Based solely on stats, Khristich is worth the money. Forty-six forwards will earn $2.5 million or more this season; Valeri Kamensky, a 33-year-old left wing who has scored more than 29 goals only once in his career, will make $6 million after signing with the Rangers in July.
Khristich's situation has led some players and agents to ask whether clubs are in collusion. But remember that Khristich is an inconsistent, one-dimensional player. "He sure isn't going to check for you," says one Western Conference general manager. Khristich has good but unspectacular skills and can be controlled in the tighter-checking playoffs. (He has just 14 goals in 60 postseason games.) He is also less than gregarious off the ice, and when he played for the Kings from 1995 through '97, some of his teammates found him aloof and selfish. Bruins coach Pat Burns says that Khristich "needs that extra push to get going."
Khristich will probably catch on with a team soon, but he'll most likely have to settle for less money than he was awarded in arbitration. Even if teams are not colluding, they're certainly showing common sense.
Unsigned Free Agents
A Warning from One Who Knows
The restricted free agents who missed training camp and were still unsigned at week's end—including forwards Keith Primeau of the Hurricanes, Bill Guerin of the Oilers and Patrik Elias of the Devils—will probably have a hard time getting up to speed when they return. Edmonton winger Ryan Smyth sat out camp last year and then scored just 13 goals in 71 games. He had averaged 30 goals in his two previous seasons. "I got behind the 8 ball by missing camp, and I never caught up," Smyth says.
This year Smyth attended camp even though he didn't have a contract. He signed before last Friday's opening game and scored the Oilers' goal in a 1-1 tie with the Rangers. Smyth believes it doesn't matter if you spend your time away from camp working out, loafing in Cockaigne or playing in Europe, as some holdouts do. "There's a big-time NHL tempo that's different from any other league's," says Smyth. "You can't get the speed and physical play anywhere else."