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MIKE PENNER

Mighty Ducks Avoid Drafting Agents of Fortune

June 29, 1994|MIKE PENNER

And with their first pick in the 1994 National Hockey League draft, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim select Don Meehan, passing over Michael Barnett.

There you have it: With a chance to immediately impact the lowest-scoring offense in the Western Conference by drafting net-finder deluxe Radek Bonk, the Ducks wound up taking instead another European defenseman with an eye chart for a last name--and Meehan and Barnett are the primary reasons why.

Meehan and Barnett are player agents. Need I say more? The only personas more non grata around the office of Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira are the San Jose Sharks--and all the Sharks did was fire Ferreira two years ago and then sweep Ferreira's Ducks in the teams' first six meetings.

Player agents are the pains in the wallet who keep on giving . . . and taking . . . and asking for more.

Why is Paul Kariya still unsigned a year after his glorious first-round selection and news conference fit for a president?

Because of a player agent, the Ducks will tell you. Agent's name is Don Baizley, and in the Kariya contract negotiations, he has been everything the Ducks would like to see in their goalies.

Steadfast.

Unyielding.

Like wall, to borrow a phrase from Arturs Irbe, goaltender with evil San Jose.

Baizley has been asking for something between the moon and Saturn, according to the Duck party line, so Kariya remains off limits in the outer limits, a floating unattached satellite. Reportedly, Baizley is asking $2 million for his client--Nancy Kerrigan money--but Disney has earmarked those dollars for far more pressing matters, such as the promotional campaign for "The Lion King."

A year old and wiser--or is the correct term miser --the Ducks no longer draft players, they draft agents, which is why Oleg Tverdovsky (represented by Meehan) sits with the Ducks today and Bonk (represented by Barnett) does not.

The scouting reports:

Don Meehan: Agreeable and reasonable at the negotiating table . . . Relatively speaking, of course . . . Represented the referees in their salary dispute with the league in 1993-94, brought the matter to quick and fair resolution . . . Represents Toronto Maple Leaf Coach Pat Burns . . . Noted for getting Burns to training camp on time every year . . . Not a pushover, but not Don Baizley, either . . . Good people skills. Can be worked with.

Michael Barnett: High-powered hard liner who got aging thug Marty McSorley $2 million a year for five years . . . And you thought Baizley drove a hard bargain . . . Also renegotiates Wayne Gretzky's contract every six weeks or so, continually making Gretzky the highest-paid player in hockey . . . The man hockey players turn to when they're ready to make the big kill . . . Detroit's Sergei Fedorov hired Barnett last season and annual salary jumped instantly from $295,000 to $2.05 million . . . Also raked in big bucks for Jaromir Jagr and Brett Hull . . . Red flag: When Buffalo's Alexander Mogilny was set to make his big financial score, Mogilny fired Meehan and replaced him with Barnett.

Outlook: Ducks beware.

In Tuesday's NHL draft, that's precisely what they did. Bonk was there, ready to plop into the Ducks' laps after Florida chose Ed Jovanovski at No. 1.

Could the Ducks have used Bonk?

Last season, Bonk had 42 goals and 45 assists in 76 International Hockey League games for Las Vegas . . . as a 17 year old. For the sake of comparison, Mark Messier scored one goal in his first professional season. Bonk would have provided an instant jolt for the Ducks' two-goals-and-a-cloud-of-ice-shavings nightly attack. Imagine the possibilities, with Kariya's touch passes splitting the defense and Bonk cranking up for the finishing stroke.

The visitors' net on the corner of Douglass and Katella would have had to be re-zoned a red-light district.

But an unsigned Kariya is no use to the Ducks, and neither is an unsigned Bonk. With rumors of Barnett prepared to demand $20 million for five years, the Ducks were not prepared to double their displeasure and lead the league in rookie holdouts. So they skated around Barnett and Bonk and made a beeline for Tverdovsky, whom the Ducks regard as mobile, agile, versatile and signable.

"We're very excited to have Oleg," team President Tony Tavares said via conference call from Hartford, "and we look forward to his rapid signing this summer so he can join us at the start of training camp."

Having drafted Nikolai Tsulygin in the second round last year, the Ducks believe they have just imported the defensive pairing that will carry them into the 21st century.

Tsulygin and Tverdovsky.

Kind of flows off the tongue, doesn't it?

Tverdovsky has been compared to Bobby Orr by John Ferguson, chief scout for the Ottawa Senators, but this could be for reasons of simplicity.

Certainly, "The Next Bobby Orr" is easier on the vocal chords than "Oleg Tverdovsky from Krylja Sovetov."

Ferreira scales down the comparison, likening Tverdovsky to such mere but highly respected mortals as Sergei Zubov and Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers.

Duck Coach Ron Wilson avoids comparisons altogether, saying he will refrain judgment until he watches Oleg play at least once, but is hopeful Mr. T can step right in and step up the Ducks' league-lagging power play.

"He obviously has the potential to be the quarterback on the power play," Wilson says. "With Paul Kariya and (Valeri) Karpov joining him, our power play should improve.

"In spite," he quips, "of my coaching."

As of today, Tverdovsky joins Kariya and Karpov only on the Ducks' unsigned and inactive list. But he does have an agent who is known for his knack of closing a deal.

You just can't teach that, as they like to say in hockey.

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