SUN Hockey Pool

Pitkanen could be tough to land

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Kevin Lowe made record time in securing three of his biggest free agents this year, re-signing Tom Gilbert, Robert Nilsson and Denis Grebeshkov a week into the off-season.

But the most pressing item left on his summer To Do list won't be quite as easy to check off. While the Gilbert, Nilsson, and Grebeshkov contracts are already done, and talks with Curtis Glencross have begun, the Oilers haven't even started negotiations with defenceman Joni Pitkanen, and won't until after the World Championships.

They held initial dialogue last December, at which time Pitkanen and his agent Larry Kelly, were shooting for the moon. The two sides were so far apart they decided to let things sit for a few months.

"We thought the original conversation with the agent earlier in the year was a little unrealistic," said Oilers director of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast. "Kevin (Lowe) talked to him at the end of the season and Joni said he wants to come back here. It's just a case of getting the agent to buy into what we think is fair."

Kelly believes his guy rates with some of the best defencemen in the NHL, and should be paid accordingly (in excess of $5 million).

Pitkanen could be that player one day, but isn't yet, and hasn't shown the ability to be an 80-game, 25-minute a night workhorse, so Edmonton is understandably reluctant to make him their second highest paid player.

So they've put off formal negotiations until after the World Championships, where Pitkanen is representing Finland.

Pitkanen, who becomes a restricted free agent July 1 if he doesn't re-sign by then, isn't in a great bargaining position. He doesn't have the stats (26 points in 63 games last year) to wage much of an arbitration case, and the likelihood of somebody trying to snatch him away with an offer sheet is slim.

He'll have to hammer out something at the table. Look for a one-year compromise, with Pitkanen betting he can shoot his value through the roof with a breakout season.

"I'm going to meet Joni at the World Championships and we'll sit down and go over things then," said Kelly.

THE GLENCROSS CASE

As for Glencross, he boosted his stock considerably after scoring 15 goals (nine in 26 games after coming over from Columbus) and tying for the team lead in plus-minus (plus-8).

He's in a very strong bargaining position, but he's a Western Canadian, born in Kindersley, Sask., and very much wants to stay in Edmonton.

"Edmonton is a great place and a great place for Curtis, he's having fun there," said agent Dave Kaye. "I couldn't see why he wouldn't want to be there. He's played very, very well with the amount of ice time he had in Edmonton. He was fifth or sixth on the team in goals, playing fourth line minutes."

Both sides have made offers - now it's a case of trying to meet somewhere in the middle.

"We're in the early, early stages of negotiations," said Kaye, who's hoping to have a deal in place before Glencross becomes a UFA on July 1.

"I think this is a really easy deal to do. Once we get into some fairly regular negotiations this deal will get done fairly quickly."

Prendergast agrees.

"I think we're in the ballpark with Curtis," he said. "He knows what his role is going to be, he's going to play and he's going to play a lot.

"He's made a name for himself here over the last two months."

ICE CHIPS ...

Rob Schremp knows he needs to improve his strength and his skating if he's going to challenge for a roster spot that's going to be harder to win next year than it was last, so he'll be joining a number of the veterans at their summer fitness camp in California in early May ... The Oilers and Jarret Stoll's agent Don Meehan have yet to open discussions.


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