Glare as he might, first-year Chicago Blackhawks coach Mike Keenan will not be able to undo in one year all the personnel blunders wrought over the last decade by general manager Bob Pulford. Still, Keenan, fired by the Flyers for his abrasive but successful methods, will not let the Blackhawks finish out of the playoffs.
Minnesota forward Brian MacLellan had the worst plus-minus rating in the league last season, a —44. The Stars' Curt Giles was next at —33. and now they have Mark Hardy, who had a —32 with the Rangers and the Kings. Perhaps the acquisition of Hardy will make MacLellan and Giles feel better about themselves. Minnesota will start the season on a sour note: The team's alltime leading scorer, Dino Ciccarelli, is holding out and demanding a trade. Mike Modano, whom the North Stars made the first pick in last June's amateur draft, is another holdout and has opted to play for his junior team. Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League. Ciccarelli pleaded guilty last January in an Eden Prairie, Minn., courtroom to the misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure. This summer he served a day in a Toronto jail for clubbing the Leafs' Luke Richardson in a game last season. That hardly puts him in an ideal bargaining position. New North Star coach Pierre Page, a respected technocrat as a Calgary assistant, will attempt to hide his team's lack of scoring behind muscle, which he has been importing in heavy doses.
Ron Caron, the St. Louis general manager, is trying a similar trick. Sick and tired of playing the 95-pound-weakling to Detroit's bullyboys—the Blues won only two of 13 regular-season and playoff games against the Wings last season—Caron fired coach Jacques Martin, hired ex-Blues captain Brian Sutter in his stead and began dealing for deltoids. Welcome 6' 5", 220-pound defenseman Dave Richter, former Vancouver basher. Hello to forward Craig Coxe, former Canucks and Flames tough guy.
The first six days of camp saw nine fights; in a Blues-Red Wings exhibition game there was a grand total of 57 penalties. Caron and Sutter are said to be pleased.
Detroit coach Jacques Demers is wondering: Now that the Oilers are Gretzky-less, might Detroit survive the Campbell Conference finals and play for the Stanley Cup? Twice Demers's teams have won the Norris Division playoff final, and twice his teams have lost to Edmonton in the conference final. These days Demers is shopping forwards Bob Probert and Petr Klima around the league. Both were among six Red Wings caught boozing it up at an Edmonton watering hole long past curfew on the night before Game 5 of the Campbell Conference final. Already this season, both players have been demoted to Adirondack: Probert for missing a team flight and Klima for missing a practice. Every team in the league would love to have Probert, a physical player with a great touch around the net, were it not for the fact that he is an alcoholic whose actions—declining to reenter a rehab program and drunk driving arrests—indicate that he doesn't fully grasp the seriousness of his problem.
Let's move to the Adams Division. Quebec head coach Ron Lapointe has surrounded himself with three former NHL head coaches: Andr� Savard, Jean Perron and Maurice Filion. All those puck smarts and Walt Poddubny, the high-scoring center acquired from the Rangers for defenseman Normand Rochefort, will not get the rebuilding Nordiques into the playoffs.
When the Hartford Whalers inexplicably scored fewer goals than all but one NHL team last season, general manager Emile Francis did not panic. The Cat dismissed as flukish bad luck the simultaneous slumps endured by mainstays Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen and Sylvain Turgeon. But if those three can't find the net this year, even the stalwart goal tending of Mike Liut won't get the Whalers past Round 1 of the playoffs.
Buffalo general manager Gerry Meehan was ominously quiet in the off-season. Other than a scoring vacuum at left wing, the Sabres—the most improved team this side of the New Jersey Devils and the Kings—look strong. Two Sabres, Ray Sheppard and Calle Johansson, were among the six to make the All-Rookie team last season. A third, Pierre Turgeon, erupted for four goals in six playoff games after a difficult regular season.
Once again Boston and Montreal will be by themselves atop the Adams. The Bruins ended their 45-year playoff drought against Montreal by beating the Habs last spring, helped in no small part by defenseman Michael Thelven's stick, which (accidentally) broke Habs sniper St�phane Richer's thumb in Game 2. In the end, the play of wing Cam Neely. defenseman Raymond Bourque and goaltender Reggie Lemelin had more to do with Boston's victories than the absence of Richer. But can the 33-year-old Lemelin, who had the series of his life against Montreal, and an outstanding postseason, sustain that level of play? He and backup goalie Andy Moog will need to be sharper than ever for the first month of this season, until snakebit defenseman Gord Kluzak returns from his eighth knee operation.
Montreal's Pat Burns says he is a "players' coach." Nobody ever said such a thing about his dismissed predecessor, Jean Perron. Burns sits with his Canadiens in the back of the plane, and eats with them on road trips. A pushover, however, he is not. Burns, an ex-policeman from Gatineau, Quebec, has this warning for the handful of young Habs whose love of nightlife leads to occasional tardiness: "If there's one thing I learned in 16 years as a cop, it's how to spot a liar."