Volume 92, Issue 64
Thursday, January 21, 1999
Competitive hockey returns to its roots
The National Hockey League has found a new competitive hot bed and as the maxim goes the more things change the more they stay the same.
Ontario hockey is back on top of the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators taking control in the cutthroat Northeast division. Finally there is some good ol' Canadian back bacon sizzle to the hockey season without the burnt offering of American teams always taking the spotlight.
For once, the east is thriving and the Maple Leafs are probably the biggest surprise. The success of the Buds can be attributed to a variety of factors with the most significant change being stability. After the heady successes of the early 1980s, the Leafs seemed tired and stripped. The problem was attributed to mismanagement of prospects and bad trading, but these were just symptoms of a club in chaos.
That was until this administration moved into town.
The Leafs' poker team of general management wanted to raise the team's stakes but for the first few years seemed hesitant to take a risk. Instead, they did nothing but fold. Gaining confidence every day, management has finally taken charge and turned enough tricks recently to clean up the table. The results are now showing in the standings.
The two biggest additions have been goalie Curtis Joseph and veteran coach Pat Quinn. For about $7.1 million this year, the Leafs have a happy clubhouse plus a team that can hold a lead. Not to mention they are fun to watch how refreshing.
For all of you who think otherwise, understand this fact Joseph is much better than Potvin. He is a playoff goaltender who does his best work when there are big stakes on the line.
The addition of Quinn's coaching philosophy has loosened the belt of a team which is obviously capable of scoring. Famous for his no-bull attitude, Quinn has reined in the bustling young talents and egos of the Leafs and created a team which can beat the best. Forwards like Steve Sullivan, Todd Warriner and newcomer defenceman Bryan Berard should be able to turn the corner under Quinn's structured offensive system. If these unfinished players can reach their potential, the already balanced Leafs attack may be headed to Dallas for a late spring hoe-down.
The Senators have also tapped into the sweet well of success through a mix of good drafting and player development. The success starts at the top with the coaching of Jacques Martin and his system which emphasizes discipline. This team cohesion has allowed the offence to rise to third overall while the defensive core is very young and very talented.
The balanced goaltending is an asset which has allowed Ottawa to be competitive on a day-to-day basis, if not dominant. The recent work of Ron Tugnutt has provided the Senators with the depth they need to legislate their agenda well into the playoffs.
The Senators' strength originates in a defensive minded system which is responsible for the success of the forwards and goalies. The Ottawa defence is young, talented and very fast. They have a balance of youth and size which keeps most teams at bay in their end.
The week leading up to the all-star game will test the resolve of both teams but for now they seem to be handling the pressure of playing in two of the most storied hockey towns with style.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999