NFHL 1994 Season Preview Deep Dive


The 1994 season is upon us and we thought it would be a great time to examine how each team stacks up and how we got to where we are. There has been a massive power shift from the Wales Conference to the Campbell and there are a couple of notable catalysts we will get into that are largely responsible for this. Let's take a nice long look at each team and see how they looked last season, what they did this offseason to affect their future and how we expect things to shake out for them this season.


Wales Conference


Adams Division


Boston Bruins


The Boston Bruins have been a team that GM Dan Tames has slowly and patiently built into a playoff calibre team. Despite the temptation of speeding up the timeline being present almost every offseason, Tames has made calm measured improvements over the last few seasons but done whatever he could to keep some semblance of a pipeline and young core in the organization.


Last year:

The Bruins had some inexplicable stretches especially early last season where the team struggled mightily and failed to live up to the expectations that they were a safe bet to make the playoffs at the end of the year. Strict officiating at the beginning of the year certainly seemed to have an effect, but as the season went on the Bruins were able to right the ship and gain much more consistency than they had to start the year. In a stacked Adams Division, it was not expected that the Bruins would be able to challenge for home ice but it was also thought by many that they would not be a playoff bubble team. At the end of the regular season, the Bruins had safely secured the 6th seed in the Wales conference with 82 points (38-36-6). The team finished slightly above .500 which was what was to be expected in such a top-heavy conference.


The playoff results for the Bruins had to be encouraging to say the least. The Buffalo Sabres were openly going all out for one final year of competing and narrowly missed out on the top seed in the Wales conference after some late season struggles in the final games. This pushed the Sabres back to 3rd seed with a very tough Bruins matchup. The Bruins came out of the gate hard and took both Sabre home games resulting in a 2 to 0 series lead for Boston. The Sabres (who had been notorious for inexplicably losing in the 1st round of the playoffs on a yearly basis for several seasons) had to be in full panic mode as the sleeping giant began to wake up and evened the series out. Boston took game 5 to send Buffalo to their first elimination game so early in the playoffs. Buffalo managed to scrape their way into a game 7 and put the Bruins away once and for all in the 1993 season. Despite the game 7 heartbreaker, the sense coming from Boston was that another year of seasoning and a few adjustments could have them match up against any team going forward.



The entry draft is a place where Boston has been pretty consistent in being active every single year. GM Tames has done a fine job in the draft, generally adding to his respectable pipeline with good finds throughout all 3 rounds of the draft. This season, the Bruins only had a single pick in the draft. The St Louis 2nd rounder was pick number 39 and was about halfway through the 2nd round. Boston picked up forward Bates Battaglia who at this point looks fairly raw and a longshot to make it to the pros. However, Battaglia does have the scoring touch that could grow into a pro level skill and be enough to vault him into being a regular in the league if development goes well. Tames also picked up 19 year old undrafted prospect Steve Washburn, who is also likely a longshot but was worth the gamble to allow him to develop in the Bruins organization for a few years.


In Free Agency, the Bruins did not decide to go big game hunting. GM Tames instead targeted some more modest depth that has the ability to be placed on the farm until injury issues arise during the long and arduous regular season. Veteran forward Paul Gagne was a smart addition, as his defensive and punishing style of play could slot him nicely into a 4th line checking role if needed. Veteran depth defenseman Mike Stothers has begun to regress a bit since entering his 30s but should be perfectly capable of subbing into a bottom defensive pair if any of Boston's pros go down.


The Bruins have completed only a pair of trades since passing the 1993 NFHL Trade Deadline. Early on in the 1994 Preseason, the Bruins managed to bolster their blue line by acquiring veteran defensive defender Craig Ludwig from the divisional rival Buffalo Sabres at the cost of a mid level prospect in Sebastian Bordeleau. The Sabres also threw a bit of cash to the Bruins to help pay for much of Ludwig's contract. This was a nice move for Tames as he managed to acquire a player capable of moving up and down the lineup and be effective with whoever he might be paired with. Also, doing so without having to move any prospect of note was a huge win in Beantown. The other trade the Bruins were able to complete involved attempting to refill the depth prospect pool a bit. Tames was able to use half of the cash he acquired in the Ludwig deal from Buffalo to acquire a pair of low level prospects in Passi Nurminen and Bert Robertsson. Both are still longshots to have a chance in the pros but with the right development they could continue to keep the Boston pipeline going as players graduate to the big club.


The Future:

The Boston Bruins' patience and slow methodical building pace could finally start to bear some real fruit this upcoming season. A big reason for this would be the leaps that many of the Bruins' young players are expected to take this upcoming season. The young core has begun to come of age and start to add a legitimate level of talent behind established Bruins that have been waiting for help for years. The veteran stars are joined by up and coming high flying players like Owen Nolan, Mats Sundin and Theo Fleury finally ready to make a positive impact for their club. Another big reason for optimism in Boston would have to be the sudden and abrupt changes occuring in the Adams Division. Divisional realignment sent the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise to Columbus with the extremely young Montreal Canadiens team moving into Toronto. On top of that, the next biggest threat in the Wales conference behind last year's Leafs in the Buffalo Sabres did a complete teardown and look to be one of the league's worst teams next year. Add to that the Hartford Whalers seemingly doing some sort of retool with potentially more to come and the Bruins could suddenly go from a bubble playoff team to the Adams Division winners! Prediction: Bruins win the Adams Division and win at least a round in this year's playoffs.


Buffalo Sabres


The Buffalo Sabres are completely unrecognizable when comparing this year's projected roster with who they had in the lineup last season. Years of embarrassing playoff failure had apparently finally convinced management that drastic measures needed to be taken. Because of this GM Brandon Johnson made some major changes going into the 1993 season. They'd gone into last year trading their franchise goalie Patrick Roy in order to acquire a game-breaking forward in Michel Goulet that the organization believed it needed to carry them forward when the playoff waters got too deep. They went another step further by trading out top defender Fred Boimistruck for another dynamic forward in Steve Thomas. These moves were done without losing any players up front, and provided the Sabres with two of the top lines in the entire league going into the 1993 season. On paper, the line of Goulet, Savard and Thomas was a more talented line than any team had ever been able to field in NFHL history. When followed up by the duo of Laurie Boschman and Kevin McClelland, the Sabres finally seemed to have the depth needed to overpower any other team in the league on any given night. Retiring Mike Palmateer was solid enough to step in for Roy, and veteran Mike O'Connell was slated to fill the shoes of 'Boomer' alongside top defender Phil Housley.


Last Season:

Last season saw the Sabres as one of the top few elite teams in the league, fighting for top spot in the Wales conference with the Toronto Maple Leafs up until the final couple of games in the 1993 season. The Michel Goulet experiment seemed to be a success as he had an unbelievable season and was voted in as the Hart Trophy winner with a 118 point season. Steve Thomas finished just outside of the top 5 in scoring with 105 points, and Laurie Boschman finished top 3 in the league with 109 points. The Sabres had a rough 5-4-1 stretch to end the season which caused them to finish with 113 points and fall to 4th place overall and 2nd in points in the Wales Conference behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. While it was heartbreaking for fans to see their team falter at the end of the year and squander a real chance to secure the top playoff seed in the Wales conference it was still largely considered a successful 1993 regular season. Regular season success was something Sabres fans had become familiar with but what would this new look team be able to do in the playoffs?


Finally the team managed to exorcise their playoff demons by escaping victorious from the 1st round after a nail-biting 7 game series with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins went up 2 to 0 in the series and had fans and management alike extremely concerned that they would be suffering the same fate of so many seasons in recent history. Thankfully after taking the next couple of games in Boston the Sabres managed to even out the series. A tough game 5 loss had the Buffalo faithful worried but the veteran team was able to close out the final two games and move on for the first time in years. The Sabres went on to sweep a Wales Conference favorite team in the Washington Capitals, which made it all the more peculiar that this was the same team that never seemed to be able to win a playoff round. Going into the Conference Finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs there seemed to be a confidence not seen in Buffalo since their magical run to the Cup Finals several years before. Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs' early 2 to 0 series lead was too much for the Sabres to overcome and Buffalo fell to Toronto in 5 games to close out the 1993 season in Western New York. It seemed as though the Sabres would regroup and build off of this successful run in 1994 but GM Johnson had other plans going into the offseason.



The 1994 offseason has definitely got to be one of the busiest ones in GM Johnson's tenure with the club and most likely the busiest the team itself has ever had. After what many would call a major win in Sabreland occurred in 1993 there were many hoping that the core would get at least one more kick at the can, especially with news of drastic realignment occurring throughout the league and much of the power shifting from the Wales Conference over to the Campbell. Johnson felt like this offseason was the time to strike and he proceeded to abruptly and unceremoniously dismantle years and years of the organization's hard work over the last 12 seasons. An unheard of amount of players that many teams would consider franchise players were shipped out seemingly overnight. Phil Housley and Steve Thomas joined former Sabre Patrick Roy in Edmonton. Gerald Diduck, Kevin McClelland and Denis Savard made their way out west as well to Colorado, Winnipeg and Detroit respectively. Out East, we saw huge names like reigning MVP Michel Goulet and Laurie Boschman move over to the Patrick Division in Philly and New Jersey. When the dust settled on the offseason moves not a single pro roster player from last season in Buffalo remained on the team.


The 1994 Entry Draft was a busy one for Buffalo for the first time in many years. After many of the pre-draft transactions completed the Sabres ended up with a trio of 1st round picks along with a mid 2nd rounder. GM Johnson moved the later 1st rounder out before the draft but still made a pair of solid picks in the round. Forwards Ethan Moreau and Richard Zednik were looked upon at draft day as being quite good picks, considering they went 16th and 18th respectively. 2nd rounder Stanislav Neckar was projected to be a bit better than he was but still looks to be a player that possesses the build that could make significant jumps in the coming years. As the offseason wore on and team training camps began it was seen that Zednik might have been the steal of the draft. His performance has the coaching staff in Buffalo raving and claiming that he could be ahead of schedule in terms of being pro ready sooner rather than later. Some draft pundits would likely have Zednik in the top 5 if there were to be a redraft after the fact.


Free Agency in Buffalo was not as exciting as last season where GM Johnson was a dice roll away from landing the giant 18 million dollar prize that was James Patrick. This Free Agency was about Buffalo attempting to find inexpensive place holders for their pro roster as they allow their young players to percolate in the minors for the next while. Veteran defenseman Kjell Samuelsson was brought in to provide some stability and leadership on the blue line, while bruising forward Dean Evason was acquired in order to make this transitioning Sabres club a little harder to play against. The Sabres also took the chance on a handful of overage undrafted prospects in Eric Lecompte, Zednek Nedved, Angel Nikolov, Tyler Moss and Scott Langkow.


The Future:

It seems to be all about the future when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres. For fans of the team, it is likely there will be a significant amount of suffering for the foreseeable future, as the league's largest payroll ever has transformed itself into one of the cheapest ever over the course of a single offseason. While it seems like a lot of doom and gloom right now, management has already begun expanding the arena to prepare itself as a larger, more stable market going forward. On top of that, the Buffalo Sabres would undoubtedly be widely recognized as having the deepest, most talented prospect pool in the league as other young teams' players have begun to graduate to the pros. Names like Chris Gratton, Sami Kapanen, Markus Naslund, Derian Hatcher, Jim Carey and Richard Matvichuk could grow into the same types of players that the Sabres begrudgingly had to part with this year. There won't be much positivity to speak of in Buffalo this season or possibly for a while, but it will be extremely interesting to see how this new core develops. Prediction: It will also be interesting to see how the Sabres do in the Entry Draft going into the 1995 season. The Sabres could potentially have a pair of top 5 picks depending on how teams finish in the standings and how the lottery balls fall.


Hartford Whalers


What a difference a year can make. The Hartford Whalers went into the 1993 season on a significant high, finally reaching the top of the mountain with the franchise's first-ever SMJ Cup Championship win over the Colorado Rockies. While some players were getting older and aging out, Super Mario was another year older and better, and the sky was the limit for this Wales Conference powerhouse... or so many thought.


Last Year:

The Hartford Whalers had their moments in the 1993 season, for sure. While the team didn't have the kind of forward depth that the Leafs, Sabres and Capitals were able to boast, the Whalers still went into the 1993 season as one of the most feared teams in the Wales Conference. Key injuries (namely the injury to superstar Mario Lemieux) contributed to an extremely slow and underwhelming start to the season for the reigning champs. It could be argued that the long post season for not only Lemieux but the rest of the team contributed to that "championship hangover" that we have seen many teams fall victim to over the years. Going into the midseason mark, the Whalers had begun to find their form and as they got healthier went on an absolute heater to get themselves back in the race for the Adams and Wales regular season crowns. The early season struggles ended up being too much to overcome, as the team had its moments throughout the remainder of the schedule where they plateaued and could not make up the remaining ground on the Leafs and Sabres. The funny thing was, the Whalers finished the regular season as the 4th seed despite having the 3rd best record in the conference and being almost 10 points ahead of the 2nd seeded Patrick Division winning New Jersey Devils. The Whalers' 102 point finish was extremely impressive, despite faltering over the last stretch of games with a 3-6-1 record in their final 10 games.


Unfortunately for the Whalers, whatever struggles they were dealing with over the course of the last leg of the regular season seemed to follow them into the postseason in their 1st round matchup with the 5th seed Washington Capitals. If we look back just a season before this matchup we would remember that the Whalers' heroic cup run started with an absolutely embarrassing beatdown of the Washington Capitals over 4 games, sending Gretzky and company searching for answers and into a long offseason. The Caps must have found those answers over the course of the following season because the Caps made it clear that the saying 'turnabout is fair play' was going to be a relevant one in this playoff. The Caps ran roughshod over the Whalers and sent them packing in the same embarrassing fashion they had dealt with the year previous. With such a demoralizing defeat, many questions were being whispered around Hartford about what the future would hold.



