Mario Lemieux is the highest-paid player in hockey, surpassing even Wayne Gretzky, and the Washington Capitals have the second-lowest payroll in the NHL, according to figures confirmed yesterday by The Washington Post.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Lemieux was listed as receiving $2 million a year, plus undisclosed deferred compensation. Gretzky, who had been believed to be No. 1, was reported as earning $1.72 million annually with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings had by far the biggest payroll, totaling $8.3 million. The Capitals at $4.2 million ranked 20th, topping only the St. Louis Blues ($3.4 million).

The figures were compiled by the NHL Players Association and published in yesterday's Montreal Gazette.

The NHLPA was authorized to disclose the player salaries by an overwhelming vote (469-49) of the membership and the release of the figures had been scheduled for Feb. 5. However, the Gazette obtained a copy ahead of time and published the salaries yesterday.

Sixteen players in the NHL were listed as being paid in excess of $500,000 -- which is the average annual salary for professional baseball players. Clearly hockey, with an average player salary topping $200,000, is light-years behind the other major U.S. professional sports. The average salary per year in the NFL is $300,000 and in the NBA it is $750,000. Of course, the NHL lacks a key ingredient for higher salaries: A network television contract.

The average Capitals yearly salary is $187,250.

Dino Ciccarelli was listed as the highest-paid Capital at $360,000. He signed that contract in September 1988 when he played for the Minnesota North Stars.

Rod Langway actually is getting more money ($417,000) when deferred compensation of $75,000 is included. After his retirement, Langway will receive $75,000 a year for every season he has been a member of the Capitals.

However, individual and team bonuses were not included. Also, in the cases of Gretzky and others, there are additional payments tied to personal service contracts.

Bengt Gustafsson, who is playing in Sweden this season, was the highest-paid Capital of all time, earning $450,000 during each of his last two seasons in Washington.

According to the Capitals' salary figures, Alan May and Doug Wickenheiser are playing under contracts that guarantee them relatively minuscule basic salaries, with additional payments per game played. Wichenheiser's base salary is listed at $25,000, May's at $50,000.

Goalie Don Beaupre, one of the team's leaders at $225,000, was paid one-third of that base last season at Baltimore. He was a holdout at the start of training camp until General Manager David Poile agreed to alter the terms, in case he should be sent to the Skipjacks again.

Two Capitals, Scott Stevens and Kelly Miller, are presently playing out their options. Stevens is receiving $300,000 a year and Miller $170,000. Both expect disclosure to help their cause in negotiations.

"I guess it will help, to be able to compare with guys on other clubs," Stevens said. "But you never know. We {he and agent Rick Bennett} haven't gotten anywhere lately, that's for sure."

Miller said: "Once the shock is out of the way, I think everybody will be surprised at how low they are, certainly compared to other sports. They should go up. We've been bargaining in the dark and now there will be a better basis for comparison. The league is in good shape. We play to a full building every night."

Of the Capitals' low position in the salary structure, Poile said: "I think it's a reflection of where we are. We're a very young hockey club and salaries climb because of a combination of seniority and what teams have accomplished in the playoffs, particularly winning Cups. We've traded a lot of older players who were making good dollars -- Bob Gould, Pete Peeters, Lou Franceschetti, Dave Christian.

"I have nothing to hide. All we want to do is win. When we negotiate, we give full measure of a player's value. I think I've been fair. Disclosure has helped to raise salaries in other sports and it may in ours, too, but overall I think it's the right thing to do."

What the NHL does not have, of course, is a big network television contract. It gets $17 million a year from SportsChannel in the United States and $25 million annually from Molson Breweries for Canadian TV rights.

In comparison, baseball receives $375 million a year from CBS and ESPN, football receives $565 million from the networks and ESPN, and pro basketball receives $138 million from CBS and TNT, with NBC paying $150 million beginning next year. Hockey rights for local telecasts are a mere pittance compared with other sports.

The players obviously feel disclosure has helped raise salaries in those sports and Detroit's Steve Yzerman said: "I think it will help players in their negotiations. Some people seem to think it's being done as a publicity stunt, but it's not. I think people will be surprised that hockey players don't make as much as everyone thinks they do."

Yzerman certainly falls in that category. He is listed as receiving $700,000, when media speculation had him getting as high as $1.5 million under terms of a new contract signed last summer.

Besides Lemieux and Gretzky, there is only one other hockey millionaire, Mark Messier of Edmonton. Messier earns $990,700, plus deferred compensation of $42,800. That is in Canadian dollars, worth about 15 percent less than U.S. currency.

No. 4 in the salary parade is Dave Taylor of Los Angeles, whose $500,000 base is augmented by $450,000 in deferred compensation.

Said General Manager Bill Torrey of the New York Islanders, whose club is just a step above the Capitals on the salary ladder:

"Obviously, the players think it will be a bonanza for them. As far as I'm concerned, disclosure doesn't change the value of the player. They probably expect to peg things to the highest-paid guy, but that can work both ways. There's no question who will benefit the most. That's the IRS."

It is a fact of life, though, that few players are ever forced to take pay cuts. In a 1989 NHLPA survey, it was found that 364 of 478 players received raises and only nine were trimmed.

