STANLEY CUP WILL EXIT AT 16W - AGAIN
By Larry Brooks
IN WHAT was proclaimed far-and-wide as the Hockey Trial of the
Century, Marc Crawford, enthusiastically testifying on behalf of the
Crown in its case against Marty McSorley, revealed himself to be
either a perjurer or a nincompoop.
For when the Vancouver coach, who had previously answered under oath
that he did not believe sending Donald Brashear onto the ice in the
final minute of the Feb. 21, 5-2 game would provoke the Bruins, was
asked what he thought when McSorley thereafter came onto the ice,
Crawford replied: "I didn't notice that."
Come again? The coach did not notice that McSorley, who'd been beaten
badly by Brashear in a first-period fight and who'd been unsuccessful
in goading the Vancouver enforcer into a rematch, was on the ice? He
did not notice? This is supposed to be believed, even under oath,
from an NHL coach who, by the way, fancies himself the cat's meow?
But on second thought, perhaps this Crawford is to be believed.
Perhaps it's not too much of a stretch to believe that he did not
notice who was on the ice. After all, this is the same man who did
not notice that he had Wayne Gretzky on his bench for the 1998
Olympic shootout against Dominik Hasek.
WHEN is a losing record not a losing record? When it's camouflaged by
the newly revised NHL standings, that's when. Losses in overtime will
no longer be entered in the second column of the standings, the one
that for all 83 prior NHL seasons included all defeats. Now, overtime
losses will be entered in a fourth column under the heading "OTL."
Now, the standings become W-L-T-OTL instead of last season's W-L-T-RT
So now, a team that plays five games, wins one and loses four in
overtime will have a record of 1-0-0-4, rather than last season's 1-4-
0-4. It will have lost four out of five. Its coach and GM, however,
will be able to claim that it has a winning record. Giving coaches
and general managers of bad teams the chance to pretend they've
created winning teams was, you should know, the prime motivation
behind the switch in the first place.
Still, no matter how the standings are formatted, just 16 of the
NHL's Original 30 will qualify for the playoffs, which means that
well over the half the league will be in a tournament sprint
beginning as soon as Christmas. It is more truth than cliché ©n
league, now: Every game is a meaningful one, even for the Islanders.
We'll trade that for an offensive standings format, any time.
Keeping in mind that late-season rental business will change the face
of the league as it turns toward the stretch, keeping in mind that
Eric Lindros' eventual destination will change the NHL's sea-level, a
(Teams listed in order of projected playoff seeding)
1. DEVILS -They won't win anything in the long run without Scott
Niedermayer or Jason Arnott and the depth they've utilized to make
late-season deals for the likes of Alexander Mogilny and Vladimir
Malakhov is largely spent, so you have to wonder whether there are
any big-name rentals ahead this March. But Mogilny, in the final year
of his contract, should be an explosive offensive force. And Patrik
Elias appears ready to take his place among the league's elite. And
Petr Sykora, once healthy, will get even better. And Colin White may
become one of the league's most feared defensemen. Have we mentioned
Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens, yet? What about John Madden or
Scott Gomez? There's a great coach here at the Exit of Champions and
a fierce commitment to greatness within the organization.
2. FLORIDA - In a division with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina, how
many gimmes do the Panthers get right out of the chute? Igor Larionov
should be as important off the ice as he is on it, though it's a
stretch to suggest that this me-first team is on the verge of
becoming selfless. Pavel Bure will score as many as he wants. Have to
wonder how long before Terry and Bryan Murray tire of touting Olli
Jokinen. Have to wonder, too, how long before Roberto Luongo, now
under the tutelage of Billy Smith, begins whacking guys in front of
3. TORONTO - Unless Curtis Joseph breaks down and misses more than 20
games, the Maple Leafs will remain a regular-season sensation, though
the effect of adding past-their-prime (no longer) power wingers Gary
Roberts and Shayne Corson has been vastly overrated. Defense, which
will have to sustain the early-season loss of holdout Alexander
Karpovtsev, remains young and less than dependable under fire.
4. PHILADELPHIA - The calliope having stopped when Eric Lindros
jumped off, the Flyers remain deep and formidable throughout the
lineup, though the circus may visit again once 88 declares himself
healthy and ready to be dealt. The defense is good, though not elite.
Brian Boucher has to do it over the long haul now, and without John
Vanbiesbrouck on whom to fall back for support and advice.
5. BUFFALO - Doug Gilmour recently said that one look at Wendel
Clark's retirement announcement convinced him that he may have spoken
too soon when he proclaimed a couple of years ago that this season
would be his last. This tells us The Killer's presence in the lineup -
and desire to earn another contract - may diminish the effect of
captain Mike Peca's contract impasse. Peca, once the team's heart and
soul, may, in fact, be traded rather than signed. Dominik Hasek,
mortal, is bidding to restore his reputation.
6. OTTAWA - The Senators don't have a No. 1 goaltender, but they will
when they acquire him as part of a package for Alexei Yashin. The
Senators don't have a formidable power forward, but they will when
they acquire him as part of a package for Alexei Yashin. Did anyone
say Hasek and Peca?
7. PITTSBURGH - Some teams, including one that you may even root for,
are traditionally less than the sum of their parts. Others, such as
the Penguins, always accomplish more than you'd expect. Having
Jaromir Jagr is a good place to start. Alexei Kovalev has bulked up,
adding muscle to his entertaining, talent-oriented game. No
goaltender of note at the moment and the coach barely speaks English,
but Craig Patrick always makes more out of less.
