3/14/2007 6:10:37 PM
EDMONTON (CP) - At the best of times, the Edmonton Oilers have a tough time attracting unrestricted free agents and keeping the ones they do sign.
Then, there's Petr Sykora.
Even with the Oilers out of the playoff picture a year after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and mired in the throes an eight-game losing streak, Sykora isn't counting the days until July 1 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team in the league. He says he wants to stay.
"I like it here," Sykora said Wednesday. "The first 40 games, when we had a healthy lineup, that was the best time I've had in hockey in a long time. I'm playing with players who suit me and playing the kind of hockey that suits me."
Unlike Jaroslav Spacek and Sergei Samsonov, who opted for offers from Buffalo and Montreal within weeks of the Oilers flirtation with the Stanley Cup, Sykora doesn't covet potentially greener pastures.
"Honestly, I don't even know if the Oilers want to go in the direction with me," said Sykora. "There's a lot of young guys here and I don't know if they want me to come back. Hopefully, I'll find out where I stand soon."
Sykora, who doesn't have an agent, said when he signed a one-year, US$2.9-million deal with the Oilers in August he would have preferred a multi-year contract.
A 30-year-old native of Pizen, Czech Republic, Sykora has long had a soft spot for Edmonton. He trained in the city for three summers as a teenager. He said last August he couldn't understand why anybody wouldn't want to play here.
"I really like to play for (coach) Craig MacTavish," said Sykora. "I really respect him. He gives me a chance to play. He plays me on the power play. I'm happy with the amount of opportunity I get. When you come to a team and you feel the coach respects you, why would you want to leave?"
Sykora, an eight-time 20-goal scorer and Stanley Cup winner with New Jersey in 2000, has a share of the team lead with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) this season but only has one assist in his last 10 games.
Even with his dry spell - a stretch coinciding with the absence of countryman and linemate Ales Hemsky - and the grind of the losing streak, Sykora hasn't conceded anything.
"He's played hard," MacTavish said. "It's difficult for everybody. He's got a passion for the game and we've seen that.
"He's still passionate about playing the game. Everybody says it would be easy to quit right now. I don't understand that mentality and I don't think Petr does, either."
Despite his stated desire to stay, Sykora was mentioned more than any other player when rumours swirled about who GM Kevin Lowe might move at the NHL trade deadline.
When it comes time for Lowe to pursue free agents this summer, Sykora wants to be at the front of the line.
"You never know in this business," said Sykora, a first-round draft choice of New Jersey who made stops with the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers before landing in Edmonton. "I've been in situations before where I felt like I was going to stay forever and I left the next day. The thing is, I would like to stay and they know I would like to stay.
"I thought I might go at the trading deadline if they could get something for me. I didn't go. That might be a sign I might stay here. To be honest, when I didn't go I was very happy."