John LeClair of the Philadelphia Flyers was awarded a record one-year, $7-million (U.S.) contract yesterday.
The previous high for an arbitration award came in August of 1998 when St. Louis Blues centre Pierre Turgeon won $4.65-million.
LeClair was seeking a one-year salary of $9-million. The Flyers countered with an offer of $4.6-million. The $7-million salary represents a 92-per-cent pay hike from the average of LeClair's last contract, a three-year deal.
More significant for LeClair is that the one-year contract allows the hulking forward, three times a 50-goal scorer, to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2001.
Eric Lindros, who earned $8.5-million last season, is on his way out of Philadelphia, making LeClair the highest-paid Flyer. Forward Mark Recchi is next at $5-milllion.
"We respect the arbitrator's decision," Flyers GM Bob Clarke said in a statement. "We will continue our efforts to sign John to a long-term deal.
"John has requested that talks be suspended when training camp starts. We respect his wishes and will try over the next month to sign him to a long-term contract."
Clarke said he planned to speak to LeClair's agent, Lewis Gross, on Monday.
Arbitrator Michel Picher heard arguments from both the Flyers and LeClair's representatives Wednesday in Toronto.
Gross told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the Flyers did not offer a one-year deal as an option.
LeClair missed becoming an unrestricted free agent this year, only turning 31 four days after July 1. He has averaged 47 goals a season in the past five years -- the most of any active player.
The native of St. Albans, Vt., a second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 1987, had a team-high 40 goals and 37 assists in 82 games last season.
The 6-foot-3, 226-pound LeClair earned $3.969-million last season.