Pressure mounts

ROBIN BROWNLEE, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 6:19 AM ET

If the cancellation of next Friday's meeting of the NHL board of governors is intended to extract a more favourable proposal from the NHLPA for fear the 2004-05 season will be lost, the tactic will fail, Edmonton Oilers' player reps Jason Smith and Steve Staios said yesterday. "The date for the meeting was to put pressure on us to come back and concede even more,'' Staios said. "It's obvious, with the way it's going and the pressure being put on us, the season will be cancelled. It's just a matter of time.''

NHL vice-president Billy Daly announced the cancellation Thursday, citing the lack of a meaningful offer from the NHLPA.

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, a member of the NHLPA executive committee, has said the union had no plans to make a new offer. That, insist Staios and Smith, hasn't changed.

"Their plan is to put pressure on us that the season is going to be cancelled,'' Staios said. "Then we get in an uproar and try to put another proposal on the table. As far as I know, it's not going to happen.''

Oilers governor Cal Nichols says the call for a meeting was no ploy. "Yes,'' said Nichols when asked if commissioner Gary Bettman intended to convene a meeting. "I had arrangements made and was fully intending to participate. There was a change in plans.''

MOREAU STAYS IN AUSTRIA

Ethan Moreau is staying in Europe and Edmonton Oilers' teammate Staios could be on his way overseas any day.

Moreau, who accepted a tryout contract with Villach of the Austrian League last month and jumped a jet to Europe on Boxing Day, has committed to play for the team for the remainder of the season.

Staios is talking with Adler Mannheim of the Deutsche Elite Liga. He said yesterday a deal could be done within 48 hours.

"I'm looking at it, but it has to be the right situation or I won't go,'' Staios said. "I'd like to get in some playing time and get into game shape, just in case we do have a season over here.''

Adler Mannheim has seven NHLers on its roster, including Andy Delmore and former Oilers Sven Butenschon, Jochen Hecht, Steve Kelly and Steve Passmore.

Moreau, meanwhile, has signed to stay with Villach through March, although the contract allows him to return to Edmonton in the event the NHL season is salvaged.

Moreau made the commitment Dec. 31 after spending a week with the team. His wife and children join him Wednesday.

STILL LOOKING FOR WHL TEAM

The Oilers have committed to keeping their AHL farm team in the city through the 2005-06 season, but they're still pursuing the possibility of purchasing a WHL franchise.

While the Oilers have said they intend to operate the AHL Road Runners in Edmonton through next season, team president Patrick LaForge met with a representative of one WHL team in Edmonton in the last two weeks.

"We remain interested, for sure,'' said LaForge, in Saskatoon for a speaking engagement.

"I don't think we're hiding that. I'm fascinated by junior hockey and I thing Edmonton would be a good market in the long term.''

There's been speculation that the Oilers would be willing to flip the Road Runners to a WHL city for a junior franchise - although that would limit potential deals to cities able to sustain a pro team.

The Oilers could opt to purchase a WHL team and sell the Road Runners in a separate deal. LaForge said another option would be to purchase a team and operate it outside the city.

"The organization, in my mind, could manage three franchises,'' LaForge said.

"How many of them could stay and build their business in Edmonton, that's a matter of some debate.''


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