While GM Jon Hilowitz has begun to answer some of those questions, he might have sparked many more questions to be asked not only with his abrupt trade of superstar defender Paul Coffey to the Vancouver Canucks, but his reported comments that similar moves could be following that one, and that a "full teardown" was not out of the question. It was rumored that Hilowitz was poking around certain available superstar players to add to the existing team before the Coffey deal occurred, but the relatively bare cupboards in Hartford were unable to entice another GM to be his dance partner in this kind of deal. This, along with the early playoff exit in 1993, could be what has sparked thoughts of a teardown in Hartford. The Coffey deal did assist GM Hilowitz in spreading some more talent throughout his lineup, as the return of JJ Daigneault and Randy Burridge did manage to fill a pair of roster spots instead of just one. The Whalers were also able to send a 3rd and a bit of cash to Buffalo in order to bring bottom six playmaking forward Dieter Hegen in to improve the team's depth a bit more. Those were the only trades that Hartford has completed up to this point, but it will be interesting to see if they are followed by any others depending on how the team fares over the beginning of the season.


In terms of the 1994 Entry Draft, there is nothing to speak of when it comes to the Hartford Whalers. As noted above, the Whalers have been in win-now mode for a while and have emptied much of their draft and prospect cupboards in order to be able to put a cup caliber team on the ice. The Whalers picks were all moved prior to the draft so GM Hilowitz was able to take the night off.


Free Agency was a bit busier in Hartford as some depth pieces were able to be added at affordable rates. Veteran forward Moe Lemay ended up signing a 3 year, 900k contract in Hartford and will likely play a bottom 6 role on the team this upcoming season. Veteran defender Jeff Beukeboom commanded a higher salary considering his talent level and the fact that he is still only 29 years of age, but Hartford was able to get him signed to a 3 year, 2.45 million dollar deal. Neither of these Free Agent pro pickups were the kind of huge splash the fans of Hartford might have been looking for, but for a team that has lost a few key contributors over the last couple of seasons these players could step in and attempt to fill those needed depth roles. GM Hilowitz also managed to add a trio of overager undrafted prospects in Doug Barrault, John Emmons and Radim Bicanek in hopes of refilling those cupboards a bit on the fly.


The Future:

While players like Mario Lemieux, Cam Neely, Mark Tinordi and Murray Baron are going to be difference makers for years to come, the Whalers continue to age and are losing more and more of their depth as the seasons pass by. GM Hilowitz has been pretty publicly aware of this and could be considering a similar type of teardown to what we just saw in Buffalo. Are the prospect pools fertile enough around the league for another teardown of that magnitude so soon after the one that just happened though? Hilowitz has always been a very shrewd GM, and could run into issues getting the type of returns he would expect of the calibre of some of his more notable players. With the Wales conference as wide open as it projects to be, it might be a smarter approach to wait and see how the conference shakes out for one more season. As the up and coming teams age another year there might be more interest to add some of the pieces Hartford would have to offer and the organization might be able to get a more favorable return than they would currently. Prediction: If the Whalers start off badly out of the gate early in the 1994 season, we could see a massive trade block come out of Hartford with few to NO players being left off the list.


Montreal Canadiens


Here's where things begin to get confusing. With all the unprecedented team movement that occurred this offseason along with the pair of expansion teams entering the league (one of which was actually a relocating former SMJ Championship team in the original Toronto Maple Leafs) it might be a little hard for us all to keep track of where everyone is now. For simplicity's sake, the current team names will be what we go by in this article, save for mentioning certain teams' past histories. The Montreal Canadiens (formerly Calgary Flames) have been a young team slowly building through the draft the last several seasons. What do they look like another year older and shifting into the new-look Wales Conference landscape?


Last Year:

The Montreal Canadiens were a pretty safe bet all throughout the 1993 season to have another long offseason and be unable to crack the improving top 8 in the Campbell Conference. In several years prior, they were well-known for fighting for the very bottom spot in the league and among a small group of tanking teams who were in a completely different category points-wise from the rest of the league. This season saw a slight end to that trend, as a team can only add so many high draft picks before those picks begin to graduate and help the existing pro roster push itself in the right direction. The Montreal Canadiens saw themselves take a significant points increase year over year when all was said and done in the 1993 regular season. The results from 1992 were an abysmal 41 points, and this Canadiens (Flames) squad was able to improve by 15 points and finish just a pair of points away from exiting the bottom 5 in the league with 56 points.


While that doesn't seem like a great accomplishment right off the bat, it has to be an encouraging sign for the Montreal fanbase going forward as their new club seems to have some positive momentum going into the 1994 season. Sergei Fedorov proved last season that he was clearly in his prime and would do everything in his power to drag his team to wins if he had to. His 96 points were a team-best, as were his 220 hits. Keith Tkachuk just missed the 40 goal mark, finishing with 39 and showed the hockey world that he was finally ready for the big stage. Scott Niedermeyer had clear growing pains in his first full season with the big club but was quite productive points-wise as well. As the blue line and the rest of the team improves around him his defensive numbers will undoubtedly skyrocket.



The time to shine in Montreal (Calgary) over the last several seasons has been the offseason. The 1994 Entry Draft saw the Canadiens (Calgary) keep and pick both their 1st and 2nd rounders. They ended up picking 7th overall to acquire yet another defenseman in Oleg Tverdovsky who didn't have the usual shine that a near-top 5 pick usually does. Overall, Tverdovsky did turn out to be a decent enough pick to make in the 1st round but there were a few players GM Panunto would likely take ahead of him if he were able to go back in time to draft day. With the 2nd round pick Panunto took another defenseman in Brad Brown. For such a high 2nd rounder, Brown was a bit of a disappointment, but does still hold some potential as more of a longshot prospect. Looking back, it can likely be assumed that GM Panunto felt similarly to the pair of prospects he emerged out of the draft with, as neither of them were with the organization long enough to don the Canadiens' sweater.


Brad Brown was quickly moved to the New York Islanders organization for an undisciplined veteran forward in Rich Chernomaz. Chernomaz is on the wrong side of 30 but still possesses some half-decent speed and puck skills necessary to be a productive depth winger in the NFHL. He seems to be quite a bit out of the age range of the rest of the core but it could be that Panunto believes his pro team needs a bit more of a veteran presence to bring the young guys along to their highest potential. Panunto also connected with brother Mike Panunto in Vancouver for a minor cash deal to acquire another depth winger with a bit more discipline and tread on the tires in Tim Sweeney. Sweeney is 27 years old and could still grow with his team a bit to provide a few years of decent production and move down the lineup as the youngsters grow into the top 12 forward roles ahead of him. A few other moves saw the Canadiens bring in some more help in the form of veteran forward Taylor Hall from Buffalo and Darren McCarty from the Kings.


Another move involving the LA Kings was caused by GM Panunto putting an offer sheet on Kings RFA defenseman Chris Therien. Oleg Tverdovsky was part of the compensation going to LA in order to acquire the 22 year old defensive prospect that fits more into the Canadiens' timeline of competing. That was the only move Montreal GM Andrew Panunto made during the Free Agency period as he must have been thinking the prices on his targets went too high too quickly to get too involved in the bidding. Montreal also made it clear he was much more interested in participating in the 1995 draft than the 1996 one, as he moved a pair of 1st rounders in the latter draft to get St Louis' pick in the upcoming 1995 Draft. Panunto also dealt $5 million in cold hard cash to the Florida Panthers to acquire Edmonton's 1995 pick.


The Future:

This will be a very interesting season for the Montreal Canadiens. The fans in the city aren't all that far removed from the glorious Cup-winning days from when Minnesota GM Glenn Merkir was at the helm. GM Panunto obviously hopes to create his own legacy with the storied franchise and we could see a positive jump towards that path in this upcoming season. While the team is still growing and would not widely be considered anywhere near competing, it is likely that Panunto sees the fact that the competition level at the bottom of the Wales conference will be much less fierce than he's been used to as his team continues to age into a more talented squad. Finishing just a pair of points shy of the now-conference rival Pittsburgh Penguins places the Canadiens in a rather similar position to that Penguins team. As summer camps wrap up and team training camps continue to evaluate and prepare their players, the jump in talent in Montreal could see them higher in the standings than they are used to being. With Buffalo going into full rebuild mode, along with Tampa entering into the league looking for the slow build, there are quite a few teams fighting for that bottom spot in the league. Prediction: The Montreal Canadiens will finally see their 1st rounder land in the double digits for the first time in many years.


Quebec Nordiques


The Quebec Nordiques have been stuck in a frustrating kind of Wales Conference limbo for quite a few years. The Nordiques have had some talented players in their lineup and have widely been considered good enough to be a playoff team. The only issue has been the divide between the talent level of a team like the Nordiques and the titans at the top of the Wales Conference for the last several seasons. This has generally resulted in the Nordiques narrowly missing the playoffs or being unceremoniously bounced in the first round by one of the top seeded teams - not exactly the most fun situation for the fans or the organization itself.


Last Year:

Last season was one of those occasions where the Nordiques did enough to secure their playoff berth. In fact, for the first chunk of the 1993 season the Quebec Nordiques were near the top of the Wales Conference and seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Sadly, this trend was unable to sustain itself throughout the long and unrelenting 80 game regular season, and the Nordiques found themselves in familiar territory to many other years, just barely squeaking into a playoff spot. To be fair, the Nordiques' 74 points were 5 better than the New York Islanders who finished 9th in the Wales at the end of the season. However, the 7th seeded Philadelphia Flyers finished with 81 points - a 7 point gap buffering them from the Nords. Add to that the fact that the Islanders were in blatant tank mode actively trying to claw their way to the bottom of the standings, the postseason berth doesn't seem like all that great a thing for Quebec. The Nords did manage to take a win out of a 4 to 1 series with the top seeded Toronto Maple Leafs, but that likely wasn't enough of a success to satisfy the increasing frustration in Quebec.


The 1993 season (and postseason) has got to weigh heavily on the mind of longtime GM Andy Leblond. Does the extremely successful stretch at the beginning of the year provide enough optimism that it might be possible to add a piece here or there and make a few adjustments to make the team competitive enough to have a real chance going forward? There have been many examples over the years that show, all it takes is to make the playoffs and anything can happen. Another wrinkle in this quandary has been the extremely careful, measured approach that GM Andy Leblond has always taken with his team. The height of the team's success had to be several years ago when Leblond had missed the playoffs 4 seasons in a row and was forced to speed up the timeline in order to avoid being fired by team ownership. Leblond made some bold moves that paid off in the short term, but might have hurt the team's depth in the long term.



As was alluded to earlier, the Nordiques had a bit of a longer offseason as their playoffs only managed to last 5 games. With all of that extra time, it still didn't exactly result in Quebec having a very active offseason. Up to this point the Nordiques have not made a single trade in the 1994 season. Leblond has never been a GM notorious for making a ton of trades, but in a season with as much significant movement as we have ever seen in the NFHL it seemed like a prime opportunity for the GM to do something to improve his team. It is possible that Leblond wanted to wait until the Draft, Free Agency and training camps were all done in order to see where his squad was at, going into the season.


The 1994 Entry Draft was the height of the offseason activity seen around Quebec. Armed with a 1st (11th overall) and a pair of 2nd rounders, GM Leblond made all of his picks and added to the relatively shallow pipeline in Quebec. With the 11th overall pick, Leblond picked a speedy young forward with a scoring touch in Jeff Friesen. Considering the strength of the draft, this was a decent pick and worthy of a top 10 selection. With the team's 2nd rounder (37 overall) the Nordiques selected Wayne Primeau, whose elite strength for his age has made him one of the more intriguing prospects selected in the 2nd round and could even have been picked with a mid to late 1st rounder. To wrap up their part in the Draft, Quebec selected forward Chris Clark. Clark was another piece that looks very decent considering the pick came in the later part of the 2nd round. All in all, it was a very successful draft for GM Leblond and he wound up coming out of it with a trio of valuable assets that he could either build around for the future or move to get himself some help to compete right now.


In terms of Free Agency, the Nordiques had to be a bit on the defensive when it came to an offer sheet coming out of Detroit targeted at the team. 22 year old prospect Brian Savage was signed by Detroit to a 1 year, $749,999 contract to which GM Leblond quickly matched. As far as other offers in Free Agency, there wasn't much to speak of when it came to Quebec. There was one nice story as a homecoming occurred for former Nordiques goaltender Pelle Lindbergh. The Nordiques signed the veteran backup level goaltender and Olympic Gold Medalist to a 1 year, $1.7 million dollar deal. Considering the prices and scarcity of backup goalies around the league this was a decent pickup for Quebec.


The Future:

The 1994 season and beyond in Quebec has got to be one of the more intriguing and unpredictable things to look at going forward in the NFHL. Do they try to add some pieces to help out the likes of Joe Sakic, Gary Roberts and Scott Stevens while they're still in their prime or do they look to stay their current course and hope for better results to manifest themselves? Is it possible they start trying to retool or rebuild to add to their younger pipeline percolating in the minors? There are so many scenarios that could take place in Quebec this coming season. Prediction: The Nordiques will make a leap in the Wales Conference standings this season and this could nudge GM Leblond in the direction of sending one or two of his picks or prospects to another team for some added firepower.


Toronto Maple Leafs


This is another part of the preview article that may get a little confusing as the Toronto Maple Leafs in its current form was known as the Montreal Canadiens last season. It seems unfathomable that one of the most storied franchises in NFHL history only a couple of seasons removed from their 3rd SMJ Cup Championship in franchise history would relocate to another city in the United States and be replaced by one of the more notorious divisional rivals in the former Montreal Canadiens. Obviously, the rebuilding Montreal Canadiens have not been much of a rival to the powerhouse that was the Toronto Maple Leafs before this season, but the two fanbases still share a mutual hatred of one another to be sure.


