Lowe dishing out big bucks - Metro US

Lowe dishing out big bucks

Did Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe overpay when he inked Tom Gilbert to a six-year deal worth $24 million US Friday? Probably.

Did Lowe overpay when he signed Sheldon Souray to a five-year contract for $27 million? Definitely — by as much as $1 million a season over any other offer, according to my sources.

On both counts, the luxury of such a debate didn’t exist under the NHL’s old collective bargaining agreement — the Oilers couldn’t bid on free agents and couldn’t afford to keep their own players.

Under the new CBA, Lowe hasn’t hesitated to put his money where his mouth is in offering long-term contracts to players he deems cornerstones of the franchise.

Debate the amount of money Lowe put on the table for Chris Pronger, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner and, now, Gilbert, but not his willingness to spend what it takes to build a winner.

“This is a very important signing for our organization,” Lowe said after handing Gilbert a raise of 500 per cent. “Tom has developed into an upper-echelon defenceman.

“This contract, particularly the length, gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that he’s going to be here for a lot of years. We anticipate he’s going to be a real pillar of the franchise.”

Players the Oilers couldn’t afford to keep under the old CBA are too many to list. Go back as far as Wayne Gretzky, if you like. Doug Weight comes to mind.

As for bidding for unrestricted free agents, the Oilers weren’t even a blip on the radar screen. Making a $21.25-million offer sheet for Penner wasn’t a possibility. Neither was landing Souray.

As for Gilbert’s deal, Lowe paid a handsome price to lock up a 25-year-old with just 94 NHL games on his resume.

Gilbert was paid $835,000 this season, one in which he scored 13-20-33 and led rookie defencemen with 159 blocked shots. He’s got the game to be a 50-point blue-liner who plays 28 minutes a night.

While I see $4 million a season as an overpayment now, Gilbert will be a bargain if he develops as the Oilers think he will.

The bottom line: the argument whether Lowe overpaid by a few hundred thousand dollars is a lot more palatable than watching players walk because the Oilers can’t pay what they’re worth.

>> Lowe made it a daily-double Friday when he inked Robert Nilsson to a three-year contract worth $5.5 million.

Those who watched Nilsson develop this season, and I’m among them, believe the 23-year-old Nilsson could be a steal before the second year of the deal.

Obtained from the New York Islanders with Ryan O’Marra for Ryan Smyth at the 2007 trade deadline, Nilsson scored 10-31-41 in 71 games and was dynamic on a line with Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner.

Put it this way, is there anybody who would trade Nilsson straight up for Smyth now? Not me.

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