"It's a volatile marketplace right now," said General Manager Gerry Meehan of Buffalo, another club low on the totem pole. "The salary ladder that used to be in place is in jeopardy. It used to be that the increase from a player's first contract to his second was moderate, but now if a guy new to the league scores 50 goals, he expects to get paid the going rate for a veteran 50-goal man."

In that category is Brett Hull of St. Louis, who leads the NHL with 45 goals, but is paid only $125,000. Hull is playing out his option.

------------- TOP SALARIES ------------

Player, Team --------------------Salary

Mario Lemieux, Penguins -----$2 million

Wayne Gretzky, Kings ------$1.7 million

Mark Messier, Oilers --------$1 million

Dave Taylor, Kings ------------$950,000

Steve Yzerman, Red Wings ------$700,000

------------- TOP PAYROLLS ------------

Team ---------------------------Payroll

Los Angeles Kings ---------$8.3 million

Pittsburgh Penguins -------$6.4 million

New York Rangers ---------$6.3 million

Philadelphia Flyers -------$6.3 million

Calgary Flames ------------$6.2 million

Player ---------------------- Base -----Deferred

Dino Ciccarelli --------- $360,000 ----------- --

Rod Langway ------------- $342,500 ------$75,000

Scott Stevens ----------- $300,000 ----------- --

Don Beaupre ------------- $225,000 ----------- --

Geoff Courtnall --------- $210,000 ----------- --

Dale Hunter ------------- $200,000 ------$50,000

Mike Ridley ------------- $197,500 ----------- --

Kevin Hatcher ----------- $185,000 ----------- --

Neil Sheehy ------------- $170,000 ----------- --

Kelly Miller ------------ $170,000 ----------- --

Robert Rouse ------------ $155,000 ----------- --

Scot Kleinendorst ------- $150,000 ----------- --

Steve Leach ------------- $130,000 ----------- --

Calle Johansson --------- $125,000 ----------- --

Michal Pivonka ---------- $125,000 ----------- --

Bob Mason --------------- $125,000 ----------- --

Robert Joyce ------------ $120,000 ----------- --

Kent Paynter ------------ $115,000 ----------- --

Nick Kypreos ------------ $110,000 ----------- --

Dennis Smith ------------ $110,000 ----------- --

John Druce -------------- $105,000 ----------- --

Rob Murray -------------- $105,000 ----------- --

Yvon Corriveau ----------- $90,000 ----------- --

Bill Houlder ------------- $85,000 ----------- --

Alan May ----------------- $50,000 --------$800*

Doug Wickenheiser -------- $25,000 ------*$1,250

*Additional compensation received per game.

SOURCE: NHL Players Association


Sport ------------ Player ----------------------- Dollars

BOXING ----------- Mike Tyson -------------- *$22,133,333

HORSE RACING ----- Sunday Silence ------------ $4,578,454

BASEBALL --------- Will Clark ---------------**$3,750,000

NBA -------------- Patrick Ewing --------------$3,750,000

NFL -------------- Randall Cunningham ---------$2,563,000

TENNIS: ATP ------ Ivan Lendl -----------------$2,344,367

WITA ---- Steffi Graff ---------------$1,963,905

AUTO: NASCAR ----- Rusty Wallace --------------$2,247,950

CART ------- Emerson Fittipaldi----------$2,166,078

NHL -------------- Mario Lemieux --------------$2,000,000

GOLF: PGA -------- Tom Kite -------------------$1,395,278

LPGA ------- Betsy King -------------------$654,132

Seniors ----- Bob Charles ------------------$725,887

*Through June 1989. ** For 1990 season.

All others for 1989 or 1989-90 season or tour.

NOTE: Salary figures are for actual participation in the various sports. They do not include money received for endorsements, exhibitions, etc.


Rnk ---- Player, Team -----------------------Salary

1. -----Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh ----- $2,000,000

2. -----Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles -----$1,720,000

3. -----Mark Messier, Edmonton -------- $1,033,500

4. -----Dave Taylor, Los Angeles ---------$950,000

5. -----Steve Yzerman, Detroit -----------$700,000

6. -----Bernie Nicholls, N.Y. Rangers ----$700,000

7. -----Michel Goulet, Quebec ------------$600,000

8. -----Chris Chelios, Montreal ----------$575,000

9. -----Bryan Trottier, N.Y. Islanders ---$575,000

10. -----Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles ----- $550,000

Team -----------$ mill.

Los Angeles ------ $8.3

Pittsburgh ------- $6.4

N.Y. Rangers ----- $6.3

Philadelphia ----- $6.3

Calgary ---------- $6.2

Edmonton --------- $6.0

Montreal --------- $5.8

Vancouver -------- $5.5

Chicago ---------- $5.3

Detroit ---------- $5.3

Quebec ----------- $5.1

Boston ----------- $4.8

Hartford --------- $4.7

Toronto ---------- $4.7

Buffalo ---------- $4.4

Minnesota -------- $4.4

New Jersey ------- $4.4

N.Y. Islanders --- $4.4

Winnipeg --------- $4.3

Washington ------- $4.2

St. Louis -------- $3.4