Last Year:

Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs (Montreal Canadiens) continued to slowly build themselves back into contention after a full teardown occurred a couple of offseasons before. The team did not provide the most positive results last season, only missing out on the absolute bottom spot in the league by a mere 4 points, just above the Chicago Blackhawks (34 points) and New York Rangers (31 points). Throughout the tumultuous season GM Kevin Huggan started to add some actual pro level players in their mid to late 20s in order to attempt to spark some sort of forward progress out of his young squad. Despite the addition of players like Mikko Makela, Wendel Clark, Pat Verbeek, Martin Gelinas and Grant Jennings, the Leafs (Canadiens) were unable to get any real traction when it came to earning points in the standings in the 1993 season.


While we don't know the exact date, this team had likely been eliminated from a playoff berth before the 1993 All Star Break, and that undoubtedly had to take a heavy toll on the team, GM Huggan as well as an increasingly impatient fanbase in Montreal. By season's end, there were no players on the squad who could make it to the 70 point mark, and several players littered throughout the team either at or approaching a -40 plus/minus rating. To end the 1993 season on an unspeakable 11-game losing streak, the organization certainly reached an all-time low point in its existence. For a fanbase that has been spoiled with a trio of NFHL Championships themselves (including back-to-back wins in '87 and '88), one has to wonder if the lack of success being had in recent seasons resulted in not only GM Huggans being run out of town, but the whole Canadiens organization being forced to relocate to Toronto. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire though. If last season's numbers are repeated in Toronto, there could very well be riots on Yonge street.



For a team that desperately needed something to get excited about, the lottery balls cooperated and the Toronto Maple Leafs were awarded the 2nd overall pick in the 1994 Entry Draft. In a draft that was not exactly notorious for providing top tier talent, the Canadiens did well with their pick, selecting forward Milan Hejduk. Hejduk might not have been the ideal pick here with forward Patrick Elias looking to potentially outshine his 1993 drafted counterpart. However, the speedy young forward has demonstrated an above average scoring touch for his age and could still end up being the best player to come out of this draft depending on how development goes in the coming years. Toronto also possessed a pair of 2nd rounders, where GM Huggan selected young forward Vitali Yachmenev and defenseman Brian White. Yachmenev early on looks to be a pretty raw prospect with questionable compete levels, especially in the defensive zone. His smooth skating, puck handling and shooting skills could continue to improve and make him a viable pro player down the line. Unfortunately, the selection of Brian White looks to be an absolute miss and has not looked at all what Huggan and his staff were hoping he would be once he made it to development camp with the team. Despite his 2nd round pedigree, it is unlikely that White gets more than a cup of coffee in the minors until his $350,000 contract runs out at the end of the season.


In terms of offseason trades, GM Huggan started off with a bang. Old friend of Toronto and new Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brandon Clark ended up sending the goalie who backed up Dominik Hasek in Toronto last season in Glenn Healy to Toronto in its current form for Mike Rathje and Anaheim's 2nd round pick in the upcoming draft in 1995. To many this might seem as a premature move to bring in a goalie of Healy's caliber (and age), but many would argue that lack of talent in the crease was this team's biggest problem in 1993. It is possible that Huggan saw the writing on the wall in terms of potential pressure from the fanbase going forward along with the newly fertile grounds in the Wales conference in terms of making that next step. GM Huggan followed that big move up with another one with the Minnesota North Stars to bring in Doug Shedden and Robert Dirk. Huggan continued to bring talent into Toronto, as he sent Toronto's 2nd round pick in 1997 for depth defender Sylvain Cote. At 28 years of age, Cote could develop his game a bit further over the next couple of seasons and settle into a 2nd or 3rd pair role as the younger defenders continue to grow in Toronto.


In Free Agency, there was certainly enough to talk about in Toronto. For starters, the very same Colorado Rockies that managed to get a 2nd round pick for veteran defender Sylvain Cote also signed young Toronto forward Chris Simon to a robust $1.249 million dollar offer sheet. Toronto matched the offer and kept the talented RFA in the organization. Then, the new GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs began to spend some money. Veteran defender Rod Languay would have to be considered one of the biggest winners of Free Agency when he came out with a 1 year, $3.6 million dollar deal with Toronto. Veteran forward Jan Ingman did even better for himself, when he was able to ink a 3 year, $3.75 million dollar deal with the Leafs. Forwards Miroslav Ihnacak and Morris Lukowich were also added to the team with the slightly more modest deals of 3 years at $1.4 million and 1 year at $650k respectively.


The Future:

Looking forward, it seems that things should start leaning in the right direction for the Toronto Maple Leafs. GM Huggan has added quite a bit of pro level talent, which in theory should help dig his team out of the league basement for the first time in a while. Thinking about playoffs for this team is likely still a bit of a stretch, but a significant step forward in the standings should be the minimum expectation out of fans in Toronto. Just looking at goaltending, the tandem of Glenn Healy and Roman Turek is infinitely better than the pair of Jeff Reese and Steve Weekes from last season. That alone could earn at least a handful more wins than this team managed to come away with last year. While young talented players like Geoff Sanderson and Chris Simon are still at least another year or so away from making an impact at the pro level, the team and its fans should rest easy knowing that solid help is on the way. Prediction: The Toronto Maple Leafs will finish with 50 or more points in the standings in 1994, showcasing a minimum 15 point year over year increase compared to 1993.


Patrick Division


Florida Panthers


Another team that NFHL fans all know quite well has picked up camp out of the nation's capital and moved south to sunny Florida. The Washington Capitals have done their part in trying to expand the viewership of the NFHL to the southern states as they moved their powerhouse team and have become the Florida Panthers. This is actually the 2nd time this franchise has packed up camp and relocated somewhere else as the original Philadelphia Flyers moved to Washington several years ago. Despite the new sunnier landscape, The Florida Panthers are coming into the 1994 season looking to find more success in the regular season and playoffs than they were able to attain last season.


Last Year:

The 1993 season was a strange one for the Florida Panthers (Washington Capitals) as going into the season many had them pegged as the surefire winners of the Patrick Division for a 2nd straight season. At first glance, the emergence of the New Jersey Devils as a contender in the division obviously played a role in GM Matheson's team's inability to repeat, but if one were to look closer there could be other factors that came into play. It could be possible that the revolving door of personnel for the Panthers (then Capitals) played a major role in the downfall of this club in 1993. To put things in perspective, the Washington Capitals finished the 1992 season with 110 points in the standings and easily secured the 2nd seed in the Wales thanks to a commanding win of the Patrick Division title. The unbelievable offensive output finished the year with 400 goals for on the 1992 season. Going into 1993 after a disappointing early playoff exit, GM Matheson clearly saw it as an opportunity to give up some of that offensive depth in order to shore up his weaker defensive core. With that, Matheson traded one of the most productive forwards in recent years in Steve Thomas to the Buffalo Sabres to bring in bruising defender Fred Boimistruck. Matheson also managed to acquire future hall of famer Ray Bourque to further shore up his defense. The surprising thing was the difference between 1992 and 1993 in terms of goals against. In 1992, the Capitals gave up 242 goals by the end of the season. Looking at 1993, that number went up to 280 despite much more attention being paid on shoring up the defensive side of the team. On top of that, sacrificing some offense to do so definitely took its toll as the Caps finished with only 322 goals for, almost 80 less than they had scored in 1992. This massive difference in goal differential resulted in the Panthers (then Capitals) finishing with only 89 points and relenquishing the Patrick Division title to the up and coming New Jersey Devils.


Still, the team seemed to be built with playoffs more in mind. It had to hurt not getting that 2nd seed going into such a murderer's row at the top of the Wales Division and not starting out with home ice or an easier bottom seed matchup in the first round. At the same time, GM Matheson seemed to relish the fact that he ended up with a rematch in the opening round of the playoffs with the team that swept them out in 1992 and eventually won it all in the Hartford Whalers. As stated earlier in the article, the Panthers (then Capitals) made short work of the Hartford Whalers in the 1993 playoffs and quickly silenced any doubters that could have suggested that GM Matheson tinkered too much with his team for his own good. Unfortunately, the 2nd round was not as successful as they were swept out of the 1993 playoffs by another juggernaut of a team in the Buffalo Sabres. At the end of the day, seeding really wouldn't have made much of a difference as the Flyers' upset of the Devils in the 1st round made a matchup with the Sabres inevitable. The Panthers (then Capitals) would go into the offseason with some victories to celebrate, but also just as many "what ifs" to lament.



As usual, GM Shane Matheson was among the most active general managers throughout all stages of the 1994 offseason. One of the more remarkable (and entertaining) storylines out of the 1994 draft was that the entire 3rd round of the draft was picked by Matheson. Somehow, despite all of the talent accumulated on his pro roster, Matheson was still able to acquire every single 3rd rounder and even more unbelievably made all 26 picks to end the night. While there were certainly some misses in the 3rd round, Matheson made out pretty well and ended up coming into the offseason with quite a few trade pieces who many saw as more valuable than the 3rd round picks they started out as. Most notably, Landon Wilson, Steve McLaren and Pavel Trnka are a trio of players who have valid chances at pro careers. All 3 players could be key trade pieces for the Florida Panthers going forward, as GM Matheson isn't exactly known for developing his own prospects for very long.


Surprisingly, there were no RFAs around the league in this year's Free Agency that signed an offer sheet with Florida. One would have thought with all of that compensation capital that GM Matheson would have come at a team or two, but it was not to be. Instead, Matheson made a couple of minor league depth signings. A 2 year, $1.6 million dollar deal was signed by veteran forward Doug Sulliman and young depth defenseman Frantisek Kucera was signed to a 4 year, $700,000 deal by Florida as well. Considering the salary that Matheson and company are already looking at, it's not surprising that there were no bigger splashes made by the Panthers.


In terms of trades, as to be expected, there were more than one could count coming out of Florida this preseason. There were definitely a few notable ones worth mentioning, while there were plenty that will continue to fly under the radar. Early in the preseason, Matheson connected with GM Brandon Johnson of the Buffalo Sabres to acquire stud defender Tom Kurvers, sending out blue chip defensive prospect Derian Hatcher in the process. He also sent a package back to the Anaheim Ducks to reacquire young goalie Tommy Sodderstrom. In another move with the Sabres, the Capitals sent their 1997 1st rounder to acquire veteran forward Mats Naslund, then further shored up his defense in the acquisition of Doug Bodger from the Columbus Blue Jackets. As money was clearly an issue going into the 1994 season with such a high payroll, GM Matheson went to the San Jose Sharks for an assist. Matheson was able to move out depth forward John Tucker for a cool million dollars along with Edmonton's 1st rounder in the 1995 draft, then ended up flipping that same 1st rounder to the Montreal Canadiens for an unbelievable 5 more million.


The Future:

There aren't many more unpredictable GMs out there than Shane Matheson. The Florida Panthers look to be on the short list of true top tier contenders going into the 1994 season and the current roster could very well roll out and produce amazing results. We all know that the roster as it's currently constructed has a snowball's chance in hell of looking identical by the 1994 trade deadline. While superstars like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier will likely still be around, all bets are off as to who else in Florida should be convinced to buy instead of rent down in sunny Florida. Prediction: Despite what was just said, we say Matheson shocks the world and moves one of Gretzky or Messier before this season's trade deadline. He has been on record as joking about it recently and there is usually even the smallest bit of truth to every joke!


New Jersey Devils


The reigning winners of the Patrick Division had an extremely bittersweet 1993 season. The New Jersey Devils had finally begun to see the results of their years and years of patient building. The previous season, GM Maschke had pulled off some huge moves, bringing in the likes of Murray Craven, Gary Galley, Paul Boutillier and Peter Bondra. This was enough of a talent influx to upset a cup contending team like the Buffalo Sabres in the 1st round of the 1992 playoffs and had the Devils brimming with confidence going into the 1993 season.


Last Year:

The young stars of the New Jersey Devils had finally all reached the level of game-breaking status going into the 1993 season. While Teemu Selanne and Peter Forsberg are extremely nice pieces, GM Jon Maschke felt the need to improve on the depth and number of weapons his Devils squad possessed, and that move started to really pay off in 1993. Murray Craven surpassed 31 goals and almost hit the 100 point mark with 93 to finish the season. Peter Bondra had become the scoring threat that Maschke envisioned when he acquired the sniper from Edmonton the previous year, as he finished the season with 41 goals and 79 points. Peter Zezel had a bit of an off year offensively finishing at 79 points himself, but was finally a +20 on the year showing that his line was starting to dominate and shut down the competition. At the end of the season, the Devils finished with 90 points and won the Patrick division over the likes of the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and rebuilding New York Islanders finally taking a step back. This 90 points actually matched a franchise record set back in 1981 and was a surefire sign that finally things were truly on the rise in Jersey again after a long and painful time at the bottom.


While the regular season pain has seemingly come to an end, the 1993 postseason was about as painful as any Devils fan could have dreamed. An amazing regular season and division win placed the New Jersey Devils in the enviable position of 2nd seed in the extremely top-heavy Wales Conference. To put it in perspective, the Devils' 90 points was actually 4th best in the Wales Conference, behind the 120 point Leafs, the 113 point Sabres and 102 point Whalers. To be able to avoid all 3 of those teams going into the opening round of the playoffs was a major boon to be sure. Unfortunately, a full regular season of underperforming by the Philadelphia Flyers had placed them in that dreaded 7th seed spot and made for an extremely tough opening matchup for the Devils. To start the series, the Flyers seemingly caught the Devils completely flat-footed and came out of the first trio of games with a 3 to 0 stranglehold on the series. Equally as shocking, the Devils managed to wake up and even the series out at 3 games each to force a game 7 for all the marbles. Unfortunately for those in New Jersey they were unable to complete the comeback and the Flyers made good on their 4th straight chance at eliminating their Patrick Division Rivals.



