It's all on the line

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

DETROIT -- Hockey is too much of a sport to be called a business and too much of a business to be called a sport.

That's seldom been so true as it is right now with the Edmonton Oilers.

Tonight they go from a pathetic performance against the worst team in the NHL West to needing to be at their best here against the first place Red Wings in their third-last game of the season with a playoff spot more in jeopardy now than when they started this road trip. And there's oh so much more on the line than giving the fans another playoff experience.

First, there are five million reasons why the Oilers need to make the playoffs.

Those are just the dollars.

Also on the line is the signing of recently acquired free agents Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek and maybe Dwayne Roloson. And, being seen as a place where other free agents, looking at a team with a chance to be a contender, would like to sign with.

DOWNTOWN ARENA

There's the new downtown arena the Oilers desperately require between now and 2012.

And there's also the long-term future of Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish who have generally been judged to be good at what they do but have nothing in Stanley season to show for it.

First the five million.

"I'd say making the first round of the playoffs would be worth about $5 million," said Oilers' CEO Pat LaForge.

"It's not just the ticket money. It turns over so much more for you. Two or three home games is one thing. But it would mean about another million in season tickets. And it all brings in more jersey sales, concession money, parking ...

"It can't be less than $5 million."

Chairman Cal Nichols, who is also on this trip, says the Oilers are probably in a break-even position if they don't make the playoffs. Off the ice, despite a disappointing record at home, the Oilers have sold out every game but one - and that was only a couple hundred fans from being capacity. But because of the lockout, the advertising and sponsorship dropped dramatically for the first half of the season due to sponsor funds being committed elsewhere prior to the new year. Board signs and corporate sponsorship value depends on Stanley Cup playoff exposure.

Nichols said the team wouldn't necessarily change the budget from $34 million to more if the Oilers made the post season. But ...

And there's also the not to be understated matter of the new downtown arena this team must have built between now and 2012. It's a lot easier to make happen with the right environment to surround the selling of the concept. Left in a now old and out-of-date facility and a soon-to-grow salary cap, the Oilers will be back to being the small market franchise they were before the lockout.

PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE NEEDED

There's also the team itself.

"The big thing is to get the young guys we have, players like Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Matt Greene, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and the rest of them some playoff experience," says general manager Lowe.

"It's important for those guys to play in the playoffs. The young guys we have on this team bodes well for the future. But to put them through a playoff experience would certainly help toward that future."

The players Lowe has acquired this year, particularly the ones who will be free agents at the end of the year, need to have an experience here which will bond them to the team, the town and make them want to re-up.

"Making the playoffs and having a good experience in the playoffs together would go a long way toward signing them."

Just having them experience the way the town turns on to a Stanley Cup playoff series and the way the building transforms, would help, too. There are a dozen Oilers who have yet to experience that.

Then there's Lowe and MacTavish themselves. Both have histories as players as having been winners.

But what have they won as GM and coach?

This is their sixth year and fifth season together. Going into tonight's game they have a record of 188-138-47-34.

Nothing wrong with that. But they've made the playoffs twice in that time and won a grand total of four playoff games.

Being the team with the best record to miss the playoffs two successive seasons, and a dollar, will buy you a doughnut.


Videos

Photos