Oilers GM Lowe still seething over losing Nylander

By Scott Erskine PA SportsTicker Hockey Editor

Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe thought he had Michael Nylander in the fold when the free-agent signing period began Sunday. Much to his surprise, the Washington Capitals pulled the rug from under his feet.

A report circulated early Monday morning that Nylander, who posted career highs of 26 goals and 83 points in 79 games with the New York Rangers last season, agreed to a deal with the Oilers. Lowe believed the deal was done after receiving an e-mail from Nylander’s agent Mike Gillis Sunday night stating the veteran Swede accepted the contract offer.

However, a signed contract never was sent to Lowe, and on Monday afternoon, the Capitals issued a release informing the hockey world they inked Nylander to a four-year deal.

After letting his blood pressure return to a somewhat normal level, Lowe met with his staff to try and make sense of the bizarre happenings. Late Tuesday afternoon, the Oilers issued a statement detailing the events and expressing their disbelief.

“The Oilers can find no precedent for such conduct in our history,” the statement said. “The Oilers are examining and pursuing every course of action available in the best interest of the team and our fans.”

Lowe did not stop there, inviting several local media members to his home to discuss, among other things, the situation involving Nylander. According to the Edmonton Sun, the GM attempted to contact Gillis on Monday morning when he still was awaiting the signed contract but failed.

After calling Nylander’s home but only speaking to his wife, Lowe discovered - along with everyone else - the 34-year-old center had signed on with Washington. Lowe eventually got hold of Nylander, who was very low-key during their conversation.

“In a somber voice, he told me, ‘I just couldn’t do it,’” Lowe told the Sun. “It was like his wife freaked out, like she was being shipped to Siberia or something.”

Lowe then called his counterpart with the Capitals, George McPhee, and finally got in touch with Gillis later on.

“(McPhee) 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,” Lowe said. “(Gillis) 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?”

Now, Lowe is left still searching for a top-notch center for his team. Save for the oft-injured Peter Forsberg, who still has not decided whether he will play in 2007-08 - and almost certainly would not do so in Edmonton - the pickings among unrestricted free agents are slim.

That leaves Lowe with just two options - inking a restricted free agent to an offer sheet or completing a trade. The former undoubtedly will draw the ire of opposing GMs, and the latter will be difficult to accomplish without parting with top prospects.

Needless to say, Lowe is not the happiest camper in North America these days. And in his 19 seasons in the NHL, he likely never received a hit as hard as the one delivered by Nylander.

When the 2007-08 NHL schedule is released, make sure to circle the date when the Oilers meet the Capitals on your calendar. Nylander could be left ruing the day he crossed the six-time Stanley Cup champion.

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Updated Friday, Jul 6, 2007