The New Jersey Devils went into the 1994 offseason with quite a bit to be excited about, but the sting of that early playoff exit must have still been looming over the organization. GM Jon Maschke had put the league on notice the year before that the Devils would be players in the Wales conference moving forward and going into the team's 2nd season of truly trying to compete it was interesting to see what moves would come out of the swamp. The moves started even before the entry draft as the Devils managed to bring in the most talented player their organization has ever seen up to this point in Laurie Boschman for blue-chip goalie prospect Jim Carey.


There ended up being more to this deal, as the Devils also moved longtime bruising defender Ken Daneyko along with their 1st rounder in the 1994 Draft to Buffalo for depth forward Adam Graves. The Sabres had already acquired the Devils' 2nd round pick earlier in the season in a deal involving backup goalie Pete Peeters, so only their 3rd rounder remained. On Draft day, the Devils ended up joining the club when it came to moving their trio of accumulated 3rd rounders to Shane Matheson and his Florida Panthers, so the actual draft was a rare one in which it did not see GM Maschke step to the podium to make a pick.


Free Agency was a much more eventful time for GM Maschke and his New Jersey Devils. The Devils again had to be on the defensive as another one of their pending RFA prospects were targeted with a predatory offer sheet. Mike Smith and the Colorado Rockies signed mid-tier prospect Oleg Petrov to a 1 year, $1,499,999 offer sheet. When the discussion of potential compensation was brought up, the lack of talent GM Smith brought to the table made it an easy decision for GM Maschke to match the offer sheet and retain his player. After that bit of business was wrapped up, Maschke went looking to add. Veteran defender John Glynne came out with a massive 1 year, $2,249,999 contract, While the slightly younger Keith Brown received the same amount of money but on a 4 year term! Depth goalie Jeff Reese was given a decent sized payday to come to New Jersey as he signed a 1 year, $1,124,999 contract to suit up as the 3rd string goalie in the organization. More modest depth level contracts were handed out to Gaston Therrien and Jean-Marc Lanthier, as they signed a 3 year, $750,000 and 1 year, $650,000 contract respectively. While the aggressive nature of GM Maschke was admirable, the amount of money spent on depth players in Free Agency is only going to hurt more going forward as his star players begin to make more money and team salary continues to climb. That Keith Brown contract is one that could come back to bite them after this season.


The Future:

The future of the New Jersey Devils has got to have a pretty bright outlook for next season and even beyond. This is a team that is definitely in their true window of competition now, and fans should be excited for a ton of production from their stars and many wins throughout the year. If the Devils can build off the success and maximize on the game-changing ability that a player like Laurie Boschman has demonstrated throughout his career to have, they could have a more successful season than last year and be a force in the upcoming playoffs. Prediction: The Devils beat their franchise record of 90 points and flirt with triple digits in the standings for the first time ever.


New York Islanders


This was finally the year where the almost completely torn down New York Islanders would begin their tanking in earnest. Between their time in New York and the rest of their existence as the California Golden Seals, the New York Islanders have been one of the most successful and consistently competitive teams in NFHL history. Every season the "experts" would predict that the Islanders would take a major step back and no longer be a factor until finally everyone just shut up and started to believe that their predictions may just never happen. Once Goulet and company were traded away in the 1993 offseason, the true talent disparity between them and the rest of the league would finally begin to show itself... or would it?


Last Year:

The 1993 season started off so strangely that despite GM Healy selling off almost everything of current pro level value the Islanders still continued to win! The team continued to stack up wins and upset much more talented teams on a nightly basis to the point that it was rumored that GM Healy was looking for ways to trade future hall of fame coach Pat Burns to another team and pick up a coach with less of a will (and talent) to win games. League officials poured cold water on this kind of scenario right away and while it took quite a long time, the Islanders began to fall back down to earth over the latter half of the season. The best explanation that can be brought up for the continued success would have to be the scoring by committee that seemed to occur throughout the year. The Islanders had 10 players between approximately 30 to 60 points. Their goaltending seemed to get the job done somehow as well. The duo of Darryl May and Clint Malarchuk ended up with 20-24-1 and 6-7-3 records respectively to finish the year, which greatly contributed to much of the team's unexpected success.


When all was said and done, the Islanders had finally missed the playoffs for the first time since 1971. The funny thing was, they trailed the 8th seeded Quebec Nordiques by 5 points! It was truly the end of an era to see the Islanders finally miss the playoffs, but sincere hats off to GM Healy and his ability and willingness to continue to push for excellence within his organization for all of these years.


As the Islanders fans had been treated to exciting regular season and playoff results for such a long time, the offseasons tended to be a bit more on the dull side until recently. Islanders GM Healy was somewhat of the mindset that he would set his team the way he wanted it and go on a bit of an auto-pilot until an urgent matter arose. Those days are officially over, as he and his Islanders have had to be very active in the offseason to reset the table properly. The step-back season for the Islanders resulted in the organization ending up with the 9th overall pick in the 1994 Draft. This draft was not notorious for having a super deep pool of talent, so Healy's pick of goaltending prospect Tomas Vokoun was a decent one. The fact that the Islanders organization has already expended some of their resources this offseason to send Vokoun to a special camp was a huge message to the young player that the team is 100% committed to his development. The Islanders also had a pair of 2nd round picks where they selected forwards Serge Aubin and Barrie Moore. Aubin is the kind of prospect that will take some time in the minors before he potentially develops into a pro level winger. Moore was unfortunately unable to project into being a part of the organization's plans once they got him to camp and did not manage to secure one of the 50 Islander roster spots.


During Free Agency, GM Healy was extremely active and aggressive. Going into the offseason, there was quite a bit of chatter about young star prospect Owen Nolan and if a team would attempt to open the pocket book and lure him out of Boston. The Islanders answered that question when they managed to sign Nolan to a 1 year, $3,999,999 million dollar offer sheet. All things considered, we have seen some pretty big offer sheets over the last few years and this one could have been worse. Boston GM Dan Tames did not take long at all to run to his fax machine and match the offer. Healy didn't stop there and made an offer that turned a ton of heads on New York Rangers prospect Vyacheslav Kozlov. Kozlov signed a 1 year, 8 million dollar maximum offer sheet with the New York Islanders which might have sparked a future bitter rivalry between the two Patrick Division clubs going forward. Rangers GM Kastner did match the offer as well, but it's likely he had to take a moment to stop and think before deciding to shell out 8 million for a prospect at the level of Kozlov. After these moves, GM Healy put in some depth level offers on guys like Doug Lecuyer, Keith Crowder, Mike Ramsey, Illka Sinisalo and goaltender Andrei Karpin. All of these players could have been signed to play in the minors, but could also play in a pro role if Healy decides he would like his team to be harder to play against this upcoming season.


GM Healy has already hooked up with old friend Shane Matheson with a couple of trades this offseason. The 1st one was a quick exchange of later picks before the draft, but the 2nd one was more intriguing. Healy sent Sylvan Lefebvre and Alain Lemieux to the Florida Panthers for a decent young forward prospect in Martin Ruchinsky and Vlastimil Kroupa. Ruchinsky was immediately given extra attention and looks much better going into the season than he did at the beginning of the offseason. Along with Alexei Yashin who was acquired last offseason, Healy has begun to put a decent young forward core together. Healy also managed to trade another one of his veterans in Rich Chermonaz for a recently drafted defender in Brad Brown. While Brown doesn't exactly jump off the page as a great prospect, he does have the raw tools to develop into a decent offensive minded puck moving defender and was easily worth the price of an aging minor league level forward. The Islanders also sent out bruising defensive minded veteran forward Richard Zemniak to the Chicago Blackhawks for their 3rd round pick in 1997.


The Future:

At this point with more Islander veterans being shown the door it would seem that GM Healy is likely going to give this tanking thing another crack going into the 1994 season. We are not sure if Head Coach Pat Burns has fallen in line with this way of thinking or if we will see the team attempt to heroically stand up to management's vision yet again this season. There are little pockets of talent that can be found throughout the Islanders' lineup and it has been said by Healy himself that he is not a guy that can stand losing for long. Prediction: While the 1994 season is not likely to be one of the Islanders' best, if the team were to go on another decent run to start out it could be possible that Healy makes some minor moves to make his team more competitive in the short term. If this doesn't occur, we expect the Islanders 1st rounder to be closer to top 5 than top 10 in the 1995 Draft.


New York Rangers


The New York Rangers have been one of the more interesting and sometimes puzzling stories in the NFHL. Previous GM Terry Danton began a significant teardown of the team back in the 1982 offseason and the club had slowly built itself back up over the years to a fairly deep pipeline of young and up-and-coming prospects coming of age to join some talented veterans ready to make a real push in the Wales Conference. Franchise goaltender Grant Fuhr had finally matured into a bonafide starter the club was depending on him becoming. Mario Lemieux had been built into one of the best players the NFHL had ever seen. The patience of the fans having to put up with years of losing was about to pay off, right?....right? Unfortunately for the fans in New York, a new GM came in with a completely different vision of where the team was headed and the great Mario Lemieux led a massive exodus of talent straight out of the Rangers' locker room. Going into the 1994 season we are a couple of seasons into new GM Michael Kastner's vision and it's time to look at where his team is headed.


Last Year:

The 1993 season was another rough one when looking at the New York Rangers in the standings. The Rangers finished with 31 points to finish the season at the absolute bottom of the league standings. This abysmal effort actually tied the 1985 Boston Bruins for lowest points in the standings EVER in NFHL history. The team's 14 wins would actually tie a couple of other miserable teams for the 3rd least amount of wins in NFHL history. This past year the Rangers also managed to tie a record of 2nd most losses in NFHL history that the 1983 New York Rangers team had previously set at 63. Just a decade after a record season in futility the Rangers have come full circle. The team certainly had to work hard down the stretch to attain such notoriety, as the Rangers lost 11 in a row to end the 1993 season.


The New York Rangers ended the season with the lowest goals scored of any other team in the league at 224. It was certainly clear that this edition of the New York Rangers was absolutely starving for offense. That was clear when defenseman Lyle Odelein led all Rangers with 46 points. This would actually be a fairly nice season for a top level defender in the league if it weren't eclipsed so heavily by the -61 plus/minus rating to finish the year. Sadly for the Rangers this was not even the worst plus/minus on the team as the winner of the NFHL Green Jacket went to young defensive phenom Niklas Lidstrom with -73. It was clear that the 1993 season was one of pure futility that all of the players and management alike would be happy to forget.



After such a rough season behind them, the Rangers and their fans were likely excited to get to the 1994 offseason and start it off with a bang at the 1994 Entry Draft. The exciting thing for the Rangers was the fact that they had an absolute glut of picks and GM Kastner had every intention of stepping up to the podium for every one. Sadly for the Rangers, even finishing last place overall did not bear the fruit it normally would. In an expansion season, the Rangers ended up losing all 3 lottery positions and were bumped to 5th overall pick in the Entry Draft. GM Kastner did his best to make the best out of a rough situation and picked another solid defensive prospect in Mattias Ohlund. Ohlund projects to be an extremely solid defensive minded prospect who could use some help developing that first pass out of the zone to be a more complete defender going forward.


A handful of picks later at 10, the Rangers selected young forward Radek Bonk. This pass-first forward prospect has the tools to potentially become a pro once fully developed. His lack of shooting ability could keep him out of pro top 6 potential unless some serious attention is given to it early on. The Rangers then picked 13th and 14th overall and were able to select defenseman Sheldon Souray and forward Mathieu Dandenault. Souray projects to be a decent offensive defenseman with a powerful shot, but discipline issues early on could be a hurdle on his path to the pro level. Dandenault is an extremely raw pass-first forward who will require quite a bit of time and development before hopefully graduating to the pros. The Rangers' lone 2nd round pick Vaclav Varada looks to be a young forward a bit more advanced than Dandenault at this early stage in their respective careers.


Other than the aforementioned monster offer sheet handed out by the Islanders to Rangers prospect Vyacheslav Kozlov (which was matched by Kastner and the Rangers), GM Kastner was very quiet throughout the Free Agency period and did not look to add a single player to his roster. It looks as though the mindset that Kastner has when building his team is to generally go through the draft and trades and he held true to that this offseason. Kastner did look to the trade route for some help on the pro roster this offseason. Bobby Smith came over to New York from the Florida Panthers for just a dollar going the other way. This was a solid move as Smith immediately becomes the team's number 1 center and could provide some trade value later on in the season depending on the market later on. So far this offseason that was the only movement we have seen out of New York. We fully expect to see Kastner pull the trigger on some trades once the regular season starts rolling, however.


The Future:

The New York Rangers truly have no direction to go but up this season. Star defenders Lyle Odelein and Niklas Lidstrom are another year older and have come into the 1994 season even more developed and ready to go. Other young players have been continuing to grow and should show even more polish going into the season as the Rangers coaches will focus on their future core during training camp and up until the start of the regular season. At first glance much of the young core will likely not yet graduate to the pro team, but some will take strides enough to be potentially in the running for pro spots going into 1995. Prediction: Despite the team being another year older, it's still likely that the Rangers finish bottom 5 in the league yet again this coming season.


Philadelphia Flyers


One of the more fun stories to look at going into the 1994 season would have to be the sudden emergence of the Philadelphia Flyers as a true cup contending team that has a real chance of coming out of the Wales conference in this season's playoffs. GM Simon Hoggett has gained the reputation over the years as being one of the more patient GMs who tends to move forward with mostly homegrown talent and rarely makes a big splash with his top prospects in a trade. We might be seeing a more aggressive Hoggett as he has clearly made some moves and put a large amount of faith in his young team to take the next step.


