Missing the Boat
The league should reconsider its stance on revamping the schedule
At the NHL's Board of Governors meeting in Boca Raton, Fla.,
last week, the notion of adopting a schedule comprised
exclusively of intraconference games, which would intensify
rivalries and cut travel time and expense, was swiftly
dismissed, though general managers had been informally talking
about the concept for weeks. "The board's view was there's no
point in discussing the elimination of interconference games,"
says commissioner Gary Bettman. "It's really a nonissue."
That's unfortunate, because while an intra-conference-only
schedule indeed would be too severe a change, further discussion
could have led to a worthwhile compromise: a predominantly
intraconference schedule in which each team would play only 10
games outside its conference each season.
Currently a team's 82 games include five or six matches against
each divisional rival, four games against each of the other
teams in its conference and one or two matches against each
interconference foe. Our suggestion, based loosely on major
league baseball's model, would be to play each divisional rival
eight times, keep the other intraconference matchups at four
apiece and play two games against each team in a division of the
other conference. (That division would change yearly.)
This plan would foster rivalries, which is what those who
champion more intraconference play--among them general managers
Al Coates of the Flames, Lou Lamoriello of the Devils and Jim
Rutherford of the Hurricanes --want most. "We desperately need
to reestablish rivalries," says Lamoriello. "I'd like to play
the Rangers eight times a year, and Montreal and Toronto should
also meet on a more regular basis."
One of the main objections to intraconference-only play is that
it would deprive fans of a team in one conference from seeing
star players in the other. That logic doesn't hold up, because
with Wayne Gretzky retired, no star, not even the Penguins'
dynamic Jaromir Jagr, seems to draw fans. This was underscored
in October when the Mighty Ducks visited New Jersey, Tampa Bay,
Florida and Washington. The presence of Anaheim's high-scoring
stars Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne had little or no effect on
attendance at those games: The arenas in each of those cities
were, on average, only 62% full. "Hockey isn't a sport in which
people come to see individual players," says Kariya. "They come
because there's a big rivalry, like when L.A. visits Anaheim."
The handful of interconference games in our proposal also
ensures that teams with wide fan bases, such as the Canadiens
and the Rangers, would visit every NHL city once over a
three-season span. Besides saving significant travel time and
expense, the plan might encourage the NHL to shorten its endless
regular season, which goes on for nearly 6 1/2 months.
If only the Board of Governors had not summarily dismissed talk
of more intraconference play, a significant improvement in
scheduling might have been achieved.
And to All a Good Night
Sadly, Flyers coach Roger Neilson announced last week that he
has bone marrow cancer and must undergo chemotherapy. Were SI an
omnipotent Santa we would give Neilson, who plans to continue
coaching even as he receives treatment, a boundless supply of
strength and a return to good health. We would also parcel out
some less vital presents to others around the NHL, including:
--To Kevin Constantine, the workaholic, defensive-oriented coach
who was fired by the Penguins last week and replaced by the more
wide-open-minded Herb Brooks: a new coaching job in which he
holds fewer team meetings and analyzes less videotape, and the
players still listen to him.
--To general managers of cash-poor Canadian clubs: spots in the
contestant's chair of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
--To NHL fans: a quick recovery leading to a final run of
acrobatic goaltending by the Sabres' inimitable Dominik Hasek,
who is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury and who plans
to retire after this season.
--To Panthers right wing Scott Mellanby, who recently killed a
mouse in the Florida dressing room, four years after he had
slain a rat in Miami Arena and inspired the infamous Rat Craze
in which fans threw plastic rodents onto the ice: flute lessons
from the Pied Piper of Hamlin.
--To goalies facing Blues defenseman Al MacInnis, who this
season has injured Jocelyn Thibault of the Blackhawks (broken
left ring finger) and Chris Osgood of the Red Wings (broken
right hand) with his powerful slap shot: full-body armor.
--To Wayne Gretzky, whose holiday season will be uninterrupted
by games for the first time in more than 30 years: peace, quiet
and a sense of satisfaction.
--To Senators center Alexei Yashin, who has refused to play this
season because he wants the final year of his contract
renegotiated, exactly what he has given the Ottawa fans: nothing.
Seeing Is Believing
The NHL made the welcome announcement last week that it will
employ two on-ice referees in all games next season. (This year
about 60% of regular-season games are officiated by two refs.)
No matter how many whistle-blowers the league sends out,
however, instances of lousy judgment will still arise. Consider
the work of referees Rob Schick and Mike Leggo late in the third
period of a tie game between the Oilers and the Rangers at
Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8.
Edmonton wing Alex Selivanov was driving toward the New York net
and a probable collision with Rangers goalie Mike Richter when he
was cross-checked in the head by defenseman Mathieu Schneider.
The reeling Selivanov crashed into Richter and then the goal
While Selivanov was lying supine, covering his face, Richter
punched Selivanov in his upper body about a half-dozen times with
his blocking glove, while Selivanov could offer no defense. Both
refs saw this, yet Richter received only a two-minute roughing
penalty, an indefensibly lenient decision neither Shick nor Leggo
was permitted to explain, because league rules prohibit officials
from commenting to the media about specific calls. Richter should
have received a game misconduct, a call so obvious only one
sensible referee needed to see it.
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
Boston signed the 36-year-old to a one-year, $1.2 million
free-agent contract last summer, and through Sunday his
team-best 15 goals put Andreychuk on pace to surpass 40 for the
first time since he tallied 53 goals in the 1993-94 season.
MAPLE LEAFS F
After an arbitrator awarded the 30-year-old a $2.8 million
salary last summer, Boston walked away from him, making
Khristich a free agent. Toronto gave him a four-year, $10.35
million deal in October, and he had seven goals and 14 points in
The Verdict: Andreychuk provides more bang for the buck, but
Khristich is more versatile. It's not our money, so we'll take