Inside The NHL

January 29, 2001

Punch Line
After Mario Lemieux got roughed up, the Penguins toughened up

When you're looking for respect in the NHL, it's not enough to
send out the two most dominant offensive players in the game.
Having Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr is all well and good, but
in the words of Penguins general manager Craig Patrick, "We also
needed the element that makes teams know their place around us
and know they can't take liberties."

In plain speak that means having a few guys who like to knock
opponents around, and over a three-day span last week Patrick got
the element he wanted. In a bold series of moves that didn't cost
Pittsburgh much, he acquired 6'3", 230-pound checking wing Kevin
Stevens from the Flyers, promoted rock-hard 6'2", 215-pound
winger Billy Tibbetts from the AHL (185 penalty minutes in 38
games) and traded for a pair of gargantuan goons, the Wild's
6'8", 255-pound Steve McKenna and the Blue Jackets' 6'5",
235-pound Krzysztof Oliwa. (Oliwa will be out until late next
month with a broken right arm.)

While Tibbetts and McKenna have been getting limited ice time,
Stevens, playing alongside Jagr and Lemieux, has been barreling
into people. "It certainly helps me feel safer," says Lemieux of
the roster overhaul. "Teams have to know that if they're going to
be physical, we'll address it."

For the past several seasons the Penguins had been long on skill
and short on strength, but only after seeing opponents rough up
Lemieux did Patrick rectify this shortcoming. On Jan. 9, 6'7",
240-pound Bruin Hal Gill tangled with Lemieux away from the puck.
Three days later the Islanders' 6'9", 255-pound Zdeno Chara
rapped Lemieux on the noggin with his stick. "Some panic set in,"
says a Penguins executive. "We didn't have anybody to stand up to
guys like that."

Before the roster moves Pittsburgh's only gritty operative was
feisty Matthew Barnaby, but at 6-feet, 189 pounds he isn't an NHL
heavyweight. Now Barnaby skates on the fourth line with McKenna
and Tibbetts, and their presence on the bench can sometimes be
protection enough. Says Coyotes G.M. Bobby Smith, "Teams know
that those guys can come over the boards and make themselves felt
pretty quickly."

On Jan. 15, two shifts into his Pittsburgh career, McKenna threw
down his sack-sized gloves and punched out Mighty Ducks
mouth-smasher Kevin Sawyer. The Penguins on the bench rose and
cheered. "I don't necessarily want to hurt anybody," McKenna
said. "The idea is just to let them know I'm here, and to make
sure they respect us."

Dallas Youth Movement?
They're Not Getting Younger

The Stars' Ken Hitchcock, coach of a talented but aging club that
won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and reached the finals last year,
began the season with two goals: "We want to compete on the same
high level," he said, "but we also need to develop young players.
We don't want to be a team that's good for a couple of years and
then crashes and burns."

The Dallas roster is sprinkled with young players, but they've
made little impact. Aside from second-year left wing Brenden
Morrow, 22, who was fifth on the Stars in goals, with 11 through
last Saturday, and Brad Lukowich, 24, who was playing regularly
as the fifth defenseman, no Dallas player under 25 had more than
seven points or averaged as much as 10 minutes of ice time. "It's
hard for young players to get time," says center Joe Nieuwendyk,
34. "We have a strong group of veterans who like to play."

Hitchcock can't afford to rest those veterans if it means risking
victories. Despite an excellent 27-14-4-1 record, the Stars were
tied with the Sharks atop the Pacific Division through Saturday
and will likely need to win the division to have a chance of
hosting a playoff round. "They look the same as the team we
played in the [1999] finals," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said about
the Stars recently. "They're still all about their older core and
their goalie [35-year-old Ed Belfour]."

That makeup has kept Dallas playing at the level that Hitchcock
wants. As for the other part of the plan, he says, "We still look
at this as a year for development. It's just that not all the
young guys have adapted as quickly as we had hoped."

Coaches' Poll
One Game, One Goalie: Brodeur

Devils' netminder Martin Brodeur received only 97,000 votes in
the recently completed All-Star balloting, nearly 80,000 fewer
than Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy and less than half the total of
the Sabres' Dominik Hasek. Yet even as fans were selecting Roy
and Hasek to start for the North American and World teams,
respectively, Brodeur was winning the support of a more educated
electorate. SI asked the NHL's head coaches (who were granted
anonymity in return for honest answers), "Which goalie would you
want in the net for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals?" and seven
of 25 respondents chose Brodeur. Hasek and Roy netted six votes
apiece; the other votes were scattered among four recipients.

"I like the way Brodeur accepts a challenge and makes big saves
at the right time," said an Eastern Conference coach. Brodeur was
also praised for his ability to "handle the puck better than any
other goalie."

