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THE NHL / HELENE ELLIOTT : Bourque Might Be in for an Orr-Like Exit

Ray Bourque, a four-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman, is locked in a salary battle with the Boston Bruins that he might lose, even if he wins the salary he’s seeking in arbitration.

Bourque, who has spent all 14 seasons of his career with Boston, was expected to submit a figure between $3.8 and $4.2 million when numbers were exchanged Tuesday. Bruin General Manager Harry Sinden, claiming a limited budget, reportedly is offering $2.5 million. The hearing is scheduled for Friday in Tampa before Richard Bloch, whose ruling is due Tuesday, the day Boston opens at New York against the Rangers.

If the arbitrator rules in Bourque’s favor--and Sinden acknowledges that Bourque has impeccable credentials--Sinden said the Bruins might not be able to “afford the pleasure” of keeping Bourque. Sinden has been calling around to see what he can get in a trade, reportedly talking to Quebec about Joe Sakic and a defenseman.

Bourque’s departure would be similar to the acrimonious exit of Bobby Orr, another great defenseman who seemed a fixture in Boston. Bourque is the kind of player and person exceptions are made for, tight budgets or otherwise.

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Right wing Steve Larmer has yet to explain why he demanded that the Chicago Blackhawks trade him, but he must have compelling reasons to jeopardize a record that has been 11 years in the making.

Larmer has played 884 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NHL history, and he can break Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 late this season. But to make his point, Larmer will sacrifice his streak.

“That means more to other people than it does to me,” he said.

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Larmer, who has 406 goals and 923 points, has denied reports of a rift with Coach Darryl Sutter and says only that he wants a change of scenery. The Blackhawks, unable to persuade him to stay, are trying to grant his wish. They were near deals with Detroit and Quebec and are now talking to Calgary about trading Larmer and possibly Steve Smith for defenseman Gary Suter.

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King owner Bruce McNall continues to talk about a new arena for his team and the Lakers, last week saying he hopes to see it within three years so Wayne Gretzky can inaugurate the building before he hangs up his skates.

“I’m hoping we can get it done in time before he retires,” McNall said. “That’s why I’m taking donations.”

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McNall was joking--or was he? Talk is cheap but new arenas aren’t, and he has yet to offer hints on how this new showplace will be financed.

Given that so much of Gretzky’s contract money will be deferred--and considering that many other Kings also have deferment clauses--it’s worth wondering how much McNall can pay for this project.

Although McNall said he hopes to have an announcement in the next few months, Jerry Buss, owner of the Lakers and the Forum, gave no indication things have progressed beyond the wishing stage.

“Bruce and I have had discussions and believe that it’s time to take a hard look at the subject of a new Forum on the present site,” Buss said through a spokesman. “Something as considerable as this will take some time, so I do not anticipate having anything of substance to report in the immediate future.”

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Negotiations on a new contract for officials, replacing the deal that expired Aug. 31, were scheduled for last week in New York and this week in Toronto. The officials’ union, which set a Nov. 14 deadline for a new deal, has rejected one offer from the league.

Linesmen’s salaries range from $33,000 to $63,000 plus playoff pay, and referees earn from $50,000 to $90,000. In the NBA, the range is $57,000 to $97,000, and baseball’s top salary is $175,000.

“Hockey is the most difficult sport to officiate because you have to have the skills to keep up with the players,” said Don Meehan, agent for the NHL Officials Assn. “Baseball doesn’t even compare in any respect.”

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The opening of training camp spurred season ticket sales for the newly transplanted Dallas Stars, but the total is still short of the 12,000 predicted by owner Norm Green. Only 6,500 tickets were sold during the summer, but more than 1,000 have been sold in the last few weeks--Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman has 10 tickets--and luxury-box sales are at about 80%. The Stars’ new home, the Reunion Arena, will hold 16,814.

“We started a heavy ad campaign to coincide with camp starting,” said Larry Kelly, the club’s public relations director. “Now that we have players actually on the ice, instead of selling a concept, we’re selling reality.”

The Stars have drawn crowds of 14,452 and 13,815 for their first two games, but they might have a tough sell. As secondary tenants to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, they are stuck with a schedule heavy on weeknight games and light on desirable weekend dates.

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The Florida Panthers face similar scheduling problems. They have eight home games in October but only four in December and four in January, when tourist season is at its peak and the potential for walk-up sales is high. The Panthers are approaching 9,000 season tickets at the 14,500-seat Miami Arena, which a club official said is about as expected.

Their advertisements must be helping. One features an explanation of penalties, complete with a moderator demonstrating slashing, tripping, and the rest, on the player standing beside him. But best of all is the slogan: “Good hockey. Great air conditioning.”


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