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Austin Murphy
October 12, 1987
With the Great One doing great things, the Oilers will again sip from the Cup
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October 12, 1987

It's Still A Gusher

With the Great One doing great things, the Oilers will again sip from the Cup

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Perennial 50-goal scorer Mike Bossy, plagued with the same back ailment that hampered him last season, will be out for all of this season. The time is now for Great Yankee Hope Pat LaFontaine. "Our defense is fine," says G.M. Bill Torrey. "What we need is for La-Fontaine to jump into the top echelon. If he doesn't, I'll be really surprised." And goal-poor.

The starkest possible contrast to the Islanders' painstaking cultivation of young talent can be found at nearby Madison Square Garden, where Trader Phil—New York RANGERS G.M. Phil Esposito—is still at it. The biggest deal he made was for Michel Bergeron, the Nordiques' coach of seven years, who came to the Rangers for $100,000 and a first-round pick. In addition the Rangers acquired talented left wing John Ogrodnick, along with defenseman David Shaw, from Quebec.

Bergeron inherits a corps of serviceable defensemen. Goal-scorers Marcel Dionne, Walt Poddubny and Tomas Sandstrom all disappeared in last year's playoffs. Watch Espo and Bergeron attempt to bridge the talent gap between the Rangers and the league's better teams by screaming a lot. But raised voices will not raise the Rangers past a fourth-place finish.

It is a long way from Gretzky to Wilf Paiement. Accordingly, those hoping that PITTSBURGH center Mario Lemieux's phenomenal Canada Cup play will carry over to the NHL may be disappointed. The Penguins' annual futility—they have not made the playoffs in five years—could continue, as Lemieux may join a line with the merely mortal Paiement.

New coach Pierre Creamer inherits a pair of talented defensemen, enviable depth at center and a frightening goal-scoring vacuum everywhere else. He's looking ahead to February, when Zarley Zalapski, the top defenseman for Canada's Olympic team, returns to the Penguins. Pittsburgh's highest-scoring right wing last season had 14 goals. The Penguin management is offering a rebate to season-ticket holders if the team doesn't gain the playoffs this year. Who will sign all those checks?

New Jersey's new president, Lou Lamoriello, fresh from the campus of Providence College, must figure if you can't beat 'em, try to outfight 'em. Patrik Sundstrom arrives from Vancouver to help Aaron Broten, John MacLean, Pat Verbeek and captain Kirk Muller fill the nets with pucks. To aid that scoring nucleus, Lamoriello drafted rugged right wing Brendan Shanahan, who can score and fight. This year, like the rest of the Devils, he'll do more of the latter.

Adams Division last season the Hartford Whalers were done in by their own short fuses. The young and restless Whalers led Quebec two games to none in their first-round playoff when, as Whalers G.M. Emile (the Cat) Francis says, "We took the bait." The Whalers were goaded into penalty upon retaliatory penalty. The Nordiques scored goal upon power-play goal and won four straight games.

Despite the unpardonably early exit, the Cat stood pat during the summer. The promising Whalers went 43-30-7 last season, the fourth-best record in the NHL. Francis has cultivated a copse of redwoods on defense. His forwards—Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Paul Lawless, John Anderson, Sylvain Turgeon—are the quickest in the conference.

But other than Dineen, who is Pete Rose on skates, and a couple others, Whaler forwards are either small or distinctly unphysical or both. The Whale needs a cop and has one, if Torrie Robertson can recover from the compound leg fracture he suffered when Montreal's Shayne Corson fell on him during a fight last November. If goalie Mike Liut, ever reliable from October through March, can shake his rep as a postseason gagmeister—a lighter work load during the regular season might help—the Insurance City will win the Adams again and get further in the playoffs.

Montreal had the third-poorest goal production in the league last year. Opponents roughed up teensy (5'7") Mats Naslund, holding him to 25 goals, well under his career average. Defense-man Larry Robinson won the award for the most creative off-season injury. Much to coach Jean Perron's dismay, Robinson broke his leg in August playing polo. Yeah, horse polo. The Big Bird, 36, will miss only a couple of months, and this season is thought to be his swan song, anyway. Even without Robinson, the Habs defense is big, deep and talented; it yielded the fewest goals in the league last season. Perron remains undecided as to who will be the regular goalie—Patrick Roy, the wunderkind of 1985-86 who self-destructed in last season's playoffs, or Brian Hayward, who filled in so ably.

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