A fresh start

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:01 PM ET

There was no fist-pumping, save for the Pittsburgh Penguins after winning the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes.

And there were no high-fives by NHL governors after they rubber-stamped a new CBA in New York yesterday.

At least not among the Edmonton Oilers contingent of governor Cal Nichols, who cast the vote for his team, general manager Kevin Lowe and president Patrick LaForge.

While the lottery created the buzz, the reaction after a unanimous vote that takes the NHL out of labour limbo and puts it back on the ice was somewhat muted. Smiles instead of laughter. Handshakes. Nods.

Unlike the old saying, getting here wasn't half the fun for teams like the Oilers, who can finally forget about operating in survival mode and, for the first time in a long time, think about thriving - on and off the ice.

A collective bargaining sigh of relief. "I'd hope that at the end of all this the interests of the game and the fans have been served," said Nichols. "This is a process that had to occur to get everybody's feet planted. You look back on things and wonder if the league could have survived if we didn't do something like this."

The Oilers came away from Manhattan with the 25th pick in next Saturday's Entry Draft. More importantly, Nichols, Lowe and LaForge leave New York with the agreement the Edmonton Investors Group has insisted it needed since taking ownership of the team in 1998.

"Our objectives were clear from the start," Nichols said. "We knew seven years ago we had to get to the finish line. We knew there was going to be a lot of bumps in the road.

SALARY PRESSURES

"We were up against salary pressures we really couldn't compete with. We had confidence our management would take the resources we had and do the best job they could with them and remain competitive. We've lived and died with the budget process."

Nichols and the EIG gets the new economic framework that will make the bottom line more profitable, and Lowe gets the financial wherewithal to put together and keep together the kind of team he hasn't had.

"It's been tough on everybody," Lowe said. "I'm hoping I won't have to go through it again.''

For Lowe, who'll be looking to make a big splash in the free agent pool after Aug. 1 armed with the new possibilities contained in the 600-page pact, the measure of the new deal is simple.

"I've used one example often," he said. "Would this system have allowed us to keep Doug Weight? It probably would have.

"The infinite amount some teams had to deal with previously, which was the upward pressure for us, has been lessened considerably.

"There's still going to be teams who have more chips to play with in the next little while, but we have experience dealing with that." The Oilers won't get a shot at Crosby, but they will take a run at free agents like Peter Forsberg, Scott Niedermayer and Jason Allison - insert your own wish list name - now that Lowe won't be bidding against teams throwing twice as much dough on the table.

GOAL LINE

"At least there's a goal line for us," Lowe said. "Now, it's a matter of getting revenue to a point we can have the same number of chips as everybody else. Before, it was never going to happen."

This is what the owners wanted.

"It's what we've been seeking," Nichols said. "I feel comfortable saying we're better off for having gone through the whole process. It's a new start in a lot of ways. We welcome that."


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