Jarret Stoll was happy as a clam yesterday afternoon as he motored into town from Saskatoon before facing local media to talk about his new one-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
And why not?
Stoll's pact for $501,600 US pays him almost $100,000 less than the $600,000 he'd have earned for the cancelled 2004-05 season - in large part due to a 24% salary rollback in the new CBA - and leaves him near the bottom of the Oilers' pay scale, just above the NHL's new minimum salary.
But he's got no worries.
That chunk of change is a tall stack compared to the $65,000 stipend he pocketed for traversing the continent with the Edmonton Road Runners of the AHL last season.
It's a matter of perspective, and after a season of short pay, ridiculously long hours on commercial flights and buses in the minors after a 72-game taste of the bright lights and big cities of the NHL over parts of two seasons, Stoll has plenty of that.
Happy to be back? Just a bit.
"It was great to play down in the AHL because it was a chance to improve my game, but it was a bit different," laughed Stoll, putting a diplomatic spin on life during the lockout.
'WHERE I WANT TO BE'
"Obviously, though, the NHL is where I want to be. To get this under my belt, to get the contract out of the way, I'm just very excited."
Stoll, 23, was assigned to the Road Runners as a player on an entry-level contract, and the native of Melville, Sask. didn't disappoint GM Kevin Lowe and the rest of the Oilers brass with his AHL stint.
Despite playing just 66 games because of a badly lacerated right calf, Stoll scored 21-17-38, led the Road Runners in plus-minus rating at plus-13 and was named team MVP.
That said, the six-foot-one, 210-pound pivot is absolutely beside himself over being back in The Show - where there aren't any 21-day road trips, 12-hour bus rides or post-game meals at roadside burger joints.
"I think a lot of people are excited, not just me," Stoll said.
"It seems there's a lot of excitement around the game right now. I was confident I'd be back, but you never know. I'm happy it's over with."
Stoll saw mostly fourth-line duty as a checking centre and penalty-killer with the Oilers in 2003-04.
He'll perform much the same role this season behind Michael Peca and Shawn Horcoff as a third-liner.
"The short-term goal is him being in our top-nine forwards," assistant GM Scott Howson said. "We think he can do that. Once he gets there, then we can, perhaps, talk about a longer-term deal."
The entire organization got a huge scare Jan. 21 at Rexall Place when Tomas Mojzis of the Manitoba Moose inadvertently stepped on Stoll's calf after they got tangled up in front of the Edmonton net.
Taken off the ice on a stretcher and rushed to hospital, Stoll missed 11 games, but it could have been much worse.
Luckily, the deep gash didn't sever any tendons or ligaments. Stoll still has numbness in the top of his right foot, but that didn't curb his enthusiasm yesterday.
"The movement in my foot is fine, I just don't have full feeling," said Stoll, who spent the summer in Saskatoon. "It's just the top, not anywhere else.
"It's come back a bit, but I don't know if it'll ever come all the way back.
ON THE ICE
"I'm ready to get going. It's going to be great to put the equipment on and get out on the ice with everybody."
MORE INK ... Brad Winchester inked a two-year deal calling for $450,000 this season and $500,000 in 2006-07, while Finn Jani Rita, the Oilers' first pick in 1999, got a one-year pact for the league minimum of $450,000.