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Ducks Remind Melrose of ’93

Barry Melrose has some advice for the Mighty Ducks:

Make the most of this playoff ride, because you might never get another chance. And if anyone knows about the fleeting nature of success it’s Melrose, who coached the Kings to their only appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, in 1993.

“For two months, Los Angeles was the greatest hockey place in the world,” said Melrose, now a commentator for ESPN and an admirer of the Ducks’ renaissance.

“We got the media behind us and Hollywood behind us. I remember after games, my wife and I would go to Manhattan Beach to get something to eat, and when we’d walk into a restaurant or bar at midnight or later, people would stand and clap. Any place we went, people were watching hockey.”

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Like most trends, fans’ infatuation with the Kings cooled, a process hastened when the team imploded and missed the playoffs the next four seasons. Melrose was fired with seven games left in the 1994-95 season and hasn’t coached in the NHL since. Nor have the Kings recaptured the mixture of selflessness and skill that carried them to the Cup finals, where they won the opener but lost the next four games to the Montreal Canadiens.

“The same thing has happened with a number of teams. Look at the New York Rangers,” Melrose said, referring to their 1994 Cup triumph and rapid decline to where they’ve missed the playoffs the last six seasons. “Only four teams have won the Cup the last few years -- Dallas, Colorado, Detroit and the New Jersey Devils. Look at Dallas missing the playoffs last year. That’s why it’s so hard to get there.”

Despite a 2-1 loss to Dallas in Game 3 that cut the Ducks’ second-round series lead to 2-1, Melrose believes the Ducks will upset the Stars “because I can’t believe Dallas can beat Jean-Sebastien Giguere four times.” He also sees some parallels between the Ducks and the 1993 Kings, especially in the key roles played by grinders.

“The last time the Ducks went to the playoffs [in 1999] they had Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne and nobody else. Now, they’re a balanced team,” Melrose said. “Paul Kariya isn’t a major factor anymore. Yes, he’s a great player and he’s helping them, but there are other guys doing it around him, like Steve Rucchin and Keith Carney....

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“The type of guys that were big for us were the same. Wayne Gretzky got all the ink, but guys like Dave Taylor, Warren Rychel and Pat Conacher were great for us. I remember them scoring big goals, even though everyone thought Dave Taylor was done. On defense, Tim Watters and Mark Hardy were big factors. Our stars played well. Gretz had 40 points and Tomas [Sandstrom] was right behind, but it was the foot soldiers that really got it done.

“Bad teams don’t understand that. The Steve Thomases of the world, the Steve Rucchins and Jason Krogs, those are the key guys.”

The Ducks, he said, are no fluke. “They should savor the whole thing,” he said. “Don’t take for granted that you’ll get back the next year. I hope they can capture the feeling we had in L.A.”

The WHA Lives Again

The World Hockey Assn., which folded in 1979 after seven years of competing against the bigger and stronger NHL, might reappear in 2004.

Toronto businessman Allan Howell said he and his colleagues will first launch a developmental league, WHA2, in October with 10 to 12 teams. It will be followed by a 12- to 22-team WHA in late 2004. Howell said Los Angeles is among the 22 potential sites, with the Forum or Sports Arena as its home.

Given the economic challenges facing many NHL teams and the downward trend of TV revenues, starting a new league seems like a fantasy. But Howell said the timing is favorable and that the WHA will go forward even if the 2004-05 NHL season isn’t disrupted by a labor dispute.

“There are at least 10 NHL franchises that cannot compete under the present economic model,” he said. “In our opinion, there will be an 18- to 24-month lockout and we think that’s a perfect time.

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“The way we’re structured, each franchise would have one marquee player with no cap on his salary and the rest would be capped at $10 million.”

Subtracting teams, not adding a league, is the likely path for professional hockey. Talent is diluted enough, and the WHA can’t hope to come close to the NHL’s caliber of play. But it’s his money to waste.

Discuss Among Yourselves

Under the what-does-this-mean category: No team in the modern era captained by a European-trained player has won the Stanley Cup.

It’s remarkable, considering the pervasive presence of Europeans in the NHL, but there it is. Coincidence, or fodder for more Euro-bashing by bombastic Canadian Broadcasting Corporation commentator Don Cherry?

Of the eight remaining teams, two have European captains: Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson and Vancouver’s Markus Naslund, who are Swedish. Minnesota rotates its captaincy.

Also, this is the first playoff year that no team from the NHL’s Original Six (Rangers, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Blackhawks and Red Wings) has advanced to the second round.

Au Revoir, Patrick?

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Colorado goalie Patrick Roy, last seen missing the seventh-game, overtime shot by Andrew Brunette that launched the Minnesota Wild into the second round of the playoffs, reportedly will retire.

Jacques Demers, who coached Roy and the 1993 Canadiens to the Stanley Cup and remains a close friend, told the Denver Post that Roy is concerned about chronic hip injuries. “I think Patrick has played his last game,” Demers said.

It would be a shame for the most successful goalie in NHL history to end his career that way, but it became clear this season Roy lost the quickness and combativeness that were his greatest assets. He ranks among the best clutch goalies the NHL has seen.

Slap Shots

Colorado General Manager Pierre Lacroix didn’t blame rookie Coach Tony Granato for the team’s first-round loss to Minnesota. But without revenue he had anticipated for a full Stanley Cup run, Lacroix is likely to cut his payroll next season. His first priority is re-signing restricted free agent Peter Forsberg.

Edmonton General Manager Kevin Lowe made some cryptic comments about his team’s coaching situation last week. He said he’s unsure if Coach Craig MacTavish will sign a new contract after his current deal expires June 30 and added, “It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with philosophy.”

It seems more like a disagreement over the Oilers’ philosophy of spending money. They can’t pursue elite free agents because of their small-market finances, and they can’t afford to keep the young players they develop. Each year the Oilers inch close to a playoff breakthrough but each year they slip back: They’ve gotten to the second round only twice since 1992 and missed the playoffs five times in that span. MacTavish has done a good job in difficult circumstances, and his frustration is understandable.

Although it seems as if there have been a lot of overtime games this spring, the total of 15 is more than halfway to the record of 28, set in 1993.... Eugene Melnyk’s purchase of the Ottawa Senators, who are operating under bankruptcy protection, is nearly done. He’s expected to pay about $100 million for the franchise and between $15 million and $25 million for the arena, but also will take on debts of more than $150 million.


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