11. ST. LOUIS BLUES. Boss Sid Salomon III will say things like "patience can be a minor despair disguised as a virtue," and over the past four years the impetuous Salomon has employed seven coaches while making more trades than any other NHL owner. Two of Sid the Third's preseason deals—Winger Greg Polis to the Rangers for non-Defenseman Larry Sacharuk, and the fine Goaltender Wayne Stephenson to the Flyers for future considerations and a kid who played in the WHA—defy understanding. However, Salomon now claims he will be extremely patient with his current coach, Lou Angotti, and with all the Blues unless, as he says, "the right thing comes up, and then we'll move soon." On the whole the Blues seem to be thinking more about 1975-76 than 1974-75. They may play as many as eight rookies regularly. Garry Unger (33 goals), who will have the combative newcomer John Wensink for a bodyguard, Pierre Plante (26) and Wayne Merrick (20) carry the attack, while Captain Barclay Plager and Don Awrey lend experience and toughness on defense. Lanky John Davidson, spectacular as a rookie, is without doubt the best 21-year-old goaltender on the continent.
12. NEW YORK ISLANDERS. Wanted (desperately): One center who can handle the puck to work between two superkids who promise to do all the dirty work in the corners. The Islanders are just one Jean Ratelle away from being a solid team. Right Wing Billy Harris scored 28 and 23 goals in his first two NHL seasons, but he spent much of the time skating offside while awaiting errant passes from a collection of forgettable centers. His opposite wing, the rugged rookie Clark Gillies, is potentially a fine one. Their present center, old hand Eddie Westfall, is a former defenseman turned forward, and while he tries, Westfall admittedly is not a Ratelle. Bob Bourne, a tall rookie from Saskatoon, centers the second line for Bob Nystrom, beneficiary of lessons from a female figure skater, and pint-sized Garry Howatt, who had a record 29 five-minute fighting penalties last year while punching his way to the NHL's all-class championship. "We must improve our offense drastically," says Coach Al Arbour, noting that Rookie-of-the-Year Defenseman Denis Potvin led the team—offensively the NHL's worst—in scoring last season. Even without a standout center the Islanders would make the playoffs if the NHL had a basketball-style, wild-card qualifying system like the WHA's.
13. MINNESOTA NORTH STARS. A model franchise only yesterday, the North Stars are fighting for survival. Big salaries, timid players and care-not attitudes ruined them last year. Now season-ticket sales are down and the WHA's Fighting Saints seem to be taking over the local sports pages. Jackie Gordon, whom the former general manager, Wren Blair, removed as coach last January, comes back as coach and general manager and promises drastic changes if the North Stars do not rediscover the work ethic. In the past, Gordon's threats were unheeded and the players went over his head to a sympathetic Blair. "Now there's a clear line of authority," Gordon says. Mindful of Minnesota's soft image, Gordon acquired muscular Wingers Henry Boucha, John Flesch and Don Martineau in trades and promoted heavyweight Defenseman Chris Ahrens from the minors. However, the attack still is basically one line—Dennis Hextall (62 assists) centering for Bill Goldsworthy (48 goals) and J.P. Parise. The defense could use come-back-of-the-year performances from Barry Gibbs and Tom Reid and Rookie-of-the-Year play by 19-year-old Doug Hicks. Oh, yes. Gump Worsley has retired—again—leaving Cesare Maniago practically alone in goal.
14. VANCOUVER CANUCKS. "For the first time ever," says Phil Maloney, "the coach and the general manager of the Canucks will be in agreement on how to run the hockey club." Maloney ought to know: he is the coach and general manager as Vancouver turns to one-man rule after four years of operational turbulence. If the Canucks occasionally remember to play defense they could take a playoff spot from Minnesota. "My main interest," Maloney says, "is to get some checking help for Gary Smith so he doesn't end up in a mental institution." Maloney may trade offense-minded Defenseman Jocelyn Guevremont (15 goals) for some defensive defensemen; Montreal and Chicago both covet him. Top scorers Andre Boudrias (59 assists), Dennis Ververgaert (26 goals) and Don Lever (23 goals) are packaged on one line, and when the opposition muscles them into the boards Maloney can counter with his new body-bending unit of Center Gerry O'Flaherty and Defensemen-turned-Wingers Dave Dunn and Gregg Boddy. Still, the Canucks are not as strong as the Vancouver Blazers of the WHA.
