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The team that ruined Montreal's summer vacation was the QUEBEC NORDIQUES who followed their playoff upset of the Canadiens with a stunning defeat of Boston. Leading the Nordiques are the Stastnys three, Peter, Anton and Marian, who staged a fraternal wildcat strike in training camp in an effort to renegotiate their contracts. Quebec has offered to talk to Peter—one of the truly great players in hockey—but has said ne to Anton and Marian. The Nordiques have one of the league's most potent offenses, with Michel Goulet (42 goals), Marc Tardif (39) and Réal Cloutier (37) adding some French flair to the Czech connection. But if Quebec is to climb in the standings, it will have to cut down on its goals-against, which stood at 345 in 1981-82. Dan Bouchard, the goalie, is a streak player, and if he gets hot in the playoffs, the Nordiques could beat anyone.
The big story out of the BUFFALO SABRES' training camp this fall was Phil Housley, the club's No. 1 draft choice. Coach and General Manager Scotty Bowman has called him "the nearest thing to Bobby Orr I've seen." Not bad for an 18-year-old kid from St. Paul. Housley is only 5'10", 180 pounds, but he should find a spot on the team, which Bowman is in the process of rebuilding. Housley can play either center or defense. Bowman seems to like versatility. He has alternated between coaching and managing the Sabres over the past three years, with the apparent result that he has done neither job well. Bowman will start behind the bench again, but bets are that Assistant Coach Red Berenson will take over by New Year's. The Sabres' biggest shortcoming last season was lack of firepower. Mike Foligno and Dale McCourt had 33 goals apiece, followed by Gil Perreault's 31. However, Buffalo was 16th in scoring overall. Don't look for much from the Sabres for two or three years, when the young players begin to mature.
Speaking of teams not to look for—ladies and gentlemen, we give you the HARTFORD WHALERS . Last year Hartford traded its top draft choice for over-the-hill Rick MacLeish, and by midseason MacLeish was gone. This summer's gem was Mark Howe for Ken Linseman, whom the Whalers promptly dealt to Edmonton for Risto Siltanen. Risto Siltanen? For Mark Howe? Golly, golly, golly. For excitement, Hartford fans will be able to watch Blaine Stoughton and Pierre Larouche try to find their way back into the defensive zone while the team struggles to match the 21-41-18 record it had each of the last two seasons.
April 1982. Opening round of the playoffs, the EDMONTON OILERS vs. the Los Angeles Kings, who had finished 48 points behind Edmonton. The series is tied at one game each. Score: 4-0 Oilers in the second period. The Kings are struggling during a man-up situation. Suddenly the Edmonton bench begins booing the Los Angeles power play. Cocky? You bet. Immature? You said it. After giving up yet another goal, the Kings come back to win 6-5. They go on to steal the series three games to two. All that's sad about the Oilers' collapse is that it tarnished Wayne Gretzky's stunning season (92 goals, 120 assists, 212 points—all records), the likes of which may never be seen again. But Gretzky was no one-man gang. Glenn Anderson had 105 points, Mark Messier scored 50 goals and the Oilers' 417 goals set an NHL record. "Maybe we concentrated too much on the records," says Coach and GM Glen Sather. "I don't think you'll see Gretzky getting quite the ice time this year that he did last." We shall see. Other priorities include getting Defenseman Paul Coffey (29 goals) to perform as superbly as he did in the first half of 1981-82 and Goalie Grant Fuhr, who had a shoulder operation this summer, back into shape. Ken Linseman was acquired in August to add playoff spark, but he might end up just adding penalty minutes. Already he has been suspended for the first four games for eye-gouging in an exhibition game. The key is still Gretzky. In games in which he scored a goal last season, the Oilers were 40-6-9. When he was shut out, Edmonton was 8-11-6.
The new coach of the CALGARY FLAMES is Badger Bob Johnson, who guided Wisconsin to three NCAA titles. Johnson has one of the finest hockey minds in the world. He also has lots of good forwards, including Lanny McDonald (40 goals), Mel Bridgman (33), Kevin LaVallee (32), Jim Peplinski (30) and Kent Nilsson (26 in 41 games). The goaltending will be improved, thanks to the arrival of Don Edwards. The weakness will be defense, which has little depth behind Phil Russell, Richie Dunn and Paul Reinhart. Convincing the Flames that anybody can play defense if he works his tail off will be Johnson's greatest challenge.
The challenge facing VANCOUVER CANUCKS Coach Roger Neilson? How to keep Vancouverites from falling asleep while watching his team. Neilson's clutch-and-grab tactics work wonders in the playoffs, but over 80 games they wear thin. Still, Vancouver, which hasn't played .500-or-better hockey since 1975-76, may do so this year. Thomas Gradin (37 goals) should get offensive help from rookies Patrik Sundstrom and Moe Lemay, and he'll need it; Vancouver was 18th in goals scored last season. On defense, Tiger Williams and Harold Snepsts will bang heads, but if Canuck fans think Goalie Richard Brodeur can carry this group of over-achievers to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year, they'll wind up crying into their towels.
Last season the WINNIPEG JETS were the most improved team in league history, leaping from nine wins in 1980-81 to 33. The going will be tougher this time around, primarily because the Jets are now in the Smythe Division, and thus will have eight fewer games against feckless Toronto and Detroit. Winnipeg is still on the rise, however. Last season's Rookie of the Year, Dale Hawerchuk, 19, has put on 15 pounds of muscle and weighs 190, and Morris Lukowich (43 goals, 49 assists) keeps improving. On defense, Serge Savard will hobble out for one more season, but the pivotal player is Dave Babych, once dubbed The Franchise, a title he cheerfully bequeathed to Hawerchuk. If the Jets repeat last year's .500 effort, the season will be considered a success.
Which could well leave the LOS ANGELES KINGS out in the cold. One of the team's difficulties is that it's hard to concentrate on hockey in Southern California, where nobody really gives a damn about the sport. Another difficulty is that L.A. plays every game on the road as if it had jet lag. Coach Don Perry, who'll be starting his first full season in L.A., is a no-nonsense type who might change some of this, but, Lord, what a row to hoe! The Kings were 20th in the NHL last year in goals against. The offense again will rely on Marcel Dionne, who had his fourth consecutive 50-goal season in 1981-82, and Dave Taylor, who had better than 100 points for the second year in a row. Charlie Simmer is trying to regain the form he displayed in 1980-81, when he had his second straight 56-goal year but broke his right leg near the end of the season. He scored just 15 goals in 50 games last year. Until the Kings figure out how to reduce the number of rebounds caroming off Goalie Mario Lessard—and going in—they'll just lose a lot of games 6-4.