SUN Hockey Pool

Smith's olive branch

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

Jason Smith is more accustomed to laying on the lumber than extending an olive branch.

As a hard-nosed NHL defenceman, there haven't been many disputes he couldn't solve with a little well-placed aggression. A stick here, an elbow there, an occasional punch in the yap, and things had a way of working out for the best in front of the Edmonton net.

But before he starts taking out opponents again, the Oilers captain and player rep took out full-page ads in both Edmonton newspapers, first.

Part of a league-wide initiative by the NHLPA, the ads gave players in each market a chance to address the fans personally. Smith used his Monday message to thank Edmonton for its patience during the often-bitter lockout and welcome the start of a new era in the NHL.

The Oilers took out two ads of their own, also thanking fans for their patience and resolve during a season without hockey.

Consider it their contributions to the healing process.

"It was something we did together with the Players' Association and the teams to get things going in the right direction," said Smith, who battled as hard for the players during the lockout as he does for the Oilers on the ice. "And I've heard from people who said it was a positive thing to do."

HEARD A LOT

Smith heard a lot of things during the 301-day lockout, most of it from fans who were overwhelmingly on the side of ownership -- not that he expected a lot of sympathetic ears in small-market Edmonton or Calgary, where he split his lockout time.

"They were wanting to understand what direction we were taking, they wanted a player's take on it, I guess," he said, adding all he could do was try his best to explain the big picture. "I think, as a fan, you get the media's side of it, and all the issues, from either side, aren't necessarily being played out in the media. It wasn't just a cap number. There's a lot more to the inner workings of the deal, over 600 pages of documentation.

"If it was just 'You give us this and we'll give you that,' it would have been completed a long time ago. But this was a complicated, in-depth negotiation."

MILES APART

They would still be miles apart, threatening to swallow up another season, had the players not taken charge of negotiations in mid-battle and accepted some of the sticking points that union boss Bob Goodenow swore would never pass.

Smith supports the work Goodenow has done for the NHLPA, but says a union has to be flexible enough to reflect a change in philosophy, which it did. So rather than an end-around by the executive committee, Smith says it was more of a grassroots movement.

"The executive committee and the player reps were in touch with the players, listening to their opinions and their thoughts, and that's moved it forward to getting a deal done. The players wanted it done."

The newspaper ads were a nice touch, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of bad blood in the Heartland of Hockey.

Oilers fans got exactly what they wanted out of the lockout -- their club is finally on a level playing field with Detroit and Colorado and will never again have to sell its best talent to the highest bidder. A year without hockey to get those concessions seems a reasonable trade.

"The (lockout) was a disappointment from a fan's standpoint and a player's standpoint, and I would imagine from a management standpoint there were tough times," said Smith.

"But going forward I think the fans are realizing that the deal that came out of all this is going to give us an opportunity to compete at a higher level.

"The deal we made is a partnership and it's going to give the Oilers and the NHL an opportunity to grow."


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