JASPER -- To tell that Kevin Lowe is more relaxed since stepping away from the day-to-day operations of the Edmonton Oilers, you need look no further than his hands.
Any guy who sports a pair of bright pink gloves he borrowed from his wife has to be pretty comfortable with himself and his surroundings.
"I'm really enjoying it," said Lowe, who stepped aside after eight seasons as general manager to become the Oilers new president of hockey operations.
"I find that I have more time to think, which is a good thing in this business. I really like the fact that (new GM Steve Tambellini) is here. You've seen how well he's fit in. It's really off-loaded a lot of stuff for me personally."
Lowe, who dropped in to visit the troops in Jasper yesterday, wasn't always loving life as the embattled general manager of a small market, injury-prone, Chris Pronger-hating hockey-crazy city. The opportunity to step back a little and take a deep breath came at a time when the 49-year-old was contemplating walking away from the Oilers altogether.
"It did occur to me," he said, adding the last few years were the most hectic. "Leading into the lockout, from our organization there was a lot of strategic planning and a lot of pressure on the economics.
"Then we went into the lockout and I took a very active role in the lockout, unlike a lot of managers. Then we come out of the lockout and we go to the finals and then there's the Chris Pronger thing. So I really needed time to step back a little bit and regroup. Not take everything, from A to Z within the organization, to bed with me every night."
The decreased workload isn't the only thing that has him sleeping easier. Given the success the club enjoyed down the stretch last season, the return to health of all its veterans and some big off-season acquisitions, this is as deep a team he has ever assembled. He can't wait to see it in action.
"I haven't looked forward to the start of a year more so than this year," he said. "With the new role and the new players ... You get nervous, you want the team to do well, you want the team to get off to a good start.
"Now it's time to see what we have. If the guys we brought in with big expectations perform and there's some surprises from other guys, and no negative surprises we should be in good shape."
Even though Edmonton just missed the playoffs two years in a row and will start the first five weeks of the season on the road, expectations are very high - Oilers fans are hoping to win the division and are expecting to make the playoffs. Lowe isn't so far removed from the day-to-day business of the Oilers that he can't feel the pressure. But he says he's seen enough to know this group can handle it.
"We have a really tough schedule, 12 of 14 on the road when we get out of the gate," he said. "It's going to take some time for all the guys to gel and we're going to have to show some patience there, but everything we hoped to see from players coming in, skill guys, has been really good."
And the kids?At the end of last season, Lowe looked at Tom Gilbert, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak and Denis Grebeshkov and called it Edmonton's best developmental year in 12 or 15 seasons. But that was last year. This year hinges on those same kids doing it again, which makes some nervous.
"We're expecting a lot out of the young guys, we're expecting them to pick up where they left off, that's going to be pretty critical for us," said Lowe. "But I'm fully confident they're going to perform at the level they did.
"Overall in the organization the players feel we have what it takes to be successful, and for us, successful is getting in the playoffs."