Restricted free agent seeks new deal

Updated: September 1, 2003, 11:10 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As the Minnesota Wild prepare for their fourth season, one of the biggest stars of last season's improbable playoff run, Marian Gaborik, is preparing to play in the league opener for Dukla Trencin of the Slovakian Elite League.

It's a sign that Gaborik, Trencin resident and restricted-free-agent winger, is preparing for a holdout after helping the team to the Western Conference finals last season. NHL rules permit Gaborik to dress with his former club for nine games or until the NHL season begins, said Gaborik's agent, Allan Walsh.

Wild players report for physicals and photos Sept. 11, leaving Walsh and Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough 10 days to get a deal in place if Gaborik is to arrive on time. Whether the Wild makes an effort to get Gaborik signed for that reason remains to be seen.

"I don't think one party can accept that responsibility," Risebrough said.

Said Walsh: "Marian has not been invited to camp. He does not expect to be in training camp unless a contract is done."

Gaborik made $1.075 million in each year of his three-year entry-level contract. Incentives for offensive production brought him an additional $3.3 million in 2001-02 and $3.4 million last season. All told, he has earned about $10 million in three seasons.

Neither Risebrough nor Walsh would reveal possible terms of a new contract. However, Gaborik's deal was expected to be in line with those signed in 2001 by Ottawa's Marian Hossa and Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier.

Like Gaborik, Hossa and Lecavalier played out their entry-level deals and were beginning their fourth professional seasons. And both had similar success. Hossa amassed 161 points through three seasons, Lecavalier 146. Gaborik is at 168.

Both, like Gaborik, were free agents without arbitration rights. Their only leverage was to sit out, and they did. Hossa missed two weeks before signing for a reported $9.2 million over four years. A native of Gaborik's hometown, Hossa played six games with Dukla Trencin before signing.

Lecavalier held out for the entire preseason before agreeing to a four-year deal paying $10.2 million. Lecavalier's agent, Kent Hughes, said the deal could be worth $14.5 million with incentives.

Hossa and Lecavalier received about $1.5 million in base salary in the first year of those contracts.

Last week, though, Tampa Bay raised the bar for a player of Gaborik's status. The Lightning re-signed fourth-year center Brad Richards for $9.25 million over three years, beginning at $2.4 million this year, plus incentives similar to those in Lecavalier's contract.

Richards amassed 198 points during his first three seasons. Since 1993-94, only Paul Kariya (246 points) and Milan Hejduk (199) have more points in their first three seasons.

Walsh can argue that Gaborik was much better than Richards when it counted. The Wild winger piled up 17 points in 18 playoff games last year. Richards had five assists in 11 playoff games.

"There is not one person in the hockey industry that would argue that Richards is more valuable to Tampa than Marian is to Minnesota," Walsh said.

Though unlikely, it is possible a team other than Minnesota could sign Gaborik to an offer sheet. The Wild would have five days to match any offer or receive up to five first-round draft picks as compensation.

Risebrough would not say whether he would match any offer.

"In Marian's case there's no doubt he has shown us the potential to be a good player," Risebrough said. "But I've said all along, I want a good team, not a good player."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press