With an extra $2 million in his bank account, Mark Messier becomes a free agent Saturday, with most reports indicating he's headed back to New York.
The Vancouver Canucks opted to pay the 39-year-old Messier a $2-million buyout for the final two years of his five-year contract instead of being on the hook for $6 million a season.
Officially the Canucks still hold a faint hope of convincing their captain to return to Vancouver at a reduced salary.
"I discussed with Mark what our level of interest is," Canucks general manager Brian Burke said Friday. "He told me he intended to look around."
Speculation is Messier wants to return to New York, where fans still cherish the memory of him leading the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup. Burke wouldn't comment if the Rangers have a strong chance of putting Messier's act back on Broadway.
"Why are you asking me that? Call Slats," he said of new Rangers GM Glen Sather.
"I have no idea how this will shake down. There's a lot of speculation the Rangers will step up. I can't control that."
Doug Messier, Mark's father and agent, refused to say where his son might play this season.
"We're sitting tight ... there's nothing new to report right now," the elder Messier said from his South Carolina home.
Messier had 17 goals and 37 assists in 66 games with the Canucks this year. Despite missing 15 games with a knee injury, he was selected for the All-Star game.
During his 21-year career he's scored 627 goals and 1,087 assists for 1,714 points, fourth on the NHL's career points list. But even with Messier's leadership, the Canucks failed to advance to the playoffs, and missed the postseason for a fourth consecutive season this year.
Burke wasn't sure how much interest Messier will draw on the open market.
"He's going to be 40 years old, but still played effectively for us last year," Burke said. "His leadership qualities are well known."
Not paying Messier's salary will help reduce the Canucks' payroll, which was as high as $35 million last year. Vancouver also dealt Alexander Mogilny and his $5 million salary to the New Jersey Devils at the trading deadline.
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