SUN Hockey Pool

A blue-chip asset

Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger has yet to explain exactly why he wants out of Edmonton. (Edmonton...

Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger has yet to explain exactly why he wants out of Edmonton. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

All Pronger, all the time.

If you're an Oiler, in Oilers management, or even part of the Oilers ownership group, you can't take two steps without somebody cornering you about the Chris Pronger soap opera.

Why does he want out?

When is he going?

Who are you going to get for him?

Will the team ever be as good without him?

Those questions have been ringing in the ears of Oilers president Patrick LaForge since the moment Pronger announced he wanted out, and it rang some more yesterday.

He was there for a media conference on the Western Hockey League's return to Edmonton, but it took no time before the subject turned to No. 44 being out the door.

"It's a big regret for us to lose him, that's for sure, and it hurts," said LaForge, fielding the queries from all angles. "I know the guy a little bit, he's a great human being. It's a shame we're at this point together, where he's asking to leave. I feel really bad about that personally, but I feel even worse for our fans.

'HE WAS LOVED HERE'

"I think our fans bought into him and what he brings to the ice and the community in a big way. He was loved here. And so it's a shocking disappointment to have to go this way. Here we are, though."

Cal Nichols feels the same way - bad for the team, bad for the fans.

"The community really bought into his presence here and he turned out in a very short time to be a wonderful Oiler," said the Edmonton Investors Group chairman, also on hand for the WHL announcement. "He did and said all the right things, and certainly led the team to almost the ultimate pinnacle.

"We were disappointed not to win the Stanley Cup, but everybody in the community took a lot of pride in what happened. It brought people together. It was reason for celebration. Chris had a very big part to play in all that."

And now he's gone. Or, at least, going. After signing a four-year contract extension when they came here, he and his wife want out. Where does that leave Edmonton and the Oilers?

"It's bad, but is it that bad?," LaForge asked. "He's a super asset. We have him locked up for four more years at $6.25 million - and whoever said he has a no-trade contract is wrong; he's very tradable. His rights are tradeable to any franchise in the league that we deem we want to trade him to."

And everyone wants in on the sweepstakes.

"If I told you Kevin's phone is ringing off the wall that would be underestimating it," said LaForge. "Yes, we were going to build around him for a long time to come, but we have an asset that we can move."

Forget about the emotional element, advises Nichols, it's now a business transaction - how can Edmonton get the best returns on the best defenceman in the league.

"The best thing we can do as an organization and a city is accept it for what it is, pick up and get on with our lives. We've got a good asset there and I'm sure Kevin will have a lot of options to pick and choose from and, in the end, hopefully make our team better."

CITY CAN ONLY WAIT NOW

There's not much else the city can do, since complaining about it doesn't help.

"Players come and players go, that's the business we're in," said LaForge. "When it's a star player, a superstar player, maybe the best player the Oilers have seen in quite a while wear their jersey ... you regret that.

"But I would encourage the fans to let this thing play out and see what happens in the recovery of this asset. It may turn out even better than they thought."

With Pronger to deal, and nearly half his team eligible for unrestricted free agency, Lowe almost has to rebuild his team from scratch. He'll definitely be earning his money this summer.

"I'd say that about last summer, too, and every summer," laughed LaForge. "Every summer he's had his challenges. He's very bright, very capable and very plugged in. He is the upper echelon in the NHL. I have no doubt, and nobody should, that Kevin is going to do the right thing by this and we'll move on and be a good organization."


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