Big Georges may play

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Will NHL players not on entry level contracts follow the lead of players like Raffi Torres and take AHL jobs?

Absolutely, especially if the lockout of the NHLPA drags past what's deemed the drop-dead point and the 2004-05 season is cancelled by commissioner Gary Bettman.

Given that scenario, and approval by the NHLPA, Edmonton Oilers tough guy Georges Laraque says he'd consider playing for the Edmonton Road Runners.

With Torres agreeing to an AHL deal Sunday and the agent for defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron having opened preliminary inquiries with the Oilers about doing likewise, Laraque says it's something he'd have to think about.

"If the season is cancelled, I might look into it," Laraque said yesterday. "Why not? If the season gets cancelled and some guys are doing it ..."

GETTING BACK ON THE ICE

With Torres skating with the Road Runners for the first time yesterday, you have to wonder how many players sitting out and not playing in Europe will consider signing an AHL deal to get back on the ice at some point.

"It's the second-best league in the world," Laraque said. "It's competitive and you could play at home in front of your fans. It could be a good idea."

If Laraque and other veterans decided to pursue a job in the minors, assuming the blessing of the NHLPA - that's a big assumption - would the Road Runners be interested?

"We're trying to develop young players here, too," GM Scott Howson said. "We want to win games and we think Raffi and Marc-Andre fall into that category.

"We wouldn't want to bring in every Oiler possible and bump all of our young guys out. This is still a development league and we want our young guys playing."

The Oilers-Road Runners situation is unique because both are owned by the Edmonton Investors Group. By playing for the Road Runners, Torres will help win games and sell tickets, which puts money in the pockets of the ownership of a team, the Oilers, that's locked out NHLPA members.

"I had none," said Howson, asked if he had reservations about striking a deal with Torres. "We thought it was a good idea, in the best interest of us and the best interest of him.

"I only deal with how we view situations. We certainly view this as a positive for our team and a positive for Raffi."

The NHLPA position has been that it's OK for members to stay in shape playing over in Europe. One-third of its membership is playing for pay overseas. Helping the turnstiles twirl at Rexall Place is another matter. No?

"I haven't even thought about that," said Torres, asked if his decision conflicts with the union's cause. "I'm a 23-year-old and I just want to play hockey. I don't really know. I'm not really worried about that."

The arrival of Torres likely means another prospect will be sent to the ECHL or to junior at some point. If Bergeron signs, same thing. What does that do to player development?

"As professionals, you accept that," Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said. "There's always going to be a player who doesn't get a job because of a certain player.

"The big question is development versus winning. We think the best way to learn to win is to have to go through it the hard way. In other words, we don't just give kids gratuitous ice time because they might be a prospect. We want them to earn it.

"If someone can't beat out Raffi Torres ... Raffi will be given an opportunity to play, but if he's not pulling his own, he'll be out of the lineup and somebody else will be there."

LOWE WON'T BE BESIEGED

Lowe doesn't anticipate he'll be besieged by locked out NHLPA members looking for work any time soon.

"We have no immediate plans to sign any of the older players," he said. "That's probably pie-in-the-sky stuff and unlikely from the union's perspective."

For now, at least.

"A lot of guys are in Europe," Laraque said.

"Is it fair for a guy who might not get an offer from Europe or can't go there, that he can't play in the AHL?

"I think it's better to play in the AHL than in Europe. Corey Hirsch is right. If you play in Europe, you are taking somebody's job, but if you play in the AHL, then you are taking somebody's job, too. It's a tough call. If the union said that it's OK, I would definitely do it."


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