Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Younger and Cheaper!

By John Christie

In Edmonton, the Oilers usually make a trade on deadline day. This year, the Oilers made two significant deals with two of their core players. The first deal (Rogers Sportsnet was the first to report @ 11:58 Eastern) involved Anson Carter. Winger Anson Carter and defenseman Ales Pisa were dealt to the New York Rangers for winger Radek Dvorak and defenseman Cory Cross. On the surface, this deal looks terrific for the Rangers as Anson Carter was the Oilers leading scorer with 25 goals and 55 assists. Dvorak had six goals this year. Many members of the media and hockey fans wondered if there was anything else involved in the deal like draft picks or future considerations. It has been suggested that the Rangers sent some cash to the Oilers or the Rangers could be paying Dvorak’s salary for next year.

Edmonton Oilers President Pat Laforge and Oilers Vice President and General Manager Kevin Lowe both said no money of any sort was involved in the deal.

From an Oilers perspective, this is not a good deal on paper. Yes, the Oilers could not afford to pay Carter salary next year (project at 3-3.5 million) and knew they had to deal him. They could have traded him at the draft or when free agency starts but Kevin Lowe must have thought this through and decided the right time is now. When the Kovalev deal was announced, I thought at least the Penguins would get Lundmark or Dvorak but they didn’t get either. The Oilers did get a player who can play and contribute unlike the Penguins. This deal was predicated on finances and the Oilers will save money this year and next with this deal.

The Cross for Pisa deal was also puzzling. Cross was out of the NHL for almost half the year and he was available for any team. Why the Oilers traded Pisa for Cross was a mystery to everyone considering Pisa was playing well for the Oilers as their 6th defenseman.

Dvorak can play all 3 positions, which will help the Oilers He lost confidence the past 2 seasons He was bounced between the 2dn and fourth lines playing with different centres. He tore is MCL last year and it has taken him more then 1 year to recover from the injury. However, he will provide the Oilers with speed, solid defensive play and 20-30 goals a year. He is under contract for next year at 2 million, which fits within the Oilers budget.

The 2nd deal was the one many Oiler fans and media were expecting as Janni Niinimaa’s name was being floating around the league coffers the past week. As first reported by TSN in Canada @ 2:22, the Oilers traded defenseman Janni Niinimaa and a conditional 2nd round pick in the 2003 draft (pick to be determined at a later date) to the New York Islanders for winger Brad Isbister and highly rated prospect, winger Raffi Torres.

The Oilers were giving up their top defenseman and a player who averaged 26 minutes a night patrolling the Oilers blue line for an under achiever in Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres who was rated as the 33rd best prospect by the Hockey News.

This deal was well received in the NHL but what could hurt the Oilers is not getting a defenseman back in the deal. This deal was made possible with the emergence of Alexei Semenov who has more comfortable with his role and is playing more then 20 minutes a night on the blue line.

The Oilers hope the 6’4 Isbister (born in Edmonton) is the power forward to can provide the size, grit, speed and 20 goals a year. He has the capability of providing this type of play and scored 22 goals. The Oilers have needed a power forward since they dealt Bill Guerin to Boston. Isbister makes 1.8 million a year so he fits within the Oilers budget.

Raffi Torres could be the key to this deal. He has ample size (6’0, 215 lbs.) and plays a gritty two way game the Oilers need. I had watched him play in Brampton a few times in 2000/2001 season and he was a spark plug with the Battalion. He plays a grinding game and plays well defensively and provides grit and leadership. Stan Butler taught him well with the Battalion.

Oilers Vice President of Hockey Operations and Chief Scout Kevin Prendergast said that they project Torres as a “2nd liner who will provide grit and size”. Right now, the plan is to have him play the season in Hamilton and have success with the Bulldogs in the playoffs. Both Torres and Rita will play the season in Hamilton unless the club is struggling in which both players will be called up. With 10 games to go for the Oilers and the team at full health, Torres should be in Hamilton for the duration of the 2002/2003 season.

Analysis: Both deals will provide the Oilers with additional size and grit the Oilers have coveted. As evidenced against teams like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary that the Oilers were being pushed around too much and needed additional size. With Isbister and Torres, they get two players who will play a physical game and will go into the corners and play a grinding type game. The Carter deal looks bad on paper and will help the Rangers but it could help the Oilers in the long run as Dvorak can score and can play his type of game in the wide open Western conference and playing on SkyReach ice will help his game. I like the Niinimaa deal as it provides the Oilers with a power forward who will help them and having him return home will help his game.

A key here is that these deals will help the Oilers reach the finish line: September 15, 2004 when the Collective Bargaining agreement ends between the NHL and NLHPA. One of the Oilers objectives was to get to 2004 and provide a competitive team for the fans. The Oilers have kept their end of the bargain and hopefully 2004 allows the Oilers and other NHL cities on an even playing field with the large markets.