Deal locks in bright future

A rollback in player salaries, a salary cap of $39 million and a formula in which player costs...

A rollback in player salaries, a salary cap of $39 million and a formula in which player costs account for 54% of revenues has Oilers chairman Cal Nichols convinced the $14-million cash call it took to get here was worth it. (File Photo)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

There are no devils in the details.

In other words, the NHL's tentative collective bargaining agreement announced last Wednesday is one helluva deal - what the Edmonton Investors Group has been banking on since taking ownership of the Edmonton Oilers.

While chairman Cal Nichols isn't framing it quite that way, knowing it's better to be gracious after the ill-will generated by the lockout, that's his bottom line on the 600-page document.

DETAILS AND COMPONENTS

Nichols, who'll cast the Oilers' vote when the pact comes up for ratification this week, believes the six-year agreement will not only allow his team to compete on the ice and in the free-agent market - imagine that - but profit in a manner that will secure the future of the franchise in Edmonton.

And, really, what else is there?

"There's more details and components than I expected," Nichols said yesterday. "My assessment, when you put it all together, is that it's workable for us, unless there's some detail we haven't seen."

Based on speculation about what the CBA contained, Nichols was cautiously optimistic when he jetted to New York Thursday for a briefing with commissioner Gary Bettman and executive vice-president Bill Daly.

Nothing Nichols, accompanied by GM Kevin Lowe, assistant GM Scott Howson and team president Patrick LaForge, saw or heard on Friday has diminished his optimism.

"On balance, we will be better off," Nichols said.

"That's what we bought into and why we persevered and stuck with it. I think it's an agreement and a mutual partnership we can all win with."

Nichols is still awaiting a summary of the key components of the deal, but he's not sweating the small stuff.

A rollback in player salaries, a salary cap of $39 million and a formula in which player costs account for 54% of revenues has Nichols convinced the $14-million cash call it took to get here was worth it.

The rollback and cap, not to mention a strong Canadian dollar, gives the Oilers a chance to generate more black ink - assuming they continue to draw crowds at 98% of capacity at Rexall Place and there's no erosion in advertising, suite sales and other revenues.

More important, at least to fans, is the Oilers are positioned to enter the fray that will be the free-agent frenzy with money to spend in an attempt to add a big name or two to the marquee.

The Oilers will have a player budget of $33-35 million next season.

With just under $13 million committed to a dozen players, Lowe will have room to move on unrestricted free agents - even after working out deals with the likes of Ryan Smyth, Eric Brewer and Mike York.

"We'll have every opportunity to compete for the $7.8-million player," Nichols said, talking about the maximum salary under the cap.

"I'm not suggesting we jump to $39 million right away because there are risks with going too close, like getting caught with something unexpected like an injury or something.

"Having imposed our own salary cap in the past has conditioned us to keep the wiggle room you need. I think that'll pay dividends for us.

"When you look at our commitment for salaries, we'll probably have no trouble staying in the mid-range of the salary grid and still be able to compete for front-line players."

WILD CARD IS REVENUE

The wild card is revenue. Will fans steamed about losing an entire season be back when the puck drops at Rexall Place against Colorado Oct. 5? Was Wayne Gretzky any good?

"We could get lucky in the draft lottery. We could get a front-line player Kevin has his sights on," Nichols said. "Boy, a lot of that negative stuff goes away in a hurry if those things happen.

"I think there's a lot more to look forward to, having gone through this, than if we'd just plodded along the way we were doing."


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