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"This is a dangerous year for us," says Sinden. "We could be awfully good or...."
In New York's year of improbable champions it is just conceivable that the Rangers can break through the Montreal-Boston axis to win their first NHL title in 28 years. Strictly on form, no, but with some luck, maybe. The Rangers are a little bigger, a little faster, a little meaner—and in Emile Francis they possess a master coach "We have," says Francis, "the finest crop of young players in 15 years." Francis boasts a lineup that already includes two superior young sophomores—Center Walt Tkaczuk and Defenseman Brad Park.
Among the little things Francis has added is some goal insurance. Last year his splendid iron man, Ed Giacomin, played more minutes (4,114) than any other goalie and by March was extremely weary. To spell him Francis has hired that legendary net-man Terry Sawchuk, and so should have the league's best combination.
Offensively, the high-scoring line of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield returns, backed by a strong second unit of Tkaczuk, Dave Balon and Bob Nevin. All the smaller Rangers are glad to see rugged Orland Kurtenbach back in uniform after a year's absence caused by a back operation. Wise old Harry Howell, nearing the end of his defense career, was purchased by Oakland, but the Rangers are well supplied with defensive size and quality in Park, Jim Neilson, Arnie Brown and Rod Selling. The Rangers are young but, as Francis says, "old enough to know where the money is." Montreal and Boston have it, but New York being the town it is these days, the Rangers could steal it.
Jim Dorey checked into camp with sideburns curling under his jaw and his skates painted blue. Mike Walton's mop was so long he had to wear a friction-tape headband during scrimmages to keep it out of his eyes. Dave Keon got stranded on a fishing trip, reported three days late and drew a handshake instead of a fine. "There's something drastically wrong in camp this year," said 67-year-old Tommy Nayler, the assistant trainer. "I've been here three days and nobody has screamed at me, or fined me or anything. Something is wrong."
A lot of things certainly are different—if not wrong—within the Toronto organization this year, from the faces at the top to the hotels on the road. Punch Imlach, who drove his players like a Marine drill instructor, is gone and so are President C. Stafford Smythe and Executive Vice-President Harold Ballard. Jim Gregory, 34, and Johnny McLellan, 41, are the new general manager and coach, respectively, and Imlachs they aren't. "I'm not going to imitate Punch in any way," says Gregory. "We're even shooting for Monday as a day off."
But even though the Leafs will be laughing more and grumbling less, one wonders how much better they can be. The team is fairly potent up front with Norm Ullman, Keon and Walton at center and Paul Henderson and Ron Ellis at two wing positions, but after that McLellan has to scuffle. The All-Star defenseman Tim Horton has retired (he says he would reconsider for a 100% boost in pay, to $80,000); three of the four starting defenders are kids of 22 or under.