As the NHL unveils yet another 840-game preseason before the serious stuff begins in April, the Stanley Cup resides on Long Island, Don Cherry is perusing the "coach wanted" ads, and a new rule entitled "Fisticuffs" will attempt to stop the ice-boxing. Rule No. 54 states that when two players start duking it out, all other players must retreat to a designated neutral area away from the action. During exhibition games, though, no players bothered to look for those neutral zones. With that example in mind, we'll be anything but neutral in our analysis of the season ahead.
Three Coaches Who Could Be Fired by Christmas:
1) Roger Neilson, Buffalo. Captain Video's boring technical and defensive approach to the game put the people of Toronto to sleep when he coached the Maple Leafs; now he replaces Scotty Bowman behind the Sabres' bench, with Bowman restricting his role to that of general manager. During training camp Neilson offered the Sabres at least four videotaped "courses," such as Moving the Puck Out of Your Own End 101. If Forward Danny Gare and Defenseman Jim Schoenfeld aren't TV freaks, Neilson will be in trouble.
2) Keith Magnuson, Chicago. Last spring Black Hawks Coach Eddie Johnston dismissed Assistant Coach Magnuson after Magnuson had sided with General Manager Bob Pulford in a debate over the merits of Goaltender Tony Esposito, a Johnston favorite. Then the Black Hawks decided not to re-sign Johnston and hired Magnuson, a former Hawk defenseman who retired early last season, to replace him. If Magnuson can't keep Tony-O happy, forget it.
3) Fred Shero, New York Rangers. As the Rangers opened training camp, Shero told them, "Hello, my name is Fred Shero. Over the summer I took a course in communication. And I passed it." Freddy the Fog also publicly admitted he had a drinking problem last season. The Rangers have revamped their front-office staff, disposing of all of Shero's cronies. A bad start and Shero will be gone, too. Former Ranger star Rod Gilbert is in the wings at New Haven.
Statistics Aside, the Two Goaltenders You'd Give Anything to Have on Your Roster:
1) Mike Liut, St. Louis. Liut started 62 of the Blues' 80 games last season after joining them from the WHA; thanks largely to him, St. Louis was the NHL's most improved team, winning 34 games after only 18 victories the previous year. "Without Liut," says one NHL general manager, " St. Louis is nothing."
2) Tony Esposito, Chicago. Why the Black Hawks would ever dream of doubting this man's performance ranks as No. 1 on any list of stupid questions.
The Three Players You'd Want to Have the Puck on a Breakaway in Sudden-Death Overtime of the Seventh Game of the Stanley Cup Finals:
1) Guy Lafleur, Montreal. By a country mile. Cool-hand Guy—the best player in the game—makes more good moves than the seven Santini brothers put together.