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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Buffalo escapes discipline for ripping the NHL following the

Brett Hull's controversial Stanley Cup-winning goal for the
Stars may prove to be one of the most memorable tallies in NHL
history, but the league seems to be trying to forget it. Despite
the severe, even scurrilous criticism of league officials by the
Sabres following Hull's triple-overtime goal in Game 6 last
month, the NHL took no disciplinary action.

"The situation was obviously emotional," Bernadette Mansur, NHL
vice president of communications, told SI last week. "What was
said in the heat of the moment was said. There's no need to
escalate the situation. It's over, and we've moved on."

Such magnanimity in the wake of attacks on the league by Buffalo
coach Lindy Ruff and some of his players contrasted sharply with
the punishment meted out to Flyers owner Ed Snider and coach
Roger Neilson after the first round of the playoffs. Incensed by
an elbowing penalty imposed by referee Terry Gregson on Flyers
left wing John LeClair with 2:54 left in regulation in Game 6
against Toronto--which led to the power-play goal that won the
series for the Maple Leafs--Neilson blasted the officiating at
his postmatch press conference. Meanwhile, outside
Philadelphia's dressing room, Snider delivered a tirade that
questioned Gregson's integrity. About 15 minutes later Snider
returned for another rant, in case any member of the press had
missed the first one. Two days later the NHL fined Snider
$50,000 and Neilson $25,000 for violating league bylaws that
prohibit public statements criticizing referees.

The Sabres' outbursts were no less incendiary. Ruff angrily
confronted commissioner Gary Bettman as he went to the ice to
award the Conn Smythe Trophy, demanding a video review of the
winning goal; Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek suggested that the
goal judge had been either asleep or in the men's room; and
Buffalo forward Joe Juneau, after the league said that it did
review the goal and explained why it should stand, declared that
"the NHL's just trying to cover its ass."

Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier, not surprisingly, defends
the Sabres' statements and the league's tolerance of them. "I
think Lindy and the players were simply disagreeing with the
goal, not attacking the league or a referee or the
commissioner," Regier says. His interpretation is as liberal as
the NHL's ruling that Hull was in possession of the puck, which
validated the goal even though his skate was in the crease.

Less than 48 hours after Game 6, the NHL's Board of Governors
changed the crease rule, making crease infringement ineligible
for video review. By not fining the Sabres for their verbal
abuse, the league wants to make the fuss over Hull's disputed
goal go away, too.

Oxygenated Water

The Stars' suffocating defense best explains why they beat the
Sabres in six games in the Stanley Cup finals last month, but
for a more complete analysis of Dallas's performance, consider
this: There was something in the water.

After three games of the Western Conference finals against the
Avalanche, Stars center Mike Modano was feeling fatigued.
Fortunately, someone told him about Oxenergy, a bottled water
that is said to contain about 400% more oxygen than most spring
water. Oxenergy can significantly raise one's blood-oxygen
levels, and athletes who have drunk it regularly--including
members of the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics--say that it helps
increase their stamina and repair injured tissue. Desperate to
shake his lethargy, Modano ordered two cases to be flown in from
Oxyl'Eau, a company in Woodbridge, Ont., in time for Game 4. By
the end of the match he was breathing sighs of relief.

"The water helped me recover better after shifts," Modano says.
"I'd get a second wind." Subsequently Modano and many of his
teammates drank Oxenergy during and after every game, and they
swear by its salutary effects.

The day before Game 6 of the Cup finals Mark Scappaticci, a
trainer who works with the Sabres, heard that the Stars were
using Oxenergy and worried that it was giving them an edge. He
phoned Tom Harmantas, an assistant professor of surgery at the
University of Toronto who also works for Oxyl'Eau, and begged
for some water for the Buffalo players. Harmantas stacked eight
cases (each containing two dozen 500 milliliter bottles and
selling for $48) into the trunk of his BMW and drove to Buffalo,
where he arrived at the Sabres' hotel at about 10 p.m. The
players were already in their rooms for the night, but when
Harmantas put the water down in the hotel hallway, he says, "it
was like mice darting out for cheese. They came out, grabbed the
cases and went back in their rooms."

Since the finals Oxyl'Eau has received calls from NHL players
and teams wanting to try the water. Whether this is a fad
remains to be seen, but because the water's only known side
effect is light-headedness if too much is drunk too quickly,
many teams are expected to try it next year. As Scappaticci
says, "The players think it works, so they'll keep using it."

COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/ALLSPORT Tarnished or not, the Cup looked awfully good to Ed Belfour.



Money For Nothing?

In a span of three days last week, the Rangers committed more
than $50 million to sign long-term contracts with free-agent
forwards Theoren Fleury and Valeri Kamensky and defenseman
Stephane Quintal. But you don't always get what you pay for. Here
are the best and worst signings of unrestricted free agents over
the last three years.


Position, Player, Team Year Signed Terms of Contract

G Arturs Irbe, Hurricanes 1998 One year, $550,000
Signed to back up Trevor Kidd, he won the starting job and led
Carolina to the playoffs with a 2.22 goals-against average

F Wendel Clark, Lightning 1998 One year, $1.4 million
Scored 28 goals in 65 games, then was traded to the Red Wings
for young goalie Kevin Hodson and a second-round draft pick

F Brett Hull, Stars 1998 Three years, $17 million
After a solid season of two-way play, he scored the Stanley
Cup-winning goal

G Ed Belfour, Stars 1997 Three years, $9.8 million
In '97-98 he led the league with a 1.88 goals-against average,
and last season he won the Cup

C Wayne Gretzky, Rangers 1996 Two years, $8 million
Led New York in scoring the last two seasons and added
immeasurable class to the team


D Murray Baron, Canucks 1998 Three years, $6.6 million
Was -23 and the club's worst regular defenseman

D Uwe Krupp, Red Wings 1998 Four years, $16.4 million
Played only 22 games before being sidelined with a herniated
disk that could end his career

D Steve Duchesne, Kings 1998 Four years, $15 million
Performed so badly that after 60 games Los Angeles bought him
out of his contract for $4.3 million

C Mark Messier, Canucks 1997 Three years, $20 million
Has provided only fair offense and has not helped Vancouver
become an elite team

G Kelly Hrudey, Sharks 1996 Two years, $2.2 million
Went 20-40-7 with a 3.03 goals-against average in his two
seasons in San Jose