1. BOSTON BRUINS. Though the Bruins were embarrassed by Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup finals, over an 80-game season Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and friends will be too powerful too often for the enemy. "Let's face it," says Director of Player Development Claude Ruel of the Canadiens, "the Bruins never lose at home, and they always get better than a split on the road. That is tough to beat." The new Boston coach, Don Cherry, seconds Ruel: "Everyone is thinking it, so I'll say it. We should win it all. If we don't, then I have done something wrong." Cherry basically is staying with the lineup that failed against Philadelphia: Orr, Esposito, Carol Vadnais, Al Sims, Ken Hodge (50 goals last season), Wayne Cashman, Don Marcotte, Johnny Bucyk, Andre Savard, Gilles Gilbert, Bobby Schmautz, Terrible Terry O'Reilly, Gregg Sheppard. Oh, yes. Walt McKechnie has signed on as Derek Sanderson's replacement. So why does Cherry expect to beat Philadelphia? "We are going to be hitting like the old Bruins hit," he says. "I didn't have a lot of talent when I coached down at Rochester, so I had my guys intimidate the opposition. We were the most violent team in the minor leagues. The Bruins won't have to be all that violent, but I want them to play the body more than they did last year." If they don't? "My flaw is my temper," Cherry says. "I try not to look ridiculous on the bench, but I've been known to throw a few tantrums in the dressing room. I've even grabbed a few guys."
2. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS. Before the final drop of champagne had spilled from the Stanley Cup last spring, Coach Fred Shero was jetting to Russia for a three-week hockey symposium. One aspect of the Soviet training program particularly fascinated him. "Forty days before a big event," he says, "the Russians require their athletes to give a pint of blood, which they then regain naturally. It's a program designed to build strength, and I'm looking into it with our doctors." Listen, Fred, the Flyers shed enough blood as it is—their own as well as the opposition's. The Broad Street Bullies, who terrorized the NHL and won the cup last year, are back in fine fighting condition, but Shero plans some minor changes. Goaltender Bernie Parent, the cup MVP who started a record 73 games, posted a 1.89 goals-against average and caught 12 shutouts, will work only 50 to 55 games this season. "It will seem like a holiday," Parent says with a laugh. Says Shero, "We are a better club, and we won't have to depend so much on one man." Parent will get more rest because St. Louis was kind enough to give the Flyers Goaltender Wayne Stephenson. "I can't believe that we were able to get a guy like him for just about nothing," Shero says. Defenseman Barry Ash bee, who stopped a puck with his eye during the playoffs, has retired, but the other enforcers—Ed Van Impe, Moose Dupont, Tom Bladon and the Watson brothers, Jim and Joe—are healthy and menacing. The indomitable Bobby Clarke, hockey's hardest worker, got his off-season wish when the Flyers obtained Reggie Leach from the California Seals. Leach, once Clarke's right wing back home in Flin Flon, scored 22 goals for the Seals. Clarke predicts Leach will get at least 40 for the Flyers while playing on a line with—who else—Clarke (35 goals last year) and Bill Barber (34). Rick MacLeish and Ross Lonsberry, who scored 32 goals apiece, work the second line with Gary Dornhoefer, while the third line is the Philadelphia Boxing Club: Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Don Saleski. And, of course, for added clout the Flyers have Kate Smith, whose record is 37-3-1.
3. CHICAGO BLACK HAWKS. Under the cover of darkness, without even one boast about the high quality of their personnel, the Black Hawks have almost finished a remarkable rebuilding job. Despite poor positions in the draft, two years ago Chicago plucked Phil Russell, the best young defenseman in the game, and last year Winger Darcy Rota, who went on to score 21 goals. This season's draft find is Grant Mulvey, just turned 18, a 6'3", 200-pound right wing from Calgary. "I never dreamed the day would come when an 18-year-old kid would be good enough to step right in and play for one of my clubs," says Bill Reay, the game's best coach. Mulvey is in excellent company on a line with Center Pit Martin (30 goals) and Left Wing Dennis Hull (29). Reay's long search for a "big" center to complement the diminutive Martin and the slick Stan Mikita (80 points) has ended with the acquisition of a 6'1", 190-pound muscleman, Ivan Boldirev, who scored 25 goals for the Golden Seals. Reay wants some of his defensemen to be more physical, too. "Billy's right," says Keith Magnuson. "We were all too nice last year." Too nice, perhaps, but dependable nonetheless. Dick Redmond, another import from California, played better than the Hawks dreamed he could, while Bill White, perhaps the best pure defenseman in the NHL, and Russell made few mistakes in front of Goaltender Tony Esposito as the Hawks tied the Flyers for the Vezina Trophy by permitting only 164 goals. "We had 23 ties last year," Reay says. "This year we'll win a lot of those ties."
