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BIG CONTRACTS ARE UNDERMINING OWNERSHIP'S CAUSE

How will NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman be able to look at NHL Players' Association chief Bob Goodenow with a straight face three years from now and tell him the Collective Bargaining Agreement needs revamping?

The majority of teams are losing money, yes. Teams in Canada are suffering, yes. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening every season, yes. But nobody is going to convince Goodenow or anybody else that teams don't have the money when they keep shelling out monster contracts. The examples keep coming, the payrolls growing.

Jason Allison's three-year contract worth $20.5 million with his new team, the Los Angeles Kings, is the latest case. Understand, the problem is not with the contract itself. Allison should go for every dime he can get. If it's not for himself, it's for the players who follow him next season and beyond. But $8 million more than the Bruins offered him before shipping him across the country?

The problem continues to be owners who pay these guys. It's getting to the point where the NHLPA can stop stuffing its coffers for the Battle Royale because the owners are making its very argument.

Jaromir Jagr signs for $88 million with the Capitals. Alexei Yashin signs for $87 million with the Islanders. Joe Sakic, six years for $57 million. Rob Blake gets a five-year deal for $49 million with the Avs. Jeremy Roenick signs for $37.5 million with Philadelphia. Every contract takes the players beyond the current CBA.

Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello has been saying the same thing for years: Blame the owners; they ultimately decide to spend the dough.

For every step GMs take toward fiscal sanity, their owners take two or three or six steps in the opposite direction. The Kings went through the very problem last season with Blake. Their price wasn't high enough, he was traded to the Avalanche and a few months later he signed a much bigger deal.

The Sabres stayed committed to their budget by trading away Michael Peca and Dominik Hasek. What happens? Peca signs for an average of $4 million per season, a jump of more than $1 million from the Sabres' last offer. Hasek signs for $8 million, far more than he's worth to the Sabres considering Martin Biron is making $750,000. Give the agents credit. Certain owners are paying up.

The Bruins lowered their price for Allison after examining the market. They could have stayed within the rules of the CBA and kept him, which is what the Sabres did for a year with Peca. Instead, they contributed to the rising salaries by trading him away, increasing the market price they will certainly face again.

And they sent their own players a clear message: Hold out for your money. It will come, somewhere, somehow.

Every time it happens, the league's argument about money becomes weaker. Obviously, there's enough money out there.

Clock's running on Vernon

Flames goalie Mike Vernon has 383 victories and seemed a cinch to reach 400 a couple of years ago, but it's starting to look like he'll never reach the milestone unless No. 1 netminder Roman Turek gets injured.

Vernon didn't help his cause when he was lit up for six goals last week in a loss to the Blackhawks. Turek won seven of his first eight starts and will carry most of the workload this season while the Flames attempt to reach the playoffs.

Vernon, if you remember, was signed mostly because he's one of Calgary's adopted sons after leading the Flames to the Stanley Cup in 1989. Management thought he could help sell tickets. The five-time all-star won the Conn Smythe with the Red Wings four years ago, but it seems a distant memory.

No spin from Holik

Devils center Bobby Holik worked his way into a little jam in his dressing room last week for criticizing his teammates after a slow start. Holik didn't single out any players, but he made it clear they were taking too many undisciplined (see: stupid) penalties.

Holik wouldn't say who, but someone in the dressing room pulled him aside and told him to keep his mouth shut. Holik, if you remember, promised he would shop himself as an unrestricted free agent after this season after the Devils ripped him in his arbitration hearing.

"I don't give a rat's (tail)," Holik told the New York Post. "One player, whom I'm very close to, said the players were (ticked) off because of what I said. I said, 'That's unfortunate because that's what I thought when I was asked.' People forget I didn't single anyone out. Sometimes the truth hurts."

Krupp still hurting

Detroit defenseman Uwe Krupp finally made it back into the lineup last weekend after missing 233 games over nearly three years. So what happens? The former Sabre suffers a shoulder injury in his second game and is out indefinitely.

Krupp is still haggling over $8.2 million in salary from a back injury suffered December 1998. Detroit contended he aggravated the injury while dog-sledding and suspended him before the two sides agreed he could come back this season, but Krupp is still bitter about the suspension and the money.

"I always prided myself in my work ethic and commitment," Krupp said. "Now, my career will never be looked at the same. I'll never forget this. They marked me and marked my family forever."

Dom no longer lonely

Do what you will with this quote from Dominik Hasek about the Sabres in the Sporting News: "They didn't sign or trade Michael Peca; they just let him sit and waste. That's when I knew I was in the wrong place if I wanted a chance to win a Stanley Cup.

"There were no stars in Buffalo. Everyone was counting on me to win it -- and we all know that a one-man show doesn't contribute to a team's success. It's better when a team features more personalities."

Where's the remote?

Bernie Kosar, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback and part owner of the Florida Panthers, stopped by coach Duane Sutter's office for a chat. Kosar was trying to console Sutter, who was depressed after watching the Panthers get off to an 0-6-1-1 start, when he realized ESPN was running a show on "The Drive" on the television in Sutter's office.

The Drive came in 1987 when the Browns were a few minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl, only to have John Elway march the Denver Broncos 98 yards for the tying touchdown in the final minute. Denver won in overtime. It marks one of the lowest points in Cleveland sports history and Kosar's career.

"We're sitting there talking and Duane's pretty down," Kosar said. "We're talking about the game and the team and all that stuff. I don't even think Duane was paying attention to the TV, but finally I just had to say, 'Duane, I know you're hurt, but I don't need to be doubly hurt. With all due respect, can you change the channel?' "

Quotable

Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter, after glaring at a television reporter who asked whether he would feel bad by beating the San Jose Sharks, coached by his brother Darryl: "Would I feel bad? I don't really give a (crap). I'd like to beat him, 10-1, and I know he feels the same way."

Around the boards

The Kamil Piros era was put on hold in Atlanta. The Sabres traded Piros to the Thrashers last season in the deal that brought Donald Audette to Buffalo. Piros was sent to AHL Chicago last week. . . . Goon Marty McSorley hasn't landed a job in the NHL, so he will hire himself -- in Europe. McSorley and his brother are teaming to buy a Findus British National League franchise, and he plans to play. . . . The first Bure-Bure season in Florida has been shelved for eight to 12 weeks while Pavel's little brother Valeri undergoes knee surgery. . . . The Canucks were none too pleased last month when the Hurricanes claimed center Josh Holden on waivers. It didn't matter. The Canes attempted to slip Holden to the minors and the Canucks snatched him back. . . . Going into the weekend, Sabres winger Miroslav Satan had the same number of goals (three) as Flames tough guy Craig Berube, that well-known sniper. . . . Apparently, fans in Chicago haven't picked up on the Blackhawks' start, which included five victories in their first 10 games. They drew three crowds of less than 11,000. There were about 6,000 people in the seats against Calgary. . . . The Blue Jackets were 0 for the season at home on the power play before Mattias Timander scored against Edmonton, making them 1 for 38. . . . My guess is Martin Brodeur will be the No. 1 goalie for Canada in the Olympics, but don't be surprised if he splits if coach Pat Quinn picks his own Curtis Joseph and asks Brodeur to serve as a backup. . . . Leafs winger Tie Domi says he learned a few things about himself during his eight-game suspension and has become more appreciative of the game. We'll see.
e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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