There's no fast fix

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

The season is lost.

Fans are angry.

Worse yet, many people who make the turnstiles click in cities around the NHL shrugged with indifference when commissioner Gary Bettman finally put the 2004-05 season out of its misery yesterday.

Cal Nichols understands the sentiment, but the Edmonton Oilers' governor and chairman of the Edmonton Investors Group stands by his position the lost season will not be a lost cause.

Nichols, as always, insists getting the right agreement with the NHLPA is infinitely more important than a fast handshake between Bettman and union boss Bob Goodenow in securing the Oilers' future in Edmonton.

Without that, there isn't a future.

"It's the same as we've said all along," Nichols said. "This is about getting the right deal rather than a quick deal. The amount of time it takes to do it is important, but it has to be the right deal.

"The longer it takes, the more rebuilding you have to do, and I'm talking off the ice, not on it. But you have to have the economic arrangement to have it make sense to rebuild."

KEPT HIS POSITION

Nichols hasn't strayed from his position since 2001, when the EIG made a $14-million cash call just to carry the franchise through the last collective bargaining agreement.

While his comments leading into meetings in Toronto and New York two weeks ago were treated as a revelation in some corners - Nichols again insisted he and the EIG had no interest in carrying on if the fundamental economic framework didn't change in a new agreement - short-term pain for long-term gain remains the mantra.

ONE STEP BACK

"Sometimes in business you have to take one step back before you can take two steps forward," he said. "I know that's an over-simplification, but the principle is the same.

"This is consistent with everything else I've ever said. We had a finish line. We worked with our season-ticket base and our sponsors, with everybody, to make sure the commitment was there by all the stakeholders.

Nichols recognizes the potential for a backlash by fans.

But waiting for the right deal is an easier sell in Edmonton.

"There's going to be some damage," Nichols said. "But, at the end of the day, keeping the Oilers in Edmonton is going to be up to the fans.

"If they stay and support it and we do what we're committed to do, which is getting a deal to achieve all the things we've talked about, then we can move forward."

Nichols says fan feedback in the city tells him Oilers' supporters will be back.

"I think it's going to be different from city to city," Nichols said.

"I have confidence in our fan base and our community that they've been giving us good, honest feedback. As long as they're there, no problem. If you find reasons, like this, to abort and walk away, then it's a problem."


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