Oilers make free-agent moves

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:53 AM ET

EDMONTON - July 1 used to be a time when the Edmonton Oilers would sit on their hands and watch everybody else get stronger.

They either didn’t have the money to spend or nobody wanted to come here if they did.

Those days appear to be over. In a banner day for general manager Steve Tambellini, the Oilers led the charge on free agent frenzy day, landing Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Andy Sutton, Eric Belanger and Cam Barker.

Tambellini, long criticized for being slow to pull the trigger, filled gaping holes in the toughness department, addressed faceoff issues, bolstered the blueline and basically changed the identity of the hockey club in what might go down as the six most productive hours of his tenure.

Even Tambellini is a little surprised by how much accomplished.

“It was just like, wow,” he said. “If you’d have asked me this morning if this was going to happen in the one day I’d be very surprised. We got a heck of a lot accomplished in one day. I thought that this process was maybe going to take us the first couple of weeks.”

These weren’t home-run franchise additions — the Oilers believe they already have those guys in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — but rather the kind of heart and soul, grit and character people who are vital to any stage of a team’s progression.

“For us it really got off to a great start with Ben Eager,” said Tambellini, who gave the former Stanley Cup champion a three-year deal at $1.1 million per. “He and his agent talked about being interested in coming to play with people like Taylor Hall and seeing what was happening here. That felt really good from our standpoint.”

In adding Eager, Hordichuk (one year, $825,000) and the 6-foot-6, 245 pound Sutton (acquired for Kurtis Foster in a trade with Anaheim), all that young skill in Edmonton’s lineup will be able to breathe a little easier out there. The Oilers just got a lot tougher.

“Our young players are there, our skill players are in place, but we made a decision to change some of our energy players on the bottom half of our lineup,” said Tambellini. “Bringing in Eager and Hordichuk gives us a different dimension that we didn’t have on a consistent basis. Andy Sutton, a stay at home, large defenceman, will be a presence in front of our net. It does change the look, feel and identity of our hockey club.”

The rest of the league is noticing, too.

Belanger had seven or eight offers on the table and went with Edmonton’s three-year, $5.25 million deal. In adding one of the better faceoff guys in the NHL Edmonton suddenly has a very good one-two punch on the dot with he and Shawn Horcoff.

“This is a team that’s going in the right direction,” said Belanger. “A lot of great young players, getting a new building in a year or two, there are a lot of positive things that are coming to Edmonton.

“There were a lot of good teams in the running at the end, but it’s all about term and where you’re at and where you feel comfortable. I’m excited to play in Canada. It’s a young team and I think I can bring a lot of things. It’s a great opportunity.”

They also signed reclamation project Cam Barker, a former first-round draft pick (third overall in 2004) who just got bought out by Minnesota.

He is a definite fixer-upper, but there is some elite level upside.

“We have to remember he’s 25 years old,” said Tambellini. “He struggled a little bit last year in Minnesota but he’s 25 years old and has the potential to be a top four NHL defenceman. He’s on a one-year deal, I can’t see much risk there.

“I talked to him and he said if he had a chance to choose somewhere, Edmonton was his place, and the deal was done in half an hour.


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