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HOCKEY / LISA DILLMAN : Lemieux's Actions Louder Than Words

April 14, 1993|LISA DILLMAN

Teemu has visited our house--and the homes of countless other sportswriters in the United States and Canada.

He hasn't been the only visitor, simply the first. Following Teemu Selanne have been Pat LaFontaine and Doug Gilmour. Now, they haven't physically been in the home of hockey writers--hockey players are nice guys, but there are limits.

It all started with Trevor Linden during the 1988-89 season, when the Vancouver Canucks tried to combat the New York media machine in rookie-of-the-year voting. They put out a video on Linden, their answer to the campaign behind Ranger rookies Brian Leetch and Tony Granato.

The Linden highlight video wasn't the best promotional effort, but the intent was sincere, almost charming.

Charming checked out shortly thereafter. Now such videos, and other campaign materials, have proliferated and are starting to numb the voters--Teemu for rookie of the year, Gilmour and LaFontaine for most valuable player. One entry was virtually a five-minute filibuster on one player's merits.

Action, not words, please.

Oddly enough, that phrase best describes our choice this season for most valuable player: Mario Lemieux, the man of many points and few words.

What Lemieux has accomplished, despite sitting out more than a quarter of the season while he was treated for Hodgkin's disease, is one of the most incredible stories in sports this year--or in any year, for that matter.

Yet Lemieux is so private, so understated, that the full impact of what he went through this season hasn't totally registered on the public's consciousness. And that's the way he wants it. People magazine won't be plastering Lemieux over its cover with details of "his story." His story is magnificence on the ice.

Lemieux, quite realistically, could win three major trophies. Here are the projections for this season's award winners:

Hart Memorial Trophy to the most valuable player: 1. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins. 2. Pat LaFontaine, Buffalo Sabres. 3. Doug Gilmour, Toronto Maple Leafs.

In the end, Lemieux was toying with LaFontaine. Once Lemieux drew close to LaFontaine in the scoring race, almost everyone knew who would win it. The only suspense left is whether Lemieux will win by 15 or 20 points. You have the feeling that if someone challenged Lemieux to beat LaFontaine by 25 points, he would do it.

As for second place, the Toronto media have been Gilmour's biggest supporters, questioning where the Maple Leafs would be without him.

True, there's no way Toronto could have contended for first place for so long without Gilmour. But the Sabres might have been a mess without the services of LaFontaine. Alexander Mogilny, minus LaFontaine, wouldn't be in a neck-and-neck race with Selanne in the goal-scoring race. LaFontaine's previous career best was his 105-point season in 1989-90. He has 53 goals and 145 points this season.

Calder Memorial Trophy to the rookie of the year: 1. Teemu Selanne, Winnipeg Jets. 2. Felix Potvin, Toronto Maple Leafs. 3. Eric Lindros, Philadelphia Flyers.

Nearly everyone mentally engraved Lindros' name on this trophy at season's start. Teemu? Wasn't he the newest attraction at Sea World? Cousin of Shamu. Except by the most knowledgeable hockey insiders and his Finnish countrymen, Selanne was never mentioned in the same sentence with Lindros. But he since has scored 75 goals and made a mockery of the rookie scoring race. Maybe Selanne should be called "the Next One."

James Norris Memorial Trophy to the best all-around defenseman: 1. Chris Chelios, Chicago Blackhawks. 2. Phil Housley, Winnipeg Jets. 3. Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins.

Yes, Housley is having a marvelous season and he leads all defensemen in scoring. But there's still the problem of, well, his defense. Although he is improving, Housley can revert to past form and look like a pylon. His plus-minus rating is in double figures--on the negative side.

Chelios best fits the all-around definition. He's a plus player, an asset on the power play and a capable scorer. And he's closing in on the 300-minute mark for penalties, generally being the mean, nasty defenseman every team wants on its roster.

Vezina Trophy to the best goaltender: 1. Ed Belfour, Chicago Blackhawks. 2. Andy Moog, Boston Bruins. 3. Tom Barrasso, Pittsburgh Penguins.

Forget that Belfour even played in the All-Star game. Wipe the memory of Belfour giving up all those goals out of your mind. With two games remaining, Belfour has a chance to be a 40-game winner. He is 39-18-11 with a goals-against average of less than two. Maybe the difference is no Mike Keenan scowling at him from the bench anymore. Keenan was Belfour's coach in the All-Star game. . . .

Jack Adams Award to the coach of the year: 1. Pat Burns, Toronto Maple Leafs. 2. Pierre Page, Quebec Nordiques. 3. Dave King, Calgary Flames.

Last year, Burns and the Rangers' Roger Neilson were runners-up for this award. Burns is still employed by an NHL team. Neilson is not.

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