SUN Hockey Pool

Great expectations

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

While it's prudent to resist the urge to belt out a full rendition of Happy Days are Here Again, Edmonton Oilers fans giving in to the temptation to hum a few bars will be forgiven.

That's assuming, of course, there aren't any left turns in the fine print of the tentative collective bargaining agreement being examined by NHL governors and general managers in New York this weekend.

Barring any devils in the details, the new CBA - with a $39-million salary cap, a 24% rollback in salaries and increased share of revenue for owners - gives the Edmonton Investors Group the economic framework it has sought since forming in 1998 to keep the Oilers in town.

JUST WIN, BABY

Along with a workable profit margin for the EIG comes what fans care about, and forget the fine print. The bottom line for those who buy the tickets and popcorn is written in bold: Just win.

Fans expect an end to the salary dumps disguised as trades that have resulted in a parade out of town - led by Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Janne Niinimaa and Roman Hamrlik.

Fans want GM Kevin Lowe to forget long shots on retreads like Jiri Dopita and Adam Oates and be a bidder in what'll be a free agent frenzy in coming weeks. Why not Peter Forsberg, Scott Niedermayer or Jason Allison?

No significant cuts in ticket prices? Fine, a Stanley Cup, a ring or two for the other hand, will take the edge off. Fans should expect nothing less.

After all, that's what the talk of a level playing field has been about, hasn't it? That's why owners gassed the 2004-05 campaign and didn't budge until the NHLPA buckled, right? Well, here we are.

Over to you, Kevin.

BETTER THAN BEFORE

"Any deal better than what we had previously has got to be a benefit to the Oilers," said Lowe, in New York with governor Cal Nichols, president Patrick LaForge and assistant GM Scott Howson. "Is it going to be enough to make the difference we hope it will? We'll find out."

Yes, we will.

With $13 million in salaries committed to 12 players for this season and a budget of $33 million targeted, Lowe has about $20 million with which to ink Eric Brewer, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jussi Markkanen, Marty Reasoner, Jani Rita, Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres, Igor Ulanov and Mike York plus dip into the free agent pool for the centre and puck-rushing defenceman he covets.

Finally, the equation amounts to addition instead of subtraction.

In the short term, the Oilers are well-positioned to benefit from the new economics. No cap headaches. No need for buyouts to over priced, under achieving players commanding big bucks.

In the long term, Lowe will be able to avoid the cycle of having to dump players as soon as they get any good and price themselves out of his budget: Weight, Guerin and on and on . . .

"It's been our expectation through this process this would allow us to keep players like Weight, for instance," said Lowe.

ON THE DRAWING BOARD

On the drawing board, that translates to stability. On the drawing board, it means competing straight up with teams that used to spend big. It means a run at a Stanley Cup - without Cinderella rolls like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames enjoyed in 2004.

That's the silver lining for players, who just took that 24% clip in the pocketbook.

"A lot of great players have come and gone in this organization because of salaries," said Smyth.

"To get back to the level of tradition we've had would be special. I grew up an Oilers fan as a kid. To win a Stanley Cup here, that would be the ultimate."

Great expectations all around.


Photos