Last season the Sharks were classic underachievers with no will
to win. During the summer general manager Dean Lombardi
engineered an attitude overhaul by hiring no-nonsense coach
Darryl Sutter and assistant Paul Baxter. The move worked--at the
All-Star break, San Jose was three points out of a playoff
spot--but Sutter and Baxter remain unhappy with the lack of
consistency from Sharks veterans. Right wing Owen Nolan and
recently acquired center Mike Ricci are the two players
management is counting on to provide leadership among the vets.
If San Jose misses the playoffs, Lombardi will have to justify
his trading of younger players and draft picks for older players
such as forwards John MacLean (an unrestricted free agent at
season's end), Dave Lowry, Murray Craven and Stephane Matteau.
Speaking of missing the playoffs, recent home-ice losses to the
Maple Leafs, the Flyers and the Canadiens, and a humbling
blowout at the hands of the Islanders, all but assured the
Lightning of winning the Vincent Lecavalier Sweepstakes.
(Lecavalier, a center, is this year's No. 1-rated draft
prospect.) Following the loss to the Islanders, Tampa Bay
general manager Phil Esposito shipped five players out and
brought five in through trades. He's also feuding with coach
Jacques Demers, whom he hired in November. The league is worried
about this franchise: The team is poor, attendance is down, and
the club is for sale with no buyer in sight.
By obtaining 1993 No. 1 pick Alexander Daigle from the Senators
last week for Vaclav Prospal, Pat Falloon and a draft choice,
the Flyers may have boosted their Stanley Cup chances. Daigle,
who was a bust in Ottawa but should flourish in Philly because
he won't be expected to carry the team, will provide much-needed
speed at right wing. Maybe more important, his acquisition could
make talented 19-year-old wing Dainus Zubrus expendable. Don't
be surprised if the Flyers package Zubrus to the Oilers for the
ingredient they need to win the Cup--a goaltender, namely Curtis
Players who will probably be wearing new uniforms soon: Trevor
Linden and Markus Naslund of the Canucks, Alexander Selivanov of
the Lightning, Alexei Kovalev of the Rangers and Travis Green of
Pierre McGuire coached the Hartford Whalers in 1993-94.
COLOR PHOTO: A. PICHETTE/B. BENNETT STUDIOS The role of Ricci (left): stir up the old Sharks. [Mike Ricci in game]