Will the Oilers get a player present or a piece of coal?

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

For Edmonton fans, it's like being a kid from a dirt poor family at Christmas.

You're excited because it's Christmas. But you're not really expecting to get anything.

It's not that the Edmonton Oilers are currently poor, however. The salary cap goes up to $50.3 million US Friday and the Oilers ownership doesn't even blink. They declare their budget at $45 million.

Edmonton has plenty of budget room and even more cap room as the July 1 free-agent frenzy begins at 10 a.m. this morning.

Kevin Lowe said it the other day.

"I consider ourselves to be as much a player as anybody. This is the first time we're going to be a player."

There should be a real sense of excitement because of that.

This could be Christmas like it was two years ago, after the new collective bargaining agreement made Edmonton a player again and Chris Pronger and Michael Peca ended up here to prove it.

But two years later, if you polled the populace, you'd come to the conclusion that very few folks think that's the lay of the land anymore. And not many are expecting to get anything.

ALL ABOUT LOCATION

Now it's location, location, location. Location in terms of flights with half the players in the league able to be home in bed after most away games because of minimal inter-conference play.

Location in terms of a 30-team league with all sorts of warm-weather cities, some of them now with very good hockey teams and the last three Stanley Cup champions.

And location in the standings after dropping like a rock last year.

The Oilers sent out the DVDs to sell free agents on becoming an Oiler and are also currently in the process of gutting and totally rebuilding their dressing room to become the equal of any in the NHL. That sends out the message that they really are going to attempt to step up to the plate with the really big money to try hit the home run today.

The Oilers have telegraphed the idea that so desperately do they want and need to sign a free-agent player from a very short 'A' list that they're probably willing to pay maybe as much as a million more than somebody in the Eastern Conference with minimal travel or somebody in the sun belt, with the weather, might be willing to pay.

That's where this morning (remember when July 1 was considered the start of holidays around the hockey world, not a three-hours-of-live-TV event like the trade deadline and the draft?) gets interesting.

It was only a couple months ago that Kevin Lowe stopped $100,000 short of giving Ryan Smyth the $5.5 million which would have kept the face of the franchise here.

You may have noticed that Smyth is rated in the top four on everybody's 'A' list to make $6 million or more, right up there behind Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.

And the team which stopped $100,000 short of giving Smyth $5.5 would now offer Briere or Gomez as much as $7 million?

And that might not be enough?

Lowe is in an interesting position here.

He's under the gun, not just from the fans but likely from his own coach, to get somebody to make up for the goals he lost with the departure of Smyth, to get a top talent for Ales Hemsky to play with and a first-rate 25-minute man to play defence.

And the money is there.

He doesn't have handcuffs.

Lowe, I believe, is prepared to break all the Oiler principles on overspending to bag Briere or a Gomez. Probably not Drury.

Sometimes what looks like bad business can be good business.

I mean, what's the price tag on signing someone that would reverse the perception, left by Chris Pronger, of players not wanting to play here?

WORTH THE COST

What's the price tag on getting somebody who would get the town out of the funk from going from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final the year before to winning only two of their last 20 games after Smyth left at the trade deadline?

What's it worth to get the buzz back?

An extra million? Even two million?

The Oilers have to get the expectations of not only the Edmonton fans, but the players already under contract, to the point where they are not dreading next season because of what happened in the final 20 games last season.

How much is that worth?


Videos

Photos