Don't Give Up Your Night Job: As an NHL coach, Mike Keenan's record stands up to almost anyone's. But as a general manager.... The Blues arc older, slower and less talented than when Keenan took the coach-G.M. job two years ago. He also was unable to re-sign free-agent center Wayne Gretzky, who, in effect, was leased for a few months last season at a heavy price: three prospects, a first-round draft pick and a fifth-round choice.
Hull of the Sinking Ship: Right wing Brett Hull, who has more opinions than the guests on Crossfire, blamed Keenan for Gretzky's departure and accused Iron Mike of dismantling the franchise. "With the people we've lost, how many games can we win?" Hull wondered. Keenan has tried to trade Hull as well, but he can't find a taker because of his $3.8 million salary. Meanwhile, Hull says he is through sniping—off the ice anyway.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs Not Forever: Toronto will miss the playoffs, continuing a downward spiral that took them from conference finalists in 1992-93 and '93-94 to first-round losers the past two springs. The Leafs have a new coach in Mike Murphy, but they are short on talent after dumping high-salaried players like Dave Andreychuk, Dave Gagner and Mike Gartner as a cost-cutting measure.
World Cup Wonders: Center Mats Sundin added 10 pounds and came to training camp a robust 225 after a strong World Cup performance for Sweden. Another World Cup surprise was newcomer Sergei Berezin, a stocky Russian winger who scored 49 goals in 45 games in Germany last season.
The Line Forms to the Left: If you want some privacy in Edmonton, Northlands Coliseum is no longer the place to go. The Oilers' major marketing push has more than doubled their season-ticket base to 13,000, thus qualifying the team for the NHL's Canadian Assistance Program, which provides financial aid to small-market teams in Canada that reach certain attendance goals.
High on Lowe: Former Oilers defenseman Kevin Lowe left the Rangers as a free agent and is returning to the scene of his prime. He should be a tremendous influence on a team heavily dependent on youth.