Last Year:

Last season was an odd one for the Philadelphia Flyers. Like many clubs going into the opening 20 to 25 games of the 1993 regular season, the Flyers seemed to struggle quite a bit and the team was unable to really get into the groove that many thought would take them into a 3-way battle with the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils for the Patrick Division crown to end the season. While their Patrick division counterparts the Capitals struggled early as well, the Caps were able to right the ship and get back into the race. Unfortunately for the Flyers last season they were unable to string enough wins together to rise above the 7th seed before the end of the regular season. The Flyers did manage a 7-2-1 stretch to end the season with 81 points - just a point behind the 6th seed Boston Bruins. The interesting thing here was the fact that the Flyers finishing in 7th place in the Wales matched them up with the 2nd seeded New Jersey Devils, who had 23 less points in the standings than the 3rd seeded Buffalo Sabres (who the Boston Bruins ended up facing).


Normally the higher seed you finish with in the regular season, the better and easier the matchups should be in the playoffs. The 7th seed finish seemed to be exactly what the Philadelphia Flyers needed, as they matched up exceptionally well with the New Jersey Devils. Goaltender Tom Barasso was clutch in the crease as the Flyers managed to storm ahead to a 3-0 lead in their series with the Devils. Things got a little dicey after that as the Devils were able to come back and win 3 of their own games to force a series-deciding game 7 back in Jersey. With all the momentum on the side of the Devils and home ice advantage fully intact, the Flyers were able to overcome all obstacles and pull out the victory to complete the opening round upset. Unfortunately for the Flyers, their low seeding would eventually lead them to an absolute killer of a team in the eventual Cup Final contending Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flyers were able to make it a real series with the Leafs but eventually fell to the top seed in game 6 of a back-and-forth series. While the ultimate goal is always to end the year with the SMJ Cup, the Flyers and their management team had to come out of the season with a sense of real accomplishment and excitement for what's to come in the following years.



That apparent sense of accomplishment spilled over into the 1994 offseason, as GM Simon Hoggett began making some big moves to get his young and talented team some help. Shortly before the draft, the Flyers and the Sabres pulled off a blockbuster trade that sent reigning MVP Michel Goulet along with goaltender Bob Froese and a 1st round pick in the 1994 draft to Philly for a trio of prospects in Chris Gratton, Vaclav Prospal and Adrian Aucion along with Anaheim's 1st round pick in 1995 (top 4 protected). GM Hoggett not only didn't have to include his top prospect in Pavol Demitra, but managed to keep the real value of the Anaheim pick in the case that it hits one of those 3 lottery spots in the upcoming draft. Coming back to Philly, the acquisition of Michel Goulet could be an absolute game changer, not to mention a top flight backup goalie who played well enough to be in the Vezina conversation for much of 1993. While there have been rumblings that Hoggett has considered a few other moves to shore up his current defensive core, nothing has shaken out up to this point but is worth keeping an eye on.


The 1994 NFHL Draft was another busy one for the Flyers, as the organization had stockpiled 3 1st round picks along with an early 2nd round pick that ended up being 31st overall. With the 12th overall pick GM Hoggett selected defenseman Kim Johnsson. Johnsson looks to be a speedy 2-way defenseman with decent puck-handling skills and the ability to defend as well as make that good opening pass out of the zone. Strength issues may be a concern for this player moving forward but he has plenty of time to grow into a pro level player. Apparently stacking defense was the name of the game in Philly as the team selected defenseman Rhett Warrener with the 20th overall pick. Warrener is not as polished of a player as Johnsson looks to be, but there are the makings of a talented defensive defenseman if developed properly. With their final 1st rounder of the draft, the Flyers selected speedy offensive defenseman Deron Quint. Quint would not be the typical defenseman most GMs would look for but has an elite shot to go along with decent puck skills and a whole lot of speed. The Flyers' 2nd round pick was one they would likely want to have back, as their pick of yet another defenseman in Dick Tarnstrom seems to be a miss at this point. Without some major help or some incredible work put in on the part of Transtrom, it is unlikely he will ever be more than a minor league defenseman.


Free Agency was an interesting one, as GM Hoggett decided to use some of his newly drafted prospects as collateral and present an offer sheet to Winnipeg Jets prospect, defenseman Brendan Witt. Witt signed a 1 year, $749,999 offer sheet with Philadelphia, but GM Corcoran in Winnipeg matched the offer and retained his player. On the Unrestricted Free Agent market, Hoggett went after depth players, as many competing GMs were looking to do. Lane Lambert, Dave Brown, Jiri Dudacek, Mike McPhee and Steve Payne all signed depth-level contracts to join the Flyers in case of injuries. All of these players are likely to start the year in the minor leagues until injury call-ups need to be made. At this point, veteran Steve Payne has not yet reported to camp as the Flyers have exceeded their 50-man roster limit. It will be interesting to see if any trades occur before the end of the season or if GM Hoggett ends up having to release or buy out a player before then.


The Future:

The fans of the Philadelphia Flyers have got to be as excited as they've been since cup-winning GM Shane Matheson was at the helm of the storied franchise. Finally, the Flyers look to be a true contending team and should come out of the gates piling up tons of goals and wins. The crazy thing is that while the Flyers are already beginning to emerge as a Wales Conference favorite, there are still valuable pieces in their prospect war chest that could be moved out to further improve the team in significant ways (namely on defense). While the Adams Division had been the most competitive battle to secure over the last several years, the Patrick Division will likely take over that mantle this season and going forward. It will be between the Flyers, Devils and Panthers to battle it out and only one team will be able to come out with the top divisional (and possibly conference) seed. Prediction: The Flyers will finish no lower than 4th seed in this upcoming 1994 season.


Pittsburgh Penguins


The Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans have had to endure a slow and painful build since current GM Ryan Young came into the organization midway through the 1987 season and began to tear down the team his predecessors had built. After 6 full seasons, many prospects have been brought in through the draft or through trades, and recently much more attention has been put into building those prospects the correct way. Much of the original prospect core has developed and graduated into pro roles. While the young core is not quite ready to be the deciding factor in games, it will begin in 1994 to attain valuable pro experience that will help the team down the line. While the Penguins began to take a small step last season, will the upcoming season bear any more significant fruit?


Last Year:

The Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a red-hot start in the 1993 season and it looked to many around the league that the timeline for this team to compete might have been moved up a year or two ahead of schedule. GM Ryan Young had faith in his young team and put his money where his mouth was when he sent top forward prospect Mike Peca to the Edmonton Oilers to bring in a high level forward in Normand Leveille. The 30 year old Leveille might have been a bit high on the age of player that Young should have been targeting, but the veteran forward should have enough tread on the tires to be a solid leader for the next few years as the club hopefully moves into contender status. This was a welcome addition to the team this season, as the Penguins organization had already traded their 1994 1st round pick away and didn't want to make it too good of a pick for another GM to select. Unfortunately as the more developed and talented teams in the Wales Conference began to right their respective ships, the Penguins came back down to Earth and ended the season looking much closer to how they have in past seasons.


At the end of the 80-game 1993 season the Penguins found themselves a slight step ahead of the cellar dwellers of the league, as they had 5 other teams below them in the standings. Pittsburgh finished with 58 points, which was still 16 points out of a playoff spot but still a massive 20 point improvement over their 38 point 1992 campaign. Young star forward Alexei Kovalev began to show the organization that he could be relied upon to make a difference offensively as his team-leading 66 points in 80 games was a bright spot on the team. Jaromir Jagr led his team with 25 goals and came in behind Kovalev in points with 57 in 79 games. Goalie Sean Burke showed this season that he would be able to handle the starting goaltender's load as he finished with almost 3800 minutes played over the course of the season. His .860 save percentage could obviously be improved upon, but as the team's defensive core improves it is likely Burke's numbers will do the same. It was clear that the entire team has begun to lose patience and are tired of losing, especially when hearing comments from GM Ryan Young throughout the season. As the season wound down there were reports flying around that the Penguins organization would invest more than it ever has as a franchise to develop its current core in the 1994 offseason.



The Pittsburgh Penguins started off the offseason with a questionable couple of trades with the Colorado Rockies. First, they moved a 26 year old defender in Peter Popovic who should fit at the higher end of their core of players (especially after just bringing Normand Leveille in last season) for Colorado's 2nd rounder in 1994. Then, at the draft itself, GM Young traded the very same pick back to Colorado for $700,000 in cash. So, basically Popovic went to the Rockies for $700,000. This was a puzzling move for a team that should be stockpiling decent young players, even depth ones. On top of this, the Penguins still have one of the lower team salaries in the league and were not in need of shedding assets for a small amount of cash. The Colorado 2nd rounder would have been the only opportunity for GM Young to step to the podium at the 1994 Draft, but maybe his list of targeted prospects had already been picked at that late stage of the 2nd round. Update: There are rumors circling the intial trade of Peter Popovic that make it more likely that the player was traded to and from Pittsburgh so that Colorado did not lose the player in the Expansion draft for nothing. If this is the case, it would be a circumvention of the rules but nothing officially in the charter to stop the deeper teams from doing it.


GM Young did bring in a veteran defender in Rob Ramage to replace the hole left by Popovic. Young sent Pittsburgh's 3rd rounder in the 1995 draft to the Chicago Blackhawks for the aging defender who plays his game on the edge. The Penguins and Blackhawks quickly hooked up for another deal as GM Young sent $250,000 in cash to GM Minion and the Blackhawks for 30 year old veteran defender Jocelyn Gauvreau. At the end of the day, the value of Popovic is likely higher than both of these players, but an argument can be made that having 2 experienced veteran defenders available for callup could help the team in the short term. In Free Agency, GM Young also ended up not bringing in any outside help to move the cause in Pittsburgh any further forward. The mentality in Pittsburgh seems to be that they are done drafting for the time being and are laser focused on developing what they have currently on the roster to be as impactful as they can possibly be.


This was demonstrated in plain view when the Penguins managed to focus on an astounding 11 different players when it came to dedicated training camp sessions. Forwards Alexei Kovalev, Jaromir Jagr and Tony Amonte are already showing significant growth going into the 1994 season. Sergei Gonchar has begun to look like more of a legitimate pro level defender already, and goaltender Sean Burke took yet another big step forward in his development when looking year over year from 1993. On top of that, many farm level prospects were given extra attention and the timeline for a handful of them to reach the pros looks at this point to have been moved up. If the Penguins are able to keep this level of commitment towards building their team in the offseason going forward, it could be a huge turning point in the organization and increase the team's overall potential for sustained success.


The Future:

There finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans. There's no question the 20 point jump in the standings last season over 1992 was a huge step even if it didn't feel like one looking at the standings. GM Young stepped up his game in terms of activity this season in a huge way and the rewards will be reaped by the entire team going forward. If Young is able to stay patient and trust the process, the pieces are in place to come out of all of this as a contending team in the Wales conference for a while. While the team is still nowhere near the same class as the top half of the league, they are getting much closer to vying for one of the lower seeds come playoff time. Prediction: The Penguins will see another significant increase when it comes to the standings and if they don't make the playoffs outright, will be within 5 points of a berth to end the season.


Tampa Bay Lightning:


The Tampa Bay Lightning are the expansion team coming into the Wales Conference and are being led by a familiar face and former GM of multiple SMJ Championship Toronto Maple Leaf teams, Brandon Clark. We have seen the versatility of GM Clark over the years in terms of being able to run a team ready to compete, one that has had to take a step back and slowly build and one that has been ready to open the war chest and load up into a true powerhouse. Most recently, Clark's Toronto Maple Leafs fell in the 1993 SMJ Cup Finals to the Colorado Rockies and shortly thereafter it was announced that he would be stepping away to take on this new challenge.



Since obviously the Tampa Bay Lightning did not exist in 1993, we will use this section to take a look at how the expansion team did in the recent NFHL Expansion Draft. With the wealth of talent that certain teams were able to amass over the past several seasons it was obvious to league officials that the NFHL could support another pair of teams going forward. One of the lucky locations ended up being in sunny Florida in Tampa Bay. In a whirlwind of events after the crowning of the 1993 SMJ Cup Champion Colorado Rockies, the expansion lists were sent into the league by every current GM and the pair of expansion team GMs had time to create their priority lists.


GM Brandon Clark picked a familiar face in goaltender Glenn Healy with his organization's 1st pick in Round 1. This was a huge pickup for the new team, as the market for starting level goaltenders is extremely thin currently.  Another familiar face in Dino Ciccarelli was selected next. Ciccarelli has reached the point in his career where his best days are behind him, but there is no doubt he can still be of great use to a team in need of solid veteran leadership with high end skill. The Lightning managed to snag defenseman Ric Nattress with their 3rd pick, which was a huge one as it was expected Nattress wouldn't likely fall to the 2nd half of the 3rd round of picks. The talented defender still held quite a bit of trade value going into the draft exposed by Vancouver. In a pick that likely caused Hartford GM Jon Hilowitz to cringe, GM Clark selected 26 year old backup goalie Tim Cheveldae. Cheveldae is at the higher end of what most backup goalies currently look like around the league and still only being 26 years old means he will be as such or better for several years going forward. Clark's next pair of picks landed the Lightning a good young defender in 27 year old Jyrki Lumme and a very good defensive veteran forward in 30 year old Kevin Dineen. Both of these players are easily pro level players on a good team, and to be able to snag both as late as the 5th and 6th rounds was a major win.


