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Turning the page
NHL looks for a new plot in the midst of change
Posted: Sunday September 26, 1999 10:11 PM
Gretzky's gone, Hasek's going and Lemieux's coming back. The 1999-00 NHL season is full of changes, involving players, coaches, rules and teams.
Yet the league might have a hard time topping the drama of last season, when Wayne Gretzky retired and the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup with a foot in the crease against the Buffalo Sabres.
The ingredients are there for a good plot, though, starting with the Dominik Hasek Farewell Tour. He announced this will be his last season and vowed to win his final game.
"It's going to be my 19th season, so I feel it's enough. I just want to change my life," said Hasek, who played nine seasons in a Czech league before making his NHL debut at Chicago in November 1990.
The all-star goaltender and his Buffalo teammates are taking the season personally after losing the Cup when Brett Hull scored in the third overtime of Game 6 with his skate in Hasek's crease, the type of goal that often was disallowed.
The Sabres won't be the only team seeking redemption.
The Detroit Red Wings failed to defend their Stanley Cup title following two straight championships. Scotty Bowman again will try to win his record ninth Cup as a coach.
Mario Lemieux will try to win his first as an owner after getting two as a player. He turned around the Pittsburgh Penguins during the '80s, and this time kept them from leaving town, or leaving hockey altogether.
Lemieux heads a group of owners that put up $52 million to help keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh after the team went bankrupt last season. The Penguins were able to maintain their payroll and place in the league with a bank loan.
Super Mario, who led the Penguins to Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and 1992, is the first retired player to become owner of a major sports team for which he played.
The city of Atlanta also is coming back.
The Thrashers fill a void created when the Flames left for Calgary after the 1979-80 season. They are the seventh expansion team to join the NHL during the '90s, increasing the league total to 28. Two more teams will be added next season: the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The New York Rangers, meanwhile, were busy adding players over the summer in a desperate attempt to make the playoffs after two straight years of failure. They were the busiest team in the free-agent market, spending about $67 million in contracts to six players, including 40-goal scorer Theo Fleury.
Fleury isn't the only glamour player skating in a new city. Zigmund Palffy, a one-time 40-goal scorer with the New York Islanders, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings over the summer.
And Gretzky wasn't the only great player to retire. Dino Ciccarelli, one of only 10 skaters in NHL history with 600 goals, quit during the summer, as did veterans Dale Hunter and Bob Carpenter.
"He basically took the league and carried it on his back for 20 years," Mark Messier said of Gretzky, his former teammate. "Obviously, the onus now goes on a lot of the younger players, to learn from what he did."
Those players include Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia's Eric Lindros, Anaheim's Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, and Colorado's Peter Forsberg.
The Rangers not only went into the free agent market with a vengeance following Gretzky's retirement, but also signed Brian Leetch to a four-year contract worth about $8.75 million a year to make him the highest paid defenseman in the league. Nicklas Lidstrom was another all-star defenseman who got a big payoff, signing a three-year, $22 million deal with the Red Wings.
Elsewhere, the Stars trimmed their payroll by cutting veterans Pat Verbeek, Dave Reid and Craig Ludwig.
"Despite the fact we lost some players from last year, we have a lot of talent left," Dallas center Guy Carbonneau said. "The goal is still to win the Stanley Cup. Even if we don't have the same kind of regular season we had, we're going to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win again."
The Stars will have much of the same group that finished with the best record in the NHL for the second straight season. Included are Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher and Hull, whose Cup-winning goal stirred controversy well into the offseason.
This season, however, the NHL has decided it will no longer use videotape replays to decide disputed goals when a player is in the crease. That will be decided by the on-ice officials.
And a goal no longer will be nullified just because a player is in the crease when the puck crosses the line. The modified rule says a player can be in the crease as long as he doesn't interfere with the goaltender.
Videotape replay will remain in use for all other existing circumstances, such as to determine if a puck was kicked into the net, crossed the goal line or a high stick was used to score a goal.
The change had nothing to do with Hull's goal, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. Officials were concerned the game would lose spontaneity when play is stopped for a video review of a goal.
While Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, among others, has expressed support for the new rule, others are not so sure.
"The tradeoff for fewer reviews and more excitement in the building is that some goals are going to be scored that wouldn't have been allowed," said Brian Burke, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. "And whether that's a good tradeoff or not, I reserve judgment."
The NHL also will go to an overtime format using only four skaters instead of five to open the ice and give teams a better chance to break ties. Under the new rule, teams will get one point for the tie in regulation and an extra point if they win in overtime. There were 220 overtime games in the NHL last season, 161 of them ending in ties.
"Our fans are going to love it," Burke said. "It favors the high-skilled teams."
The NHL's board of governors also has approved an increase in the number of games officiated under the two-referee system to 50 games per team, up from 20 last season.
Meanwhile, six teams will have new head coaches this season -- Kevin Lowe in Edmonton, Andy Murray in Los Angeles, Bobby Francis in Phoenix, Steve Ludzik in Tampa Bay, Butch Goring with the New York Islanders and Curt Fraser with the Thrashers.
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