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HOCKEY : Torrey Is to Blame for Islanders' Mess

March 31, 1991|JIM SMITH | NEWSDAY

Nothing is forever. Bryan Trottier found that out. Islanders board chairman-general manager Bill Torrey and his scouts are responsible for the sorry state of the team. If Torrey could see past his own arrogance, he would fire them and resign as GM.

The Islanders did not have a bad season; they were just incapable of having a good one. There wasn't enough scoring punch. Torrey saw to that. The fans knew it. Goalie Glenn Healy knew it each time he went between the pipes. There has not been enough offense since Torrey traded John Tonelli five years ago. Tonelli, playing in a more wide-open division, has 116 goals since the trade.

Since their last trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1984, the Islanders are under .500 (235-256-66). They have one star, Pat LaFontaine, and five solid support forwards: Brent Sutter, David Volek, Derek King, Ray Ferraro and Patrick Flatley. That is not enough to win in the NHL.

By not extending LaFontaine's contract, Torrey has demoralized LaFontaine and the team. But his larger error is in not developing goal-scorers in the minors and not acquiring any.

Perhaps he was under orders from owner John Pickett to lower costs and increase profits. If so, he succeeded. When he sells the team, Pickett will escape with a bundle. Does that absolve Torrey, who has put a lousy product on the ice for two of the last three seasons?

Blues GM Ron Caron and others have shown a winning team can be built via free-agent signings, trades and good drafting. In the past few years, goal-scorers changed teams: Dale Hawerchuk, Petr Klima, John Cullen, Pat Verbeek, Brian Propp, Claude Lemieux, Mike Gartner, Ron Francis, Michel Goulet, Geoff Courtnall, Ed Olczyk.

What has Torrey done? He promoted Bill Berg (9 goals) and tried to squeeze blood out of offensive stones Brad Dalgarno (2), Brad Lauer (4), Tom Fitzgerald (3), Mick Vukota (2), Hubie McDonough (4) and John Tucker (3). Why won't he give up a high draft pick and some role players for one 30-goal scorer? Answer: he is stubborn.

Torrey wants to build through the draft; that is fine if you draft well. But in the first two rounds from 1981-88, he took Paul Boutilier, Gord Dineen, Vern Smith, Gerald Diduck, Garnet McKechney, Dunc MacPherson, Bruce Melanson, Dalgarno, Lauer, Fitzgerald, Dennis Vaske, Dean Chynoweth, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Wayne Doucet and Sean LeBrun.

Torrey chose Boutilier ahead of Chris Chelios, Flatley before Gary Leeman, Diduck ahead of Lemieux, MacPherson before Stephane Richer, Dalgarno ahead of Joe Nieuwendyk and Chynoweth instead of Joe Sakic.

Since drafting Mike Bossy in 1977, Torrey has ignored players from the offense-oriented Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Instead, the Islanders have drafted too many Western Hockey League muckers. Why? Assistant GM-director of scouting Gerry "Tex" Ehman lives in Saskatoon, and WHLers from the prairie are cheaper to sign. None of the Islanders' WHLers except Sutter is scoring 20 goals. None of the grinders is Bobby Nystrom.

It should be obvious to any prospective franchise-buyer that Torrey and the scouts must go. Without Torrey, granted, there would have been no Cups. For that, his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame is assured. But by refusing to fix what is broken, he has returned the team to square one. It is time he accepts the blame.

It is fitting that retiring Nordiques right wing Guy Lafleur will end his career with back-to-back games against the the Canadiens. Lafleur, 39, averaged 39 goals and 95 points in 13 seasons with Montreal from 1971-84. He was a member of five Cup-winners, won three scoring titles, two Hart Trophies and was a first-team all-star six straight seasons ending in 1980.

Lafleur retired after a poor start in 1984-85, sat out almost four full years and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. That autumn, he made a comeback. He signed as a free agent with the Rangers and went 18-27-45 in 67 games in 1988-89. He signed as a free agent with the Nordiques last season and was 12-22-34 in 39 games. He was 11-15-27 in 57 games this year.

"I'm very satisfied, very happy I did it," Lafleur told The Hockey News. "I have no regrets. For me, the comeback gave me the opportunity of leaving hockey in a nice way."

The Flames' 5-6 Theo Fleury became the smallest NHL player to score 50 goals Tuesday when he got a hat trick at the Saddledome in Calgary's 7-2 victory over the Canucks. Fleury played despite having injured a knee Saturday in an 8-4 road loss to the Kings.

"The other day, I had trouble walking," he told The Calgary Herald. "I was stumbling around. I came down here, had a few treatments, I iced it at home and that seemed to help it a lot."

The Nordiques' Wayne Van Dorp, on beating up teammate Herb Raglan, who came to Sakic's aid after Sakic and Van Dorp shoved each other in practice: "Ever since he came to Quebec, he's been talking a lot. He has a big mouth and I shut it for him."

Miscellany: The Sabres' Rick Dudley, in the final year of a two-year contract, is the next coach likely to be fired. . . . Former Rangers and Jets GM John Ferguson is said to be under consideration for a job as Maple Leafs' chief executive officer.. . . . Nordiques GM Pierre Page on Eric Lindros, whom most observers feel Page won't be able to sign: "He's a rare jewel. Money is not a problem."

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