4. NEW YORK RANGERS. The conservative old Rangers have gone Broadway. Bossman Emile Francis has suddenly discovered turtlenecks, long hair, mustaches, platform shoes, wide lapels and flared cuffs, and now, at last, the Rangers may look like a hockey team on and off the ice. Ordered by the new Madison Square Garden management crowd to put some zip into the team and silence its suffering fans, Francis traded for Derek Sanderson, the mod man who infuriated New Yorkers when he played for the Bruins, and problem-child Wing Greg Polis, and he promoted a batch of hopefuls, including Right Wing Rick Middleton and Left Wing Bert Wilson, from farm clubs. The Rangers have a new captain, Brad Park, replacing the traded Vic Hadfield, who was the first old reliable to get the Garden ax. For Sanderson it is his ninth last chance in hockey; some Ranger nuts have set up a $1 pool on the date Francis first suspends Derek for missing practice. "This is it for me," Derek admits. "If I don't play hockey for the Cat, I won't be able to play anyplace else." If Sanderson recaptures his old ability he may replace Jean Ratelle on a line with Wings Polis and Rod Gilbert. Middleton, a prolific scorer, replaces Bill Fairbairn at right wing on a line with Walter Tkaczuk and Steve Vickers. Park seems more aggressive now on defense, but the Rangers still lack the one truly punishing cop who could make life really enjoyable for Goaltender Eddie Giacomin.
5. MONTREAL CANADIENS. Ten pounds lighter and wearing a self-designed rouge, blanc et bleu mask, a former $127-per-week junior law clerk named Ken Dryden returns to the Canadiens' goal for the senior sum of $4,000 a week. During his one-year retirement Dryden played goal only twice and the shooters he faced were not Phil Esposito and Richard Martin but Toronto businessmen at a university rink. "It is going to take time to get my bearings back," Dryden says. He is only one Montreal question mark. Leading scorer Frank Mahovlich departed for the WHA's dollars, leaving a large gap at left wing that Coach Scotty Bowman hopes Steve Shutt, a playoff star last spring, can close. Lines? They are a joke in Montreal because Bowman shuffles as many as 20 combinations during each game. Peter Mahovlich (36 goals) and venerable Captain Henri Richard are at center, although Bowman occasionally shifts them to the wing. Helmeted rookie Doug Risebrough is strictly a center, but Guy Lafleur, who has doffed his helmet, is a center today and probably a wing tomorrow. Jacques Lemaire (29 goals) is in Bowman's doghouse. The only predictable Canadien forward is Yvan Cournoyer. As always, mark The Roadrunner down for at least 40 goals. Without Dryden available to erase their mistakes, the Montreal defensemen crumbled last year, particularly in the Forum, where the Canadiens somehow conspired to lose 12 games after dropping a grand total of only 10 the previous year. Jacques Laperriere is still recovering from knee surgery, but his defense mates—Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson and a roughneck rookie, Rick Chartraw—have been ordered to play more aggressively. "Everyone pushed us around," Bowman says. "It's not going to happen now."
6. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS. Casually confronting the dollar crunch, Owner Harold Ballard had the 2,200 red seats in Maple Leaf Gardens reupholstered in gold this summer, then raised the ticket price for those seats from $7.70 to $12 a game. For a substantial rental fee Ballard also agreed to let the Toronto Lawn Mowers, as he calls the WHA's Toros, play in the Gardens (former Leaf stars Frank Mahovlich and Paul Henderson are in the lineup, too). Coach Red Kelly also is prospering; he expects to have his best club ever. Why? "I sense a better attitude," Kelly says. "Last year we had no spirit, but now it's the way I want it." Doug Favell and Dune Wilson are respectable goaltenders. Borje Salming, the slick Swede who was the Most Valuable Leaf last year, Bob Neely and Ian Turnbull all survived pressurized rookie seasons without any loss in confidence or ability, and now they help form the league's best young defense. Center Darryl Sittler (38 goals) has learned to retaliate against the terror tactics often used against him. Mark him down as a young man with star potential. Sittler works with Ron Ellis (23 goals) and Swede Inge Hammarstrom (20), while ageless Dave Keon centers for former Flyer Bill Flett—the bearded one—and either rookie Lyle Moffat or former Penguin Blaine Stoughton. All things considered, the Leafs may be worth the price of admission.
