But don't let the
numbers fool you.
guarantee you he'll get 20 goals in this league easy, maybe a lot more,"
said Edmonton Oiler coach and general manager Glen Sather, who watched the
performance of the 6'3", 210-pound Priakin from the press box.
"Everybody would love to have a few Soviets. They come from a strong,
disciplined background. They're rugged."
But why Calgary,
and why Priakin? Why not star defenseman Vyacheslav Fetisov, for whom the New
Jersey Devils have offered Fort Knox?
"I just can't
answer those questions, because I don't know," said Flame president Cliff
Fletcher, who negotiated the deal—a hard-currency, no-trade, no-cut, fully
guaranteed contract for the balance of this season, plus two more seasons.
Although details have not been released, insiders indicate getting Priakin will
cost Calgary more than $500,000 total. He will get only a percentage of the
money; the largest portion will go to the U.S.S.R. Ice Hockey Federation.
on a budget," says Roman Dacyshyn, executive vice-president of Intercan
Sports, the Canadian company that represents the Soviets. "The Flames pay
the money to [Intercan] three times a year, and we divide it up. He gets pocket
money. He gets a clothing allowance. Obviously, he needs more money for
clothing now than he will later. We have to protect him. He can't go into a
store and buy four suits just because the clerk says he needs them."
that solid drafting and a little luck landed Priakin. "We took an educated
guess last year that the first player to come out of the Soviet Union would not
be a star," he says. "We looked at the middle level and decided Priakin
was a likely player to release if they released anyone."
As the 1988 NHL
draft ground to a halt last June, the Flames announced Priakin's name. The son
of a Moscow chauffeur, he was the 252nd and last player taken in the draft.
Sather has a
theory about what happened: "I'm told he's a cut above the rest in terms of
presentation. He dresses well, he acts well, he has a good image. I think he
was released because he'll make a good ambassador."
relations director Rick Skaggs has another theory: "What the Soviets have
to fall back on are their superstars. If Priakin does well, they can say, 'Now
you want our superstars, get out your checkbooks.' "
When he arrived
in Calgary from Hamilton, Ont.—where he was on tour with the Soviet National
Team—Priakin's first stop was at a clothing store. Dacyshyn says, "I get a
call from my son Greg, who's going to travel with Sergei for a couple of weeks,
and he's saying, 'Dad, he's trying on a Hugo Boss suit and it's $850.' I tell
him to look at suits a little more conservative. They settled on one a couple
hundred dollars cheaper. Heck, the kid's got to look good."