- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Nordiques made the biggest single-season improvement of any team in NHL history last season, doubling their point total from 52 in '91-92 to 104. And that was only the first step. Swedish center Peter Forsberg, the best player not currently playing in the NHL, signed a reported four-year, $10 million contract. After the Winter Olympics, and in plenty of time for the playoffs, he's expected to join young guns Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan to make Quebec what could become the most dangerous offensive team in the league. Dangerous, however, is also an apt description of the Nordiques' goaltending: Untested 23-year-old Stéphane Fiset will take over in the nets.
In their first playoff appearance in six years, the Nordiques led the hated Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in the division semifinals before self-destructing. The Canadiens went on to outwork, outwit and outluck three more teams en route to their 24th Stanley Cup. But there's no rest for the weary. Not long after the Canadiens eliminated the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the finals, center Stephan Lebeau was stopped by a janitor in a dank stairway at the Montreal Forum. "Are you guys going to win the Cup next year?" the man asked.
Lebeau couldn't believe it. "Hey, we've only had the thing for 10 minutes!" he said. "Let me enjoy it!" As usual, the Canadiens will go as far as goalie Patrick Roy, the playoff MVP, can carry them.
It took Al Arbour all season to get his young players to believe in themselves, but in the post-season the New York Islanders were a joy to watch. Building on that success, stylish center Pierre Turgeon, rugged defenseman Darius Kasparaitis and new goalie Ron Hextall should power the Isles to their first division title in six years.
The Washington Capitals were tired of watching their talented European forwards get pushed around. So, with punishing center Dale Hunter suspended until Nov. 21 because of the heinous late hit he dealt Turgeon in the playoffs, the Caps acquired tough-guy forward Craig Berube from Calgary and minor league enforcer Enrico Ciccone, who was arrested last season after having an altercation with a photographer stationed in the penalty box during a game. "He's crazy," says fellow Capital enforcer Alan May, with a hint of admiration.
Even if power forward Cam Neely has completely recovered from the knee and thigh ailments that have limited him to 22 games the past two seasons (not likely), and linemate Joe Juneau surpasses his great rookie season (likely), and goalie Jon Casey makes the locals finally forget about Gerry Cheevers (not a chance), the Boston Bruins still won't get within sniffing distance of the Cup.
Neither will the New York Rangers, which may come as a shock to new coach Mike Keenan. On the first day of camp, Iron Mike showed the Rangers a videotape of the route their victory parade might take when they win the Cup for the first time since 1940. Dream on. Although he and Keenan were acting like pals, fading center Mark Messier earned a reputation as a coach-killer last year, when he orchestrated a dressing-room rebellion against the now-departed Roger Neilson. Messier won that battle, but lost the war, as the Rangers tumbled from first to last in the division. They'll be better, but not that much better.
For the fifth time in general manager Lou Lamoriello's six-year tenure, the New Jersey Devils have a new coach. This time the unlucky Devil is Jacques Lemaire, who brought fellow Canadien Hall of Famer Larry Robinson with him as an assistant. "Let's hope a little of their magic rubs off," says Devil defenseman Ken Daneyko. It won't unless Lamoriello trades for a No. 1 center.
With a shocking first-round sweep of the Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres achieved a major goal: They won a playoff series for the first time in 10 years. That done, they could find themselves playing some early golf next spring, which may be just as well since they can't seem to get enough of that game. Roly-poly goalie Grant Fuhr reported to camp 25 pounds overweight, after spending the summer on the course but off a weight-training program. Golf has also occupied reigning goal-scoring co-champ Alexander Mogilny, whose surgically repaired ankle didn't keep him off the links. It may, however, keep him off the ice until the end of October.