THE NHL / LISA DILLMAN : An Olympian Vote for Vision

The list of people opposed to sending the NHL's best players to the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, is a long one, including, among others, Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Assn.; owner Bill Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Toronto General Manager Cliff Fletcher.

Why?

There is nearly as long a list of reasons. Some say it's impractical to shut the season down for more than three weeks. What would the players not in the Olympics do, go to Hawaii on vacation? Would they have to work out?

The owners would suffer financially from an interruption in the season. Coaches would experience problems, too. Teams playing with momentum could lose it during a long work stoppage.

Moreover, the season that never seems to end would last even longer, from training camp in August to a Stanley Cup final at the end of June.

All are well-reasoned, logical arguments.

And all should be ignored when the NHL Board of Governors meets next month to vote on the issue.

Simply put, the NHL needs to put the short term aside and think of its future. Lately, the league has been moving forward, actually showing some vision. Rejecting the Dream Team concept would be a step backward.

By 1998, it might be too late. Will Wayne Gretzky still be playing? Mario Lemieux and his aching back might not be around then, either.

Now, there is a good chance the league could showcase Gretzky, Lemieux, Mark Messier and Eric Lindros on Team Canada.

And Brett Hull, Tom Barrasso, Brian Leetch and Kevin Stevens would be on Team USA.

Jari Kurri and Teemu Selanne could play for Finland and so on, with the other European countries benefiting from their NHL players.

With NHL players in the Olympics, hockey would become the featured sport. The league could use the Olympics as a springboard into the European marketplace and gain greater popularity worldwide.

If the governors had voted on the issue earlier this month, the measure would not have passed, according to several sources. Perhaps new Commissioner Gary Bettman can breathe some life into the dying concept.

Vision should be the thing. And, the fan should be a priority, for once.

Put it this way: What would you rather watch, Hartford vs. Ottawa in mid-February or Lemieux trying to beat Tom Barrasso on a breakaway in overtime of the gold-medal game?

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Why does Canadian television commentator Don Cherry dislike King right wing Tomas Sandstrom?

Routinely, Cherry had denounced Sandstrom for "dirty play," most recently ripping him in the wake of the Doug Gilmour incident. You would think that Gilmour ended up with the broken left forearm, not Sandstrom.

Cherry, on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" last month, declared Sandstrom was "a back-stabbing chicken Swede who deserved what he got."

After the Kings-Flames game Saturday night, Cherry wasn't as bombastic.

"(Sandstrom) is a great hockey player," he said. "He doesn't have to do what he does. If he wasn't always injured, he could score 50 goals in a season. He'd be one of the best.

"It's not just me. I just say what everybody--coaches, players are saying. When you do it, it always comes back to get you. Look at his career: He had his cheekbone broken by Glenn Anderson. There was Dave Brown. It wasn't just Doug Gilmour going after him.

"Look at all his injuries. I'm just saying what players are telling me. . . . If (the players) say it, they can get in trouble."

Said Sandstrom: "I knew it was coming. He's had that line for years. That's him. That's what his show is all about. He just doesn't like European players. . . . He's done a good job for himself. I don't worry about Don Cherry."

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Anaheim Beware: That the Sharks, at 5-28-1, are having such horrendous problems this season shouldn't come as a great surprise. Quite often, an expansion team will play better than expected in its first season. The second year is the killer.

Right now, San Jose is caught in the transition from a veteran team to a younger group. The Sharks have lost 12 consecutive games. One of their five victories, however, came inexplicably against the Kings, 6-0, on Nov. 17.

"Everybody would like to be much more credible every time out and get the wins," Shark Coach George Kingston said. "But you have to pay your dues because those are the conditions of expansion. We would love to run, but first we have to walk."

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You can't really call left wing Martin Gelinas a former King because he never stepped on the Forum ice wearing a silver and black sweater. When the Kings drafted him seventh overall in the summer of 1988 and then sent him to Edmonton in the Wayne Gretzky deal that August, many believed Gelinas would become one of the NHL's elite players.

With the Hull Olympiques, a junior team, Gelinas scored 63 goals and 131 points in 65 games. With Edmonton, he had 17 goals in 46 games, helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup in 1990.

The next season, Gelinas kept improving, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. But then his development stalled and Gelinas' play has been slipping since. Last season, he scored 11 goals. Now, Gelinas has been relegated to the checking line when he does play, having dressed for only 24 of Edmonton's 34 games.

"I wish I could put my finger on it," said Gelinas, who has two goals and five assists. "It's been like that for a year and a half now. It's been tough because I'm in and out of the lineup, and I'm not playing much when I'm out there. But eventually something's going to happen.

"You've got to figure it out yourself, play harder and hopefully stay in the lineup."

The Kings still owe the Oilers' a draft pick in June as final payment in the Gretzky deal. But if the Kings keep playing as well as they have, Edmonton will get a low draft choice in the first round.

Because of the Gretzky trade, Edmonton got two other first-round draft picks from the Kings--in 1989 and 1991--but the selections weren't high ones because the Kings had excellent records in those two seasons.

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