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Oilers trade Torres to Blue Jackets, Pitkanen to Hurricanes

The Edmonton Oilers continued to position themselves for the free-agent market by shedding salary Tuesday.

First, they traded rugged forward Raffi Torres to the Columbus Blue Jackets for underachieving prospect Gilbert Brule.

Then, they sent restricted free-agent defenseman Joni Pitkanen to the Carolina Hurricanes for winger Erik Cole.

Torres missed the last 49 games of the regular season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee but will play an in-your-face style that should suit the Blue Jackets. Torres is due $5.15 million for the next two seasons, while Brule will earn just $765,000 before he becomes a restricted free agent after the 2008-09 season.

"It's time to open up the next chapter in my life," a happy Torres said by telephone

He hopes to be 100 percent healed by the time camp opens, but has yet to skate since the injury.

"It's going to take some time," he said. "I'm still a little nervous to see how it is when I get out there."

The cap space opened by the moves could mean the Oilers will be in the hunt for Marian Hossa.

With money to spend on veteran free agents, the Blue Jackets also filled a huge hole with the signing of defenseman Mike Commodore, a 6-foot-5, 228-pounder who provides a hulking presence on the blue line that they have been missing.

Brule, the sixth overall pick in 2005 who was sent to the minors last season, will get a fresh start with a young, talented Oilers forward contingent.

The Pitkanen-Cole deal works for both clubs as the Hurricanes are looking to fill a number of gaps along their blue line, what with Glen Wesley calling it quits and the expected retirement of Bret Hedican.

"We've wrestled with this one for a while now, but in order to get what your needs are, you have to give something up," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said during a news conference. "Unfortunately, in this case, it was Erik Cole."

The 24-year-old Pitkanen had eight goals and 18 assists in his only season with Edmonton, ranking second among the team's defensemen in scoring after he was picked up in a trade last summer with the Flyers -- who selected him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 draft. He is a restricted free agent who made $2.4 million in 2007-08, and Rutherford said preliminary negotiations are underway.

"Over the last year, we've watched him a lot closer, knowing that there may be the possibility of a trade," Rutherford said. "People have different opinions of him, maybe that he's underachieved at times, but when you're picked in the top four or five in the NHL draft, you [face] very high expectations. And aside from the high expectations, I'm not sure that he's underachieved a lot."

Carolina hopes forward Tuomo Ruutu -- one of Pitkanen's closest friends and a fellow native of Finland -- will slide into Cole's spot on the No. 1 line alongside face of the franchise Eric Staal and veteran left wing Ray Whitney.

Cole, 29, had 22 goals and 29 assists in his sixth season with the Hurricanes and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup two years ago, despite suffering broken bones in his vertebrae. He is entering the final year of a contract that pays him $4 million per season.

"I don't believe that there [were] any welcoming committees there for me during the Cup finals, but I'm excited," Cole said. "Obviously, it's always tough to leave friends and be traded from friends and see friends go, but that's the nature of the business, and I'm ready for a fresh start."

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes agreed to a deal that will bring back defenseman Anton Babchuk for one year at $1 million. They also reached deals with three of their own free agents: forwards Ryan Bayda and Wade Brookbank and defenseman Tim Conboy.

Carolina had acquired Babchuk during the 2005-06 season and he split time the following year with the Hurricanes and Albany, the club's American Hockey League affiliate. Last season, the 24-year-old had nine goals and 17 assists in 57 games with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superliga.

Bayda and Brookbank, both unrestricted free agents, agreed to one-year deals worth $475,000 in 2008-09. Conboy, a restricted free agent, signed a two-year contract that this season will pay him $475,000 at the NHL level or $100,000 if he is sent to the minors and $500,000 at the NHL level in 2009-10.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.