Business as usual

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford laughed at the suggestion.

In the wake of defenceman Chris Pronger's sudden exit from Edmonton this summer, are GMs concerned hockey wives will start hen-pecking their husbands into trade demands?

Do managers have to be more careful who they sign to long-term deals?

Do they have to clear it with The Missus before offering Joe All-star that four-year, $20-million contract?

In a word: No.

In three words: Are you kidding?

"With the salaries players make now, they know that in the off-season and when they retire, they'll have lots of time and money to go and live wherever they want to," Rutherford said.

HOCKEY DECISIONS

"Right now those decisions are absolutely based on hockey. The bottom line when they're choosing a team is: Where is the organization going, do I have a chance to win there and what is my opportunity as a player going to be?

"It's more the organization and the opportunity than it is the city."

Yet Edmontonians couldn't help but feel Chris Pronger's decision to request a trade out of the Alberta capital had everything to do with the city.

After all, the team fell just one victory short of winning the Stanley Cup last spring.

And the club had inked him to a five-year, $31.25-million US deal the previous year.

Pronger -- who was shipped to Anaheim in July -- stressed he made the decision to leave Edmonton for "personal reasons" although that didn't stop many from believing wife Lauren was the primary catalyst.

Yet the Pronger Precedent apparently will not affect how GMs do business.

Ottawa Senators GM John Muckler said it's hard enough trying to make a new player feel comfortable, let alone worrying whether or not his wife likes the shopping malls.

"You hope she's going to be happy but the main thing is: Is the player going to be happy?" Muckler said.

"As far as the wives are concerned, we try to accommodate them when they come to the community, give them everything they need to help settle in.

"And we like to see them get involved, with charities, for example, and work along with the hockey club.

"One of the major problems a wife can have is she kind of gets shut off from everybody. We try and open it up for them, introduce them to the city and its people."

Making the wives feel welcome is about as involved as any GM wants to get.

That's not about to change in the wake of Pronger's deal because a wife forcing a trade is a once-in-a-decade anomaly that doesn't reflect the NHL's player-wife dynamic.

"Prior to a guy signing somewhere he's going to sit down with his wife and family and say, 'Is this the place we want to go?' " Rutherford said. "They will have made those decisions long before they sit down to finalize a deal with us."

And because salary-cap issues can severely reduce the number of potential suitors, picking and choosing isn't always an option.

If a player and his gal want to limit their search to West Coast sunbelt teams with room in the budget for a 31-year-old winger making $3.9 million, they could be waiting a while.

From Rutherford's experience, it's only when two teams are after the same player, and the opportunity and the money are equal, that secondary factors such as lifestyle and climate come into play.

"Lifestyle is important," he said. "But let's face it, no matter where you go, you're going into a good situation. We've got big markets and small markets, Canadian cities and U.S. cities, warm- weather cities and winter cities -- in some ways they're different but there are no bad cities in the NHL.

"If it's about playing in a warm climate, then, yes, a player will want to play in Florida before he wants to play in Canada."

Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, who still has the burn marks from last summer, doesn't have a whole lot of sympathy for homesick wives, either.

"You're in the National Hockey League, you make a lot of money and these moves are only for a short period of your life," he said.

"Family can come visit you. You're welcomed into the new team. I'm probably going to come off sounding like Blackheart ..."

Not that they aren't concerned about the personal well-being of their players' families -- if there are serious issues to be dealt with, GMs are there to help -- but it's a highly competitive business, not a social club.

If a player ever wanted out because he and his wife longed for the sunny beaches, Muckler says he'd help the guy pack.

"I haven't heard of any players wanting to walk away for those reasons," he said.

"But if you're thinking about the warm weather, hockey is not your top priority. You don't want that player anyway."


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