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Canadian Olympians at career crossroads

Petr Nedved a Maple Leaf? Paul Kariya a Bear again?

Two of the Canadian hockey team's stars have had more than winning the gold medal to worry about at the Olympics in Lillehammer.

Nedved, who said he would never play for Vancouver again and sat out this season until joining the Olympic team, is close to reaching a deal with Toronto, the Toronto Star reported Saturday.

"Petr Nedved will be playing for somebody next week," Toronto general manager Cliff Fletcher said. "We're not in the running with Vancouver as far as making a deal, but we could be in the running to do it financially."

If the Maple Leafs don't work out a deal first, they have to worry about the repercussions.

The 22-year-old center is a Group I free agent, which means the Canucks will receive either compensation (draft picks) or equalization (players). Toronto would choose equalization, because compensation also gives the Canucks the right to match the offer. Under equalization, Toronto and Vancouver have seven days to work out a deal before going to an arbitrator.

In earlier talks, Vancouver asked for defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre and right wing Landon Wilson (second pick in 1993). If it does go to equalization, Vancouver is likely to ask for All-Star goalie Felix Potvin, also 22. The Maple Leafs are willing to part with defenseman Dave Ellett and forward Rob Pearson.

Nedved, of Liberec, Czechoslovakia, played three seasons for the Canucks, with 38 goals and 33 assists last season.

Kariya expected to sign with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim after the Olympics, but the Ducks' first-ever entry draft pick (fourth overall) may return to the University of Maine because of snags in contract negotiations.

Kariya apparently is asking for $1-million a year, $300,000 more than Tampa Bay's Chris Gratton (third pick overall) is making.

If Kariya goes back to school, he has a shot at winning another national title with the Bears. Especially since Peter and Chris Ferraro of the U.S. Olympic team also are expected to return to Maine. The college playoffs begin next week.

If Kariya doesn't sign, it would be a blow to the expansion Ducks, who still have a shot at making the playoffs.

Getting nasty: The pressure to make the playoffs after going to the Stanley Cup finals last season is getting to the Los Angeles Kings.

Defenseman Marty McSorley, re-acquired from Pittsburgh, gouged the left eye of San Jose's Bob Errey last Saturday. The reaction by Kings general manager Nick Beverley, who is on the hot seat: "(San Jose) is going all out to nail him and we know the reason _ to hurt our (playoff) chances."

NHL disciplinarian Brian Burke suspended McSorley four games. Beverly suggested the Sharks misled Burke about the severity of Errey's injury. Errey supposedly was going to miss the Sharks' next game with a corneal abrasion and orbital contusion, but he played.

Quotable I: What does Boston Bruin Cam Neely think about the Penguins trading McSorley back to Los Angeles for Shawn McEachern? "It was crazy, almost like back to the future," he said. "I don't know what went wrong there. I thought McSorley gave the Penguins an extra presence on defense with Ulf Samuelsson."

Quotable II: Montreal coach Jacques Demers said European players are like alcohol, good in moderation. "I've got no problems with Europeans," he said. "Just if there's too many. The more (Europeans) you have, the less chance you have of winning."

Outta there?: Philadelphia coach Terry Simpson may be the third NHL coach fired this season, behind Edmonton's Ted Green (replaced by Glen Sather) and Washington's Terry Murray (replaced by Jim Schoenfeld).

The Flyers have missed the playoffs the past four seasons and are on the bubble in Eric Lindros' second season. The organization expected much better.

"It seems like when we play good defense, we don't score goals, and when our offense is working, we let in a ton of goals. Every game is a must-win if we want to make the playoffs," Flyers right wing Mark Recchi said.

Updating the Model-T: Some owners are concerned that the only way to get a salary cap is to agree to revenue sharing.

"We've tried to fix the Model-T many different ways," Winnipeg owner Barry Shenkarow said. "Now we have to build from the ground up. I don't think we're talking about salary caps as a singular issue. We're talking about a change to the whole system. We're talking about the survival of the game. This has become more than just a small-market, big-market issue."

Odds and ends: Wayne Gretzky is seven goals shy of surpassing Gordie Howe's league-record 801 goals. New York Islanders left wing Brian Mullen worked out for the first time Wednesday since undergoing open-heart surgery Sept. 13 to close a small hole in his heart that led to a minor stroke. Chicago defenseman Steve Smith broke his leg Thursday night in a fight with Winnipeg's Tie Domi, who flattened him with one punch. Smith likely is out for the season.