With Edmonton riding a four-game win streak that has them back in playoff contention, Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini went into Wednesday’s trade deadline looking more to send the right message than to make any moves.
He did make one deal, however, obtaining veteran forward Jerred Smithson from the Florida Panthers for a fourth round draft pick — a move he sees as giving the Oilers some desperately needed help in the faceoff circle.
But he said after the deadline passed that trading any of the Oilers core players would have sent the wrong message at the wrong time.
“The last thing I wanted to do was take away something, where they thought maybe they didn’t have as good a chance to win as they did the day before,” said Tambellini.
“Yes, there were a lot of different scenarios where I could have moved people for mid-round picks, maybe a little higher in a couple of circumstances, but that wasn’t my goal coming into this deadline.
“It was to find somehow to not take away from the depth of our dressing room, or the people we have asked to compete so hard to get to this spot, to show them we trust this group. That was an important message in itself.”
One of the players often mentioned in trade talks was veteran defenceman Ryan Whitney, who was benched a couple of times earlier this season. But he’s been a strong performer in recent games, which influenced Tambellini to keep him.
“Two things,” Tambellini said, “one, the fact that he’s playing well. Two, his ability to move the puck is something we desperately need. We have skilled forwards who demand the puck at the right time. I didn’t see anywhere in the day where I thought I could replace that type of puck moving D. That would be a real takeaway that would have affected our hockey club.”
Tambellini said he had some significant discussions with various teams but nothing that involved moving any of the Oilers core players. Partly, he said, because he’s in a mindset of adding to the group without losing any of the young, skilled players.
Adding Smithson fits that scenario and both he and coach Ralph Krueger see him as a significant addition.
“Jerred Smithson is well known for his defensive abilities, (is) a very strong face-off person,” said Tambellini. “He brings us size and strength in the faceoff circle. He can play centre, he can play wing so he’s a versatile guy. And the fact he’s a veteran player, is something we were looking for.”
Besides his strength in the faceoff circle, where the Oilers obviously need help, Smithson brings size and depth, something that Krueger likes.
“That’s a great acquisition today for our organization,” Krueger said from Calgary where the Oilers were to play the Flames Tuesday evening. “He was a top minute penalty killer in Nashville the last four seasons he was there. He was in the top three for Florida the one year he was with them.
“He’s like a 53, 54 per cent faceoff guy, just a defensive centreman who brings size and depth into our group that we can really use.”
Krueger also liked the fact that Tambellini didn’t mess with the current roster that appears to have jelled in the last couple of weeks.
“I’m content with the players we have here,” he said. “I love the group. I love what they’re doing.”
Ryan Jones, who played with Smithson in Nashville, said he’s a gritty player who will complement the Oilers roster.
“He went to the playoffs with Nashville once or twice, so he’s been there before and we can use him down the stretch when we need a little bit of that leadership,” Jones said. “We don’t have too many guys in this locker room who have experienced the push to the playoffs, so any time you can add a little bit of that it’ll help for sure.”
Smithson and his wife are expecting their first child at any moment and Tambellini said he expects the newcomer to join the Oilers on the weekend.