At first glance, it’s difficult to understand why the Edmonton Oilers would trade for Lubomir Visnovsky, a soon-to-be 32-year-old defenseman who missed an average of more than 12 games a season the past six years – and, more importantly, whose five-year, $28-million contract extension begins next season.
But I wanted to give Oilers GM Kevin Lowe a break, so I glanced at the deal – which sent center Jarret Stoll and blueliner Matt Greene to Los Angeles – about 415 more times.
I still don’t get it.
Sure, it’s been wholly apparent for a while that Stoll’s days were numbered in Edmonton. A restricted free agent this summer, he suffered through a miserable 2007-08 campaign in which he put up only 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games, and it was all but a given he wouldn’t be back.
Still, wouldn’t it have been more practical for Lowe to permit Stoll to leave as an RFA and allow the still-developing Oilers to take whatever combination of draft picks his departure would deliver in return? Doesn’t that sound more appealing than a pieced-together payroll whose top earners now are Visnovsky (earning $5.6 million per season) Sheldon Souray ($5.4 million), Dustin Penner ($4.25 million) Ales Hemsky ($4.1 million) and Tom Gilbert ($4 million)?
Does that sound like a Stanley Cup-contending Top 5 to anybody?
Perhaps this is just the first of many moves Lowe has planned. Perhaps Joni Pitkanen will be shipped out of Edmonton for a front-line forward in the coming days. Perhaps new owner Daryl Katz is about to open up his massive checkbook and give Lowe the finances to be a big-time player when the NHL’s unrestricted free agent period kicks off Tuesday.
Perhaps. All I know, though, is this deal made the Kings younger – Stoll is just 26, and Greene, a physical, stay-at-home type of defender, is 25 – and removed a massive contractual burden from L.A. GM Dean Lombardi’s books.
The Oilers, on the other hand, got older and less flexible on the financial front.
In today’s salary-capped NHL, that’s usually a recipe for disaster.