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Oilers Watch: Visnovsky injury hurts in more ways than one

The Oilers’ chance of securing a playoff berth this year suffered a major blow when defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky scheduled season-ending surgery this week to repair a banged-up shoulder.

Injuries like that occur over the course of every NHL season. They take on a much more ominous tone, though, when they strike veteran players in the middle of long-term lucrative contracts.

And that’s exactly the kind of player Visnovsky is.

Some people laughed (and some others just plain flipped out) a while back when I said the five-year, $28-million deal Visnovsky signed with the L.A. Kings was one of the worst contracts offered to an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2007.

My reasoning at the time was that giving a 31-year-old blueliner – who had missed 74 games in his previous five seasons – a contract averaging $5.5-million a year represented a significant gamble on the part of the Kings.

So I wasn’t at all shocked when GM Dean Lombardi dealt Visnovsky to Edmonton just one year into the deal. The Kings’ defense – led by emerging youngsters Jack Johnson, Thomas Hickey and Drew Doughty – didn’t need to pay Visnovsky big bucks when other players could do the job at a lower price and less risky term.

To an extent, you can see why Edmonton wanted Visnovsky; he’s been good to have in the dressing room throughout his career and when he hasn’t been sidelined by injury, the Czech native has been a solid contributor on offense since the lockout ended in 2005.

That said, the Oilers already had a veteran, well compensated, offense-minded D-man and leader on board in Sheldon Souray before they acquired Visnovsky. And now Edmonton has not one, but two diminishing assets few teams (if any) will be interested in until the final season of their deals.

Forget all the talk about the cumbersome nature of the truly massive contracts (i.e. Rick DiPietro’s 12-year pact with the Islanders) given out of late.

As Visnovsky and others are proving, even half-decade deals can sour and stink in the blink of an eye.

This column also appears in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

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