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FANS REWARDED - WITH SHAFT : ONCE WE WERE KINGS.

Byline: JARRE FEES

Mark Messier once struck up a conversation with an American on a plane who asked if he played for the Oilers.

Coming off the high after one of Edmonton's Stanley Cups, Messier was elated that the small Canadian franchise was winning some recognition stateside - until he realized the guy had meant the Houston Oilers all along.

The next time someone asks a hockey player that question, there won't be any confusion.

Owner Peter Pocklington, a man so cheap he gave fake diamond rings to the coaches who won him the 1984 Stanley Cup, is expected to announce today he has reached a formal agreement to sell the Oilers, the team he started dismantling in 1988 when he sold - excuse me, traded -Wayne Gretzky to the Kings for $15 million.

The deal: Houston Rockets owner Leslie L. Alexander will buy the Oilers for $85 million and keep them in Edmonton.

The catch: If the Oilers fail to show a profit within three years - coincidentally the same amount of time it will take Alexander to build a new stadium in Houston - his contract will allow him to move the Oilers out of Edmonton.

Well knock me down with an eyelash.

To hear Pocklington tell it, the Oilers have never, ever shown a profit, and depending on your definition of the word, he's probably right.

Two local groups are also trying to buy the team, to keep it permanently in Edmonton: one headed by Alberta businessman Robert Proznik and a second group that includes Jim Hole, former president of the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.

Under a 1994 agreement with city officials, either group, or anyone else, for that matter, can purchase the Oilers for just $70 million if they agree to keep the team in Edmonton.

Trouble is, in spite of all the noise both groups are making, neither has come up with anything approaching that figure.

Which, sadly, leads us back to Houston.

It's not that we don't understand why a small market such as Edmonton can't keep pace with escalating salaries and ticket prices.

It's not even that we would mind seeing an NHL team in Houston, a place so hot most people have never seen a sheet of ice except on a frozen turkey.

It's that a team of young players, built mostly through the draft and led by Gretzky and Messier, once moved through those halls at Northlands Coliseum; were once so naive the players sang on that bench when they got nervous . . . and those naive players one day rose up and took down the mighty New York Islanders and anyone else who got in their way on the road to five Stanley Cups.

A piece of history gets torn down every day.

Pocklington, who has also dabbled in oil, real estate, a car dealership, a meat packing plant and a failed 1981 attempt at the leadership of Canada's Progressive Conservative party, will finally get what he wants: a tall pile of cash.

Les Alexander will also get what he wants: a new Houston arena occupied by basketball and hockey teams he can call his very own.

With both owners walking away with their hands full, Edmonton fans get what loyal fans always get, every time this happens: the shaft.

Oh, and in the remote, snowball's-chance-in-Shreveport possibility that the Oilers do happen to show a profit within three years, not to worry. Alexander will sell the team to those local buyers - the ones who can't seem to come up with the money right now - and slink back to Texas.

But take heart. If that happens, the NHL has promised Alexander an expansion team just about the time his brand new stadium is finished.

In their thorough background check of Steven Gluckstern, current owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and future owner of the Islanders, the NHL has acquired a videotape of Gluckstern seated next to President Clinton at an Oval office luncheon for potential contributors. Gluckstern later donated $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee, including $30,000 in so-called ``soft money'' - but there's nothing illegal about his donation, at least under current law.

Gluckstern, who was a teacher and superintendent of schools in Telluride, Colo., before making his fortune in the re-insurance industry, says he made the contribution because he liked Clinton's views on education.

Education, huh? Maybe Gluckstern could teach those wanna-be Edmonton owners how to work the math.

Cap Raeder was a Kings assistant coach from 1988-95, working with goaltenders and special teams. He also edited team videos, pulling out highlights - and lowlights - for coach and player education, and frequently, their entertainment.

Raeder was an All-American goaltender at the University of New Hampshire and was back-up goalie for the WHA's New England Whalers, going 12-11-1 from 1975-77. He also played in the East Coast Hockey League, where during one game, an angry fan threw a set of car keys onto a player and the offended team climbed up into the stands for a free-for-all.

Paul Newman happened to be in attendance that night, researching his role in ``Slap Shot,'' and the scene went into the movie.

Raeder was a Boston Bruins assistant during the 1996-97 season. Starting in January, he will do color commentary for Fox New England sports network; he's also a scout for the San Jose Sharks. He and his wife Wendy live in Needham, Mass., with their three children.

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

Photo: no caption (Cap Raeder)

Box: ONCE WERE KINGS (see text)
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 4, 1997
Words:914
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