7. LOS ANGELES KINGS. It was hardly a coincidence that the Kings had their best record ever last season while their often meddlesome owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was living 3,000 miles away in New York. He had to let competent hockey men like General Manager Jake Milford and Coach Bob Pulford make most of the major decisions. Well, Cooke has moved back to L.A., but Milford and Pulford have created such a solid club that even a man with Cooke's penchant for juggling may leave well enough alone. "We have developed a workable defensive format," says Pulford. "Now we want to improve our attack without diluting the defense." Goaltender Rogatien Vachon played 65 games so well (earning a 2.80 goals-against average) that Philadelphia's Shero thought he deserved the MVP award. The defensemen, particularly Terry Harper, Bob Murdoch and Sheldon Kannegiesser, are unspectacular, although rookie Dave Hutchinson promises to "chase guys like Dave Schultz out of the rink." Milford raided the Rangers for flashy Gene Carr, steady Mike Murphy and speedy Tom Williams last year, and they form the so-called New York line. Playing center, his natural position, and given his head, Carr could star. Butch Goring (28 goals), mild-mannered Juha Widing (27), Bob Berry (23) and Don Kozak (21) know where the net is, but it would help Pulford if they would describe its whereabouts to Dan Maloney. Maloney, the only muscleman up front, had only 15 goals last year. "He should score 30," Pulford says.
8. ATLANTA FLAMES. Boom-Boom Geoffrion insists that his real aim in life is to "sit up in dem stands and be an expert like all da writers." So let's give the Atlanta coach a seat. The following is by Da Boomer: "Goaltending, dat's de ball game in hockey. I got Dan Bouchard [2.77 goals-against with five shutouts] and Phil Myre, so I got no worries dere. You should have my goaltenders. Up front? Tommy Lysiak, he just scored 19 goals and 45 assists and played like my old friend Mr. Beliveau as a rookie. Maybe I will make a comeback and play with Mr. Lysiak. Jacques Richard [27 goals] does some things like my old friend Rocket, busting off da wing and scoring on a lot of breakaways. And I also have Larry Romanchych [22 goals] and Bobby Leiter [26 goals], not to forget guys like Buster Harvey and Hilliard Graves, who just came in trades. I got forwards, my friend, believe me. Now da defense. For two years my guys let other guys park in front of da net. No more. Pat Quinn and Dwight Bialowas will see to dat. People ask me if Jean Lemieux, a big kid who did a great job on defense after we called him up last year, is really good. Let me ask you a question. Is Brad Park good? You get da message, eh? Give Da Boomer just one more big defenseman, a really big defenseman, and I'll see you later."
9. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS. If the Penguins can locate a quality goaltender, Popeye the Sailor Man may replace God Bless America atop the hit parade here. "Popeye" is fiery Coach Marc Boileau, and the Pittsburgh organist gives him the musical spinach after every Penguin victory. There were few Pittsburgh triumphs last season until Jack Button got the general manager's job in a January shake-up. Before he could hang his nameplate, Button changed coaches, moving Boileau in from Fort Wayne, and drastically altered the club's image. Steve Durbano and Battleship Kelly were imported from St. Louis strictly to protect the productive Syl Apps-Jean Pronovost-Lowell MacDonald line, No. 2 in the NHL, from physical harassment. Whereupon the revived Penguins posted a strong 14-10-4 record for the rest of the schedule. Apps had 61 assists for the season, Pronovost 40 goals and MacDonald 43 goals. For additional firepower the Penguins acquired Wings Vic Hadfield and Rick Kehoe during the summer. They play on a line with Harvard man Bob McManama. On defense Durbano provides the necessary muscle, Ab DeMarco supplies puck-handling finesse, and sturdy Dave Burrows is one of the NHL's three best defensive defensemen. "I'm not worried about my goaltending," says Button. "No, he's scared to death," says another general manager. If Goaltenders Bob Johnson and Gary Inness do perform at all respectably, Popeye is going to hear a lot of Popeye.
10. BUFFALO SABRES. The most congenial general manager around these days is the normally brusque and volatile Punch Imlach. No wonder. Punch's Sabres need a goaltender—pronto. Dave Dryden defected to the WHA and Roger Crozier retired for the umpteenth time because of his assorted stomach troubles, leaving new Coach Floyd Smith with only a couple of raw rookies, Gary Bromley and Rocky Farr. "We need a Crozier," says Imlach, meaning Roger and not ex-Coach Joe. Injuries to Center Gilbert Perreault and Policeman-Defenseman Jim Schoenfeld disrupted the Sabres early last season, and the death of Defenseman Tim Horton in an auto accident stopped the momentum of their drive for a playoff spot. Now Smith has ordered the shifty Perreault to forget some of his ultrafancy fakes and think more about putting the puck into the net himself. No such urging is needed for Perreault's dynamic linemate, Left Wing Richard Martin. He took 320 shots, scored 52 goals and terrorized 30 goaltenders with his blasts last season, and he shows no sign of cutting back. Don Luce (26 goals) and Craig Ramsay (20), two of the least-heralded players in the game, anchor the second line, kill penalties and drive the high scorers on other teams dizzy with their pesty forechecking. If Schoenfeld's ailing back holds up, the defense will be adequate. If not, Bromley and Farr may decide to join Dryden and Crozier.
