It's too early to tell who among this year's top rookies will
Remember the rookies who in the last 15 years or so have changed
the face of the league? There was the Penguins' Mario Lemieux,
who had 100 points as a 19-year-old in 1984-85. There was the
Jets' Teemu Selanne, who led the NHL with 76 goals in 1992-93.
Even in lockout-shortened 1994-95, there were the Nordiques'
Peter Forsberg (50 points in 47 games) and the Mighty Ducks' Paul
Kariya (18 goals).
In recent seasons we have seen far less compelling debuts, and
this year's rookie scoring leader will finish with a point total
close to the 47 that Bruins left wing Sergei Samsonov put up en
route to winning the Calder Trophy last year.
Because the race for the Calder is run on uneven ice--players at
such different stages of development as Lightning center Vincent
Lecavalier, 18, and Canucks right wing Bill Muckalt, 24, are
competing for the 1998-99 award--the voting won't tell us much
about who will be the big stars in a few years. Against that
backdrop, we present this year's top rookies, all of whom are
1. Chris Drury, 22, Avalanche. Our choice for the Calder, he was
one point behind teammate Milan Hejduk (45 points) for the
rookie scoring lead through Sunday and has played well
defensively and also taken face-offs. At 5'10" and 180 pounds,
he's also relentlessly scrappy. If he improves even marginally
with age, he'll be a player to build a team around.
2. Brendan Morrison, 23, Devils. Our Calder runner-up is
well-seasoned after playing four years at Michigan and one in
New Jersey's minor league system. Morrison had 43 points in the
Devils' low-powered offense, and though he may never become a
shooting star, he should become one of those well-rounded
forwards who keeps New Jersey in annual Cup contention.
3. Marian Hossa, 20, Senators. Only the fact that he missed 22
games recovering from surgery to his left knee will deprive him
of the Calder. The dynamic Hossa (29 points and a superb +19
rating in 57 games) has played alongside Radek Bonk and Magnus
Arvedson to form the most effective third line in the league.
"Hossa has tremendous defensive instincts," says Ottawa assistant
coach Perry Pearn. "He also has a confidence that will allow him
4. Lecavalier. The smartest thing Tampa Bay's brass has done this
year is to bring Lecavalier along slowly. Fresh out of junior
hockey, he's susceptible to defensive lapses but has shown
glimpses of the awesome offensive skills that will make him the
premier scorer to emerge from this year's group.
5. Muckalt. He's a fast starter who needs to improve his stamina:
He led all rookies in points at the midpoint of the season but
has been stuck on 16 goals since Feb. 23.
6. Jan Hrdina, 23, Penguins. Centering for Jaromir Jagr has
padded his point total (41), but he's a keeper because of his
ability to win face-offs (his 56.8% percentage was by far the
best among rookies with at least 250 draws) and his knack for
winning the battles for the puck along the boards and in the
7. Mark Parrish, 22, Panthers. Parrish, the top goal scorer among
first-year players (22), saw his production slow in the second
half, and he needs to improve his play without the puck. Many
observers believe that Parrish's 20-year-old rookie teammate,
forward Oleg Kvasha (12 goals), will become the better of the
Four-on-Four in OT
IT'S NOT A WORTHY IDEA
Overtime can be a riveting period that ends with a dramatic
victory, but in today's defensive-minded NHL, sudden death more
often is a plodding five minutes that expires limply with the
game still tied. In fact, through Sunday, 75% of the games that
were tied at the end of regulation this season remained
deadlocked after overtime, the same high percentage as last
season. Hence the two-month-old experiment whereby the NHL asked
the American Hockey League to have its teams play overtime with
only four skaters per side, instead of the usual five.
Since the experiment began, 60% of the AHL's overtime games had
ended with a victor, up from 33% when teams skated five-on-five
earlier in the season. Shots on goal had increased from .93 to
1.36 per minute of OT. "There's more room, and it's more
exciting," says Cincinnati Mighty Ducks coach Moe Mantha. "You
put your most skilled players on the ice and open up." The NHL
will review the results over the summer and consider
implementing four-on-four play in its overtime games.
