Oilers Watch: Offloading contracts a must at the deadline

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Thanks to the Vancouver Olympics, this year's NHL trade deadline will be conducted a little differently.

In the past, there has been one glorious day of frenzied trading, preceded by some very intriguing early-bird specials. But thanks to an Olympic break-inspired roster freeze, GMs around the league technically have two deadlines to work with.

The traditional, official deadline is March 3. But expect a lot of trades this week, culminating on Friday when the Olympic roster freeze goes into effect at midnight. The action has already begun with the Maple Leafs picking up Dion Phaneuf, Olli Jokinen heading to the Rangers and Ilya Kovalchuk becoming a Devil. But if Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini has any designs on self-preservation, he must peddle away some of the awful contracts taken on by the team in recent years. The most obvious, yet also most difficult, is defenseman Sheldon Souray. A broken hand and a reported list of six teams he will waive his no-trade clause to join are the sticking points. Especially since the majority of those six teams have neither the need, cap space or willingness to acquire him. Fellow veteran blueliner Steve Staios, however, is a bit more manageable. Yes, his $2.7 million cap hit is ugly, but the contract was front-loaded, so a team would only be on the hook for $2.2 million of real money next year, which is also the final season on the deal. Given the financial straits of some NHL teams right now (not only the bad ones), this is an intriguing contract. Up front, it seems almost cruel to dangle Mike Comrie on the open market, since he only recently returned from an extended bout of mononucleosis, but the native son is a rarity on the Oilers right now: a pending unrestricted free agent who could contribute to a contending playoff team. His $1.25 million salary is very easy to swallow and since he would be a “rental” this year, there's no reason he couldn't return to Edmonton in the near future should he so desire. With goalies Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk both in need of new contracts this summer, not to mention defenseman Denis Grebeshkov and forwards Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, the Oilers are going to need some serious cap space this summer. Trading away contracts would be a great start.This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.



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