July 6, 2007
Edmonton the new Siberia?Flames re-sign captain and land free agents while Oilers wallow amid exodus
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media
Kevin Lowe said yesterday what Calgarians have known for years: No one wants to move to Edmonton.
In the midst of an organizational slide that all began when Chris Pronger's wife demanded he be traded out of Edmonton, the Oilers find themselves unable to attract anyone to what was once a hockey hotbed.
Despite having plenty of cash, draft picks and holes to fill, Lowe was turned away by all of the big name free agents he approached over the last week including Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov and, most embarrassing of all, former Flames cast-off Michael Nylander.
The sordid Nylander case illustrates perfectly just how undesirable Edmonton has become in some people's eyes as his wife rejected his agreed upon deal with the team "like she was being sent to Siberia."
Instead, she insisted he sacrifice several million dollars so they could raise their five kids amidst the gunfire and politics of hockey hotbed Washington -- one of America's most violent cities.
"A little bit of a concern," Lowe told Sportsnet's Gene Principe of the constant rejection. "I've talked to a lot of managers about it. Like we've said quite often, we have to draft and develop. Before it was for economic reasons, now its more geographic."
To combat the city's/organization's somehow damaged reputation, the Oilers sent players a slick DVD extolling the virtues of playing in the Alberta capital. Apparently no one with any talent either watched it or believed it because after two weeks of major signings and acquisitions league-wide, Lowe's team is arguably worse than the group of AHLers it finished the year with.
Meanwhile in Calgary, there's increased excitement and stability as Darryl Sutter made huge strides towards solidifying a Cup contender for years to come.
A quick comparison of the two teams' transactions of late serves as an embarrassing juxtaposition highlighting the different directions each club is going:
While Lowe planned on making a splash at the draft, he wound up empty-handed while Sutter returned home with Blackhawks captain Adrian Aucoin to help fill out his top four backenders.
Lowe's only big move of the summer came a week later when he finally traded for a puck-moving defencman, Joni Pitkanen. Problem being, he gave up dressing room leader and captain Jason Smith -- a move that has Oilers players fuming, off the record. To round out the deal, Lowe threw in potential 30-goal scorer Joffrey Lupul (admittedly a flop in Edmonton) for 35-year-old Geoff Sanderson who, as one scribe put it, "was really good in 1996."
The Flames then grabbed former Tampa Cup-winner Cory Sarich to bolster the blueline before adding another former captain and first-overall pick, Owen Nolan, to add depth to the roster.
The Oilers watched the moves on TSN where they learned Nylander reneged on his deal.
Half a year after the Oilers ripped the heart out of their organization by trading Ryan Smyth, the Flames added five years to the contract of their heart and soul, Jarome Iginla. The Flames then extended the stay of cornerstone defenceman Robyn Regehr in similar fashion.
The Oilers signed Matt Greene, Dick Tarnstrom and Denis Grebeshkov. To date, their big signing is 15-goal scorer Raffi Torres, who will have to replace leading scorer Petr Sykora, who left for Pittsburgh.
Worst of all, an admittedly frustrated Lowe is now saying he would likely have signed Smyth had he known the cap would go up so much.
Too bad because he was apparently one of the only players left who wanted to play in Edmonton.