Year of the woman, the strike, the tradeThe year of our...

December 30, 1992|By Keith Gave | Keith Gave,Knight-Ridder News Service

Year of the woman, the strike, the trade

The year of our Lord Stanley 1992 will stand as the most profound season of change since skaters began competing for what used to be a silver bowl 100 years ago.

Twelve months that forever changed the game included a first-ever strike by players; changes in leadership; expansion and more expansion; a glut of European imports; new rules that threatened to make fighting extinct; and the shattering of the gender barrier in the most macho of sports.

Relegated to the small print, when in other years they might have been among the top headlines, were these other major stories: Eric Lindros' dispute with Quebec and the Nordiques' botched attempt to trade him on draft day; Wayne Gretzky's career-threatening back injury; a group of NHL pensioners, led by Gordie Howe, winning its court battle to recoup surplus benefits they were denied; enforcer John Kordic's violent death brought on by lethal doses of alcohol, cocaine and steroids; rising salaries, declining attendance and more teams in the red; and Bob Probert's wedding engagement.

Here's a more in-depth look at the major stories in '92:

Ten days that shook the NHL

On April Fools' Day, the players called the owners' bluff and walked away from the bargaining table. When the dispute ended, neither side could claim victory, though everyone proclaimed a new relationship, one forged on respect, between owners and players. We'll soon find out when the two sides begin meeting next summer on a new agreement.

Musical thrones

John Ziegler's 15 years as president of the NHL, during which it experienced unprecedented growth and profit, came to an end with his forced resignation in June. He was succeeded by the hard-charging Gil Stein, who was replaced by the league's first commissioner, Gary Bettman, an NBA executive with all the right credentials.

Equally important, Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall replaced Chicago owner Bill Wirtz as chairman of the NHL's board of governors, paving the way for a partnership to drag the league into the 1990s instead of keeping it in the 1950s.

Bob Goodenow, who replaced Alan Eagleson as NHLPA boss on Jan. 1, quickly established himself as a power broker in the league with a well-orchestrated strike that had virtually unanimous approval of players who have been traditionally less than militant in their union activities.

Hey, this ain't hockey

New rules aimed at limiting stick fouls and clutching and grabbing were driving players and fans crazy at the start of the season, though recently, players have been complaining that officials are backsliding in their enforcement.

More effective, or more disturbing if you're a fight fan, has been the compromise rule aimed at curbing fighting, with the instigator of a fight automatically ejected. As the season approaches the halfway mark, fighting is down about 50 percent -- everywhere but Los Angeles, where coach Barry Melrose's Kings lead the league in fighting and hitting and, to the surprise of many, have been among the NHL's elite teams despite the absence of Wayne Gretzky.

The governors, for whatever reason, made helmets optional. But so far, there have been no takers among the players.

Mighty ducks and bucks

After a series of problems that threatened both franchises, Tampa Bay and Ottawa joined the NHL one season after San Jose was welcomed. All three teams are struggling to compete, but that didn't stop the league from bringing two more aboard, perhaps as soon as next season. On Dec. 10, the governors shocked the sports world by announcing that Disney Corp. and Wayne Huizenga, founder of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., agreed to pay $50 million for a new franchise. The Disney folks planned a team for Miami, tentatively called the Mighty Ducks, with Huizenga basing his team (the Videots?) in Anaheim, Calif.

Hello, Berlitz, how do you say back-check in Czech? Any doubts about where the players would come from to stock these new franchises were answered in the draft last June, when 11 Europeans were selected in the first round of 24. In all,they made up about a third of the 264 players chosen in the draft.

This season, Eric Lindros -- once thought to be a lock for rookie of the year -- is being seriously challenged by Winnipeg's Teemu Selanne, a Finn, and Boston's Dmitri Kvartalnov, a Russian. They join Russians Sergei Fedorov of Detroit and Pavel Bure of Vancouver and Czech Jaromir Jagr among the game's brightest young stars.

The consensus top 10 draft picks among scouts at the ongoing world junior championships in Sweden include a Russian, Viktor Kozlov, rated first overall; five Canadians; an American; two Swedes; and a Czech.

Woman in the dressing room

And she's strapping on the pads.

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