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WESTERN CONFERENCE
October 07, 1996
CUP CONTENDERS
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October 07, 1996

Western Conference

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Going Down: The Flames will hit bottom before they get better. Last year they were good enough to make the playoffs, but now they are without forward Gary Roberts (retired) and defenseman Phil Housley (traded late last season) and forward Michael Nylander (left through free agency), who combined for 55 goals last season.

The Newcomers: Jarome Iginla eventually will develop into a top power forward, but a player who will make a more immediate impact is 24-year-old Jonas Hoglund, who was a 32-goal scorer in the Swedish Elite League last year.

San Jose Sharks

Housecleaning: After going 20-55-7 last season, the Sharks adjusted their attitude by hiring two hard-nosed and fiery former players—Al Sims and Wayne Cashman—as coach and assistant, respectively. They also imported veterans with good on-ice credentials but poor medical records: Defense-man Al Iafrate hasn't played since 1993-94 because of chronically sore knees; right wing Tony Granato missed the last 32 games of 1995-96 after undergoing brain surgery following a crash into the boards; center Bernie Nicholls missed 22 games last season because of a lacerated spleen; and defenseman Marty McSorley will miss the first two months of '96-97 because of hip surgery.

The Koz: Viktor Kozlov, who's still hung up on trying to make the pretty play instead of the correct one, was a major disappointment last year when he scored just six goals in 62 games. However, he is only 21 and is loaded with talent.

Los Angeles Kings

Serious Hockey: If you don't have a good club or a marquee player to market, you need a slogan. The Gretzky-less Kings say they play "Serious Hockey"—a slam at alleged Disney quackery in nearby Anaheim.

Serious Setbacks: Rob Blake is an elite defenseman—when he's not injured. After playing just 30 games combined the past two seasons because of various ailments, he suffered an infected elbow during the World Cup and is not expected back for a couple of weeks. Aki Berg and Mattias Norstrom are promising defensemen, but without Blake the Kings lack presence at the blue line.

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