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  Let's All Do the Oiler Shuffle
by Jim Iovino, Ace Reporter

Following a first round upset of the Dallas Stars in last season's playoffs, there were great expectations of the Edmonton Oilers. There was good reason for the optimism in Edmonton. The Oilers were a young, fast and talented team that had plenty of upside and plenty of room for improvement.

But something happened to the Oiler franchise from Game 7 of the Dallas series to the beginning of this season. The lineup was basically the same, but there was a big difference between their on-ice showings. Last season the Oilers were slick. This season they were more like sludge.

Oiler GM Glen Sather, never one to just sit back and let his payroll produce duds, felt that a drastic change was needed before the season could be considered a total write-off. And so after a few simple phone calls, Sather changed nearly half of his roster.

Jason Arnott and Bryan Muir were sent to New Jersey for Bill Guerin and Valeri Zelepukin; Bryan Marchment, Steve Kelly and Jason Bonsignore were shipped to Tampa Bay for Roman Hamrlik and unsigned draft pick (and Edmonton native) Paul Comrie; Drew Bannister was traded to Anaheim for Bobby Dollas; and Tony Hrkac was picked up on waivers from the Dallas Stars.

And just like that, there is hope again in Edmonton of another playoff miracle in 1998. Let's look and see exactly who got what and how it will help each team.

Trade Analysis

What the Oilers got:

The Oilers played Let's Make a Deal with these trades, exchanging one underachiever with tremendous upside (Jason Arnott) for another (Roman Hamrlik). Gone is Jason Arnott, who after breaking Jari Kurri's rookie goal-scoring record with 33 in 1993-94, hadn't lived up to the expectations placed on him by the team, fans and media.

In return, the Oilers acquired Bill Guerin. Guerin, 27, had contract problems and philosophical differences in New Jersey and allegedly only signed with the team so he could play in the Olympics. In 19 games with the Devils this season, Guerin scored just five goals and 10 points. But now that he's out of Jersey and Jacques Lemaire's stifling defensive system, it could be time for the power forward to explode onto the scene like some thought he would several years ago. The Oilers play a wide open offensive game, so Guerin should get plenty of opportunities to display his talents on the fast, smooth ice in Edmonton.

Valeri Zelepukin is a defensive-minded forward that should help the Oilers on special teams and at even strength. Zelepukin was on the Devils' top checking line for most of the season. But Sather is hoping that Zelepukin can also help in another area with the Oilers: team chemistry. Zelepukin and Andrei Kovalenko played together during the World Cup, and the pair seems to be excited about playing together again in Edmonton. Rem Murray is centering the two Russian wingers. Kovalenko has more jump in his legs, and the Oilers hope that jump leads to more goals. After scoring 32 last season, he has only found the back of the net three times.

Chemistry might also help Guerin get back on the right track. He and Doug Weight played together on the US World Cup team, and are hoping for the same success in Edmonton. Weight lost one of his best friends in Arnott, so it should be interesting to see how he reacts the rest of the season.

Roman Hamrlik is an enigma. He has all the tools to be one of the best defensemen the game has seen in a long time, but he's known more for being a Metallica fan than anything else. Hamrlik wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay, so it will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old responds to being traded. So far, things seem to be going well. Hamrlik has been lined up next to Boris Mironov on the point during Oiler power plays, and the two are clicking. Add in Guerin down low with Weight and Ryan Smyth, and Edmonton looks to have a formidable No. 1 power play unit.

The trade for Bobby Dollas is a direct response to the exiting of Bryan Marchment. With Marchment's absence, the Oilers lacked a big physical defenseman. Dollas publicly requested a trade, and the Oilers were happy to take him off of the Ducks' hands.

Tony Hrkac (doesn't rhyme with gherkin) is a career minor league who happened to get a chance a few weeks back with the Dallas Stars when the team was struck with injuries. Hrkac impressed many during his limited opportunity, enough so that when the Stars tried to send him back down to the minors through waivers, the Oilers quickly snagged him up and stuck him on the big team's roster. Hrkac has scored seven goals (11 points) in 16 games this season.

What the Devils Got:

As mentioned above, Jason Arnott has a ton of potential, but hasn't found the right way to show it off yet. The 23-year-old center is already a veteran, this being his fifth season and all, and has the size to match up well with any other center in the Atlantic Division. Think of him as New Jersey's answer to the Flyers' acquisition of Chris Gratton over the offseason.

For now, however, Arnott is playing on a wing beside Doug Gilmour. The Devils feel that Arnott's confidence was at an all-time low at the time of his departure from Edmonton, and some time with a veteran like Gilmour would do him a world of good. Arnott scored only five goals, 18 points and was a -16 during his 35 games with the Oilers this season.

The one downside of Arnott is that he's in the last year of his contract, and could ask for Chris Gratton type money after the season. The Devils will have to decide if they want to keep him or not, considering they just handed out big bucks to Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur and Randy McKay and are also looking to re- sign Gilmour.

Bryan Muir showed some promise during the playoffs last year against the Stars. He's a 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman who hasn't played in the NHL yet this season. He will begin his Devils career in Albany.

What the Lightning Got:

The Lightning finally gave up on Roman Hamrlik, so they had to hunt for a buyer for their most valuable commodity. The Lightning went a dull route with the acquisition of Bryan Marchment, Steve Kelly and Jason Bonsignore.

Marchment grabbed headlines recently for his questionable checks on Dallas players. He submarined both Mike Modano and Greg Adams, almost guaranteeing a bounty on his own head the next time he faces the Stars. Marchment is big and physical. He's a solid NHL blueliner that should immediately help out the Lightning defense, which is constantly under stress due to a lack of scoring up front.

Kelly will be counted on to add some of that scoring. The Lightning have been devastated on offense this season, losing Johnny Cullen, Brian Bradley and others for long periods of time to injuries or other factors. Kelly, a 21-year-old center possesses a lot of speed and a lot of skill. He was a prolific scorer in juniors, but it remains to be seen whether he can produce at the NHL level. Kelly isn't all that bruising, though. So don't expect many big hits from him. He will occasionally stick his nose into places it doesn't belong, however, which is a good sign.

Like so many young players before and after him, Bonsignore came out of the 1994 draft being touted as the next Mario Lemieux. His size and skill were similar to Lemieux's, but Bonsignore wasn't ready to jump right into the NHL. That might have hurt his confidence some, but whatever the reason, Bonsignore has been a disappointment at the NHL level. The good news is that the 6-foot-4 center is only 21 and still has time to turn into a decent player.

What the Ducks got:

Drew Bannister is a tall, lanky defenseman that is still trying to find his niche in the NHL. The problem is that every time Bannister starts to feel comfortable in an NHL city, he gets traded. Bannister has only played around 100 games in the NHL, but he's already on his third team. Bannister has some good offensive skills and the Oilers liked him, but the addition of Roman Hamrlik meant Bannister was expendable.

The Ducks are going to a youth movement on defense, so Bannister should fit in well there. At least until they decide to change their plans, that is...

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