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24 июля 2003 года.
A Markov trade goes sour for Karolina - newsobserver.com 

GM Rutherford learns of Russian option after deal

By LUKE DECOCK, Staff Writer

It was a Friday night in Nashville, Tenn., and the NHL draft was less than 15 hours away.

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford leaned on a railing outside the sports bar at his hotel and watched the New York Yankees play the New York Mets. His beloved Boston Red Sox had been rained out and rooting for the Yankees to lose was the next best thing.

But baseball -- the Yankees won 5-0 -- was not the reason he was both nervous and excited on the evening of June 20. Earlier that day he had offered defenseman David Tanabe to the Phoenix Coyotes for coveted defenseman Danny Markov, and that night added prospect Igor Knyazev to the deal. He answered each ring of his cell phone with the eagerness of an expectant father.

About midnight, he heard from Phoenix general manager Mike Barnett. The deal was done.

The next morning, the Canes strutted the draft floor trumpeting the dual acquisitions of Markov and No. 2 overall pick Eric Staal, a player ranked by many as the draft's best prospect.

"We feel like we've hit the lottery," Rutherford said that afternoon.

He should have checked the numbers on his ticket more closely.

On Wednesday, Markov left for Russia, where he now expects to play next season after failing to come to terms on a contract with Carolina.

"We are prepared to live with that," said Markov's agent, Jay Grossman.

The Canes in effect gave away their first-round picks in 1999 (Tanabe) and 2001 (Knyazev) for a phantasm.

After Markov plays a game for his Russian team, he would have to clear waivers to return to the NHL this season. The Russian season begins in September. The Canes have until then to sign him, but there are no indications they will. They have traded for another defenseman, Bob Boughner, who will earn the money budgeted for Markov.

Boughner is a solid player, a defenseman with a physical edge the Canes lack. But the Canes almost certainly would be a better team this season and beyond with Markov, who is younger and has more potential despite missing 75 games because of injuries over the past five seasons.

The Canes say they have offered Markov as much as they can afford to pay him, a three-year deal believed to be worth $2.5 million per season. Markov is believed to be seeking more than $3.3 million per season.

"It's very disappointing because Danny is a player we really like and can help our team," Rutherford said. "At the same time, at a certain point we have to face reality. At some point in time, when he comes back from Russia, we'll welcome him back to Carolina."

The Markov fiasco is the latest blow to a franchise that reached the Stanley Cup finals in the summer of 2002. After that, the Canes opened up their checkbook to keep the finals team together. Only Martin Gelinas, a free-agent departure, was lost.

But Tanabe held out until the eve of training camp, goalie Kevin Weekes suffered a seizure on the first day of camp and goalie Arturs Irbe was afflicted with a sudden and shocking loss of form -- one of many to suffer that fate, although his was most dramatic.

By season's end, after a flood of injuries, the Canes had fallen all the way to 30th in the NHL.

In need of defense

The Canes went into this summer looking for help on defense as their top priority, and liked Markov. Only 26, the Canes thought it possible he could mature into their No. 1 defenseman for much of the next decade.

With a surplus of defensemen and a budget crunch looming, the Coyotes hung a for-sale sign on their blue line. The Canes swept in, first with the Tanabe offer and then the Knyazev sweetener. Markov was theirs.

But by the night of June 22, after the second day of the draft concluded, whispers began to circulate in Nashville that Markov planned to play in Russia in 2003-04. The next day, Markov's agent confirmed that Markov had a "substantial" two-year offer from Russian team Lada Togliatti.

Grossman said he and Markov had begun to solicit offers from Russian teams soon after the season, when it became clear Phoenix would not meet the restricted free agent's demands.

"Our decision-making was done well in advance of this trade happening, with respect to Danny's option to go to Russia and play," he said. "Our decision-making was not predicated on what Phoenix or Carolina was going to do."

Grossman claimed five Russian teams made offers in excess of $1 million. Markov settled on Lada Togliatti, agreeing to terms with the intent to sign after his NHL contract expired on July 1.

An offer from a Russian team is worth far more than the cash involved, especially under current circumstances. Russian salaries are tax-free, with other benefits like housing and living expenses often included. A general rule of thumb is that a Russian offer is worth about twice as much in NHL dollars.

With a lockout expected after the NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires in September 2004, a two-year offer is doubly valuable. If there's no NHL hockey in 2004-05, the Russian league will be flooded with players coming home looking for paychecks. Markov's already would be guaranteed -- a major consideration in his thinking.

"From Danny's point of view, there is going to be no hockey here next year," Grossman said.

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk used a similar offer from Russian team Ak Bars Kazan as leverage to exact a $1.5 million contract from the Red Wings in June, a hefty raise from $625,000. When Rutherford learned of the Markov offer, he said he saw it as the same strategy.

"I did not know about or expect the Russian option," Rutherford said. "Although I guess when you think about it, it's happened with Russian players."

But Rutherford didn't learn of the Markov offer until after he made the trade. Grossman said the Coyotes were never told of the Russian offer, negotiations with the team having broken off long before it was finalized.

If Phoenix had known, the Coyotes would have been likely to warn Carolina. Barnett and Rutherford have a long history of dealing with each other, and the NHL is too small a world to risk relationships over something like this.

Under the league's tampering rules, Rutherford would have needed to get permission from the Coyotes to speak with either Markov or Grossman before making the trade. That isn't normal procedure in the NHL when acquiring a restricted free agent because under most circumstances they have few options.

The Canes did not consult with defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh or his agent before trading for the restricted free agent in June 2000. It took a month to agree on a five-year, $25 million contract.

"I guess we agreed what his market value was," Rutherford said. "We were both within the same range of what we felt he was worth."

Early signs were good

Rutherford was optimistic after his first conversation with Grossman, but negotiations went nowhere even after a July 4 lunch meeting between Rutherford and Markov in Toronto that both sides characterized as positive.

With the free-agent market thinning out and trade options becoming fewer, Rutherford decided to force Markov's hand. A week after dining with Markov, he made what he portrayed as Carolina's final offer.

Markov rejected it; on July 16 , the Canes traded for Boughner, who at $2.3 million fills the budget slot allocated for Markov.

"We gave it our best shot with him," Rutherford said. "He rejected our offer we went and added another defenseman."

Wednesday, Grossman said Markov left his home in Toronto for Russia to begin training with Lada Togliatti. Markov did not return calls seeking comment, but Grossman said he remains open to playing in the NHL this season.

"We very much respect the fact that Carolina has taken the time to meet with Danny. I think Jim hit it off with Danny," Grossman said.

"They gave what they thought was their best effort to sign him but, A, there are teams out there willing to pay what we're looking for and, B, there is still plenty of time, if one wants to be creative, to get a deal done with Carolina."

The Canes retained Markov's NHL rights by tendering him a qualifying offer before the July 1 deadline. If he plays in Russia, he becomes a "defected player" and the Canes retain his rights indefinitely.

That doesn't do Carolina much good now, at a time when the team desperately needs strengthening. Rutherford said he will not trade Markov's rights, and that getting the struggling Tanabe out of Carolina was as important as obtaining Markov in the first place.

"There were things we felt we needed to change on our team from a chemistry point of view," Rutherford said. "With the players we had to trade, there weren't a lot of options out there. We got a really good asset and hopefully sometime we'll get to see that asset play."

If he had it to do all over again, Rutherford said he would still make the deal.

"We feel he's a greater asset than what we traded," he said. "Obviously, when we made the trade we thought he was going to play over here."

Every day, that looks less likely. Every day, the Canes have less to show for it.

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