While those who supported Roy rested their case largely on his
NHL-record 121 career playoff wins, no one who picked Hasek
seemed bothered that he hasn't won a Cup, as both Roy (three) and
Brodeur (two) have done. "When Hasek's at his best, there's no
question he's the one you'd want," said one coach.

The steady Brodeur, however, received a compliment that may
explain why coaches covet him but fans overlook him next to the
acrobatic Hasek and the demonstrative Roy. "He's just so solid,"
a Brodeur supporter said.

Expansion Teams' Success
Sticking to a Simple Plan

When Doug Risebrough, general manager of the expansion Wild, was
casting about for advice on building a team last year, one of the
men he consulted was Panthers G.M. Bill Torrey, who presided over
Florida's record-setting 83-point expansion season in 1993-94.
Advised Torrey, "Assess what's available, develop a philosophy
and stick with it."

It's no accident that Risebrough and his counterpart on the
first-year Blue Jackets, Doug MacLean, adopted philosophies
similar to Torrey's and were quite successful in putting together
their teams. Neither club appears to be playoff-bound, but both
have beaten a few Stanley Cup contenders and run off short
winning streaks. "We both learned from watching what previous
expansion teams did," said MacLean after Columbus (14-26-4-3
through Saturday) split a home-and-home series against Minnesota
(16-21-8-2) last week. "There were some things we knew we had to
do." Here are four of them.

--Get goaltending skill and depth. The Blue Jackets wisely signed
veteran free agent Ron Tugnutt last summer, even though they had
already acquired promising Marc Denis, 23, from the Avalanche.
The Wild traded for talented Stars backup Manny Fernandez (.917
save percentage) and then selected Jamie MacLennan, a former No.
1 goalie for the Blues, in the expansion draft.

--Assemble a blend of experience and youth. Minnesota plays
three rookies, including dynamic 18-year-old left wing Marian
Gaborik, but is anchored by established forwards Scott Pellerin
and Jim Dowd. Columbus also sends out three Calder Trophy
candidates, but the Blue Jackets have been led by seasoned
wingers Geoff Sanderson and Steve Heinze.

--Acquire veteran players from Europe. Columbus relies on the
playmaking of 29-year-old Norwegian center Espen Knutsen and on
the two-way effectiveness of 25-year-old wing David Vyborny from
the Czech Republic. Minnesota gets steady play on the back line
from 32-year-old Slovakian Lubomir Sekeras and 25-year-old Czech
Ladislav Benysek.

--Hire a veteran coach who believes in hands-on teaching. The
Blue Jackets' Dave King was a prominent coach in the Canadian
national team program for nine years. The Wild's Jacques Lemaire
implemented the trapping style that the Devils thrived on in the
mid-1990s.

Naturally, executing the plan isn't as simple as devising it,
and MacLean and Risebrough say they've been zonked by the
complexities that running their teams involves. That may explain
why when Torrey was asked what he would do if he were given
control of an expansion team today, he replied, "Find a
psychiatrist."

For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis
from Michael Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to cnnsi.com/hockey.

COLOR PHOTO: GENE J. PUSKAR/AP As Sawyer found out, the 6'8" McKenna is a tower of power when it comes to fisticuffs. COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO

WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?

MARK MESSIER
RANGERS C
New York's vocal captain turned 40 last week, and through Sunday
he was fourth alltime with 1,756 points. He'd had 42 of them
this season but hadn't rallied mediocre New York into postseason
contention.

OR

RON FRANCIS
HURRICANES C
Carolina's quiet captain turns 38 in March, and he recently
became the NHL's fifth-leading career scorer (1,597 points). He
has a team-high 38 points this year and has led mediocre
Carolina into postseason contention.

The Verdict: Francis may have more left in his legs than Messier
does, but we'll still take Mess, who hits as well as scores.

Consistently INCONSISTENT

While some players (like Mats Sundin, above) start the season
with a sizzle and finish with a fizzle, others do the opposite.
Here are five goal scorers who, over the last five seasons, fit
each category.

BEFORE All-Star Game AFTER All-Star Game
Fast Starters Goals per Game Goals per Game

Luc Robitaille, Kings 0.46 0.31
Brian Savage, Canadiens 0.40 0.27
Mark Messier, Rangers 0.36 0.24
Mats Sundin, Maple Leafs 0.46 0.35
Bill Guerin, Bruins 0.42 0.31

Fast finishers

Martin Gelinas, Hurricanes 0.21 0.37
Teemu Selanne, Mighty Ducks 0.53 0.65
Mariusz Czerkawski, Islanders 0.27 0.39
Pierre Turgeon, Blues 0.37 0.48
Todd Bertuzzi, Canucks 0.21 0.31

--David Sabino

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)