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Rising NHL salary cap spurs trading frenzy

The Ryan Smyth soap opera finally, blessedly came to an end Sunday when the Edmonton Oilers agreed to take their former stalwart back from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Colin Fraser and a seventh-round draft choice.

This is how things work in the new NHL. The Oilers essentially could have had Smyth for free, but insisted that Los Angeles take a contract off their hands to make the deal fly.

Whatever happened to the days of making a trade for the sake of making a trade?

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Only one day earlier, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster explained the primary motivation behind his deal with the Buffalo Sabres as a chance to emerge from "salary-cap jail."

After Feaster completed a deal to trade defenceman Robyn Regehr and forward Ales Kotalik to the Sabres, it opened up enough salary-cap room to sign Alex Tanguay to a five-year, $17.5-million (all currency U.S.) contract extension, thus keeping Tanguay's linemate, Jarome Iginla, happy, because now Iginla still has somebody who can get him the puck.

Virtually every trade last weekend was like that, filtered through the prism of a salary cap that will jump to $64.3-million for the 2011-12 season, and will include a spending floor of $48.3-million.

The latter number figured in the most prominent draft-day deal, the one that sent defenceman Brian Campbell and his $7.1-million annual salary from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Florida Panthers in exchange for the young but underachieving Czech prospect Rostislav Olesz.

In Florida, Campbell will be reunited with general manager Dale Tallon, who originally signed him to what was once thought to be an untradeable eight-year, $56.8-million deal.

But Tallon came to the draft with about $15-million committed to salaries for next year, and even now, with Campbell on the roster, still isn't even halfway to the floor.

Tallon said he needed to do a sales job on Campbell to convince him to leave Chicago, only one season removed from a Stanley Cup championship, to join the rebuilding Panthers.

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"It's history, relationships," Tallon said. "We had to sell him to come to Chicago, and he came. I didn't have to sell him that hard to come to Florida. It's going to be a destination to play hockey."

Or so he hopes.

"We're not there yet, obviously," Tallon added, "but with the drafts we had this year and last year, we're going to get there in a hurry, and with the ability to sign free agents and make some deals, we're going to get there quicker than we did in the past."

Florida has company at the bottom with the Ottawa Senators and the Oilers, both trying to push their way back up the standings. Between them, the Oilers and Senators landed six of the top 31 prospects in the draft, with Ottawa then adding the intriguing if underachieving Nikita Filatov in a Saturday deal with Columbus. Filatov was the sixth overall choice only two years ago and has a big upside, if he can ever figure out how to play the NHL style.

The Oilers had an equally interesting few days. After addressing organizational needs for a No. 1 centre and depth on defence by taking, respectively, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom in the first round of the draft, they then added defencemen David Musil and Dillon Simpson in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Musil is the son of Oilers scout Frank Musil, and Simpson is the son of Craig Simpson, a former Oilers assistant coach who also won a Stanley Cup with them in 1990.

In the past two years, no teams have had more opportunities to add quality and depth through the draft than Florida and Edmonton. You'd think that some day soon, all that promise is going to have to morph into something more tangible, like wins in the standings and playoff berths. Maybe adding Smyth to all that raw youth is just what the Oilers need to take that great leap forward. They can't just both stay bad forever … can they?

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