Winds of Change Not All That Fresh


The NHL’s decision to change the All-Star game format from East versus West to North American stars against World stars was a resounding success.

Players enjoyed Sunday’s 8-7 North America victory so much that some even blocked shots, which is almost unheard of. The double-digit scoring total was the result of world-class skills prevailing over good goaltending, not of players tiptoeing around each other, and it was a welcome sight.

But other changes the NHL is contemplating to boost scoring are downright ridiculous.

The one most likely to be adopted next season would move the nets out three feet. More radical changes less likely to be recommended when general managers meet next month in Phoenix would not allow goaltenders to play the puck outside the crease; would take out the red line, making forechecking mandatory; would regulate goalies’ equipment, and would revert to the rule that players must serve the full two minutes of a minor penalty, no matter how many power-play goals the opposing team scores.


Some of those ideas will be tried in the American and International hockey leagues.

King General Manager Dave Taylor backs experimenting with no red line.

“College hockey plays like that and it’s fairly exciting,” said Taylor, who played at Clarkson University. “Moving the nets out a couple of feet and narrowing the neutral zone is a good idea. It gives skill players room to operate and create some offense.”

Taylor also questions playing 15-minute quarters, which the IHL will experiment with in March. Breaks after the first and third quarters would be brief and the ice would be resurfaced only at halftime.

“If you’re going to break at the half, I don’t know if the ice would hold up for 30 minutes,” he said. “A lot of complaints I hear is the game lasts three hours. If we had one [long] intermission and the ice would be good, I think we have to look at it.”

Ice in most NHL rinks is poor and resurfacing only once would make it worse. The real reason the NHL is considering the idea is that Fox figures it can squeeze in more commercials, not save time.

Sorry, Fox. No quarters. No mandatory forechecking, which would be impossible to enforce. No forbidding goalies to play the puck--why penalize them for having a special skill?

Closer controls on goalie gear would be wise. A family of four could live in Ed Belfour’s uncinched goalie pants. And serving the full two minutes of a penalty would only keep bad power-play units out there longer.


The best changes would be to enforce rules against interference, holding and hooking, and to cancel the planned expansion. Those are impossible dreams. Still, it’s encouraging to see the NHL get serious about producing a better product. Dancing mascots and laser shows won’t distract fans when the game is a boring, low-scoring display of neutral-zone traps and ineptitude.


Detroit center Igor Larionov enjoyed being with old friends and compatriots so much during the All-Star festivities that he wished he had taken more time before deciding not to represent Russia at Nagano.

“I made my decision and I’m not sorry, but maybe I was too emotional,” he said. “You see all the Olympians in the locker room and everybody’s talking about the Games. I’m a hockey player. I played 22 years in professional hockey and people say when the league shuts down for the Olympics, I can rest. I should be there too. But right now, it is too late.”


The Colorado Avalanche didn’t have the NHL’s best record at the All-Star break but it does lead the league in Olympians.

Including Coach Marc Crawford, who will guide Team Canada, the Avalanche will have 10 representatives in Nagano. However, Colorado General Manager Pierre Lacroix said he isn’t worried about players getting hurt or being too tired afterward to concentrate on winning the Stanley Cup.

“I think this is probably the greatest thing that can happen to the game,” Lacroix said. “It’s going to be just a positive, I’m convinced. I know we are exposed a little more than other teams, as far as injuries, but the fact we’re involved in such a high-level competition is good for the players and good for the game.”


The prospect of being an Olympian has already inspired goaltender Patrick Roy, who was snubbed by the 1996 Canadian World Cup team. Roy was 6-1-5 before the All-Star break and has begun preparing mentally for Nagano.

“I’m looking forward to that and I’m working really hard right now,” he said. “It will be the first time for me and I especially want to do well.”


New York Islander right wing Ziggy Palffy is unhappy with Olympic schedule-makers for favoring the six major hockey powers over nations like his homeland, Slovakia.

The NHL break begins Feb. 8, a day after Slovakia and seven other nations open preliminary-round play. The Islanders won’t release Palffy early, so he will miss Slovakia’s first two games. If Slovakia is 0-2, he may not go at all. The U.S., Canada, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia, stocked with NHL stars, begin play Feb. 13.

“Maybe they care only about America and Canada,” Palffy said. “It is tough for us. We’ve got to qualify and play a lot of games. It’s going to be tough for our conditioning. We have to pass through a lot of tough things to play in these Games.”


Former King coach Barry Melrose faces a tougher test this week than defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals.


Melrose, a native of Canada, has applied to become a U.S. citizen and must pass a civics exam.

“I’ve got to know things like the three branches of government,” he said. “But it can’t be that bad. You guys [writers] are citizens.”

Right, Barry, and the three branches are executive, legislative and judicial.


With Olympic drug tests looming, NHL players have been warned not to take medications that contain banned substances. That means players who get colds or the flu are coughing and wheezing a little longer.

“It’s tough when you’re sick,” said New Jersey and Team Canada goalie Martin Brodeur, who missed a few games recently because of flu and couldn’t take an over-the-counter remedy. “But it’s one of the compromises you make to be involved in the Olympics.”


Edmonton Coach Ron Low is bubbling over the Oilers’ acquisition of wingers Bill Guerin and Valeri Zelepukin and defenseman Roman Hamrlik. “No doubt we’ve increased our skill level--huge,” said Low, whose team is 5-0 since getting Guerin and Zelepukin from New Jersey. “Bill Guerin is a world-class right wing. And I’m not sure Z isn’t a world-class left wing.” . . . The Dallas Stars will retire Neal Broten’s number Feb. 7, but only after some acrimony. Broten, waived by the Stars at the start of the season, didn’t want to retire and resisted attempts to arrange the ceremony.

Center Alexandre Daigle, dropped into a big lineup in Philadelphia and free of pressure to be a franchise player, may now realize the potential that led Ottawa to draft him first overall in 1993. Then again, maybe not. He gives the Flyers speed up the middle but Vaclav Prospal, sent to Ottawa with Pat Falloon, shows immense promise. . . . The Washington Capitals expect Joe Juneau back from a knee injury this week. They’ve been getting an offensive lift from the line of Andrew Brunette, Adam Oates and Todd Krygier. Brunette has scored nine goals in nine games. Michal Pivonka may be expendable.


The Minnesota expansion team, which will debut in 2000, will announce its name Thursday. Favorites are Freeze, Northern Lights, Wild, Voyageurs, White Bears and Blue Ox. Candidates mentioned for the general manager’s job include Les Jackson, Dallas assistant general manager; Bobby Smith, Phoenix general manager and former Minnesota North Star; and David McNab, the Mighty Duck assistant general manager. . . . St. Louis right wing Brett Hull, whose left hand was broken by a slash from the Ducks’ Tomas Sandstrom on Dec. 27, expects to return this week and plans to be ready for the Olympics.