Rick Vaive is the highest paid Buffalo Sabre at $325,000 per season and Benoit Hogue is the lowest at $85,000, according to figures attributed to the National Hockey League Players Association.
As a team, the Sabres rank among the lower third of the 21 NHL teams.
Hogue's reported salary is the only one on the Sabres of less than $100,000. However, both Hogue and Sabres General Manager Gerry Meehan said the $85,000 figure is inaccurate. Hogue told The News Tuesday that he signed a new contract just after the start of the season.
Bill Watters, a prominent player agent based in Toronto, says the list is accurate as of Oct. 1, and that among his clients there are only two substantial discrepancies. Meehan said that as many as one-third of the figures attributed to the Sabres are inaccurate. Meehan added he was under the impression a more up-to-date list is being compiled.
That the Sabres are in the bottom third in salaries is no surprise. According to league figures compiled through Dec. 31, 1989, the Sabres have the third lowest average ticket price and the fifth lowest gate receipts in the league. They also have one of the youngest teams in the league.
Younger players usually make less than veterans in the NHL, a situation not always the case in other pro sports. They are drafted and sign their first contracts at 18, an age when most are not ready for the NHL. The big money does not come until after they have proven themselves in the NHL and those first contracts have expired.
The NHLPA voted last month to disclose players' salaries. The list was supposed to be made available to each team's NHLPA player rep no later than next week. However, the Montreal Gazette obtained a copy and published it Monday.
As in all disclosures of this sort, there are qualifications. Annual salaries attributed to Mike Ramsey, Mike Foligno, Doug Bodger and Ray Sheppard do not include deferred money. Defenseman Phil Housley's listed salary is ridiculously low ($186,000). It is known, however, that Housley has received a contract extension and has major upgrades in salary (believed to be in excess of $400,000) coming his way. The published figures also fail to include bonus money, which can be substantial.
"Housley's is inaccurate and so is Ramsey's and Hogue's, among others," said Meehan. "In many cases, the list appears to reflect deals made from late last summer and does not reflect deals made since then."
The most startling revelations involve two of the Sabres' All-Star representatives -- Pierre Turgeon and Daren Puppa.
Turgeon not unhappy
Turgeon is listed at a lowly $125,000 and Puppa at $130,000, salaries far below what most other All-Star participants are making. However, both players have extensive incentive clauses in their contracts -- including bonuses for making the All-Star team. And Turgeon's salary does not reflect the large signing bonus he got for being the No. 1 pick overall in the 1987 draft.
Each player is near the end of his first contract: Meehan said Puppa has a new contract offer in hand.
"I'm not unhappy," Turgeon said. "If I continue to have a good year and a good playoffs, then we will sit down and talk. I'm not worried about anything else right now."
Turgeon is listed just ahead of the No. 2 pick in the 1987 draft, New Jersey Devils forward Brendan Shanahan ($110,000), and $5,000 behind the No. 3, Boston Bruins defenseman Glen Wesley. Neither got near the bonus given to Turgeon.
Puppa makes less than all NHL goalies performing at his level (top three in wins, goals against and save percentage), but this is still his first full season as a No. 1 goalie. It is also known Puppa had money put aside to pay for him to complete his education at RPI.
Puppa is a long way from the base reported for All-Star participants Roy and Calgary's Mike Vernon ($425,000 Canadian); but they renegotiated contracts after leading their teams to Stanley Cup championships. Puppa is on a par with Vancouver's Kirk McLean (145,000 Cdn). McLean, like Puppa, was named this year to the All-Star Game for the first time.
Players who arrived in trades -- Vaive, Bodger, Larry Playfair, Clint Malarchuk, Dean Kennedy and Grant Ledyard -- are among the higher paid players at their positions.
It seems especially beneficial to have made a stop in Los Angeles before coming to Buffalo, or any other NHL team. The fourth-place team in the Smythe Division has the highest base payroll in the league, according to the report. Kennedy, Ledyard and Playfair all have played for the Kings.
Figures came out quickly
Sabres player representative Kevin Maguire expressed surprise the figures were out so quickly. Maguire said he received them on Monday and expected they would be quiet for at least a few days. He also said the impact of having the figures made public should lift salaries overall.
"After a period of review, I think guys in the mid-range, guys who have been playing for a few years, should be able to move up," he said. "I think you'll always find that new guys are lower and the top names are higher, but the guys in the middle should be able to move up. He should at least be able to negotiate knowing what other players of the same skill and experience level are making."
"The best thing to come out of this will likely be the realization that we don't make what a lot of players in other sports make," said Foligno.
"Yes, it's a good living, but it's nowhere near what a lot of people think."
The NHL operates mostly on gate receipts. Revenue from concessions, product licensing and television is small in comparison with that generated by other major sports.
Around the league
Bonus money changes the rankings of players' salaries. For instance, the list shows Wayne Gretzky making less than Mario Lemieux, but Gretzky has a list of perks from team owner Bruce McNall, including limo, helicopter and private jet service. Gretzky also picked up 1,851 double eagle gold coins as a gift from McNall the night he passed Gordie Howe on the all-time career points list. Gretzky is also said to have a new deal in hand that would again boost him past Lemieux. Detroit's Steve Yzerman has a $700,000 base, but is said to make more than $1 million with bonuses.
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall, who has played in just two NHL games this season, makes $500,000; Ken Wregget, who has started the majority of Flyers games, makes $225,000.
Vancouver's two Soviet players -- Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov -- are each said to be at $375,000 (Cdn.). Soviets Sergei Makarov of Calgary and Viacheslav Fetisov of New Jersey are said to be making $175,000 (Cdn.) and $250,000 (U.S.), respectively. Makarov and Fetisov have played substantially better than Krutov and Larionov.
St. Louis' Brett Hull, in a race for first place for the league's goal-scoring championship, makes $125,000, but Hull is known to be at the end of his first NHL contract, is playing out is option and stands to triple that amount.
All figures as of Oct. 1.