However the AHL's success at spicing up overtime has had less to
do with the four-on-four rule than another change: Both teams are
guaranteed a point in the standings for tying in regulation, and
the club that wins in the extra session earns an additional
point. "This system works because you know you have nothing to
lose," says Kevin McCarthy, coach of the Beast of New Haven. "If
both teams weren't assured a point, playing four-on-four wouldn't
be worth doing--you can still play defensive hockey four-on-four."
In any case the NHL shouldn't think about going to four-on-four.
Even if having two fewer players on the ice enhances the flow of
the match, it artificially changes the game. Four-on-four isn't
as bad as a shootout, but it's still a perversion of the rules.
If the league wants to generate more aggressive play in
overtime, the best thing to do is follow the AHL example and not
penalize a team for an OT loss, but with this twist: To ensure
that clubs wouldn't play cautiously in the third period of
deadlocked games in hopes of sewing up a point, follow the plan
of Oilers general manager Glen Sather. He suggests: "Give no
points for a tie. Play overtime, and if the score is still tied
when time runs out, neither team gets a point. If you win,
you're rewarded; if you don't, you're not."
General Managers' Poll
WHO'S THE BETTER TOP COP?
The job of NHL chief disciplinarian--the uber umpire who reviews
player transgressions and metes out fines and suspensions--isn't
for the thin-skinned. As Brian Burke, who held the position for
five years before stepping down to become the Canucks' general
manager last June, says, "Whatever you do, someone's going to
get mad at you."
Apparently some of the grudges are lasting. When we asked
general managers who they would rather have in the
disciplinarian's chair, Burke or his successor, Colin Campbell,
15 of 16 participants chose Campbell. "We may not always agree
with his opinion," said one general manager of Campbell, "but we
always respect it."
Many voters felt that Campbell's background as an NHL player and
coach gave him a better "feel for the job" than Burke, who
played college and minor league hockey and was a front-office
executive for six years before taking the disciplinarian's job.
"Brian was much more visible," said one voter. "Colin tends to
be in the background more, but then he gets his message across
by his actions." Said another respondent, "Campbell is tougher
and more consistent." At week's end Campbell had suspended 47
players for a total of 146 games, in contrast with the 23 who
were suspended for 64 games under Burke for the '97-98 season.
Several general managers refused to vote and instead expressed
sympathy for both lords of discipline. One front-office type
said that the job was hard enough on a guy without him "losing
that poll of yours," while another felt that the demands of the
position are too heavy to be borne alone. "This job isn't suited
for one person," he said. "We need a committee or something."
WORDS THAT MAKE YOU GROAN
Brian Burke and Colin Campbell have more in common than a line
on their resumes. They're believed to be the only NHL executives
to have suspended a player for something he said. Last week
Campbell banned Sharks defenseman Bryan Marchment for one game
for calling Canucks forward Donald Brashear, who is
African-American, "a big monkey" during an April 3 match. In
doing so, Campbell followed the precedent Burke set last season
when he suspended Capitals forwards Craig Berube and Chris Simon
for hurling insults at black opponents.
Marchment's language was inexcusable. While he says that he
employs monkey to refer to all tough guys--of which Brashear is
certainly one--regardless of their race, Marchment's use of a
word so charged with racist implications reveals him to be
irresponsible or ignorant, or both.
Ruling on language used on-ice isn't a simple task. Harsh and
disrespectful remarks--many of which have ethnic, national or
racial content--are common. Punishing players for their words is
much more difficult than punishing them for their actions
because there's no list of terms and phrases the NHL deems
inappropriate. Campbell knew that by suspending Marchment he was
taking another step onto what could be a slippery slope. Who's
to say what remarks are more offensive than others?
"I'm not comfortable in that position," says Campbell. "I
wrestled with the Marchment suspension a long time. At the end
of the day I felt good about what I did. We like to think words
aren't harmful, but they can be more dangerous than a punch."
Eric Lindros's Injury
WHITHER THE FLYERS?