11. ST. LOUIS BLUES. Boss Sid Salomon III will say things like "patience can be a minor despair disguised as a virtue," and over the past four years the impetuous Salomon has employed seven coaches while making more trades than any other NHL owner. Two of Sid the Third's preseason deals—Winger Greg Polis to the Rangers for non-Defenseman Larry Sacharuk, and the fine Goaltender Wayne Stephenson to the Flyers for future considerations and a kid who played in the WHA—defy understanding. However, Salomon now claims he will be extremely patient with his current coach, Lou Angotti, and with all the Blues unless, as he says, "the right thing comes up, and then we'll move soon." On the whole the Blues seem to be thinking more about 1975-76 than 1974-75. They may play as many as eight rookies regularly. Garry Unger (33 goals), who will have the combative newcomer John Wensink for a bodyguard, Pierre Plante (26) and Wayne Merrick (20) carry the attack, while Captain Barclay Plager and Don Awrey lend experience and toughness on defense. Lanky John Davidson, spectacular as a rookie, is without doubt the best 21-year-old goaltender on the continent.
12. NEW YORK ISLANDERS. Wanted (desperately): One center who can handle the puck to work between two superkids who promise to do all the dirty work in the corners. The Islanders are just one Jean Ratelle away from being a solid team. Right Wing Billy Harris scored 28 and 23 goals in his first two NHL seasons, but he spent much of the time skating offside while awaiting errant passes from a collection of forgettable centers. His opposite wing, the rugged rookie Clark Gillies, is potentially a fine one. Their present center, old hand Eddie Westfall, is a former defenseman turned forward, and while he tries, Westfall admittedly is not a Ratelle. Bob Bourne, a tall rookie from Saskatoon, centers the second line for Bob Nystrom, beneficiary of lessons from a female figure skater, and pint-sized Garry Howatt, who had a record 29 five-minute fighting penalties last year while punching his way to the NHL's all-class championship. "We must improve our offense drastically," says Coach Al Arbour, noting that Rookie-of-the-Year Defenseman Denis Potvin led the team—offensively the NHL's worst—in scoring last season. Even without a standout center the Islanders would make the playoffs if the NHL had a basketball-style, wild-card qualifying system like the WHA's.
13. MINNESOTA NORTH STARS. A model franchise only yesterday, the North Stars are fighting for survival. Big salaries, timid players and care-not attitudes ruined them last year. Now season-ticket sales are down and the WHA's Fighting Saints seem to be taking over the local sports pages. Jackie Gordon, whom the former general manager, Wren Blair, removed as coach last January, comes back as coach and general manager and promises drastic changes if the North Stars do not rediscover the work ethic. In the past, Gordon's threats were unheeded and the players went over his head to a sympathetic Blair. "Now there's a clear line of authority," Gordon says. Mindful of Minnesota's soft image, Gordon acquired muscular Wingers Henry Boucha, John Flesch and Don Martineau in trades and promoted heavyweight Defenseman Chris Ahrens from the minors. However, the attack still is basically one line—Dennis Hextall (62 assists) centering for Bill Goldsworthy (48 goals) and J.P. Parise. The defense could use come-back-of-the-year performances from Barry Gibbs and Tom Reid and Rookie-of-the-Year play by 19-year-old Doug Hicks. Oh, yes. Gump Worsley has retired—again—leaving Cesare Maniago practically alone in goal.
14. VANCOUVER CANUCKS. "For the first time ever," says Phil Maloney, "the coach and the general manager of the Canucks will be in agreement on how to run the hockey club." Maloney ought to know: he is the coach and general manager as Vancouver turns to one-man rule after four years of operational turbulence. If the Canucks occasionally remember to play defense they could take a playoff spot from Minnesota. "My main interest," Maloney says, "is to get some checking help for Gary Smith so he doesn't end up in a mental institution." Maloney may trade offense-minded Defenseman Jocelyn Guevremont (15 goals) for some defensive defensemen; Montreal and Chicago both covet him. Top scorers Andre Boudrias (59 assists), Dennis Ververgaert (26 goals) and Don Lever (23 goals) are packaged on one line, and when the opposition muscles them into the boards Maloney can counter with his new body-bending unit of Center Gerry O'Flaherty and Defensemen-turned-Wingers Dave Dunn and Gregg Boddy. Still, the Canucks are not as strong as the Vancouver Blazers of the WHA.
