NHL drafting a game plan to stock expansion teams

January 07, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Within the next week, the NHL board of governors likely will complete a set of ground rules for an expansion draft next summer to stock new teams in Miami and Anaheim, Calif.

Among those rules is the prospect that the 24 existing teams will each be allowed to protect only one goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards. Players with one year or less of pro experience would be exempt. And each team could lose a maximum of two players.

Capitals general manager David Poile says the above outline is probably close to what the final version will be. Some GMs, such as Toronto's Cliff Fletcher, are lobbying to have the goaltender numbers changed, but Poile is not. That may be something of a surprise, given the reliability shown by Washington goalies Don Beaupre and Jim Hrivnak this season.

When Beaupre struggled early, with a 2-10 start, Hrivnak came to the rescue. When Hrivnak faltered, Beaupre came through. Now Beaupre (11-12-2) is one game from .500, and Hrivnak (10-4-2) continues to give strong performances as the backup.

"But are they stars?" Poile said yesterday. "I think a general manager gets hung up between what is right and fair and in protecting his assets. If we only get to protect one goalie, well, it's a situation we'll all have to face. To say we have one of the top six goalies who could be made available, I don't know if that's true." Poile said New York, New Jersey, Toronto and Chicago are teams with two goalies of star quality.

"Sure, we'd hate to lose a young goaltender, but that's the price you have to pay to have a competitive league," said Poile, who last year tried to sign goalie Bernie Wolfe, who retired in 1979, and make him available in the expansion draft. Poile says now that that was "a regrettable situation that was not in the spirit of the deal."

In the last expansion draft, which stocked the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, teams could protect two goalies, but had to make one experienced goalie available.

"It was a difficult situation," Poile said. "I did it because I just didn't have anybody else."

He points to the 1967 expansion draft as an illustration of the good that can come from protecting only one goalie. That year, the NHL went from six to 12 teams and league play from the opening game was scrappy with newcomers playing competitively against the older, more established teams.

"The goaltenders chosen in that draft, more than anything else, gave those new teams credibility," Poile said. "If we can protect only one, it should vastly improve the new teams right away."

Once the final rules are released, each team will have six months to plot and plan strategy.

Going for 800

Capitals center Dale Hunter is going for his 800th point tonight, when Washington faces off against the Philadelphia Flyers. He also will be closing in on 2,800 penalty minutes. Hunter, a 13-year veteran, is one point away for the point scoring plateau and six away from the penalty minutes total that will further secure his third place standing on the all-time NHL list.

"When you get 800 points you're to the level of tremendous contribution," Caps coach Terry Murray said. "It's great for Hunts. You know there aren't many guys who have that combination of points and penalty minutes and been considered big contributors to their teams. But when you look at a lot of the penalty minutes he has, they aren't minutes that put us in a short-handed situation.

"A lot of times he assessed the situation, recognizes who the other team's biggest scoring threat is and goes out determined to take the guy off, even if it means being taken off with him."

Even Murray agrees that Hunter, who has missed only one game because of injuries in his 5 1/2 seasons with the Caps, is the team's "heart and soul." But Hunter is almost demure when asked about his achievements.

"It's a good achievement," he said. "The points were bound to mount up over time. I know there have been some big ones, but they all run together. As for the penalty minutes, they keep adding up, too. But you wouldn't call me a goon. . . . I simply work hard and it shows."

A trophy is a trophy?

Let's hope the Washington Capitals get a Stanley Cup to call their own one of these days. The lack of it is obviously taking its toll. When the team held its skills competition last week, Murray awarded the winning team what he called "a fitting" award, The Skills Cup. It was a red trash can with the Capitals logo on its side. The team, led by Al Iafrate, hoisted the can above their heads and skated around the rink, passing the can from one pair of hands to another, as if it meant just as much as the Stanley Cup.

"That thing's good," said Iafrate, who did not, however, say that it was as good as the Stanley Cup.

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