Last season the Sharks were classic underachievers with no will to win. During the summer general manager Dean Lombardi engineered an attitude overhaul by hiring no-nonsense coach Darryl Sutter and assistant Paul Baxter. The move worked—at the All-Star break, San Jose was three points out of a playoff spot—but Sutter and Baxter remain unhappy with the lack of consistency from Sharks veterans. Right wing Owen Nolan and recently acquired center Mike Ricci are the two players management is counting on to provide leadership among the vets. If San Jose misses the playoffs, Lombardi will have to justify his trading of younger players and draft picks for older players such as forwards John MacLean (an unrestricted free agent at season's end), Dave Lowry, Murray Craven and Stephane Matteau.
Speaking of missing the playoffs, recent home-ice losses to the Maple Leafs, the Flyers and the Canadiens, and a humbling blowout at the hands of the Islanders, all but assured the Lightning of winning the Vincent Lecavalier Sweepstakes. (Lecavalier, a center, is this year's No. 1-rated draft prospect.) Following the loss to the Islanders, Tampa Bay general manager Phil Esposito shipped five players out and brought five in through trades. He's also feuding with coach Jacques Demers, whom he hired in November. The league is worried about this franchise: The team is poor, attendance is down, and the club is for sale with no buyer in sight.
By obtaining 1993 No. 1 pick Alexander Daigle from the Senators last week for Vaclav Prospal, Pat Falloon and a draft choice, the Flyers may have boosted their Stanley Cup chances. Daigle, who was a bust in Ottawa but should flourish in Philly because he won't be expected to carry the team, will provide much-needed speed at right wing. Maybe more important, his acquisition could make talented 19-year-old wing Dainus Zubrus expendable. Don't be surprised if the Flyers package Zubrus to the Oilers for the ingredient they need to win the Cup—a goaltender, namely Curtis Joseph.
Players who will probably be wearing new uniforms soon: Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund of the Canucks, Alexander Selivanov of the Lightning, Alexei Kovalev of the Rangers and Travis Groan of the Islanders.