This was trade deadline day for Alberta's two NHL teams: the Edmonton Oilers, on a four-game winning streak, acquired a veteran forward to add to their youthful mix, while the Calgary Flames, having won just four times in their last 13 games, unloaded yet another veteran in their bid to build a youthful mix.
While their Wednesday transactions were hardly ice shattering, they did underscore where the provincial rivals stand and in what direction they're headed. The Oilers are finally making good with all the young talent they assembled via their lean years and high draft picks. Rather than reconfigure their current lineup by moving out a body, team officials chose to acquire a depth player, centre Jerred Smithson for the Florida Panthers, for a fourth-round draft pick.
The trade, according to Oilers centre Sam Gagner, was "exciting" because, "It's building on something we already have."
Meanwhile, the Flames, having already parted with their captain (Jarome Iginla) and their top defenceman (Jay Bouwmeester), tried to trade their No. 1 goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and couldn't. He asked to stay put. So they unloaded forward Blake Comeau to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fifth-round draft pick. Combined, Calgary now has eight picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft – three of which could be first rounders – which signalled a process Flames general manager Jay Feaster had been loath to commence, let alone say. Until Wednesday.
"Retool, whatever you want to call it," Feaster told an afternoon news conference, "we're obviously going in a different direction."
Feaster acknowledged he was prepared to go further in the rebuild mode by trading Kiprusoff to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Finnish goalie no longer has a no-trade, no-movement clause in his contract and had asked to stay in Calgary. The Flames considered what Kiprusoff has done for the franchise – the multiple win seasons and trip to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final – and agreed to his wishes knowing they could have gotten something in return from Toronto.
"He will continue with us to the end of the season then we'll sit down and talk," Feaster said of the 36-year-old Kiprusoff, who has a year remaining on his contract and may opt to retire. "I would hope people would recognize this guy has been pretty good for the organization. Here's a player who said, 'I want to be here.' There's something noble in that."
Given his full-fledged commitment to rebuilding, Feaster was asked what the expectations were for next season. His answer was clear: "[Majority owner] Murray Edwards told me he expects to be in the playoffs next year. There's my marching order."
Heading into Wednesday's game against the Flames, the Oilers' playoff march had them within a point of eighth place in the Western Conference. With centre Eric Belanger sidelined with a groin injury, Edmonton officials wanted an adequate replacement, someone who could settle in easily and contribute. They believe they got that in Smithson.
"He will add to our defensive structure," was how Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger assessed Smithson's role. "He was the top minute man on the penalty kill for Nashville when he was there. He brings size and depth to our group. … It's a signal we're here to make the playoffs."
The Oilers have never been shy in labelling their down years as a way to rebuild. They believed their fans would understand how the process worked and the patience required. As the Flames now begin their own retooling, a process they never wanted to embrace until it was absolutely necessary, Gagner was quick to point out the work in Edmonton is far from done.
"I don't think you can look at it yet and say we've accomplished anything. We have to continue to get better and make the playoffs and become a contender," Gagner said. "Until we're at that stage, we still have a lot to learn. … You just don't win Stanley Cups because you have the right guys to do it; it's a matter of coming together and learning how to be a great team every night."