Share this article

print logo

SLAP SHOTS!
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW FOR THE 1997-98 SEASON

This is another year of change in the National Hockey League. The players are going to the Olympics, the Hartford Whalers are relocated in North Carolina. Mark Messier is no longer playing on Broadway and Mario Lemieux, perhaps the most talented player ever, is retired.

Some of the old guard -- Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Grant Fuhr and Brett Hull -- may soon follow Lemieux and will be replaced by new kids who are here with more arriving almost daily -- Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Sandis Ozolinsh, Teemu Selanne, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Ziggy Palffy, to name a few.

New coaches are popping up all over and some, notably former Buffalo, New Jersey, Washington and now Phoenix coach Jim Schoenfeld, are facing tremendous pressure to win. New general managers are ubiquitous as well, while perhaps the most famous coach and general manager of the '90s, Mike Keenan, doesn't have a job in the NHL.

There is more change on the horizon. Expansion is coming with four teams in almost as many years droping into places like St. Paul, Minn.; Columbus, Ohio; Atlanta; and Nashville, Tenn. Realignment will be phased in with Toronto being added to the Northeast with traditional and geographic rivals Buffalo, Boston and Montreal.

With all that in mind, here's a look at some of the comings, goings, changes and pressures in the NHL today.

A team past its prime

These guys are still playing, but their winning days are over.

Center: Messier. He's in Vancouver now. The beginning of the end of his world starts there.

Left Wing: Luc Robitaille. He's back in Los Angeles. That's where the end of the hockey world is this season.

Right Wing: Hull. Mr. St. Louis hasn't seen 70 goals since before Alexander Mogilny. He hasn't had a 50-goal season since 1993-94. Call us when you actually win something Brett.

Defense: Paul Coffey. This guy played for three teams last season: Detroit, Hartford and Philadelphia and did nothing for any of them. One of the all-time greats. Of the past.

Defense: Bourque. Sure, the Bruins will milk another year from perhaps the greatest defenseman of our time, but winning is history for him.

Goal: Bill Ranford. Come on. It was 1990 when this guy last turned in an all-world performance (Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP). Since then he's ridden the Bruins to the basement and now he's supposed to save the Washington Capitals? Not a chance.

These guys are now

Center: Forsberg, Colorado. I know this is Lindros' world, but ask yourself: Who wears the Stanley Cup ring?

Left Wing: Kariya, Anaheim. This guy has more talent than Forsberg. If he were a little bigger and played a little more defense, he'd be the No. 1 player in the game.

Right Wing: Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh. No one is going to say Mario who? but this guy is now the best one-on-one player.

Defense: Ozolinsh, Colorado. When the San Jose Sharks traded this player, they thought they would be the better team for it. That's pretty much the way the Flyers felt went they dealt Forsberg to Quebec (now Colorado) as a part of the Lindros package.

Defense: Brian Leetch, New York Rangers. Simply the best offensive defensive in the game.

Goaltender: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey. Patrick Roy isn't through yet, but this is the goalie for now and the future. Dominik Hasek is great, but again it's a case of show me the ring.

Movin' on up

Our top five picks for a major breakthrough:

1. Saku Koivu, Montreal Canadiens: Speed, speed and more speed coupled with moves and a scorer's touch.

2. Todd Marchant, Edmonton Oilers: A Western New York native who might be the best skater in the game. Marchant's been making steady gains every year. This is a breakout year.

3. Michal Grosek, Buffalo Sabres: This is a risky pick, but he's got all the tools and looked like he figured out a way to use them in the playoffs last spring. Must conquer inconsistency.

4. Anson Carter, Boston: You might not have ever heard of this kid, but he's good and will benefit from a ton of ice time he's going to get with the Kiddie Corps in Boston.

5. Radek Dvorak, Florida: If the Panthers open up a bit, this guy will get you 40 goals. All the moves and a huge shot.

The coaching derby

Normally we tell you who's likely to be fired first in the NHL in any given season. Since almost anyone who's anyone (or in some cases, no one) was fired last season, there shouldn't be much early-season turnover. Instead, we give you five coaches with something to prove.

1. Schoenfeld, Phoenix. Charismatic and a natural leader, but players on each of his last three teams argue that this guy pushes too hard. Phoenix, a team of underachievers last season, represents a career opportunity, one way or another.

2. Pat Burns, Boston. The rap on Pat in Montreal and Toronto was that he didn't relate well to young players. So where does he end up? With a team that's loaded with them. Is Burns the right man for the job or did the Bruins just hire a big name to quiet their fans? We'll find out.

