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ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

There was a post-Finals exodus, led by Chris Pronger. There was the Ryan Smyth trade-deadline shocker. There was the most miserable season ever. There was a Hockey News poll listing Edmonton among the least favourite destinations of NHL players.

And the forecast is calling for more snow in mid-April.

Why wouldn't anyone want to play here?

It's something the Oilers will need to address this summer when they begin the off-season quest for some much-needed free agents. Rightly or wrongly (and the overwhelming majority of Oilers, past and present, will tell you it's wrongly) this city's reputation as a fun place to play is taking some hits - which might make some of those free agents think twice before coming here.

"Edmonton does have a little bit of a bad rep," said Shawn Horcoff.

"But I know from personal experiences, every player that does come here enjoys playing in Edmonton. They appreciate the fans' passion, the guys are great, the organization treats the guys great. I can't really recall too many times where guys leave saying bad things about the organization or the town itself.

"I don't know why (the perception) is out there, but it is something (that needs to be changed) because it's just not true."

There are simple explanations for the bruises on Edmonton's ego.

- Pronger left to appease a woman who wouldn't live here, even though she never tried.

- Smyth and the Oilers simply failed to reach a deal.

- A bizarre run of injuries sewered the season.

- And a poll that coincided with all of the above delivered predictable results.

But just because it isn't true doesn't mean some players don't think it. And that's a dangerous label to have attached to your town.

"As opposed to the reputation two years ago, when they were flocking here," joked MacTavish.

"It's mind-boggling to me that hockey, a lot of times, isn't the most important decision-maker in terms of players deciding to come here.

"To me the atmosphere is second to none in the league.

"It's a great environment to play. The city itself is a wonderful city.

"Those of us who have raised our kids here, it's a great environment to do that.

"The problem we've always been faced with is the weather. We're never going to do anything to change that."

In some ways it's an effective filter: If a player doesn't want to come here because he doesn't like the nightlife, or can't deal with pressure, you don't want him, anyway.

It's the character guys you can't afford to scare away.

"It's common banter now that players don't want to come here," said MacTavish.

"There are a lot of positives that we have to do a better job of selling. It's a great place to play, a great organization, good locker-room.

"Hopefully we can convince some players to come here and enjoy it. A lot of players have."

Like Petr Sykora.

"For me it was a totally different experience to play here," said Sykora, who signed a one-year deal with the team last year and wants to stick around.

"It's not easy to play here. Playing in a Canadian city, it's a lot of pressure to be winning.

"I played in a couple of markets where we only had one media guy going into the playoff games. In the morning skate in a pre-season game we had more media here.

"You have to be ready for the pressure.

"But on the other side, when things are going well, there's no place better."


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