Don't Be So Humble: Goalie Patrick Roy says the Avalanche has a
good chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champion this season, but
he refuses to talk dynasty. We will. Colorado has a superior
blend of veterans and youth, dazzling offensive players and
muckers, two fabulous lines centered by Joe Sakic and Peter
Forsberg, and the best playoff goalie of his generation. The
Avalanche will repeat.
October 6, 1996
Top of the Line: Many of the NHL's finest suit up in Colorado.
Best wrist shot in the league: Sakic. Best combination of
scoring, toughness and defense: Forsberg. Best agitator: Claude
Lemieux. Best young offensive defenseman: Sandis Ozolinsh. Best
complementary forwards: Adam Deadmarsh, Scott Young, Mike Ricci.
The Long Marsh: When the Stanley Cup was on display last month
at a charity golf tournament in Denver, Deadmarsh was shocked to
discover his name had been engraved DEADMARCH. Hey, typos are
part of the business. In this space last season somebody typed
Philadelphia Flyers as the projected Stanley Cup champions when
he obviously meant Colorado Avalanche.
DETROIT RED WINGS
The Motor Pity: As the Red Wings found out last season, 62
regular-season wins will get you a record but not a Stanley Cup.
Detroit, which has wasted over-the-top talent the past four
years, will be remembered as a stupendous underachiever.
Money Balks: After spending $28.5 million on salaries last year,
Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has set a payroll limit of $30
million in his pursuit of the Stanley Cup. Grinding winger Dino
Ciccarelli ($1.2 million a season) was traded to the Tampa Bay
Lightning in a salary dump, a big loss for a team that was
already lacking gutsy personnel.
New Blood: Rookie Anders Eriksson, a 6'3", 218-pound Swede, is a
mobile defenseman who should energize a unit that was worn down
by Colorado in the conference finals.
The Doughnuts: There is a hole at center in Chicago. The
Blackhawks, who were fed up with center Jeremy Roenick's
perpetual contract squabbles, traded him to the Phoenix Coyotes
for restricted free-agent center Alexei Zhamnov, a Russian with
sweet hands and an equally inflated sense of his worth--Zhamnov
wants $4.5 million a year. "I think he's going to stay in Russia
a long time," Chicago general manager Bob Pulford says of
Zhamnov, who Pulford thought would be easier to sign. Even if
they sign him, the Hawks still need a No. 2 center.
He's Not Getting Older, He's Getting Nastier: Tough Chris
Chelios, the best U.S. hockey player ever, shows no signs of
slowing down at 34. His 72 points last season made him the first
defenseman to lead the Blackhawks in scoring, which is terrific
for him but doesn't say much for Chicago's forwards. Regardless,
a team built on rock-solid defense can go far in the playoffs.
Tough Luck: Last year 28 of Eric Daze's 30 goals as a rookie
came at even strength. He probably would have gotten 40 goals
this season with regular power-play time, but a sprained left
ankle will sideline him for four to six weeks.
Desert Storm: The team formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets,
before moving to Phoenix after last season, should be fast and
offensive-minded and soft enough defensively to play a ton of
the 6-5 games that new NHL markets find appealing.
Roenick Report: At week's end the Coyotes weren't close to
signing Jeremy Roenick, a restricted free agent, but they have
said they will match just about any offer he receives. With
Roenick and left wing Keith Tkachuk, whose pithy locker room
quotes will make Phoenix forget Charles Barkley, the Coyotes
will have two of the best U.S.-born NHL players.
Star Search: Watch rising young defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky and
center Chad Kilger--if you can. The Coyotes' home, the America
West Arena, has 4,000 obstructed-view seats behind the north goal.
Win--or Else: This is a make-or-break year for general manager
Bob Gainey, coach Ken Hitchcock and their Stars. If Dallas,
which missed the playoffs last year, doesn't make some
postseason headway next spring, new owner Tom Hicks, a demanding
man who's willing to spend money to produce a winner, might
break up the club.
The Hard: Dallas didn't have a 40-goal scorer last year but
helped itself in the off-season by signing free agent Pat
Verbeek, a small (5'9'', 190 pounds), tough wing who scored 41
for the New York Rangers in '95-96.
The Soft: Franchise center Mike Modano hasn't gotten 100 points
in any of his seven NHL seasons. If Modano doesn't explode this
year--the addition of Verbeek and center Joe Nieuwendyk
(acquired midway through 1995-96) makes it more difficult for
defenses to zero in on Modano--forget it.
