Central Division: Detroit, Toronto No Longer Jokes
Undated (AP) _ No more jokes about the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, please. Detroit’s no longer the ″Dead Things″ and Toronto’s certainly not the ″Maple Laughs″ anymore.
The same is true of the hapless old ″porous″ Norris Division, now known as the Central Division in the NHL’s realignment.
More than the name has changed, including a lively style that has replaced the grinding, tight-checking Norris of old.
Leading the pack are the fast-paced Red Wings, whose high-powered offense was second to none last season. Led by Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings scored a league-high 369 goals in the regular season, a franchise record.
The Red Wings won’t just be spinning their wheels this season.
″The Red Wings are at the very top of the league right now,″ says new coach Scotty Bowman. ″This team has been close, especially the last two years.″
Bowman, the NHL’s winningest coach, joins the Red Wings after winning the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh in 1992. He will have in his charge some of the brightest talent in hockey, including Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Paul Coffey.
″I’m excited by this,″ Coffey said of Bowman’s arrival. ″I can’t wait to start the season. No city in sports deserves to win more than Detroit.″
The Red Wings will have their hands full, though, while playing in one of the toughest divisions in hockey.
The addition of the up-and-coming Winnipeg Jets has given the Central more balance than ever before.
The free-wheeling Jets, loaded with young European talent, have come over from the old Smythe. The Jets have replaced the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, making the Central the only division without a recent expansion team.
Teemu Selanne, who smashed rookie scoring records last season, is one of the key players on the Jets and one of the league’s brightest stars.
″They have a real star in Teemu Selanne, and Alexei Zhamnov is a good player,″ said Red Wings general manager Bryan Murray, who was replaced as coach by Bowman. ″We’re going to see some really outstanding hockey in the division. Winnipeg’s a good team. Making the playoffs is going to be a big deal.″
The Central Division boasts other impressive talent such as Toronto’s Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk, St. Louis’ Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan, Chicago’s Jeremy Roenick and Minnesota’s Mike Modano up front; Chicago’s Chris Chelios and Steve Smith on defense; and Felix Potvin of the Maple Leafs, Curtis Joseph of the Blues, and Ed Belfour of the Blackhawks in goal.
These players have added excitement to a division that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since Montreal played in the Norris Division in the 1970s and won four straight titles from 1976-79.
Last season, the Red Wings finished with 103 points, but it wasn’t enough to win the regular-season championship in the Norris. That honor went to the Chicago Blackhawks, with 106. But neither was around for long in the playoffs, as the surprising Maple Leafs advanced within a game of the Stanley Cup finals.
The Maple Leafs improved from 67 points to 99 in their first year under Pat Burns. Then they took seven-game series from Detroit and another from St. Louis to advance to the final four.
The St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars, transplanted from Minnesota, round out one of the NHL’s most solid divisions. The Blues could be the real surprises of the division, particularly if Joseph is on his game. His incredible goaltending carried St. Louis a long way in last season’s playoffs.
″Our division will be good,″ says Doug MacLean, assistant general manager of the Red Wings. ″The Leafs are good now, but they’re not getting any younger. The Blues finished strong at the end. If they had started better in their first 10 or 11 games of the season, they would have been there, too.″
END ADV For Weekend Editions Oct 02-03