Though Oilers forward Ryan Smyth (right) and defenseman Steve Staios are key to the team's effort to return to the finals, G.M.'s are eyeing them covetously. Both will be unrestricted free agents next summer, and while Edmonton G.M. Kevin Lowe would love to keep them, he's also the master of the preemptive strike and will trade a player he does not think he can sign.... The key to Nashville's up-tempo play is the mobility and passing skills of young defensemen Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, all younger than 24. Coach Barry Trotz compares them with the kiddie corps that helped the Kings reach the 1993 Stanley Cup finals: Rob Blake, Darryl Sydor and Alexei Zhitnik. All went on to be All-Stars.
DAVID E. KLUTHO