King forward Tony Granato, who underwent brain surgery in February and sat out the team's last 32 games, became an unrestricted free agent Monday when the Kings declined to make him a qualifying offer that would have given them the right to match offers he receives from other clubs.
Granato, 31, passed a battery of tests last week and within a month will undergo more exams that will determine whether he can resume his career.
"Up until a month ago or so, I was a little hesitant. But over the last month, with the way my workouts have gone and the tests, I feel really good about my chances of coming back," said Granato, who has been with the Kings since January of 1990 and has 191 goals and 393 points in 495 NHL games. "All indications are that I'm going to get the green light."
Although he said he's not bitter the Kings relinquished his rights, he had a curious response when asked if he hopes to stay with them.
"I don't know," he said. "It's hard to say what they really wanted to accomplish by this whole thing. I'll talk to them later on. We talked last week, and the doctors gave them all the information. I told the Kings I plan on coming back. I don't know where I fit into their plans. . . . I was kind of surprised there wasn't some kind of offer, not necessarily guaranteed."
To retain matching rights, the Kings had to make an offer equal to his previous season's salary, $1.425 million. They would have been obligated to pay him if he doesn't get medical approval to return. "Tony would like to play again, and we'd like to have him back, but until he gets clearance, it became impossible to enter into contract negotiations," General Manager Sam McMaster said. "We would like to do that as soon as Tony feels he's capable and he gets clearance to play at this level."
Granato's agent, Jeff Solomon, said he got several inquiries about Granato on Monday, the first day clubs could pursue free agents. "We're not in a rush to do anything, and we'll certainly talk with the Kings, but since they made him unrestricted, we intend to take advantage of it," Solomon said.
McMaster inquired about some free agents Monday but wouldn't identify them. "We've been given the OK by our owners to make offers to sign and go after players we think can help us," he said. "If somebody else has a salary they'd like to move on [via a trade] we have the ability to do that too."
One name not on his list is Wayne Gretzky. "He just doesn't fit in our plans," McMaster said. "We wish him the best of luck."
The list of unrestricted free agents contained a surprise when the Phoenix Coyotes didn't make a qualifying offer to center Craig Janney. He had 20 goals and 82 points for San Jose and Winnipeg.
Season-ticket holders who are dissatisfied after the Kings' first regular-season home game can get a full refund, club President Tim Leiweke announced. . . . The Kings hired Lorne Rubis as vice president of business operations, John Simperman as vice president of marketing, Steve DeLay as director of ticket operations and Sheridan Issel as director of community relations.