Players and Teams Play Cat and Mouse
July 2, 2002
By JASON DIAMOS
The first domino of the N.H.L.'s free-agent signing period
dropped last night when the Rangers announced a deal with
center Bobby Holik, a mainstay with the Devils for the last
10 seasons. The contract is for five years and $45 million.
Holik, who at 31 has played 12 seasons in the N.H.L., went
from the Czechoslovak national team to Hartford as the
Whalers' No. 1 draft pick in 1990, then was traded to the
Devils before the 1992-93 season.
Holik, who was disappointed when the Devils took him
through a testy arbitration hearing last summer, averaged
nearly 20 goals and 24 assists with the Devils. He had been
expected to give Lou Lamoriello, the Devils' president and
general manager, a chance to respond to any offers.
Until Holik's signing by the Rangers, a domino theory hung
over the league, in which teams were waiting for one of the
big names to sign and set off a chain reaction among the
crop of unrestricted free agents.
Other headliners on the list include Boston's Bill Guerin,
Chicago's Tony Amonte, Detroit's Chris Chelios, Colorado's
Darius Kasparaitis, the Rangers' Mike Richter and Toronto's
Curtis Joseph. As of late last night, none had agreed to
"It seems like each team is afraid to set the market," said
Mark Gandler, the agent for Kasparaitis. "Once one or two
players sign, it will go fast."
Before Holik signed, the most well-known player to sign
yesterday was the 39-year-old center Adam Oates, who
received a one-year, $3.5 million deal from the Anaheim
Mighty Ducks. Oates, a five-time all-star, was traded from
Washington to Philadelphia last season, finishing with 14
goals and a league-high 64 assists.
Yesterday, the Rangers delivered promotional packages to
eight unrestricted free agents, including Holik. Others
were Guerin, Amonte, Chelios, Kasparaitis and Joseph.
Robert Lang, the former Pittsburgh Penguins center, was
also believed to have received a package, but he chose to
sign a five-year, $25 million deal with the Washington
Capitals, where he will be reunited with Jaromir Jagr.
The 35-year-old Richter, whose wife, Veronica, is expecting
the couple's second child soon, said he had not been sent a
package. That figured, for Richter, the franchise leader in
victories, broke in with the Rangers during the 1989
playoffs and needs little selling on the team or the city.
"If everything works out, I'd love to stay in New York,"
Richter said yesterday. The feeling in the Rangers' front
office seems mutual, meaning the Rangers can concentrate on
their A-list free agents among forwards and defensemen. But
although Terry O'Reilly, who was recently named an
assistant to Coach Bryan Trottier, hand-delivered Guerin's
package to his Boston hotel room yesterday, the Dallas
Stars may have trumped the Rangers.
Tom Hicks, the Dallas owner, and General Manager Doug
Armstrong flew to Boston to woo Guerin, and Guerin
apparently came away impressed. Later in the day, after
Amonte rebuffed what one league official said was a
take-it-or-leave-it four-year deal at $5.8 million a year
from the Stars, Dallas apparently backed off to concentrate
As for the defensemen, Chelios and the Red Wings are close
to agreeing on a deal, although the Chelios side would like
the Rangers to top Detroit's two-year, $12 million offer.
Because the Rangers are unlikely to do so, the focus of
Glen Sather, the team's president and general manager, has
apparently shifted to Kasparaitis, who is also being sought
by the team he broke into the league with, the Islanders.
The 29-year-old Kasparaitis became an unrestricted free
agent this summer because he was making less than the
league average and has been in the league at least 10
years. Kasparaitis was seeking a six-year deal at $5
million a season.
"But that shouldn't be a problem, because of his age,"
For one team at least, it was a problem, however.
"I'd love to have the guy back," said Islanders General Manager
Mike Milbury, who traded Kasparaitis to Pittsburgh for
Bryan Smolinski in November 1996. "Everyone knows what I
think of Darius. But at the price he's looking for and the
amount of years? I can't do it. It would be doing a
disservice to our owners and everyone else in the
Kasparaitis, who still has a residence in Northport on Long
Island, said his package from the Rangers included a DVD
player, Rangers sweaters for Kasparaitis and his children
and a crystal apple for his girlfriend.
"It was kind of cool," he said.
Trottier was an assistant coach when Kasparaitis played in Pittsburgh
and Colorado. "I know Bryan pretty well," Kasparaitis said. "It looks
like I always follow him."
The Rangers are hoping he does again. "I just want to fit the team I
sign with perfectly," Kasparaitis said.