Petr Nedved not signed going into training
camp...where have we heard that before?
Step back to 1989 and the midget team from
Litvinov, Czechoslovakia was in Calgary for a junior tournament.
Seventeen year old Center, Petr Nedved was about to take one of the
biggest steps in his young life. With help from a local businessman
who would go on to become his agent, the young Czech defected to Canada.
Already a talented hockey player, Nedved
joined the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL for what would be his only
season of Junior hockey in North America. Petr put together 145
points that year including 65 goals in just 71 games, a performance good
enough to get him picked second overall in the 1990 Entry Draft by the
Thrust into the line-up at eighteen years
of age, Nedved steadily improved his game over the first three years of
his NHL career as part of a franchise that was beginning to have success
as a team. As the Canucks wrapped up the 92-93 season with their
second straight division title, Nedved was putting the finishing touches
on his best year to date. With 38 goals (2nd on the team), Petr had
finally begun to convert on his potential as an NHL star.
The timing couldn't have been better, as
Nedved's agent pressed for a contract of more than $1,000,000 countering
the Canucks $600,000 offer. The difference proved too difficult to
overcome and Nedved had to satisfy himself with playing with the Canadian
National Team before and then during the Winter Games.
As the season passed by it appeared that
the Czech Center would miss the entire season, but a controversial deal
with the St Louis Blues put Nedved back on the ice in March of 1994.
His stay with the Blues ended later that same year when he was traded to
the New York Rangers during the off-season. The very same year that
the players association elected to stop work and therefore delay the start
of the season.
By the time Nedved made his New York debut,
the season had been almost halved...perhaps that was a good thing in
hindsight. Petr Nedved's first tour of duty with the Rangers proved
to be unsatisfactory to both parties. GM Neil Smith later saw Nedved
as "an artist" when the Rangers were looking to play a power
game, while Ranger captain Mark Messier was much less tactful.
Once again Petr Nedved was traded, this
time to Pittsburgh along with Sergei Zubov in exchange for Ulf Samuelsson
and Luc Robitaille. Messier's stinging criticism was still ringing
in his ears as he started what would turn out to be his best season in the
NHL. Eventually switched to the left wing, Nedved was paired with
two of the best players in hockey in Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis.
The match-up enabled the Czech to rack up 99 points, including 45 goals,
before adding another 10 goals in the post season.
Nedved had found a home for his talents and
went out to add 71 points in the following season before the financial
side of the game once again took center stage. With his contract up
for renewal, Nedved's agent Tony Kondel made the case for a substantial
increase, but the expectations of both sides were once again far apart.
Kondel and Pittsburgh GM Craig Patrick had
few conversations after the initial tenders were made. Months would
go by between calls and in an effort to stay ready, Nedved moved to the
IHL before returning to the Czech Republic to play another lost
season. With this second hold-out, Nedved began to attract an
unhealthy reputation. Boston GM Harry Sinden was quoted as referring
to his un-signed players as "a bunch of Nedveds" while other GMs
attacked the Czech for his stance.
Meanwhile Tony Kondel had also developed a
reputation for being a difficult person to deal with and questions were
beginning to be asked about whether he was indeed serving his client's
best interest. After a year of inactivity Nedved decided to take
matters into his own hands and switched agents to Mike Barnett who already
represented Jagr and Gretzky. The move enabled Nedved to finally
return to the NHL and to the New York Rangers who had since parted ways
with his vocal detractor, Mark Messier.
Over the ensuing three years, Petr Nedved
played solid hockey as the Rangers racked up one disappointing season
after another. Initially playing next to Gretzky on the wing, Nedved
shifted back to Center and watched as a parade of players donned New York
Rangers blue. One of the few players who contributed regularly,
Nedved now finds himself once again on the outer.
This has been another tough off-season for
Petr, one in which he lost his agent (accepted position as Coyotes GM) and
his left winger (Hlavac traded to Philadelphia for Lindros). The
move to bring in Lindros will force him down the depth chart or perhaps
back to the left wing.
As to the contract, it appears from
Sather's comments that he's looking to sign Nedved to an incentive based
contract including team performance bonuses and perhaps little in the way
of a base salary increase. With the way the Rangers have performed
over the last few seasons, it's no wonder that the Nedved camp is
reluctant to agree.
With Unrestricted Free Agency only a year
away, Petr may be tempted to sit out once again it appears at least that
the Rangers are willing to take the chance...