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October 07, 1996
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October 07, 1996

Eastern Conference

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Miami Mice: In an effort to put an end to rat throwing in Miami, the NHL has enacted a rule requiring that a penalty be assessed against a team whose fans throw objects on the ice. (Hats for a hat trick are still league-approved.) Unless the Pied Piper of Hamelin is the referee, we don't like the NHL's chances.

Pittsburgh Penguins

He's Back! Mario Lemieux, who led the NHL with 161 points last season, says 1996-97 will probably be his final year—but don't hold him to it. Despite his bouts with Hodgkin's disease and a bad back, he remains the game's best player.

Mario Jr.: Jaromir Jagr is a one-on-one wizard who is very strong on his skates. The amazing thing isn't Jagr's numbers—he finished second to Lemieux last season with 149 points, a record for a right wing—but the fact that he and Lemieux play on different lines.

Defenseless: The Penguins traded for 30-year-old Kevin Hatcher, whose career was stagnating in Dallas, but Pittsburgh is at least another tough, mobile defense-man away from blue line respectability. To land one, general manager Craig Patrick is using center Bryan Smolinski as bait.


Montreal Canadiens

The Trade: In August the Canadiens repatriated right wing Stéphane Richer from the Devils in exchange for defenseman Lyle Odelein. Good luck. Richer scored 50 goals twice for Montreal, but he was too fragile psychologically to handle the pressure of playing in his home province, and he sought the help of at least three astrologers. Then in New Jersey he chafed when he was used on a checking line and kept off the power-play unit. But if Richer scores 30 goals, the trade will be justified.

Looking for D: General manager Réjean Houle continues to search for tough players and a leftside defenseman. The Canadiens will open the season with three blue-liners—David Wilkie, Rory Fitzpatrick and Craig Rivet—who have played a combined 91 NHL games.

Breakout Player: Second-year center Saku Koivu is smart, unselfish and clever. If coach Mario Tremblay uses him on the second line—talented but fainthearted captain Pierre Turgeon seems ticketed for the third line—Koivu could be a point-a-game player.

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