Tailor-Made: New coach Tom Renney got his players' attention
when he announced that beer was banned on team charter flights
as part of his program to return Vancouver to prominence. A
former Canadian Olympic coach, Renney has a knack for
salesmanship. From 1980 to '83 he ran the Cuff 'N' Collar
menswear store in Trail, B.C.
Stand Pat: Despite having a ho-hum defense and being threadbare
at center, general manager Pat Quinn did little in the
off-season to improve the club. The Canucks lost free-agent
center Cliff Ronning, who signed for $1.2 million with the
Coyotes--almost $300,000 more than Vancouver was offering.
The Rocket Returns: Right wing Pavel Bure, a two-time 60-goal
scorer who played in only 15 games last season after undergoing
reconstructive knee surgery, is back at full strength.
"Sometimes when you're playing you complain there are too many
games or you're too tired," says Bure, a.k.a. the Russian
Rocket. "But when I had to practice alone for six months, I
appreciated how exciting it is to go on the ice with 18,000
people cheering for you."
MIGHTY DUCKS OF ANAHEIM
Kariya Question: Left wing Paul Kariya, who scored 50 goals in
his sophomore season last year, missed all eight exhibition
games because of a groin muscle strain. He hopes to be fit
enough to start the regular season, but Anaheim won't rush him.
If Kariya aggravates the injury and misses a prolonged stretch,
the Ducks will be dead.
Marriage Can Be a Kick: During right wing Temmu Selanne's
two-day bachelor party in Helsinki last summer, friends
blindfolded him, plugged his ears with cotton and surprised him
by placing him on a soccer pitch in front of 10,000 fans who had
come to see a professional game. (The Finnish soccer federation
was in on the gag.) Selanne even played and hit the post on one
shot. "The joke in Finland is, If you can survive the stag, the
marriage is nothing," says Selanne.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Don't Give Up Your Night Job: As an NHL coach, Mike Keenan's
record stands up to almost anyone's. But as a general
manager....The Blues are older, slower and less talented than
when Keenan took the coach-G.M. job two years ago. He also was
unable to re-sign free-agent center Wayne Gretzky, who, in
effect, was leased for a few months last season at a heavy
price: three prospects, a first-round draft pick and a
Hull of the Sinking Ship: Right wing Brett Hull, who has more
opinions than the guests on Crossfire, blamed Keenan for
Gretzky's departure and accused Iron Mike of dismantling the
franchise. "With the people we've lost, how many games can we
win?" Hull wondered. Keenan has tried to trade Hull as well, but
he can't find a taker because of his $3.8 million salary.
Meanwhile, Hull says he is through sniping--off the ice anyway.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Maple Leafs Not Forever: Toronto will miss the playoffs,
continuing a downward spiral that took them from conference
finalists in 1992-93 and '93-94 to first-round losers the past
two springs. The Leafs have a new coach in Mike Murphy, but they
are short on talent after dumping high-salaried players like
Dave Andreychuk, Dave Gagner and Mike Gartner as a cost-cutting
World Cup Wonders: Center Mats Sundin added 10 pounds and came
to training camp a robust 225 after a strong World Cup
performance for Sweden. Another World Cup surprise was newcomer
Sergei Berezin, a stocky Russian winger who scored 49 goals in
45 games in Germany last season.
The Line Forms to the Left: If you want some privacy in
Edmonton, Northlands Coliseum is no longer the place to go. The
Oilers' major marketing push has more than doubled their
season-ticket base to 13,000, thus qualifying the team for the
NHL's Canadian Assistance Program, which provides financial aid
to small-market teams in Canada that reach certain attendance
High on Lowe: Former Oilers defenseman Kevin Lowe left the
Rangers as a free agent and is returning to the scene of his
prime. He should be a tremendous influence on a team heavily
dependent on youth.
Going Down: The Flames will hit bottom before they get better.
Last year they were good enough to make the playoffs, but now
they are without forward Gary Roberts (retired) and defenseman
Phil Housley (traded late last season) and forward Michael
Nylander (left through free agency), who combined for 55 goals
The Newcomers: Jarome Iginla eventually will develop into a top
power forward, but a player who will make a more immediate
impact is 24-year-old Jonas Hoglund, who was a 32-goal scorer in
the Swedish Elite League last year.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Housecleaning: After going 20-55-7 last season, the Sharks
adjusted their attitude by hiring two hard-nosed and fiery
former players--Al Sims and Wayne Cashman--as coach and
assistant, respectively. They also imported veterans with good
on-ice credentials but poor medical records: Defenseman Al
Iafrate hasn't played since 1993-94 because of chronically sore
knees; right wing Tony Granato missed the last 32 games of
1995-96 after undergoing brain surgery following a crash into
the boards; center Bernie Nicholls missed 22 games last season
because of a lacerated spleen; and defenseman Marty McSorley
will miss the first two months of '96-97 because of hip surgery.
