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Crude facts of salary cap life

Oiler favorite Smyth found skids greased

RYAN SMYTH Now an Islander RYAN SMYTH Now an Islander

Few players in today's NHL carried the kind of profile Ryan Smyth had in Edmonton. He was the Oilers. Slow afoot, maybe. Lacking in finesse, for sure. But he overcame both of those deficiencies with a mother lode of will and determination, and Edmonton fans embraced him as their own over the years as the great Oiler dynasty faded into memory.

Last Tuesday, unable to sign Smyth to a contract extension, the Oilers shockingly traded the face of their franchise to the Islanders.

Talk about a left cross followed by a right hook. In July, less than a month after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Oilers were compelled to move franchise defenseman Chris Pronger to the Ducks. Personal reasons, said Pronger, whose wife, it was widely reported, didn't care to spend her winters in the Great White North.

Then came news Tuesday, just after 1 p.m. in Edmonton, that the Banff-born Smyth was dished to Uniondale for Robert Nilsson (son of ex-NHLer Kent) and Ryan O'Marra, both former first-round draft picks. O'Marra projects as a legit second-line pivot, while Nilsson, also a center, might be more of an impact player -- although he hasn't shown it in his stretches with the Isles.

As expected, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe took a beating (think Mike O'Connell in wake of the Joe Thornton deal) from the local vox populi. On the books for $3.5 million this season, a deal that had him pointed toward unrestricted free agency July 1, Smyth was on the verge of working out a long-term extension to remain in northern Alberta. His agent, Don Meehan, was presented a deal that one source familiar with the negotiations contends stood at five years/$27 million. Overall, it was one year longer and about $9 million more than the Oilers' starting point in negotiations.

What did Smyth want? Numerous reports last week had it that the total gap in talks was no more than $1 million, and might have been as short as $100,000 per year. Just prior to the swap, Lowe warned Meehan of the "ramifications" if the agent didn't call back to accept the standing offer. When the phone didn't ring shortly after noon in Edmonton, Lowe cut the deal with Islanders rookie GM Garth Snow, the former US Olympic goalie from Wrentham.

Get used to this, folks. It's life in the new CBA-NHL, and there is no denying that hyphenated relationship, or the excruciating decisions it will continue to present.

Sure, Lowe could have relented and gone the extra $500,000 or $1 million, but every year there is a finite salary-cap figure (this season's is $44 million), and tossing around that extra $500k here or $1m there eventually leads to being unable to fill the bottom of the roster with a $500,000 defenseman or winger.

Every roster has those guys. In fact, most rosters have at least three or four. And as the money for high-end guys gets higher, soon every team will have a half-dozen or more. Top dogs will get their cash, and the runts of the litter will go barking.

The Sabres are going to find out the harsh reality this summer, with their two franchise forwards, Chris Drury ($3.154 million) and Daniel Briere ($5 million) headed for the open market. The following July, Jarome Iginla ($7 million) and Miikka Kiprusoff ($3.6 million) are pegged for UFA, as well as San Jose's Thornton ($6.67 million) and Patrick Marleau ($4.5 million). As the Oilers found out, it's hard enough to settle with one franchise player. Imagine making a pair happy. And you can bet that both Iginla and Thornton will be looking to score "max cap" deals in '08, when that figure will be upward of $10 million a year.

Nothing, of course, prevents Smyth from seeing his deal expire on Long Island and then returning to Edmonton for a new deal. But, remember, he is now on Long Island, where owner Charles Wang OK'd a 15 year/$67.5 million deal for Goalie For Life Rick DiPietro. Roughly 25 miles to the west, Smyth has old friend Glen Sather running the Rangers. Slats was still running the Oil in 1994 when the scouting staff suggested against making Smyth the No. 6 pick in the draft, only to have Slats exercise presidential veto and take the hard-nosed Albertan boy.

In other words, Smyth has options, some he likely never considered, and that undoubtedly will only spike his price even higher over the next three-plus months. He might see offers as high as $6.5 million per year once July 1 arrives because of the valuable heart-and-soul intangibles he brings to the ice.

All he knows now is that the Oilers won't pay that, or anything close to it, and he now has a strange logo on his chest as proof.

Bruins plan a summer camp

According to assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, the Bruins will hold a prospects/development camp in July, likely at the club's training headquarters in Wilmington.

"We want to give them everything we can give them in order for them to be prepared for the pro game," said Gorton. "There will be some coaching, information on nutrition, work with [strength and conditioning coach] John Whitesides.

"Don Sweeney [director of player development] has put together quite an agenda. We think giving these guys a head start can be invaluable."

Gorton said likely candidates will include a handful of European prospects, including Tuukka Rask (G), Vladimir Sobotka (C), Mikko Lehtonen (RW), and Yuri Alexandrov (D), along with players who have spent most of this season in Providence, such as David Krejci (C), Petr Kalus (RW), Martins Karsums (RW), and Matt Lashoff (D).

Gorton wanted to have the same camp last summer, but there were too many visa hurdles to overcome.

"We're looking at about 20 players total," said Gorton. "If all goes as planned, it will be 10 days or a couple of weeks after free agency begins [July 1].

Toivonen continues to go nowhere -- except Providence

The Ottawa Citizen reported that the Bruins offered Tim Thomas and Paul Mara to the Senators for goalie Martin Gerber and defenseman Christoph Schubert prior to Tuesday's trade deadline.

Believable? Certainly the money would have worked. Based on this season's salaries, the price tag for the two Senators is $4.225 million, while Thomas and Mara are worth a combined $4.2 million. What's better than a swap with a net difference of $25,000? Toss in a load of featherweight sticks and it's a deal.

In the end, everyone stayed put, except for Mara, who was swapped to the Rangers for Aaron Ward.

