August 30, 2002
By JIM MATHESON
The Edmonton Journal
Twenty-three years ago, when Mark Messier didn't get what he thought
he deserved from Edmonton GM Glen Sather, he boycotted the first few
days of his first Oilers camp. He was a boisterous 18-year-old,
looking for about $50,000 a year.
Fast-forward to today and Messier and Sather are talking money again -
in New York this time and about 100 times more money.
Messier made $5.6 million US last year and isn't crazy about taking a
big pay cut. Sather is likely offering about $2.5 million to $3
million, with sweeteners for games played and points, covering his
bases in case Messier winds up in the body shop again like last year
when his shoulder gave out.
These negotiations don't figure to get as dicey as they were in 1999
when Messier was dealing with Rangers GM Neil Smith and bolted for
the Vancouver Canucks.
Nevertheless, Sather may be agonizing over this one; nobody in hockey
knows Messier like Sather. He knows Messier will be 42 in January.
The engine is still running, but Messier's odometer reading is pretty
high. Nobody has skated more miles than him, a lot of hard miles,
Sather also has to look at where Messier fits in, now that Bobby
Holik is in the Big Apple with his $45-million, five-year deal and
lined up as the No. 2 centre.
Eric Lindros is the big gun as long as his head stays in the game
with $10-million man Pavel Bure on his right side. Messier probably
can't play left wing, as he did when he first broke into the league.
That said, Messier still likely looks at 39-year-old Ron Francis's
new two-year deal for $5 million a season in Carolina and says, "Why
The Rangers, on the other hand, know how important it is to have
Messier counselling Lindros.
But they may still be looking at him as Igor Larionov, another
fortysomething who is more of a role player and makes about $2
million a season.
The wild card in all of this might be Mike Keenan in Florida. The
Panthers coach knows Messier well - almost as much as Sather does -
but he's staying out of this. He's not bending GM Rick Dudley's ear
to take a run at him.
"We haven't called Doug (Messier, Messier's agent). I would be
surprised if he's talked to anybody but New York," said Keenan.
"I'm sure Mark wants to go back there and they'll get the situation
"I can't see him playing any place but New York."
Messier's experience could help the young Panthers.
Still, Messier is an icon in New York, although Rangers fans have
notoriously short memories. It was eight years ago when Messier
carried them to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Messier seems to have fully recovered from last season's injury.
"His shoulder's fine," said Sather.
"He had the surgery and it's repaired. I don't think there's a
problem at all now.
"Sure, I want him back. I don't know what his role would be. He can
do anything for us. All Mark cares about is winning."
But where does he play? And for how much? The Rangers have deep
pockets but their owners, Cablevision, aren't as healthy as they have
been. They paid a staggering price for Holik.
Holik is 31; Messier is 41.
The Rangers don't seem willing to give Messier what he's made for
"I'm talking to Mark's father. We'll see," said Sather, who feels
Messier can still play a few more years, but at Sather's price.
This could drag on past the start of Rangers camp.