The Koz: Viktor Kozlov, who's still hung up on trying to make
the pretty play instead of the correct one, was a major
disappointment last year when he scored just six goals in 62
games. However, he is only 21 and is loaded with talent.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Serious Hockey: If you don't have a good club or a marquee
player to market, you need a slogan. The Gretzky-less Kings say
they play "Serious Hockey"--a slam at alleged Disney quackery in
Serious Setbacks: Rob Blake is an elite defenseman--when he's
not injured. After playing just 30 games combined the past two
seasons because of various ailments, he suffered an infected
elbow during the World Cup and is not expected back for a couple
of weeks. Aki Berg and Mattias Norstrom are promising
defensemen, but without Blake the Kings lack presence at the
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Death Trap: Coach Jacques Lemaire isn't abandoning the
neutral-zone trap, but he is reemphasizing its counterattacking
possibilities, which carried New Jersey to the 1995 Stanley Cup.
"I'm trying to change their minds," Lemaire says of his players,
whose attitude toward the trap soured last season. "I don't hate
offense. I love offense. But I'm not here to make a show. If I
make a show and lose, I lose my job."
The Thick Blue Line: The Devils' defensemen--captain Scott
Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Lyle Odelein, Shawn Chambers, Ken
Daneyko and Jason Smith--are as good as any in the NHL. Lemaire
has to give them, especially Niedermayer, more freedom. But will
he? He also must mend fences with Stevens, who took it
personally when Lemaire, after a loss to the Ottawa Senators on
the season's last day killed New Jersey's playoff chances, said
the Devils "lacked leadership." In fact, New Jersey was the
first Cup defender to miss the postseason in 25 years.
The Assistant: Robbie Ftorek is the Devils' best off-season
acquisition, having moved from New Jersey's farm club in Albany
to serve as a buffer between the exigent Lemaire and his
players. Ftorek takes over the role that Larry Robinson, now the
Kings' coach, played for the Devils in 1994-95.
Big E: Center Eric Lindros showed he wasn't ready to carry a
team to the Stanley Cup last spring, and he didn't enhance his
stature as the Next One with his spotty play for Canada in the
World Cup in September. Lindros can't figure out when he should
try to hit and when he should try to score, when to play with
discipline and when to go ballistic. General manager Bob Clarke
and coach Terry Murray are trying to define his role explicitly.
Three-Year Hex: Some general managers say the Flyers won't win a
Stanley Cup with Ron Hextall in goal; Clarke bet $7 million that
they will. In August the 32-year-old Hextall signed a three-year
deal with a no-trade clause, which marries the Flyers' chances
to his fierce style.
The Trade: In '95-96 the Legion of Doom line--Lindros, John
LeClair and Mikael Renberg--scored 43% of Philly's goals even
though Renberg missed 28 of the final 31 games because of an
abdominal strain. But Clarke doesn't think he can win a Cup
without a better second line, so look for him to deal for a
tough winger who can score.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The Greatest Sideshow on Earth: Gretz and Mess. Mess and Gretz.
With Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier (page 54) together again,
the circus will never leave Madison Square Garden. Gretzky fills
the Rangers' pressing need for a No. 2 center, a role that
should suit him as long as he gets quality power-play time.
Caught in the Trap: Coach Colin Campbell will trap with his
third and fourth lines, a switch from the attacking style the
Rangers have used since 1993-94. Third-liner Niklas Sundstrom is
a disciplined defensive center who can make the trap work.
Crazy for Leetch: Defenseman Brian Leetch--whose teammates,
Campbell says, go "gaggly-goo" just watching him play--is primed
to win another Norris Trophy.
The Defense Never Rests: Sooner or later Vezina Trophy-winning
goalie Jim Carey is going to stop a puck in the playoffs, in
which he has performed miserably the past two years. When he
does, look out. Washington's defensemen are first-rate. Mark
Tinordi, who usually plays against the opponent's best forward,
never has received the praise he deserves. If young Sergei
Gonchar and Brendan Witt stay together as a tandem, they will be
one of the best pairs in the league within three years. Steady
Calle Johansson and Sylvain Cote and the much-traveled Phil
Housley complete the Big Six. The Caps' depth will allow general
manager David Poile to deal for the scorer Washington has long
Peter the Great: Forward Peter Bondra led the NHL in goals in
the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season and scored 52 last year.
