'D' without depth

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:28 PM ET

If Kevin Lowe is going to break out a Help Wanted sign, he'll be planting it on the blue-line.

It doesn't take a very long look at the depth chart to see that's where the Edmonton Oilers need the most help.

Goaltending is more than shored up with Jussi Markkanen and freshly signed Dwayne Roloson committed to the crease next winter.

The forwards need a little bolstering, but with Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Fernando Pisani, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll, Ethan Moreau, Brad Winchester and a high-end draft pick or two ready for promotion, it won't take much to patch a few holes there.

The blueline is another story.

Chris Pronger's trade request is going to be honoured, sooner, we suspect, rather than later.

Jaroslav Spacek is an unrestricted free agent who's looking for a home-run deal in what might be the final contract of his career. And UFA Dick Tarnstrom is back home in Sweden, apparently contemplating a move to the Elite League there.

That's three of the six defenders who started Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes. In other words, it's an area that desperately needs work.

"We know that at this point we'll probably need to sign another defenceman,'' said Lowe, whose current stable consists of Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Matt Greene.

Gulp.

The Oilers shot for the moon when they put an offer in on Zdeno Chara, about the only other defenceman out there in Pronger's class, but Lowe realizes he won't be able to fix this by winning a few bidding wars.

"We're not going to go out and overpay to fill our defensive slot,'' he said, adding he isn't ruling out Spacek's return. "We're keeping that door open.''

Spacek becomes an infinitely bigger cog in Edmonton's future than anyone ever imagined when Chicago sent him over last January for minor-leaguer Tony Salmelainen.

But his value on the open market will be fairly high, given his performance in the playoffs and some of the other contracts being reported last weekend.

"We made a solid offer to Jaroslav,'' said Lowe.

"He really wants to come back ... (but) he thought his value was a little more. It's the old saying, there's only so much to go around.''

So, unless the Oilers land Spacek and add another defenceman from the free-agent market, any deal for Pronger will have to be heavy on blue-liners coming the other way.

"There's a chance we could get a couple of defencemen, plus, in the Pronger deal,'' he said.

In Florida and San Jose, two of the suitors supposedly interested, Lowe could get Jay Bouwmeester or Scott Hannan in return, for starters.

Panther's GM Mike Keenan confirmed he's had discussions with Lowe, but sounds a little skittish about Lowe's asking price. Signing UFA Ruslan Salei yesterday might mean he's out of the running.

But the Ducks, with plenty of cap room and having just lost Salei, could be interested. They don't have a lot of defencemen to spare, but Francois Beauchemin would be a good start.

- The Oilers put off talks with head coach Craig MacTavish because they're simply too busy with everything else right now. MacTavish is still at work behind the scenes, however, helping management shape its plan for the upcoming season ... Sergei Samsonov's agent played it coy when asked if the Maple Leafs had put in an offer on his guy. "I'm going to plead the fifth on that one,'' he said.


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