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SPORTS EXTRA / NHL PREVIEW | OVERVIEW

A Mix of New and Old as They Drop the Puck

October 04, 2000|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are two new teams in the NHL this season (Minnesota and Columbus), two European coaches for the first time (Ivan Hlinka in Pittsburgh and Alpo Suhonen in Chicago) and a new crackdown by referees in an attempt to further open up play (minor slashing infractions are going the way of handchecking in the NBA).

A future Hall of Fame goaltender (Colorado's Patrick Roy) is poised to break the league's all-time record for victories. It could be a fond farewell for a veteran defenseman (Colorado's Ray Bourque) in search of his first Stanley Cup championship. An ancient captain (39-year-old Mark Messier) returns to New York in hopes of injecting energy into the lifeless Rangers.

One of the league's great ones (Eric Lindros) might not play (post-concussion syndrome and a contract dispute with Philadelphia). The Great One (Wayne Gretzky) will soon become an owner (with Steve Ellman) in Phoenix.

The league returns to Japan after a one-year hiatus (Nashville and Pittsburgh open the season with games Friday and Saturday in Tokyo).

There figures to be a new Cup champion (perhaps Colorado or St. Louis dethroning New Jersey) as several former league powers grow too old and too stale to contend (definitely Detroit). And a team many admire but few acknowledge they like watching play (Dallas) attempts to hack its way to a third consecutive finals.

The local teams don't appear to have a chance to win the Cup, but it doesn't mean the Kings and Ducks will be dull.

Either Colorado or St. Louis could be the story. Roy is three victories shy of Terry Sawchuk's NHL record of 447. Bourque will be 40 in December and is running out of chances to hoist Lord Stanley's mug. The Avalanche boasts some of the league's finest offensive players in Chris Drury, Milan Hejduk, Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

Dallas has defeated Colorado in the Western Conference finals in seven hard-fought games the last two seasons. The Stars could make it a hat trick, but the betting is the Avalanche sneaks past into the Cup finals.

If Colorado doesn't reach the finals, St. Louis and remarkable defenseman Chris Pronger could. Pronger was the first defenseman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to be named the NHL's MVP. He also was named the Norris trophy winner as the league's top defenseman.

Awaiting the winner will be a well-rounded New Jersey team, which put an end to the West's streak of four consecutive Cup winners by defeating Dallas.

Time will tell whether skillful players benefit from the league's crackdown on minor slashing, a heretofore accepted defensive tactic designed to slow the likes of Pavel Bure, Paul Kariya and Ziggy Palffy.

If so, scoring should climb considerably, which should make everyone happy around the league--except perhaps the deadly dull Dallas Stars.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Career Victories

NHL goalie career victory leaders:

*--*

N. PLAYER, YEARS Games Wins 1. TERRY SAWCHUK, 1949-70 971 447 2. PATRICK ROY, 1984- 841 444 Montreal, Colorado

3. JACQUES PLANTE, 1952-73 837 434 Montreal, N.Y. Rangers, St Louis, Toronto, Boston

4. TONY ESPOSITO, 1968-84 886 423 Montreal, Chicago

5. GLENN HALL, 1952-71 906 407 Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis

*--*

Source: NHL

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