Oilers trade for defensemen Spacek, Tarnstrom

LOS ANGELES -- The Edmonton Oilers improved their defense by making two trades Thursday, acquiring Jaroslav Spacek from the Chicago Blackhawks and Dick Tarnstrom from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe first sent forward Jani Rita and defenseman Cory Cross to Pittsburgh for Tarnstrom before shipping left winger Tony Salmelainen to Chicago for Spacek.

"We just saw a need to upgrade our defense, and this was an opportunity to do it," Edmonton assistant GM Scott Howson said Thursday night before the Oilers played the Los Angeles Kings. "There's an old saying: You can never have enough defensemen. To be strong at that position is very important, and we think we're
well-equipped going into the stretch drive."

Chosen for the Czech Republic Olympic team, Spacek has seven goals, 17 assists and a plus-8 rating in 45 games this season. The 31-year-old defenseman signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent in August.

Tarnstrom, also 31, should give Edmonton a boost on the power play, though he had only five goals and five assists in 33 games with the struggling Penguins. He is a minus-10.

"We think he'll help us on the power play," Howson said. "It's becoming evident that in today's game, puck movement is really important back there. And he can move the puck very well. Spacek can move the puck well, too. He's a little grittier and probably more of a defensive guy, but we think he might be able to play some power-play minutes also and maybe play in a top-four role -- depending on how he fits into that group."

Spacek and Tarnstrom can become unrestricted free agents after the season. In Edmonton, they join a defense corps that already includes Chris Pronger (32 points), Marc-Andre Bergeron (26 points), Steve Staios (plus-9) and Jason Smith.

The Oilers entered Thursday night's game in Los Angeles with 58 points, good for eighth place in the Western Conference. Chicago (38 points) and Pittsburgh (33 points) were both far behind in the playoff race, with little hope of contention.

The 24-year-old Salmelainen has been playing for HIFK in Finland this season and was leading the Finnish League with 22 goals and 19 assists in 41 games.

"We are continuing to make changes and adapting to a new style of play," Chicago general manager Dale Tallon said. "We're trying to get more skill and speed in our lineup. Salmelainen possess breakaway speed and has great offensive ability."

Salmelainen was the 41st overall pick in the 1999 draft. He played in 13 games for the Oilers in 2003-04. Last year, he played for the AHL team in Edmonton, scoring 22 goals and adding 24 assists in 76 games.

A 12-year NHL veteran, the 35-year-old Cross had two goals, three assists and a minus-5 rating in 34 games this season.

Rita had three goals in 21 games. The 13th overall pick in the 1999 draft, he has six goals and one assist in 36 career NHL games.

The Blackhawks also recalled defenseman Danny Richmond from AHL Norfolk. Richmond was acquired last week in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.