybody back there right now," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"It couldn't come at a better time."

While he tries to make something happen in a tough market, Lowe will watch with great interest to see if the fix can come from within.

"Those guys have given us a little more time," he said.


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