'95-'96 Season Preview : Verdicts Are In on NHL Season

New in the NHL for 1995-96:

New Jersey Devils, Defending Stanley Cup Champions.

(When you force the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers to sit out half the season, this is what can happen.)

New York Rangers, home of Luc Robitaille.

(Just what they need, another journeyman winger.)

Colorado Avalanche, consensus favorite to win the Western Conference.

(Which thrills Quebec City to no end. But Gary Bettman has a plan--he's pro-SHAFTA Canada--and if he gets his way, the Colorado Avalanche will soon be joined by the Minneapolis Jets, the Jacksonville Senators, the Phoenix Maple Leafs, the Orlando Mighty Canucks, the Portland Flames, the Houston Oilers and the Nashville Canadiens.)

Larry Robinson and Steve Kasper, head coaches in Los Angeles and Boston.

(Old Kings never die, they just find new work wearing sweats and a whistle to practice. Unless the old King wears No. 99, in which case he keeps playing . . . and playing . . . and playing . . . and leading the team in scoring, even at age 34, because what else are the Kings going to do? Replace him? How? With a trade? Oh, that's rich. The draft? Stop it now, it's starting to hurt.)

Brendan Shanahan, head-spinning, red light-burning, dashing, slashing, 50 goal-scoring left winger for the Hartford Whalers.

(Hartford is where Mike Keenan sends you once he's seen enough. Siberia's price was too steep--Shanahan and draft picks.)

Curtis Joseph, Edmonton Oiler.

(Hockey franchise on Devil's Island folded midway through trade talks.)

Chris Pronger, Dale Hawerchuk, Geoff Courtnall, Shayne Corson and Grant Fuhr, St. Louis Blues.

(Unless they lose three or four games.)

Buffalo Sabres, minus Hawerchuk, minus Alexander Mogilny.

(January in Buffalo gets even colder.)

No neutral site games.

(Sacramento and Saskatoon vow to press on, anyway.)

Regular-season games in October, November and December.

(Imagine that.)

Mario Lemieux.

(He's back. The back's back. But is Pittsburgh back? Lemieux has been gone so long, Larry Murphy, Kevin Stevens and Shawn McEachern were Penguins the last time he played.)

Flashy uniforms for the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals.

(Unfortunately, with the same players inside them.)

A league-wide crackdown on obstruction violations, so fans will be able to watch their favorite centers and wingers score more goals.

(And their favorite defensemen spend two of every three periods in the penalty box.)

Saku Koivu.

(Twenty-year-old Montreal center could be rookie of the year. But that's easy for me to say.)

The 17,565-seat FleetCenter, replacing Boston Garden as the Bruins' home arena.

("And now, walking out to center ice to drop the ceremonial first rat . . . Bobby Orr! ")

The 19,056-seat General Motors Place, replacing Pacific Coliseum as the Vancouver Canucks' home arena.

(Other suggested names included "Very Cold Place," "Broken Nose Place" and "Thank God It's Not Melrose's Place.")


Not new in the NHL for 1995-96:

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

(No new major free agents. No new trade acquisitions. No new players of any kind, except a few draft picks, because, well, with the new rookie cap, they're cheaper to sign. New ticket prices, though. Higher ones than last season. Hmmm, that isn't new, either. The Ducks have higher ticket prices every season.)

Jets rumored to be leaving Winnipeg.

(Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk probably months before the rest.)

Ottawa in last place.

(All-Star center Alexei Yashin, beginning his third season, has finally caught on and wants out, prompting massive city pride T-shirt campaign. Shirts say, "Ottawa: The Last Place A Hockey Player Wants To Be.")

Detroit Red Wings chase the Stanley Cup.

(If they couldn't win it last season, they may never do it. Keep the calamari on ice, so to speak.)

Barry Melrose in the ESPN studio.

(Better there than here.)

Two teams in Florida.

(And their names again? No fair peeking inside The Hockey News.)

Kelly Hrudey, starting goaltender, L.A. Kings.

(Robb Stauber wanted his job. Grant Fuhr wanted his job. Jamie Storr wants his job. "Kick save by Hrudey!")

The neutral zone trap.

(Can it be stopped? Sure it can. But everybody hated the lockout.)

No Kings in the playoffs.

(That would be three consecutive misses for Wayne Gretzky. That's a more impressive streak than Cal Ripken's.)

No Ducks in the playoffs.

(Disney promised to put money "into the team" when it raised ticket prices again. What Disney didn't say was that the team was called "the Angels." Same offense, same defense, same goalie, same out-of-the-running finish. But, then, you always get what you pay for. Unless you're a Ducks' season ticket-holder.)

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