Postseason bonuses make a big difference to low-salaried skaters
Players drive themselves through the grueling postseason with
the hope that when it's all over they'll be the ones raising the
Stanley Cup. For most, the bonus money the NHL doles out in the
playoffs is a trifle, the equivalent of a few games' pay. For a
handful of players, however, the bonus can be significant.
This year the league will distribute roughly $8 million among
the 16 playoff teams; it's likely that reaching the Stanley Cup
finals will guarantee a player about $40,000 and winning the
chalice will result in a windfall of roughly $60,000. "That's
pretty substantial for someone with my salary," says Flyers
rookie defenseman Andy Delmore, who earned $260,000 in base pay
in 1999-2000. "In the summer you'd be celebrating because you
won the Cup, and then a nice check would come too."
Stars defenseman Brad Lukowich, whose salary was $350,000 for
the second straight season, knows just how nice. Last year,
after helping the Stars win the title, Lukowich used his bonus
check for a down payment on a house in Cranbook, B.C. In
mid-August he and the Stanley Cup played host to a housewarming
party for 400 people. "That check came in handy," Lukowich says.
The roughly $14,000 that each player on a first-round winner
receives is a big deal to relatively low-paid performers like
Delmore, Lukowich, Maple Leafs defensemen Danny Markov
($215,000) and Tomas Kaberle ($238,000), Penguins center Tyler
Wright ($350,000) and Sharks center Ron Sutter ($350,000). Then
there's Sharks left wing Dave Lowry, the league's lowest-paid
player at $150,000. "Bonus money?" says Lowry, who is 35 and
dressed for only 32 games this season. "My bonus is that I get
to play another two weeks."
Lowry, a journeyman, has been a surprising postseason force, and
his excellent forechecking has earned him a place on San Jose's
top line with Vincent Damphousse and Owen Nolan. Yet Lowry and
the other aforementioned low-salaried players had combined for
only 15 points in the 48 postseason games that had been played
through Sunday, which means that none of them is likely to be a
contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy. That award, incidentally,
comes with a $10,000 bonus.
His Future Is Up In the Air
However far the Red Wings go in the playoffs--through Sunday
they trailed the Avalanche 2-0 in the Western Conference
semifinals--these may be the last games in which we see Scotty
Bowman shifting his weight behind the Detroit bench. Bowman, 66,
is in his 28th season as an NHL coach, and he has been working
on one-year contracts and pondering retirement since undergoing
angioplasty and a left-knee replacement in the summer of 1998.
Predictably, Bowman won't comment on his plans, although there
has been speculation that he may become a general manager for
Bowman has won a league-record 1,148 regular-season games and an
NHL-record-tying eight Stanley Cups, and has come to be regarded
as one of the greatest coaches in pro sports history largely
because of his uncanny instincts. No coach better understands
the needs of a team, the mood of his players or the atmosphere
of a game. Says Predators assistant Brent Peterson, who played
for Bowman on the Sabres in the 1980s, "He gets the right
players on the ice at the right time."
A classic Bowman maneuver came in mid-March when the Red Wings
were playing poorly. He announced that he was making the unusual
move of putting star center Steve Yzerman at the point on the
power play. The decision sparked Detroit, which went 6-3-1-0
down the stretch. "When he said what he was going to do, we all
looked at each other like, Where did this come from?" says Wings
scout Mark Howe. "Of course it turned out to be the right thing."
That ability to act unpredictably and succeed intimidates
opposing coaches as much as Bowman's championships. On an off
day during Detroit's first-round playoff series with the Kings,
Los Angeles rookie coach Andy Murray shook his head and said,
"Do you know what it's like to have Bowman looking over to see
who you're going to put on the ice?"
Hey! Where Is Everyone?
In past years the World Championships featured Canadian and U.S.
rosters comparable with a Stanley Cup contender's. Not this
time. "This may have been the most difficult year for putting
together a team," says Canada coach Tom Renney.
The Canadian team went to St. Petersburg, Russia, site of this
year's tournament, which runs until May 14, with a 22-man roster
that included only 13 NHL players. That number had risen to 20
by last Saturday's opening games, after such players as Senators
defenseman Chris Phillips and Oilers forward Ryan Smyth arrived
after their NHL teams had lost in the first round of the
playoffs. (The Worlds were scheduled a week later than usual
this year to enable such players to participate.) Yet with stars
like the Mighty Ducks' Paul Kariya and the Rangers' Theo Fleury
having declined invitations, Canada has far less firepower than
such European teams as Russia, which has the Panthers' Pavel
Bure and the Blackhawks' Alexei Zhamnov.
The U.S. roster includes only 13 NHL players, none of them
All-Stars. The rest are minor leaguers and collegians. "We
weren't going to kiss anybody's ass," says U.S. coach Lou Vairo.
"We want guys who want to be here."
U.S. and Canadian officials say some players stayed home because
they feared traveling to Russia, where there has been a rash of
attacks on athletes. On Dec. 14 in St. Petersburg, for instance,
soccer star Alexandru Curtianu was beaten and robbed in a
hallway of his apartment building. "You hear the stories," says
Kings defenseman Rob Blake, who has played for Canada in several
Worlds but didn't attend this year because of an injury.
Another factor contributing to the small turnout is that playing
in the Worlds has lost some of its attraction now that NHL
players can also represent their countries in the Olympics.
"Guys have their reasons for not wanting to go," says Canada
general manager Cliff Fletcher. "You can't make them."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Lowry, the lowest-paid NHLer, got a boost in the bank account when the Sharks advanced to Round 2.
This Date in Playoff History
May 8, 1988
Bruins vs. Devils
Game 4 of the Wales Conference finals was delayed 66 minutes
while the NHL dug up replacement officials after the crew
scheduled to work the game refused to take the ice because New
Jersey coach Jim Schoenfeld was behind the bench. Schoenfeld had
been suspended by the league for "physically demeaning" referee
Don Koharski after Game 3, but the Devils obtained a restraining
order against the NHL the day of the game and then evened the
series with a 3-1 victory. Subsequently Schoenfeld served a
one-game suspension, and New Jersey lost the series in seven