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Canadian Press
7/7/2006 1:41:17 PM

Edmonton Oilers defenceman Steve Staios took a break from a family vacation in B.C. and played the part of Dr. Phil.

Yes, his team has lost some key players over the last week, but his message to Oilers fans?

"I would just tell them to keep the faith," Staios said. "There's no reason to believe that the Oilers organization won't field a competitive team and bring in the players that we need to be successful. Even when you lose players like we have, I've come to have faith in this organization in all the years I've been here.

"And that's the feeling most of us players have. Keep the faith."

Oilers GM Kevin Lowe has begun the repair job, signing Olympic gold medallist Daniel Tjarnqvist on Thursday to a $1.625-million US, one-year deal. He's an underrated player and a nice pickup.

"He's a good puck mover," agreed Staios.

But the losses still sting. Superstar defenceman Chris Pronger forced his way to Anaheim with a trade request. Top-four defenceman Jaroslav Spacek signed with Buffalo even though he could have got the same $10-million, three-year deal with the Oilers. Free-agent centre Michael Peca won't return. Even tough guy Georges Laraque bolted to Phoenix.

"We're obviously going to have a totally different look next year," said Staios, a Hamilton native who turns 33 at the end of the month. "But you just have to have confidence in the organization that they're going to bring in the right players and help us contend again."

Oilers fans have railed against Pronger, especially.

"I'll never comment on someone's personal life," said Staios, choosing his words carefully. "When someone puts their family ahead of the game, that's something I'm never going to criticize because that's their decision.

"It's personal and private. But at the same time, as a teammate, the disappointing thing to deal with is that you figure if we keep the core around with Prongs at the back, we could do what we did last season year in and year out.

"You can't replace him. I think he's the best player in the world."

Then Staios catches himself.

"But again, and I want to stress this, I can't say anything negative about someone who's making decisions with their family in mind."

The biggest return in the Pronger deal was 22-year-old winger Joffrey Lupul, a 28-goal scorer in his second NHL season, not to mention scoring another nine goals in 16 playoff games.

Staios faced him in the Western Conference final and came away impressed.

"I know that he's a guy that we had to pay special attention to in the playoffs," said Staios. "And already to be that kind of guy at his age, you know he's going to be a pretty special player. When a young guy can raise his level in the playoffs, that's a pretty good sign as well.

"I think he's going to be great. Being a local guy, with all the attention, I think it's going to make him even a better player."

In Spacek, meanwhile, Staios lost his defence partner, and he didn't see that coming.

"No, I didn't," said Staios. "I had a nice talk with him during the playoffs, we had a couple of discussions about what he would do. He asked me about my deal (Staios has one year left at $1.615 million). We were a good pair in the playoffs and seemed to raise our level as the games got more important and I think he was feeling good about that, and maybe the prospect of us playing together again next season.

"But I haven't talked to him since he signed in Buffalo. It's a little disappointing because I thought we were good together."

Staios isn't worried, meanwhile, the all the losses will hurt the team's character.

"We've always had strong leadership in that room ever since I've been there," Staios said. "Jason Smith is our captain and he does an exceptional job of leadership on our team. So before Prongs and Peca came in we already had great leadership on our team, guys that can step up in that regard.

"So I don't think that will be a problem moving forward. I'm not concerned."
 
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