Ryan Smyth, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Wednesday, may have another reason to celebrate soon.

Sources say the Edmonton Oilers almost certainly will deal their star forward before the NHL's trade deadline next Tuesday.

That's reason to celebrate for Smyth because it means he'll be joining a contender.


And the Oilers certainly are not contending this season. They've deteriorated drastically since excelling in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Barring a winning streak of colossal proportions in the final six weeks of the regular season, the Oilers won't make the playoffs.

Sources say Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe is ready and eager to pull the trigger on a package deal for Smyth since his contract expires at season's end and since the Oilers don't plan to pay him his market value, which is about $5-million a season.

Smyth is collecting about $3.5-million this season.

•Future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic is another of the dozen or so players in their 30s and 40s who may well be traded before Tuesday.

Rumblings are strong that Sakic will be "rented" by a contender for the stretch run and the playoffs since his team, the Colorado Avalanche, is in the same boat as the Oilers. That is, it's going nowhere.

And then, after trading him, don't be surprised if Colorado turns right around and re-signs him as a free agent in the summer.

Sakic scored his 600th NHL goal the other night against the Calgary Flames. It was one of five points he collected in the Avalanche's 7-5 victory.

• The Ottawa Senators have improved significantly since acquiring ex-Oilers forward Mike Comrie from the Phoenix Coyotes, and there are those who believe he is the NHL's most improved player.

NHL.com, however, suggests Comrie's teammate qualifies as most improved player. There is no award for MIP in the NHL, but, if there were, NHL.com likes Chris Neil.

Entering Thursday night, Neil had 10 goals, 12 assists and 124 penalty minutes in 60 games.

"Chris had an opportunity to play more starting last year and I think he has really thrived on that,” teammate Wade Redden said. “He earned his way into this league as a tough guy and the way those players have to make their mark is not easy."

• There was a theory within the NHL last year that there was no longer room for tough guys, or enforcers, but that's changing.

Even in the new NHL, stars seem to need protection.

That's probably why the Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to obtain Georges Laracque from the Coyotes before Tuesday's deadline. Sidney Crosby needs protection.

Brian Burke, general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, also has let his colleagues know that he's in the market for a tough guy, sources say.

This is the same Brian Burke who used to dish out harsh penalties to goons for their dastardly deeds last decade, when he was the NHL's vice-president in charge of discipline.

"Brian has gone from being the police to being a criminal," remarked Toronto sportscaster Bob McCown and a self-proclaimed friend of Burke. "He's a complete proponent of goonery now."

• The Vancouver Canucks, as of Thursday night, are 17-3-3 since Boxing Day.

"They can do no wrong," said Jim Hughson, the Canucks' play-by-play voice. "They're unbelievable."

Denis Savard, coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, heaps accolades on the Canucks' goaltender, Roberto Luongo.

"He's the best goalie in the league now," Savard said. "There's really no question about that."

Luongo has won four of the six shootouts he’s been involved in with Vancouver, blocking 16 of the 23 shots he has faced in those situations for an impressive .696 save percentage.

• The hottest forward in the NHL is the Detroit Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg, who has notched 25 points in his past 10 games going into Thursday night.

Zetterbeg has excelled on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. And Zetterberg thinks Holmstrom, his fellow Swede, deserves more recognition than he's received.

"Me and Pavel have played together for a few years now on and off, and ever since coach put us together again, we're playing good hockey," Zetterberg said. "But Holmstrom has just been tremendous for us. I think he deserves more credit for the things he does for us. He creates a lot of room and he gives us a lot of time to do things.

"Most of the time when I shoot, Holmstrom is in front and the goalie doesn't see anything. I don't have the best shot in the league, but he makes it easier for me to score some goals.

"It is not easy to stand in front of the goalie and he takes a lot of beating in front but also he's great on tipping pucks. There is a lot of practice behind that. He's staying after practice to practice just on that. I think he's the best in the league on that."


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