The surprise of the day, in terms of Bruins netminding, was that they didn't deal prospect Hannu Toivonen, who was ditched to Providence (AHL) in the hours following Boston's acquisition of backup Joey MacDonald. General manager Peter Chiarelli, the day he acquired MacDonald, said, "Hannu's had a tough ride, and circumstances have dictated that he is not playing . . . We have to address that in short order, and [acquiring MacDonald] is part of it."

Clearly, coach Dave Lewis has lost faith in the young Finnish backstop, and the result has been to work Thomas like a rented Clydesdale. With prospect Tuukka Rask no doubt to be signed prior to June 1, it's all too obvious that it's time for Toivonen to get a fresh start somewhere else.


A peek into the future?
While the Bruins were on their protracted road trip, goalie coach Bob Essensa headed to Finland to get a first-hand look at Tuukka Rask, the Finnish phenom who will turn 20 next Saturday. "Bob saw him play three games," said Bruins assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, "and he was very impressed with his athletic ability, his composure, and his overall ability to stop the puck." Acquired in last summer's swap that sent Andrew Raycroft to Toronto, Rask must come to contract terms with the Bruins prior to June 1 or he will be eligible for the June 23-24 draft.

British invasion
The Kings and Ducks will open their 2007-08 season with back-to-back games in London Sept. 29-30, playing in the state-of-the-art 02 Arena that is owned and operated by AEG Group, parent company of the Kings. The NHL views this as part of the commitment to grow the game on a global basis. The greatest growth potential could rest in the development one day of a European division. Evening games over there would be perfect for Saturday/Sunday matinees over here.

Broken wheel
Once the Blues dished Bill Guerin to San Jose, where he was reunited with fellow former Bostonians Joe Thornton and Kyle McLaren, the Red Wings dealt for bad-backed rental Todd Bertuzzi, amid speculation around the league that the Winged Wheels had at least mild interest in Boston's Glen Murray. Bertuzzi, still recovering from back surgery, has played only seven games this season but hopes to suit up in Hockeytown within 2-3 weeks. Meanwhile, Big Bert still has a $19.5 million civil suit pending against him for assault against then-Colorado forward Steve Moore on March 8, 2004. Bertuzzi and Chris Chelios, arch enemies when Bertuzzi was in Vancouver, chatted up and made nice prior to Bertuzzi's first practice. Before arriving in Detroit, Bertuzzi opined, "I don't think me and Chelly are going to room together."

Shooting gallery
Not a pretty sight at the Garden Thursday night, the Bruins allowing the bottom-feeding Flyers 55 shots on net (a dozen by Jeff Carter). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the highest shot total ever allowed by the Bruins on Causeway Street. (The Bruins gave up 57 shots to the Red Wings in a 10-3 shellacking at Detroit on March 18, 1965.) It also was the most ever by the Flyers in a road game, and it equaled the 55 they landed on Phoenix at Philadelphia in January 1997. Stark stats. And all the more concerning for the Bruins, considering that they brought in two new defensemen, Aaron Ward and Dennis Wideman, with an eye on tightening up the blue line.

View from behind the bench
Ex-Bruin Craig Janney is enjoying life as coach of the Lubbock Cotton Kings. "You know what? So far, so good," said Janney. "I'm out here in West Texas, right near Texas Tech, rubbing elbows with Bobby Knight." Janney got the job when ex-Bostonian Joe Bucchino called the Bruins' alumni, asking if any of the Oldie Black-and-Goldies wanted to get into coaching. "Not so bad," said Janney. "It can be a little frustrating, because as a former skill player, you see options out there that some of these kids don't. But overall, it's OK. I just didn't know that it would mean making player-personnel decisions, too, and I've already had to gas a kid. That wasn't any fun."

Loose pucks
Not all New Jersey picks turn to gold. Defenseman David Hale, whom the 16Ws made the No. 22 pick in the 2000 draft, was dealt last week (along with a fifth-round pick) to the Flames for a third-round pick this June. Hale was rumored in the many would-be trades early last month that had then-Bostonian Brad Stuart headed to New Jersey. Now Stuart and Hale are teammates in southern Alberta . . . Anaheim GM Brian Burke, who penned a revealing trade-day-related diary for USA Today, had interest in both Keith Tkachuk (dished to Atlanta) and Guerin. Unwilling to deal his youth, he settled for Brad May, a spare part this season with the Avalanche . . . Speculation increases around the league that the Avalanche in June will buy out the remaining year on former MVP Jose Theodore's contract. If so, the ex-Habs goalie will be paid $2 million each of the next two seasons, and will be free to sign with a club of his choice. All he would need is a two-year deal paying $1 million per season to recoup his dollars lost to buyout. At such relative short money, he'll no doubt get a chance to rebuild his name as a backup . . . Mara, dished to the Blueshirts Tuesday, tried to make it to Manhattan in time to suit up that night. But his flight out of Logan was delayed, and then he couldn't board a charter flight (arranged by the Rangers) because his commercial carrier on the delayed flight couldn't locate his equipment. When he finally made it to Broadway, it was the second intermission . . . Drury, still recovering from the steamrolling hit delivered by Chris Neil, hopes to return to action Wednesday against Colorado. As for tape of the Neil hit that left him with a 20-stitch gash around his right eye, he said, "I've seen it probably more than I want to. But being angry or mad or upset isn't going to get me back any sooner." . . . Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan, who had his bell rung in an accidental collision with Mike Knuble, is plagued by a lingering inner-ear problem, the result of the head-to-head blow . . . What got Gary Roberts to surrender his no-trade clause and accept a deal to the Penguins? A call to the hardnail winger from Mario Lemieux. Nice to see legacy still carries some influence.

Kevin Paul Dupont's e-mail address is; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.