Happy? Not Oilers, not Flyers, not Ducks

Originally Published: December 16, 2003
By Jim Kelley | ESPN.com

With the possible exception of Mike Comrie, I can't for the life of me figure out who could be happy with the deal that sent the unsigned Edmonton Oilers center to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman-to-be Jeff Woywitka, a first-round pick in the 2004 entry draft and a third-round pick in 2005.

Mike Comrie
Comrie

On the surface, the Oilers can't be happy. Sure, they finally move a commodity that has talent but wasn't playing and get an up-and-coming youngster and some draft picks, but that's what the Oilers always get when they make these kinds of deals.

They draft wisely and well, develop the same way, then lose the player to a larger market with more money, all the while having to go back to their fans and explain that they're in an economic bind and that that's what they have to do in order to survive. They survive, but only to miss the playoffs or go out in the first round. The days of championship runs there apparently are gone forever -- or at least until new money or a new collective bargaining agreement comes into play.

In the interim, however, the Oilers take a 51-point player out of their lineup (20 goals, 31 assists in 69 games last season) and lose another player just coming into his prime as an NHLer.

There are other repercussions, however, not the least of which are in Anaheim. Ducks general manager Bryan Murray can't be happy that details of a deal he had made with Edmonton, a deal that would have sent 2003 No.1 draft pick Corey Perry to the Oilers along with a No.1 pick, came out. That deal was scuttled when Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe agreed to the framework and then apparently asked Comrie for some $2.5 million to obtain his release. Naturally, Comrie balked, the deal died and now the Ducks don't have Comrie and will have to explain to Perry that he's still wanted there even though they had agreed to trade him away.

Murray was not immediately reachable for comment, but if I were in his chair, I'd be mighty upset with Mr. Lowe. Lowe can argue that he got more from Philadelphia and that he sends Comrie to an Eastern Conference club rather than have him return to Edmonton regularly with the Ducks, but that can't sit well with Murray. He didn't improve his team after he agreed to a deal and a contract with Comrie. He also had to deal with the consequences of how Perry would react.

When something like that happens, you naturally figure money played a role somewhere. Everyone in Edmonton is adamant that no cash is going to the Oilers along with the player and draft picks, but if that's true, why didn't Lowe continue to insist that Comrie pay his way out? Philadelphia or Anaheim: Why does one team get the break and the other get a broken deal?

Lowe may have even complicated things for himself by finally admitting that money wasn't the only issue with Comrie, that there was a personality clash, as well. It's hard to apply the rules of money to one deal and let them slide in another, especially when you admit you had enough money to perhaps satisfy Comrie but couldn't get a deal done.

Then there's the Philadelphia fit. You can argue that the Flyers had young players and draft picks to spare when they opted to make this deal, and you would be right, but does this address a real need? The Flyers are fabulously deep at center, but they failed in a showdown home-and-home series with their division archrivals the New Jersey Devils, mostly because of their play in goal. The Flyers are a very good team, maybe the best in the East this season, but goaltending has been their problem for years now, and getting a smallish center who is more of a playmaker than a power forward doesn't address what they truly need to get past the Devils and/or the Ottawa Senators, two teams that have frustrated them in the past.

Woywitka is no small price for the Flyers to pay. He's currently with their AHL team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, but he's projected to be a solid NHL pro. He has strong skating ability and a flair for offense. Mobility and a scoring touch from the back end is not the hallmark of the Philadelphia attack so it's not as though Philadelphia general manager Bob Clarke was giving away a player he would never need.

Clarke said the move strengthens his team down the middle, and he's right. He also said that Comrie hasn't agreed to any contract terms and that the deal goes through even if Comrie doesn't sign a contract.

Makes you wonder if there isn't a second shoe to drop on this deal. The Flyers now have a solid surplus of forwards, especially centers. They can move one to the wing or perhaps move one -- or even Comrie's rights -- somewhere else.

Maybe even get a goalie in the process.

Meanwhile, Lowe has some fence mending to do. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Murray would cry foul and ask the NHL to intervene (unless of course Comrie eventually comes his way). It's not unlikely that he'll think twice about dealing with Lowe again, as will a great many other general managers, the majority of whom would not relish the circumstances that befell Murray.

Lowe also made a point of expressing regret that details of the agreed-to deal with Anaheim became public, a not-so-subtle shot perceived by many to be directed toward Comrie's agent, Rich Winter. That too is a relationship that bears watching.

As we said at the top, it's hard to imagine anyone is truly happy with this except Comrie, and even he still has to find a way to make a deal, and maybe a place for himself in Philadelphia.

Then again, maybe not.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.

ALSO SEE