Fans and media in St. Louis are up in arms because the Blues have not yet negotiated a new contract with Brett Hull, whose 42 goals lead the NHL and constitute more than one-quarter of the team's offense.
There is concern not only that he might go elsewhere in the NHL but that he could be a target of a possible new hockey league, something under discussion by those who find the NHL's $50 million expansion fee ludicrous. It will be remembered that Brett's dad, Bobby, was the player whose defection made the World Hockey Association viable in the early '70s.
Brett Hull, who reportedly makes $175,000 a year, said he was ready to sign a contract if the club made a solid offer, but the Blues appear willing to wait until the end of the season. As his goals mount, he becomes a hotter item and therefore a bigger problem for a club with a history of pinching pennies.
"I honestly don't know what the Blues are doing," he said. "I guess both sides thought it would be simpler, but by being successful I'm making it tougher for them. Obviously they didn't think I was as good as I thought I was.
"I love it in St. Louis and I don't want to leave. I love the people here. I'm playing out my option because of money, not because of the city."
Ron Caron, the Blues' general manager, said: "I've talked to him about it and he says it's not bothering him. If it was, we'd do something about it. But it's making him play better if anything."
Bob Goodenow, Hull's agent, intends to complete the negotiations before moving full time into his eventual role as executive director of the NHL Players Association. He said: "We're not close. It will take a lot of work to get it together."
Goalie Daniel Berthiaume, under fire for allegedly swearing at children seeking his autograph, has been traded from the Winnipeg Jets to the Minnesota North Stars for future considerations.
Mike Smith, general manager of the Jets, said Berthiaume's trade was related to his off-ice actions. The goalie apologized on television for swearing at autograph seekers, then a day later denied the incident took place and said management had ordered him to apologize.
Smith said the team has enough goaltending talent to spare Berthiaume, 23, a Quebecois. Berthiaume has played more than three seasons with Winnipeg and had 44 victories. His record this season in 24 games is 10-11-3 with a goals against of 3.72.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, who did not enjoy a .500 or better season during the '80s, are one of the big surprises this season with a 25-22-1 record and the league's top offense.
Coach Doug Carpenter received more condolences than congratulations when he took the job on Aug. 16, a late date to prepare for the season. But he has adapted well, and illness has kept owner Harold Ballard from interfering.
Carpenter divided the season into 20-game segments, set realistic goals for each and thus far is right on schedule. "This was a 62-point team last year and, not having known the club, I wasn't in position to predict where we would be," he said. "I came on board rather late, so I had to take a different approach.
"The first 20 games were devoted to an awareness of me to (the players) and them to me. We started the next 20 in fourth position and our objective was to catch Minnesota and St. Louis, which we did.
"The current 20 games we want to move closer to Chicago and put some distance between us and the others. We've kind of done that too."
A major factor in the climb is a 6-0 record against St. Louis, a remarkable feat in that Toronto has been outshot in every game. Total goals: Maple Leafs 31, Blues 14. Shots: Blues 239, Maple Leafs 156.
After winning in St. Louis Thursday, 4-1, despite the Blues' 49-27 shot margin, Carpenter said: "I'm not concerned about the shots in here because I don't think they count them right. We missed the net on some shots and they counted them." ...
If Toronto winger Lou Franceschetti had four more unsuccessful shots on goal, he would be leading the NHL in shooting percentage. An ex-Capital, he has a career-high 13 goals in 42 shots for 31 percent. However, a minimum 46 shots on goal are required to be ranked. The leader, Luc Robitaille of Los Angeles, has 35 goals in 128 shots for 27.3 percent. Of Franceschetti, Carpenter said: "He has accepted the role he was given and he's played very well. He's a good penalty killer and I like to have him out there at the end of a period. He's also a great influence in the dressing room on young people. He's a solid performer and he gets those smacks (hard checks) in." ... Edmonton's Jari Kurri may make his 10th NHL season the last. He earns about $500,000 a year and wants a huge raise the Oilers aren't likely to grant. He is contemplating a switch to Switzerland or Italy. ...
Dick Patrick, president of the Washington Capitals, and Craig Patrick, general manager-coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, are cousins. Dick recalled that when his father, Muzz, coached the Rangers and Craig's father, Lynn, coached the Bruins, "Our grandmother always rooted for a tie when the teams played. But our grandfather (Lester the legend) solved the problem a different way. He rooted for the home team." ... Montreal's power play is last in the NHL at 13.5 percent. After his Prince of Wales team failed twice with the extra man Sunday, Coach Pat Burns said: "Maybe I have a problem on the power play. I'm 21st in the NHL and now I'm oh for two with this team." ... The rating for the NHL All-Star Game on NBC was 4.4, not exactly Super Bowl class but considered reasonable for hockey's first network game in 10 years.