Some of NHL's star forwards are seeing more of hospital than rink

November 14, 1993|By Kevin Paul Dupont | Kevin Paul Dupont,Boston Globe

If the National Hockey League had its All-Star Game this weekend, it would have to go on without stars Steve Yzerman, Pavel Bure, Mario Lemieux and Eric Lindros.

Nice week. For those of you out there who already have spent your hockey pool winnings, it's beginning to look like a long, costly winter.

Yzerman was down with a herniated cervical disk and Bure with a pulled groin.

Then, come Thursday night, it was clear that Lemieux (bad back) would be pulling out at least until the new year and Lindros, after locking legs with Bill Guerin, would be sidelined three to six weeks.

Yzerman only late last week began riding the stationary bike. Doctors figure the prized Detroit center can't play for at least another two to four weeks. The most encouraging news: No fewer than three surgeons around the country agree that Yzerman will have a 100 percent recovery and won't require a trip to the operating room.

"Yeah, it's a relief," said Yzerman. "If I had surgery, that would mean I'm out for the year. The biggest thing now is, I won't miss the whole year."

Of the crunched bunch, Bure is closest to returning. The Russian Rocket has missed two weeks, but appears to be only a week away from getting back on the pad.

Lindros hurt his right leg this time (the Flyers went a grim 7-14-2 when he hurt his left leg last season).

The only bright light in Philadelphia is that the rest of the squad is now far more capable of going it alone.

As for Lemieux, his exit only adds to growing concern that maybe he'll walk away from the game far earlier than anyone would have believed even last year when he battled back from Hodgkin's disease.

As Lemieux's agent, Steve Reich, said before his client's latest bout of back pain: "If Mario were at this same point next year, [the idea of retiring] wouldn't be ludicrous at all. I can tell you . . . that Mario is very disappointed with the pain he's experiencing right now. He thought he might be past that now. It's extremely frustrating for him, but the doctors are still of the opinion that, with continued rehabilitation, he'll be able to overcome the pain.

"A lot of people don't realize that Mario played in pain almost every game last year."

And, remember, that was before No. 66's latest setback. Great time for ESPN2 to try to build a programming schedule and audience base around the game's brightest lights. Next we'll see live updates from hospital emergency rooms, through the lens of DocCam -- with ESPN's video equipment strapped to the surgeon's head. The crawl at the bottom of the screen will read:

"Free oil change with every fill-up."

Gretzky chugs along

One guy who could suit up for the midwinter classic is Wayne Gretzky, who sounded miffed when Lemieux professed to be unaware of who was No. 1 in the league scoring race when he came back to action late last month. "Whatever he thinks," said the Great One, ". . . he's never been a big fan of mine." Last weekend, in Lemieux's last game, Gretzky piled up four assists in an 8-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lemieux went a downsized 0-22.

During a recent stop in Los Angeles, where he used to run as Gretzky's bodyguard, ex-King Marty McSorley finally handed over the crooked stick that cost the Kings Game 2 of the finals vs. Montreal -- and perhaps cost them the Stanley Cup. McSorley, now with the Penguins, gave it to his old pal for hanging in his Toronto restaurant, named Wayne Gretzky's.

"People talk about the stick being the reason we lost," said the Great One. "But I always say we wouldn't have gotten by Toronto [in the semifinals] without Marty. He did us too many things to get us there."

The Hockey Hall of Fame, not far down the street from 99's eatery, also wanted McSorley's notorious stick.

"We would love to have it," said Philip Pritchard, the hall's manager of acquisitions. "It's part of hockey history. But if it's in Wayne's restaurant, that's OK, too. We do a lot of cross-promotions with them."

Best should be there

Jim Gregory, the NHL's vice president of hockey operations, is refreshingly candid when he says, "If we have done our job properly, the better officials are in our league."

Gregory had to help recruit backup referees in case the current ** refs and linesmen walk -- as expected -- after tonight's games. Most substitute referees will be lacking, but Gregory and Bryan Lewis (director of officiating) had their orders: Find the rest of the best.

Trade winds

The Quebec Nordiques are offering Valery Kamensky around the league, along with his $900,000 annual paycheck. Great talent, Kamensky, but he's been hurt almost from the day he landed in Quebec and, not unlike the New York Rangers' Alexei Kovalev, too often tries the solo route to the net.

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