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Considering that he missed 23 games with a gimpy left knee, towering center Eric Lindros had a monster rookie season, scoring 41 goals. Lindros's linemate Mark Recchi had a career year with 123 points, but the Philadelphia Flyers need more than those two players to make the playoffs. They're a year away.
The Ottawa Senators, who finished with the worst record (10-70-4) in the league as an expansion team, and the Hartford Whalers, who weren't an expansion team but played like one, made great strides at the entry draft last June. The Senators took center Alexandre Daigle No. 1, and the Whalers astutely traded up to get defenseman Chris Pronger, who many feel was the best player in the draft. Both are future stars.
Five-time 30-goal-scorer Petr Klima brought his Edmonton Oiler pants with him when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, then painted them black. Why? "They're mine," Klima said. Can't argue with that or with the Lightning's emergence as the strongest of the recent wave of expansion teams. They'll be challenged by a new cross-state rival, the Miami-based Florida Panthers, whose training-camp regimen included beach volleyball.
Steve Yzerman knows he may be running out of time. "At some point, soon, we have to get something accomplished," says Yzerman, the 28-year-old captain of the Detroit Red Wings.
Disgusted with the Red Wings' annual disappearing act in the playoffs, owner Mike Hitch brought in Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history. Bowman is a demanding boss and an innovative thinker. To make the most of Detroit's scoring potential, he may put highflying center Sergei Fedorov on Yzerman's right wing. "Scotty will make the difference," says Bryan Murray, who gave up coaching to concentrate on his duties as general manager. "He's a very confident guy."
As opposed to goalie Tim Cheveldae, who was devastated by last year's harrowing seven-game loss to Toronto in the first round. "I couldn't sleep," he said. "It consumed my whole life." Before the doors fall off, Chevy ought to be recalled and replaced by a newer model. That would give the Wings a better chance at the Cup.
Burdened by his rock-star popularity in western Canada, Pavel Bure of the Vancouver Canucks fled to L.A. to spend the summer working out under the watchful eye of his father, Vladimir, a former Olympic swimmer. The Russian Rocket went into orbit last season, scoring 60 goals and leading the Canucks to a second consecutive division title. But coach and general manager (Stand) Pat Quinn lived up to his nickname in the off-season, and it's clear Vancouver won't win the Cup on rocket fuel alone.
A Stanley Cup runner-up hasn't made it back to the finals since 1984. For the Los Angeles Kings to break the streak, they'll need a great season from the Great One. Wayne Gretzky missed 39 games last year because of a herniated disk in his upper back but returned to lead all scorers in the playoffs. Owner Bruce McNall rewarded Gretzky with a new three-year contract worth $25.5 million, making him the highest-paid player in any team sport. He enters the season with 765 goals, 36 short of Gordie Howe's record.