St. Louis is locked in a tight struggle with the Chicago Blackhawks for second in the Norris Division, but the Blues are doing even more battling among themselves.
The St. Louus Post Dispatch reported late last week Brett Hull's personal caddie, Adam Oates, insited he wouldn't return to the Blues after the NHL All-Star break later this month if he didn't receive $500,000 added to his salary this year and next.
Oates has asked for a trade if the Blues won't accommodate him and general manager Ron Caron admitted he might accommodate Oates, whose 46 assists in 41 games had him in the NHL assist lead with Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux when the story broke.
Hull strongly supported Oates and raised the possibility of walking out, too. He also offered to help the team pay Oates more money by deferring the payments of his contract, which may bring him as much as $2 million this season, including bonuses.
Blues management refused Oates' renegotiation demands. Just last February he signed a contract extension calling for $420,000 this season, $530,000 next, $1.145 million in the third year and down to $945,000 for the final year when the bonuses aren't as lucrative.
"It's a managerial decision and I have no say," Hull said, "but if my opinion means anything, and if my happiness means anything . . . the reason we have so much success is because we're so close off the ice. If they think they can replace that feeling, they have to be out of their minds. How can you fathom it? The relationship we have doesn't come along often in sports."
Oates sounds serious about walking out.
"I don't want to leave," he said. "I don't want to be traded. But we'd like the situation settled by the All-Star break. I want John Cullen money."
Hartford signed Cullen this season for $4 million for four years.
Say good night, Winnipeg: Handicappers of the NHL race are pulling their money off the fast-starting Jets. The injury loss of Ed Olczyk, their leading goal scorer, could signal an upcoming fade in the stretch.
Although they clung to second in the Smythe Division into the weekend and beat division rival Edmonton last Wednesday, coach John Paddock had a down feeling after going 3-10-2 in his last 15 games. Asked how he would get through Olczyk's absence for two months with a dislocated left elbow, he replied: "We're not exactly getting through now."
Olczyk joined the injured Thomas Steen, Darrin Shannon and Mark Osborne on the sidelines. Bryan Erickson and Dean Kennedy are already out for the season with injuries.
"Not to downgrade anyone in the room," said ex-Hawk Troy Murray, the Jets captain, "but we're stronger with those players in the lineup. With Steen, and now Eddie, it's not getting any better."
Bob Essensa remains among the league's top stoppers in goals-against average. But he also was disheartened by Olczyk being hurt when he was chasing Oiler Craig Simpson and charged into the net.
"Eddie's a proven goal scorer," Essensa said. "There's definitely going to be a void. The next stretch will be a character test for the club."
Open bidding: The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins could make a deal soon that determines whether or not they can repeat as Stanley Cup winners. The most popular scenario has defenseman Paul Coffey being traded to Philadelphia.
There's a wider conspiracy theory with this deal, however, that must make Penguins general manager Craig Patrick hesitant. Speculation is the Flyers would use Coffey as one of several players they then send to Quebec for Eric Lindros. Can you see Patrick involved in helping one of his Patrick Division opponents get the next major player to reach the NHL?
Who are the Flyers rumored to be going for Lindros? Besides Coffey, they would package Rick Tocchet, Mike Ricci and Steve Duchesne, the last two their second and third top scorers.
Others would have you believe Toronto and Buffalo are on Coffey's trail. Formerly with the Sabres, Pittsburgh coach Scotty Bowman drafted Buffalo's Dave Andreychuk and Christian Ruuttu. That could be a factor. Dale Hawerchuk is another Sabre reportedly being discussed for Coffey, whose scoring is offset by his poor play in the defensive zone.
"If that's the way things are and I am not good enough to play here, who knows what will happen?" Coffey said after a recent game in which Bowman moved him to left wing to get Paul Taglianetti in the lineup.
Bowman, a stickler for defense, and Coffey can't live together. The upcoming trade is only a matter of time, especially because the Penguins had lost three of their last four games going into
Good works: Doug Gilmour's public reputation was smeared in when a $1 million lawsuit was filed against the then St. Louis Blue for alleged sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl. Even though the case later was thrown out, Gilmour is remains stained by the accusation. But Ric Nattress, traded with Gilmour recently from Calgary to Toronto in a multi-player transaction, thinks people should know the privaate Gilmour.
"In Calgary, he adopted this little girl as a firend," Nattress said. "She had bone cancer. He would visit her in the hospital before games, get her autographs, and even bring her to games after she was released. That just shows he's a real special talent who cares about people."