Sometimes the millions are pointless

ON THE NHL

December 21, 1993|By SANDRA McKEE

Rolling into the holidays everyone knows it is better to give than receive, but judging from a list of players' salaries, NHL owners gave plenty before this season -- and have received little.

Take Detroit owner Mike Ilitch, who has made Steve Yzerman the third highest-paid player in the league. He saw his $3.2 million man play eight games this season before being sidelined with a herniated disk. Yzerman is out indefinitely.

Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux, who has played four games this year for owner Howard Baldwin, has plenty of time to do a little Christmas shopping with his $3 million. Baldwin has said he has no problem with Lemieux taking his time and making sure he is 100 percent before returning to the game. And there is no set date for his return.

Of course, there is no way to hold an injury against anyone. Just bad luck all around.

But how would you like to be Buffalo owner Seymour H. Knox III? He's paying five-time Stanley Cup goalie Grant Fuhr, who won with great teams and without them in Edmonton, $1.6 million. Unfortunately, Fuhr is 6-8-1 with a 4.32 goals-against average this season and has lost the starting job to third-year goalie Dominik Hasek (a steal at $400,000). Hasek is 10-7-2 and leads the NHL with a 1.76 GAA.

Or Los Angeles' Bruce McNall, who is shelling out $1.2 million to Tony Granato (11 points, three of which came in one game last week) and another million to Jimmy Carson, who has 10 points and spends a lot of time on the bench?

There is obviously no Grinch in McNall. He also has Wayne Gretzky, $3 million and rising, and Luc Robitaille, $1.6 million, who are the Kings' two leading scorers.

There are 68 NHL players who will make a million dollars or more this season. And, certainly, they're not all bad deals. Montreal's Patrick Roy is on top of his game and, relatively speaking, no doubt earns his $3.5 million. Gretzky leads the league with 57 points, but he'd better watch out: Detroit's $295,000 man, Sergei Fedorov, is within two points.

And then, there is the impact of Philadelphia's Eric Lindros, who also banks $3.5 million. When he's in the lineup, the Flyers are 13-7-1. Without him, they're 5-8-1, and the fans love him. But, despite his 15 goals and 13 assists in 21 games, he is the sixth-most productive player on his team.

Just like them O's, hon

Portland Pirates owner Tom Ebright, who moved the Baltimore Skipjacks to Maine last summer and renamed them, gushes when asked how the move has gone.

"The reception has been outstanding," Ebright said during a recent Washington Capitals game. "We're like the Orioles are in Baltimore. We are the major-league team. We're the only pro sports team in the state. We're playing to sold-out crowds. Everything we hoped Baltimore would be, Portland has become."

Ebright isn't just putting on a happy face. His team is averaging 5,691. In Baltimore last season, the Skipjacks needed to draw 180,000 over 40 games, an average of 4,500 a night. The Jacks managed to attract 150,000. Last week, when the fire marshal left the arena doors unguarded to go out and fight a fire, the Pirates packed 7,192 people in the place, to set a state record.

Left wing Andrew Brunette had three goals and two assists in two come-from-behind ties with the Binghamton Rangers and Providence Bruins and became the first Pirate to earn the Classic-AHL Rookie of the Week Award for the period ending Dec. 19.

Love in Quebec

Forward Dale Hunter has played four periods this season, and he didn't make the team's trip to Quebec last week, but when the Capitals were mentioned -- in restaurants, shops and cabs -- his name surfaced instantly.

"Dale Hunter is a great player with a big, big heart," nearly everyone said, while cupping a hand over their chests and pumping it up and down, as if they had learned it as a cheerleading routine.

The Capitals no doubt agree. After seeing him miss a number approaching half of the season -- first with a 21-game suspension for taking a cheap shot at Pierre Turgeon during last year's playoffs, and now another 10 (so far) due to a cheap hit put on him by the Rangers' Alexei Kovalev that caused a tear in his medial collateral ligament -- they can't wait to get him back on RTC the ice. It could come as early as Thursday against the Rangers.

Fight record

Through the first 174 games, fighting incidents are up 75 percent. There were 146 fighting majors last season at this point vs. 256 over the same stretch this time around.

MILLION-DOLLAR MEN

E9

NHL players who earn more than $1 million per year:

Player, team ............... Salary

Eric Lindros, Phi .......... $3.5 mill.

Patrick Roy, Mtl ........... $3.5

Steve Yzerman, Det ......... $3.2

y-Wayne Gretzky, L.A. ...... $3.0

y-Mario Lemieux, Pit ....... $3.0

Mark Messier, NYR .......... $2.5

Ray Bourque, Bos ........... $2.5

Pierre Turgeon, NYI ........ $2.3

Pat LaFontaine, Buf ........ $2.2

Brett Hull, StL ............ $2.2

Joe Sakic, Que ............. $2.2

Phil Housley, St.L ......... $2.0

Alexander Mogilny, Buf ..... $2.0

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