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Near Deal Becomes No Deal as Stumpel Talks Break Down

September 23, 2000|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Negotiations with Jozef Stumpel, believed near completion early Friday, instead fell apart later in the day when a Kings-imposed deadline came and went without an agreement.

The Kings refused comment, but a source close to the talks said that a proposal made by the team Thursday was close to acceptance, with only modifications in bonus arrangements being sought by Stumpel's agent, Benji Robins.

Those modifications were spurned by the Kings, the source said, and their last offer was presented in a take-it-or-leave-it vein.

If true, that would be the second such ultimatum met with a "leave it" answer since training camp began. The first involved defenseman Rob Blake, who spurned a Kings' offer of a three-year, $22.5-million contract extension and resigned his captaincy after receiving what he perceived to be a trade threat.

Stumpel, 28, played for $1.75 last season and was seeking a multiyear deal in the $3 million-per-season range when negotiations began. That was modified downward, but not to the $2.2 million per season the Kings are believed to have offered.

"This is something I wish we could have begun earlier," said Robins, who refused to comment on the dollar amounts or the various difficulties that have cropped up as the negotiations have unfolded.

Robins did say that he tried to open talks earlier in the summer, but that he was told by the Kings that they wanted to take care of other matters, including the entry and expansion drafts, and other contract negotiations before tackling what they believed was their most difficult.

In that belief, they have been correct.

This is the third season in a row in which the Kings have gone into training camp with a high-profile player holding out.

Two years ago, it was Blake. Last season, it was Mattias Norstrom, who signed just before getting on the team plane to open the season at Nashville.

This season it's Stumpel, who is playing with his club team in Slovakia on a contract that can be voided as soon as he signs an NHL deal.

If, however, such a deal doesn't come and Stumpel plays a game after the Kings open their season in Washington on Oct. 6, he will be effectively lost to the team.

Dave Taylor, the Kings' senior vice president and general manager, said he would not comment on the negotiations nor on the "trade rumors" that are sure to follow refusal to accept the team's ultimatum.

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