15. DETROIT RED WINGS. Alex Delvecchio may not know the Ivy League from the Three-I League, but he knows that Cornellian Ned Harkness left him with a club that missed the playoffs four straight years. "We've got to build again," concedes Delvecchio, who has added the title of general manager to the coaching job he inherited early last season. By build, Delvecchio means trade. "Defensively, we're pretty weak," he says. True. The Red Wings have a surplus of forwards, including top draft pick Bill Lochead, who do their checking only at the bank. Jean Hamel, the best of the alleged defenders, is a no-hit, artful-dodger type. To get help Delvecchio must trade either Center Marcel (Little Beaver) Dionne, Right Wing Mickey Redmond (52 and 51 goals the last two years) or Left Wing Nick Libett. "We'll have to do something," says Delvecchio. If he does not, diminutive Goaltender Jimmy Rutherford could be sidelined with shell shock before Thanksgiving.
16. KANSAS CITY SCOUTS. In Boston, Bep Guidolin had a simple coaching philosophy: "Whenever the Bruins were in trouble, I sent No. 4 onto the ice." Now when Guidolin calls for No. 4, Bart Crashley, not Bobby Orr, will jump up. Defenseman Brent Hughes is so enthusiastic about the Scouts that he has signed with the WHA's San Diego Mariners for next season. Besides the usual problems of a new team, the Scouts face an added handicap: they must play their first eight games on the road while waiting for their new building to be completed. Former Flyer Simon Nolet and wealthy rookies Wilf Paiement and Glen Burdon will score frequently, but the defense, including No. 4, is terribly weak. Guidolin promises an "Atlanta-style" skating club. "Put No. 4 on our team," he says, "and I'll guarantee that we make the playoffs." Orr, that is, not Crashley.
17. CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS. Gone is Charles O. Finley, the owner. Gone is Charley O, the mule. Gone are the white skates. Gone are the Kelly-green, California-gold and polar bear-white uniforms. Gone, too, are Ivan Boldirev, Walt McKechnie, Reggie Leach and Gary Croteau, four of the top five scorers. Now the Seals are orphans, owned by the NHL, which bought out Finley and his mule but has yet to convince potential investors that the sad franchise is worth $6 million. This year the Seals wear traditional black skate boots and uniforms of Pacific blue, canary yellow and milk white, but the colors cannot obscure their ineptness. In building a better defense after allowing the most goals in the league, the Seals foolishly traded almost their entire attack, retaining only top scorer Joey Johnston. While ex-Ranger Jim Neilson, 18-year-old rookie Rick Hampton, who drags down $150,000 a year, and former Chicago farmhand Mike Christie provide beleaguered Goaltender Gilles Meloche improved protection, the Seals will rarely bother goaltenders at the opposite end. "We'll keep more pucks out," concludes Coach Marshall Johnston, "but so will the other clubs."
18. WASHINGTON CAPITALS. The program for an exhibition game in London, Ontario mistakenly labeled the Caps the "Washington Generals." A mere typographical error perhaps, but a catastrophic blunder to citizens in the District. The Generals are Red Klotz' barnstorming basketball team, which has lost a few million games to the Harlem Globetrotters, and even the Caps expect to have a slightly better record than that. "We are weak on defense and down through center," admits General Manager Milt Schmidt. So weak that Coach Jimmy Anderson may rotate his three goaltenders—Ron Low, Michel Belhumeur and John Adams—period by period to preserve their dignity. The Caps spent some $2.5 million signing their first six amateur draft choices to long-term contracts, but No. 1 pick Greg Joly, a rushing defenseman, seems injury-prone, and No. 2 pick Mike Marson, a black left wing, checked in 20 pounds overweight. A variation on the old saying makes sense again: first in war, first in peace and last in the National League.
THE NEW NHL LINEUP
Clarence Campbell Conference
LESTER PATRICK DIVISION
Atlanta, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia
CONN SMYTHE DIVISION
Chicago, Kansas City, Minnesota, St. Louis, Vancouver
Prince of Wales Conference
JAMES NORRIS DIVISION
Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington
CHARLES F. ADAMS DIVISION
Boston, Buffalo, California, Toronto