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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Hiring Rick Dudley as general manager has already paid off for
Tampa Bay

At the June 26 entry draft Rick Dudley, the Lightning's new head
of hockey operations, did something no man has done in 16 years:
He traded the No. 1 pick. That gutsy move, and another deal that
quickly followed, reaped such a promising payoff for the
franchise that Tampa Bay fans have started believing that the
50-year-old Dudley could do the unthinkable and transform the
lowly team into a winner. The Lightning went 19-54-9 last season
and has gone 176-306-62 in a seven-year history that has
featured corrupt ownership and bumbling management. "Anyone who
knows Rick Dudley knows that the day he took over [June 8], the
Lightning became a better franchise," says Thrashers general
manager Don Waddell.

On draft day Dudley dealt the top pick for the No. 4 selection
plus two third-rounders. Dudley then sent that fourth pick to
the Rangers for a substantial return: 23-year-old goalie Dan
Cloutier, two-way forward Niklas Sundstrom and New York's first-
and third-round picks next year. All told, Dudley, who was up
wheeling and dealing at 5 a.m., parlayed one pick into a group
of players and draft picks who might one day form the backbone
of his team.

Dudley, a former NHL player and coach, distinguished himself as
a workaholic general manager in the minors, where his teams went
to their league finals eight times in 10 years. Last summer he
was hired as general manager of the Senators, who went on to
finish with the second-best record in the East (44-23-15) only
to be swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Sabres.

In the meantime a group led by Detroit Pistons managing partner
Bill Davidson had purchased the Lightning. (The sale became
official on June 28 but had been imminent since March.) That
group, Palace Sports and Entertainment, employed Dudley from
1994-95 through '97-98 as general manager of the International
Hockey League's Detroit Vipers. "If Bill Davidson had bought a
team in Alaska," says Dudley, "I was going to go to Alaska."

Palace Sports' president, Tom Wilson, compensated Ottawa with
draft picks and money to extricate Dudley from his three-year
contract. Wilson said he liked Dudley because of the "tireless
effort he puts into his job," and that effort was evident when
Dudley flew straight from his introductory press conference in
Tampa to scout a minor league game in Rochester.

A few days before the draft Dudley had set up a trade for Stars
goalie Roman Turek, but outgoing Lightning owner Art Williams
scotched the deal. Forced to scramble for another netminder,
Dudley landed Cloutier and showed he can thrive in the executive
backwaters of the NHL. "I don't believe in crises," Dudley says
of the ill-fated Turek deal. "I believe in solutions."

Dudley may be the solution to what's been ailing Tampa Bay for

Rangers' Makeover

Rangers general manager Neil Smith was rightfully hailed for his
draft day maneuvers that brought youth and skill to what had
been an old, slow team. The moves were shrewd; he did not have
to spend a penny to make them; and, with team owner
Cablevision's bankroll behind him, Smith knew the players he
gave up could be replaced with free agents this summer.

In two trades New York surrendered three NHL players (Cloutier
and forwards Sundstrom and Marc Savard) and a pair of picks in
the 2000 draft for the fourth and ninth selections in this
year's draft, wing Pavel Brendl and center Jamie Lundmark,
respectively. Brendl and Lundmark, both 18, were high scorers in
juniors last season and could be lighting up Broadway soon and
for years to come.

The Rangers have long planned to be aggressive in this year's
free-agent period, and that was evident when players went up for
bid beginning last Thursday. Smith and Madison Square Garden
president Dave Checketts flew west to woo free agents such as
Avalanche winger Theo Fleury and Canadiens defenseman Stephane
Quintal. Smith also made overtures to winger Valeri Kamensky and
defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, both of Colorado. As of Monday it
looked as if New York was on the verge of signing Kamensky, who
has averaged nearly a point a game in his eight NHL seasons, and
Quintal, a tough, crease-clearing blueliner. The Rangers were
also closing in on Fleury, who scored 40 goals in 75 games last
season. Neither New York nor Fleury--whom SI reached on a
houseboat in British Columbia--would discuss the negotiations,
but he's likely to command about $8 million per annum.

Smith was roundly booed by the draft day crowd at Boston's
FleetCenter on June 26 when he stepped to the microphone to take
Brendl, and a half hour later he was hooted again when he
returned to select Lundmark. After the second set of boos, Smith
graciously addressed his audience. "The Rangers would like to
thank the Boston Bruins and their fans for their hospitality,"
he said, breaking into a grin. It was the satisfied smile of a
man in the comfort of money.

Ron Hextall Cut Loose

Goaltender Ron Hextall has been characterized many ways during
his 13-year NHL career. He has been labeled a phenom (for
leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals and being voted
playoff MVP as a rookie in '86-87), a pioneer (for his expertise
in puckhandling), a madman (for attacking Canadiens defenseman
Chris Chelios in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals) and a
playoff sieve (for allowing 16 goals in three postseason games
while with the Islanders in '94). After Hextall was waived by
Philadelphia last week, his detractors may now hang another tag
on him: has-been.

Hextall went 10-7-4 with a respectable 2.53 goals-against
average as John Vanbiesbrouck's backup last season, but the
Flyers had lost confidence in him because of his propensity to
allow soft goals. Even though the club bought out the last year
of his contract for $800,000 and is expected to offer him a
nonplaying job in the organization, there is no doubt that
Hextall, 35, remains good enough to tend goal in the NHL.
However, Hextall, Philadelphia's alltime wins leader (240) after
two stints with the Flyers totaling 11 seasons, is loath to
uproot his wife, Diane, and their four school-age children from
their home in Voorhees, N.J.

If Hextall retires, he will be missed. He has been one of the
most impassioned, colorful goalies of his time, and a man who,
in both good times and bad, has faced his critics with respect
and dignity.

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN WINKLER/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Dudley smartly maneuvered to obtain the promising Cloutier (right) after losing out on Turek.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO If the Rangers have their way, free agent Fleury will be starring on Broadway.