That some 100 restricted free agents remained unsigned as training camps began last week was an ominous sign for the NHL. Last year's list of restricted free agents included stars like Ducks winger Paul Kariya and Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov, whose contract impasses and prolonged absences greatly diminished the regular season. This year the missing talent could be even more extensive.
Islanders wing Zigmund Palffy and Bruins center Jason Allison, both of whom were among the league's top 10 scorers in 1997-98, were far from deals at week's end. So were the Oilers' best player, center Doug Weight, high-scoring Devils defenseman Scott Nie-dermayer and premier backliner Sandis Ozolinsh of the Avalanche. The Kings' Norris Trophy winner, Rob Blake, seemed close to a deal, but he remained unsigned. Add Penguins sniper Petr Nedved, who sat out last season after failing to sign, and the NHL's roster of stars looks as gap-filled as a goon's grin.
Don't expect the stalemates to end soon. Teams have the right to match any offer to their restricted free agents, so unless another suitor comes calling, there's little incentive for the restricted free agent's club to rush into a deal. Meanwhile, the players, who saw Kariya ($14 million for two years) and Fedorov ($38 million for six) hit the jackpot after missing considerable regular-season time, aren't about to cave in.
Playing for Dad
Ftorek's and Sutter's Burden
As if having to outskate your peers and dazzle your coaches wasn't enough pressure on a rookie in training camp, some guys also must impress their dads. Eighteen-year-old center Shaun Sutter is the fourth-round draftee of the Flames—and the son of Calgary coach Brian. Across the continent, 23-year-old Sam Ftorek, a right wing who was a free-agent invitee to the Devils' camp, is trying to win over his father, New Jersey coach Robbie.
While Shaun encountered Flames who, figuring Brian was keeping a close eye on his son, battled extra hard against him, Sam had a different challenge. "Sometimes I start to call him Dad," he said, "and I have to stop and say Robbie or Fitzy. I'm always aware he's there."
Even off the ice Sam can't escape his father's presence: Robbie is staying across the hall from him at the team hotel.