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Inside the NHL | Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Half the Story Can Be Telling

January 07, 2003|Helene Elliott

There's less obstruction, but more inconsistent refereeing.

The Minnesota Wild hasn't faded, but the Boston Bruins have. The defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings are thriving, even though Steve Yzerman might not return from knee surgery until March, but the Mighty Ducks are collapsing after a strong start. Four coaches have lost their jobs, and more could follow.

The NHL schedule will reach the halfway point Wednesday and just think: After that, there will be only 615 games left in the season -- and only 20 months of posturing over the collective bargaining agreement.

Here are some notable performances during the first half:

First half most valuable player: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey. Honorable mention: Marian Gaborik, Minnesota; Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh.

Brodeur is the foundation for all the Devils achieve. Gaborik is the Wild's big gun and will win a scoring title within a few years. Bertuzzi has size, skill and a hot hand for the suddenly formidable Canucks. Without Lemieux, the Penguins would be a minor league team.

Rookie of the half year: Tyler Arnason, Chicago. Runners-up: Stanislav Chistov, Mighty Ducks, and Alexander Frolov, Kings.

Arnason leads rookies with 11 goals and 22 points. That's nothing like the 76 goals and 132 points Teemu Selanne scored as a Winnipeg rookie in 1992-93, but few rookies make much impact anymore. Chistov and Frolov are slumping but have the skills and smarts to spice a rivalry for the next decade.

Best defenseman: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. Runners-up: Ed Jovanovski, Vancouver; Al MacInnis, St. Louis.

Lidstrom averages nearly 30 minutes a game and rarely makes a mistake. Jovanovski gave the Canucks muscle and leadership; he broke his heel last week and will be sidelined five weeks. MacInnis, 39, is still playing major minutes and is making the Blues miss the injured Chris Pronger a bit less.

Vezina (best goalie): Marty Turco, Dallas. Runners-up: Brodeur, Ed Belfour, Toronto.

Turco gives the Stars security and makes the clutch saves Belfour didn't make last season. Brodeur is among the best of his generation. Belfour has been reborn in the pressure cooker of Toronto, a credit to his perseverance.

Coach of the half year: Jacques Martin, Ottawa. Honorable mention: Jacques Lemaire, Minnesota; Marc Crawford, Vancouver.

Martin has steered a talented team past off-ice distractions to the top record in the East. Lemaire, known for strategies on defense, is smart enough to modify his plans to fit his players' talents. Crawford has been patient with the Sedin twins and gets a lot out of second- and third-line players.

Financial News

Although the Ottawa Senators are still awaiting their Jan. 1 paychecks, staffers and suppliers have been paid, a club spokesman said. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week he was hopeful owner Rod Bryden would secure short-term financing to pay players this week. A plan to sell limited partnerships in the club, which would have covered the payroll and cut the Senators' huge debts, fell apart on New Year's Eve when several creditors objected to terms of the deal.

Players are saying they're not worried, and the NHL Players Assn. has not filed a grievance. According to the collective bargaining agreement, if a club defaults on compensation, players can send written notice to the club, league and union, at which point the club has 14 days to remedy the default. If the club doesn't pay, the league has seven days after that first 14-day period to remedy the default.

"Rod Bryden and the Ottawa club's recent financing difficulties raise important short- and long-term issues for the club's ownership group, the players and the league," NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow said in a statement. "At present, all parties are focused on working to resolve the short-term issues so the club can pay its ongoing operating expense."

The extension given Mark Hamister and Todd Berman to finance their purchase of the Buffalo Sabres expires Friday. They want state and local aid to spruce up the 6-year-old HSBC Arena, a tough sell in a weak economy. The NHL has been operating the Sabres since June, when owner John Rigas' Adelphia cable empire imploded.

Easy as ABC

The Senators and Sabres, hot topics in the NHL, will be discussed but won't dominate telecasts on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC, according to ESPN President George Bodenheimer.

ABC will start its five consecutive weeks of afternoon telecasts on Saturday, when viewers will see Colorado at Dallas, Detroit at Philadelphia or the Rangers at Pittsburgh. The three Disney-owned networks will average four games a week after next month's All-Star break.

"From a coverage standpoint, we obviously cover all the leagues from an editorial point of view and cover those stories," Bodenheimer said. "By and large, the fan is interested in seeing hockey games. Everything else is a distant second."

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