SUN Hockey Pool

It's a deal!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Funny how fast the focus goes back to the hometown hockey team.

The deal is done. The players lose. The owners win. And Marilyn Bell just swam Lake Ontario.

The big news, by the time it became news, was not really news.

Today you want to know the one thing you've always wanted to know as you've waited for this day to arrive:

Are the Edmonton Oilers going to be able to get a prime-time, star-quality, first-line centre, a puck-rushing defenceman and a goaltender?

Instantly on DD-Day, that became the topic. This is Edmonton. The fans know what losing hockey for a year and winning a level playing surface is all about: A star quality first-line centre. A puck-carrying defenceman. And a goalie.

Keep everybody else, add those three components, tweak here, tweak there and you have a team that can compete with any other team in the new landscape league.

The new $39-million US salary cap doesn't mean the Oilers are going to have a $39-million budget. They're not. They're going to have the same $33-million cap they had when we last watched hockey here.

STAYING THE SAME

"It'll be the same," said Oilers president Patrick LaForge, confirming the obvious yesterday. "The ticket prices will stay the same.

"We've done our research with our fans. They were exceedingly consistent with things they want to see.

"No. 1, they want to be competitive and win. They want to be able to buy into the long term."

They'll keep paying what they've been paying, but now they want the payoff of having a top team to watch again. It's been a while.

The Oilers have 12 players signed who, with the 24% salary rollback, equal $13 million US. Do the same math with the 24% rollback on re-signing Ryan Smyth, Eric Brewer, Ales Hemsky, Mike York, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres and that's another $9 million.

That leaves $11 million U.S. for Kevin Lowe to go out and shoot for the moon at drastically reduced rates.

Can Colorado keep both Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic? Can Dallas keep Mike Modano and Bill Guerin? Think big. Think real big. Suddenly, Edmonton should be in play after watching all their stars go away.

With the new rules, the Oilers' long-standing tradition of playing 'Oiler Hockey', the go-for-the-gusto firewagon brand, on the best ice surface in the league with a top team, is going to put Edmonton in play again.

Kevin Lowe and the Oilers, with this new deal, have their wish. The fans will fill the building from the get-go if they now deliver.

"There's a lot of stuff we don't know and won't know until the envelope is opened," said LaForge.

"We're only going to be as happy as we find out in the details. It's like standing in front of the Christmas tree looking at all the nice boxes. They sure look nice, but you don't know what's in them. My cousin's name is Pat LaForge, too. One year I opened my nicely wrapped present and there was a doll inside."

The trouble with DD-Day is that you have to wait to make sure there aren't any dolls in the details.

Is the $2.5-million Canadian dollar differential cheque going to still be in the mail? Or with the declining difference in the dollar, will that matter? Is the $2.5-million insurance policy part of the cap as believed?

We know fans here don't want 20 teams in the playoffs. Fans here are smart enough to believe the league will be down to 24 teams soon enough anyway. They don't want five rounds of playoffs ending in June. NHL players in the Olympics? Terrific!

The three-ball, two-ball, one-ball lottery for the draft which was first revealed in this column? Go for it! All the new rules to make the game better are 'Oiler Hockey' rules. Bring 'em on!

MORE DETAILS

All the rest of it? Details. Details. Details. The bottom line is all that matters. Will Edmonton go back to being a reach-for-the-top team that will be able to keep their best players?

The answer, once all the envelopes are open, sure looks like it's going to be 'YES!' This time, in the Heartland of Hockey, 'Game On' isn't going to read more like 'Game Over'. Get excited, Edmonton. This will be the payoff for hangin' in there.


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