Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe gets high grade for busy few days

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Kevin Lowe got burned last year when Michael Nylander turned his back on a verbal commitment to Edmonton and a number of other unrestricted free agents thumbed their nose to the Oilers.

It's only one day into this year's free-agency period and the Oilers GM is already a big winner. And he didn't have to sign a player.

Lowe's three big trades this week should be such a boost to a young and upcoming club that we believe his Oilers are possibly playoff-bound next season. And they may not be done.

It's believed Edmonton has made a heavy pitch for unrestricted free-agent winger Marian Hossa, although there was no shortage of interest there Tuesday as the floodgates opened on free agency. Hossa had still not made his mind on his destination of choice as of early Tuesday evening.

The Oilers added a top-notch offensive blue-liner in Lubomir Visnovsky on Sunday and then Tuesday acquired a potential star in centre Gilbert Brule and and a proven scorer in Erik Cole.

Going out the door were a pair of underachieving forwards in Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres and a hugely disappointing defenceman in Joni Pitkanen. They will probably miss defenceman Matt Greene, but it may prove to be worth it.

Picture a power play next season with Visnovsky and Souray on the points, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Cole up front?

The Chicago Blackhawks will have a decent power play as well after winning the Brian Campbell sweeptakes, dishing out $57.12 million over eight years for the offensive blue-liner. It's believed the Atlanta Thrashers offered $60 million over eight years but the 29-year-old Campbell chose the Windy City, where he'll trying to hit young forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with outlet passes.

We think the Hawks overpaid a little for Campbell but they didn't have a choice given the competing bids. Campbell will look terrific with a young team.

Day 1 of the NHL's free agency left us with an imcomplete picture heading into the evening. Hossa was the top name among the forwards still out there while defenceman Wade Redden was also still dangling.

The Oilers weren't alone in their pursuit of Hossa. Sources indicate Detroit, Boston and Montreal were among several teams in the mix. Redden had serious interest from San Jose and the New York Rangers, among other teams.

While they continued to weigh their options, the two highest-profile goalies on the market quickly made their choices.

Jose Theodore and Cristobal Huet decided to enter free agency despite immense interest from their teams last season to remain on board. Both made excellent choices. After turning down what was believed to be $3 million a year from Colorado, Theodore got $4.5 million a year in a two-year deal with Washington. The Capitals needed a goalie after Huet declined what was believed to be close to $5 million a year over three seasons.

Again, great decision. Huet got $22.5 million over four years from Chicago, a massive deal.

It also makes you wonder about Nikolai Khabibulin's future with the Blackhawks. He has one year left at $6.75 million. That's a $12.375-million salary cap hit in goal for the Hawks next season unless GM Dale Tallon can move Khabibulin.

Colorado lost out in the goalie shuffle, replacing Theodore with Toronto Maple Leaf castoff Andrew Raycroft, who will battle Peter Budaj for the No. 1 job next season.

Speaking of Toronto castoffs, we like Colorado's $4.5-million, two-year signing of Darcy Tucker. He's going to bounce back with a big year.

New Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis grabbed a bit of the spotlight Tuesday, offering unrestricted free-agent centre Mats Sundin a whopping $20-million, two-year deal and slapping down the first offer sheet of the season on a restricted free agent. The St. Louis Blues didn't wait long, immediately announcing they were matching the $7.5-million, three-year offer to forward David Backes.

We give Gillis points for making a couple of gutsy gambles, but we know it didn't make him popular with his colleagues around the league.

The Toronto Maple Leafs get kudos for bringing back Curtis Joseph to backup Vesa Toskala and finish his career with the team that matters most to him. But Toronto's $14-million, four-year deal with defenceman Jeff Finger is somewhat of a head scratcher.

That's a lot of money for a guy who has played 94 NHL games.



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