Now, this is hockey. Isn't it grand? Any of the five teams—Montreal, Quebec, Buffalo, Boston or Hartford—could win the division. Which, of course, means any of the five teams could also come in dead last and miss the playoffs—and probably still have earned 25 more points than the third-place club in the Smythe or Norris. The Adams is old-time hockey, eh? Two-to-one games. Close checking. Brilliant goaltending. Undersized rinks (in Boston and Buffalo). Oversized wingers (everywhere you look).
All of which makes the accomplishments of the Montreal Canadiens last season even more significant. Forget that the Oilers, Flyers and Caps were swept aside and the Flames came into the finals sporting tread marks. Any team that can survive the Adams Division deserves the Cup. "A lot of people say that we were lucky last year," says Montreal's Guy Carbonneau. "The players hear this and intend to prove everyone wrong."
And they will. Goalie Patrick Roy (page 38) is no fluke. The defense is a fine blend of veterans ( Larry Robinson, Rick Green, Craig Ludwig) and kids ( Chris Chelios, Mike Lalor, Petr Svoboda). And while Montreal will never win shootouts, there is a nice balance on offense, too, with a checking line ( Bob Gainey, Carbonneau, Chris Nilan), scoring line (Mats Naslund, Bobby Smith, Kjell Dahlin) and an aggressive-kid line (Mike McPhee, Brian Skrudland, Claude Lemieux).
Nobody gave the Canadiens more trouble on the road to the Cup than the Hartford Whalers, who extended them as far as you can in the division finals before losing 2-1 in overtime of Game 7 in the Forum. G.M. Emile Francis cleaned house and made some of the shrewdest trades of last season, most notably acquiring defense-man David Babych from Winnipeg and high-scoring leftwinger John Anderson from Toronto via Quebec. They work, they muck, they have a leader in goal ( Mike Liut) and just enough firepower ( Ron Francis, Sylvain Turgeon, Kevin Dineen). Two-hundred-pound defenseman Dana Murzyn hits like a Refrigerator on skates, while the puck-ragging Babych complements stay-at-home defensemen such as Joel Quenneville and Tim Bothwell.
Go figure the Quebec Nordiques. They won the Adams, looking every bit the team to challenge Edmonton for the Cup. They have goaltending to spare ( Clint Malarchuk, Mario Gosselin), they have defense (Pat Price, Normand Rochefort, David Shaw, Robert Picard), they have scoring punch ( Michel Goulet, Anton and Peter Stastny), and they have the grittiest disturber in the game, Dale Hunter. So what happens in the playoffs? They're blown out by the Whalers 3-0. Worse still, this has been an acrimonious summer, with trade winds blowing and folks screaming about their contracts. No telling about Les Nordiques. They could finish last—or perhaps even keep the Cup in La Belle Province.
In Boston the question was: Is anybody healthy enough to play this game? The battered B's lost an incredible 353 man-games to injuries. The situation became so desperate that assistant coach Mike Mil bury returned to the ice and played defense. But even when healthy the Bruins lack spunk up front. Coach Butch Goring is trying Rick Middleton at center with former center Ken Linseman on right wing, a notion Linseman likes almost as much as his nickname, the Rat. "I don't understand it," he says. "I assume he's looking for a way to make better use of my speed, but I don't quite see how that would work." Newly acquired center/left wing Tom McCarthy can help if he has overcome the inconsistency that made him expendable to the North Stars. The Bruins are hoping rookie Bill Ranford, who is still a teenager, two months short of his 20th birthday, can win the goaltending job, but he played just four regular-season games and two in the playoffs last season. Hardly a sure bet.
In Buffalo the Scotty Bowman Watch has begun. It doesn't seem fair that the winningest coach in NHL history should have to worry about his job, but the Sabres, once a promising collection, have fallen on hard times. They failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years, and owners Seymour and Northrup Knox have made it clear they are reviewing Bowman's seven-year reign of (t)error. "I think it's imperative that the team get off to a good start this year," says Northrup, the team president. "I think Scotty realizes that."
Unfortunately, it's the problems that have begun early. Leading scorer Dave Andreychuk (87 points) probably will miss at least the first two weeks of the season with a bruised kneecap, and promising rookie winger Ray Sheppard failed his precamp physical. Meanwhile, rumors of a shake-up hang over the team, with goalie Tom Barrasso's name being mentioned in most of them. Scotty, they're watching.