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Analysis: Nedved dealt ... at last

After all this, Nedved could just as easily have stayed

Thursday, November 26, 1998

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The final tally on Petr Nedved's stand against the Penguins:

  Petr Nedved

The New York Rangers will pay him $10.5 million over the next three seasons, an average of $3.5 million per year.

The only offer the Penguins actually put on the table, in August of 1997, was for five years and $14 million, or $2.8 million per year, although they were willing to go higher in the months that followed.

Add it up, and it's easy to surmise that it's not enough of a salary boost to make up for the 100 or so games Nedved sat out, not to mention the money he might have made.

Was he foolish?

Was he misguided?

Those questions will continue to be debated in the months to come, but this much is certain: Any net gain he might have made came with a hefty toll on his wallet and reputation.

From the start, the holdout came as little surprise.

He had a similar dispute in 1993 with the Vancouver Canucks, causing him to miss several months. So, from the moment his contract with the Penguins expired almost 17 months ago, there had been considerable doubt he would sign in time for the 1997-98 training camp.

His agent was Tony Kondel, a Calgary businessman and close friend who helped him during his defection from the former Czechoslovakia in 1990. Kondel had a reputation among NHL general managers as a difficult and unreasonable negotiator, but Nedved remained loyal.

After laughing off each other's initial offers, Kondel and Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick went months at a time without speaking. Yet even while Nedved toiled for next to nothing for a third-division Czech team last season, Kondel continued to maintain that he was serving his client's best interest. And in February, the sides hit a complete impasse when Kondel suggested all of his previous offers far too kind and that the price was going up.

The Penguins fumed. The team's two owners, Roger Marino and Howard Baldwin, took turns taking swipes at Kondel and, to a lesser extent, Nedved.

Otherwise, though, Nedved became a virtually forgotten man in Pittsburgh. His name almost never came up in the Penguins' locker room, and nothing remotely resembling a protest was mounted by fans.

As another summer passed without a deal, Nedved became antsy and switched agents shortly before this season. Michael Barnett, the respected representative for Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr, took over after making a deal with Kondel. Barnett and Patrick quickly agreed that Nedved would be traded as soon as possible.

Still, all remained quiet for several weeks.

Patrick was wondering yesterday if Nedved's value had diminished over time.

"I didn't used to think that," he said, "but when I look at some of the offers I was getting, I started to worry."

Patrick worried mostly because the picture being painted of Nedved around the NHL was far different than the one folks recalled from his time here.

In his two seasons with the Penguins, Nedved not only scored 78 goals but also earned a reputations as bright and insightful, a terrific spokesman, cordial even after tough losses.

But within the past month, some NHL general managers made it clear they wanted no part of Nedved. George McPhee of the Washington Capitals questioned his integrity. Bob Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers called him "an idiot." Harry Sinden of the Boston Bruins went so far as to create a new hockey term by referring to three of his own holdouts as "a bunch of Nedveds."

The damage is done.

Nedved might be thrilled to be back in the NHL. And he might once again be a 40-goal scorer. But he will never emerge the winner of this long, ugly ordeal.

He was happy in Pittsburgh, and said so many times. He has friends among the Penguins, most notably defenseman and fellow Czech Jiri Slegr, who, by the way, is the only client Kondel has left at the NHL level.

He had a chance to stay here and skate alongside other countrymen, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Robert Lang, and play in the city in which he enjoyed the two finest seasons of his career.

Instead, he most likely will be greeted with boos tomorrow night at the Civic Arena, wearing the uniform of the Penguins' most bitter rival ... and probably not a penny richer than he might have been had he stayed.

Jagr, perhaps, put it best yesterday.

"He knows that, the last two years, he lost a lot of money by not playing, and he probably blames somebody else, not him."

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