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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

The Caps' Chris Simon is concentrating more on goals than

Without left wing Chris Simon, the Avalanche might not have won
the Stanley Cup in 1996. Colorado trailed the Blackhawks two
games to one in the second round of the playoffs that year when
Chicago enforcer Bob Probert delivered a crushing check to
high-scoring Avalanche center Joe Sakic early in Game 4. Simon,
who is 6'4" and 230 pounds, has fists the size of country hams
and had amassed 250 penalty minutes in the regular season,
sought to avenge the hit. Late in the first period he cornered
Probert and pummeled him. The other Colorado players got fired
up, and coach Marc Crawford credited Simon with inspiring the
Avalanche, who rallied to win the series in six games.

After he and Colorado couldn't break a stalemate over terms of a
new contract, Simon was traded to the Capitals in a five-player
deal in November 1996. On his most recent trip to Chicago, on
Feb. 18, Simon watched from the bench as Probert exchanged blows
with the Caps' newly acquired heavyweight, Jim McKenzie. Simon's
contribution to Washington's 5-4 win? He had a goal and two
assists. "I love it," he says. "Scoring is much more fun than

Simon has been having plenty of fun lately. Through Sunday his
22 goals led the Capitals, who had gone 22-5-6-0 since Dec. 27,
to pull even with the first-place Panthers in the Southeast
Division. Capitalizing on the superb passing of center Adam
Oates, Simon has used a wicked wrist shot and his strength
around the net to show a side of himself few fans had ever seen.

Though he had 72 goals and 142 points in 110 junior games from
1989-90 through '91-92, Simon was so physically imposing and
such a first-rate fighter that he was typecast as a goon when he
arrived in the NHL at the start of the '92-93 season. He played
minimally, spending much of his time in the penalty box, and his
roughhousing exacerbated a chronically injured right shoulder
that limited him to a total of 93 games over the last three
years. Before this season Simon had only 43 goals in 239 NHL

Then, on a Dec. 22 flight from Vancouver, Simon heard words
that, he says, "changed my life." He had missed that night's
match with a neck strain, but had scored in each of the three
previous games. Somewhere over middle America, general manager
George McPhee took Simon aside. "I told him I wanted him to
fight less and play more," says McPhee. "I was tired of losing
him to a penalty when the other team would only lose some guy
who couldn't play. And I didn't want him getting injured. I told
him we needed him on the ice."

Simon's new role was cemented when the Caps signed McKenzie off
waivers on Jan. 20, to, in the words of coach Ron Wilson, "take
the pressure off Si." The pressure on Simon now is to convert
Oates's soft passes. That isn't to say the old Simon has
completely disappeared. "You can still tell that at some point
he might go off," says Red Wings forward Kris Draper. "It's just
that now you also have to be careful he doesn't score on you."

Poor Ice Conditions

Bad ice in many arenas has been disrupting play and causing
injuries for some time, and that concern was reemphasized last
week. NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow sent all
players a confidential five-page memo reporting on several rules
and safety discussions he'd had with the league at a recent
general managers' meeting. He says in the memo that he told the
NHL that the players "are disappointed with the ice conditions
around the League."

Goodenow's account of the league's response gives the players
cause for ire. "It is the opinion of League lawyer Claude
Loiselle, also a former NHLPA member, that we may not be
entitled to any reports regarding Ice Conditions," Goodenow's
memo says. It adds that Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of
hockey operations, told him, "The League gets annoyed when
Players speak out about the poor Ice Conditions, particularly
when a Player blames an injury on bad ice."

Perhaps players can quietly console themselves the next time
their skate blade catches a rut: Be thankful it's not artificial

Playoff Expansion

One suggestion on how to generate money for low-revenue (read:
Canadian) clubs has been to increase the number of playoff teams
from 16 to 20 when the NHL expands from 28 teams to 30 next
season. The proposal, advanced by Oilers general manager Glen
Sather and supported by his Flames counterpart, Al Coates, among
others, rests on the theory that playoff expansion would give
cash-poor clubs a better crack at getting playoff revenue. The
greater probability of postseason participation might also aid
teams in negotiating local TV and radio contracts.

Nonetheless, increasing the playoff field would be a bad idea.
The league's growth from 21 to 28 teams over the past nine
years--while the number of playoff berths has remained at
16--has created good races for postseason slots. This season
fans of some 11 teams on the postseason bubble have spent recent
weeks riveted not only to their clubs' results but also to
out-of-town scores. More important, the teams on the bubble are
playoff-worthy: Through Sunday the eighth-place clubs in each
conference, the Rangers in the East and the Sharks in the West,
were above .500.

In the days of the Original 21, all but the five crummiest teams
qualified for the postseason, which meant that the regular
season was little more than a glorified exhibition schedule.
Today the regular season means something. Let's keep it that way.

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Still a feared heavyweight, Simon led Washington with 22 goals through Sunday.




Now in his 21st season, this future Hall of Famer was acquired
from the Bruins on Monday night. He has won five Norris Trophies
but zero Stanley Cups. Yet, at 39, he had remained Boston's top
offensive defenseman.


This Hall of Famer played 20 seasons, 17 as a member of the
Canadiens, with whom he won two Norris Trophies and six Stanley
Cups. He was a fine offensive player whose production slipped in
his last four seasons.

The Verdict: In his prime, Robinson was among the best in the
league. Bourque, our choice, is among the best of all time.