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One way or another, the NHL will never be the same.
The 1993-94 season opens with new teams in Florida and California, an old team in Texas and no team in Minnesota. To the delight of casual fans, the division names—Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe—have been consigned to the dustbin of history, replaced by user-friendly names that make geographic sense. On top of that, a new playoff structure, involving the top eight teams in each conference, should ensure a stronger field.
"We're going big-time," says Jacques Demers, coach of the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. "Finally, this league is heading in the right direction."
Imagine that. A few things still need work. The 84-game regular season, for example, is way too long and somewhat meaningless. Sometime around the summer solstice, Pittsburgh, whose dynasty was rudely interrupted by the New York Islanders last season, will defeat Detroit to win the Cup for the third time in four years.
With a 56-21-7 record and an 18-game unbeaten streak in the last month of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins swaggered into the playoffs. They won't make that mistake again.
"We put too much importance on the regular season," center Mario Lemieux said over the summer. Last season Lemieux missed 24 games with various ailments—including Hodgkin's disease, which is now in remission—but still won his fourth scoring title, with 160 points. "When we won our first two Stanley Cups, we paced ourselves all season. I think that's the way we have to look at it." As if to underscore the point, Lemieux is planning to finesse the first month of the season to give his surgically repaired back more time to recover. Lemieux's easy-does-it approach, though, won't endear him to the fans paying $40 a pop for regular-season tickets.
Former Penguin coach Scotty Bowman, who was the scapegoat for the team's second-round departure from the playoffs, took his 834 career wins and six Stanley Cup rings to Detroit. In his place stands Eddie Johnston, who during an earlier tour of duty behind the Penguin bench (1980 to '83) became the third-losingest coach (79-126-35) in Penguin history. Johnston drafted Lemieux and traded for power forward Kevin Stevens, but he hasn't coached in a decade. Unlike Bowman, Johnston is Mario-approved, and with bodyguards Rick Tocchet and Marty McSorley, goalie Tom Barrasso and center Ron Francis among Lemieux's supporting cast, the transition shouldn't be too tough.
Except, perhaps, on the nights the Penguins play the Quebec Nordiques. Pierre Pagé, the Nordique coach and general manager, reacted angrily when Lemieux seemed to be belittling the Northeast Division race by suggesting he would take it easier during the regular season. "That's——, complete——," Pagé says. "Anybody who dogs it, they're not going to be around at the end."