Rem's back!

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Be it the dressing room, the airport or any place else the moment struck him to be a wise guy, Rem Murray always had a ruthless sense of humour and a smart-ass remark at the ready.

It's no surprise then that Murray - equally adept at poking fun at reporters and teammates during his six seasons with the Edmonton Oilers - laughed out loud yesterday at the suggestion he'll have to return to the NHL as a left winger, if only so he can see the open ice.

"Sure, but I'll have to skate backward down the wall on the back check so I can see the play," guffawed Murray, talking from his home in Michigan.

"You want to do one of those no-look interviews?"

That Rem the Gem, one of hockey's good guys and most popular players to grace Edmonton silks, sees the humour in his situation, tells you something about him.

Anybody who has followed Murray's career since he left Edmonton for New York in 2002, and then ended up in Nashville, knows the versatile forward hasn't played an NHL game since January of 2004, when he was struck by an ailment known as cervical dystonia.

It's a neurological disorder causing contraction of the muscles that cranked Murray's chin toward his left shoulder and kept it pinned there, and there's nothing funny about that.

Finally, though, after months of searching without much luck for relief and hoping just to get healthy enough to lead a normal life, Murray is back on the blades and contemplating the possibility of resuming his NHL career next season, if there is one.

Even if it is at left wing.

NOT 100%

"I'm not 100%, but I'm a lot better than I was," said Murray.

"The day-to-day stuff is pretty comfortable for me. I can look straight ahead and the mobility to both sides is better."

Murray, 32, who missed the final 43 games of the 2003-04 season, has improved to a point where he's been playing pickup games in a no-contact league a couple times a week this spring.

He was even feeling good enough to take part in a charity game with former Oilers teammate Shawn Horcoff several weeks ago.

"It's been great to get back on the ice, even if it's just shinny," Murray said.

"I tried it at the end of January and it wasn't very good, but I've been out on the ice pretty regularly since."

EASED THE CONDITION

Murray has continued the Botox injections that have eased the condition, and he's added sessions with an osteopath in Toronto and a strict regimen set out to stretch the muscles in his neck, which has made a big difference.

There's no guarantee he'll improve enough to play again, but at least there's hope.

"I remember when it was really brutal," he said. "There were times when I thought, 'There's no way I can come back from this.'

"I just wanted to be able to function normally, to play with my kids without being in pain."

Murray, who played 416 games with the Oilers from 1997-2002, couldn't even straighten his neck when he visited Edmonton with the Predators at the end of the 2003-04 season.

"I'm still a ways away," he said. "But, every time I see the osteopath, I feel a little bit better. I'm hopeful he can get me close to the point where I can play again. I'm going to do everything I can."

If Murray makes it back, he'll be an unrestricted free agent.

If he can't beat the condition, he'll cash a $1-million disability policy and get on with his life.

Murray and wife Kim are expecting their third child next month - "It's just my neck," Murray points out.

"It's not about the money. I'm still living off my meal money from Edmonton," laughs Murray. "If I can't play at that point, I'll accept my fate and move on, but there's still hope."


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