On the advice of his father and Gus Badali, his Toronto-based agent, Coffey has yet to report. He is four years into a five-year contract that would pay him $320,000 for 1987-88, but he wants between $500,000 and $600,000, or roughly the salary of Boston's Ray Bourque, Coffey's only NHL peer.
Coffey thought long and hard before rejecting the Oilers' latest offer, for $3 million (Canadian) over six years; Badali and Coffey balked at the part that said $1 million of that sum would be in the form of unspecified real estate (later identified as an apartment complex).
"I'm a hockey player, not a real estate guy," said Coffey.
Team owner Peter Pocklington left on an overseas trip last week, freezing negotiations for the two weeks he would be away. In a phone conversation with Badali before he left, Pocklington questioned Coffey's willingness to mix it up in the corners. Badali reportedly relayed the remarks to Coffey, who made them public and said, "It's impossible for me to put on that hockey sweater again," failing to add that he would if they gave him the moon.
Meanwhile, at least 10 teams have expressed interest in Coffey. If Sather intends to deal him, he won't want to wait long. When the Oilers' need for defensemen becomes urgent, Slats may get squeezed himself.
Coffey's forte is the end rush. He comes careening out of the Oilers' end like a night train, too swiftly and suddenly to stop. That is how he scored more goals in a season—48 in 1985-86—than any defenseman in NHL history. But some observers think he has never taken much of a shine to the grittier aspects of his job.
"I think what we've lost in offense, we've gained in defense," says second-year-man Jeff Beukeboom, Edmonton's brightest prospect on defense. After Beukeboom, alternate captain Kevin Lowe, who is almost impenetrable, Craig Muni, Charlie Huddy and Steve Smith, it gets dicey. Until the replacement players, Jim Ennis, John Miner, Jim Wiemer and Ron Shudra, learn the Oilers' defensive system, the team will keep giving up a lot of goals.
Cocoach John Muckler has described breaking in "the kids" as "kind of exciting." Fuhr, who is making a ton of saves these days, might choose a different description. In Thursday's tie with Calgary, Fuhr absorbed 52 shots, 25 in the second period alone, the most Edmonton has had to deal with in a period in eight years. The Oilers simply could not clear the puck.
A cold jolt ran down the Edmonton bench when Fuhr left the Ranger game on Nov. 1 with a bruised shoulder. But unknown quantity Daryl Reaugh, up from the AHL Nova Scotia Oilers, skated out and held the fort. "We're very comfortable playing in front of Daryl," says Gretzky, soothingly. "We're completely confident in him."
A laudable comment, if mildly deluding. Moog's jump to the Olympic team caught Sather by surprise. From Fuhr and Moog as goalies, the Oilers have gone to Fuhr and Reaugh and Dave Roach, late of Michigan Tech. But bruised or not, Fuhr has yet to miss a start this season.