Lowe: Pronger leaving might be better in the long run

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

If Chris Pronger hadn't left, Kevin Lowe may have had to let Ryan Smyth go.

Or Ales Hemsky.

Or Jarret Stoll.

Or somebody.

"Sometimes things happen for a reason,'' said the Edmonton Oilers GM on the eve of the Chris Pronger Circus arriving in town.

"Hopefully in a couple of years we'll be looking back saying Chris Pronger leaving wasn't a bad thing."

Lowe says he now knows it wasn't going to add up. Not without making some other sacrifice he didn't want to make.

And don't read this wrong. The Oilers GM isn't saying for a second that if Pronger wanted to stay in Edmonton, the big guy wouldn't still be here as the celebrated star he was last season.

But as you loosen your vocal cords to prepare for tomorrow night's much anticipated boo-a-thon, Lowe is here to tell you he thinks there's a chance one day Edmonton might look back and feel Pronger did the Oilers a favour.

CAN HE KEEP BOTH?

Only a few months after Pronger kicked the city in the gut with his skate on, Lowe can see the big picture, one which is probably coming into focus for Brian Burke about now, too. How is he going keep Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, two $6 million- players, under the same salary cap, past this year?

"A lot of our guys needed to get big raises in salary," said Lowe.

"Pronger's $6.25 million allowed for all those guys like Ales Hemsky, Dwayne Roloson, Jarret Stoll, Shawn Horcoff and Fernando Pisani to get new deals when their contracts were up.

"Our cap number right now is just under $40 million. Add Pronger's $6.25 and we're over the NHL's $44-million cap. And we still have Ryan to do,'' he said of getting Smyth re-signed for more than $4 million more.

"It would have been hard from a cap perspective and a budget perspective.''

The NHL cap may be $44 million but the Oilers still work off a budget. Right now it's $40 million and they're sitting at $39 million, with wiggle room for Lowe to do a deal at the trade deadline.

Meanwhile Ladislav Smid, the defenceman who came with Joffrey Lupul in the Pronger deal plus draft choices, is playing 23 minutes and looking good. And Edmonton has a group of core players who want to be here, including Hemsky, who signed for six seasons.

Lowe isn't saying he would have been out there trying to trade Chris Pronger right now, because he almost certainly wouldn't.

But he says he can now see that this might all work out for the best down the road - and he damn sure didn't see that the day Pronger asked out of here.

There's a bit of Kevin Lowe that wants to boo, too.

"I can understand how people feel duped,'' he said. "They warm up to a player quickly. The player has a hell of a year. The team has a great year ...''

The Oilers appear to be taking the high road as Pronger arrives today, but Lowe said that's not because of any team policy.

"I'm not afraid to bad-mouth Chris Pronger,'' said the GM.

"And I'll tell you I still don't understand it.

'STILL SHOCKED'

"I'm still shocked that any athlete would have to make that decision,'' he said without mentioning Pronger's wife once.

"But having said that, hey, I'm not him. And with the team, Chris was a model citizen in terms of being a professional with the players on the team. It was like he'd been an Oiler for many years."

Lowe said he understands what this game is about for everybody in Edmonton.

"Edmonton is a classy city. And it's sport. The fans are fired up for this game.

"It's a great subplot in the season. The fans love it. You guys love it. And when the puck drops, hopefully we'll love it, too."

Chris Pronger maybe not so much.


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