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The NHL
Kostya Kennedy
January 24, 2000
Winning With StyleThe run-and-gun Maple Leafs are not only fun to watch, but they're successful as well
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January 24, 2000

The Nhl

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JONSSON & JOHNSSON

Rookie defensemen Hans Jonsson of the Penguins and Kim Johnsson of the Rangers have emerged as important players for their teams. Though they claim to know each other from playing on the Swedish National team, we're wondering whether they've ever been seen in the same place.

HANS JONSSON PENGUINS

KIM JOHNSSON RANGERS

Shoots

Left

Left

Height

6'1"

6'1"

Drafted

286th, dead last, in 1993

286th, dead last, in 1994

Reaction to being taken last

"I was really happy to be drafted at all.

"I was just glad to be drafted."

1999-2000 salary

$400,000

$450,000

Swedish Elite League team

MoDo

Malmo

Plus-minus rating through Sunday

-7

-6

What he thinks of the U.S.

"It's much bigger here."

"There's so much space here."

What he thinks of his doppdelg�nger

"Kim's a good guy; we won the '98 world championships together."

"Hans is a good guy; we went to a nightclub together after we won the world championship."

Who's better looking?

"I don't know."

"Me."

Winning With Style
The run-and-gun Maple Leafs are not only fun to watch, but they're successful as well

Were you lucky enough to see the Maple Leafs—Oilers barn burner last Friday night? Neither the number of goals (the Leafs won 3-2 in overtime) nor shots (35 for Toronto, 32 for Edmonton) was high, but the players on both sides skated relentlessly from end to end. The puck whipped back and forth, and both goalies sprawled repeatedly to make saves. Best of all, the match engendered hope that it was a sign of things to come.

NHL teams are beginning to loosen the self-imposed restraints that in recent years have turned many games into plodding, neutral-zone battles. The Leafs, Oilers, Penguins and Predators, among others, have shown a willingness to open up. No club seems more a bellwether of change than Toronto, the winningest of the freewheelers. "An unbiased fan wants to see the Leafs do well," says Coyotes coach Bob Francis. "It's great hockey to watch."

For much of the mid-1990s Toronto was just another dull, trapping club. Then Pat Quinn took over as coach before last season and transformed the Maple Leafs into a band of net crashers. With mobile backliners, swift forwards and one of the league's top goalies, Curtis Joseph, Toronto now clearly thinks offense first. The Leafs pass often and crisply, and when they don't have the puck, they love to jar it free on the forecheck and immediately resume the attack. "I like the way the Leafs play" says Hurricanes defenseman Paul Coffey. "People aren't dumb. They want to be entertained."

They also want to see their team win, and the Maple Leafs, who through Sunday were 26-16-4-3 and in first place in the Northeast Division, have built a strong case that success can come to those who wheel. Toronto went 45-30-7 last season and then flouted critics of its style by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.

The Maple Leafs' defensive indifference would be costly without Joseph, who this season had faced more shots (1,012) than any other NHL goalie except one and was third in the league in save percentage (.922). Even more noteworthy is that apart from Joseph, star center Mats Sundin and a couple of good finesse forwards such as Sergei Berezin, Toronto thrives with only slightly-above-average talent. At a time when the NHL's skill level has diminished because of expansion, the Leafs are providing welcome proof that even ordinary players can put on a dazzling show.

Assistant Coaches
Who's in Line For a Top Spot?

Three of the Western Conference's nine leading teams through Sunday are coached by men who recently ascended from the NHL's assistant ranks and had no previous head coaching experience in the league. Bob Francis took over the Coyotes this season after two years as an aide to Bruins coach Pat Burns; Kevin Lowe was promoted from Oilers assistant to head man last spring; and the highly regarded Joel Quenneville is in his third full year of coaching the Blues after three seasons as an assistant with the Avalanche. Here's a look at the assistants most likely to get NHL top jobs in the near future.

1) Dave Tippett, 38, Kings. He captained Canada's 1984 Olympic team and then played 11 years in the NHL as a forward hailed for his grit and savvy. Last year, as general manager and coach of the Houston Aeros, he won the International Hockey League championship.

2) Craig MacTavish, 40, Oilers. Exacting of himself and of those around him, he won four Stanley Cups in his 18-year playing career. He spent two seasons as a Rangers assistant before moving to Edmonton this season. The former teammates and coaches of MacTavish, the NHL's last helmetless player, respect his head for hockey. "He knows the game," says Flyers captain Eric Lindros, who played two seasons with MacTavish. "He knows the balance between having fun and getting down to business."

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