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THE NHL : Nicholls Continuing to Say, 'No, Canada'

October 30, 1991|STEVE SPRINGER

The baby watch continues, both in New York and Edmonton.

Bernie Nicholls' wife, Heather, is expected to give birth to twins within the next seven days.

And once she does, it will be time for her husband to go back to work. The question is, where? It's the same question people have been asking for nearly a month. But the answer is no clearer.

Nicholls says he won't go to the Oilers, the team that got him in a trade with the New York Rangers for Mark Messier. Nicholls says he would like to rejoin the Kings, but they have refused to consider taking him back, no matter what the price.

So now what?

At first, Nicholls said he wouldn't report until the pregnancy, a very difficult one, is over.

That caused an Edmonton columnist, referring to Nicholls' contract, to say, "For $700,000, hire a nurse!"

Subsequently, Nicholls announced he wouldn't go to the Oilers because:

(a) He didn't want to play in Canada.

(b) He didn't want to play for a club in a rebuilding program.

(c) He wanted to play for a Stanley Cup contender.

As might be imagined, those remarks didn't go over too well in Edmonton.

Oiler Coach Ted Green sounds as though he has nearly run out of patience with the whole situation.

"We've had enough disruptions," he said. "I don't want to see a hell of a lot more. I don't want to see people coming to this team two months behind in their conditioning."

Green told the Associated Press: "A lot of what is said can get misconstrued. There were some things said in the heat of the moment. (Nicholls) was a little emotional about it. I'm sure he wishes he could take back some of the things he said.

"I can't predict the future. If Bernie wants to be somewhere (else), he'll be somewhere. I doubt he'll be an Edmonton Oiler. I can't see it happening. But anything's possible. . . . We have enough problems (with) guys who don't have the right attitude on the hockey team that we don't need one more."

If Nicholls remains resolute, the most logical solution is a trade. One of the names that came up often was that of Pat LaFontaine, who was skating with Nicholls in New York as the disgruntled stars tried to stay in shape together. It seemed to make sense. LaFontaine, desperate to be traded by the New York Islanders, would be the perfect complement to the new, young members of the Oilers. And Nicholls would remain in New York.

But, instead, he lost both his workout partner and his escape route during the weekend when LaFontaine was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.

So Nicholls sits and waits with the meter running. At last count, his refusal to report had cost him about $130,000.

Add Oilers: Nicholls is not their only problem. Having traded Messier, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Steve Smith, the team discovered another unhappy camper in wing Petr Klima.

After failing to score a goal in his first four games and then sitting out two, Klima went public to announce he wanted to join the exodus from town.

Infuriated, General Manager Glen Sather had a message for his forward through Edmonton reporters: "You tell him this: I'll put him on waivers tomorrow, and if he's not picked up, he can go to Cape Breton (an Oiler farm team)."

Klima was sent home from a trip, sitting out three more games. He was indeed put on waivers and cleared them.

"I'm a little lost for words," teammate Kevin Lowe said of Klima's mutiny. "The game has changed in the last 12 months. I know what I would have said 12 months ago. Thanks for coming. Thanks for nothing.

"But now you have to sit back and let the general manager handle it. This sort of thing has happened in the other sports. Hockey is the last to be hit with it. The old attitude would have been to run the guy (in practice) and show him he's not wanted."

When the Oilers came home, there was some kissing and making up. Klima was put back in the lineup after sitting out a total of six games, but Green wouldn't take the pressure off.

"He's the one who walked out from the team, so he's the one who has to come back and prove a point," Green said. "I told him the only way he could come back is if he abides by the same principles as everybody else. We want a guy to play every night, not slack off. The system here is about teamwork, the team concept and team effort. It's not about individualism."

Klima responded with a goal in each of his first two games back. But the matter is not resolved.

The issue is not money. Klima is making $350,000 this season as part of a five-year contract. The issue is citizenship. Klima, born in Czechoslovakia, wants to become an American citizen and play in the United States.

Add Nicholls: Soon after the trade was made, Nicholls said he wanted to come back to the Kings.

"They need a second-line center, don't they?" he asked.

Several days later, Bob Kudelski, the Kings' new second-line center, scored his second career hat trick.

Still angry over Nicholls' remark, Kudelski told reporters: "I know Bernie Nicholls wanted to come back. He said we didn't have a center. Well, we do. He can go anywhere he wants. He can't come here."

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