A couple of other highlights found throughout the draft that made their way to Tampa were 28 year old forwards Marc Fortier and Steve Leach. These are a couple of decent pro forwards who are still on the right side of 30 and could grow into bigger roles with their team going forward. The Lightning also managed to grab a few decent younger prospects in Mike Sillinger from St Louis and Patrice Brisbrois from the New Jersey Devils. While neither are exactly blue chip prospects, both have time to grow into being impact professional forwards especially if given some attention by the Tampa organization in the offseason. Considering teams were able to protect an extra player once one of their players were picked, the Lightning made out pretty well in this draft and compiled a list of players that might be able to compete sooner than later if that is the direction GM Clark decides to take his team.



Right off the hop the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning Brandon Clark let it be known to the league that he was open to the idea of moving the 4th overall pick in the 1994 Entry Draft. While there were some talks being had, ultimately the pick stayed with Tampa and Clark selected Ryan Smyth with the first ever draft pick in franchise history. Smyth is a good 2-way forward prospect whose defensive skill matches his above average shot. Skating seems to be an issue for this player but he has time to grow and develop with his young club. The Lightning were the team to kick off the 2nd round with their final pick in the draft and Clark went with another forward in Curtis Brown. Brown looks extremely raw at this point with many holes in his game. Above average strength and skating ability could give Brown a shot at eventually entering the club's plans in terms of a pro career, but that would be considered a long shot at best.


The offseason trades in Tampa started off with an obvious one in the movement of the team's 3rd round pick to the Florida Panthers and Shane Matheson. Coming back to Tampa was a 23 year old speedy playmaking forward in Dale Craigwell who doesn't project to be a world beater, but could potentially still get a sniff of a pro career if things land in place for him development wise. Shortly thereafter the former Leaf players began to be shipped out of Tampa. GM Clark moved veteran forward Dino Ciccarelli for Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1995 along with a decent young forward prospect in Stephane Yelle. Yelle is still only 20 years of age and while his passing and ability to stay engaged in the game could be better, his speed and scoring make him a valued prospect and potential talented pro winger down the line. Former Leafs goalie Glenn Healy was the next one out the door and in this deal GM Clark managed to bring in defenseman Mike Rathje and Anaheim's 2nd rounder in 1995. Rathje is a stud defensive defenseman in the making as he really has no holes and has the kind of skill set that GMs drool over when looking to build a defensive defenseman. It will take some work, but Rathje projects to be on Tampa's top pair for years to come when he graduates to the pros. Tampa continued to move out the high quality veterans for good young pieces when GM Clark connected with GM Merkir of Minnesota on a deal for Ric Nattress. The full deal saw Nattress go along with Tom Tilley and Tampa's 3rd rounder in 1996 to Minnesota with Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Lukowich coming back to Tampa. The 20 year old Holmstrom was an alright pickup as a young forward that has upside and the chance for big gains going forward still. Lukowich at 18 looks to be a solid defensive prospect as well that could end up being the most valuable piece of the deal depending on the next few years of growth.


Free Agency was an area that GM Clark was very active in trying to fill out his brand new roster. Because of his new team having so many holes throughout the lineup, GM Clark had to send out several offers to players that could be had on more affordable contracts. Wilf Paiement has been a productive veteran even as recently as last season, and signed a 1 year, $350,000 contract with Tampa. Randy Carlyle and Brad Marsh are a pair of veteran defensemen that signed matching 1 year, $250,000 contracts with Tampa as well. Brothers Neal and Aaron Broten both received and signed matching 2 year, $350,000 contracts. Veteran forward Dave Christan signed a 2 year, $900,000 contract to come to Tampa as well. The sheer amount of signings Tampa made here gives the organization a ton of options going forward in terms of filling out both their pro and minor league rosters. All of the players mentioned above would be eligible to play with the big club or in the minors, so as the success of either club goes up or down so can the players.


The Future:

Judging by the moves GM Clark made throughout the offseason, earlier reports of him not necessarily wanting to wait through a long painful build might be a tad inaccurate. As the season rolls on, it's expected to see more of the veteran pieces on the Lightning moved out for prospects and picks as long as the opportunities for respectable returns present themselves. One thing GM Clark is unlikely to do is trade away assets at a discount in order to lose points in the standings. Asset management is one of GM Clark's greatest strengths and the veteran GM will undoubtedly demonstrate patience when it comes to moving out the rest of his veterans. Prediction: If the deals aren't favorable enough and the Tampa Bay Lightning get out to a good enough start, it is possible that GM Clark makes modest additions to his team in order to immediately become harder to play against in a Wales Conference that looks to be much weaker than in years past.


Campbell Conference


Norris Division


Chicago Blackhawks:


When Chicago Blackhawks GM Dan Minion came into the organization in 1990, the club was in shambles to say the least. Poor asset management, and the whittling down of talent and picks had left the Blackhawks in the unenviable position of a long and painful rebuild. As Minion enters his 4th season at the helm of the team, is there finally some room for optimism in Chicago? It looks to be that way as the Blackhawks boast one of the better young up-and-coming teams in the league and the patience and attention to development by their GM is beginning to pay off.


Last Year:

Unfortunately at first glance, one would not exactly call the 1993 campaign of the Chicago Blackhawks a success. At the end of the 1993 season, the Blackhawks finished with an abysmal 34 points. Even more surprising was the fact that this was an 8 point regression from the team's 42 point 1992 campaign. At the end of the day, this isn't necessarily a complete shock if you look at the improvements around the league of almost all the bottom teams in the NFHL. Many of the perceived core in Chicago still had not graduated to the big club and the team's pro roster consisted mainly of place holders devoid of any game-breaking talent. The overall team goals against stats regressed a bit going from 382 in 1992 to 390 a year later, but the surprising stat that provides a glimmer of optimism was the jump in team scoring from 1992 to 1993. The Blackhawks finished their 1992 campaign with only 212 goals scored over the entire season. In 1993, that number jumped significantly to 244, a 32 goal improvement year over year. If the team can start cleaning things up offensively going forward it is fully possible that the increased production continues to head in the right direction and ends up translating into more team victories going forward.


Young rising star forward Bill Guerin led the way for this young team just missing out on a 60 point campaign with 58 in 79 games played. Guerin managed to hit the 20 goal milestone and led all Blackhawk forwards with 202 hits. Guerin has begun to prove early on in his career that he is the type of player that will do it all for his team and possesses the ability to almost will his team to victory on some nights. Veteran forward Ari Haanpaa ended up 2nd on the team in points with an even 50 and was closely followed by veteran defender Brad Shaw with 48. Lack of production from the forwards was clearly the team's main issue and as more of the young stars graduate from the minor league club the issue should hopefully repair itself.



There was much talk of GM Dan Minion having the 3rd overall pick in the 1994 draft on the trade block. Minion was looking to add a top end young defender but at the end of the day the price ended up being too high on his targets for him to be able to pull the trigger on a deal. This lack of opportunity ended up being a blessing in disguise as the talented and dynamic prospect Patrick Elias made a surprising fall to 3rd pick. Elias was considered by many as the consensus number 1 pick in the draft, which (although debatable) could still be considered the case today in terms of where each top prospect is at. Elias already possesses elite speed, passing and scoring for his age and as age fills his other holes he should fit into a top 6 role in Chicago in the coming years. With the 19th overall pick, GM Minion selected another solid forward who should have gone much earlier in PJ Axelsson. The smooth skating, speedy forward has no real deficiencies in his game at this stage in his young career and could develop into a serviceable pro player at a rather quick pace. Axelsson was one of the more complete forwards in the draft this season.


Right off the hop this offseason, GM Minion was able to unload bruising defender Dean Kennedy to the Florida Panthers for $250,000 in cash. He sent an aging forward with discipline issues in Taylor Hall to the Buffalo Sabres for a younger depth defenseman in Brad Werenka. GM Minion then sent Chris Jensen to Colorado for a new bruising defender in Rob Ramage, but then immediately flipped Ramage to the Pittsburgh Penguins for their 3rd round pick in 1995. The Blackhawks then sent their own 3rd in 1997 to the New York Islanders to bring in a veteran defensive forward in Richard Zemiak. Zemiak could be useful in an extremely limited role as his temper has been known to get the best of him at times. The roster churn continued, as Jocelyn Gavreau was sent to Pittsburgh for $250,000. GM Minion put his money where his mouth was in terms of the Blackhawks expected ascent in the Campbell conference as he sent his own 1st in 1996 to the Minnesota North Stars to bring in the San Jose pick in the same draft as well as defenseman Moe Mantha and $500,000 in cash. This could be a move that comes back to bite Chicago in a couple of years, but could Chicago could also end up near or even ahead of San Jose in the standings by 1995 and have also gained a couple extra assets. Finally, GM Minion wrapped up his preseason trades with the acquisition of top end defensive prospect Ian Moran from the Buffalo Sabres for forward prospect Markus Naslund. This trade seems to work out for both teams as the Blackhawks needed a high end young defender and Buffalo had plenty to spare as well as the need for a top forward prospect.


In terms of Free Agency there were no major splashes made in Chicago, but a trio of fringe pro players did sign up and become Blackhawks. For defensive depth, GM Minion inked 32 year old depth defender Valeri Shiryaev to a 2 year, $750,000 deal. Veteran forward Dave Reid signed a matching 2 year, $750,000 deal and should provide a solid option in the bottom 6 group of forwards with the Blackhawks for at least this season. Defensive forward Bob Sweeney was also handed a 2 year deal, but was awarded a nicer contract coming in at $1,200,000 per year. Sweeney could be a useful piece for both years of his contract as a shut-down bottom 6 forward that could see some penalty kill time as well. The other two players are likely on the fringe between the minors and the pro team, and both will likely be sent down next year in the 1995 season unless injuries become a concern.


The Future:

Finally there seems to be a buzz and sense of optimism in Chicago as the slow and steady build has shown signs of progress. While the Blackhawks took a step back in the standings this past season, a lot of that can be attributed to placeholders being moved out slightly before the core was able to fill their shoes. The 1994 season could see more of the young core taking actual steps to not only replace the older and less talented vets, but also begin to surpass and exceed the kind of impact those players were able to make. While playoffs are still unlikely for the Blackhawks we should see a decent forward step in the standings this season, just maybe not in terms of ranking in the Campbell Conference. Prediction: This could be a discouraging season for the Blackhawks and their fans in terms of expectations of where the team will end up in the standings. While it is likely the Blackhawks will finish with more points this season, the more competitive Campbell Conference could keep the team around the bottom 3 of the conference for one more season.


Colorado Rockies:


What can we say about the Colorado Rockies? The franchise has been at the top of the league for as long as anyone can remember and has got to be considered the closest thing to a dynasty that the NFHL has ever seen at this point. The amount of Campbell Conference finals and SMJ Cup finals appearances over the last decade is eye-popping and completely unheard of when looking at the talent around the NFHL. On the other hand, the true test for the Rockies might be in what's to come, because going into the 1994 season the Campbell Conference may have never been this competitive.


Last Year:

The Colorado Rockies and their fans can go ahead and chalk up the 1993 season as yet another all-out win for their franchise. For starters, the regular season was literally more successful than we have ever seen from a team. Before the season began, GM Mike Smith pulled off a vintage Colorado trade in which he was able to move a couple of aging veteran players right before their "best before date" for an up and coming player on the verge of becoming a superstar. Despite several reports that the player was not on the trade block, GM Smith was able to pry dynamic forward Vincent Damphousse out of San Jose for Russ Courtnall and Todd Bergen. Damphousse went on an absolute heater throughout the 1993 season to finish with 31 goals and 91 points. He also led his entire team in plus/minus with a ridiculous +54 to end the regular season. 


At this point, Colorado has just been built into a well-oiled machine that can run over teams for the entire regular season and for most if not all of the postseason for that matter. Despite several teams at the top of the league loading up to do their best to match the firepower that the Rockies possessed last season, the Colorado Rockies still managed to have the most successful regular season in league history. The Rockies finished the 1993 regular season with an unheard of 133 points, going 66-13-1 over the course of the 80-game season. Their 403 goals scored were the most in the league, and their extremely stingy 216 goals against for the season was only bested by the Dominator-led Toronto Maple Leafs who finished with 213. Special teams had a lot to do with the team's success in all areas of the ice. The Rockies finished the year with the 3rd and 4th ranked power play and penalty kill  units respectively, which had a massive effect on the team's success considering the significant increase on penalties taken this past season. They led the league in shots for, averaging 32.9 shots per game over the course of the season. The Rockies were also by far the stingiest team in the league when it came to shots against, as their average of 23.3 shots against was almost a full 2 shots fewer than the 2nd best in the category, the Buffalo Sabres.


The playoffs went almost as smoothly as a team could hope for, taking out the team's 16-0 sweep from a couple of years ago. Surprisingly, the 8th seed San Jose Sharks gave the Rockies the most trouble in the postseason, pushing the eventual SMJ Cup Champs to game 6 before bowing out in the opening round. The Rockies went on to make relatively quick work of the Minnesota North Stars and Detroit Red Wings, as they dispatched both teams in only 5 games each. Then came the SMJ Cup Finals, where an absolute war of the titans was expected. Surprisingly, it isn't often that both top seeds in their conference make it all the way to the Cup Finals but the NFHL fans were treated to a best-on-best showdown for all the marbles in 1993. Even more surprisingly, the series was about as anti-climactic as one could be as the Rockies managed to sweep the Toronto Maple Leafs in 4 straight games and lock up the franchise's 3rd championship in the last 5 seasons. The opening trio of games all ended up being decided by a single goal, but also saw the great Dominik Hasek chased from his crease after letting in 5 goals in each. The 4th game finally saw the Rockies held to 3 goals, but the Leafs' extra attention to defense cost them on the offensive side as they were only able to score a single goal on Kelly Hrudey. The Championship win signaled the legacy of this Rockies core potentially being known as the most significant dynasty in league history, as another potential dynasty in the Toronto Maple Leafs skipped town to Columbus, Ohio and was handed off to a brand new management team.