He's the only player who had two four-goal games and two natural
hat tricks in 1995-96.
At Least Something in Washington Works: No one likes playing the
Capitals at USAir Arena because 1) no team works harder than the
Caps and 2) the rink is a mausoleum. Of course, the Capitals
must expend all that energy because, except for Bondra, they are
painful to watch in the attacking zone.
No Names, but Big Games: If you're one of those who think the
Panthers were simply an anonymous trap-playing team that rode
effort and a gimmick to the Stanley Cup finals, then wake up and
smell the rat droppings. Florida has at least four
players--defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Rhett Warrener, winger
Radek Dvorak and center Rob Niedermayer--who have just become or
will soon become stars. There is talent in Miami, especially on
The Coach: In a city with high-profile coaches Jimmy Johnson and
Pat Riley, the Panthers' Doug MacLean faces as much pressure as
anyone. He must guard against a Stanley Cup finals hangover and
keep blending in new talent without destroying team chemistry,
while still winning. "You can't let how well we did last year
interrupt the building of the franchise," MacLean says.
Miami Mice: In an effort to put an end to rat throwing in Miami,
the NHL has enacted a rule requiring that a penalty be assessed
against a team whose fans throw objects on the ice. (Hats for a
hat trick are still league-approved.) Unless the Pied Piper of
Hamelin is the referee, we don't like the NHL's chances.
He's Back! Mario Lemieux, who led the NHL with 161 points last
season, says 1996-97 will probably be his final year--but don't
hold him to it. Despite his bouts with Hodgkin's disease and a
bad back, he remains the game's best player.
Mario Jr.: Jaromir Jagr is a one-on-one wizard who is very
strong on his skates. The amazing thing isn't Jagr's numbers--he
finished second to Lemieux last season with 149 points, a record
for a right wing--but the fact that he and Lemieux play on
Defenseless: The Penguins traded for 30-year-old Kevin Hatcher,
whose career was stagnating in Dallas, but Pittsburgh is at
least another tough, mobile defenseman away from blue line
respectability. To land one, general manager Craig Patrick is
using center Bryan Smolinski as bait.
The Trade: In August the Canadiens repatriated right wing
Stephane Richer from the Devils in exchange for defenseman Lyle
Odelein. Good luck. Richer scored 50 goals twice for Montreal,
but he was too fragile psychologically to handle the pressure of
playing in his home province, and he sought the help of at least
three astrologers. Then in New Jersey he chafed when he was used
on a checking line and kept off the power-play unit. But if
Richer scores 30 goals, the trade will be justified.
Looking for D: General manager Rejean Houle continues to search
for tough players and a leftside defenseman. The Canadiens will
open the season with three blueliners--David Wilkie, Rory
Fitzpatrick and Craig Rivet--who have played a combined 91 NHL
Breakout Player: Second-year center Saku Koivu is smart,
unselfish and clever. If coach Mario Tremblay uses him on the
second line--talented but fainthearted captain Pierre Turgeon
seems ticketed for the third line--Koivu could be a point-a-game
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Florida's Finest: While the Panthers' John Vanbiesbrouck was the
better known of the Sunshine State's goalies, the Lightning's
Daren Puppa had the better regular season, with 29 wins, a 2.46
goals-against average and a .918 save percentage, which was .014
higher than the Beezer's.
Who's the Boss Now? Right wing Alexander Selivanov, who led
Tampa Bay with 31 goals last season, married general manager
Phil Esposito's daughter Carrie last month. Esposito, who played
for Canada in the historic 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet
Union, took the nuptials in stride. "Twenty years ago I would
have said, No way is my daughter marrying a Russian," Esposito
says. "But times have changed, and he's a good kid."
Marriage seems to agree with Selivanov, who has a reputation for
laziness. He scolded veteran center John Cullen for having
skipped a weight-training session during the preseason.
Selivanov is also playing with more gumption; in a preseason
game he retaliated against Florida's Ed Jovanovski after
Jovanovski leveled him with a check. "Must show that I take no
crap," Selivanov said afterward.
The Streak: The NHL's longest string of postseason
appearances--the Bruins' 29 years--will probably end. Right wing
Cam Neely has retired because of his injured right hip, goalie
Bill Ranford is angry because he lost his salary-arbitration
case, center Adam Oates doesn't have anyone to pass to, and
redoubtable defenseman Raymond Bourque can't carry Boston by
himself. Bourque, who will be 36 in December, should break John
Bucyk's Bruins scoring record in mid-November. It will be one of
the few red-letter dates on the Boston calendar.
