Esposito's follies with the Lightning came as no surprise, given his three-year stint as the Rangers' general manager in the late 1980s. Ever impetuous, he made 43 trades during his tenure in New York, but the Rangers never got past the first round of the playoffs in those years. In '87 he gave away two frontline forwards, Mike Ridley and Kelly Miller, for underachieving center Bobby Carpenter. A week before the playoffs began in '89, Esposito fired colorful coach Michel Bergeron—Espo had dealt a first-round draft pick to Quebec for Bergeron before the previous season—for what Esposito deemed to be insubordination, despite New York's 37-33-8 record. Esposito then went behind the bench, and the Rangers lost their last two regular-season games before being swept by the Penguins in the first round of the postseason.
In the aftermath of last week's firing, Esposito was disheartened but hardly humbled. "This isn't fair," he said. "I could have done more with a little more time in charge."
Esposito's time was up, and even in a league in which executives are recycled as swiftly as soda cans, it's hard to imagine he'll be put in charge of a franchise again.
Rope-a-Dope On Ice
Bodychecking became safer in some corners this season when the Canadiens, the Flames and the Islanders installed spring-operated end boards in their arenas to help cushion players when they are driven into the woodwork and glass. In the newly developed CheckFlex system, the four-foot-high boards surrounding both offensive zones are equipped with springs that compress as much as three inches and serve as shock absorbers. The eight-foot-high glass extensions are attached to the boards and move with them. "It's much easier on the body," says Calgary wing Rocky Thompson.
Calgary installed CheckFlex after Flames players complained about the lack of give in the Saddledome's old-style boards. Roughly half of the NHL arenas still have unyielding boards topped by glass; other venues use boards topped with acrylic shielding (instead of glass), which gives about an inch. Calgary trainer Terry Kane says of CheckFlex, "This will not only help prevent single-incident injuries but also will lessen the cumulative effect of getting pounded into the boards all season."