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On the occasion of his 30th birthday a few weeks ago, Guy Lafleur decided to sleep in and skip an 8:30 a.m. practice scheduled by new MONTREAL Coach Bob Berry. So what else was new? The inmates had been running the asylum in Montreal since Scotty Bowman moved his dictatorship to Buffalo after the Canadiens' won their fourth straight Stanley Cup in 1979. Boom-Boom Geoffrion threw up his hands and quit as coach 30 games into the 1979-80 season, and his successor, Claude Ruel, was given the Rodney Dangerfield treatment by the Canadiens until he quit in disgust last April after Edmonton routed Montreal in the playoffs.
But Berry is of the Bowman persuasion. As coach of the L.A. Kings the last three seasons, he fined any player who showed up with a suntan. Berry hit Lafleur with a $300 fine, and while that sum is merely loose change for the Flower, Berry's message was clear: I'm running the show, boys.
Berry, however, has hardly inherited a powerhouse. Lafleur missed 29 games because of various injuries last season and scored only 27 goals. He needs a playmaking center to be effective, and there are no young Beliveaus or Lemaires wearing the rouge, blanc et bleu these days.
Defensively, the Big Three is just a memory—Serge Savard has retired and Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe are coming off poor seasons—and the big names now are Rod Langway and Brian Engblom. As for goalies, Richard Sevigny, Denis Herron and Rick Walmsley don't add up to one Ken Dryden. Despite its problems, Montreal won't be embarrassed in the division, but the Cup is out of the question.
Bowman is back behind the bench in BUFFALO , which finished No. 2 overall when he was there in 1979-80 but slumped to fifth last season when he stuck to his general manager's duties. He has phased out some of those faded Sabres whose emotionless, if occasionally effective, style put the fans to sleep. His building blocks include Tony McKegney (37 goals last season), J.F. Sauve, Gilles Hamel, Alan Haworth, Steve Patrick and Randy Cunneyworth. Danny Gare, Mr. True Grit, who scored 46 goals in 1980-81, will shoulder the offensive load until Gilbert Perreault recovers from his broken ankle, which may not be until mid-November. Bowman's doghouse also has a new main occupant these days, Goaltender Bob Sauve, so Don Edwards probably will see far more action than Sauve.
Let's look at BOSTON 's regress chart. Lost in the Stanley Cup finals in 1978. Lost in the semifinals in 1979. Lost in the quarterfinals in 1980. Lost in the preliminary round in 1981. Worse still, the Adams will be a skater's division, and the Bruins have more muckers than skaters. Rick Middleton (44 goals last year) is a high-quality forward, and Defenseman Ray Bourque has made the All-Star team each of his two NHL seasons. Bourque is exceptional offensively but could improve his defensive play. In an attempt to halt their slide, the Bruins may break in as many as six rookies, including Wing Norm Leveille, who reminds some Bostonians of a young Yvan Cournoyer. It will help if Goalie Rogie Vachon, now 36, reminds Bostonians of a young Rogie Vachon.
Quebec avoided goaltending troubles when it re-signed free-agent holdout Dan Bouchard last week. Quebec was struggling last Jan. 30 when Bouchard was acquired from Calgary, but the Nordiques then won 19 of their last 30 games. On offense, Quebec has as much firepower as any NHL team, with natural scorers Jacques Richard (52 goals last season); Michel Goulet (32); Real Cloutier (15 in 34 games); and the Stastny brothers, Peter and Anton, who had 39 goals apiece after defecting from Czechoslovakia. Now a third Stastny brother has defected to Quebec, Marian, 28, and he's supposed to be the best scorer in the family. Bouchard no doubt decided he would be better off playing with these shooters than against them.
A Save the Whalers campaign has been launched in HARTFORD , where 34-year-old Larry Pleau moved from assistant coach to interim coach to head coach and general manager—all in the time it takes to learn how to pronounce his name (plo). The Whalers should be saved from themselves. Pleau's only positive move was stealing free-agent Goaltender Greg Millen from Pittsburgh. Disaster move No. 1: packaging his 1982 No. 1 draft pick—hello, Brian Bellows—in the deal that brought Rick MacLeish from Philadelphia. MacLeish is a freewheeler who does his checking only at the bank. Disaster move No. 2: trading Center Mike Rogers, a 40-goal scorer, to the Rangers last week for three players who would not have made New York's roster.
Two years ago ST. LOUIS advanced from 16th to 10th in the overall standings, and last season moved up to second. Trouble was, the Blues then had a short playoff life last spring, being upset by the Rangers in the quarterfinals. As for continued improvement, St. Louis hardly needs much of that from its forwards. Right Wing Wayne Babych scored 54 goals, and his playmaker, Center Bernie Federko, had 73 assists to go with 31 goals. In all, five Blues forwards had more than 30 goals, and five others scored 20 or more.