Volume 91, Issue 25

Thursday, October 9, 1997

about face



Grapes of wrath

What can we expect from the NHL this year?

The best answer is the over-use of video replay and the disallowance of goals, courtesy of the ill-contrived crease rule. That aside, this season promises to be one of the most exciting seasons ever for several reasons.

It'll be interesting to see if the big money earners like Eric Lindros, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky will earn their paycheques. Moreover, thanks to the dilution of the talent pool, combined with the league's trend towards favouring bigger, tougher players, there's never been so many goons and skating refrigerators on the ice. Here's a list of what else to expect:

Coach of the year – Expect the Washington Capitals to make the biggest improvement point-wise this season and, as it has been the norm in the past, the coach of the most improved team usually takes the coach of the year honour. When Ron Wilson accepts the hardware, he'll be gloating in front of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks management, who were stupid enough to think they could do without him.

First coach fired – Leaf fans are all hoping Mike Murphy will be the first to go and if the team's poor start to the season is any indication of the future, the Hogtown faithful should be on their knees praying for a saviour, in the form of Ted Nolan that is.

Who's ready to step up to the next level – With Mike Vernon gone to the Cow Palace in San Jose, Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood has a chance to be the league's number-one goaltender. The Wings will go only as far as Osgood will take them.

Rookie of the year – Boston's Joe Thornton (damaged arm and all) has received the most hype of all the freshman entering the league this season, but the pressure of the limelight may hamper his production. Look for Washington's Yogi Svejkovsky to come out of nowhere to steal the Calder from the Bruin centre.

Most valuable player – The front-runners for the Hart Trophy will be Philadelphia's Eric Lindros and Anaheim's Paul Kariya. Kariya has improved steadily each season, but unless he can settle on a new contract sometime soon, he may not get enough games under his belt to put up the big numbers. Lindros is probably under more pressure than anyone in the league to succeed and more than likely he will rise to the challenge. Detroit's Sergei Fedorov is a long-shot pick, especially if Scotty Bowman starts listening to his ouija board and puts the Russian on defence.

Best goalie – Sabre's netminder Dominik Hasek was unreal last season, but he was playing for a Buffalo team that had a terrific system in place and a solid front office. The off-ice squabbles will hurt Hasek's play, especially if the Czech is pre-occupied with beating up sports journalists. Colorado's Patrick Roy gets the nod here, but if you like dark horses, Ed Belfour's your man who has a terrific defensive corps in front of him in Dallas.

Stanley Cup champs – It will all depend on whether or not the Philadelphia Flyers pick up a good goaltender, which may not be that difficult with a list of netminders including John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter, slated to be free-agents at the end of the season. Otherwise, Lord Stanley's grail will head back to the Mile High City and the Colorado Avalanche.

Olympic champs – For the first time, the Olympics will play host to NHL players. You have to go with Canada here, considering the only reason the United States won the World Cup was because of Mike Richter's stellar goaltending. It would be unreasonable to think any other American goalie could stand on his head like Richter did in the finals and since then, the keeper has been only a shadow of himself with the Rangers.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997