NOT JUST A ROUGHNECK
The bridge of Randy McKay's nose is slightly flattened, his
knuckles somewhat worn. McKay came to the NHL in 1988-89 as an
enforcer for the Red Wings, and in his first three seasons he
scored four goals and had 234 penalty minutes in 83 games. He
made his most memorable mark in the 1991 playoffs when he rammed
Blues defenseman Mario Marois so hard that Marois crashed into
Detroit's star center, Sergei Fedorov, and gave Fedorov a
concussion. After his third fight, a bloodied McKay was ejected
from the game.
This is the same Randy McKay who was the powerful Devils'
second-leading goal scorer through Sunday, with 17. The last
time McKay, 31, had more goals than that in a season was nine
years ago--when he played in the minor leagues. His teammates
are calling him the Rocket, as in Maurice (Rocket) Richard. "I'm
just going to the net more," says McKay, a rightwinger. "I
always knew I could score if I got a chance."
McKay is an NHL rarity, having made the transition from fighter
to all-around player. Forwards Darren McCarty of the Red Wings,
Bob Probert of the Blackhawks and Chris Simon of the Capitals
(the latter two are sidelined with injuries) have similarly
blossomed in this decade. Veteran winger Rick Tocchet of the
Coyotes is perhaps the best example of a hell-raiser turned
The transformations occur for several reasons. Fighters who can
use their hands for something other than throwing punches can
earn promotions to top lines--McKay, for instance, plays with
talented forwards Dave Andreychuk and Bobby Holik. Also, when a
brawler is on the ice, opponents tend to give him room to work
with. Not least of the factors is the resolve all goons to goal
scorers seem to share. "The development comes from within," says
former NHLer Chris Nilan, a cannonball of a forward who made the
transition as a Canadien in the mid-1980s. "You have to want,
more than anything, to improve."
These days McKay, who signed a four-year, $7.5 million contract
last month, makes an impact even in subtle ways. On New Jersey's
third goal in a 3-1 win over Detroit on Jan. 20, Devils
defenseman Scott Niedermayer skated untouched to the side of the
net and fed an open Andreychuk in front. All the while, the
Wings defense had been eyeing McKay, who was also hovering near
For all his newfound success, McKay has no plans to forsake his
old game. "I'm still going to fight sometimes, and I'm still
going to play tough," he says. "That's what got me here."
In press rooms and barrooms, discussions of who has the early
hold on coach of the year honors have begun. Three candidates
are most commonly mentioned: the Bruins' Pat Burns, the
Penguins' Kevin Constantine and the Blues' Joel Quenneville.
Each is in his first full season with his club, and each has
jump-started an average (or, in Boston's case, lousy) team and
guided it into contention.
Then there's the Red Wings' Scotty Bowman, who doesn't seem to
be on anybody's short list. He should be. Bowman, the winningest
coach in NHL history (1,042 victories at week's end), has been
in Detroit for five years and has a wonderfully talented team to
work with. But the Red Wings, who won 38 regular-season games
and the Stanley Cup last season, are on a pace to win 47 this
year and are pressing the Stars for the best record in the
The Wings have avoided the letdown that often plagues Cup
winners and have weathered the loss of top defenseman Vladimir
Konstantinov, who suffered brain damage in a limousine accident
six days after the Cup victory. They also have been without
their most skilled forward, Sergei Fedorov, who is unsigned, and
goalie Mike Vernon, last year's playoff MVP, who was traded for
two draft choices. "It's not one thing he does," defenseman
Slava Fetisov says of Bowman. "It's the day-in, day-out things
that make us like a family." And that make Bowman our
front-runner for coach of the year.
Capitals winger Pat Peake has a maxim: "You can play hurt, but
you can't play injured." Peake should know.
Playing in the Ontario Hockey League in 1992-93, Peake missed
three weeks of the regular season with a separated left shoulder
and most of the playoffs with a fractured right ankle. As a
rookie with Washington the next season, he was sidelined for 14
games with torn rib cartilage, six games with a bruised right
shoulder, two games with a sore right ankle and two games with
the flu. In '94-95 Peake contracted mononucleosis and played in
only 18 games.
The following season Peake took a high stick to the throat and
missed 10 games with what was termed "fractured thyroid
cartilage." He was also scratched from five games with a
sprained right knee, three games with a sprained left shoulder
and one game with kidney stones. In the playoffs Peake shattered
his right heel and needed extensive surgery. The mangled heel
kept Peake out of the Caps' first 67 games of 1996-97. His
comeback was complicated when a television fell on his right
hand, breaking a bone. Peake returned to action last March 29.
He played four games, then suffered a concussion in a car
accident and had to sit out the rest of the year.
Peake missed the first 16 games of this season with a
combination of lingering pain in the heel, flu symptoms and what
he calls "anxiety about getting healthy." He dressed for a Nov.
8 game against the Oilers and got enough ice time to tear
several tendons in his right ankle. He hasn't played since, but
the Capitals expect him back within a month. Officially, they
say, he is out "indefinitely."
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Though still a tough guy, McKay has developed a delicate shooting touch. [Randy McKay]
COLOR PHOTO: C. ANDERSEN/B. BENNETT STUDIOS [Andrei Kovalenko]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS [Ray Whitney]
BUST AND BARGAIN
LW Andrei Kovalenko
1997-98 salary: $1.1 million
Edmonton G.M. Glen Sather, who signed Kovalenko (three goals
through Sunday) in July, says, "I want the money back."
LW Ray Whitney
1997-98 salary: $300,000
Sather wants the player back, too. He unwisely waived Whitney
(19 goals at week's end) in November.