The NHL / Julie Cart : Because Maple Leafs Are Just Losing Games, Not Money, Coach Is Safe

John Brophy, the fiery coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, got a reprieve from an unlikely source--his equally fiery boss, owner Harold Ballard.

Ballard overruled General Manager Gerry McNamara, who last week wanted Brophy fired. The Maple Leafs are 26-35-6 and in last place in the Norris Division.

Aside from McNamara's displeasure with his coach, there has been little hint of change in the team. All but McNamara seem satisfied. McNamara feuded with Dan Maloney last season, a fight that eventually drove Maloney to Winnipeg.

Maloney was replaced by Brophy, a hard-talking disciplinarian who has won the respect of the Maple Leafs. Brophy has a one-year contract.

So does McNamara, who has presided over six of the worst years in the franchise's history. Among the records for futility set during McNamara's tenure: fewest wins in a season, most defeats, most goals allowed and fewest goals scored.

One explanation for the complacency in Toronto is that the franchise is making fistfuls of money. A recent game against the Vancouver Canucks--not known as a the best draw in the NHL--sold out Maple Leaf Gardens.

"Here I am, trying not to make money," Ballard said. "But it's so damn easy, I can't help myself."

The Philadelphia Flyers and Ron Sutter disagree about the severity of Sutter's back injury. Sutter suffered a stress facture of a vertebra in his lower back and has missed more than 21 games.

The Flyers say he could have been playing this week. Sutter says he might not play again this season.

"You can reconstruct a knee, you can reconstruct a shoulder, but you can't reconstruct a back," Sutter said.

That sounds similar to Patrick Flatley's argument with the New York Islanders.

The right wing sprained a ligament in his right knee Feb. 4 and both the Islanders and Flatley are growing impatient.

"The guy was supposed to be out two or three weeks," said Islander Coach Terry Simpson. "A month has gone by. It's not coming back as quick as it should be."

Flatley says he needs more time. "As far as the ligament goes, time is the only thing that'll strengthen that," he said.

Phil Esposito, Ranger general manager and interim coach, is adjusting well to his double duty. One reason he's able to perform both tasks is his simplistic approach to hockey. "I'm not nervous about coaching," Esposito said. "To me, it's fun. Guys with the Xs and Os, movies and charts, they're the nervous ones. Not me. I want hockey to be fun, not an ordeal."

On his first night behind the bench, the Rangers played Vancouver, which scored three goals in the first period.

"I don't know what the players were expecting when we got to the (dressing) room, but I said, 'What's the score and for that matter, who are we playing--not that I'm nervous or anything.' They laughed and maybe relaxed," he said.

"This guy Petri Skriko got the first four goals. I told Jan Exrion to go out and follow him around. Shrewd, eh? Hell, they were doing that to Bobby Hull 30 years ago. Anyway, we won the game, 8-5."

Toronto is not the only franchise with an unhappy general manager. In Quebec, Maurice Filion's job is in jeopardy. As of Friday, the Nordiques were 25-35-9, and tied with Buffalo for fourth--the last playoff spot--in the Adams Division.

Coach Michel Bergeron is usually considered untouchable in his position, since he's a hero in the province. Bergeron, though, is angry with his team, specifically because of the Nordiques' 8-1 loss to Pittsburgh last week.

"This loss is the biggest disappointment I've had since coaching the Nordiques," Bergeron said. "We have a serious problem in this team--no pride, no desire to wear the Nordique jersey."

He may be popular, but Bergeron is realistic. "If the general manager wants to fire me to help the club, it's OK with me," he said. "Whatever I seem to do, nothing goes right."

NHL Notes Calgary's Hakan Loob vetoed a trade that would have sent him to Pittsburgh for Moe Matha because he's afraid of crime in American cities. He even said he'll go back to Sweden before accepting a trade to a team in the United States. . . . Joe Murphy, the No. 1 draft pick last June, can't seem to stay out of trouble. The Former Michigan State star has been a discipline problem, missing curfews and practices. Even bringing in Murphy's parents hasn't helped. Bill Dineen, coach of Adirondack in the American Hockey League, threw Murphy off the ice during practice last week. Word is that the Detroit Red Wings may try to get rid of the temperamental star. . . . Detroit winger Bob Probert was released last week from an alcohol rehab center in Windsor, Ont., after three weeks of treatment. Probert has been cited three times for drunken driving.

Philadelphia goaltender Ron Hextall has already broken Billy Smith's season record for penalty minutes by a goaltender, but the Flyer rookie vowed last week that he wouldn't break 100 minutes. "I told the team before the game that I would not get any more penalties this year, then I got one," Hextall said. He has a total of 91 minutes. . . . The Moncton Golden Flames have been told that the Calgary Flames will drop their affiliation with the AHL team at the end of the season. Calgary and Boston share the Moncton club and the Bruins say they plan to continue their involvement with the Golden Flames. . . . Emile Francis on Hartford's Coach Jack Evans: "If Jack Evans isn't coach of the year, then I'm a monkey's uncle."

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