As is usually the tradition in Denver, the Colorado Rockies and their management waste little time on celebrations and immediately look to make their team significantly better going into the beginning of the offseason. Right off the bat, GM Mike Smith managed to swing a deal with the St Louis Blues' then GM Pat Blais to snag a trio of 2nd round picks in the upcoming 1994 draft for $2,550,000 in cash. Before the ink was dry on that deal, Smith flipped the least valuable of the picks to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 26 year old serviceable depth defender in Peter Popovic. We have already gone over why this deal made no sense for Pittsburgh, but it was the perfect deal for GM Smith to make. Popovic is currently able to be hidden in the minors and called up as one of the best possible depth options if a couple of Colorado's main defenders go down to injury. GM Smith's next move was a big one, as he brought in stud defender Gerald Diduck from Buffalo at the beginning of the team's teardown. Diduck projects to likely slot into Colorado's top 4 on an already stacked defensive core after the completion of training camp. Colorado's next move came at the draft, where they managed to recover the pick sent to Pittsburgh in the Popovic trade for a modest $700,000 in cash.


The Popovic deal made depth defender Sylvain Cote expendable in Colorado and he was flipped to the new Toronto Maple Leafs franchise for their 2nd rounder in 1997. GM Smith then sent another depth defender in 32 year old Ilya Byakin to the Winnipeg Jets along with a 2nd rounder in 1995 for Rob Ramage and a 2nd in 1996. Ramage was then swapped with Jensen in Chicago who was then flipped with recent draftee Eric Boulton to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Steve Rooney and a 3rd rounder in 1997.  Essentially it boiled down to the 32 year old depth defender with discipline issues being turned into a slightly younger depth forward in Rooney who is known to have more restraint in his game. Still, GM Smith went on to say he was looking for his signature Rockies 'blockbuster' deal of the offseason. While the Diduck deal was a nice addition, GM Smith felt he could come out with a bigger deal. After some back and forth, the Rockies and Red Wings managed to connect on a huge deal that sent Rockies Carey Wilson and Hannu Virta along with bottom 6 forward Kip Miller to the Red Wings for one of the best defensemen in the league in Petr Svoboda along with a 1st in 96, a 2nd in 95 and $700,000 in cash. Svoboda is a dynamic defensive defenseman who has unparallelled IQ in the defensive zone along with an above average shot for a defenseman. The 28 year old is just entering the prime of his career and could still improve and become one of the best defensemen in league history. The picks were then flipped shortly thereafter to the new Toronto Maple Leafs along with another 2nd in 1995 and a longshot prospect in Greg Walters for $5,000,000 in cold hard cash along with the bruising yet talented sniper Pat Verbeek. Only time will tell how the two picks and the prospect turn out, but to get that amount of cash along with a player the caliber of Verbeek was a massive win for Colorado.


In a rare turn of events, the Colorado Rockies were actually involved in making some draft picks at the 1994 Entry Draft. GM Mike Smith has not been known to hold on to picks (or prospects for that matter) for very long, as he will generally leverage those assets into bringing in players that are able to help his team right away. Smith has also gone on record as saying he likes to see the assets and not gamble on what a player might turn into before drafting them. GM Smith actually had 4 darts to throw at the board, as the Rockies stepped to the podium on draft night to make 4 picks in the 2nd round of the draft. Jason Strudwick, Eric Boulton, Brett Lindros and Eric Fichaud were the 4 players picked by Colorado. None of the players turned up to training camp looking all that spectacular, as even Boulton's overall outlook was extremely bloated by his elite level of strength at such a young age. Jason Strudwick was the pick that ended up being the most worthwhile and has lived up to his mid 2nd round pedigree up to this point. Lindros and Fichaud both project to be career minor leaguers at this point unless they are able to develop by leaps and bounds over the next few seasons.


Another area that has normally not been one the Rockies have dipped their toes into has been the aspect of RFA offer sheets. With their new draftees not turning out quite how the organization hoped, GM Smith went on the offensive and began trying to leverage the group's value against some of the restricted free agents on different teams across the league. At different points throughout the week the Rockies sent offer sheets out to Chris Simon of the Toronto Maple Leafs, John Slaney of the Vancouver Canucks, Mikael Renberg of the Philadelphia Flyers and Oleg Petrov of the New Jersey Devils. Considering the overall lack of quality represented in the group of draftees used for potential compensation, all of the affected GMs quickly matched the offer sheets and retained their own players at the higher cost. Will these predatory offer sheets cause certain GMs to hold a grudge and look for some revenge down the line if contract negotiations with a player in Colorado ever stall out and spill over into Free Agency? It will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on in the coming offseasons.


The Future:

At this point, it would be silly to expect anything less than what we have seen from the Colorado Rockies up to this point... to a certain extent. The biggest strength of the Colorado Rockies over the last several seasons has been their ability to roll at least 3 full lines that would likely be the top line on almost any other team. Their recent ability to add 3 pairs of defense that would likely be top pairs on most teams further solidified their stranglehold at the top of the league. Recent NFHL rule changes have seemingly changed the mindset of GM Smith to a certain extent, moving out a 3rd liner (on Colorado) in Carey Wilson in order to bring in a younger and more talented defenseman in Svoboda. Finally, it looks like Colorado might be slowly turning into more of a 2-line team in terms of forwards, which makes it at least slightly more likely that some of the other elite teams can more closely compete with them. The aging out of some of the top forwards on the team could further solidify this occurrence, but for this season we should be expecting more of the same from Colorado. Prediction: Although it is unlikely that Colorado is able to separate themselves as much from the pack in terms of both regular season and postseason success, we believe Colorado will make it to the Cup finals and win another championship in 1994.


Columbus Blue Jackets:


In a wild turn of events that nobody saw coming, last season's Toronto Maple Leafs finished just shy of winning another SMJ Cup and immediately packed up shop and moved the whole organization to Columbus, Ohio. To see one of the NFHL's most successful franchises just pack up and relocate after such a successful season was a bit of a shocker. Another one was original franchise GM Brandon Clark handing in his resignation and taking up the mantle as the inaugural GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Was there a major disconnect between management and ownership about the sudden relocation? At any rate, the franchise has had some new blood pumped into it with new GM John Blair taking over the chair and it will be interesting to see what direction the team heads from here on out.


Last Year:

For anyone outside of the Colorado Rockies organization, you really couldn't ask for a better season than we saw out of the Columbus Blue Jackets (then Toronto Maple Leafs) last season. The already phenomenal Dominik Hasek reached an even new level of excellence in the crease, as the stingy defensive team ended the 1993 season with the fewest goals allowed at only 213. The team also finished comfortably at the top of the extremely competitive Wales conference with 120 points in the standings, which was also enough to be 2nd overall in the league behind the record-setting Colorado Rockies. NFHL titans the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres followed the Jackets (Leafs) in the next pair of standings spots and were 6 and 7 points behind them respectively. Longtime Toronto superstar Glenn Anderson put in another unbelievable season, finishing with 44 goals and 120 points. Anderson also led the entire league in hits with 273 and could have easily been selected for the Hart Trophy instead of Buffalo's Michel Goulet with little valid argument from anyone. As was the case with the Rockies and their success, the Jackets (Leafs) can attribute much of their success to special teams. The power play was top ranked in the league at 24.3%, and the penalty kill was also the best in the league at an incredible 88.5%. The team was about middle of the pack in the league in terms of the amount of penalties taken, which didn't seem to have much of an effect on the success rate of the pk squad. After spending much of the season in a back-and-forth battle for the top spot in the Wales with the Buffalo Sabres, the Sabres ended up faltering and the consistency of the Blue Jackets (Maple Leafs) vaulted them safely into that top seed yet again going into the 1993 playoffs.


The 1993 Playoffs seemed to be going according to plan as much as it could for a team competing in a murderer's row such as the Wales conference has been, lately. The Blue Jackets (Maple Leafs) managed to dispatch their 1st round matchup in the Quebec Nordiques relatively quickly as it only took them 5 games to move on. Game 2 of the series might have concerned fans a bit as Hasek was beaten 5 times in the loss. The next pair of games were also red hot offensive track meets but by game 5 the Jackets (Leafs) had figured out how to contain the offense of the Nordiques and sent them home with a 3 to 1 defeat. The 2nd round series might have caused fans to get a little more nervous. Despite going up 2 to 0 in the opening pair of games against the Philadelphia Flyers, game 3 resulted in the Flyers shutting out the Jackets (Leafs) by a score of 3 to 0. The Jackets (Leafs) came back to win game 4 but lost a close one in game 5 to fail to eliminate their opponents. Game 6 was one that caused Leafs fans to breathe a sigh of relief as the team managed to close out the series with a 5 to 3 win. In a battle of the Wales titans, the Conference Finals had to be decided between the top 2 seeds.The Sabres kept it close in every game, save for a blowout win from each team midway through the series. Eventually, the Sabres bowed out to the Jackets (Leafs) in only 5 games. As stated earlier in Colorado's write-up, the SMJ Cup finals were extremely disappointing for the Leafs Nation, as the Rockies dispatched the club in 4 straight games to complete the sweep and send the Toronto franchise into an offseason full of question marks.



The team's previous GM, Brandon Clark had already emptied the draft cupboards before GM Blair took over the reins. Unfortunately this made for a rather boring draft night, as Columbus did not step up to the podium to make a single pick in their first ever draft.


New GM John Blair did start to get his hands dirty with some trading early on in the offseason, and who is more likely the opening trade partner than the notorious Shane Matheson and the Florida Panthers! Blair moved defenseman Doug Bodger to Florida for aging depth forward Vladimir Krutov. There's no sugar coating it - this was an absolutely egregious trade and has got to be one of the coldest welcomes to the league a wily veteran GM can show a guy who is new to the party. The 33 year old Krutov is well past his best before date and is a minor league player at this point in his career. The 28 year old Bodger is a dependable lower pair defenseman just entering the prime of his career and is worth far more than Krutov at this point in each of their careers. While the Jackets still have one of the best defensive cores in the league, there had to be a better forward out there to move Bodger for if that was the ultimate goal. The other move GM Blair made this offseason was with another notorious vet by the name of GM Mike Smith in Colorado. This move involved marginally less valuable pieces on both sides but doesn't look like one that would lean in favor of the Jackets, either. The move saw veteran forward Chris Jensen along with newly drafted prospect Eric Boulton come to Columbus in exchange for Steve Rooney and Columbus' 3rd round pick in 1997. While Jensen is a year younger, he is much more of a liability to be taking penalties and both players are on the wrong side of 30 anyway. Boulton as a prospect looks to be about worth a 3rd round pick, but the unknown value of the Columbus 1997 pick would likely fetch a better value at this point than Boulton would. At best, the trade could be considered a wash, with a slight advantage going to Colorado, receiving the more disciplined player and potentially more valuable 3rd rounder. These types of moves will happen to even experienced and savvy GMs from time to time and both Blair's opening trades will be learning experiences to aid him in the rest of his NFHL career.


The Blue Jackets did not get into the Free Agent Frenzy this offseason. To be fair, GM Blair did inherit a championship level team with minimal losses to expansion, UFA and retirement. That being said, there could have been a few opportunities for depth signings in order to flesh out the roster in the case of injuries. It is possible that it is the plan of GM Blair to add some more players via trade, but with only 7 defensemen spread across the entire organization, that is a major concern going into the 1994 season. A player like Doug Bodger would have been the perfect guy to keep around, in retrospect.


The Future:

The Columbus Blue Jackets immediately vault themselves into the top of the Campbell Conference and will likely be battling it out with the likes of the Rockies, Red Wings, Jets and Oilers for a top 4 seed going into the 1994 playoffs. After expansion took away a serviceable forward in Dino Ciccarelli and a starter-level backup and overall valuable trade piece in Glenn Healy, the Blue Jackets have started to have some concerns about the depth of their team and might look to make some changes going forward depending on how their season starts out. Prediction: GM Blair will likely start out slowly and learn the ins and outs of the NFHL before making any major moves. If he takes the expected slow and measured approach this season, the Blue Jackets will finish in one of the top 4 spots in the Campbell Conference and oust one of the other big Campbell players into settling for 5th seed. Hasek is just that good.


Detroit Red Wings:


Only a couple of short seasons ago, the Detroit Red Wings organization was in utter disarray. Longtime GM Paul Kennedy had begun what looked to be either a rebuild or some sort of retool, sending some top end veterans out for youth and picks. Then, suddenly and unceremoniously, the GM resigned his post and left the team in someone else's hands. A first-time GM by the name of Marko Vukicevic took over for a short time, but after looking at the state of his team and the competition within the Campbell Conference and the league as a whole, didn't believe he had the patience it would take to become competitive. Suddenly in the blink of an eye, GM Greg Sykes has taken the organization out of such an uncertain time and made it one of the few favorites that could do some serious damage in the Campbell Conference for some time.


Last Year:

The Red Wings continued to be successful in the regular season despite teams like the Winnipeg Jets and LA Kings having breakout seasons as well. GM Sykes' deal with GM Clark of the then Toronto Maple Leafs proved to be a genius move, as John Chabot shone in his first real opportunity in a top line role. Chabot scored 101 points and almost reached the 40 goal mark finishing with 38 on the season. Other former Maple Leafs had career seasons as well. Brian Bellows finished the season with 42 goals and 99 points, as well as leading the team in plus/minus with an unbelievable +40 rating. Dave Babych also did well, scoring 64 points and finishing the season with a +38 rating. Newly acquired starting goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck just missed getting 40 wins, finishing with 39 in the regular season. His numbers were decent considering the improved offense around the league, as 'Beezer' finished with 3.19 goals against average and an .868 save percentage to finish the year. The Red Wings finished the season with 110 points, which is the highest number of points the team has finished a season with since their franchise best 120 point Norris Division winning season in 1983. This is an even more incredible feat when considering the fact that the Red Wings finished the 1991 season with 73 points, just a couple of seasons ago.


