сентября 2000 года.
Burke blocks Khabibulin contract
The Arizona Republic
The last time we saw Nikolai Khabibulin in a Phoenix Coyotes jersey,
the Russian goalie was hanging his head in disbelief at one end of the
rink in America West Arena.
Pierre Turgeon deflected a shot in front of the net, and the St. Louis
Blues ousted the Coyotes from the playoffs with a fluke goal in overtime
of Game 7. It was 17 long months ago. A lot has happened
since that gut-wrenching evening.
The Coyotes changed coaching staffs. A total of 33 different players
have come and gone. The team wound up losing another first-round series.
And now, the Coyotes are about to get a new ownership group that includes
hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who will be calling all the shots.
Once Gretzky completes his purchase of the team with majority
partner Steve Ellman, Khabibulin will finally catch up to all the
changes and once again play a pivotal role as the Coyotes' main
masked man and the last line of defense.
But it clearly won't happen until current owner Richard Burke is out
of the picture.
How will the "Bulin Wall" celebrate his long-anticipated return?
''Well, I guess I'll just be pretty happy," the 27-year-old from
Sverdlovsk, Russia, said. "It's been a pretty long time since I've
around the guys. If it takes a little more time, though, well, what
Burke's monkey wrench
Khabibulin, whose 92 wins from 1996-97 to 1998-99 ranked fifth in
the NHL, was optimistic that his ongoing contract dispute would
finally be settled last month. That's when team Burke gave Gretzky
and Ellman permission to negotiate a deal on the side with the
On Aug. 21, Gretzky and Ellman met formally for the first time with
Khabibulin's agent, Jay Grossman, to discuss a new pact. A day
later, however, Burke rescinded his authorization for the two sides
strike an agreement.
In a letter to Grossman dated Aug. 22, Burke stated that, based on
information he received about the meeting from Ellman, there was no
significant progress reached. Therefore, he said he would immediately
instruct General Manager Bobby Smith to look elsewhere to find a
No. 1 goalie for the start of training camp 17 days later.
Smith wound up re-signing veteran Sean Burke in a move that
Gretzky, Ellman, Grossman and Khabibulin all agree was Burke's
intent from the start.
This, despite the fact Burke had written assurances from the NHL
that he won't be responsible for any financial losses should the sale
the team not go through. In effect, he could sign Khabibulin to any
price and wouldn't be on the hook for it.
"Nik offered to Wayne he'd go to training camp without a contract,
but Burke said no to that," Grossman said. "He also offered to work
out daily with the team's goalie coach (Benoit Allaire), but Burke
no to that. At this point, despite his public comments saying he's
disappointed he couldn't get Nik signed, he's tried to get in the way
us having any contact at all with the new people. And in addition to
that, he made his thoughts pretty clear in the letter he sent to us
During an interview with The Republic last week, Burke initially
denied he ever penned such a letter, twice calling it "a bald-faced
Later, after an excerpt was read to him, Burke recanted and
acknowledged he sent it.
"Everything that Richard Burke says is, how you say, untrue,"
Khabibulin said. "He's not giving correct information to the fans about
Burke maintains that Ellman and Gretzky had several weeks to work
a deal before the letter was sent to Grossman. Grossman, however,
contends that isn't true. He said it was less than a week, and added
the only contract Burke would accept was the original, three-year,
million contract he and Khabibulin rejected more than a year ago.
"It has become apparent that Richard Burke's personal animosity
toward Wayne, Steve Ellman and Nik, and his obsession with
victimizing Nik, is against the better interest of the Coyotes,"
Grossman said. "We have realized there are many differences
between Richard Burke and Wayne Gretzky, but one thing for sure is
that Wayne knows goaltending."
Great One a Nik fan
Gretzky has been in Khabibulin's corner long before he ever decided
to officially join forces with Ellman to buy the team from Burke. He
said management's take-it-or-leave-it stance with Khabibulin was a
mistake and, while acknowledging Sean Burke's contributions toward
a 90-point season, suggested Phoenix could have done better with
After being refused access to the Coyotes' dressing room last week
by Burke and Smith following the club's preseason opener, Gretzky
blasted both men for also denying him and incoming executive vice
president Cliff Fletcher authorization to continue negotiations with
"Cliff and I are going to continue to talk with Nik, and if we get
reprimanded, so be it," Gretzky told The Republic. "Not getting to
into the locker room, I can live with that. But we're going to continue
to talk to Jay Grossman. It's important Nik is on this team, and we're
going to have Nik on this team.
"Nik is more important to this team and this city than Richard Burke
and/or Bobby Smith."
That comment was the best thing Khabibulin has heard since bravely
thumbing his nose at $9 million and deciding to sit out all of last
"It was a very nice thing to read," he said. "I took it as a very nice
compliment. It meant an awful lot, considering it came from Wayne
Gretzky, who knows hockey more than anybody else. Hearing
something like that from a guy like him, it just makes you feel a lot
Gretzky, reached earlier this week, stood by the quote.
"I just wished I would have said he's more important than Wayne
Gretzky, too, because he is," Gretzky said.
Even Sean Burke acknowledged: "I know I'm not the new
ownership's No. 1 choice." Unfortunately, Burke is caught in the
middle. He understands there is a very good chance he will get traded
when Gretzky takes over and Khabibulin gets signed.
Khabibulin won't get the $4 million to $5 million annual salary he was
seeking last year, but the incoming ownership group is prepared to
offer him more than the $3 million average the goalie rejected.
"There are restrictions being placed on negotiations between us and
the new ownership," Khabibulin said, "but as soon as that gets
removed and the new ownership takes over, I feel we'll get a deal
"In the meantime, I'm going to keep working out on my own, try to
get some ice time where I can and try to be in the best shape possible
for when it happens. And when it does, I believe it only will take
week for me to be in game shape."