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Inside The NHL

Blackhawk Up
An I'll-show-you attitude has helped hard-charging left wing
Eric Daze to fly high

Growing up in French-speaking Laval, Que., Eric Daze
supplemented his grade school English classes by watching
American soap operas with his mother, Francine. The title of
their favorite, The Young and the Restless, could also describe
Daze in his first six seasons with the Blackhawks: an immature
one-way player who didn't live up to the promise of his 30-goal
rookie year. By the fall of 2000 power forward Daze's
frustration had reached the point that he demanded a trade.

"My rookie season was so good, and the expectations were so
high," says the 26-year-old Daze. "I thought I was ready to make
the next step, but I went into camp in 2000 and saw the line
combinations, and I wasn't in the team's plans. I was on the
third line, and I thought, Maybe they want me to be a third-line
player the rest of my career."

Chicago refused to deal him, and what could have been cause for
a spectacular flameout instead became a motivating force. The
6'6", 235-pound Daze, who set out to prove that he deserved more
ice time, had his finest season in 2000-01, with 33 goals. This
year he has established himself as one of the league's top left
wings. With 26 goals and 23 assists through Sunday, he ranked
third in the NHL in scoring. "In the last two years I've found a
rhythm," says Daze. "With age you get physically stronger and
you get mentally stronger, more comfortable with your game."

Though Daze still needs to work on his defense, his scoring
makes him valuable. He generates myriad chances by using his
unusual combination of a big body and above-average speed to go
hard to the net. "Eric's a natural goal scorer, out to find the
back of the net at all costs," says linemate Steve Sullivan.
"He's got excellent hand-eye coordination and deceiving speed.
He accelerates well, and if he gets open, Michael [Nylander, the
line's center] and I are going to find him."

Daze's wicked shot, a wrister that jumps off the heel of his
stick, makes him especially dangerous between the face-off
circles. "The puck explodes off his stick," says Brian Sutter,
who in his first season as the Blackhawks' coach had guided
Chicago, which has missed the playoffs for four straight years,
to the NHL's second-best record, 29-14-9-0, through Sunday. "His
shot is quick, and it's heavy; that's what surprises people. His
wrister is right up there with Joe Sakic's and Mike Modano's."

Daze's leap this season is the result, in equal measures, of
synergy with his linemates and the confidence he's gained. Daze
also doesn't have to worry about his contract: Last August he
signed a three-year, $8.4 million deal.

"That time was tough," says Daze of his discontent early last
season, "but I came back and worked hard. I wish I could take
back saying I wanted a trade. I wish I hadn't gone through that,
but it made me a better player."

Stars Admit Their Mistakes
Summer Deals Were Busts

By sending winger Valeri Kamensky to the Devils on Jan. 16, the
Stars conceded that their summer overhaul--in which free agents
Kamensky, winger Donald Audette and center Pierre Turgeon were
signed and defenseman Jyrki Lumme was obtained in a trade--was
the worst plot twist in Dallas since Bobby Ewing walked out of
the shower. G.M. Bob Gainey hoped the offensive-minded quartet
would juice the Stars' defensive system, but those players never
fit in with Dallas's conservative, hard-checking style.

Before Kamensky was dealt, the Stars had already traded Audette
and Lumme. (Turgeon, who had six goals and was -6 through Sunday,
is still on the roster.) That trio combined for only seven goals
in 59 games, and their presence led to Dallas's struggling early
in the season because of bad chemistry. "Our continuity was
thrown off," says coach Ken Hitchcock. "We began with eight
wingers, and seven were right wingers. We had wings playing
center, right wings playing left wing. We were juggling people
all over."

Since jettisoning Audette and Lumme, Dallas had gone 15-9-2-1.
Left wings Martin Rucinsky and Benoit Brunet, obtained from the
Canadiens for Audette and center Shaun Van Allen, had supplied
sorely needed grit and scoring along the boards. Meanwhile,
defense first has again become the Stars' mantra. Says
Hitchcock, "Now we have an identity on the ice."

Home-and-Home Series
The More, the Merrier

Among the least desirable by-products of expansion and
realignment has been the waning of intradivisional play. Gone
are the rock-'em, sock-'em days of the Adams, Patrick, Norris
and Smythe, during which hard-edged divisional matches made up
as much as 40% of a club's schedule. That has been replaced by a
slate that calls for only five games against each of a team's
four divisional rivals, less than a quarter of the schedule.
It's encouraging, then, that in response to lobbying by teams,
the NHL has scheduled more home-and-home series over the last
two seasons (40 this year and 36 last, compared with 21 in

"When you play a back-to-back, the intensity picks up," says
Detroit winger Brendan Shanahan. "Usually you see that type of
intensity and animosity only in the playoffs." Says Gary
Roberts, whose Maple Leafs play a league-high seven
home-and-homes this season, "They cause more bad blood that
boils over. There's payback time, and it's a short time, so you
don't forget."

The format breeds games that are postseasonlike in
competitiveness (an average goal differential of 1.60, compared
with 1.94 in other games, over the last two seasons) and parity
(only 17 of 60 series have been sweeps). These series can leave
a team either demoralized or motivated. After the Red Wings
limped through the back end of a home-and-home, losing 4-1 at
New Jersey on Dec. 1 (following a 4-2 victory in Detroit), they
won only one of their next six games, their worst stretch of the

"There's a lot of emotional carryover," says Coyotes general
manager Mike Barnett, whose club dropped both halves of a
home-and-home to the feeble Mighty Ducks in December and then
reeled off a five-game unbeaten streak. "If you don't see
aggressiveness from a team after losing the first one, you
really have to be concerned. If you lose both games, you're
humbled. It goes right to the heart."

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Daze (55) has scored 49 points to help lead resurgent Chicago to the league's second-best record.



Whom Would You rather have?

Luc Robitaille
Consistent if not flashy, he had 612 goals--more than anyone
else at his position--in 1,173 NHL games as of Sunday. He has
scored at least 36 goals in 11 of his 15 seasons.

Bobby Hull
A flamboyant player, he scored 610 goals--the second most at his
position--in 1,063 NHL games. He had at least 38 goals in 11 of
his 16 seasons in the league.

THE VERDICT: Robitaille's achievements are remarkable, but we'll
go with the Golden Jet, the best left wing in history.
--Mark Beech