DONE IN THE SUN?
Pavel Bure's injury imperils Florida's chances for a postseason
berth

The second half of the headline in last Thursday's
Sun-Sentinel--BURE HURT; PANTHERS FOLD--referred to the
five-goal lead Florida squandered in the final 22 minutes of a
7-5 loss to the Avalanche. It was the worst collapse by an NHL
team in seven years, but Panthers fans fear that headline might
also presage the rest of the season.

Pavel Bure, who'd scored a hat trick before pain in his right
knee forced him out of the game after two periods with Florida
leading 5-1, underwent arthroscopic surgery last Friday to
repair a torn meniscus, and he's expected to miss the next two
to three weeks. (He had already missed eight games in February
because of pain in that knee.) Without their new star the
Panthers (61 points at week's end) seem certain to lose ground
in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the
Eastern Conference with the Bruins (64), Rangers (62), Canadiens
(59) and Capitals (59).

Not since Mark Messier's 1991 arrival in New York has a team
been as immediately defined by a new player as the Panthers have
by the Russian Rocket, a holdout who was acquired from the
Canucks on Jan. 17 for a package that included defenseman Ed
Jovanovski and a No. 1 draft pick. Since landing in South
Florida, the 27-year-old Bure has transformed a dull franchise
known primarily for rubber rats and the suffocating neutral-zone
trap into one of the most explosive teams in the league.
(Florida had gone 5-4-2 with Bure in the lineup and 17-19-15
without him.)

Despite not having the benefit of an offensive defenseman or a
topflight center to dish him the puck, Bure, using pure speed to
generate opportunities, scored 13 goals in his first 11 games
with the Panthers. That pace, while almost certainly
unsustainable, computes to 97 goals over an 82-game season. In
his brief time in Florida, Bure has had two hat tricks, one
shorthanded goal, the first penalty-shot goal in Panthers
history and five power-play goals, which tied him for the club
lead. "He gives our team a completely different look," says
Florida general manager Brian Murray, who signed Bure to a
five-year, $48 million extension last month. "He's a threat
every time he's on the ice."

His impact has been felt off it, too. Local TV ratings have
jumped some 20%, and any merchandise with Bure's name has
rocketed off the shelves in Miami-area stores. Panthers coach
Terry Murray, Brian's brother, credits Bure's presence with
energizing Florida. "It's an intangible, a buzz you can feel in
the locker room," he says.

So what happens when the guy who brings the buzz goes down with
an injury? "You can get by the first two or three games on
emotion," Terry says, "but the longer a star player is out, the
more it wears down your team."

The Bure buzz may turn to the Florida fizzle. --E.M. Swift

General Managers' Poll
ISLES' PROSPECT IS MOST WANTED

The Islanders may have an unenviable record (19-38-8 through
Sunday) and unenviable fan support (Nassau Coliseum is often
half empty), but they do have something other NHL teams want. We
asked the 27 general managers, "If you could have any player who
is not currently in the league, who would it be?" and of the 22
respondents, five chose Roberto Luongo, New York's 19-year-old
goalie prospect who is playing for Acadie-Bathurst in the Quebec
Major Junior League. Luongo was the highest-drafted goalie ever
when he was selected fourth in 1997, and he reaffirmed his
status by leading Canada to the silver medal in January's World
Junior Championship. "He has demonstrated that he has the
ability to be an elite goalie," says one general manager, "and
goaltending is the most critical position."

Another player who received multiple votes was Czech-born center
Patrik Stefan, who was named three times. Stefan, 18, had 24
points in 19 games for the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL and is
projected as the first player to be taken in the June draft,
even though he missed two months of the season with a
concussion. "He has size, speed, everything," says one G.M. of
the 6'1", 205-pound Stefan.

Many of the other general managers chose European forwards, and
it seems that Henrik and Daniel Sedin (SI, Dec. 21, 1998), the
18-year-old identical twins who are starring for MoDo in
Sweden's Elite League, are both sought after. One voter says
he'd take "Patrick Sedin," while another solved the problem of
differentiating one from the other by answering, "the Sedin
twins."

Then there was the general manager who preferred experience over
youth. He chose a 33-year-old who hasn't played since 1996-97:
Mario Lemieux.

Rob DiMaio's Nose
NEWS OF THE BEAK

Bruins forward Rob DiMaio has the NHL's most spectacular
schnozz. Lumpy and brightly scarred at its bridge, the DiMaio
proboscis possesses an angular inconsistency that would befuddle
a geometrician. The nose has been broken more than a dozen times
in DiMaio's 11-year career because he fearlessly sticks it into
any scrum and, as he points out, "at my height [5'10"], I'm at
elbow level for a lot of guys."

The mishaps have done nothing to inhibit DiMaio's scrappy style,
but residual scar tissue has caused him to have difficulty
breathing. To help alleviate that, last summer he underwent
surgery in which a piece of his skull was grafted into his nose.
This season the 31-year-old DiMaio has broken his honker several
more times. Not long ago DiMaio stood in the Bruins dressing
room and vowed that when he retires, he'll have his nose
repaired once and for all. "I'm going to get it fixed up nice,"
he said. "That'll be the only good thing about not playing
anymore."

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Bure, who had 13 goals in 11 games, made the Panthers one of the NHL's most explosive teams.

BUST AND BARGAIN

RW STEPHANE RICHER
Lightning
1998-99 salary: $2.1 million

At 6'2", 225 pounds, the 32-year-old Richer plays a soft game,
and through Sunday he had only six goals in 44 games.

RW RANDY MCKAY
Devils
1998-99 salary: $1.5 million
At 6'2", 210 pounds, the 32-year-old McKay plays a bruising
game, and he had 14 goals in 54 games.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)