Deal or no deal?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:53 PM ET

They shall overcome. The Edmonton Oilers have lost better players than Chris Pronger and lived to tell about it.

There was life after Paul Coffey.

There was life, and even a Stanley Cup, after Wayne Gretzky.

And there was life after Mark Messier.

OK, we admit, post-Messier life wasn't that hot. When the last of the Boys on the Bus caught a red-eye to New York, it was a grim decade of missed playoffs and empty buildings while fending off bankers with one hand and moving vans with the other.

But it was life.

And there will be life after Chris Pronger.

It might be a punch in the pride to hear a player you cheered so hard for turn around and say that one year in Edmonton is more than his family can handle, but rest assured it doesn't mean a return to Third World status in the NHL.

"It's a big disappointment,'' said general manager Kevin Lowe, who has seen enough players strip-mined out of Edmonton in his life to know that one more isn't going to cripple the program. "But we've had disappointments in the past. We will persevere.''

No question about it.

This time, because the Oilers are so much better equipped, it's going to be a lot easier to withstand the hit than it was in the '80s.

They have playoff money to help them re-stock the shelves. They have a salary cap that guarantees they won't be left with scraps after teams with triple their payroll eat first. They have a GM who needed all of one season on a level playing field to build a Stanley Cup finalist.

And, lastly, they have Chris Pronger, one of the hottest commodities in the game, signed for four years, to auction off on the open market.

"There's a lot of managers who've phoned,'' said Lowe, who needs to take his time with this one. "Obviously there's incredible interest. He could be, at this point, the best player in the National Hockey League. So it becomes a delicate situation in terms of trying to make a deal.''

The right move can lay the foundation for another Cup run, the wrong move can haunt the club for years. But at least this time they're calling the shots, controlling their own destiny. It isn't Curtis Joseph walking away for nothing. The Oilers are going to get a game-breaker in return.

"There's been a lot of talk, but at the same time we have to be careful not to react too quickly and do the wrong thing,'' said Lowe. "We have to consider everything and do what's best for the Edmonton Oilers.''

What's best for the Oilers would be Pronger staying in Edmonton for the next four years - he did play incredibly well here for a guy who wanted out - but it's not going to happen.

"I'm still sort of getting my head around it,'' said Lowe. "It's very difficult, particularly after the fact we just finished playing the Stanley Cup playoffs. He's fit in very well with the team and liked Edmonton a lot, from what I understand, anyway.''

He didn't like it enough, apparently.

"My favourite motto is expect the unexpected,'' said Lowe, who still uses "if'' in talking about a trade, even though he realizes "when'' is probably more accurate.

All this, days after playing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. Hard to believe.

And to stomach.

"I knew (about Pronger's personal issues) but I was hoping things would change,'' admitted Lowe, who didn't want to get into the details. "It's not like it caught me by surprise, but it's still a shot in the gut after you finally digest it.''


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