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Inside The NHL

Double Fault
Bad teams, such as the Panthers, are dumping their G.M. and coach

The latest NHL wisdom is, if you can't change the players, then
change the coach and the general manager. When the Panthers fired
G.M. Bryan Murray and his brother Terry, the coach, on Dec. 28,
Florida became the third club to make the double switch this
season. (The Bruins and the Canadiens did it earlier.) The Flames
and the Rangers have made similar management changes over the
past nine months, and the widespread overhaul around the league
has most likely just begun. The disappointing Panthers (7-19-7-5
through Tuesday) could soon be sold, which means that new coach
Duane Sutter and president-G.M. Bill Torrey (who dismissed the
Murrays and took on Bryan's responsibilities) may not hold those
jobs for long. Here's a look at other management teams that could
be gone by summer:

--Islanders G.M. Mike Milbury and coach Butch Goring. In five
years in New York, Milbury has made four coaching changes and
enough bad trades to ensure that the Islanders were the NHL's
worst team over that span. Though Milbury publicly supports his
second-year coach, Goring fears losing his job. A sign that the
two could fall in a single swoop came on Dec. 19, when owner
Charles Wang addressed the players but did not invite Milbury or
Goring to join them. Last June, Milbury declared that it would be
"off with my head" if his club didn't improve this season.
Through Tuesday, New York was 11-21-4-2.

--Canadiens G.M. Andre Savard and coach Michel Therrien. In
light of the team's impending sale, the Nov. 20 hiring of Savard
and Therrien--neither of whom had NHL experience at their
respective positions--smacks of a stopgap move. Montreal, which
through Tuesday was 11-23-4-2, needs to tear apart the roster
and rebuild, which is why a new owner would almost certainly
hire a fresh management team. After winning four of its first
six games under Savard and Therrien, Montreal had gone 2-8-2-2.

--Coyotes G.M. Bobby Smith and coach Bob Francis. Prospective
owners Steve Ellman and Wayne Gretzky were supposed to have
taken over months ago, but now the transfer seems uncertain at
best--which also describes the futures of Smith and Francis.
Smith, whose club has not won a playoff round in his four years
on the job, expects to be replaced if and when Gretzky takes
over. Francis remains well-regarded, but after a fast start the
team has faded (7-9-5-1 over its last 22 games after having
begun the season 9-1-5-0).

--Hurricanes G.M. Jim Rutherford and coach Paul Maurice. Owner
Peter Karmanos's loyalty to his employees is commendable, though
it seems to be costing the club. Since taking over in June 1994,
Rutherford has put together mediocre teams and bungled several
player-personnel decisions. Maurice, meanwhile, has reached the
playoffs only once in his five seasons. The few Carolina fans who
show up at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh have
been calling for Karmanos to abandon his allegiances and to clean

A Cap for the Long Run?
Peter Bondra's Future

Peter Bondra is so swift and physically fit that his resurgence
as a sniper this season--at age 32 and on the verge of
unrestricted free agency--might have been forecast. The surprise
is that his revival has come with the Capitals. "I didn't think
I'd be here now," Bondra said on Monday before scoring his
team-high 20th goal in a 4-2 victory against the Thrashers. Then
he smiled. "Maybe I'll stay."

Bondra, a two-time 50-goal scorer in 10 seasons with Washington,
coasted lackadaisically through a 21-goal year in 1999-2000. By
season's end he had been demoted to the third line, his coach and
teammates had lost faith in him, and he had asked general manager
George McPhee to trade him. "Peter said that he wanted to go to a
Stanley Cup contender," says coach Ron Wilson. "Well, that's what
we are."

That's true. After Monday's win the Capitals were on a 12-3-1-0
run and were pulling away from the rest of the Southeast
Division. Bondra was at the heart of that success, having scored
12 goals in his last 15 games and having committed himself to
Wilson's system, which calls for wingers to forecheck
aggressively. "In the past we didn't know whether Peter was going
to play for himself or for the team," says Wilson. "This year I
know that, shift to shift, he's going to do the right thing to
help us win."

Against Atlanta, Bondra not only stuffed home a goal but also
pinned several Thrashers against the boards and conscientiously
cleared the puck as a penalty killer. "I put pressure on myself
by asking for the trade," he says. "But when I was still here in
September, I knew that I had to regain the trust of this team."

Bondra will be seeking a big raise over the $3.8 million he's
earning this year, which is partly why McPhee has had no luck in
making a trade. The G.M. says he's determined to extract a "good
young NHL player" in any deal. On Monday, Bondra softened his
stance and said that he'd be willing to sign a long-term contract
with Washington. "We'll talk with his agent over the next couple
of weeks," says McPhee. "Maybe we can work something out. If not,
we're still prepared to trade him."

Looking Out For No. 1
Hot Prospects in Showdown

As the World Junior Championships wrapped up in Moscow this week,
NHL draftniks were riveted to the battle between Canada's
17-year-old Jason Spezza and Russia's 17-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk,
one of whom should emerge as the No. 1 pick in the June draft.
Spezza, a 6'2", 209-pound center hailed for his on-ice vision,
entered the championships as the favorite to go first, and he
played solidly, with three goals and an assist in his first four
games. Kovalchuk, a 6'2", 203-pound explosive right wing with a
hard shot, wowed onlookers by shredding Canada's defense in
Russia's 3-1 preliminary-round victory. He had four goals and an
assist in his first four games but raised eyebrows with his
tendency to taunt opponents.

"He's got a [strong] personality, but that's O.K.," says
Thrashers general manager Don Waddell. "If I have the first pick
today, I take Kovalchuk." Others side with Sharks scout Ray
Payne, who prefers Spezza because "he's smarter overall."

Both players downplay the significance of being selected No. 1,
but Kovalchuk has a reason for wanting to leave Russia for the
NHL. "It would be nice to go to a warmer climate," he says.

For the latest scores and stats, plus more analysis from Michael
Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO With Florida (white jerseys) floundering, the Murray brothers were given the boot.