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Oilers lacking deadline options

Edmonton Oilers Ryan Smyth tries to screen Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov during there game at...

Edmonton Oilers Ryan Smyth tries to screen Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov during there game at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta on Friday, January 31, 2012. (PERRY NELSON/QMI AGENCY)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:59 PM ET

General manager Steve Tambellini doesn't believe they'll need to install a revolving door in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room in preparation for the trade deadline.

Outside of the Ales Hemsky situation, there don't seem to be a lot of glaring options for a team at Edmonton's stage of an evolution.

They are flush with prospects and have more than enough draft picks; what they need are big and gritty young forwards in their 20s who can play -- which teams loading up for a playoff run are not going to surrender -- or a big young defenceman capable of stepping into Edmonton's top four in a year or two. Good luck there, too.

Fact is, Tambellini has been taking most of his biggest cards off the table prior to the deadline. Ryan Smyth could have netted a significant return, but he and the Oilers have made it clear he's not going anywhere.

Big defenceman Andy Sutton was also going to be a coveted asset, but just signed a one-year deal with the understanding he's not going anywhere.

With so many teams struggling in net, Nikolai Khabibulin might have generated interest if he was anywhere near as hot now as he was in October. He's not, and he's also out with a groin injury. That, and one year left on a $3.75 million contract, makes him a tough sell.

He's worth more to the Oilers here in Edmonton than anything he'd get back in return.

Hemsky's situation was straightforward from the start: sign him to a short-term deal or put him on the auction block and hope the fog of deadline hysteria drives the bidding up.

But not expecting to make a lot of big trades at the deadline is like not expecting to get a hug from Sofia Vergara. If she offers one up out of the blue, who's going to say no?

"You never know what can happen," said general manager Steve Tambellini. "I really believe you have to go into this wide open. You have to be ready for a lot of different scenarios."

If somebody you didn't expect offers you something too good to be true, or even just a really fair deal that benefits both sides, you take it. In the urgency, if not panic, many general managers feel at the last chance to improve their team before the playoffs, both of those possibilities are out there.

"Things change very quickly," Tambellini said. "You have to be open to any deal that you feel can help your organization. If there's a pick we feel has great value this year, maybe I'll look at that. If there's a player I think can give us something for a couple of years, I'll look at that, too."

But mortgaging the future is not an option.

"At no time are we going to be selling anything that is going to hurt our future."

With eight defencemen on the roster, a position usually in high demand for teams serious about an extended playoff run, the odds of Edmonton parting with a blueliner seem good.

Theo Peckham is young and tough, but the physicality dropped off and he's fallen down the depth chart.

There is also some redundancy in Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Jeff Petry, but that's the kind of trade that yields more tangible returns when made in the summer. Whitney also has a no-trade clause.

Cam Barker, a restricted free agent this summer, knows he might be in play. He hasn't played much, or particularly well, since returning from ankle surgery, but that's understandable given he hurried back after being out for three months. There are still six weeks left to get up to speed before the playoffs, making him a potential insurance policy for a team in contention.

"No matter what team you're on, you're always kind of anxious at this time," he said. "When I got traded at the deadline (Chicago to Minnesota) I wasn't really expecting it, so you never know."

None of them do. And even though it's expected to be a slow deadline for Edmonton, the nights leading up to it will be sleepless for some.

"There's whispers every deadline, there are always going to be names," said captain Shawn Horcoff, who has a no-movement clause in a contract that expires in 2015.

"It always seems like the deadlines you go into thinking a ton of stuff is going to happen, nothing happens. And then the opposite is true.

"You don't know what's going to happen until the phones start ringing on the 27th.

"The good thing for us is that it's more to do with the veterans. You don't have to worry about how a young guy might respond to it. The veterans have all been through it before and are better equipped to deal with it."

The mood in the dressing room is certainly different at this deadline than in the past, given that most of the team is young and not going anywhere.

There's still some stress and tension, just not nearly as much.

And let's just say that Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won't be hitting the roof every time their phone rings between now and Monday afternoon.

"You just let it go by, I don't really worry about it," said Eberle, adding that doesn't mean he thinks he's untouchable. "If Gretzky can get traded, anybody can get traded."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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