Rolston dives into new season unsure about where he'll land

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2007 - 10:59 PM

The ageless, durable and productive forward likely will command a top-tier contract in free agency.

In the real world, Brian Rolston is a young man at age 34. In the hockey world, he's a dinosaur.

"But I feel young, which is all that matters. If I was on the Red Wings, I'd be really young," a laughing Rolston joked.

Plus, if you've paid attention to his first two years in Minnesota (or Sunday's scrimmage in White Bear Lake), you realize Rolston, despite a few gray hairs, isn't some breaking-down, old veteran.

His slapshot is arguably second to none. He motors as if he's in his 20s, not 30s. He still can play upwards of 20 minutes a night in every situation.

Rolston, simply, has gotten better with age, putting together his finest two seasons of a fine 12-year career by scoring 65 goals and 143 points with the Wild.

But, after two career years in Minnesota, there's a chance Rolston could be on the Red Wings or some other team a year from now. Rolston is one of nine Wild players who can become unrestricted free agents next summer.

General Manager Doug Risebrough won't comment, but he has had no contract talks with Rolston even though Rolston and teammate Pavol Demitra sit atop the next tier of free-agent forwards after stars Dany Heatley (Ottawa) and Marian Hossa (Atlanta).

And after seeing the monstrous long-term contracts that were awarded this past summer to such players as Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez, Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake, Rolston, especially if he has another huge year, knows somebody will gladly hand him a lucrative (at the very least) three-year deal if the Wild won't.

"I love it in Minnesota. I really do," Rolston said. "I want to be here. It's been fabulous for me, and it's tremendous for my family. I love -- love -- playing for Jacques Lemaire, and I know he's got three years left in his deal.

"But in reality, this is a business and it may be my last contract."

Asked how much he's looking for, Rolston said, "It's hard to say, but you saw what happened this summer, let's put it that way."

Don't get Rolston wrong. He's not crying at his $2.432 million salary. He knows his contract "was very appropriate" when he signed it in 2004. But at his current production, he earns well under today's market value.

"It's no one's fault that I've been underpaid, but I understand that I've been underpaid," Rolston said.

The Wild hasn't talked to any of its free agents because it wants flexibility next summer, both in choosing which free agents to re-sign as well as the ability to give key restricted free agents raises.

Also, Rolston turns 35 on Feb. 21, and the new collective bargaining agreement makes signing 35-year-olds risky (teams are on the hook for the salary cap hit if an older player retires or suffers a career-ending injury).

While the 35-and-older provision is a valid concern, perhaps Rolston should be the exception to the rule.

Rolston's record of playing the past five seasons has been impeccable. He has missed five games -- three because of the flu, one because of injury and the other to rest during last season's finale.

The string of healthy seasons began when Rolston started working with Arizona-based trainer Charles Poliquin, who has helped such players as Gary Roberts and Al MacInnis play into their 40s. Rolston said Poliquin's program is all about structural balance (i.e., "making sure you're not too strong in the front and weak in the back").

"If you're imbalanced [strengthwise] as an athlete, you're more susceptible to injuries," Rolston said. "I'm a firm believer that what I do during the offseason is why I've been as healthy as I have. If I was a GM, I would look at 'how many games has this guy played?' I feel like right now I'm at the top of my game, and because I train as hard as I do, I feel I have plenty of good years left in me."

Rolston said he's not worried about his contract status.

"I just want to have the best year I can and help this team win," he said. "I'm going to go out there and perform like I always have. We'll see what happens. The time will come to see if they want me to be here or they don't want me to be here."

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