SUN Hockey Pool

Lowe has his work cut out

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

He's going to land some big fish, just like he did last year, and the Edmonton Oilers are going to be as good as they were before.

With one of the best players in the game on his trading block and more spending money at his disposal than ever before, GM Kevin Lowe all but guarantees it.

After going underground following the NHL draft, Lowe resurfaced yesterday to catch his breath before bunkering down again for the busiest weekend of the off-season.

If there's one message he'd like to pass on to Edmonton it's this: Don't worry.

That's a lot on his plate right now - he has the biggest trade of his career to make, he has to try to re-sign a starting netminder and playoff scoring leader who are hours away from unrestricted free agency, and he has to map out a strategy to attract free agents to a city that Chris and Lauren Pronger can't depart fast enough. But if it looks like the Stanley Cup finalists are reeling, he assures you they're not.

STILL HAVE PLAN B

He vows they won't miss a beat.

"The Prongs thing has kind of thrown a wrench into everything," said Lowe, admitting that when the league's best defenceman demands a trade and flies to Mexico a week before the start of free-agent season, you can't pretend it isn't a swift kick in the Taco Bells.

"I didn't envision this, nor did anyone. I did hear of some concern (earlier in the year) before the official request, but I always figured it would just go away."

It didn't. And even though his long-term plan was to build a team around a towering superstar who plays 30 minutes a night, he says there's no reason to be afraid of Plan B.

"We're still going to be a good team, there's no question about that. We don't expect to be any worse than we were last year.

"That might sound like a safe statement because we finished eighth, but we also went to the Stanley Cup final."

Lowe says you can restock a lot of shelves with the hottest commodity in the NHL as trade bait and some $28 million left in the budget.

"He's arguably, if not the best player in the league right now, he's certainly in the top three or four," he said, adding Pronger shut down Hart Trophy winner Joe Thornton in the San Jose series and outplayed Norris Trophy winner Nick Lidstrom in the Detroit series.

WIDE OPEN TIME FRAME

"We should be able to leverage that into something significant for the short term and the long term of the hockey club."

When?

"It's really just going to come down to the best deal," said Lowe. "There are some teams with July 1 concerns that might want to get the deal done earlier and some who'll want to wait and see. I've told everyone that my time frame is whenever I can get the best deal."

He'll be doing a lot of dealing this summer. Aside from Pronger, 11 players from last year's team are poised for unrestricted free agency (Dwayne Roloson, Fernando Pisani, Jaroslav Spacek, Mike Peca, Sergei Samsonov, Radek Dvorak, Georges Laraque, Dick Tarnstrom, Rem Murray, Todd Harvey and Igor Ulanov) and many aren't coming back. That's a lot of holes to fill.

And given Edmonton's playoff success, the ones who do stay will command hefty raises.

Lowe says the holes can be filled by keeping some of his UFAs, signing free agents and promoting from within the organization.

"We'd already factored in that some of our young guys are ready to play," he said.

Paying everyone is the biggest challenge, even with the biggest budget in franchise history ($39 to $40 million, of which only $12 million is committed).

"Even though we have a lot more than we ever had before we still only have so much to go around," he said. "If all the guys want too much money then we can't have the same team. And I think everyone wants us to stay where we were at the end of last season."


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