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RUFF, YZERMAN GET JUST DESSERTS; REGIER LEFT SINGING FOR HIS SUPPER

Lindy Ruff wasn't the only NHL personality to get a contract extension this week.

The Detroit Red Wings finally signed off on a pact that extends center Steve Yzerman's contact. Like Ruff, Stevie Y will get a three-year extension through the 2002-2003 season, giving him 20 years with the Red Wings.

Unlike Ruff, Yzerman will, combined with the final year of his current pact, make an average of $7.5 million per season for the next four seasons.

Ruff, by comparison, will go from about $350,000 per season under the last year of his old agreement to about $650,000 per season per year on his new deal.

Despite the disparity in earnings, Ruff isn't complaining.

"I missed the big-money era (as a player) so I was making more under my first coaching contact than I ever did on the ice," he said. "I'm very happy."

Yzerman is also happy. He's 34 and the contract is guaranteed through his 38th birthday. That's old by today's hockey standards, but Yzerman has shown no signs of slipping as a solid two-way player and team leader. Besides, in Detroit they feel it's money well spent on a player who has been the biggest reason the Red Wings rose from the ashes to a perennial contender.

Yzerman's been the Red Wings' captain since the 1986-87 season, making him the longest-serving captain in NHL history. He is eight goals short of 600 for his career and is already ninth on the all-time points list with 1,483.

Yzerman is also closing in on 900 assists. When he hits the 600-900 marks he will join Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe and Marcel Dionne as having achieved both milestones.

Dangling questions

Funny, but getting a straight answer as to whether or not the Sabres were going to extend the contract of general manager Darcy Regier was tougher than getting an accurate statement on the condition of goaltender Dominik Hasek.

Sabres CEO Tim Rigas pretty much avoided the question during a question-and-answer session with the media Wednesday to announce Ruff's contract extension. Regier also attempted to slip the question, but finally admitted he would like to stay on with the Sabres long-term.

It's likely that is the plan, but not saying so will lead to a season of questioning, not the least of which will be that Regier is under the gun to produce a Stanley Cup champion in Hasek's last year or face the plank.

That's not fair. And in leaving the question dangling, much as they did with Hasek's injury during the playoffs and again over the summer, the Sabres continue to leave themselves open to legitimate second guessing.

Even now, no one is sure about the long-term status of Hasek's groin muscles. The question of whether Hasek has had enough time to heal has never been fully answered nor have questions about how much playing time he'll get in the preseason or even at the start of the regular season.

The Hasek scenario is one that demands answers that haven't been forthcoming. The same can be said about Regier's future.

No goal redux

The NHL may have tried to come down hard on www.nogoal.com for selling unauthorized merchandise. It will be interesting to see if it is as harsh on one of its members.

Seen on display and for sale at the Sabres Carnival last week was a plaque with the words "no goal" embossed on the front. The merchandise was said to have been authorized by the Sabres, who control all sales within the building.

The Sabres have the right to sell their own NHL products, but their official stance is that the no-goal controversy is in the past. It's not likely the NHL will be overly pleased with the sales promotion.

Wonder what the attorney for NHL Properties will say about that venture?

By the way, nogoal.com has opted to challenge the NHL on its right to sell no-goal T-shirts. Site founder Jeff Spring said he's consulted with a copyright attorney and believes he has a case to continue because no-goal is a viable protest.

No closure

Not all the news out of NHL training camps is good.

Remember Milos Holan, the former Mighty Duck defenseman who was stricken with leukemia and eventually was eased out of DuckyLand without ever realizing his dream of playing a final NHL regular-season game?

Well, Holan had a bone marrow transplant, spent last season working out with a team in his native Czech Republic and got a tryout with the NHL's newest entry, the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.

By all reports he was doing well, but the Thrashers cut him this week and he still hasn't played that last game.

Thrashers GM Don Waddell said Holan still has NHL skills, but his strength still wasn't there. "He was losing the one-on-one battles in the corner," he said. "He wasn't happy when we told him, but I wouldn't expect him to be happy. But he understood it was a tough situation. You can say it's unfair, but players know what they're getting into."

Holan wanted so much to play in the NHL again that he was willing to give back $1 million in disability payments that he had already collected from an insurance policy. Waddell said he told Holan he was rated 10th on their defensive depth chart and that they would only keep seven. Holan said he didn't want to play in the minors so he went home.

No deal

Keith Primeau, brother of Sabres' forward Wayne, is still involved in a protracted contract squabble, with no end in sight.

The Carolina Hurricanes center is said to have rejected three offers of between $3 million and $4.4 million per season. The Canes are said to have offered a five-year deal worth about $20 million, but Primeau, four years from unrestricted free agency, isn't interested in any deal that takes him away from selling his wares on the open market at the earliest possible date.

Primeau's camp is looking for something along the lines of a two-year deal with strong incentives for bonus money. That's an interesting tactic in that Primeau is considered a strong all-around player, but he's never averaged even a point a game in any of his nine NHL seasons and he has just six goals and 17 assists in 70 playoff games.

That would tend to lower a player's overall value, but Primeau can't help but look across the ice to aging Ron Francis and his $5-plus million per season deal and ask: why not me?

Wild ride

It's hard to imagine that former Calgary GM Doug Risebrough was born to be Wild, but the new general manager of the Minnesota Wild beat out former Winnipeg and Toronto GM Mike Smith for the job.

The team with its hooks into Risebrough is Edmonton, where Risebrough served as assistant GM to Glen Sather. The rumor in Edmonton is that Sather extracted a promise of cash for letting Risebrough out of his contact and that Risebrough will look the other way on a few players that Edmonton might expose in the draft when Minnesota and Columbus enter the league for the start of the 2000-2001 season.

That would be against the rules, but the rule book doesn't always count for everything in the NHL today.

Getting back in the driver's seat allows Risebrough another chance to ease some trade skeletons out of his closet. He's best known for taking the deal that sent then Calgary Flames star Doug Gilmour to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a fistful of failures.

No offers

Former Sabre Ray Sheppard, owner of two of the smoothest hands (and slowest feet) in hockey, is one of many free agents without a team right now.

The 33-year-old winger hasn't received a single contract offer this offseason, something of a surprise since he was Carolina's second-leading goal scorer last season (25). Sheppard was also the Canes' third-leading scorer overall (58 points) and its leading goal scorer in the playoffs with four goals in five games.

Sheppard admitted there has been talk between his agent and various clubs, but not a single contract proposal. "It's not like I'm coming off a year where I couldn't get there any more," he said. "I was an effective player last year."

Sheppard has the same agent, Larry Kelly, as another veteran player without a contract, ex-Sabre Joe Juneau. Reportedly Kelly has talked to the Florida Panthers about Sheppard rejoining that team, but supposedly asked for a long-term deal at $2 million per season.

So far the Panthers have said no, adding more weight to the offseason theory that aging free agents are not going to make big bucks in the coming season.

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