Don't look for Michael Peca to be shopped by the Sabres anytime soon.
Sources said the two sides had a meeting Thursday regarding Peca's contract negotiations and trade request. At the Sabres insistence, Peca attended the session, but there was no headway.
The odd request -- usually a player stays out of the negotiating sessions -- gave rise to the thought that the Sabres were offering a breakthrough proposal. Instead, they pretty much stuck to their two-year offer of $1.1 million and $1.3 million, respectively. After a few go-rounds on that issue, Peca's agent is said to have restated his request for a trade and ended the meeting.
The Sabres' stance is difficult to follow unless you look at their salary structure.
The Sabres have only three players sure to make a million dollars or more now that Pat LaFontaine and Garry Galley are gone. Dominik Hasek will make $4 million each of the next two seasons, and Brad May will make $1.5 million this year, according to NHL Players Association figures. Alexei Zhitnik joined May at $1.5 million this year.
Derek Plante's new deal should bring him just over $1 million, if he hits some bonuses. After that, veterans Donald Audette and Randy Burridge are slated for $900,000 and $803,333, respectively. Among the higher-paid defensemen, Jay McKee and Richard Smehlik will each make $850,000.
Where does Peca fit in?
Sabres management, like the player, think he's an important part of their future and have even dangled the captaincy before him. Yet so far they haven't come to the level they are paying Zhitnik and May.
If they follow the traditional argument -- pay for performance -- Peca can make a great argument for deserving Zhitnik money or beyond. He was arguably the team's most versatile player last season. He won the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward and he was as much a contributor to the team's overall offense as anyone (he was four points out of a tie for first in team scoring). He was a team-best plus-26 on the plus-minus chart, particularly impressive since he was usually matched against the other team's best offensive player.
If the Sabres were to throw out the "pay for performance" standard as a lot of teams have done in signing young players to long-term agreements, you would think Peca would be in line for even bigger money -- more money than they gave Zhitnik.
Ottawa just signed its rising young star, Daniel Alfredsson to a long-term deal. Alfredsson made a paltry $250,000 U.S. last season (Peca made $166,500). This week Alfredsson signed a four-year deal worth $10 million. The contract averages out to $2.5 million U.S. and gives Alfredsson a 700 percent raise in the first year alone.
Peca is no Daniel Alfredsson when it comes to scoring and he's not likely to put people in the seats the way the smooth-skating Alfredsson does, but he's nearly as important to the Sabres winning hockey games, and the two compete in the same division.
And Alfredsson is not the only young star to go from peanuts to big money in a single season. Rob Niedermayer, the Florida center Peca is hoping to match, recently signed a three-year deal for about $6.9 million. He made $200,000 last season. New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur went from $200,000 to $1.5 million when he had a breakthrough season in 1995-96.
Dallas forward Jere Lehtinen, the player the Sabres appear to be trying to tie Peca to, went from $300,000 last season to $1.3 million.
However, Peca is better than Lehtinen. Lehtinen didn't win the Selke (he finished third), he didn't score as many goals or points as Peca (though he occasionally plays the wing with Mike Modano) and he actually drew votes for the Lady Byng Trophy as a gentlemanly player, something Peca will never win.
So where do the Sabres go from here?
A trade seems out of the question as the Sabres would be perceived as penny-pinchers beyond comprehension, a move that would further damage their already fragile relationship with their fans.
It's possible some team (maybe Chicago) could come in and set Peca's market value for the Sabres with a Group 2 free-agent offer. But that's not likely, since there appears to be something nudging toward collusion given the number of talented young Group 2 players who haven't even received an offer sheet.
Most likely the two sides will continue to wait it out with Peca watching to see if third-period leads continue to turn into end-of-game losses and the Sabres waiting to see if Peca starts becoming hard-pressed for money.
This could take awhile.
Moss missed hockey
The chance to get back into hockey coupled with the challenge of running an up-and-coming league is what lured former Sabres president Doug Moss to the position of chief operating officer for the International Hockey League.
"To be perfectly honest I missed being around the game," Moss said by telephone this week. "I miss Buffalo, too. I really enjoyed my time there, but this is a new page for me. I think this league has a few problems that have to be fixed, but it also has tremendous opportunity for growth and I like the idea of being a part of that."
Moss won't be the commissioner of the IHL, but as chief operating officer, he'll have a major say in television, radio and licensing agreements, stabilizing franchises that might be in trouble and opening up the league to new markets. The IHL is a great deal different than a development league like the AHL, and in some cities -- notably Detroit, where Moss will be based -- it goes head to head with the NHL.
Moss didn't have a bad word to say about his ousting last Nov. 1 and some of the problems the club has experienced since. Little wonder. Like John Muckler, he's still collecting a Sabres paycheck.
Is the sky the limit?
How much is enough, too much, or is there money floating around that we're not aware of?
In the latest negotiations between the Mighty Ducks and unsigned superstar forward Paul Kariya the Ducks are rumored to have made a training camp offer of $49 million over seven years, a tidy $7 million per season.
Kariya's agent is said to have countered with a request for $8 million to $8.5 million a season for three seasons, more if the contract runs longer.
The numbers sound outrageous and may well be, but there's a lot of pressure on both sides to swing for the fences on this one. Only Eric Lindros is expected to get more per season than Kariya and he still hasn't signed a contract extension. If he doesn't this season, the onus is on Kariya to set the superstar standard for the next decade. Kariya seems more than willing, hence the rejection of Anaheim's most recent long-term offer. An unsigned Kariya is the reason several big name players, including Dallas' Modano, opted to sign one-year deals. This way they still get paid a tidy sum, yet are free to come back to the table next season when the contracts of Lindros and Kariya will have established a superstar benchmark that other plays can line up and slot themselves into.
The downside? Should Modano and his ilk suffer career-ending injury, the chances of making the big kill are gone forever. Modano will likely keep that in mind when he looks at the $26 million long-term deal the Stars took off the table earlier this season, but he can balance that against two facts: career ending injuries are extremely rare in the NHL these days (medical procedures are just too good) and salaries are always higher in the NHL next year then they were the year before.
Creative Editing II
Think the Sabres are the only team capable of video magic? The Mighty Ducks showed their season-opening video and somehow managed not to include a single frame of Ron Wilson, the coach who led them to their first playoff appearance ever and Kariya who figured in some 55 percent of the team's scoring last season.
That has to be at least a match for Buffalo, which managed to keep the coach of the year on the cutting room floor and never mentioned there was a new coach standing behind the bench while the video was played.
When Espen Knutsen scored in the Ducks' home opener against Ottawa (a perfect shot from the slot on a feed by Teemu Selanne), it was the first time a player from Norway had ever scored in the NHL. There are only two other Norwegians who have played in the NHL: Bjorne Skaare played one game for Detroit, and Anders Myrvold played a handful of games for Colorado and Boston and is now in the minors.
Myrvold was among the first cuts this season. Knutsen is playing on the top line, centering Finns Selanne and Tomas Sandstrom, the All-Scandanavia line.