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Smythe Division after talking about retirement over the summer, Wayne Gretzky signed on for five more years with EDMONTON , which gives the Oilers the edge to win their fourth Stanley Cup championship in five years. Along with Oiler forwards Mark Messier and Glen Anderson and goalie Grant Fuhr, Gretzky was vital to Team Canada's exciting victory over the Soviets in the Canada Cup. Asked how he would maintain intensity after the emotional Cup series, coach Glen Sather said, "Right now, I'm just worried about getting the team back together." Sather lost defensemen Randy Gregg and Reijo Ruotsalainen, both of whom quit to play for Olympic teams, and a third, Paul Coffey, was one of three Oiler holdouts.
In the final period of Game 7 last May, with the Stanley Cup on the line, the Oilers held Philadelphia to two shots on goal. Such smothering defense is a new concept in Edmonton, but Sather would like to see more of it. He could live without Coffey, whose aching back kept him out of 25 games last season and reduced his effectiveness in all the others. Without Messier, however, the Oilers would have trouble with the league's more physical teams.
One of those is CALGARY , which beat Edmonton six times in eight games last season. "I hope Badger left a few of his notebooks behind," says new Calgary coach Terry Crisp, who will have a tough time matching the 95-point season the Flames had last year under coach Badger Bob Johnson. Doug Risebrough retired, but John Tonelli, 30, and Lanny McDonald, 34, who perhaps should have, didn't. Defenseman Jamie Macoun will miss most of the season with nerve damage in his left arm. Calgary replaced him with Brad McCrimmon from Philadelphia. Newcomers Joe Nieuwendyk, a Cornell grad, and Brett Hull, son of Bobby, could provide the high-scoring lift that rookies Luc Robitaille and Jimmy Carson gave the L.A. Kings last season.
The Flames are 11-4-2 against Edmonton in their last 17 games. That didn't help them in the playoffs, in which they lost to WINNIPEG in six. Instead of trying to overwhelm the Jets with offense—Calgary's 318 goals gave it a tie with the Los Angeles Kings for second-best in the NHL last season—Johnson tried to win games 2-1, which was a mistake. Under new coach Dan Maloney, the Jets were one of the league's top five defensive teams. But fabulous penalty killing was offset by a low-voltage power play.
Just as the LOS ANGELES Kings can score with rapidity, unfortunately they let in goals just as fast. New coach Mike Murphy will focus on defense, hoping 18-year-old Wayne McBean, the fourth pick overall in the amateur draft, will take some of the load off Steve Duchesne, who was, along with Robitaille and Carson, an all-rookie selection last season. It would help if Bobby Carpenter, traded twice last season, could regain his enthusiasm for playing and remember what it was like to score 53 goals in '84-85.
Vancouver has done less to help its hapless defense. Doomed though the Canucks may be to the Smythe cellar, they are not without a plan. New G.M. Pat Quinn and coach Bob McCammon all have strong Flyers backgrounds. In the first two exhibition games against the Kings, Vancouver accumulated 157 penalty minutes. It is already being suggested that Vancouver's Renfrew Street be renamed Broad Street.
Patrick Division the Flyers will be in the Wales Conference finals for the third time in four years because they will outwork everybody. PHILADELPHIA'S roster includes two of the league's silkiest scorers in Pelle Eklund and Ilkka Sinisalo, and MVP goalie Ron Hextall. Tim Kerr, the power in the Flyers' power play, will return. Kerr had had three operations in the off-season to fix the chronic shoulder problem that kept him out of most of the playoffs.
Center Dale Hunter is the leader WASHINGTON has been waiting for, and his arrival from Quebec should help the Caps improve their sorry record against Philly—18-44-9 since 1974-75. The Caps will get a boost from the return of prodigal gun Bengt Gustafsson, who led the team in assists two years ago, before he took off to play a year in Sweden. Goalie Clint Malarchuk came in the Hunter deal, and with Scott Stevens, Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher and Larry Murphy, the defense is ironclad.
"Now if we could get the guys up front to put some pucks in the net," grumbles coach Bryan Murray, who needs to advance well into the playoffs this year to keep his job.
Color the New York ISLANDERS green and gray. Team Generation Gap has 18 players 24 or younger but also has half a dozen holdovers from the early-'80s dynasty days. The mix can work, as the Isles proved by winning—in quadruple overtime—Game 7 of the divisional semifinal against Washington last April.