In 1997 Peter Karmanos, owner of the Hartford Whalers, announced
his intention to move his NHL team, preferably to Columbus, Ohio.
He was so intent on taking the Whalers to Columbus that he
excitedly talked up the town to the players. "He told us, 'Don't
worry, we're going to Columbus. It's an awesome city,'" remembers
wing Kevin Dineen.
As it turned out, the Ohio city's unwillingness to build a new
arena for Karmanos persuaded him to move his team instead to
Carolina. Now Columbus has a new, privately funded arena and an
expansion team, not to mention Dineen. How "awesome" he will feel
in March after six months of thrice-weekly shellackings remains
to be seen. "It's going to be tough," says general manager Doug
At least Columbus has MacLean, who knows a thing or two about
coaxing wins from a new team. In 1995-96 he coached the Panthers
to the Stanley Cup finals in their third year of existence. One
lesson MacLean learned is that a good goalie can keep a team in a
game. To that end he signed 32-year-old unrestricted free agent
Ron Tugnutt, who last season led the Penguins to a first-round
upset of the Capitals, and acquired highly regarded 23-year-old
Marc Denis. He also went after "character people," vets like
Dineen and forward Geoff Sanderson.
While character might give you intangibles, it doesn't
necessarily give you goals. Dineen scored 35 in 1992-93,
Sanderson had 41 in '93-94 and wing Steve Heinze had 26 three
years ago, but none scored more than 13 last year. To address
that possible deficiency, MacLean scoured the ends of the earth
looking for players who could light the lamp. His dragnet yielded
forwards Espen Knutsen, Jan Caloun and David Vyborny, who were
the second-leading scorers in the Swedish, Finnish and Czech
elite leagues, respectively. "It's a gamble to take these guys,"
says MacLean. "They've scored in every league except the one that
Unless MacLean's U.N. goal-scoring force pans out, Blue Jackets
fans' better hope that stellar goaltending leads to a few wins.
Beyond that, they'll have to wait patiently for MacLean to locate
and develop some talent, a task he's embarking on without a
three-year or five-year plan. "I've got a day-to-day plan," says
MacLean. "That's as far ahead as I get."
In the last three seasons no NHL player has fought more often
than 6'5", 235-pound enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa, who has been in 77
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 28 May score more than expected
DEFENSE 28 Backliners are tough but have limited
GOALTENDING 26 Tugnutt and Denis form a solid tandem
SPECIAL TEAMS 27 Kron is an excellent penalty killer
MANAGEMENT 9 MacLean made many good moves