Vincent Damphousse could have waited 20 more days to test the open market, seeing how much money other teams would throw at him. But he is so impressed with the Sharks that he has bypassed this process and elected to stick around.
About to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Damphousse yesterday agreed to a multiyear deal with San Jose. If the Sharks do nothing else in the offseason, they still will be pleased, because retaining Damphousse was first and foremost among their goals.
He was acquired from Montreal on the March 23 trading deadline and proved to be an instant hit. He had seven goals and six assists in 12 regular-season games, saw plenty of special-teams work and also was a standout in the playoffs.
Damphousse was such a perfect acquisition that letting him skate away wasn't an option. And it also helped the Sharks' cause that he was never really all that keen on shopping his wares.
``What's not to like in San Jose?'' said Damphousse, a 31-year-old center. ``The weather is good, the area's safe and I liked it right away. My time here was short, but I liked my month and a half or two months here. The players were good to me, the organization was good to me.
``What I see is a team going upward. I said right away I wanted to be on a contender. They did a good job in letting me know they wanted me to stay, and that's the bottom line.''
The Montreal native signed a four-year deal with the Sharks, and there is an option for a fifth season. General manager Dean Lombardi wouldn't reveal exact figures but said Damphousse would make similar money to what St. Louis' Pierre Turgeon was awarded in arbitration, which would be in the $4.6-$4.7 million a year range.
According to the terms of the deal with Montreal, the Canadiens will receive San Jose's No. 1 pick in next year's entry draft, plus a second-rounder in either 2000 or 2001. Montreal also will net a fifth-rounder in this year's draft.
``Being loyal to one team is important to me,'' Damphousse said. ``Once I get with one team, I don't want to be traded, that's the way I am. But it has to work both ways. I wanted to stay in Montreal, they didn't feel that way.''
The Sharks, on the other hand, desired him desperately. And in the end, the cash wasn't the only factor in Damphousse's decision to stay. He could have gotten as much -- if not more -- from another club. But Damphousse chose to remain in San Jose, once one of the gulags around the NHL, because he felt good about the situation all the way around.
``The fit was right,'' Damphousse said. ``Waiting for the open market wasn't the right idea for me. That's always an unknown, not a situation I like. I was happy with the end of the season I had. I wanted the opportunity to show what I could do on the power-play penalty kill and play a lot. They gave me a chance to show what I could do, and I was happy they gave me the chance.''
Damphousse also is impressed with the group of young players the Sharks have amassed, saying, ``The team is only going to get better.'' After seeing his career sag in Montreal, he didn't want to be part of anything resembling a rebuilding project.
``A guy like Vinny isn't going to stay at a place unless it's going in the right direction,'' said Sharks director of pro development Doug Wilson, who helped broker the deal. ``It's a compliment to our organization.''
Lombardi called re-signing Damphousse ``a priority.'' Not that the Sharks are an offensive powerhouse with him, but without him they would have been really goal-challenged.
``If we don't bring the guy in, we'd have a hole in the middle,'' Lombardi said.