8. ISLANDERS - This is as good example as all-for-one and one-for-all
as there is in this league. Young, filled with players who have seen
the other side and those who are eager to stamp their own imprint on
the franchise. Vanbiesbrouck should provide the team's steadiest
goaltending since Kelly Hrudey's days on the Island. Butch Goring
will be under the gun early-paging Iron Mike, paging Iron Mike - and
so too will Mike Milbury.
9. RANGERS - The atmosphere is better, the lineup only marginally so,
if that, in a conference that's much better than it was last year.
Way too old, way too small, and who knows about Mike Richter's knee?
By comparison, Mark Messier will think he had it easy the first time
on Broadway. Of course, if the Rangers get Lindros, and if Lindros
stays healthy, we will demand a do-over on this pick.
10. WASHINGTON - Hard-working? Yes, they are, but every team in this
conference can be counted on to work hard; well, we'll see about
that, too. Olie Kolzig will miss the opening weeks of the season,
which means the Caps will probably be digging out of a hole without
the talent to do so. The honeymoon is over for Ron (Hey Mister)
11. BOSTON - The attitude is much better this year, which is to say
that assistant GM Mike O'Connell hasn't yet second-guessed Pat Burns.
Byron Dafoe's knee is questionable and thus is the situation in nets.
Paul Coffey playing 20 minutes a night? Yikes.
12. MONTREAL - On the block, the Canadiens have decided to hardball
young goaltender Jose Theodore just because the CBA allows them to.
They'll obviously be healthier this year than last and Alain
Vigneault is a good coach, that's obvious, but the sun has set on the
13. TAMPA BAY - Vincent Lecavalier is the goods, and the Lightning
will continue to reap the benefit of their late-season trade with
Buffalo in which the team acquired Brian Holzinger, Wayne Primeau and
Brian Holzinger. Dan Cloutier, who wanted out last year, may be ready
to take over in nets.
14. CAROLINA - Here's what you need to know about the Hurricanes:
They signed Kevin Hatcher as a free agent and actually got better for
having done so.
15. ATLANTA - Norm Maracle, the goaltender who vowed to resurrect his
career, showed up at training camp 12 pounds overweight.
1. COLORADO - Built from the back end out and having rebuilt their
depth chart, playing in a weak division gives the Avalanche the
regular-season edge over fellow powers Dallas, Detroit and St. Louis.
The only meaningful question for Colorado - other than Joe Sakic's
future - is whether Patrick Roy will be able to outplay Ed Belfour
for the first time in three tournaments.
2. ST. LOUIS - Larry Pleau has built an admirable team much in the
Devils' image: deep, physical, defensive-zone oriented. He signed all
the free agents this summer he wanted, including Dallas Drake, Sean
Hill and Mike Van Ryn. But whether this team takes the step it could
not last year depends on whether Roman Turek avoids a second
consecutive postseason failure.
3. DALLAS - A powerhouse organization that cemented its standing by
losing so honorably in June's epic Final, the Stars do everything the
right way. Have added young legs to offset the burden imposed by
consecutive 100-game seasons. Mike Modano, so resplendent, will
continue to shine ... and to, along with Brett Hull, tolerate Ken
Hitchcock, the coach whom no one would ever catch testifying, "I did
not notice that."
4. DETROIT - The Red Wings will mix some youth into the lineup
without much concern over their regular-season seed. Chances are good
that this, though, will mark the last ride for the Wings as we've
known them, and as such, very possibly the last ride for Scotty
Bowman, who, like Phil Jackson, isn't much for rebuilding.
5. EDMONTON - The Oilers are bursting with young talent, all of which
GM Kevin Lowe somehow managed to sign before the end of camp. When
Lowe needed money, the ownership board somehow found it, something it
apparently had been unwilling to do for Glen Sather the last couple
6. CALGARY - Why not? Give us one reason why the Flames, with Mike
Vernon back in nets, can't make it. All right, give us two. Three?
Meanwhile, will Marc Savard sign his contract, please, so he can have
7. PHOENIX - One season with the current ownership (and without
Nikolai Khabibulin). Another with the new ownership (with Wayne
Gretzky, Khabibulin and Claude Lemieux). Question is, how soon will
the sale take effect?
8. SAN JOSE - Goaltending is questionable, so maybe this will be the
spot unemployed Tom Barrasso lands. Owen Nolan, the team's heart and
soul, is unsigned, having been low-balled by a management that fears
the captain will go soft if given too much.
9. LOS ANGELES - Got off to an excellent start by presenting Rob
Blake, who wants to stay on the beach, with a sign-or-be-traded
ultimatum. Then again, Blake is the guy who took up the locker- room
collection to pay Matt Johnson's fine for suckering Jeff Beukeboom,
so we'll not waste too much emotion on this fellow.
10. ANAHEIM - Disney will spend so that ESPN employees get town cars
in which to ride home after dark, but Disney will not spend to put a
team behind Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya.
11. NASHVILLE - See how far an expansion team that refuses to trap
can come in three years?
12. CHICAGO - What crime exactly is it that Tony Amonte committed to
receive a life (until Group III) sentence in Chicago?
13. VANCOUVER - We wager that even coach Crawford will notice the
Sedin twins. We bet he also notices Mark Messier's absence.
14. COLUMBUS - Pretty good foundation in nets with Marc Denis and Ron
Tugnutt; pretty good, indeed.
15. MINNESOTA - Welcome back, Jacques. Have a happy, trappy hockey
EASTERN FINALS: Devils over Buffalo.
WESTERN FINALS: St. Louis over Colorado.
STANLEY CUP FINALS: Devils over St. Louis.