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Original Issue

Inside Hockey

The NHL suffers because the deadline for deals is so late in the

If the NHL wants to close the gap between its haves (the
playoff-bound and profitable teams) and its have-nots (the
lottery-bound and cash-strapped ones), one place to start would
be moving the trading deadline to a date much earlier in the
season. On March 23, just 25 days before the end of the regular
season, there were a record 20 deadline-day deals. Sure, it's
logical for Stanley Cup contenders to load up for the postseason
and for clubs in a rebuilding stage to stockpile draft choices
and prospects, but the late-season flurry not only hurts the
league's competitive balance, it also hurts the players, who are
often upset by the swirling trade rumors. "Players don't want to
be traded, especially this late in the season," says Flyers wing
Mikael Renberg. "It's incredibly disruptive."

"By now more teams know they're out of the playoffs, so some are
just unloading [salaries]," says Red Wings general manager Ken
Holland, who made four swaps on deadline day to fortify
Detroit's bid for a third straight Stanley Cup. "They've got
five, six home games left and they're rebuilding, yet they're
still charging the paying public [the same ticket prices]. There
are a lot of unrestricted free agents, guys with families. If
the deadline was four to six weeks earlier, there would probably
be less movement."

Of the 11 teams most likely to miss the playoffs, the only ones
that didn't deal on deadline day were the Canucks, whose trade
on March 23 of center Peter Zezel to the Mighty Ducks was voided
when Zezel refused to report to Anaheim for personal reasons,
and the Islanders, who had made four moves the previous week. At
the deadline, only 13% of the NHL's regular season remained, far
less than the NFL (67%), NBA (60%) or major league baseball
(35%) had left at their most recent trade deadlines.

Respected general managers such as the Predators' David Poile
and the Oilers' Glen Sather have lobbied for an earlier
deadline, a topic NHL vice president Colin Campbell says the
league will address this summer. "Lately the financial dynamics
have changed," Campbell says. "Maybe the teams that have the
financial wherewithal to rent players are too easily tempted to
do so. It certainly gives teams that aren't going to make [the
playoffs] a chance to dump salaries."

And, in turn, dump the league's integrity.

Nicklas Lidstrom's Decision

Nicklas and Annika Lidstrom are strict parents, and they always
remind their two young sons to watch their language. The problem
isn't the words the boys use so much as the tongue in which they
speak. Kevin, 5, and Adam, 3, both of whom attend a suburban
Detroit preschool, are starting to talk in English more often
than their Swedish parents want. Lidstrom, a star defenseman for
the Red Wings, is considering drastic action: He is thinking
about returning to Sweden to play pro hockey.

If the 28-year-old Lidstrom, a restricted free agent in July
2000, were to sign a new contract with Detroit, he would be
rewarded handsomely, perhaps with as much as $6 million per
season, more than enough to pay for a full-time Swedish tutor.
If he returned to his Vasteras club so that Kevin could start
kindergarten in Sweden, Lidstrom would play in a league in which
salaries rarely rise above $500,000. "Yes," he says. "I would
play for that." In early January, Lidstrom even sent his agent,
Don Meehan, written instructions not to negotiate a new deal
with the Red Wings until he reaches a decision.

While it is common for Swedes to return to their homeland late
in their NHL careers--former Canadiens star Mats Naslund played
four seasons in Eirope before briefly resurfacing in 1994-95
with the Bruins--it would be shocking for a Norris
Trophy-caliber defenseman to bolt in midcareer. The only top
Swede to walk away in his prime was Hakan Loob, who had 193
goals in six NHL seasons before returning home at age 29
following the Flames' Stanley Cup victory in 1989 to play for

"We like Detroit," says Lidstrom. "That's no problem. The boys
are still more comfortable talking in Swedish [which is all they
are allowed to speak in the house], but they come home from
preschool with more and more words in English. We'll wait until
this summer to decide. Whatever the decision, it won't be a
question of money." --Michael Farber

Canadiens' Scoring Woes

In a season in which the NHL decided to start honoring the
league's top goal scorer with a trophy named after Canadiens
legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Montreal doesn't have a player
with a prayer of winning the award. The club's leading goal
scorer, Martin Rucinsky, had 15 at week's end, which left him
tied for 103rd in the NHL.

On the team that is supposed to carry the torch handed down by
offensive artists such as Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur,
there is an excellent chance that for the first time in a full
season since John Quilty tallied a team-leading 18 in 1940-41,
the Canadiens won't have a 20-goal scorer. Not only was Montreal
one of five teams without a hat trick through Sunday, but its
leading scorer, winger Mark Recchi (47 points), was traded to the
Flyers three weeks ago. If center Saku Koivu, who had 40 points
with nine games remaining, can't catch him, Recchi's total would
be the lowest to lead the Canadiens since Billy Reay's 45 points
in 1948-49, when the NHL played a 60-game schedule. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Competitiveness slid as 29 players were dealt, including Joey Juneau from the Caps to Sabres.





1998-99 salary: $2.6 million
One of Vancouver's highest-paid defenseman, the slow-footed
Baron was averaging more than 18 minutes per game through
Sunday, and his -19 was the Canucks' worst rating.


1998-99 salary: $1.8 million
One of Dallas's lowest-paid defenseman, the speedy Sydor was
averaging more than 21 minutes per game, and his 43 points were
among the Stars' top totals.