As the New York
Islanders filed off the ice after a recent preseason practice, assistant
trainer Jim Pickard put the 1983-84 National Hockey League season, which opens
this week, in perspective. "I figured it out, guys," Pickard said to
the players. "There are only 288,000 seconds left to play in
And, overtime or
no, come next April when regulation ends and Stanley Cup play begins, the
Islanders will launch in earnest what is already known as the Drive for Five.
As the man who will lead his teammates on that drive, Goaltender Billy Smith
(behind the controls of the Zamboni machine, left), says, "We have a chance
to do something only one other team has ever done." That something is
winning a fifth consecutive Stanley Cup, a feat accomplished only by the
Montreal Canadiens from 1956 to 1960.
Some team could
run the Islanders off the road, of course. Edmonton? Boston? Even Toronto,
considering that in the NHL, as has been said, "Not making the playoffs is
like not making the phone book."
With that in
mind, turn the page for a preview of this season and the playoffs, which are,
after all, only 3,024,000 game seconds away...barring overtime.
Last season 127 regular-season games, 15% of the schedule, ended in ties. Now
the NHL is introducing a five-minute sudden-death overtime period in order to
reduce the number of standoffs. But let's not get too excited. Most teams
aren't likely to go hell-bent for a win—worth two points in the standings—when
they can be assured of one point for a tie.
The New York Rangers outsmarted the Detroit Red Wings and at the same time shed
their Smurf image by trading for the league's biggest player, 6'5"
Defenseman Willy Huber, and a pair of young 6-foot wingers—Mark Osborne, 22,
and Mike Blaisdell, 23. In return, the Rangers gave up (read: got rid of) Wing
Ron Duguay and also tossed in Wing Eddie Johnstone and Goalie Ed Mio. Duguay
was a problem child for Ranger Coach Herb Brooks; he enraged Brooks with his
habitual lateness to practices, and the almost daily sight of Duguay's mug in
the gossip columns drove Brooks batty. Duguay didn't help matters by slumping
32 points from his 1981-82 total of 76.
There is no reason to believe that Duguay will get along any better with Red
Wing Coach Nick Polano, a disciplinarian, than he did with Brooks. And wait
until the Blue Jeans Kid learns that last call in the Motor City is 2 a.m., not
4 as in New York, and that there is only one East Side.
Brad Park from Boston to Detroit. The forwards who tried to scoot around this
once-great defenseman in cozy Boston Garden will have a much easier-time of it
in the spacious rink at Joe Louis Arena. Park, who is 35 and gimpy-kneed,
kissed off any hope he might have had of getting his name inscribed on the Cup.
And this for a reported extra $50,000 per year and a couple of Red Wing owner
Mike Ilitch's pizza parlors to be named later.
IN THE RIGHT
PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME IN THE DRAFT
New York Islanders. After Hartford, drafting second and in need of a gate
attraction, inexplicably passed up Pat LaFontaine, the scoring machine from the
Detroit area who got 104 goals last season and broke several scoring records in
the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Islander G.M. Bill Torrey jumped on him.
Torrey got a great young talent for late-February arrival; LaFontaine presently
is skating with the U.S. Olympic team. After the Games, LaFontaine will join
the Islanders and eventually (probably sooner than later) succeed Butch Goring,
33, or Wayne Merrick, 31, as a regular center.
DRAFT? WAS THERE