Since the Flyers were swept by the Red Wings in the 1997 Stanley
Cup finals, they have been dogged by questions: Is their
goaltending good enough? Do they need another scorer? Can they
overcome general manager Bob Clarke's numerous coaching and
personnel changes? Now comes the most sobering interrogative of
all: Can Philadelphia win without Eric Lindros?
At week's end Lindros, the Flyers' captain and best player, was
in a Philadelphia hospital recovering from the collapsed lung he
suffered on April 1 against the Predators. Lindros was at first
unaware of the injury, which is believed to have occurred when
he fell on his stick sometime during the game. By the time the
collapsed lung was diagnosed, 12 hours later, four pints of
blood had seeped into his chest cavity, and he subsequently
underwent surgery to remove a large clot that was preventing the
lung from fully expanding.
Lindros is expected to make a complete recovery, but he's
unlikely to perform in the postseason. Before being sidelined,
he'd been at his fearsome best and was having the most complete
season of his seven-year NHL career. With Lindros in the lineup,
the Flyers had the talent to be among the league's elite;
without him they look like an ordinary team.
When Philly endured a 12-game winless streak earlier this
season, many observers wondered whether the Flyers could win the
Cup even with Lindros. That's a question Philadelphia fans would
love to be pondering now.
BUST AND BARGAIN
Race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot
1998-99 value: $0
The Bruins officially won the berth on April 7, but they've had
it essentially wrapped up since mid-March, providing minimal
suspense in the East for weeks.
Race for the final Western Conference playoff spot
1998-99 value: Priceless
Still too close to call, the spirited battle for this berth is
between the Oilers and the Flames, storied rivals who will play
each other on Saturday.
The Senators not only had the most points (101) in the Eastern
Conference through April 10, but with the 24th-highest payroll
in the NHL, they also are getting the best bang for their buck
(Magnus Arvedson, 20, above, earns $450,000 in '98-99). Here is
a ranking of the 27 clubs based on how much they pay in salary
for each point they have earned this season.
TEAM PAYROLL PAYROLL SEASON POINTS COST PER
RANK POINTS RANK POINT
1. Senators $22,400,000 24 101 2 $221,782.18
2. Predators* $15,000,000 27 63 24 $238,095.24
3. Flames* $19,000,000 26 68 21 $279,411.76
4. Bruins $24,345,000 21 87 10 $279,827.59
5. Penguins $24,800,000 20 86 11 $288,372.09
6. Oilers $21,500,000 25 72 18 $298,611.11
7. Devils $31,500,000 10 (tie) 99 3 $318,181.81
8. Sabres $28,580,000 18 88 9 $324,772.73
9. Maple Leafs $31,500,000 10 (tie) 95 4 $331,578.95
10. Coyotes $29,900,000 17 88 8 $339,772.72
11. Avalanche $35,000,000 7 94 5 $372,340.43
12. Hurricanes $31,000,000 12 82 12 $378,048.78
13. Stars $42,000,000 3 110 1 $381,818.18
14. Canadiens* $27,500,000 19 72 17 $381,944.44
15. Blues $32,500,000 9 81 13 $401,234.57
16. Panthers* $30,000,000 14 (tie) 72 19 $416,666.67
17. Islanders* $23,900,000 22 54 26 $442,592.59
18. Capitals* $30,400,000 13 68 20 $447,058.82
19. Mighty Ducks $36,800,000 6 80 14 $460,000.00
20. Blackhawks* $30,000,000 14 (tie) 64 22 $468,750.00
21. Kings* $30,000,000 14 (tie) 63 23 $476,190.48
22. Sharks $37,800,000 5 79 16 $478,481.01
23. Lightning* $22,800,000 23 45 27 $506,666.67
24. Flyers $46,400,000 2 90 7 $515,555.56
25. Rangers* $40,800,000 4 74 15 $551,351.35
26. Canucks* $32,900,000 8 56 25 $587,500.00
27. Red Wings $58,000,000 1 91 6 $637,362.64
*Would not qualify for playoffs as of April 10.