Free agents: Kariya up for grabs, but Wings secure Hasek
- (CP) - The Anaheim Mighty Ducks have made their captain available to the highest bidder, deciding Monday night not to tender a qualifying offer to star forward Paul Kariya.
Kariya will be an unrestricted free agent starting Tuesday after the Ducks agonizingly decided his $10-million US qualifying offer was simply too much. "This was very difficult for me," Ducks general manager Bryan Murray said Monday night on a conference call. "Paul is a great guy and a great player. We've had a very good relationship. ...
"Financially some things have to make sense in our business," Murray added. "I know our company, I know our budget, I know the amount of money it costs to operate this hockey team. We have to get our players' contracts in order.
"It's just what had to happen at this point and time."
Anaheim's gut-wrenching decision to cut loose Kariya represents the clearest indication of the new-found resolve among NHL clubs to cut down costs ahead of the September 2004 labour war.
Kariya, 28, has played with the Ducks his entire NHL career. He led the team with 81 points (25-56) in 82 games this season. Murray said the Ducks still hoped to re-sign Kariya - obviously at a cheaper price - but he didn't give the impression that Anaheim's long-time captain was going to give loyalty a premium.
"He did not give us the right of first refusal," Murray said. "He was very disappointed. We had talked about this possibility numerous times."
The Ducks became the toast of the town after surprisingly reaching the Stanley Cup final this past season but they may suffer the backlash of their fans after also announcing Monday they would not pick up Adam Oates' $3.5-million contract option for next season, making the veteran centre an unrestricted free agent.
"I don't think there's any question we understand that," Murray said of the fans' reaction. "Paul's a very important player for our franchise. This year he was a real catalyst for what happened to our team. We don't want to lose our fans over this but it's difficult to build a real good team when you have a $10-million player.
"We've talked about this before with Paul and he understands."
Anaheim's announcement on Kariya stole the spotlight from Dominik Hasek, who earlier Monday evening had his return to the NHL officially signalled with Detroit's decision to pick up his $8-million contract option for next season.
The Wings must now decide what to do with star goalie Curtis Joseph, who has two more years left on his $24-million, three-year contract and more importantly has a no-trade clause.
Detroit did however sign Darren McCarty to a four-year contract and defenceman Jason Woolley to a two-year deal.
Monday was a busy day as NHL clubs faced a midnight deadline to re-sign players, pick up contract options and qualify restricted free agents.
The unrestricted free agents hit the market Tuesday, a crop that includes forwards Kariya, Sergei Fedorov, Teemu Selanne, Ray Whitney and Joe Nieuwendyk as well as defencemen Derian Hatcher, Brian Leetch, Greg De Vries and Glen Wesley.
Several of the traditional big-spending clubs such as Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and Toronto have said they will not jump the gun like previous years, instead waiting cautiously to see what transpires. And maybe that's why Anaheim figures it can take a chance on Kariya and try to sign him for less money.
"I think it's a general fact around the league now that financially a lot of things don't make sense," Murray said.
Hasek, 38, won't be among the unrestricted free agents Tuesday after Detroit as expected picked up his option. Hasek retired after winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit in June 2002. But the two-time Hart Trophy winner and six-time Vezina Trophy winner says he missed the game last season and informed the Wings last month of his decision to return.
What that means for Joseph, 36, remains to be seen. Philadelphia, Boston, Colorado and the New York Rangers could use a No. 1 starter of his calibre.
Defenceman Eric Desjardins took himself out of the free-agent running by signing a two-year deal plus an option to remain in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old will earn about $4 million a year, which is what he made last season.
The Edmonton Oilers re-signed defenceman Cory Cross to a three-year contract Monday. The 6-5, 219-pound blue-liner would have become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.
Cross, 32, had two goals, seven assists and was plus-16 in 37 games with the Rangers and Oilers last season and helped Canada to a gold medal at the world hockey championship in Finland in May.
Edmonton also announced it had bought out the contract of forward Daniel Cleary, making an unrestricted free agent.
And the Phoenix Coyotes announced they'd re-signed 35-year-old Teppo Numminen to a one-year deal. He could have declared himself an unresricted free agent Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Flyers traded defenceman Dmitry Yushkevich to the Washington Capitals for a seventh round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Yushkevich would have also become an unrestricted free agent.
The Rangers and Oilers also completed one of those silly trades Monday that infuriates the league's head office.
New York sent Leetch's rights to the Oilers in exchange for goalie Jussi Markkanen. Edmonton will receive a compensatory pick once Leetch signs with another team while the Oilers dumped Markkanen - a restricted free agent - because they decided not to qualify him before Monday's deadline.
The Nashville Predators signed leading scorer Andreas Johansson and made qualifying offers to Denis Arkhipov, Scott Hartnell, Petr Hubacek, David Legwand, Curtis Murphy, Alexander Riazantsev, Robert Schnabel and Kimmo Timonen.
As expected, a larger group than usual of restricted free agents was not tendered qualifying offers Monday and therefore became unrestricted free agents regardless of their age. The latest trend comes a result of teams tightening their purse strings ahead of next year's looming labour war.
The New Jersey Devils decided Oleg Tverdovsky's $3.6-million qualifying offer was too rich so the 27-year-old offensive defenceman is now unrestricted.
Not all NHL teams disclosed their qualifying offers Monday but these are some of the players that were not tendered qualifiers (players 26 or older cannot be qualified for under $727,500):
- Atlanta passed over forwards Lubos Bartecko, 26, and Per Svartvadet, 28. Both would have warranted $727,500 offers;
- Boston chose not to qualify defencemen Sean Brown, 26, and Ian Moran, 30, as well as forward Michal Grosek, 28. Brown's qualifier would have been $756,250, while Moran came in at $825,000 and Grosek at $727,500.
- Calgary didn't qualify forwards Scott Nichol, 28, and Blake Sloan, 27. Both would have cost $727,500 apiece to qualify;
- Carolina cut loose forward Jan Hlavac, 26, whose qualifier would have been $1.815 million; The 'Canes also decided not to qualify forward Tommy Westlund, 28, ($727,500 qualifier) and defenceman Nikos Tselios, 24, ($660,000);
-Minnesota cut ties with centre Cliff Ronning and defenceman Lubomir Sekeras.
- San Jose let go a number of minor-league players including forward Ryan Kraft, 27, and defenceman John Jakopin, 28. Both players would have cost $727,500 to qualify.
- Tampa Bay did not qualify defencemen Stan Neckar and Nolan Pratt, both 27. Neckar's qualifier would have cost $1.32 million while Pratt came in at $727,500.
- Toronto did not qualify forwards Jonas Hoglund, 30, and Paul Healey, 27. The Leafs felt Hoglund didn't warrant $1.69 million while Healey would have cost $727,500.
- Vancouver did not qualify forward Trevor Letowski, 26, whose price was $825,000.
The full number of restricted free agents who didn't get qualifying offers will be available Tuesday when the NHL releases the official free-agent list.
Also Monday, forward Dean McAmmond of the Calgary Flames activated his player option for next season at $1.6 million. He had until midnight to do so.
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