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Panthers Extend Bure's Contract

Since his arrival in Florida three weeks ago, superstar Pavel Bure has given the Panthers instant respectability. Today, the Panthers gave Bure instant financial stability.

Bure signed a five-year contract extension with the Panthers.The deal includes an option year and reportedly puts him among the highest-paid players in the NHL. The deal reportedly is worth $47 million.

"I'm really happy to be playing here," Bure said at a news conference at the National Car Rental Center. "I know this team can do something good. It's nice to have a long-term contract. I felt real comfortable here from the first day. It's a big responsibility, but I'll just go out there and do the best I can."

Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga and general manager Bryan Murray decided to make the expensive long-term commitment to Bure, one of the NHL's fastest skaters and true offensive impact players in a sport dominated by defense.

"Bryan and I have been looking to do something for some time for this team to step up to the next level," Panthers president Bill Torrey said. "It's a commitment to Pavel, a commitment to the fans to let them know this team wants to compete at the highest levels. For Wayne to give us this kind of backing, it's a clear indication of the direction we're going to go."

"Obviously, it's a commitment on the part of both parties," said Murray. "To get it done, we had a huge commitment made by our owners to have a star player, an elite player join our club. We want to play with the big guys in the league."

Currently sidelined with a strained right knee, Bure initially energized the moribund Panthers, scoring or assisting on 11 of 19 goals as the team went 4-1-1 over a six-game stretch.

Bure ended his season-long holdout when he was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in a seven-player deal January 17. He was scheduled to make $5.05 million this season but was prepared to sit out the entire campaign.

The Panthers had been sputtering along at 15-16-11 and had been shut out five times until acquiring Bure. He collected eight goals and three assists over six games, including a hat trick in a 3-3 tie against Philadelphia.

Bure left Friday's 3-0 loss at Pittsburgh with a minor strain of a muscle behind his right knee. The following night, the Panthers managed a 3-3 tie at Carolina.

The team had been drawing well but showed a slight increase in attendance since the acquisition of the "Russian Rocket."

Bure scores with a better paycheck.>
Bure scores with a better paycheck. (AP)

"We wanted to make a deal that would give us a number of years to build around this star player," Murray said. "We've known the last four, five days the deal was going to be done."

Bure's deal rivals but does not surpass those of superstars Eric Lindros of Philadelphia, Paul Kariya of Anaheim and Jaromir Jagr of Pittsburgh. Lindros and Kariya have deals averaging $8.5 million per season and Jagr's deal is for $48 million over six years.

The 27-year-old Bure tied for third in the NHL with 90 points and 51 goals last season. In 1992-93, he became the first 50-goal and 100-point scorer in Canucks history, finishing with 60 goals and 50 assists. Bure also had 60 goals in the 1993-94 season, helping Vancouver reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time.

Florida made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, its third year of existence. But the Panthers have played just one postseason series since and currently are tied with Boston for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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