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The best since Mess?

The Edmonton Oilers solidified their defence by acquiring Chris Pronger from the St. Louis Blues on...

The Edmonton Oilers solidified their defence by acquiring Chris Pronger from the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. (File Photo)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Chris Pronger will be the best hockey player to wear an Edmonton Oiler jersey since Mark Messier.

Wayne Gretzky was already gone, or it might have been The Great One.

You can make a case that Curtis Joseph ranked up there. But Pronger, at 30 years of age in the prime of his career, is a better player than Joseph, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin or any of the latter-day Oilers we watched go away because of economics.

Pronger, by signing a five-year deal at $6 million US a year with the Oilers, is going to make a lot of people better around him.

And the Dryden, Ont. native came out of this OK himself. The St. Louis Blues' defenceman, who won the Hart and Norris trophies in the same year, was making $7.2 million US.

That's a pay cut of a mere $1.2 million, which isn't so shabby. When it comes to cost of living, house prices, taxes, and all the other factors. Pronger is going to make out just fine, thank you, Gary Bettman.

And the Oilers are going to make out great.

While they gave up Eric Brewer, Pronger's gold medal team-mate with Team Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games, the 13-year veteran is first-rate, top-drawer, world class, none-better defenceman.

While the Blues are gambling that a good one in Brewer and two birds in the bush in Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka are going to give them depth they didn't have with a great one like Pronger, the Oilers have that depth on the roster and some young talent enroute.

INTENSITY ISSUES

And, the truth is, neither he nor coach Craig MacTavish had been happy with the intensity issues involving Brewer. And talk to anybody who watched the Edmonton Roadrunners last year about Lynch and Woywitka being any major loss to this hockey club.

It took more than some ink and a cheque book to land a big fish late on the second day of hunting season like it's never been before in the National Hockey League.

Kevin Lowe wanted to hit the home run with a Peter Forsberg or a Scott Niedermayer with the extra $11 million U.S. he has to play with as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement.

"I've said for a few years that we were acquiring assets and it was about time the Oilers made a three-for-one trade that went the other way," said Lowe.

STILL ROOM

There's still room in there for him to hit another home run. Or a triple and a couple of doubles.

And the odds just improved on Lowe being able to use that remaining money to attract better players starting today than he was in a position to attract yesterday.

Who wouldn't want to play on a team which has Chris Pronger anchoring the defence?

And it's not just about the defence. This is a 13-year veteran of 722 NHL games who has scored 94 goals, 306 assists and 400 points in his career.

Two years ago, in the most recent NHL season we watched, Pronger put up 54 points.

Lemme see. How many Oilers had 54 points the last season we watched them?

Just one: Ryan Smyth with 59.

Chris Pronger makes the Oilers a guaranteed playoff team right now.

This is a team which probably got better in the season which wasn't played with the development of young players like Ales Hemsky and others.

But the Edmonton Oilers just became a lot better.

And Kevin Lowe still has plenty of money to spend. There's more talent where Pronger came from.

If you had any doubts that losing a year of the NHL wasn't worth it for hockey fans in Edmonton, you can't have any left now.

And don't worry about the crowds not coming back.

It's been a long time since Edmonton had a 24 carat hockey star wearing an Oiler uniform.


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