When Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos speaks about his top player, Keith Primeau, he tends to get worked up. He raises his voice, and his heart rate. He leaves no doubt that his team captain, who is mired in a contract impasse and has yet to play this season, isn't going to be coming over for tea any time soon.

Karmanos vows he will not trade the restricted free agent, nor will he relent and give the 27-year-old anything near the $5 million a season he was originally demanding. In fact, Karmanos said he wants to reduce his $27 million payroll by another $3 million next season.

Still, the Hurricanes (6-5-3) are off to a surprisingly strong start, especially considering they played their first nine games on the road while their new arena was completed. And they are doing it without defenseman Steve Chiasson (who died in an auto accident), Primeau and still-unemployed unrestricted free agent Ray Sheppard--their two leading goal scorers from a season ago. "Ray laughed when we offered him $1.7 million on a two-year deal," Karmanos said. "I don't think he's laughing anymore."

As for Primeau: "We're going to hold the line," Karmanos said. "We have an offer on the table for $3 million and two years and he can take it or leave it. I think he's getting some really bad advice from his agent. He's made some really bad choices and if he really thought he deserved the kind of money [Toronto's Mats] Sundin gets, or somebody like that, he should have gone to arbitration. But he avoided arbitration because he knew his numbers don't hold water with that kind of salary.

"And he turned down an extremely good offer he probably would take today, and we're not prepared to give that offer anymore. If he wants $6 million or $7 million a year because he thinks he means as much to our team as Sundin means to Toronto, we don't think that's the case. He's never scored a point per game, he's never scored in the playoffs and it's very hard justifying getting that kind of salary.

"And he tried blackmailing us in a way because he knew we opened on the road for nine games and knew we want to fill our new building. And that kind of stuff doesn't play well with us or our fans or his teammates. He's not getting any support from fans or teammates, so he's got to look at reality."

Primeau can be a dominating center at both ends of the ice and is a physical force (6 feet 4, 210 pounds). However, he is often prone to lapses and his maturity is frequently called into question. He posted 30 goals for the second time in his career last season, but has just six goals in 70 playoff games and had none in Carolina's first-round defeat last spring.

Karmanos said rumors of a possible three-way trade with Chicago and Ottawa are completely unfounded and Primeau could end up sitting out all season. That could be good news for the Washington Capitals, who hope to battle Carolina and Florida for the Southeast Division title.

Sibling Rivalry

This is turning into the season of the little brother. While superstar Pavel Bure (nine points) battles injuries in Florida, his younger brother, Valeri, is off to a great start with 10 goals and 17 points in 15 games with Calgary. And Steve Kariya, younger brother of Anaheim's Paul, is doing what few believed the tiny forward could do. The player who went undrafted (Vancouver signed him this spring as a free agent after he graduated from Maine) is among rookie leaders with five goals and 10 points. The Kariyas have never played against each other, and Pavel missed his only game against his brother this season, though he calls him two or three times a week.

"I don't think I can give my brother tips, he's scored so many goals," Valeri said. "He is always trying to give me tips, but we are kind of playing a different style of hockey."

Team News and Notes

The Colorado Avalanche is the Carolina of the Western Conference--over .500 despite playing 10 of its first 12 games on the road (having also moved into a new arena), and without center Peter Forsberg, maybe the most dominant player in the game today. Forsberg is expected to return from a severely separated shoulder early next month. . . .

The New York Rangers scored a pathetic four power-play goals through their first 66 chances (6.1 percent), while allowing two short-handed goals in that span. Ouch. . . .

The Phoenix Coyotes breathed a huge sigh of relief last Tuesday when a referendum for funding for a new suburban arena passed. The team was likely to trade away several high-priced veterans had the vote failed, but now expect talks with restricted free agent goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to heat up. . . .

The Los Angeles Kings are the NHL's Cinderella team with a new coach and arena and a shiny 9-4-3 record. But they will be hard-pressed to keep it up playing without their top center, Jozef Stumpel (out eight to 10 weeks), and top scorer, Luc Robitaille (out two to six weeks), both of whom were lost to injuries late last week. . . .

Despite a run to the finals and 10 home playoff games, sources say the Buffalo Sabres lost $10 million last season. One NHL owner put league teams' combined losses at $234 million for last season. . . . After opening the season winless in six games, Philadelphia is on an 8-1-1 tear, though many NHL people believe the team is still not built for playoff success. . . .

For the first time in league history, Canadians make up less than 60 percent of its players. . . . You won't hear any complaints about the NHL's new overtime format in Calgary. All four of the Flames' victories have come in overtime. . . .

Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr has points in 12 straight games, with 11 goals and 24 points in that span. The rest of his team is floundering, with just two wins in 12 games. The trade of ex-Capital Kevin Hatcher (prompted by finances) has crippled the power play and transition game. The Penguins' weak defense can't get the puck to its talented forwards.