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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Critical Times
Here are three ways to take the heat off the beleaguered referees

Two referees are better than one, or, in the words of one Eastern
Conference general manager, "Let's just say two are half as bad."
In the NHL's second season of phasing in a two-referee system,
the added official has clearly helped do away with many of the
cheap fouls that occur behind the play when a lone referee is
following the puck. SI recently polled the league's general
managers, and of 27 respondents, 20 backed the two-ref system,
four opposed it, and three were uncommitted.

Yet criticism of officials this season has been as harsh as ever.
After a Jan. 11 loss to the Flyers, for example, Hurricanes coach
Paul Maurice speculated that "aliens came down and took over
[referee Richard Trottier's] helmet." More measured condemnation
of the zebras has come from coaches such as Roger Neilson of the
Flyers, who said last month, "I'm sure they're doing the best
they can, but you never know what you're getting."

There's the rub. What players and coaches want above all is
consistency, something the NHL has undermined. Here are three
changes that may smooth the ice.

1) Begin immediately to use two referees in every game. Each
team will play 50 of its 82 regular-season games with two
referees, up from 20 last season. The short-sighted plan to use
two refs in some matches but not in others was doomed from the
outset because it guarantees that officiating will be uneven
from one game to the next. Says Maple Leafs defenseman Dmitry
Yushkevich, "Sometimes you get a game with one ref, and if he's
used to having another guy with him, he misses things."

2) Establish set pairs of referees. Just as baseball umpires work
in teams, refs should buddy up. Partners would become familiar
with one another's habits and develop a cohesive view of highly
subjective circumstances. "Every ref sees the game differently,"
says Mighty Ducks winger Paul Kariya, "but we've got to push to
the point where you know if you're hooking a guy in a certain
situation, you're going to get called or you're not going to get
called. Right now, we don't know that."

3) Stop changing the rules during the season. In February the
league ordered referees to call goalie interference more
stringently because netminders were frequently getting jostled
in the crease. Midway through last season the league announced a
crackdown on obstruction fouls. Both were noble mandates
delivered at the wrong time. "It would be nice not having these
memos thrown [our way] that say, 'O.K., we're going to do this
now,'" says Devils captain Scott Stevens. "Let's set the rules
and enforce them from the start of the season to the finish.
That's all the players ask."

Bure Trade Revisited
A Declining Exchange Rate

The sexiest trade of the late 1990s occurred on Jan. 17 of last
year, when the Canucks dealt superstar sniper Pavel Bure,
defenseman Bret Hedican and minor leaguer Brad Ference to the
Panthers for defenseman Ed Jovanovski, goalie Kevin Weekes,
center Dave Gagner and minor leaguer Mike Brown. When members of
the media and several NHL general managers said that Vancouver
general manager Brian Burke had been taken, Burke shot back,
calling Weekes, then 23, the Canucks' "goalie of the future" and
saying that "the key to the deal" was Gagner, then 34. "Evaluate
this trade a year from now and tell me what you think," Burke

Here goes: Bure had a league-best 42 goals through Sunday for
the Southeast Division-leading Panthers. He has shifted the
balance of power in the East and is the front-runner for the
Hart Trophy. Hedican had five goals for Florida; Ference was in
the minors. For Vancouver, the 23-year-old Jovanovski, the No. 1
pick in the 1994 draft, had only two goals, and his overall game
hasn't improved as expected. In December, Weekes was sent to the
Islanders for goalie Felix Potvin, who had gone 4-7-4-0 with the
Canucks. Gagner retired last summer, and Brown was still in the
minors. Burke didn't return calls seeking his reevaluation of
the deal. As a kindness to Vancouver fans, we promise not to
check in again on the trade next year.

Coach Joel Quenneville
Q Stands For Quiet

Some NHL coaches are like spoiled children. They rant when
they're angry, pout when they're disappointed and spend too much
time watching videos. Then there's the Blues' mustachioed Joel
Quenneville, who, with a clean shave, would make a model kid:
He's happy to be seen and not heard. Through Sunday Quenneville
had led moderately talented St. Louis to a league-leading
40-16-6-0 record, and if he'd done it with laryngitis, few would
have known. "Joel might scream once or twice a year," says
defenseman Marc Bergevin. "He'll raise his voice for 30 seconds
and then walk out."

Quenneville took over the Blues on Jan. 6, 1997, shortly after
St. Louis had dismissed the notoriously noisy Mike Keenan. Coach
Q has gone 140-91-34-0 since, and rather than subject players to
regular videotape analysis, he preaches simple values: allow few
shots on goal and control the puck as much as possible.
Quenneville runs short, efficient practices during which he
clearly defines each player's role.

St. Louis G.M. Larry Pleau says Quenneville's rarely rattled
persona "is reflected in the team," which is partly why the
Blues had a) not lost three straight games all season, b) not
lost in overtime and c) gone 21-8-2-0 on the road. "We don't
mind pressure," says captain Chris Pronger. "No matter what,
Coach is calm behind us."

When Quenneville does talk, he credits the Blues' success to a
"great group of players any coach would want to have." As for
the suggestion that he's the favorite to win the Jack Adams
Award as coach of the year, Quenneville says, "I'd rather not
talk about that."

COLOR PHOTO: CHARLES KRUPA/AP Last month the NHL changed the rules by asking refs to crack down on goalie interference.



Drafted first overall by Ottawa in 1995, he was traded to the
Islanders for Redden and won the Calder Trophy in 1996-97. A
freewheeler, he has improved defensively since the Leafs
obtained him last season.


Drafted second overall by the Islanders in 1995, he was traded
for Berard and has become the anchor of the Senators' backline.
He also has improved offensively since last season and through
Sunday had nine goals and 19 assists.

The Verdict: In a close call we'll go with the steady Redden,
even though Berard could have a higher upside.