Geoffrion has only defiance for the Canadiens. "We've got the players to finish first," he argues. "Look at last year—we finished only four points behind them then. Considering how much this team has improved in the last two years, I don't see any reason why we can't beat out Montreal."
In Boston there seems to be a remarkable relationship between violence and productivity. As the NHL's most penalized team, the Bruins finished third last season and made the playoffs for the first time in nine years. There is no doubt the Bruins again will score more than their share of goals. They are strong and deep at center, with clever Phil Esposito (35 goals), smooth Fred Stanfield (20) and brash Derek Sanderson (24), who was last year's best rookie. Although veteran Johnny Bucyk's bad back may cause him to miss many games, the Bruins also are loaded with good wings. But the team has three important "ifs." They are Bobby Orr's injured knees, Teddy Green's injured knees and injured pride, and one of the weakest goaltending combinations in the league.
The 20-year-old Orr, who missed 28 games with injuries (knees, shoulder separation, broken nose) last year but still was voted the league's best defenseman, has had three operations on his knees during the last two years. "Now they will be as good as new," Orr says optimistically. Green—Terrible Teddy to both his fans and rivals—seemed to recover from his knee miseries during the second half of last season, when he was one of the NHL's best defensemen. He played so well, in fact, that he wanted the Bruins to renegotiate the contract he had signed for this year. The club refused, and Green—his pride wounded—threatened to quit. If Orr is fit physically, and Green is both on hand and happy, the Bruins' defense will be strong, particularly since Don Awrey and Dallas Smith developed into solid NHL players a year ago.
Goaltending is the major problem. Neither Gerry Cheevers nor Ed Johnston is good enough to carry the team. Still, Boston might well finish third again.
CHICAGO BLACK HAWKS
Things were different in the Black Hawks' training camp this fall, and it wasn't just the banging of hammers and whining of buzzsaws as workers refurbished Chicago Stadium. "Everybody's here," said Defenseman Doug Jarrett, "and everybody's working."
That was the difference. Last year Bobby Hull worked his cattle ranch in Ontario for a few extra days and Goalie Denis DeJordy held out for a few extra dollars, while those who were in camp seemed to be coasting on the memory of the previous season's championship. As a result, the Hawks got off to a horrible start and never fully recovered.
Even though Stan Mikita won the scoring championship with 87 points and Hull scored 44 goals (following his 54-and 52-goal years), Chicago slipped into the playoffs only because Toronto could not beat the expansion teams. Except for Kenny Wharram and Doug Mohns up front, there was little else to cheer.
"We need help at center ice," says Coach Billy Reay. "There's no secret about that."