McMullen puts value on loyalty


Just when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell reminds us professional sports is big business, along comes John McMullen, the owner of the New Jersey Devils.

McMullen could have signed a sweetheart deal with Nashville, Tenn., during the off-season that would have meant sky boxes, club seating and a lucrative $20 million relocation bonus.

Instead, he settled for less to keep his team in New Jersey through 2007. He'll get a break-even lease and $5.2 million in sale of club seats, arena improvements and other new sources of revenue.

It sounds so nice. Slap McMullen on the back, but don't be fooled into thinking he was merely being magnanimous.

McMullen obviously had his reasons. Perhaps at age 70, after living his entire life in New Jersey, he couldn't face moving. And he was able to extract enough money out of New Jersey to make it worth staying. Certainly, he will be operating in a bigger market in northern New Jersey than he could have hoped for in Nashville.

And on top of it all, he gets the added perk of looking good.

The long-term deal signed at the Meadowlands "can't compete with Nashville," McMullen said. "Nashville was a dream; unfortunately the arena wasn't in New Jersey."

That's not to say he didn't use Nashville as leverage. Certainly did. But McMullen also was influenced by a family heritage that began in the state when his grandparents moved there from Ireland. And, he says, he was influenced by the 30,000 fans who showed up for a rally in the arena parking lot to celebrate the team's championship last June.

"People don't believe me," he said. "But that rally really did have an effect on me. Sporting teams are quasi-public institutions. I think that was more or less the turning point in my attitude."

Since he became NHL commissioner in 1993, Gary Bettman has stressed his desire to keep franchises stable. "These are wild times in professional sports as it relates to franchise stability," Bettman said.

Bettman has had his successes and his failures. The Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado. Next season the Winnipeg Jets will move -- somewhere -- and the Florida Panthers have announced they're for sale.

But agreements have been worked out to keep teams in Edmonton and Calgary for the long term, and the Hartford franchise has been stabilized.

And the Devils remain in New Jersey.

Happy trails

Paul Cavallini was at work in his new office at the A.G. Edwards and Sons Investment firm in Addison, Texas, yesterday, talking philosophically about retirement.

"My dad passed away last year," said Cavallini, who for the last two years had been a defenseman for the Dallas Stars. "He was 58. His philosophy was that you work hard your whole life and then retire and have fun. His philosophy didn't work out. I think that influenced my decision."

Cavallini, who began his NHL career as the Washington Capitals' ninth choice in the 1984 entry draft and became an all-star with the St. Louis Blues in 1990, has seen minimal playing time in this, his 10th season, decided to retire this week.

"I've got two small children and at this time in my life, I didn't want to finish my career in the minors," said Cavallini, 30.

Cavallini said two memories he'll always treasure are his first game as a Capital playing against Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux and the opportunity he had to play on the same team with his brother, Gino, for 5 1/2 years in St. Louis.

Around the rinks

Quebec's Joe Sakic, who is third overall in goal scoring, credits the addition of former San Jose defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh as the key to the Avalanche's eight-game winning streak, "We really needed an offensive defenseman who could be an impact player," said Sakic. . . . Anyone catch Los Angeles Kings goalie Byron Dafoe this week? He improved to 5-3-5 after shutting out St. Louis, 2-0, and then making 52 saves against Dallas to preserve a 3-3 tie.

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