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Gretzky Making Offer to Ducks?

Hockey: Agent says eight teams are in the running, but Anaheim says it isn't. Kings sign center Olczyk.

July 09, 1996|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Barnett, who represents all-time NHL scoring leader Wayne Gretzky, will begin this week to discuss financial terms with the eight teams that have contacted him about his client.

But Barnett and Gretzky are still hoping the Mighty Ducks will enter the field, despite the club's reluctance to pay anyone a salary that exceeds those of Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya.

The prolific young wingers will earn about $3 million annually, less than half the $6.5 million Gretzky earned last season with the Kings and St. Louis Blues. Gretzky last month turned down a two-year offer from St. Louis worth more than $12 million, including deferred compensation.

"I know Wayne thinks they're an exciting organization owned by one of the most successful global corporations in the world today, so how could you not be interested in being an employee of theirs?" Barnett said. "But it takes two to make a discussion and they have not contacted us."

It doesn't appear likely they will, unless Gretzky agrees to a modest salary. Even then, it's not certain the Ducks, who are building around youth and speed, think Gretzky can play at a high tempo and be productive.

"We have had no discussions with Wayne Gretzky, nor do we plan on initiating contact," Tony Tavares, president of Disney Sports Enterprises and the Ducks, said Monday. "We are not pursuing that at all. I think we would be worlds apart on the compensation package."

A difference in proposed salary alone might not kill a deal. "We'd have to see," Barnett said. "But you would think an entity like Disney and its image, and what Wayne stands for, there would be ways to bridge gaps."

The cost of Gretzky's salary could be defrayed by income derived from his marketing rights, which he has previously been unwilling to relinquish. However, the Ducks have not calculated whether that income would enable them to offer Gretzky a salary that would fit their hockey budget.

Barnett wouldn't identify the teams he has talked to. However, the San Jose Sharks said last week they're in the hunt, and Gretzky has said he would be interested in playing with his former Edmonton teammate, Mark Messier, on the New York Rangers.

The Rangers don't want to pay Gretzky more than Messier, who earns $6 million, but they can afford to pay $4 million if they decide that Gretzky, 35, can withstand the rigors of Eastern Conference play. The Phoenix Coyotes (formerly Winnipeg Jets) and Vancouver Canucks have dropped out.

Barnett, who also represents free-agent center Bernie Nicholls, confirmed the Blues have called about Nicholls, who has said he would like to play for the Ducks. Sources said the Blues, who have signed Joe Murphy to a three-year, $10-million contract, might offer Nicholls a three-year deal worth $9 million. Nicholls and the Ducks have had only preliminary talks.

As expected, the Kings on Monday signed Ed Olczyk to a two-year contract worth an average of more than $1 million per year. Olczyk, 29, has 294 goals and 688 points in 802 NHL games.

"He can play all three forward positions," General Manager Sam McMaster said. "He's an exceptional faceoff man and exceptional on the power play as well as a team leader. We were looking for a veteran who will help our younger players and mold us into a better team, as well as satisfying [Coach] Larry Robinson's need for a big centerman. He's had a great career."

Olczyk was part of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team but played little in New York. He had 27 goals and 49 points for Winnipeg last season in what he called a "bounce-back" season.

"It was a tough year," he said. "I cleared waivers on Oct. 3 and didn't know what the heck was going to happen. I had so much more to give. I kept doubting myself, but it was a lack of opportunity, that's what it was.

"If you eliminate those two years [in New York], my career numbers are pretty respectable. I didn't even think twice about it. I said, 'Hey, let's go.' I'm real excited and thankful I've got this opportunity."

Goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who won't return to the Kings, is close to finding a new team. He spent last weekend in San Jose and was pleased with what he saw. "They really stepped up to the plate," said his agent, Lloyd Friedland. "We probably can make a deal with them and hopefully we will, but we are exploring a few other options."

King-Mighty Duck Notes

John Perpich, an assistant with the Kings the last two seasons, is expected to be named head coach today of their top minor league affiliate, Phoenix of the International Hockey League. . . . Walt Kyle, coach of the Ducks' top farm club the last two seasons, will join Coach Ron Wilson behind the bench as an assistant next season. Kyle replaces Al Sims, who became head coach of the San Jose Sharks. . . . The Ducks announced their preseason home schedule. They will face the Kings on Sept. 15, the New York Rangers on Sept. 18, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sept. 25 and the Boston Bruins on Sept. 27.

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this story.

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