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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Blues defenseman Al MacInnis proved he's more than just a big

For all the talents and skills of Blues defenseman Al
MacInnis--the way he holds his position against onrushing
forwards, digs the puck out of corner scrums, delivers crisp
passes to start the offense up-ice--nothing can eclipse this
enduring image of him in St. Louis. It was Jan. 17, 1984, and
MacInnis was a little-known Flames rookie playing on the road
against the Blues. His wicked slap shot was largely responsible
for getting him to the NHL, but that weapon hadn't yet
registered on the radar of most fans. With 9:14 gone in the
game, MacInnis, 20 years old and sapling-thin, wound up at the
blue line and blasted a high shot toward St. Louis goalie Mike
Liut. The puck flew at hellacious speed and struck Liut on the
mask. He fell to the ice; the puck continued into the net.

The play was so remarkable that it became a staple of highlights
reels, and Al MacInnis, slap shot hero, was born. "Since that
play," says MacInnis, "I've been the guy with the great shot."

MacInnis's slapper, which typically travels at more than 90 mph,
remains the fastest and most fearsome in the game, but it's his
broad range of skills that makes him SI's choice for the Norris
Trophy. At week's end MacInnis led all defensemen with 19 goals
and 49 points. He was playing a staggering 28 minutes and 51
seconds per game, and his plus-26 rating, tops by far on the
Blues, was seventh-best in the league. The six players with
better plus-minus marks all played on teams with much higher
winning percentages than St. Louis's .500. "He's our MVP and our
best defenseman," says Blues general manager Larry Pleau. "He
controls games for us."

The 6'2" 196-pound MacInnis prides himself on "giving the
coaches the same effort every night." While many high-scoring
backliners regularly sacrifice their defense to join the rush,
MacInnis's lethal shot enables him to hang back and still
provide offense. Occasionally, when St. Louis is scrambling in
the offensive zone, MacInnis will calmly hold the puck at the
blue line and opponents will tense in anticipation of his shot,
affording MacInnis's teammates time to regroup. Without the
puck, his positioning and knack for stepping into passing lanes
and intercepting the puck enable MacInnis to defuse scoring
chances before they develop.

Were this season an anomaly, he would still be our choice as the
league's top defenseman. But his 1998-99 performance coupled
with his pedigree--he has played in 10 All-Star Games and
finished among the top three in the Norris voting four
times--makes him a prohibitive choice for the trophy. "He hasn't
won a Norris yet?" asks Lightning forward Wendel Clark,
surprised. No, not yet. That should change at the awards
ceremony in June.

Bryan Trottier Saga

Bryan Trottier is the most popular player in Islanders history.
Among the best two-way centers ever to play and the Isles'
alltime leading scorer, Trottier was a heroic figure when New
York won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 through '83. Thus,
when one looks to the rafters at Nassau Coliseum and sees the
retired sweaters of Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom,
Denis Potvin and Bill Smith, Trottier's fabled number 19 is
oddly absent. "That's always a big issue with our fans," says
Islanders spokesman Chris Botta. "They want to know why we
haven't had a ceremony to retire his sweater."

Last week a representative for Trottier, New Jersey businessman
Tom Happle, revealed the reason: To take part in a retirement
ceremony (and to make future p.r. appearances for the team),
Trottier wants $3 million. The Islanders say that Happle,
working on Trottier's behalf, has been trying to persuade the
team to accede to this fee for more than a year. Players
typically receive airfare and gifts at such events but not

Happle says that Trottier, now an Avalanche assistant coach,
should be handsomely compensated because the Islanders will
benefit from the publicity Trottier generates. Last week
Trottier, who calls Happle a "very good friend whose counsel I
seek," neither confirmed nor denied the demand. He said that if
there is a retirement fete, he would like to "get it done the
right way."

From 1982-83 through 1989-90 Trottier was one of the five
highest-paid players in the NHL, but his relationship with the
Islanders soured in '90 when they decided to defer some payments
owed him over a 10-year period. Trottier then was involved in
several ill-fated investments, and in '94 he declared bankruptcy
because he couldn't repay bank loans of some $9.5 million.

The Islanders understandably are refusing to pay his ransom.
It's sad that he has fallen into dire financial straits but
sadder still that the history missing from the Nassau Coliseum
rafters is something only money can buy.

Playoff Format

Oilers general manager Glen Sather's lobbying the NHL to expand
its playoff format from 16 to 20 teams is misguided. Sather
reasons that the added berths might help financially
disadvantaged Canadian teams by increasing their chances of
picking up the additional revenue generated by home playoff
dates. If the season had ended on Sunday, three of Canada's six
teams--the Canadiens, the Canucks and the Flames or Oilers, who
were tied for the last spot in the West--would have missed the

One of the best things about the league's expansion from 21
teams in 1990-91 to the 30 that will play in 2000-01 is that
there are still only 16 playoff spots, making the races for them
far more exciting now than when all but the five lousiest clubs
advanced. Having solid teams like the Bruins and the Oilers in
danger of missing the post-season legitimizes the 82-game
regular season, which has enough difficulty generating interest.

Because Sather is so respected and because an expanded field
would generate more money, the proposal will get consideration
from the NHL owners. Forget it. Leave the playoffs as they are.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO MacInnis's play this season on offense and defense should earn him his first Norris Trophy.





1998-99 salary: $700,000
He didn't lift team spirit when he recently said, "I often
question whether I'm a good coach." At week's end L.A. was
25-36-5, 10th in the Western Conference.


1998-99 salary: $426,530
He has lifted team spirit through such unorthodox methods as
having players work together on Lego projects. Ottawa was
38-19-8, best in the Eastern Conference.