Inside The NHL

May 13, 2001

Elbowroom
A toothless punishment for Tie Domi proves the league still
tolerates gratuitous violence

When Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi blindsided Devils defenseman
Scott Niedermayer with a vicious elbow to the head in the waning
seconds of Toronto's 3-1 victory over New Jersey in Game 4 of the
Eastern Conference semifinals last Thursday night, Domi did more
damage than coldcocking the Devils' top puck mover. With his ugly
blow Domi overshadowed a thrilling month of hockey at its
postseason best and gave casual fans another reason to turn away
from a sport that seems to revel in gratuitous violence.

The NHL's laughingly light punishment of Domi--he was suspended
for as few as six playoff games to as many as 17 playoff and
regular-season matches, depending on the Leafs' postseason
fortunes--proves the league is continuing to tolerate on-ice
mayhem. When commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Marty McSorley
for one year for a slash to the head of the Canucks' Donald
Brashear on Feb. 21, 2000, he said he was raising the bar on
supplemental discipline, but the Domi decision made a mockery of
Bettman's assertion (as did the fact that Toronto coach Pat
Quinn, who grabbed a photographer around the neck and pushed him
aside as the photographer tried to take pictures of Domi entering
an NHL hearing last Friday, escaped league punishment).

Through a spokesman Bettman refused to discuss the Domi incident
with SI. Colin Campbell, the NHL's chief disciplinarian,
rationalized Domi's suspension by saying in a conference call
that "at least the elbow is part of the body."

In a 1993 playoff game the Capitals' Dale Hunter elbowed and
upended the Islanders' Pierre Turgeon into the boards, leaving
Turgeon with a separated right shoulder; Hunter was banned for 21
games at the start of the ensuing season. Domi's attack on
Niedermayer was even more outrageous. (Niedermayer, who suffered
a concussion and missed Games 5 and 6, said that early in the
series, Domi had threatened to injure him.) Domi has faced
supplemental discipline before. In 1995 he sucker punched Rangers
defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, breaking Samuelsson's jaw. For that
transgression Domi received an eight-game suspension.

Two days after he leveled Niedermayer, Domi appeared remorseful,
especially when he recounted a conversation he'd had with his
eight-year-old son, Max. Said Domi, "I told him, I made a really
big mistake and Daddy's not playing hockey anymore."

The bigger mistake was that the NHL allowed Domi to cast an
appalling shadow over its premier event without assessing a
commensurate penalty.

Felix Potvin's Turnaround
Seems Like Old Times

When Kings goaltender Felix Potvin emerged from the trainer's
room early on Monday morning, an hour after stoning the Avalanche
1-0 in a double overtime victory in Game 6 of their second-round
series, his face was drawn and his voice was a whisper. "I'm
tired," he said before smiling weakly, "but this is a lot of
fun."

Regardless of the outcome of Game 7, which would be played on
Wednesday night in Denver, this series will go down as the one in
which Potvin, 29, resurrected his career. His Game 6 win was his
second consecutive 1-0 shutout. Until Los Angeles, the No. 7 seed
in the West, upset the second-seeded Red Wings in Round 1,
Potvin, a former two-time All-Star with the Maple Leafs, hadn't
won a playoff series in seven years. "I've never lost faith in
myself," he says.

Others have. When the struggling Kings acquired him from the
Canucks on Feb. 15 for future considerations, it marked the third
time Potvin had been traded in two years. He began this season
with Vancouver and was booed so harshly for his poor play that
his wife, Sabrina, couldn't bear to sit in the stands. After he
arrived in L.A., Potvin lifted the Kings into a playoff spot by
going 13-5-5 with a 1.96 goals-against average down the stretch.
In the postseason he raised his game to match the stakes.

L.A., a solid club that has been undermined by shoddy goaltending
for years, acquired Potvin out of desperation. Potvin can become
a restricted free agent this summer, but the Kings can retain his
rights by offering him a 10% raise over the $2.7 million he made
this season. "When we got him, we wanted to see how he played
before deciding whether to retain him," G.M. Dave Taylor said
late in Game 6. Then he grinned and noted the 0-0 score and the
Kings' improbable success. "You can draw your own
conclusions." --Kostya Kennedy

Hasek and Jagr Moving On?
Clubs Can't Afford Their Stars

This postseason might turn out to be the last time fans see
Sabres netminder Dominik Hasek and Penguins wing Jaromir Jagr in
their respective teams' uniforms. Given Buffalo's wealth of
goaltending prospects, the Sabres would seem unlikely to exercise
a one-year, $9.5 million option on the 36-year-old Hasek, who
made $7.5 million this season. Buffalo's prospects include
Hasek's backup, Martin Biron, 23, who had five shutouts as a
rookie in 1999-2000; Mika Noronon, 21, who spent most of the
season with the Sabres' AHL affiliate and was The Hockey News's
minor league prospect of the year in 1999-2000; and Ryan Miller,
20, a sophomore at Michigan State who won the Hobey Baker Award
this season and plans to return to college this fall.

Jagr, 29, has two years left on a contract that will pay him $9.5
million a season, but his future in Pittsburgh is cloudy because
a number of players, including star forwards Alexei Kovalev and
Martin Straka, become restricted free agents this summer. Kovalev
and Straka, both 28, tied for fifth in the league in scoring,
with 95 points. Last week the Penguins' owner and star, Mario
Lemieux, hinted that Jagr, who has won four straight scoring
titles, might be traded, saying, "We have a budget next year that
we have to stick to."

Hasek and Jagr, whose respective performances over the last
several seasons have made them well worth their salaries, will
certainly be in the Hall of Fame one day. Less certain is where
they will play next season.

COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW WALLACE/REUTERS Niedermayer was knocked cold by Domi's unconscionable and unprovoked attack in Game 4. COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/ALLSPORT COLOR PHOTO: C. ANDERSEN/B. BENNETT STUDIOS

whom would you select with the No. 1 Draft Pick

LW Ilja Kovalchuk
SPARTAK
The Central Scouting Service's top-ranked European skater is
praised for his explosiveness and speed. At the World Junior
Championships the 6'2", 202-pounder led Russia with four goals
and two assists.

C Jason Spezza
WINDSOR SPITFIRES
The Central Scouting Service's top-ranked North American skater
is praised for his creativity and savvy. At the World Junior
Championships the 6'2", 214-pounder led Canada with three goals
and two assists.

THE VERDICT: Spezza's steadier and more NHL-ready, but we'd take
the emotional Kovalchuk for his better upside because of his
skating.

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)