The Big Mess
Last summer's most significant transaction has been bad news for the Rangers, who let Mark Messier go as a free agent, and for the Canucks, who signed him to a three-year, $20 million deal. New York (23-35-18 through Sunday) fell flat without Messier, its captain the past six seasons, and cries of "We want Mark!" have resounded at Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Messier, who had 21 goals and 37 assists through last weekend, has done little to justify his big contract. By the time Vancouver had gone 4-13-2, coach Tom Renney and general manager Pat Quinn were fired, and Messier ally Mike Keenan was brought in to run the Canucks. Vancouver has played poorly under Keenan (20-26-11), and when popular center Trevor Linden was traded to the Islanders on Feb. 6, wounded Canucks fans heard no regrets from Messier, who had taken Linden's long-held captaincy in training camp.
Part of the reason the Rangers allowed Messier to leave, even though he has played on six Stanley Cup champions and is widely regarded as the most inspirational leader in hockey, was that the front office had grown wary of his thirst for power. Last week Gino Odjick, a Canucks winger for eight seasons before also being traded to the Islanders, on March 23, offered a harsh indictment of Messier to the Vancouver Province. "Everybody was on board, waiting to go along with him. But he didn't break a sweat the first 10 games, waiting for Renney and Quinn to get fired. He's not with the players. He's the one who controls everything."
Said Messier last week, "When I got here, this was anything but a team. It was failing in the most important part of the business—winning. Everybody knew changes needed to be made."
Recently winger Pavel Bure, Odjick's best friend and the Canucks' most talented player (47 goals through Sunday), has hinted that he wants to be traded, too. With or without Bure, Messier and Keenan will try to whip together a winner largely out of the existing talent in Vancouver next year, while the Rangers rebuild. Here's the capper: For the first time since Messier and New York's Wayne Gretzky broke in together with the Oilers in 1979-80, both will miss the playoffs.
Rules of the Game
Some Tinkering Down Below
In arena-sized laboratories across the country, the NHL last month conducted two-game experiments in the AHL and IHL with seven rules modifications that might enliven the action and increase scoring chances. The NHL's general managers will discuss the results when they convene in June. Here are the five most significant experiments and the impressions of some of the minor league coaches and players who were involved.
1) Playing four 15-minute quarters. Las Vegas and Detroit tried this in the IHL. The changes slightly improved the quality of the ice late in the games because of the shorter periods and because the rink was resurfaced three times instead of the usual two. But players complained that the shorter periods curtailed momentum and that the brief breaks (eight minutes after the first and third quarters, 14 minutes at half-time) were more disruptive than restorative because by the time the teams trudged to the dressing rooms it was time to return to the ice.
2) Players serve all of a two-minute penalty even if a power-play goal is scored. In 20 power plays over the two AHL games, no team scored once, let alone twice, during a minor. "It didn't help us because our power play sucks," says Providence coach Tom McVie, whose Bruins were 0 for 12 with the man advantage.