SUN Hockey Pool

Will Oil GM pull trigger?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

OK, now that the Edmonton Eskimos have landed the two biggest fish in the CFL free agent pool, what about the Edmonton Oilers at the NHL trade deadline?

Now that the Eskimos brought home Edmonton-born Jesse Lumsden, can the Oilers do a deal to land native son Jay Bouwmeester?

Or is that a topic for July 1 free agency, rather than now?

The March 4 trade deadline looms large after a winter of salary cap-handcuffed GMs not being able to do much to solve obvious weaknesses on their hockey clubs like, say, somebody who can win a faceoff, kill a penalty or play with Ales Hemsky.

But suddenly, BlackBerrys are humming, phones are ringing and there's activity in the air around the hockey world.

The over-under on the number of deals to be done March 4 is 40 (the exact number done each of the past three years) with an expectation of the number of players switching sweaters to approach last year's record 45.

Will the Oilers, with $1.96 million of cap space, be doing several of those deals? Or, as was the case with some of the deals Kevin Lowe did in 2006 which set up the run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, will the Oilers get them done before the deadline?

Before one starts speculating on what moves the Oilers might make to fire up their frustrated fan base, the first question is just who will be making the moves?

I mean, if you run an NHL team and want to talk trade with the Oilers, who do you call, Lowe or Steve Tambellini?

"You'll call me," said Tambellini, the new GM under Lowe.

Even if it's Glen Sather in New York or Scott Howson in Columbus?

"Yes. We've settled into our roles very well to this point," said the former Vancouver Canucks assistant GM who is 57 games into his new job and has only been able to do a few minor moves like getting a pail of pucks and a roll of tape for Mathieu Garon to solve the three-goalie problem.

Tambellini can't wait to start proving himself, but says sometimes waiting is part of that process.

"It'll be my first trade deadline in Edmonton in this job and it's going to be an exciting time.

"I know it can be a frustrating time, too. It involves a lot of preparation, but I'm looking forward to it," he said yesterday.

Don't be expecting Tambellini to go for an expensive rental like Bouwmeester, even if the Florida Panthers' defenceman is available.

On most scorecards, Bouwmeester - an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season - is the biggest fish that may be out there.

Word is that Bouwmeester has decided he wants to play closer to home, and 118 Avenue and Wayne Gretzky Drive is as close to home as he can get.

But Tambellini knows the idea of getting the big name, big ticket about-to-be-unrestricted-free-agent as a rental and hoping to sign him before July 1 can leave you looking like a sucker.

"It depends on a lot of variables - the most important of which is where you are as a hockey club. It's a high-price time of year," he said.

Translation: Unless the player is going to make the difference in winning the Stanley Cup this year, what you are probably going to have to give up isn't going to be worth it when you can go after him July 1 without giving up anything.

So will Tambellini be looking to hit singles and doubles instead of home runs?

"I think you have to go in ready and open to anything that comes across your desk," he said.

Tambellini said he's really happy with the way the team's compete level has been raised of late and is offering no hints of making a defenceman a priority with the injuries to Lubomir Visnovsky and Denis Grebeshkov.

Not to mention finding a playmate for Hemsky, somebody to win a faceoff, help for the penalty kill, etc.

But you have to figure this is not the time and place for the rookie GM to stand pat and do nothing.

Lowe liked to make a splash at the deadline, but did his best work in 2006 in the days leading up to the deadline.

"I'd rather do it earlier than later because it gives a player more time to get acclimated to a new team," said Tambellini.

"But the reality is most things usually don't get done until the deadline."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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