SUN Hockey Pool

Do Pronger, Peca equal playoffs?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

Hello, Chris Pronger.

Hello, Michael Peca.

Welcome back, fans. Your playoff tickets can be picked up ...

Will the Edmonton Oilers' first season as an equal partner in the NHL's new economic landscape be as simple as that after fans twisted through an entire season lost to the lockout?

That's the $64 question. It's $10.24 million, actually, in terms of what Pronger and Peca will earn in their first campaign wearing Oilers silks heading into the first day of training camp today.

Having stemmed the tide of marquee names leaving Edmonton because the Oilers couldn't afford them - Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Janne Niinimaa, Roman Hamrlik and Curtis Joseph (limiting the time-worn small-market lament to the last decade) - it looks like it from here.

WATER COOLERS

Judging by the buzz around water coolers and the demand for season tickets, the end has justified the means for Oilers fans. One need only have witnessed the pep rally atmosphere for Pronger and Peca during their introduction here in August to know that.

The trick now is for them to make enough of a difference to put a team that went 36-29-12-5, and missed the playoffs by two points in 2003-04, back into the post-season mix in a loaded Western Conference.

So, how much better are the Oilers off the hop with those two names at the top of the chalkboard on the first day of camp?

"Lots, I think," quipped coach Craig MacTavish, asked about Pronger and Peca as a starting point. "We're better on paper. If you factor in those additions and factor in the reasonable expectation for development of our young guys then, in our minds, we're quite a bit better."

The young guys. Right, but let's talk Pronger and Peca.

MADE TEAM BETTER

"From the organization's standpoint, we feel we've made our team better," understated GM Kevin Lowe, who opened the vault for Pronger and Peca and still has cap room left to ink Ryan Smyth.

"We had room to improve and we feel we have. Just how much we've improved, time will tell."

It always does, of course, but it's not really going out on the limb to suggest that adding two elite players the calibre of Pronger, a Norris and Hart Trophy winner, and Peca, a two-time Selke Trophy recipient, should do the trick.

Yes, it's important young players like Ales Hemsky and Raffi Torres build on their last seasons. MacTavish needs continued improvement from Shawn Horcoff if the planned Peca-Horcoff tandem at pivot on the first two lines is to work. The goaltending has to hold up. The power play has to be way better.

Most important with eight games against divisional rivals, all of the above has to manifest itself in success against Calgary, which has reloaded after its run at a Stanley Cup.

All of it starts with Pronger and Peca.

"We weren't far off," says Lowe, talking about a spirited, but failed, charge for a playoff spot down the stretch in 2004. "Like Calgary proved, you have to get into the playoffs. Once you get in, anything can happen. I thought our best chance in the playoffs was the last year we faced Dallas (2002-03).

"We fell short because we didn't have these types of players. So, now it's our job to get into the playoffs with these types of players and the guys we've had. We can have success."

NO WISHFUL THINKING

Let's not insist the engraver cancel his appointment with the Flames yet, but the success Lowe talks about isn't the wishful thinking it was the last time the Oilers opened camp.

First things first, however. The 2005-06 edition of the Oilers begins taking shape today.

"It's a unique circumstance," MacTavish said. "Everything is so fresh for everybody. I've never seen or heard players speak so enthusiastically about starting the season. It's the same for the coaches, managers.

"Thankfully, for us, it seems like it's the same way for the fans. Optimism is always a big commodity at this time of year, but I think it's pretty justified in our situation."

Pronger and Peca.

Feel free to use ink.

- - -

YOU CAN WATCH 'EM

The Oilers open training camp this morning at Rexall Place. If you want to check out your new - and hopefully improved - team, the two sessions go from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.


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