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Original Issue

In the Crease

With the Hurricanes' addition of star free-agent center Ron
Francis, expectations are high in Carolina, putting the pressure
on coach Paul Maurice. Should the Hurricanes, who have missed the
playoffs for the last six years (including their final five
seasons as the Whalers) stumble early, look for former Sabres
coach and Adams Award winner Ted Nolan to replace Maurice....

The Avalanche, who matched the Rangers' three-year, $21 million
offer to restricted free-agent center Joe Sakic (below) last
summer, have in the last few months spoken to a couple of teams
about trading him....

Speaking of the Rangers, they talked to the Sharks about a deal
that would send winger Adam Graves to San Jose for defenseman
Marcus Ragnarsson and a draft pick. New York also discussed
trading defenseman Jeff Beukeboom to the Hurricanes, but
Carolina's best offer was underwhelming--winger Nelson Emerson....

Sharks coaches are thrilled with the development of two young
defensemen, Scott Hannan, 19, and Brad Stuart, 18. Should both
make the team, San Jose will be the only NHL club with two
defensemen younger than 20. Adding them would allow general
manager Dean Lombardi to move a veteran defenseman for some
needed scoring punch up front....

Grinding winger Steve Leach, a free agent who's in camp with the
Senators, is an excellent pickup. His leadership will help
Ottawa overcome the loss of former captain Randy Cunneyworth,
who signed with Buffalo as a free agent....

The Blues were hit hard by free-agent defections in the
off-season (Brett Hull moved to the Stars, and power-play
specialist Steve Duchesne went to the Kings) and they're hoping
that young defenseman Jamie Rivers will fill Duchesne's spot....

The NHL is thrilled with the fan response in Nashville. The
expansion Predators, who begin play next month, have already
sold nearly 14,000 season tickets.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [Joe Sakic in game]