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Spare Nicholls Draws Ducks' Attention

July 01, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the top of the Mighty Ducks' free-agent wish list is a center to play with Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne--and the first name on the list is Bernie Nicholls, who has his eye on the Ducks as well.

"They're definitely right on top," said Nicholls, 35, who has played with Chicago the past two seasons but lives in Brea during the off-season. "I like what they're doing with the organization. They're starting to build a young team and they want to go the free-agent route to get to the next level."

Nicholls, who made $1.2 million last season, scored 19 goals and 60 points in 59 games, missing a long stretch of games because of a bruised spleen. As for the prospect of centering Kariya and Selanne, both 100-point scorers last season, "They're two talented players. They'd be fun to play with," Nicholls said. "You give them the puck and get out of the way."

Another player the Ducks might pursue is center Ed Olczyk, who had 27 goals and 49 points in 51 games with Winnipeg last season, missing a number of games because of injury.

Olczyk, at 29, might be one of the better bargains available after making $550,000 last season.

An overactive rumor mill is linking the Ducks with several big-name free agents, but the biggest--Wayne Gretzky--doesn't look like a match.

The Ducks aren't likely to look at Gretzky, 35, unless his asking price is cut in half.

For similar reasons, the Ducks probably won't pursue New Jersey defenseman Phil Housley, 32, who is considered a defensive liability and--perhaps more crucial to the Ducks' thinking--made $2.2 million last season.

As for the suggestions the Ducks are the destination of choice for a number of big-ticket players, "If we got all those free agents, we'd have to play at Anaheim Stadium--and sell it out," Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira, who is prohibited by tampering rules to discuss individual players before they officially become free agents today.

The Ducks' own free agents include the team captain, Randy Ladouceur, center Anatoli Semenov and enforcer Todd Ewen.

The Ducks are likely to re-sign Ewen, but Semenov's future depends on getting a top center through free agency.

Ladouceur, 35, is 70 games shy of 1,000 for his career, but he fell out of the lineup at the end of last season and the Ducks' selection of 21-year-old defenseman Ruslan Salei at the draft didn't enhance his chances of returning.

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