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Primeau, Canes Stay Stubborn

Once again, Keith Primeau is turning his back on his team, saying he never again will play for the Carolina Hurricanes. His problem, though, is the 'Canes say they have neither the intention of trading him nor meeting his salary demands on a new contract.

"Now this," said one amused NHL executive, "is going to be very, very interesting."

Frustrated at what he calls a lack of negotiation in contract talks, Primeau has demanded a trade much like he did three years ago when he walked out on the Detroit Red Wings.

The Wings eventually traded him to Hartford in a package for Brendan Shanahan which helped Detroit win two Stanley Cups. Hartford moved to Carolina, Primeau became captain of his team, declined salary arbitration as a way to resolve his contract dispute and decided to withhold his services in Carolina -- forevermore, he says.

"He has that option, I guess, if he's not going to play in the NHL any more," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. "But we're not going to trade him. And if an offer sheet comes in from another team, we're going to match it. He really doesn't have a choice. If he's going to play in the NHL the next four years, then he's going to play here."

At 27, Primeau is a restricted free agent. In interviews Wednesday in his native Toronto, he reiterated his position: "I know Jim is serious, and I believe him. But he doesn't realize that I'm just as serious as he is. It comes down to a person's pride."

Primeau's pride apparently was wounded with a five-year, $20 million contract he rejected in the offseason, saying it tied him up for too long. Consequently, he turned down a two-year deal worth $7 million. When he didn't report to training camp, the Hurricanes stripped him of the captaincy and reduced their offer to $6 million over two years.

In his absence, Carolina started the season 4-2-3 -- with all its games on the road -- and will play in its new arena in Raleigh on Friday night.

Meantime, Primeau says if he isn't traded by mid-November, he'll join the Canadian national team in Calgary. His agents, Don and Todd Reynolds, are attempting to broker a trade they say is difficult because Rutherford is asking too much.

"It's up to Jimmy and what sort of value he places on Keith," Todd Reynolds said. "What he's asking for in a trade indicates he values him a lot more than what he's willing to pay him."

The Reynolds, a father-son agent team based in Toronto, declined to share details on what interest there might be in Primeau among other NHL clubs. But a source familiar with the situation said the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have all expressed interest.

The goal-starved Rangers are desperate for a top-line center. The enigmatic Flyers need to replace injured Rod Brind'Amour, who is constantly the subject f trade rumors. And Los Angeles would make Primeau its No. 1 center, taking pressure of Jozef Stumpel, who is more suited to second-line duties.

Rutherford says he's still waiting for his phone to ring with any kind of trade proposal.

"Some teams have called and asked about Keith, but not one team has made an offer of any kind," Rutherford said.

Because he's intent on keeping Primeau, and as long as his team is winning, Rutherford has the luxury of waiting on a deal he really likes. And it would include a top young player or two. Maybe more.

From the Rangers, for instance, he might be able to command wingers Manny Malhotra, Todd Harvey and a prospect or high draft pick. At least that's his asking price.

What would make this particularly interesting is the unlikely event of another team making Primeau an offer that Carolina subsequently matches. Primeau will have little choice but to swallow some pride and go back to work on Tobacco Road.

The last time we saw something like this, coincidentally, Carolina also played a role. Detroit's Sergei Fedorov was embroiled in a dispute that became so acrimonious, he declared he would never again play for the Red Wings. Carolina offered him a five-year, front-loaded deal worth $38 million. Detroit matched, and Fedorov returned to the Wings and helped them win their second consecutive Cup in 1998.

Center Keith Primeau could be an excellent scoring addition to any NHL lineup.>
Center Keith Primeau could be an excellent scoring addition to any NHL lineup.(AP)

What worries some NHL executives about Primeau is this is his second major dispute with his team. The Wings flirted with making Primeau an offer, leaking their interest to the media as a way to tweak Carolina management that made an offer to Fedorov. But according to a source in Detroit, before Wings management got serious about it, they polled players and found little interest in having Primeau back as a teammate.

Truth be told, Primeau will never win a popularity contest when he returns to Carolina, either.

"He's a spoiled brat," one team executive said.

"A very selfish guy who thinks only of himself," said another.

Primeau is also a very good hockey player who could improve any of the league's 28 teams.

But it's painfully obvious that after a series of ill-advised decisions, he'll play again only on someone else's terms. Keith Primeau has no leverage.

And, other than to throw a public tantrum designed to rain on Carolina's new-arena parade, he's pretty much out of options, too.

© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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