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  • Wednesday, September 29, 1999

    Business as usual

    Saprykin keeps working hard

    By GEORGE JOHNSON -- Calgary Sun
      Oleg Saprykin's gone about the business of hockey this past month with a polish and a poise rare in an 18-year-old.
     Now his agent, Brian Lawton, armed with the attendant fawning press clippings, is going about the business of business, with the immediate fate of the wunderkid of this Flames' camp hanging in the balance.
     "I just play hockey, I work hard," pleaded the 18-year-old Saprykin yesterday. "Contract ... it's not my job."
     Bull(bleep), counters coach Brian Sutter.
     "The agents all think they're experts at this time of year, and they're not," bristled Sutter. "They hold teams hostage.
     "At this time of year they all think their players are God's gift to hockey and they're not. We like these guys, they deserve to be here, but it has to be a two-way street.
     "We'll treat these guys fair. But the bottom line is -- do they want to play here or not?"
     Stick that in your incentive clause, and carbon-copy it.
     Saprykin, Pavel Torgajev, Robyn Regehr and Jarome Iginla all remain unsigned three days from the season-opener at San Jose.
     Both Saprykin and Regehr -- re-habbing at an amazing rate from the tragic summer car crash that claimed two lives -- must have contract terms finalized by 1 p.m. Calgary time today or return to their junior teams for the upcoming season.
     "The problem we deal with is that what other people do or don't do impacts everyone," said Flames' GM Al Coates. "It's been that way in this league for a long time and will continue until it gets straightened out.
     "It's not a question of playing. Everybody wants to play. But what happens elsewhere is what puts grandiose ideas in people's minds."
     Coates anticipated a long night on the telephone.
     Saprykin's assured the rookie max -- $1.025 million US -- in base pay, but like Daniel Tkaczuk, the haggling is over performance bonuses, a complex business. These days, guys get extra dough for just being able to tie their skate laces properly.
     That said, Saprykin has been a revelation at this camp.
     "You can be the best hockey player in the world," said Sutter. "The best skater. Have the best shot. But unless that one intangible is added -- I call it competitiveness -- none of the rest really matters.
     "And Oley's got that."
     Added Val Bure: "Oh, he can play here. But the intensity level rises over the course of a year, this league just gets harder and harder, and he's only 18.
     He can dominate in junior, playing against 16- and 17-year-olds. These are men.
     "He's been unbelievable. But it's weird. We've got a few guys in here old enough to be his dad."
     It seems impossible to believe that the 33-year-old Torgajev won't come to terms, if the Flames want him, happy to still be playing in North America.
     "His agent is, as we speak, sleeping in Moscow," said Coates. "I'll talk to him at 8 a.m. (Wednesday) morning."
     The other three, though, present very distinct problems.
     Coates said there's been "no headway" in negotiations with Iginla's agent Don Meehan.
     Which means that at present, the Flames have 24 signed players still on the roster, four (including Regehr) unsigned and two -- Jason Wiemer (knee) and Cale Hulse (broken hand) -- injured.
     "Obviously, because some people aren't signed it's clouded around here right now," said Sutter of his potential opening-night lineup.
     "But as a coach, I'm only interested in the live soldiers -- meaning the guys I can use. You can't concern yourself with anything else."

    CALGARY FLAMES



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