NHL

KELLEY: Red Wings buy out Robitaille

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
We gave you the heads-up that is was coming after the Detroit were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round. Heads would roll, starting with forward . He would be tendered a buyout offer with $1 million in settlement of a $4 million contract for next season. Monday, management followed through. General manager Ken Holland tendered the buyout and the highest- scoring left winger in NHL history accepted. It surely is a bitter pill for Robitaille, but his agent, Pat Brisson, indicated the 37-year old does not consider himself finished. "He still believes he has one or two more years left," Brisson said. The proof of that is delicate at best. The Wings tried several times to trade Robitaille over the last two seasons, without success. The contract played a role in that, but once the buyout is officially executed, Robitaille will become an unrestricted free agent, eligible to sign with any team that will have him. It's not likely he'll command anywhere near the $4 million he would have earned from the Wings, but at a lesser rate, he might still prove useful to a team looking to upgrade scoring on the always difficult left side. Robitaille has scored 631 goals from that position in a career that reached its zenith during an eight-year run with the Los Angeles . However, he played sparingly with the this season, netting just 11 goals while being largely relegated to the fourth line. It's possible that Robitaille would rebound to some degree on a team that could give him more ice time and had a strong play-making center to pair him with. But it's also clear that the forward has lost some of his speed, which was limited to begin with. It's also clear that he doesn't have a taste for the physical game or for the contributions of a checker, a role a lot of scorers resort to once their scoring starts to decline. The move to eliminate Robitaille should free up some cash for the to re-sign captain . Sources have told FOXSports.com that Yzerman and Holland have come to terms verbally on a one-year deal for the 20-year veteran. It's likely the contract won't be finalized until Holland gets his hands around a new budget for 2003-04. That can't be done until team owner Mike Ilitch makes some financial decisions. A big part of that includes how much to offer soon-to-be unrestricted free agent . You can round-file all those reports about the Carolina making a bid for Fedorov in the fashion they did some six years ago, when they forced the to match a front-loaded free-agent offer. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford stopped just short of mentioning Fedorov by name (tampering rules still apply here) in making it clear that the franchise would not be in the big-name free-agent market this summer. Like a lot of other teams in the league, the are actually looking to reduce payroll, especially since the 'Canes failed to qualify for the playoffs this spring. The Fedorov dealings will be difficult. The veteran forward, still at the top of his game, is looking for a long-term deal and is said to have turned down a $50 million package from the Wings during the season. His poor playoff performance (one goal) will likely detract from his bargaining power somewhat, but the bigger issue is the length of the contract. Fedorov is looking for a five- or six-year deal and the , like a lot of other clubs, are looking for a short-term arrangement. Most clubs want to see their payroll reduced this season and have few contractual obligations down the road. The thinking is that there will be some sort of salary cap or payroll restriction to come out of the new collective bargaining agreement when (some say if) it is negotiated, and teams want the flexibility to sign players under an agreement imposed ceiling. Having a handful of high-salaried players locked up long term would make it difficult to stay under a salary cap. Being well under a cap (the league wish-list has the figure at around $35 million per season) affords teams the opportunity to make offers to players who might not have deals, or found themselves cut (a la ) and on the block in a market in which their services might be had for considerably less than the current rate. It's a dream for the NHL general mangers right now, but it's one that's being actively supported by the commissioner's office.

Roy's future uncertain

Jacques Demers, the celebrated coach turned broadcaster this weekend backed away from his statement that Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy would retire this off season, but only a little bit. Demers, speaking during an intermission of the Ottawa-Philadelphia playoff game on Saturday said he stood by his story — he was quoted extensively in the Denver Post and other publications — that Roy would retire, but said Saturday that Roy could change his mind. "Mario Lemieux changed his mind and so have some others," Demers said. "Patrick could do the same, but I don't think so." Demers and Roy are close, the two won a Stanley Cup together in Montreal, but a source very close to Roy told FOXSports.com over the weekend that Roy definitely had not made up his mind. "There's no trial balloon or any contract leverage in play here," the source said. "Patrick is an intense competitor and he doesn't like the way things finished (Colorado went out in the first round after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Minnesota Stars). I think he wants time to reassess the state of his career, his health (he had hip problems for much of the season) and where the team is going now and in the future. Patrick feels a great sense of loyalty to the Avalanche and that will factor into his decision." Roy has one year remaining on a contract worth about $8.4 million plus bonuses. One insider told FOXSports.com the decision will be based almost entirely on his health, but that he also wants to see if general manager Pierre Lacroix (a close friend and his former agent) remains at the helm and whether or not ownership will allow Lacroix enough resources to add to the team's overall depth.

Toronto tea Leafs

The rumblings that Craig MacTavish might not return to the Edmonton Oilers aren't just based on the fact that the franchise is often cash poor and unable (some say unwilling) to compete to sign new players or even keep its current ones. Sources tell FOXSports.com that MacT thinks now is the perfect time to test the waters in a larger market, one that can help advance his career. The thinking has been that the target would be New York, where former boss Glen Sather still wields control, but sources close to MacTavish indicate that the Rangers are a fall-back team in case the Toronto Maple Leafs don't come calling. Leafs management is in the throes of a reorganization that could cost general manager-coach Pat Quinn one or even two of his positions there. The betting is that Quinn might give up coaching to retrain the general manager's duties and some clout in a front office that will soon be taken over by new business people, the result of Steve Stavros's decision to sell his shares in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Leafs and the Toronto Raptors of the NBA. The tea leaves will be read in what happens to Leafs boss Ken Dryden. If Dryden stays in any capacity, Quinn will have to make moves to counter Dryden's reported desire to bring Bob Gainey, the former Dallas Stars GM into the organization. Quinn has leverage in this area in that he has a contract and Dryden does not. He also has veto power over who comes in a general manger if he stays as coach. Technically, Dryden can't bring in anyone without Quinn's approval. However, there are no guarantees that Dryden will be kept on by the people who are set to take over. If he goes, Quinn is likely to be more open to discussions for change with the new people in charge. It's all a waiting game and a messy one at that. It's also one that should take several more weeks to sort out.

