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DUCKS REPORT

Zezel's Refusal to Report Voids Deal

March 25, 1999|ELLIOTT TEAFORD

Add another chapter to the Ducks' book of moves that backfired.

Believing they had added depth at center for the stretch drive and the playoffs, the Ducks were left empty-handed after a trade with the Vancouver Canucks was voided Wednesday.

Peter Zezel, obtained for a late-round draft pick only hours before Tuesday's noon deadline, refused to report to the Ducks because he wished to be by the side of his terminally ill 3-year-old niece in Toronto.

Zezel was in Toronto by Wednesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Pierre Gauthier, team president and general manager, on Tuesday told Zezel to take all the time he needed before reporting. They spoke again Wednesday and Zezel insisted he was not joining the Ducks under any circumstances.

"He called me and he was totally honest," Gauthier said. "It's actually better this way. It's better that it's resolved before we played any games instead of having to wait through the weekend for him to decide he's not going to report."

The impact of Zezel's refusal to join the Ducks certainly won't be as dramatic as the organization's decision two years ago to dump Ron Wilson as coach and to replace him with Pierre Page. Page was fired after only one season and replaced by Craig Hartsburg.

But Zezel, 33, would have given the Ducks another dependable center. Zezel, who has 219 goals and 389 assists in 873 games, could have played between all-star wingers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. He also could have played on the checking line.

"As far as our team goes, we're going to go with our guys," Gauthier said. "Our objective was to go with our guys, so we're fine. We've said all along that we were going to build up our team and our chemistry. Our team is well prepared."

Gauthier said he was aware of Zezel's personal situation before the trade was completed and was not concerned about what fans might think about the Ducks coming away with nothing.

The Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks--the Ducks' closest rivals in the fight for fourth place in the Western Conference--each made significant moves before Tuesday's deadline.

"Vancouver was totally open with us in terms of saying that this guy has a family situation," Gauthier said. "How could they know he wasn't going to report? It's not us, it's the player who decided this. There's no trade. It's like the trade never materialized."

In fact, Zezel told a Vancouver newspaper Tuesday he believed he made it clear to the Canucks that he did not wish to be traded.

The Canucks said they were informed by Zezel's agent only that the 15-year veteran of seven NHL teams was "having a tough time and didn't know how a trade would affect him."

Said Dave Nonis, Vancouver assistant general manager: "[Mike Gillis, Zezel's agent] never said, 'Please don't trade him. He's not going to report.' This was not a sinister plot to screw Peter Zezel. It's a guy we're not going to have any use for at the end of the year and we tried to find a place for him to play."

Brian Burke, Vancouver general manager, has offered to buy out Zezel's contract.

"I will pay off Peter Zezel's salary and he can go home as far as I'm concerned. And I'll match that amount to charity," Burke said.

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