Wayne Gretzky of the Kings indicated on Monday that his soon-to-be announced new contract is a three-year deal, two years plus an option, which will pay him a base salary of about $4 million per season.
It would mean a raise of about $1 million per season, but it would seem to fall short of King owner Bruce McNall’s pledge to make Gretzky the highest-paid player in hockey. McNall reiterated his intention as recently as Wednesday at the team’s training camp in Blue Jay, Calif.
However, there is speculation that that would still happen because of a great deal of deferred money, an increasingly common fixture in King playing contracts.
The highest-paid player in hockey is Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux, whose seven-year deal averages about $6 million. Goaltender Patrick Roy of Montreal signed a new deal last week that will pay him about $4 million per season. Philadelphia’s Eric Lindros will make $3.5 million.
“It’s a deal that will pay me over a few years,” Gretzky said Monday at the Kings’ practice facility in North Hills. “I can’t say, ‘OK, Mario gets six million. I want seven.’ I don’t think a lot of teams would do that.
“We’ll come up with something that’s good for him and good for me. Bruce is talking about (building) a new rink. It’s not much different (than the old deal). Maybe a million more this year and next year.”
McNall, who was unavailable for comment, has been working on renegotiating Gretzky’s contract since the middle of the summer. Immediately after the Kings lost to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals, Gretzky hinted at retirement, but later said it had nothing to do with money.
“It should be done by the end of the week,” said Gretzky, 32, who is heading into his sixth season with the Kings.
“We’ve pretty much agreed on it. We cut it down from six years to two years, plus an option. . . . It’s a nice raise.”
There was a significant amount of deferred money in Gretzky’s previous King contract. In early 1990, Gretzky signed a deal that was to pay him $22.3 million over 16 years, with deferred payments of $1 million per year for eight years starting after the end of his playing contract in 1997-98.
Gretzky agreed to a revised distribution of money for this season’s contract in order to help McNall’s cash flow. He said he will receive half of this season’s pay at the end of the season.
“Which is fair,” Gretzky said. “Bruce can use playoff revenue to pay me, so we can make sure we have everybody signed. He’s being fair to me and I’m being fair to him.”
When the Kings traveled to Vancouver for their exhibition on Friday, Gretzky spent most of his time denying a rumor that had him agreeing to a three-year, $30-million contract. This rumor resurfaced after McNall said last week that he would make Gretzky hockey’s highest-paid player and “maybe in all of sports.”
Said Gretzky: “It’s like they thought the highest-paid player in sports made $9 million and added a million. . . . I was saying, ‘Wow!’ I was arguing with this guy (in Vancouver). I didn’t know him. He wouldn’t believe me. I kept saying, ‘I’m telling you, it’s not true.’
“It’s totally not true.”
Left wing Luc Robitaille (strained lower back) said he is improving and hopes to resume skating by this weekend. “I was hoping I’d be skating by now,” said Robitaille, who was injured in training camp Wednesday. “It was painful when it happened. If I make a sudden movement, I feel it.” All of Robitaille’s test results were normal and he is riding a stationary bike as well as undergoing treatment and soft-tissue therapy. Defenseman Brent Thompson, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, probably won’t resume skating until next week, according to trainer Pete Demers.
Coach Barry Melrose said that he was pleased with goaltender Pauli Jaks, who made his exhibition debut in a 6-4 loss to Vancouver on Saturday in Portland, Ore. “He played well,” Melrose said. “He challenged (the shooter) and we wanted to see how well he handled the traffic.” Goaltender Robb Stauber is scheduled to play against the Stars tonight in Dallas.