Popp a distraction for Als?

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As if Jim Popp didn't have enough to do this week.

The Montreal Alouettes coach/GM will guide his team into the 94th annual Grey Cup tonight at Canad Inns Stadium against the B.C. Lions. He has only seven games of CFL head coaching experience under his belt, so you'd think that would be the only thing on his mind.

However, since the CFL salary cap goes into effect at 11 o'clock tonight -- and he found out about that only recently -- Popp has also been negotiating contracts all week, trying to restructure deals and get signing bonuses to players in an effort to save some cap space.

Popp said he has finalized several deals in Winnipeg, but he wouldn't reveal which players have new contracts.

Talk about tricky, having to tell players all week why they don't deserve more money and then hoping they'll play the games of their lives for you tonight.

Popp, however, said everything has gone smoothly.

"I've had great negotiations with people, but it's not the ideal thing to be doing," he said yesterday after his team's walk-through at the Stadium.

"But it hasn't been, in my mind, a distraction. It's just added to the workload."

Popp believes Lions head coach/GM Wally Buono hasn't had to deal with such distractions, because he feels the Lions -- along with Calgary and Toronto -- knew well in advance when the salary cap was coming into effect.

"There's five of us that had no clue," Popp said.

A relaxed Buono yesterday seemed like a man who has his 2007 payroll set, covering topics ranging from curfews to pre-game speeches to Grey Cup week scheduling in his final session with the media.

Buono feels the teams should arrive in the Grey Cup city no earlier than Tuesday night, since it takes 48 hours to implement a game plan.

"I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but I don't believe that Grey Cup week is fair to the coaches," he said. "The ability to prepare yourself is almost impossible. "... The game is about the celebration, but it's also about the quality of the game."

As for that game, Buono plans to say no more than two words to his 13-5 squad, which will hit the field in front of 45,000 fans as 7 1/2 -point favourites.

"When I played, I used to hate when a coach would try to tell me -- five minutes before the game -- how important the game was," he said.

Popp said pre-game speech ideas have been bouncing around in his head all week, but he hasn't said anything out loud and won't do so until he actually has to do it tonight.

"In a game like this, I don't know why you'd need motivation," he noted.

Since Popp is a Grey Cup newbie when it comes to standing on the sidelines, he will rely on his veterans, seven of whom have been to five Grey Cups in the last seven years, to lead the squad into battle.

"It's just a matter of how they handle themselves more than anything," Popp said. "They don't have to say a word, and everybody feeds off that.

"Watching them, they seem relaxed, and the rest of them can just watch them and follow."