General manager Cliff Fletcher, coach Pat Burns and center Doug Gilmour turned the Toronto Maple Leafs from a laughingstock into a contender practically overnight. Burns burns with the desire to win, and he instilled a never-say-die attitude that carried the Leafs within one game of the finals. To get that far again, Gilmour, 30, will have to duplicate his team-carrying 127-point season, and acrobatic goalie Felix (the Cat) Potvin, 22, must avoid anything remotely resembling a sophomore slump.
Despite facing a league-high 2,202 shots last season, Curtis Joseph of the St. Louis Blues emerged with his reputation and his sanity intact. His mask, however, was another story. Cracked and battered, it's on display at the new Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Unfortunately, the arrival of defenseman Phil Housley from Winnipeg will bolster only the offense. The encouraging news for the Blues is that scoring machine Brett Hull, who "slumped" to 54 goals last season, was flashing his million-dollar smile with regularity in training camp.
The slogan for the Chicago Blackhawks in their final season in thunderous Chicago Stadium is "Remember the Roar." Sadly, the Hawks are apt to go out with a whimper. The glaring weaknesses exposed by Pittsburgh in the '91 finals have yet to be shored up. Jeremy Roenick remains the only consistent scoring threat, and evil-tempered goalie Ed Belfour has yet to prove he can win a big game.
The Winnipeg Jets are Euro-trashing TV commentator Don Cherry's worst nightmare. They brought 20 Europeans to training camp, and nearly 40% of their roster will be populated by non-North Americans. Foremost among them is Teemu Selanne, the Finnish Flash, who set a rookie record last year with 76 goals. Selanne is something of a hero in his native Finland, where he drives in road rallies under the alias Ted Flash. It caused quite a stir in his homeland this summer when he was caught speeding and lost his driver's license. "There is a lot of competition between the newspapers there," he says. "They would like to report it every time I go to the toilet."
The toilet is exactly where the Calgary Flames have descended since they won the Cup in 1989. Thanks to the cleverness of coach Dave King and the relative weakness of the conference, they'll probably sputter their way into the playoffs.
Leaving grieving fans and a still-pending sexual-harassment suit in his wake, owner Norm Green has re-created the Minnesota North Stars as the Dallas Stars. In Texas, he figures, the chants of "Norm sucks!" that he heard in Minnesota will be a dim memory. The Stars look the same, and they'll probably play the same, barring a breakout season by center Mike Modano and a major comeback by goalie Andy Moog, who was booted from Boston after faltering in the playoffs.
The San Jose Sharks were toothless in their second season, so over the summer they added a couple of Russian retreads to give their anemic power play some bite. "We're going to put live guys on the ice who will make your eyes spin," promises director of hockey operations Dean Lombardi, Yeah, right.
Any resemblance between the Edmonton Oilers of today and the dynasty of yesterday is purely coincidental. Owner Peter Pocklington has pared the payroll to around $8 million and seems poised to move this gutted franchise south of the border. Houston, maybe?
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are exhibiting behavior that's most un-Disney-like. Duck enforcer Stu Grimson, a.k.a. the Grim Reaper, even says, "We won't be intimidated." The Ducks figure to be more beast than beauty.