SUN Hockey Pool

The Battle begins!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Before they get a chance to square off and see who's best on the ice, the marquee players from Edmonton and Calgary faced off on the telephone yesterday.

In an NHL conference call featuring players from the Northwest Division - arguably the best division in hockey today - Chris Pronger and Jarome Iginla fired the first verbal volleys in what promises to be the most heated, and significant, Battle of Alberta in years.

WHO CAME OUT BEST?

Since it's rare that you'll get an Oiler and a Flame in the same conversation, unless they're sorting out whose stick is whose after a line brawl, I figured I might as well ask: Given the teams they had to begin with, and the moves they made over the summer, which club, the Oilers or the Flames, came out best?

Hey, it's never too early to stir it up.

"Obviously Calgary has made a lot of moves," said Pronger, well aware that the Cup finalists added the likes of Darren McCarty, Tony Amonte and Roman Hamrlik. "But looking at our team, the core group is still there. They just tweaked it a bit by adding Michael Peca and myself, and I don't think we're done yet."

And Pronger says we shouldn't forget that the Oilers went 16-5-4-4 to close out of the 2003-04 season (12-0-1-3 in their last 16 home games).

"In the second half they were the best in the league from a point total," he said. "As long as those young players can keep developing like they did and we can get off to a good start, gain confidence early and adjust to the new landscape of the NHL, I can see us really making a mark for ourselves and getting back to the glory days of Edmonton Oilers hockey."

Of course, it's hard to be the best team in hockey when you're not even the best team in your own province, and Iginla says that crown still belongs to Calgary.

"We gained a lot of very valuable experience and gained a lot of hunger getting that close to the Stanley Cup and not winning," he said of the intangible gains.

"Being that close and not winning makes you want to win it more than ever. And then we made some key acquisitions, some strong veterans. We can't wait to start playing (Edmonton). We'll see each other a lot."

It was friendly fire yesterday, but it won't be when they start playing those eight head-to-head games.

"It's going to bea great battle, no question," said Iginla. "I'm really looking forward to it. Even though we weren't two of the top teams, they were always some pretty good battles. And I think this year we're going to be an improved team and Edmonton is going to be improved. Both are quick and both like to be physical. It's going to be great."

The talent on the Northwest leg of the conference call tour - Pronger, Iginla, Joe Sakic and Markus Naslund - illustrates how tough this division is going to be.

"I remember one year in the Adams, Boston had 109 points,Quebec 104, Montreal 102 and Buffalo was pretty close," said Sakic. "The Northwest could be like that this year. If you're a fan, you're going to love watching our division."

With all the player movement, rule changes and the last accurate scouting reports about 18 months old, Pronger has no idea what to expect.

GREAT ON PAPER

"Teams are going to look great on paper and teams that made a lot of moves feel like they've improved their clubs a lot," he said, not mentioning the Flames by name.

"But nobody really knows how teams are going to play under the new rules. It's kind of a crapshoot right now. Teams that have chemistry early on and are able to adapt to the rule changes are really going to be able to take off."

One thing he and Iginla can agree on is that Edmonton and Calgary have as good a shot as anyone.

"With the salary cap, Canadian fans really believe they have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, where in the past they didn't feel that way," said Pronger.

"With that comes excitement and the thrill that you might be able to hold the Cup at the end of the year, that your team is going to do everything possible to try to do that."


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