Three's a Crowd
Vancouver's brash new G.M., tempestuous coach and meddlesome star
Six teams have changed coaches since April, but none of those moves have caused as much of a stir as the Canucks' hiring of strong-willed Brian Burke as general manager on June 22. The arrival of Burke, who spent the past five years as the NHL's chief disciplinarian, spells trouble for the two-headed regime of coach Mike Keenan, who had also been Vancouver's de facto general manager since Pat Quinn was fired last November, and captain Mark Messier, who strongly influences Keenan's personnel decisions.
Last season the fiery Keenan, who replaced Tom Renney behind the bench after 19 games, followed his well-established form by creating unease in the locker room. The Canucks made 10 trades after Feb. 3 and finished a lowly 25-43-14. When Burke took over, he said he wanted to "stop the waves this organization has been through." He then declared that his command over Keenan is absolute, that Messier's role is to just "lace up his skates and play" and that malcontent star Pavel Bure won't be traded just because he has requested a deal.
Vancouver needs to improve substantially if it hopes to make a playoff run, and Burke is expected to engineer some splashy deals. However, by week's end he and Keenan had not yet had a meaningful discussion about the team's future. So what happens when Burke and Keenan dig in their heels in their first disagreement over a player? Can Burke, Keenan and Messier coexist? Who will take the fall if Vancouver's woes continue? Keenan, who won the Cup with the Rangers in '94, was fired as Blues' CM. and coach two years later. Then last season he failed to jump-start the Canucks, as he was hired to do. Advantage, Burke.
All or Nothing, Please
Last Thursday the NHL's board of governors approved a few rules changes for next season that it hopes will improve the game. The goals were moved two feet farther from the end boards and the crease was made smaller, but the most intriguing change was the addition of a second referee. The presence of an extra official will deter cheap hits and is a sound concept overall.
The method of implementation, though, is another matter. Instead of adding a second ref for all NHL games in 1998-99, the governors decided to phase in the new system: Two refs will work perhaps only 20 of the 82 regular-season games for each team. (No decision has been made for the postseason.) That might be the league's worst idea since admitting the Hartford Whalers. The system guarantees inconsistency—the antithesis of good officiating.
In going only partway toward a two-referee setup, the NHL brass is attempting to save money, but it also claims that there's empirical method to its madness. "This will allow us to compare apples and apples, and see which system works better," says commissioner Gary Bettman.
We don't like them apples at all. Officiating games under anything but uniform conditions is absurd.
A Taste of The Future