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SLAP SHOTS

The Next One

Everybody has an idea about who will be the next great player, the one who makes fans forget about Wayne Gretzky. Forget it. He's irreplaceable even if he doesn't know a good goal from an illegal play.

But you can put the following five players together, and get a nice composite:

Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh, for scoring ability.

Paul Kariya, Anaheim, for passing ability.

Peter Forsberg, Colorado, for hockey sense.

Teemu Selane, Anaheim, for personality.

Pavel Bure, Florida, for speed.

New Teams

Only one this season, Atlanta, the 28th team in the league and just the 22nd to be added since the Original Six.

The GM is Don Waddell, the coach is Curt Fraser, the nickname is the Thrashers, the team plays in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference with Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington. The home arena is the Phillips Arena (brand new) and the marketing angle is Patrik Stefan, a Czech teen-ager who was the No. 1 overall pick in the Entry Draft last June.

Who's da Coach Here?

Chicago: The Blackhawks get their first full season (we think) under Lorne Molleken, who replaced the fired Dirk Graham last season.

Edmonton: The Oilers replace Ron Low with Kevin Lowe (pay attention to the spelling). Kevin was Ron's assistant last season and the first draft pick in Edmonton's history. He also has five Stanley Cup rings as one of Edmonton's premier defensemen in the glory years.

Los Angeles: Andy Murray, who had success as a youth development coach in Canada, replaces the fired Larry Robinson, who took an assistant's job in New Jersey.

New York Islanders: Here's another blast from the past, as Butch Goring replaces Bill Stewart.

Phoenix: Someone named Bob Francis (OK, he's the son of the legendary Emile "The Cat" Francis) replaces the always fired Jim Schoenfeld.

Tampa Bay: Newly hired general manager Rick Dudley (a former Sabres player and coach) fired Jacques Demers and replaced him with Steve Ludzik, a former NHL player who had success with Dudley in the IHL.

Vancouver: Former Colorado coach Marc Crawford begins his first full season after having replaced the fired Mike Keenan.

History Lesson

Our top three picks to get fired last season were Paul Maurice, Carolina; Mike Keenan, Vancouver; and Jim Schoenfeld, Phoenix. We got two out of three and that ain't bad; and we're still not convinced the Hurricanes were right in keeping Maurice.

This year: Maurice (until they get it right); Alain Vigneault, Montreal; Mike Milbury, New York Islanders (he's the GM, but he'll take the blame for another dismal season).

Five Kids We Really Like

Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo -- speed and skill; Marian Hossa, Ottawa -- scary good and more ice now that Alexei Yashin's gone for the moment; Patrik Stefan, Atlanta -- he's a kid, but he's a darned talented kid; David Legwand, Nashville -- their first pick ever signed late last season and should provide an immediate boost to the offense; Roberto Luongo, New York Islanders -- a rookie goalie with Calder Trophy abilities.

Milestones

600 goals -- Detroit's Steve Yzerman needs eight, Dallas' Brett Hull needs 14.

500 goals -- Brian Bellows (still unsigned) needs 15; Pat Verbeek (still unsigned) needs 22.

1,100 assists -- Boston's Ray Bourque needs 17; Vancouver's Mark Messier needs 50.

900 assists -- Yzerman needs nine; Detroit's Larry Murphy needs 20.

1,500 points -- Carolina's Paul Coffey needs 13; teammate Ron Francis needs 14; Yzerman needs 17; Bourque needs 32.

1,000 points -- Former Sabre Pierre Turgeon (St. Louis) needs three; Colorado's Joe Sakic needs 21; Verbeek needs 35; San Jose's Vincent Damphousse needs 71.

1,500 Games -- Detroit's Murphy needs 23; Bourque needs 47.

1,000 Games -- Chicago's Ed Olzcyk needs two; San Jose's Ron Sutter needs six; Ottawa's Kevin Dineen needs eight; New Jersey's Ken Daneyko needs eight; Phoenix's Rick Tocchet needs 10; Buffalo's James Patrick needs 20.

400 goalie wins -- Former Sabre Grant Fuhr (Calgary) needs two.

Five Oldies who called it quits before this season started:

Gretzky, 1,487 games, 2,857 points; Dino Ciccarelli, 1,232 games, 1,200 points; Ron Hextall, 608 games, 296 wins; Dale Hunter, 1,407 games, 1,020 points; Bobby Carpenter, 1,122 games, 718 points.

Oldies Who Are Still Goodies (and still with the same team)

Bourque enters his 21st season, all with the Bruins; Yzerman and New Jersey's Daneyko enter their 17th; Brian Leetch, enters his 13th with the New York Rangers.

How Good Was Gretzky?

Mark Messier, seventh on the all-time goal-scoring list with 610, needs 284 to match Gretzky's 894.

Paul Coffey, second on the all-time assists list with 1,102, needs 861 to match Gretzky's 1,963.

; Messier, fourth on the all-time points list with 1,660, needs 1,197 to match Gretzky's 2,857.
Compiled by JIM KELLEY

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