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NHL Notes : Hype for Some Rookie of the Year Candidates

Newsday

Not to be outdone by the New York Rangers’ public relations push for Rookie of the Year hopefuls Brian Leetch and Tony Granato, the Vancouver Canucks are aggressively promoting forward Trevor Linden for the Calder Trophy. But they demean themselves and insult the other candidates by declaring Linden the right choice because he’s the only “pure” rookie in the running.

Linden is pure, they claim in the videocassette sent to voters in the Professional Hockey Writers Association, because he’s the youngest contender at 18. But nowhere is it stipulated a player must be the best teen-ager or best to have jumped from juniors to the NHL, just “the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.” Are Leetch, Granato, Boston’s Craig Janney and New Jersey Devils goaltender Sean Burke “impure rookies” because they played on their Olympic teams? Is Joe Sakic tainted because he’s 19? Daniel Marois (26 goals at age 20) must be a relic.

Fearing that their player is at a disadvantage against two players from New York, a major media center, the Canucks spent $3,000-$5,000 to promote Linden’s cause. The Rangers have sent stories written about Leetch and Granato to voters -- spending less than $1,000, most of it for photocopying -- and the Winnipeg Jets have sent tapes of Pat Elynuik to reporters and TV stations. College football teams have hyped Heisman Trophy candidates for years, and it’s amusing to see hockey catch on, but the Canucks could offend more voters than they win. Linden may deserve the honor for scoring 28 goals and 53 points for the resurgent Canucks, but if he’s going to win, it should be on his merits and not by debasing the other candidates.

A footnote: Among the newspaper and magazine clippings the Canucks sent out was a story in which Linden said that if he were voting, he’d pick Leetch. “Then I hope the people who get them read everything,” Leetch said, smiling.

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Since it was suggested in this space last week that Mario Lemieux might not be worthy of the NHL’s Most Valuable Player award, all he’s done in Pittsburgh’s last three games is collect six goals and two assists.

Wakeup calls for other somnolent players will be provided upon request.

Brian MacLellan made no effort to hide his joy at being traded from the struggling Minnesota North Stars to the Smythe Division-leading Calgary Flames earlier this month. “It’s like going from the outhouse to the penthouse,” the muscular left wing said.

But he wouldn’t predict the Flames will be on top when the season is over. “We’ve got a good team with four good lines. It’s well balanced,” he said. “But it’s going to be a tough battle to get out of the Smythe Division. We have the potential to go a long way, but we can’t think too far ahead.”

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The North Stars are finding no takers for the team captaincy, but it’s not because no one wants the responsibility. They opened the season with tri-captains -- Craig Hartsburg, Curt Fraser and Bob Rouse -- but Hartsburg was forced to retire because of an injury, Fraser underwent wrist surgery that put him out for the season, and Rouse was traded last week. Superstition could be keeping volunteers from coming forward. “It might be a tough sell,” Coach Pierre Page said.

It appears the NHL schedule-makers were cruel when they scheduled the Washington Capitals to finish the season with seven straight games in the Patrick Division, but veteran defenseman Rod Langway believes the grueling home stretch will ultimately benefit his team.

“It’s a rehearsal to get the intensity for the playoffs,” he said. “We know who we’re going to play. Everyone is so familiar with each other in this division, we don’t even have to have a pregame meeting. It’s just ‘Be on the ice at a certain time and we’ll drop the puck.”’

Langway has been through too many unhappy endings to predict that the Caps will end up with the Cup this season, but he’s optimistic after trades last week by GM David Poile that brought the Caps winger Dino Ciccarelli and defensemen Rouse and Calle Johansson.

“Trades do shake up clubs, no doubt about it,” Langway said. “Will it get us through the door? Let’s wait ... It might give us a kick in the (butt). I call it a gutsy play by David.”

Spectacor Management, a firm owned by Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, won the right to negotiate with the city of San Francisco to build a new stadium and 18,000-seat arena. It’s logical that Snider would want a hockey team in the arena, and the man expected to own it is Howard Baldwin, the former managing partner of the Hartford Whalers and current governor of the Flyers.

The NHL is investigating possible expansion sites, and a franchise involving Snider and-or Baldwin would be a front-runner because both have extensive and successful hockey experience. The Los Angeles Kings would love to have an intrastate rival, and the addition of the Bay Area would give the NHL another major TV market.

Who says hockey interest is confined to the Northeast and Midwest? The roster for the U.S. team at last week’s World University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria, included one player from Arkansas, one from West Palm Beach, Fla., another from Gadsden, Ala., and two from the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

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Wayne Gretzky, on why he didn’t smile after scoring his first goal as a King against the Oilers Sunday: “I know firsthand you don’t taunt that team.”


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