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Oilers GM Kevin Lowe makes a deal before even arriving in Naples

The Edmonton Oilers GM finalized a deal with the New York Islanders moments before boarding his flight from Toronto to Naples, shipping defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron and a 2008 third-round pick in exchange for blue-liner Denis Grebeshkov.

It was a busy day for Lowe, who also met with Ryan Smyth's agent Don Meehan on Sunday morning in Toronto. Smyth is slated for unrestricted free agency and the Oilers hope to re-sign him before July 1.

Grebeshkov, meanwhile, also needs to be signed. He is an NHL restricted free agent playing in Russia and won't be in an Oilers uniform until next season.

"We see the upside in the player we're acquiring," Lowe told The Canadian Press. "We see this as a long-term upgrade."

Oilers fans will likely see this as waiving the white flag on this season, their team eight points behind Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and their GM discarding one of his top four defencemen without getting immediate help in return.

"We're not throwing the towel in," insisted Lowe. "We've got 23 games left, five of them against Minnesota."

Still, as his fellow GMs arrived here in Naples for three days of meetings starting Monday, the urgency Lowe had felt all season long to acquire a puck-moving defenceman seems to have diminished with his team falling out of the playoff race.

"We'll probably make more trades but I don't expect doing much on the back end," said Lowe. "But you never know."

You never know indeed, because putting 30 GMs in the same hotel just over a week away from the NHL's trade deadline will likely spur some moves, or at least lay the groundwork for some.

"I think the timing of having the GMs meeting a week before the trade deadline adds to the intrigue, certainly from a fan standpoint," said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, his team on the lookout for an impact forward. "In this age of BlackBerry's and cellphones, you're never out of touch. But certainly this week having people together, face to face in a room, where you can pull someone aside for five minutes, that might help the process of eventually getting a deal done, whether it's done in Florida or if it happens right at the trade deadline."

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who may not be done selling off some of his assets even after pulling off the Peter Forsberg blockbuster Thursday, says one can't underestimate the effect of having all 30 GMs together.

"A lot of things get done when you get a bunch of managers together like that. More things seem to happen," Holmgren said. "Things also happen at the draft when everybody is together in the same city. I would think it'll be a little hectic (at the GMs meeting)."

The Anaheim Ducks, like the Red Wings, are Stanley Cup contenders who are looking to bolster their lineup. "I like our team. I believe in them," Ducks GM Brian Burke said. "We're looking to add some depth but we're not looking to change much."

Officially, trade talk isn't why the GMs are here. That just happens to be what they'll be doing before after their morning meetings with league commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.

Among the items on the agenda this week for discussion:

-Whether the league should award three points in the standings for a regulation-time victory;

-A re-examination of the instigator penalty;

-Pre-game ceremonies and the need to curb how long they run;

-"Soft penalties," better defining hooking calls without easing up on the officiating standard;

-Once again a debate over no-touch icing;

-Goalie interference - NHL netminders are once again getting run;

-The issues of goalies overfreezing the puck to gain a stoppage in play.

There will likely be yet more discussion as well on the NHL's unbalanced schedule although that hot potato ultimately will be decided by the owners at the next few board of governors meetings.



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