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Inside The NHL

A thin free-agent crop means big-name moves must come on swaps

Bill Watters, the Maple Leafs' assistant to the president, calls
this summer's free-agent signing period "a Bourque marketplace."
That underscores the appeal of Avalanche defenseman Ray Bourque,
but it also underlines the lack of quality among unrestricted
free agents. Aside from Bourque, whom Colorado acquired in March
and will try to re-sign after its Stanley Cup run ends, no star
will be available. Teams wanting to add an impact player will
have to do so the old-fashioned way: by trading. Here are some of
the big names on the block.

Eric Lindros, C, Flyers. His rancorous relationship with
Philadelphia management seals his departure. Where he goes
depends largely on how much of Lindros's $8.5 million contract
the Flyers agree to pay. But after five concussions in two years,
his market value is way down because teams know his career could
end with one blow. The Kings, Leafs and Rangers are the clubs
most likely to take the risk.

Alexei Yashin, C, Senators. This week Yashin, who refused to
honor his contract with Ottawa and sat out the 1999-2000 season,
was scheduled to go before an arbitrator to determine whether
he'll be a restricted free agent this summer or whether he owes
the Senators another year of service. Yashin, 26, has a
well-earned reputation for selfishness, but he's so talented--he
had 94 points and was an MVP finalist in '98-99--that several
teams, including the Blackhawks, Lightning and Panthers, want

Peter Bondra, RW, Capitals. Washington wants to deal him because
his goal scoring has dropped from 52 to 31 to 21 over the past
three years and because he's frequently injured. Many teams are
interested in the 32-year-old sniper.

Keith Tkachuk, LW, Coyotes. He'll earn $8.3 million next season
and is coming off a poor, injury-plagued year, which are two
reasons Phoenix probably will unload him. Also, the Coyotes want
either to trade or come to terms with goalie Nikolai Khabibulin,
who missed all of last season in a contract dispute. The
Blackhawks could land both these players if they part with
high-scoring right wing Tony Amonte and a goalie, which is a

Theo Fleury, RW, Rangers. If New York sends him back to the more
wide-open Western Conference, Fleury could revert to the 35-goal
scorer he was with the Flames and the Avalanche before signing
with the Rangers as a free agent last summer. (He had only 15
goals for New York.) If he doesn't get dealt for Tkachuk, which
is a possibility, Fleury could end up with the Sharks.

Rink Maintenance

In its quest to improve ice conditions the NHL has turned to snow
shovelers. Before the conference finals the league asked rink
crews at each of the four host arenas to remove the "snow" that
accumulates around the nets and in front of the benches, the two
most heavily trafficked areas of the ice. During TV timeouts in
the second and third periods, two men scurry out and shovel the
snow. "Snow can slow a puck or change its direction," says Dan
Craig, the NHL's chief ice technician. "We want to make the ice
true all the way around."

While the league informed general managers of the plan in
advance, the players didn't get the scoop until after Game 1 of
each series. "When the guys first came out, I told them to leave
the snow where it was," says Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. "You
like to put some on the sides of the net so that if someone banks
a pass off there, the puck dies."

Goalie desires notwithstanding, the snow jobs have gone smoothly,
and the NHL may now require them during the regular season and
early playoff rounds. "We're looking for a shovel sponsor," says
Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, which runs First
Union Center in Philadelphia. "This could be a revenue

Richard and Beliveau

Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Jean Beliveau have been linked in
many ways: They played together on five Canadiens Stanley Cup
winners, from 1956 through '60; they both have jobs as
ambassadors for the team they served so well; they both are
hockey legends and, in Canada, cultural icons. Last week they
started sharing another bond--cancer. On May 15, the day Richard
returned to a Montreal hospital with a reoccurrence of the
abdominal cancer that he had battled for two years, Beliveau
announced he had a malignant tumor on his neck.

The 78-year-old Richard retired 40 years ago yet still is
idolized by generations of Quebecois, even those who never saw
him play. The Rocket was the first player to score 50 goals in 50
games, the first to score 500 career goals and arguably the best
player ever from the blue line in, but his legacy extends beyond
his having his name on the trophy given to the NHL's leading goal
scorer, which the league inaugurated last season. On March 17,
1955, after Richard had been suspended by NHL president Clarence
Campbell for assaulting a linesman, Canadiens fans rioted inside
and outside the Montreal Forum, an event now viewed by many
historians as a forerunner to Quebec's Quiet Revolution of the
1960s, when French Canadians seized firmer control of political
and cultural power in Quebec.

If Richard raised voices, Beliveau quieted them. At 68 the once
exquisitely proficient center is a man who can stop
conversations simply by gliding into a room. Beliveau, who, like
Joe DiMaggio, grew into his looks, has a regal bearing. He could
have been regal, too, when Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien
asked Beliveau in 1994 if he would serve as the
governor-general, Queen Elizabeth's representative in Canada.
Citing family responsibilities, Beliveau declined. He remained
active, however, in charity work and as the Canadiens' eminence
grise. Any opposition to the team's abandoning of the hallowed
Forum for a new arena in the early 1990s was cut off when
Beliveau, then a team vice president, said it was appropriate to
move on.

His word was good then. We hope his words--"I intend on winning
this battle," he has told friends--are good now. --Michael Farber

COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Bondra's decrease in production and increase in injuries may prompt the Capitals to trade him.