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Lemieux becomes NHL's richest player

Mario Lemieux became the highest-paid player in hockey Monday, signing a seven-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth about $42-million.

Announcement of the deal was made by the Penguins on Lemieux's 27th birthday and on the eve of the NHL season opener tonight.

"It was a great birthday present," Lemieux said. "I'm excited to be in Pittsburgh for the rest of my career. The ownership is dedicated to putting together a great team in Pittsburgh and I want to be part of it."

Lemieux's record-setting contract will pay him nearly twice what any other player in the NHL is making. Philadelphia's Eric Lindros, who will face the Penguins tonight in Pittsburgh, signed a six-year deal worth $21-million this summer.

"I guess we just gave Mario his birthday present today," said agent Tom Reich, who negotiated the deal with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Lemieux's contract replaces the final two years on his five-year, $12-million deal that had placed him fourth on the NHL salary scale. The money he'll earn during the course of the deal equals almost two-thirds of the $65-million Penguins owner Howard Baldwin paid for the franchise in 1991.

Baldwin, who said he will announce a new coach today, said during the summer he wanted to sign Lemieux to a long-term deal that would bind him to the Penguins for the rest of his career.

Lemieux said he would play the seven years as long as his troublesome back, which caused him to miss the first 50 games of 1990-91 and 16 games last season, holds up.

The Penguins were secretive about the deal, but Lemieux actually broke the story himself last week in a radio interview in Montreal when he said he was close to signing a seven-year, $42-million contract. Some reports said the contract was worth as much as $45-million.

Here's how Lemieux's contract compares with some other highly paid athletes:

Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs has the largest contract in baseball at $28.4-million for four years, an average of $7.1-million.

Magic Johnson recently signed a $14.6-million, one-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers, giving him the highest single-season salary in team sports.

Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks will earn an average of $9.4-million per year under an extension he signed for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.

Dan Marino signed a five-year, $25-million contract extension last season with the Miami Dolphins. Marino will make an average of $4.4-million per season until 1996.

Lemieux is recognized as hockey's top player, having led the Penguins to two straight Stanley Cup championships. Both years, Lemieux was voted the most valuable player in the playoffs. He also won the NHL's Rookie of the Year award in 1984-85 and the MVP award for the 1987-88 season.

Governors vote to adopt

new high-sticking rule

NEW YORK _ National Hockey League governors voted Monday to adopt a rule change lowering the threshold for high-sticking, making it illegal to make contact above an opponent's waist instead of above the shoulders.

The rule change, given tentative approval at the governors' Aug. 25 meeting at St. Petersburg Beach, was enforced during the preseason and drew mixed reviews. Some complained that exhibition games were too slow because of the additional penalties.

The NHL did not disclose a breakdown of the vote, which was conducted by fax.