THREE'S A CROWD
Vancouver's brash new G.M., tempestuous coach and meddlesome star
This is an article from the July 6, 1998 issue
Six teams have changed coaches since April, but none of those
moves have caused as much of a stir as the Canucks' hiring of
strong-willed Brian Burke as general manager on June 22. The
arrival of Burke, who spent the past five years as the NHL's
chief disciplinarian, spells trouble for the two-headed regime
of coach Mike Keenan, who had also been Vancouver's de facto
general manager since Pat Quinn was fired last November, and
captain Mark Messier, who strongly influences Keenan's personnel
Last season the fiery Keenan, who replaced Tom Renney behind the
bench after 19 games, followed his well-established form by
creating unease in the locker room. The Canucks made 10 trades
after Feb. 3 and finished a lowly 25-43-14. When Burke took
over, he said he wanted to "stop the waves this organization has
been through." He then declared that his command over Keenan is
absolute, that Messier's role is to just "lace up his skates and
play" and that malcontent star Pavel Bure won't be traded just
because he has requested a deal.
Vancouver needs to improve substantially if it hopes to make a
playoff run, and Burke is expected to engineer some splashy
deals. However, by week's end he and Keenan had not yet had a
meaningful discussion about the team's future. So what happens
when Burke and Keenan dig in their heels in their first
disagreement over a player? Can Burke, Keenan and Messier
coexist? Who will take the fall if Vancouver's woes continue?
Keenan, who won the Cup with the Rangers in '94, was fired as
Blues' G.M. and coach two years later. Then last season he
failed to jump-start the Canucks, as he was hired to do.
ALL OR NOTHING, PLEASE
Last Thursday the NHL's board of governors approved a few rules
changes for next season that it hopes will improve the game. The
goals were moved two feet farther from the end boards and the
crease was made smaller, but the most intriguing change was the
addition of a second referee. The presence of an extra official
will deter cheap hits and is a sound concept overall.
The method of implementation, though, is another matter. Instead
of adding a second ref for all NHL games in 1998-99, the
governors decided to phase in the new system: Two refs will work
perhaps only 20 of the 82 regular-season games for each team.
(No decision has been made for the postseason.) That might be
the league's worst idea since admitting the Hartford Whalers.
The system guarantees inconsistency--the antithesis of good
In going only partway toward a two-referee setup, the NHL brass
is attempting to save money, but it also claims that there's
empirical method to its madness. "This will allow us to compare
apples and apples, and see which system works better," says
commissioner Gary Bettman.
We don't like them apples at all. Officiating games under
anything but uniform conditions is absurd.
A TASTE OF THE FUTURE
In the history of the NHL entry draft, no previous first-round
pick is believed to have spent his moment in the limelight
bragging about home cooking as center Scott Gomez did last
Saturday. Shortly after being selected 27th by the Devils, Gomez
was describing how each summer his family provides the "best
damn homemade tacos" at the Alaska State Fair. "Cilantro,
onions, great pieces of steak--man, you've got to taste 'em!"
Gomez said at the draft in Buffalo. "These are real Mexican
Gomez, 18, has a chance to become the first Hispanic to play in
the NHL. "I take that seriously," he says. "If I make it, maybe
some Mexican kid will see me and say, 'If he can do it, I can do
Though he was born and raised in Anchorage, Gomez never strayed
far from his Latin roots. His father, Carlos, grew up in poverty
in Mexico as one of 10 siblings in a village outside Puerta
Vallarta. Carlos immigrated to the U.S. and moved to Anchorage
during Alaska's 1970s construction boom to take a job as an
ironworker. He met his wife, Dalia, Scott's Colombian-born
mother, at a Hispanic dance. The Gomezes kept Latin traditions
alive in their household. "It was a big part of life," says
Scott. "We went to those dances. We went to Spanish church."
Just 5'10", Gomez was the shortest player among the top 80
picks. He had vaulted into the elite class of prospects after
twice being named Alaska player of the year in high school and
then scoring 124 points in 54 games for the South Surrey Eagles
of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League in 1996-97. Though
an injured left shoulder limited Gomez to 49 points in 45 games
with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League last
season, many scouts think he has the potential to be an NHL star.
"The biggest thing is his ability to make plays," says Nashville
scout Jim Hammett. "Natural talent is at a premium, and he has a
great gift for seeing the whole ice."
Gomez's vision extends beyond the playing surface. Unhappy that
he is not as fluent in Spanish as his parents and two sisters,
he has been taking advanced courses in the language so that he
can reach out to Latino communities wherever he plays. Though
Gomez's ethnicity did not figure in the Devils' decision to
draft him--the Stars, on the other hand, spoke of the strong
Latino presence in the Dallas area in predraft meetings with
Gomez--Carlos thinks his son's ancestry may make hockey fans of
many Hispanics. "If he does well, there will be some excited
fans," Carlos says. "Mexicans follow their own."