PITTSBURGH, JAN. 30 -- Mark Recchi smiles when the subject of contract negotiations is raised. Barring a dramatic drop in his production or a serious injury, Recchi stands to make a lot of money next season -- possibly eight or nine times what he's making now.

"I couldn't have picked a better time" to play well said the Pittsburgh Penguins' right wing.

Generally, the NHL's three-tiered system of free agency is very restrictive compared with other professional sports. Recchi will be a Type I free agent. Type I players have not played five years of professional hockey (including the minor leagues) and are not yet 24 years old.

This group also includes New Jersey's Brendan Shanahan, Boston's Glen Wesley and Montreal's Mathieu Schneider.

What makes the Type I players particularly attractive as free agents is that mandated compensation for them is much less than for Type II players, such as Scott Stevens.

The St. Louis Blues had to provide the Washington Capitals with two first-round selections from the top seven or five first-rounders within the next five seasons as compensation for adding Stevens to their roster during last offseason.

With Type I players, if the teams cannot agree on compensation, an aribtrator chooses between the teams' offers.

Even if they won't admit it publicly, teams have seen that the Blues have improved considerably -- and drawn significantly better at the gate -- as the result of having signed Stevens and Brett Hull, even though it cost them plenty. And Recchi, although he doesn't have Hull's name recognition, has more points.

"Some clubs that might have been reluctant to take that risk will do so {now}," said Rick Curran, who represents Recchi, Shanahan and Wesley. "It's one of the benefits of what happened with Scott Stevens."

Recchi is making just $105,000 this season. Curran didn't want to get into figures, but Pittsburgh probably couldn't get him for $750,000 right now. If Recchi isn't signed by Pittsburgh by June 30, the market is open.

Recchi said he "loves Pittsburgh and the people," but the price keeps going up and both sides are playing a waiting game.

"Having waited as long as we would have, I would be very surprised if Mark Recchi went back," Curran said.

The Capitals, who could certainly use the scoring Recchi provides, will have a Type I free agent in Jeff Greenlaw, now plying his trade in Baltimore. Big Plans in Chicago

Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz is hoping to complete the purchase of land next to Chicago Stadium by May 1 so that construction can begin on a new arena. Wirtz is looking to have it ready for the 1994-95 season. . . . Reports from Philadelphia suggest that city and state officials have reached agreement with the 76ers, the Flyers and Spectacor (which runs the Flyers and the Spectrum) to build a new arena on the site of JFK Stadium. The city, which apparently is broke, apparently won't contribute much, except tax breaks. . . .

Jim Durrell has chosen sports over politics, resigning as mayor of Ottawa to serve full-time as president of the Senators NHL expansion team. His announcement came just 44 days after his public insistence he could handle both jobs. "I was wrong," Durrell, 44, said in an open letter to the city council and city employees. "It is increasingly apparent to me that the demands of being president of the Senators {are} substantial and will only increase with time." Punch in Their Games

Detroit's Bob Probert and New Jersey's Troy Crowder, two of the league's top heavyweights, battled twice Monday night in Detroit. Probert won the first fight. Crowder started the second from behind, so that one might be considered a draw. The next meeting between the teams will be March 1 in Detroit. . . . Referee Terry Gregson is married to the sister of Calgary Coach Doug Risebrough. Vancouver Coach Bob McCammon and Toronto's Tom Watt complained the Flames were getting preferential treatment in victories over their teams. "It's very unfair for the NHL to schedule him, especially in divisional games involving Calgary," McCammon told reporters after a 5-2 loss. Gregson, a 10-year veteran, worked the all-star game. . . .

Bobby Hull played in the old-timers game that preceded the all-star game and afterward told the Chicago Sun Times: "I never forgot how to skate, just how to skate fast." Hearing for Fuhr Set

Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr, who was suspended after admitting use of an illegal substance (reportedly cocaine), will have a hearing with NHL President John Ziegler Feb. 4. Fuhr is eligible for reinstatement Feb. 18, and it won't be shocking if the Oilers make a deal for him before the March 5 trading deadline. . . .

Link Gaetz, a North Stars player on loan to Kansas City, reportedly was arrested in Peoria after allegedly throwing a TV out of a hotel window.

He probably couldn't get CNN.