Kasper the Friendly Coach: Steve Kasper has added an element to
Boston's game plan: the smile. Kasper was assailed by Bruins
fans for what they perceived as his sullen personality; now he
says he wants to come across differently. "I don't want them to
think I'm this guy who has no fun," Kasper says.
Slim Pickings: After Bourque and Don Sweeney, Boston's best
defenseman is 19-year-old Kyle McLaren. Other than Oates and
Rick Tocchet, Boston has no proven goal scorer. The Bruins have
added grinders Jeff Odgers, Trent McCleary and Troy Mallette,
but the NHL's least-penalized team still isn't very gritty.
Let's Make a Deal: Forward Brendan Shanahan has resigned his
captaincy and asked to be traded. General manager Jim
Rutherford doesn't have much choice but to accommodate Shanahan,
so Hartford's success will depend on Rutherford's deal-making
skill. If he gets one or two impact forwards and a prospect for
Shanahan, the Whalers will be O.K. If not, avert your eyes.
Shanahan is a heart-and-soul player, but his heart was never in
Hartford after his wrenching trade from the St. Louis Blues in
The Talent: Hartford has some decent players, including a
defense of Jeff Brown, Glen Wesley, Adam Burt and Gerald Diduck,
speedy sniper Geoff Sanderson and goalie Sean Burke. This will
be a telling year for young centers Andrei Nikolishin and Jeff
O'Neill, who could be on their way to stardom or to being
disparaged as overrated prospects.
Slapshot Lives! The Sabres might not be good, but they are bad.
With Matthew Barnaby, Brad May and Rob Ray, they're ready to
rumble anytime. Buffalo, which led the NHL in penalties last
season, even inspired a new rule: The so-called Ray Rule
prohibits a player from pulling off his jersey during a fight.
Ray's striptease act made it difficult for opponents to get a
grip on him in a scuffle. "I've been working on it," Ray says of
finding a way around the rule. "The trick is to get a sweater
that leaves me enough room to keep punching even when the other
guy grabs hold of it."
The Building: The Sabres have moved from the creaky Aud to the
Marine Midland Arena, which seats 18,500 and has 1990s (not
1890s) amenities. If the building does its revenue-producing
job, eventually Buffalo will get into the black and be
competitive. Until then the Sabres will continue to hope they
get lucky in the draft.
Two-Man Team: You must give fans premium players if you sell
seats at premium prices. The Sabres have two such performers:
goalie Dominik Hasek and center Pat LaFontaine. LaFontaine,
however, with a big contract ($4 million a year) and no quality
wingers to play with, could be traded by Christmas.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Loading Up: In two years the Islanders will be a playoff team
because they've stockpiled talented young players such as
goaltender Eric Fichaud, defensemen Bryan McCabe, Bryan Berard
and Kenny Jonsson, and forwards Todd Bertuzzi, Travis Green and
Ziggy Palffy. (Green was bogged down in a contract dispute as SI
went to press.)
Looking for an HMO: After eight Islanders sustained concussions
last season, general manager Mike Milbury replaced the entire
training and medical staffs.
Idiot-Proof: This year the Islanders will occasionally wear a
third jersey, which features the Long Island emblem they had
worn until last season. The plan is to deep-six the egregious
fisherman logo next season and return to the former logo.
"That's good," one player said. "We looked like idiots."
Pro Hockey Comes to Ottawa: At last. The Senators won't be good,
but general manager Pierre Gauthier, who was the Mighty Ducks'
assistant general manager until Ottawa hired him in December
1995, is bringing professionalism to this sad-sack organization
that finished in last place in its four years in the league. He
has a solid coach in Jacques Martin and good assistant coaches
in Craig Ramsay and Perry Pearn.
Daigle Dog? When he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Senators in
1993, he was Alexandre the Great. Last season a reporter in
Toronto dubbed him Alexandre Dog. But the disappointing Daigle,
a center, reported to camp in superb shape and showed no scars
from the abuse. He is talented enough to finally have a breakout
Redden Ready: If Ottawa doesn't give him too much responsibility
too soon, rookie defenseman Wade Redden should be ready to take
over this team in three years, about the time young star
forwards Alexei Yashin and Daniel Alfredsson reach their primes.
AVALANCHE OVER DEVILS