What's the deal?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Wait until next year?

If Ryan Smyth is going to sign a long-term contract with the Edmonton Oilers to keep him in copper and blue beyond next summer, when he'll qualify as an unrestricted free agent under terms of the new CBA, he'd just as soon get it done this month.

GM Kevin Lowe and assistant GM Scott Howson, meanwhile, seem to be leaning toward inking Smyth to a one-year deal, then revisiting the issue after Jan. 1, when the CBA allows players signed to one-year pacts to have contracts extended.

TWO SCENARIOS

Those are the two scenarios being discussed now as negotiations between the Oilers and agent Don Meehan heat up -- the parties spoke Monday and are scheduled to talk again today.

Whenever it happens, Smyth, an Oiler for every minute of his NHL career since breaking into The Show during the 1994-95 season, will have to take a haircut up front in salary to get long-term security on the back end, just like Jason Smith, Ethan Moreau, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Steve Staios did before the lockout.

Fittingly, it's the ink and paper version of a mullet. "I'd like to have it done sooner than later," Smyth said yesterday. "I wouldn't want to go into the season not knowing one way or another. I don't want to be worrying about a contract halfway through the year.

"I don't want to have it hanging over my head with stuff surfacing through the media and disrupting the team. I want to worry about winning."

Smyth, 29, and Meehan have been tendered a qualifying offer of $2.698 million, which represents the $3.55-million salary the Banff native was to earn last season, minus a rollback of 24%. With just under $31 million committed to contracts and qualifying offers to Smyth and fellow restricted free agents Ales Hemsky, Raffi Torres, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, Brad Winchester and Jani Rita, Captain Canada is the lone big-dollar player to be signed. What to do?

"We want to get an idea of what the market is," Lowe said. "At this point, we just want to get up and running, get playing and see what happens."

What is Smyth -- he has 430 points in 642 games, including a career-high 39 goals in 1996-97 and 70 points in 2000-01 -- worth under this CBA?

Is $12-$13 million over five years enough? Too much? Will a moving salary cap based on revenues allow Lowe to make an educated offer before Jan. 1?

"As long as it's within reason," said Lowe, open to the possibility of locking Smyth up now if the price is right.

"If not, you sign a one-year deal and see what the market is and what our resources are. The cap could move down (from $39 million) and we don't know what revenues are going to be. Our salaries are tied to revenues." Smyth was the highest-paid Oiler at the end of the 2003-04 season, but that won't be the case now with Chris Pronger making $6.25 million and Michael Peca inked for $3.99 million.

Smyth, like Horcoff, has salary arbitration rights. If he and Meehan want more than the qualifying offer in a one-year deal, they have until today to file for a hearing. I can't see it getting to that.

'I LOVE IT HERE'

"I'm sure Kevin and Don will grind something out," offered Smyth. "I've been an Oiler since Day 1. No question, I love it here. The fans are great and the organization has been wonderful to me."

After seeing teammates like Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Janne Niinimaa leave in salary dumps, Smyth would prefer to stay where he is with Peca and Pronger aboard. You can take that to the bank.

"I want to be a part of it," Smyth said. "Getting those type of players, the team is making a statement, not only to the fans but to the players, that they want to win."


Photos