Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oiler options the main buzz

GM Tambellini hasn't tipped his hand on what he'll do with No. 1

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PITTSBURGH -- The Edmonton Oilers are holding the rest of the NHL hostage as they weigh the options available to them with the No. 1 pick in this year's entry draft.

There are all kinds of stories percolating and tongues are wagging on any number of subjects, but what the Oilers will do tonight is the main buzz.

The Oilers could trade down, select consensus No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov or attempt to fill a more pressing need on their blue-line and take Ryan Murray.

If the Oilers pass on Yakupov and select Murray, the top of the first round could get very interesting. The Columbus Blue Jackets pick second and Yakupov could scare them off. Columbus has had some trouble with Russians in the past. Swedish forward Filip Forsberg would likely fit into their plans.

The Montreal Canadiens pick third and they would be getting a gift if Yakupov was still available.

The Oilers hold all the cards and until NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announces a trade or Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini stands up and makes his selection how, the top 10 of the draft will unfold is really a guessing game.

Pav's plight

There has been lots of speculation the Winnipeg Jets are considering trading goalie Ondrej Pavelec but there's little substance to those rumours. Pavelec will either play in Winnipeg next season or in the KHL. Winnipeg management has no plans to trade the goalie.

The Jets are having a hard time getting a deal done with Pavelec's agent Allen Walsh, who is asking for a four-year deal in the $17 million range. The Jets have countered with a three-year pact coming in around $12 million.

Pavelec has an offer on the table from St. Petersburg of the KHL to pay him $5.5 million for one year. Walsh is using that offer to try and push the Jets up over $4 million per season for four years.

Winnipeg management has only worked with Pavelec for one season and his numbers, 2.91 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage, don't provide enough of a case for the Jets to put that much money and that much term on the line.

Walsh is a tough negotiator and this is an interesting test of Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Both sides will have to give a little for a deal to get done.

Manitoba muscle

Winnipeg-born defenceman Travis Brown's stock is rising and he could nudge into the third round of the draft. Brown played last season with the Moose Jaw Warriors and when teammate and projected top-10 pick Morgan Reilly was injured, he stepped in and ate up a big portion of the available minutes.

Portland Winterhawks winger Brendan Leipsic of Winnipeg is an interesting prospect and could be a late-round selection. Speed and skill are his strengths while size -- he's listed as 5-9 -- is a drawback. The other Winnipegger to keep an eye on is Calgary Hitmen goalie Chris Driedger, who is the 12th ranked North American goalie in the draft.

Leafs for Lu?

Canucks GM Mike Gillis is expected to try and peddle goalie Roberto Luongo and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is the most likely suitor. Burke might be able to make the deal with Gillis but getting Luongo's contract on the Leafs books is another matter. Luongo has 10 years left on his deal with six of them at close to $7 million.

Burke will likely need approval from his bosses to take on such a financial commitment. That picture is cloudy because of the change of ownership in Toronto, which is going through its final stages. Burke might be able to stickhandle his way through this depending on his status at the board level. If they're unsure about his future with the club, however, they may tie his hands on such a heavy contract.

Gnashing over Nash

Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson might be the busiest man in Pittsburgh right now as he fields inquiries about Rick Nash. The Blue Jackets will need to trade Nash this summer and a deal may or may not get done at the draft. Many expect the Blue Jackets to wait and see where New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise signs before they make a deal for Nash. Howson could make a deal right away if someone blows him away, but so far the proposals sent his way haven't budged him. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2012 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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