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Inside The NHL


Sweet-shooting Mighty Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne deserves to
be among the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, which goes to
the league's MVP. But whether he should beat out Penguins right
wing Jaromir Jagr and Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek, two almost
certain finalists for the award, comes down to this: Does
Selanne's dominant season outweigh the fact that through Sunday,
Anaheim was 25-41-12 and in last place in the Western Conference?

Even though he led the NHL with 52 goals and was tied for fourth
in scoring with 86 points at week's end, the odds are against
Selanne's winning the Hart. Jagr was the NHL's point leader,
with 97 through Sunday, and Hasek was having one of the best
seasons ever by a netminder, with 13 shutouts and a 2.09
goals-against average. As for Selanne, only four players whose
teams failed to make the playoffs have been MVP (the last was
Mario Lemieux of the 1987-88 Penguins). "He's had a phenomenal
season," says Anaheim coach Pierre Page. "Through the down
times, he hasn't let up."

With the absence of star left wing Paul Kariya, who missed the
season's first 32 games in a contract dispute and who has been
sidelined since Feb. 1 with postconcussion syndrome, Selanne has
played with a hodgepodge of linemates and has been keyed on by
opposing teams. "Trying to do damage without Paul has been a big
challenge," says Selanne.

Here's how he has responded: Through Sunday, Selanne was plus-12
on a team that had surrendered 55 more goals than it had scored,
and he had scored 10 game-winning goals and 26.9% of Anaheim's
193 goals. Only Brett Hull, who scored 27.7% of the Blues' goals
in 1991-92, has had a higher percentage of his team's output in
a season.

The 27-year-old Selanne, who is 6 feet and 200 pounds, is
tougher in the corners than most snipers and possesses an
uncommon blend of speed, explosiveness and touch. A classic
Selanne moment, even though it didn't result in a goal, occurred
on March 9 against the Kings. He was advancing on Rob Blake--one
of the top three defensemen in the game--who was skating
backward and was in good position. But when Blake broke stride
for a split second, Selanne seized the moment. He accelerated
past Blake and snapped a breakaway shot on goalie Stephane
Fiset. "Most guys wouldn't have even noticed my hesitation,"
says Blake. "He saw it, and he was gone."

During and after the negotiations that resulted in Kariya's
getting a two-year, $14 million contract on Dec. 10, Selanne
never complained about the deal he signed in 1995, which was
worth about $13 million over five seasons. Earlier this month,
however, the Ducks added two years and $19.5 million to his
contract. "I'm thankful they gave me the extension," he says,
"but I wasn't worried, because if the only problem I have is
that I'm underpaid, then things have to be pretty good."

NHL on Fox

The folks at Fox are scrambling to find ways to bolster their
NHL regular-season ratings, which have dwindled from 2.1 in
1995-96 to 1.9 last season to just under 1.7 this season (each
ratings point equals 970,000 households). In hopes of reversing
that trend, Fox, which shows six regional games each Saturday
afternoon from the week after the mid-January All-Star break
until the end of the regular season, will trim its schedule to
three games next season. Its plan is to concentrate on getting
better matchups to more viewers and on beefing up production
quality. "By covering fewer games, we can throw more resources
at them," says Fox Sports executive producer Ed Goren. "It could
help make our weekends more special."

In a way Fox has been its own saboteur. The 1996 advent of its
cable network, Fox Sports Net, which bought up the local TV
rights of various pro sports teams, has resulted in NHL games on
cable being barely distinguishable from those on over-the-air
TV. All Fox broadcasts of NHL games use similar graphics and
sound, which makes watching on Saturdays less of an event than
it might be. "Fox does so much on its cable coverage that it
dilutes the national game," says Stephen Solomon, the NHL's
chief operating officer. "We need to create a distinct national

The NHL and Fox are also considering moving the national games
to Sunday afternoons, when there are more viewers than on
Saturdays. However, that switch would pit hockey against
national pro basketball and final-round golf telecasts, which so
far this year have had average ratings of about 4.5 and 3.5,

When the NHL landed a five-year, $155 million commitment from
Fox before the 1994-95 season, the league got regular network
coverage for the first time since the early '80s. That deal
expires after next season, but Fox holds an option for two more
years. Now the network is trying to give itself a reason to do so.

Former Canadiens

Coach Jacques Lemaire's Devils will finish with the best record
in the Eastern Conference, while Scotty Bowman's Red Wings will
be first or second best in the West. Pat Burns's Bruins and
Larry Robinson's Kings, the NHL's most surprising teams this
season, are comfortably in playoff position. What's the
connection? Those four coaches all spent seminal years in the
Canadiens' organization.

Bowman and Burns were with Montreal as coaches (from 1971-72
through 1978-79 and from 1988-89 through 1991-92, respectively),
Lemaire was both a Canadiens player (1967-68 through 1978-79)
and coach (Feb. 24, 1984 through 1984-85), and Robinson was a
player (1972-73 through 1988-89).

Burns says his time in Montreal was like "going to the
University of Hockey," but all four coaches are coy about
revealing the classroom secrets of an organization that has won
more Stanley Cups (23) than any other. Says Lemaire, "Maybe as
Canadiens we were more disciplined in certain aspects of the
game and what it takes to win. I know what those areas are, but
I won't say."

COLOR PHOTO: R. LABERGE/B. BENNETT STUDIOS GOTTA HAVE HART Anaheim has been dreadful, but Selanne (8) has had an MVP-quality season. [Teemu Selanne and opposing player in game]




1997-98 salary: $1.8 million
This big fella (6'3", 220) shoots often, but with only 10 goals
through Sunday he hadn't been the finisher he's paid to be.

1997-98 salary: $800,000
This little fella (5'11", 174) shoots often, and at week's end
he had been a supreme finisher, with a career-high 29 goals.