Victim of circumstance
An 8-14 record was the least of Constantine's problems
Posted: Friday December 10, 1999 09:08 PM
If owning an 8-14 record in early December were grounds for being fired, about a quarter of the NHL coaches would be in jeopardy. But Kevin Constantine, replaced Thursday by Herb Brooks as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, faced different circumstances.
The franchise went through bankruptcy this past offseason, and with the Penguins looking to new owner Mario Lemieux to revive the organization, they simply must make the playoffs this spring.
Constantine did a brilliant job transforming a run-and-gun team into one with some defensive discipline. But he had strained relationships with some players -- notably Jaromir Jagr. And problems in the dressing room and a losing record on a franchise that needed an off-ice boost were a lethal combination.
Oil well still gushing
The survivors of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s are still alive and kicking. And this week, their numbers grew. Boston resuscitated free-agent defenseman Marty McSorley's career, not for his defense but for his leadership.
Meanwhile Paul Coffey, the NHL's most prolific scoring defenseman, is skating better than he has in years and is again making an impact in Carolina. Vancouver's Mark Messier is out with a knee injury, but in the 16 games he did play, Messier had five goals and 12 points. Finally goalie Grant Fuhr's wonky knees have robbed him of his butterfly -- and $3 million is a hefty salary to pay Fred Brathwaite's back-up -- but Fuhr's glove hand and reflexes remain sure and he is capable of being a solid 25-game-a-year man.
Lemieux grows up
When he made it permanently to the NHL in 1985-86, Claude Lemieux played two positions: right wing and prone. He still plays two positions: right wing and left wing, having dropped the unseemly diving and histrionics and grown into a leader.
Since being traded from Colorado last month, Lemieux had 12 points in his first 15 games with the Devils. Lemieux has only 332 career goals, but with 76 in the playoffs, a Conn Smythe Trophy and three Stanley Cups with three teams, he is a probable Hall of Famer.
Interconference play survives
Commissioner Gary Bettman has neatly quashed an idea that had been gaining far too much currency: dropping interconference play.
Bettman simply told the NHL Board of Governors this week to forget it, undercutting the plan championed by Calgary general manager Al Coates. The idea was one more example of the NHL's Chicken Little mentality -- the sky is falling, or, in this case, attendance is soft, and something must be done.
Dropping interconference play, in the name of rebuilding rivalries, certainly wasn't it.
In a league that depends on the gate for 60 percent of its revenues, it would have deprived cities like Montreal and New York from seeing Wayne Gretzky until the end of his career or Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr from ever playing in hockey-mad Detroit. The attendance problem has almost nothing to do with rivalries and everything to do with high ticket prices and dull hockey.
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