SUN Hockey Pool

'It doesn't look good'

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers might have to make their Exit door a little bigger.

Six-foot-six Chris Pronger is leaving because he and his wife want out, and 250-pound Georges Laraque fears he's on the move as well, even though he desperately wants to stay.

Laraque's contract expires in two days, making him an unrestricted free agent July 1, and the Oilers have yet to make him an offer.

"I told Kevin (Lowe) when the season was over that I want to stay," said Laraque. "I haven't talked to them at all. It doesn't look good. It doesn't look like I'll be back."

ON THE OUTSIDE

Laraque understands that management is a little busy right now, trying to work out a deal for Chris Pronger, sign head coach Craig MacTavish to a long-term contract and secure the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Fernando Pisani and Jaroslav Spacek before they're exposed to the July 1 free-agent frenzy, but he senses there's more to this than time management.

He's afraid the team is simply headed in another direction and feels it doesn't need him anymore.

"It's frustrating me like crazy," said the 29-year-old. "When you have guys who bleed copper and blue and actually want to stay here ... I thought the team wanted players who want to stay. Then you don't have to worry about whether or not they're going to leave.

"I bleed for this team. I have for nine years. I devoted myself to the community. I tell everyone that if I'm not here this year it's not because I don't want to be here.

"It's in the team's control and I don't think they want me. Should I be surprised?No, because when crucial times in the season came this year, I didn't play. I wouldn't be surprised if they want to go another direction."

Lowe wasn't available for comment yesterday, but the Oilers have long maintained, and reiterated at season's end, that Laraque serves an important role on the team - he is the toughest guy in the league - and is still wanted. But they might just want to see where tough guys fit into the marketplace two years into the new NHL.

Or they might be putting it off because they assume he wouldn't sign anywhere else without giving Edmonton first right of refusal.

Still, Laraque has a bad vibe about this.

"With the Pronger thing it takes a lot of their time, and I know there are a lot of other guys that are priorities," he said. "If I haven't heard anything by Saturday then guaranteed they don't want me."

If they haven't made an offer yet it's unlikely he'll see one by Saturday morning, but that doesn't mean they won't offer him a deal later in the summer.

Laraque, who made $1.083 million last season while his ice time dwindled to six minutes a night, understands he'll have to take a pay cut in the new NHL. That's OK by him.

"I'm willing to bite the bullet. I want everybody to know that I love the city, the city will always be my home. Even though it looks like I'm going to another team, I'm always going to have my house in Edmonton."

COMMUNITY-MINDED

If he goes, Laraque will be a bigger loss than some might assume, on the ice and in the community. He been one of the most popular players on the team for years - an unofficial goodwill ambassador who puts in countless appearances in the off-season - and his value as a deterrent cannot be underestimated.

Rexall fans have come to take it for granted that opponents don't take liberties with the likes of Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. And they assume it'll be the same when youngsters Rob Schremp and Marc-Antoine Pouliot play here. It might not be.

"I'm not worried because I know I'm going to get another job," said Laraque.

"I'm just disappointed because I wanted to be an Oiler for life. If I have to wear another jersey it would be so weird, but I would devote myself to the community and the team just like I did with the Oilers."


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