Even if the NHL season is canceled, the Kings and the Mighty Ducks will still be responsible for paying more than $6.5 million in player signing bonuses this season.
Most of that will be paid to superstar Wayne Gretzky of the Kings and rookie Paul Kariya of the Ducks. Gretzky is down for a signing bonus of $4.531 million this season, according to NHLPA compensation documents. But those knowledgeable about Gretzky's contract say the Kings are obligated to pay only about $2 million, the balance payable at the end of his contract.
Kariya, who has yet to play in a regular-season NHL game, has already been paid $1 million and will receive the final $1.25-million payment for this season in July. At risk for Kariya during the lockout is his $575,000 annual base salary, which is not even the highest on the Ducks. Gretzky's base compensation is $2 million this season.
Kariya's Winnipeg-based agent, Don Baizley, negotiated a deal that guaranteed $2.25 million of the $2.8 million he expected to make this season, even if the whole schedule is wiped out. Kariya signed a three-year, $6.5-million deal on Aug. 31 that included a $4.775-million signing bonus.
Another of Baizley's clients, King forward Jari Kurri, has a signing bonus of $750,000, but it is deferred with interest and does not figure into the approximate figure of $3.1 million the Kings will pay out in signing bonuses this season.
As for Kariya, Baizley said one reason for the large signing bonus was that it allowed the base salary to "fit" with other entry-level salaries--a major concern for the Ducks.
"By (late August), we knew there was a possibility (of a lockout), but that was not the intent of the signing bonuses," he said.
Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira said Baizley "argued that we were paying a price for his amateur rights, and that's what the signing bonus is. Now, when we negotiate the next contract, we can start at the base ($575,000)--but when we get to that point he'll probably argue we should consider total compensation."
Another prominent agent, however, said the possibility of a lockout definitely influenced negotiating tactics.
The NHL addressed the subject of paying signing bonuses in a supposedly confidential memo, which was widely circulated among the media, saying that teams should continue to pay bonus installments after Sept. 30.
Among the other Ducks receiving significant signing bonuses is rookie Oleg Tverdovsky, who was picked second overall at the NHL draft in June. He signed a three-year, $4.2-million deal that includes a $2.5-million signing bonus. He has received an installment of $500,000 and is due another $500,000 in early 1995.
The team's other high-profile rookie, Valeri Karpov, received $225,000 to sign in July--but like Kariya and Tverdovsky, he has yet to play an NHL game. In all, the Ducks will pay about $3.5 million in signing bonuses to their three young prospects--a sizable chunk of their roughly $12.5-million payroll--no matter how many NHL games are played this season.
Among other Kings receiving six-figure signing bonuses this season are defenseman Marty McSorley, $500,000; rookie goaltender Jamie Storr, $200,000; rookie forward Matt Johnson, $100,000 and rookie forward Kevin Brown, $125,000.
McSorley is listed as receiving a base salary of $800,000 and a $1-million signing bonus, according to compensation documents. But $500,000 of the signing bonus is deferred with interest.
Storr's signing bonus this season of $200,000 is payable in two installments, one that was made at the scheduled start of the season and the other to be paid in January.