3. Ron Wilson, Washington: Wilson made the big name for himself getting Team USA a win over Canada (and the championship) in the World Cup and getting the Mighty Ducks into the playoffs for the first time. Nice for the short term, but can he handle a team that never seems to win when it counts?

4. Alain Vigneault, Montreal: The Canadiens were the ugliest team in the league last season and they didn't change uniforms. Can this young man up from the minors instill discipline and defense in a team that doesn't have much of either? His reputation says yes, his players may say otherwise.

5. Kevin Constantine, Pittsburgh: The guy did wonders for the San Jose Sharks in the early years and was overthrown for his effort. A disciplinarian who needs to bring a sense of purpose to a team that hasn't had any since 1992. Good luck.

What's that, you're a traditionalist? OK, on the early firing line: Tom Renney, Vancouver; Mike Murphy, Toronto; Terry Crisp, Tampa Bay.

Rookies; we love rookies

Five who should make a contribution this season: Vaclav Prospal, Philadelphia, center/left wing; Alexei Morozov, Pittsburgh, right wing; Olli Jokinen, Los Angeles, center; Anders Eriksson, Detroit, defenseman center/left wing; Jose Theodore, Montreal, goalie.

What's the common thread here? All are good players either on good teams or on teams that will give them enough playing time to make a difference.

And five who won't: Joe Thornton, Boston, center; Robert Dome, Pittsburgh; left wing/center; Kevin Hodson, Detroit, goalie; Erik Rasmussen, center/wing, Buffalo; Steve Kelly, Edmonton, center.

Thornton, No. 1 overall in the 1997 draft, is just too young, facing too much pressure and he won't play until mid-November, at the earliest, because of a broken arm. Dome has talent, but not enough experience in hockey at any level. Rasmussen is a college kid and college kids need more time. Hodson is playing behind Chris Osgood, the man who ousted Mike Vernon. Kelly is highly touted but the Oilers have a collection of really good young centers.

The five most overrated players

1. Alexandre Daigle, C, Ottawa. No. 1 overall when drafted. No. 1 minus player on the plus-minus chart last season.

2. Rick Tocchet, RW, Phoenix. A warrior in his prime, he's too beat up to answer the bell any longer.

3. Jim Carey, G, Boston. Won the Vezina a year ago then collapsed in Washington and Boston last year when the tight defensive system in front of him fell apart.

4. Ed Belfour, G, Dallas. Two Vezina trophies when the Blackhawks played the best defense in the game, a disaster when they stopped. What has this guy ever won?

5. Eric Lindros, C, Philadelphia. We're not saying he's not good, nor that he isn't almost great, but he doesn't score the big goals, he doesn't win the big games, he doesn't lead in the clutch and he whines just enough to get coaches fired and his own way. You've got to win, kid; it's the price of fame.

Our underrated team

Edmonton center Doug Weight, Colorado left wing Keith Jones, New Jersey right wing John MacLean, Colorado defenseman Adam Foote, Buffalo defenseman Darryl Shannon, Calgary-Tampa Bay-Calgary goalie Rick Tabaracci.

Jason Arnott gets all the headlines, but Weight averaged a point a game in Edmonton last season and 61 of them were assists. Jones is tough and does the dirty, two-way things that make the stars look good. MacLean has been the quiet leader and timely goal scorer on a team that doesn't have enough like him. Shannon makes more good decisions in his own zone in a period than the more highly regarded Alexei Zhitnik has done in two seasons. Tabaracci won 22 games. His team averaged 2.33 goals scored a game when he was in net.

Need a goal when it matters most?

1. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim: Scored 15 of his 51 goals in the last 10 minutes of a game.

2. John LeClair, Philadelphia: Scored 10 of his 50 goals in the last 10 minutes.

3. Keith Tkachuk, Phoenix: Scored 11 of his 52 goals in the last minute of a period.

4. Peter Bondra, Washington: Scored eight of his 46 goals in the last minute of a period.

5. Paul Kariya, Anaheim: league leading 10 game-winning goals.

Want a stopper outside your net?

1. Michael Peca, Buffalo: Selke Trophy winner.

2 (tie). Jere Lehtinen, Dallas, and Rob Zamuner, Tampa Bay: Selke runners-up.

4. Ron Francis, Pittsburgh: good defensively and great on faceoffs.

5. Chris Chelios, Chicago: A goalie's best friend.

There are no comments - be the first to comment