SUN Hockey Pool

You won't see Oilers opening up their vault

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

No, the Edmonton Oilers won't be throwing open the vault and spending like there's no tomorrow if the NHL's tentative collective bargaining agreement is ratified Friday.

Likewise, the new landscape everybody anticipates doesn't mean there's going to be a lineup of unrestricted free agents gathering at city limits itching to sign a deal to play in Edmonton.

What the framework of the agreement does mean to the Oilers is they'll be able to compete for some marquee names among unrestricted free agents who've been priced out of their financial means in the past.

What it means is GM Kevin Lowe will have some wiggle room in his budget - expected to be $33-$35 million in total - after he's signed restricted free agents like Ryan Smyth, Eric Brewer and Mike York, and that he'll be in a position to at least get in on the bidding after Aug. 1.

The deal makes Edmonton more attractive to players who wouldn't come in the past because they wouldn't make as much money and wouldn't have the same opportunity of winning a Stanley Cup as in big-budget cities.

The gap between the haves and have-nots on both fronts has been tightened.

It's a start.

There are no guarantees.

Just possibilities.

IT SAYS HERE: Mike Babcock will love coaching in Hockeytown because Detroit really is, well, a hockey town.

Babcock, 42, did a great job in Anaheim getting the Mighty Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup final, but he was going stir-crazy there during the lockout.

Hockey is back-page material most of the time, and news of any description was virtually non-existent last season.

"I've got to get out of town to get my hockey fix," lamented Babcock at the Pond before a game between the Edmonton Road Runners and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks last season.

"I just like being around the game."

Anaheim wasn't the place for a guy like him.

TAKE THIS AND THAT TOO: The Oilers haven't finalized how big a contingent they'll send to Ottawa for the draft ... Kevin Prendergast's scouting staff has had its final list compiled for a month and has ranked more than 200 players ... Prendergast and his staff will convene via a conference call on Monday after the lottery order has been determined ... It's mind-boggling, to say the least, the NHL is passing up a marketing bonanza with all the ink and air-time it could get with the lottery by keeping it behind closed doors ... The Oilers must sign 2003 picks Marc-Antoine Pouliot, J.F. Jacques and Troy Bodie before the draft ... There's a possibility a variation on the new entry-level cap of $850,000 will be applied to 2003 selections like Pouliot ... Not all is lost for the 29 teams that don't hit the lottery and miss out on automatic first pick Sidney Crosby, because talented U.S. defenceman Jack Johnson or Sudbury left winger Benoit Pouliot look like good consolation prizes ... The Oilers are deep on the left wing, but if Lowe can't acquire the high-scoring centre he covets, what about Pavol Demitra, who is unrestricted?

WHILE I'M AT IT: Had a brain cramp (not the first, won't be the last) on the weekend when I listed New Jersey defenceman Brian Rafalski as a centre in a piece speculating about what free agents or bought-out players the Oilers might be interested in.

My, nothing lends credibility to speculation like not even being able to get a guy's position right.

What a blockhead.


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