A tough sell in Dallas

The spin coming out of Dallas is that the ownership there didn't sell the team for a variety of reasons including everything from the war in Iraq to a separation of powers in business dealings with the Stars and team owner Tom Hick's other sports entity, Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers. The real reason it wasn't sold, however, was because there were no buyers willing to come near Hicks' asking price ($250 million was a much-rumored starting point). Not hard to figure. The NHL has two teams in bankruptcy and a host of clubs said to be for sale, none of which appear to be garnering any interest. Truth be told, it's not likely any team changes hands until a) the economy improves and b) the league settles its upcoming contract with the National Hockey League Player's Association. The threat of a prolonged period with no hockey via either a lockout or a strike is very real for the NHL, and no sensible buyer is going to commit gobs of cash to a franchise until those two matters are resolved. A third item of interest for any prospective buyer has to do with the NHL's television package. The majority of television agreements run out the same time as the Collective Bargaining Agreement (September, 2004). Any prospective new owner wants a clear picture of his revenue streams now and for several years to come before making a commitment. It's a slightly different case in Buffalo and Ottawa. Buffalo has a new owner, but it was picked out of bankruptcy proceedings at a relatively low price (estimates are between $72 and $92 million depending upon how many tax concessions the new owner gets). In that package, the new owner, Tom Golisano of Rochester New York, also gets control of the relatively new HSBC Arena, a property that can produce revenue even if the hockey team isn't there. Commissioner Gary Bettman is on the verge of lining up new ownership in Ottawa as well, but that deal is a great deal more complicated in that debt on the building and money owned to investors in various building and real estate transactions there is much more difficult to sort out. A side note to all this is that with Hicks staying in charge, there likely will be money to re-sign defenseman Darien Hatcher. Hatcher is a Hicks favorite and is sure to command big money in the off-season. If Hatcher is signed (he's said to be looking for some $7 million per), the Stars may have trouble coming to terms with Richard Matvichuk. He's already rumored to be on the off-season trade block. Hicks also has to find money for goalie Marty Turco who will be looking for a huge increase after a very successful season.

Coaching watch

  • There are rumblings in a number of cities. We told you that Phoenix's Bobby Francis could be in trouble and that could still be the case if management there feels he can't improve on his team's overall discipline and approach (a la Pat Burns in New Jersey). There continue to be whispers regarding New York Islanders coach Peter Laviolette, but most of them will always be there as long as Mike Milbury is the GM.
  • It's not that Milbury doesn't like Laviolette; it's just that Milbury was a coach and he often still thinks like a coach and that means he still wants to coach. Couple that to the fact the Islanders went out in the first round and change could be in the offing.
  • Insiders say Butch Cassidy is under some scrutiny with management in Washington because of a bruised relationship with some players, especially veteran defenseman Calle Johansson. The fact that his team lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning after building a two-games-to-none-lead doesn't help him either.
  • Player watch

  • The unintended byproduct of Tampa coach John Tortorella's semi-controversial decision to sit goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in what turned out to be the series-losing game to the New Jersey Devils is that the distraction took a lot of the heat off star forward Vinny Lecavalier. Lecavalier had an especially poor playoff against the Devils. That's no crime, the Devils are tough to score goals against. Still, Lecavalier appeared to shy away from the more physical play of the Devils, something that needs to be addressed if he's to breakthrough as a team leader and clutch scorer.
  • Don't for a moment think that the Khabibulin issue has been put to rest, however. The goalie met with general manager Jay Feaster and Tortorella about being benched in the crucial game in the series and there is still some real resentment there. Khabibulin has a year left on his contract, but that doesn't mean he won't consider asking for a trade if he thinks management is leaning toward giving John Grahame a larger role. Conversely, Khabibulin did not have a great season (good, to very good, but not great) and management spent a rather large amount of time trying to spur him to top form. That doesn't sit well with a coaching staff that needs top flight goaltending every night to win. Suffice to say that everyone in management was on board with Tortorella's decision not to play Khabibulin in that game, and that the fallout of that is not settled yet.
  • While on the subject of Tampa, Dave Andreychuk didn't have much of a playoff series against the Devils either. This is the unending knock on Andreychuk. He's piled up Hall-of-Fame numbers in his 21-plus regular seasons, but generally comes up empty in the playoffs. Part of the reason is that teams don't take near as many penalties in the post season and Andreychuk is primarily a power-play specialist. Another is that his slow foot speed makes him an easy player to mark when a team commits to a player-specific game plan as all teams do in a playoff series.
  • Andreychuk told reporters he will spend some time assessing his future regards playing yet another season. The betting is that he will, but not necessarily in Tampa. Andreychuk has played the most games of any current player in the NHL without winning the Cup. Tampa is a good team getting better, but it's not a Cup favorite next season and Andreychuk likely doesn't have more than one season left.

    One final thought

    In Edmonton, there's a statue of Wayne Gretzky outside the Skyreach Centre. In Philadelphia, there's a statue of Rocky, the made-for-movie hero. In Anaheim, it's a statue of the team mascot, Wild Thing. You would think they would at least give it over to Emilo Estevez, who played the coach in the Mighty Ducks movies of Disney fame ... at least until they can have a bronze made of Ducks goalie J.S. Giguere.
    Tagged: Red Wings, Hurricanes, Sergei Fedorov, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman

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