SUN Hockey Pool

Pre-emptive strikes by Oil?

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Don't get mad. Get even?

Left out of the unrestricted free agent market, is Kevin Lowe about to make a raid on restricted free agents?

Is he about to do what nobody dreamed an Edmonton Oilers general manager would ever do - pay the draft choice penalties to sign a group two restricted free agent?

Lowe hinted it might be a possibility in a wide-ranging interview at his home last night.

Inviting a pair of reporters to his house to tell his version of what happened in the Michael Nylander fiasco, Lowe painted a picture of another wife who didn't want to live here.

He said he was also going hard for Paul Kariya, how he now wishes he'd signed Ryan Smyth at the deadline after all and how he's going to hire a concierge for the players and wives to try to make this the happiest place to play on earth.

Asked if he might suddenly be interested in signing a restricted free agent for between $4,687,530 to $4,859,412 for the penalty of two first round draft picks, a second round selection and a third round pick, Lowe didn't say no.

"I'm disappointed with the lack of a free agent signing, especially with what we went through. Being the GM of the team, I have to consider all the options," he said.

Players like 43-goal scorer Thomas Vanek of Buffalo, 31-goal scorer Zach Parise of New Jersey, 29-goal scorer Dustin Penner of Anaheim or 27-goal scorer Lee Stempniak of St. Louis are obvious names.

The Oilers are one of the few teams in the league that has the draft choices stockpiled to be able to pay the price if the club involved doesn't match an offer.

Lowe decided he didn't have to zip his lip about Nylander signing a four-year deal for $19.5 million with the Washington Capitals after believing he had a done deal (for a reported $2.5 million more) with agent Mike Gillis.

"Facts are facts and the truth is the truth," he said of deciding to speak. Lowe said it was early afternoon July 1 when agent Gillis told him 'I think he'll take the deal. He wants to come, but his wife is uncertain.' "

Lowe said he held off the press conference to announce the trade with Philadelphia for Joni Pitkanen "hoping the deal would be done and be part of the press conference."

The press conference was finally held, with no Nylander announcement, in early evening. A couple of hours later, Gillis sent an e-mail "confirming acceptance of the contract on Michael Nelander's behalf" and Lowe went home believing it was a done deal.

Expecting the signed contract to be on the fax machine at 6 a.m. when he returned to the office, Lowe said it wasn't there. So the Oilers began to call but Gillis didn't return the calls. So they called the player.

"His wife answered and said Michael was out running errands and would be back in a couple of hours.

"We're in a war room working on all sorts of other deals, not really concerned, just waiting for the paperwork," said Lowe.

Then, he pointed out, this columnist called to inquire about the Washington Capitals announcement that they'd just signed Nylander.

Lowe finally reached Nylander.

"In a sombre voice, he told me 'I just couldn't do it.' It was like his wife freaked out, like she was being shipped to Siberia or something."

Lowe said he called Caps GM George McPhee.

"He told me he got a call from the player and cited the Mike Vernon judgment that a player is not signed until he's signed.

"Finally I managed to get through to Nylander's agent. He was repentive and seemed to have some genuine feeling that he was disappointed in what happened. I talked about common sense and human ethics and not giving us a heads-up all day that this was happening and how we had gone 24 hours believing we had that need filled.

"What was he thinking not phoning all day?"

Lowe admitted he can't take this team to the start of the season without more talent on offence.

"We need one forward for sure. Maybe we can hold on for a while until we get a second one in a deal after the season starts.

"We spent a lot of time at this. Our inability to attract guys. What is it? The city? Me? What's the statement?"

He said none of the so called 'Big Three' - Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez - were even open to discussion.

"Our first call at 10 a.m. was to Paul Kariya," he said. "We talked to Paul and figured we were in there because he never played in Canada and he spoke of wanting to keep playing through to 2010 to have a chance to play in his home town in the Vancouver Olympics."

Kariya chose St. Louis.

"We're back to the trade thing for sure," said Lowe.

The way it's all worked out, with the $50.3 million salary cap, $43 million budget and not being able to land a free agent, Lowe probably should have given Ryan Smyth what he wanted at the trade deadline.

"If I had known ..."

Ouch. That had to hurt.


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