15. DETROIT RED WINGS. Alex Delvecchio may not know the Ivy League from the Three-I League, but he knows that Cornellian Ned Harkness left him with a club that missed the playoffs four straight years. "We've got to build again," concedes Delvecchio, who has added the title of general manager to the coaching job he inherited early last season. By build, Delvecchio means trade. "Defensively, we're pretty weak," he says. True. The Red Wings have a surplus of forwards, including top draft pick Bill Lochead, who do their checking only at the bank. Jean Hamel, the best of the alleged defenders, is a no-hit, artful-dodger type. To get help Delvecchio must trade either Center Marcel (Little Beaver) Dionne, Right Wing Mickey Redmond (52 and 51 goals the last two years) or Left Wing Nick Libett. "We'll have to do something," says Delvecchio. If he does not, diminutive Goaltender Jimmy Rutherford could be sidelined with shell shock before Thanksgiving.
16. KANSAS CITY SCOUTS. In Boston, Bep Guidolin had a simple coaching philosophy: "Whenever the Bruins were in trouble, I sent No. 4 onto the ice." Now when Guidolin calls for No. 4, Bart Crashley, not Bobby Orr, will jump up. Defenseman Brent Hughes is so enthusiastic about the Scouts that he has signed with the WHA's San Diego Mariners for next season. Besides the usual problems of a new team, the Scouts face an added handicap: they must play their first eight games on the road while waiting for their new building to be completed. Former Flyer Simon Nolet and wealthy rookies Wilf Paiement and Glen Burdon will score frequently, but the defense, including No. 4, is terribly weak. Guidolin promises an " Atlanta-style" skating club. "Put No. 4 on our team," he says, "and I'll guarantee that we make the playoffs." Orr, that is, not Crashley.
17. CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS. Gone is Charles O. Finley, the owner. Gone is Charley O, the mule. Gone are the white skates. Gone are the Kelly-green, California-gold and polar bear-white uniforms. Gone, too, are Ivan Boldirev, Walt McKechnie, Reggie Leach and Gary Croteau, four of the top five scorers. Now the Seals are orphans, owned by the NHL, which bought out Finley and his mule but has yet to convince potential investors that the sad franchise is worth $6 million. This year the Seals wear traditional black skate boots and uniforms of Pacific blue, canary yellow and milk white, but the colors cannot obscure their ineptness. In building a better defense after allowing the most goals in the league, the Seals foolishly traded almost their entire attack, retaining only top scorer Joey Johnston. While ex-Ranger Jim Neilson, 18-year-old rookie Rick Hampton, who drags down $150,000 a year, and former Chicago farmhand Mike Christie provide beleaguered Goaltender Gilles Meloche improved protection, the Seals will rarely bother goaltenders at the opposite end. "We'll keep more pucks out," concludes Coach Marshall Johnston, "but so will the other clubs."
18. WASHINGTON CAPITALS. The program for an exhibition game in London, Ontario mistakenly labeled the Caps the "Washington Generals." A mere typographical error perhaps, but a catastrophic blunder to citizens in the District. The Generals are Red Klotz' barnstorming basketball team, which has lost a few million games to the Harlem Globetrotters, and even the Caps expect to have a slightly better record than that. "We are weak on defense and down through center," admits General Manager Milt Schmidt. So weak that Coach Jimmy Anderson may rotate his three goaltenders—Ron Low, Michel Belhumeur and John Adams—period by period to preserve their dignity. The Caps spent some $2.5 million signing their first six amateur draft choices to long-term contracts, but No. 1 pick Greg Joly, a rushing defenseman, seems injury-prone, and No. 2 pick Mike Marson, a black left wing, checked in 20 pounds overweight. A variation on the old saying makes sense again: first in war, first in peace and last in the National League.