While the playoffs had some early success, it was certainly a year that the Red Wings were hoping to take more of a step further than they did. Things started out better than anyone could have expected, as the Wings were able to dispatch their opening round opponents, the Vancouver Canucks in a 4-game sweep. The 2nd round matchup for the Red Wings was against the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings looked like a legit SMJ Cup contender after a successful regular season but were absolutely no match for what was looking like a playoff juggernaut in this Detroit team. The Red Wings quickly swept the Kings in another 4 games, heading quickly to the Campbell Conference Finals. Unfortunately for the Wings, this is when they ran into the ultimate challenge in the eventual Championship team the Colorado Rockies. Wings fans had to be elated after their team managed to come away with the 4 to 2 opening game victory in Denver. Unfortunately, the Rockies were able to adjust and quickly won the next 4 games, ending the series and Detroit's successful season in 5 games. While a loss to Colorado may have been the most likely outcome, one would have to think there was a lot of disappointment in Detroit as the organization went into the offseason thinking about what adjustments might be made to take the next step.



GM Sykes had a pair of 1st round picks going into the 1994 NFHL Entry Draft, although unfortunately both were in the later part of the round as both Buffalo and Detroit had made it to their respective Conference Finals. Sykes stepped to the podium to make both picks and selected forwards Ryan Johnson and Paul Healey back to back with the 23rd and 24th picks. At this early stage in development, Ryan Johnson looks to be the better of the picks as the defensive forward has the tools to hopefully eventually carve out a bottom six and penalty killing role on a pro team. Healey at this point in his development looks to be quite a bit further behind and at this point projects to likely be a career minor leaguer depending on how the next few years of development turn out. Detroit also held on to their 2nd round pick in the draft and with the 48th overall pick selected another forward in Chris Wells. While Wells has unbelievable strength at his young age, the other holes in his game might be too difficult to overcome in order to have a successful career. His skating is far below average, and he doesn't have much ability to put the puck in the net at all either. Still, in a draft not known for having a ton of great prospects, grabbing Johnson with a late 1st rounder wasn't a bad pick and the other two could still surprise us down the road.


The Red Wings continued to make tweaks to their team, as GM Sykes pulled the trigger on a deal with the Florida Panthers. The deal saw the teams switch veteran forwards with Jan Erixon going along with Montreal's 3rd in the recent 1994 Entry Draft to Florida for Brent Ashton and $750,000 in cash. Ashton makes more money at this point and is a pending UFA but is clearly the more talented of the two forwards as well. When word of the Sabres' teardown reached Detroit, GM Sykes moved on the opportunity to bring in a game changer. The scoring phenom Denis Savard was acquired from Buffalo along with a bit of cash for defensive prospect Richard Matvichuk and Detroit's 1st rounder in the upcoming 1995 draft. If that deal wasn't a big enough game changer, their next one might have topped it, as the Red Wings parted with newly acquired franchise defenseman Petr Svoboda along with their 2nd in 1995 and 1st in 1996 for top end forward Carey Wilson, a top pair caliber defenseman in Hannu Virta and a decent young bottom 6 forward in Kip Miller. While Svoboda was the clear prize, GM Sykes might have made a move that provided him with the amount of depth it would take to have a chance of going toe to toe with the Rockies going forward. This was likely a win for both teams, but their potential matchup in the upcoming 1994 playoffs could determine the true winner.


Detroit managed to make a single Free Agency signing, bringing in veteran forward Mitch Lamoureux on a 1 year, $300,000 deal. As the team was already pretty well stocked and salary beginning to hit the highest they've ever been in Detroit, it was clear that GM Sykes would take a much more measured and careful approach. Sykes also tried to sign a minor RFA in Quebec to a modest offer sheet, as 22 year old Brian Savage signed a 1 year, $749,999 offer sheet to play for Detroit. The Quebec Nordiques organization ended up matching the offer sheet and retaining their player.


The Future:

The Detroit Red Wings are in it to win it right now. They didn't have much in terms of a prospect or pick war chest to add, but they managed to get a trio of key pieces that should assist the team in taking another step forward. While the Campbell conference has become much more competitive than it was before, the Red Wings have upped their game again and anything less than an SMJ Cup win will be considered a failure. Prediction: With the higher overall talent level in the Campbell Conference it is unlikely to see the Red Wings improve on their 110 point 1993 campaign. However, if there is a team that has the ability to upset the Colorado Rockies in the Conference Finals (or before depending on seeding) it would be the Red Wings. If the Rockies do not escape the Campbell Conference finals it will be because of the Detroit Red Wings.


Minnesota North Stars:


Partway into the 1992 season we saw the return of one of the most notrious GMs in NFHL History, Glenn Merkir. Merkir previously was at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens organization and led them to back-to-back SMJ Cup Championships in 1987 and 1988. He took over the mantle in Minnesota in a very tumultous state, as the previous management group had rung off several questionable trades and bled away countless assets over the last several seasons. Merkir's desire to trade might only be eclipsed by Shane Matheson himself, but the North Stars GM has also shown over the years that he will not be found on the losing end of many (if any) of those trades. After Merkir's 1st full season at the helm of his new team, it's time to see where the organization sits.


Last Year:

In the 1993 regular season, we saw the Minnesota North Stars finish with a perfect .500 season, going 36-36-8 over the course of the 80 games. Another eyebrow raising stat of the season for the North Stars was that they also almost finished dead even on goal differential. Minnesota's 301 goals scored over the course of the season just narowly edged out the team's 300 goals scored against, giving the team a +1 goal differential on the season. There might not have ever been a better definition of a .500 hockey club in NFHL history. While obviously the fans in Minnesota would prefer their team to be a world-beater top cup contender on a yearly basis, most would likely have a sense of relief that the very definition of stability and balance seems to be flowing throughout the team. Most team stats fell almost directly in the middle of the pack in terms of Special teams, shots for/against, etc. However, rather unsurprisingly, the North Stars finished with the 2nd lowest penalty minutes against with a paltry 16.2 per game. That has been the hallmark for a Glenn Merkir team for years, and was largely speculated as a significant reason to help explain why the Canadiens were able to upset more talented teams on paper to win their cups.


Real evidence of the giant killing Merkir teams came in the form of the opening round of the 1993 NFHL Playoffs. The Winnipeg Jets had just closed out their 2nd most successful regular season ever, finishing with 114 points. Technically their franchise best season set in 1980 should have an asterik considering the league played 84 games per season as opposed to the 80 games the teams in the league play at the present time. Regardless, the Jets were heavily favored in this matchup and expected to go at least as far as the Campbell Conference finals to battle it out with their expansion cousins the Colorado Rockies. The Jets actually managed to take the opening game of the playoffs by a score of 5 to 3, but that would turn out to be their last win of the season. The Minnesota North Stars proceeded to ring off 4 straight victories to complete the massive upset and get fans thinking about the possibility of an actual serious playoff run after just a single full year under Merkir's leadership. Unfortunately, those dreams went up in smoke rather quickly as their round 2 opponents were the eventual SMJ Cup Champion Colorado Rockies. The Rockies absolutely blew out the North Stars in the opening pair of games by scores of 6 to 1 and 7 to 0 respectively. Then, the North Stars managed to figure things out and won an important game 3 by a score of 4 to 1. Sadly, the old saying that a team is not in trouble until they lose at home came into play in game 4 as the Rockies took a close one in Minnesota to go up 3 to 1 in the series. The North Stars kept it close again in game 5 but ended up falling 5 to 3 to the champs. Still, a significant regular season improvement followed by a massive upset in the opening round was certainly cause for optimism going into the 1994 offseason.



Going into the 1994 Entry Draft, the Minnesota North Stars did have some draft capital. With the 21st overall pick, GM Merkir selected defensive prospect Brad Lukowich. Lukowich looks to be a well rounded player early in his career and has all the tools needed to become a good pro defensive defenseman (just maybe not for the Minnesota North Stars, but more on that later). With a pair of 2nd round picks in the draft, Merkir made both picks and brought in another young defenseman in Shane Hnidy as well as forward Dave Scatchard. Both players look to be what one would expect with a 2nd round pick in this rather shallow draft. Hnidy looks to be a defensive minded defender who needs to work quite a bit on passes out of the zone. Scatchard is a fairly well-rounded prospect with above average speed for his age, but needs to develop nicely in all areas to have his professional dreams realized. Still, Scatchard provides decent value for a prospect picked that late in the 2nd round.


Going into the 1994 Draft, the North Stars didn't actually have a 1st round pick at all until swinging a deal with the Anaheim Ducks. The North Stars acquired that late 1st rounder (originally held by the Florida Panthers) along with young defensive prospect Rory Fitzpatrick for Sergei Krivokrasov and Columbus Blue Jackets' 1st round pick in 1995. This was a deal that looked to help both teams, as the Ducks had a surplus of defensemen and looked to add a comparable forward to its core. The acquisition of Fitzpatrick also added another defenseman to the Minnesota prospect pool, making another recently drafted one expendable in a deal later in the offseason. Shortly after this deal, GM Merkir parted ways with veteran forward Doug Shedden and 28 year old defenseman Robert Dirk for a younger defenseman in the 25 year old Robert Svehla and a mid level forward prospect in Craig Darby along with $1,000,000 in cash. GM Merkir must see a ton of potential in the 21 year old defensive forward prospect Darby because at first glance the loss of Shedden seems a bit much for the pair of players coming back. The mindset did seem to be bringing in younger players that would be able to play with Khristich going forward for a long time, though and Svehla falls right in that age range. The North Stars continued to add, as they sent newly drafted prospect Brad Lukowich along with prospect Tomas Holmstrom to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a high end veteran defender in Ric Nattress, along with a 28 year old depth defender in Tom Tilley and Tampa's 3rd rounder in 1996. The 32 year old Nattress continues to help solidify that 2nd pair of defense, while Tilley becomes an automatic replacement of Dirk but is also able to be sent to the minors if not needed to start the season. Lastly, GM Merkir took a gamble on acquiring the Chicago Blackhawks' 1st rounder in 1996 in exchange for veteran defender Moe Mantha, San Jose's 1st in 1996 and $500,000 in cash. It's still up in the air who wins this deal, but if the San Jose Sharks continue to be a playoff team and the Blackhawks are unable to crack the top 8, Merkir could have just acquired a potential lottery pick for the 1996 draft.


The Minnesota North Stars did not make any major splashes in Free Agency this offseason. Generally GM Merkir has been one to be careful with salary and likely any player that would have been an upgrade for the team would have carried a higher price tag than the organization was willing to meet. Merkir did take the chance on an overager undrafted 19 year old prospect by the name of David Roche. Roche is a smooth skating forward with elite level strength for his age, but needs a lot of development pretty much across the board in all of the other facets in his game to become a possibility at the pro level. Still, for a team still looking to recoup young assets after losing so many in previous years, this was a nice dart to throw at the board with no real downside if things don't work out.


The Future:

It should be expected that the Minnesota North Stars take another step forward this upcoming 1994 season. Young forward up and coming stars Jeremy Roenick and Dimitri Khristich look to have added quite a bit to their respective games over the summer and into training camp. As well, franchise netminder Martin Brodeur has finally hit the stage of being considered a legitimate starting goaltender ready to take on the lion's share of starts this upcoming season. There will undoubtedly be several other changes to the team over the course of the regular season as beneficial moves present themselves to the veteran GM. Prediction: While we expect individuals on the team to have vastly improved seasons, the overall team success might not be as evident coming out of the 1994 regular season. The addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the resurgance of the Edmonton Oilers going forward likely catapaults both teams ahead of the North Stars at least for the upcoming season. Despite comfortably making the playoffs in 1993, the North Stars could be the most respectable team to be on the Campbell Conference playoff bubble in a while.


St Louis Blues:


The St Louis Blues organization and their fans have been through quite a bit recently, with the sudden and unfortunate news of long-time GM Pat Blais having to take a step away from the team in order to deal with personal family issues and a brand new relatively unknown GM by the name of Lenny Iannizzotto has stepped in to take over just as the 1994 season is about to begin. Little is known about GM Iannizzotto other than the rumor that he might have ties to 1992 SMJ Cup Champion GM Jon Hilowitz. Fans in St. Louis are hoping that his relationship with such a veteran NFHL GM should help Iannizzotto get the lay of the land quickly and help the St. Louis Blues continue to progress further than they have in previous years.


Last Year:

After an extremely disappointing showing in 1992 where the St Louis Blues missed the playoffs by 11 points, finishing the season with only 67 after 80 games, the team rebounded in a big way. The Blues ended the 1993 regular season exactly 11 points better year over year and secured the 7th seed in the Campbell Conference with 78 points. The team's 8-2-0 record in the final 10 games of the season was obviously a huge part of this, so the Blues fans have got to be thankful their team caught fire at the right time. The addition of veteran forward Anton Stastny as his 12 points in the final 16 games of the season helped propel his new team forward. Another huge piece to the puzzle was top scoring forward Kjell Dahlin. Dahlin had 39 goals, just missing the massive 40-goal milestone, along with 79 points and was a plus player with a +3 rating. In terms of team stats, special teams would definitely be a bit of a story in St. Louis. While the team's 18th ranked powerplay could have used some serious work, the penalty kill units did their job well in St. Louis, ending the year 9th overall in the league with an impressive 83.9%. An improved powerplay last season would have helped improve on their -10 goal differential and could have seen them rise even as highly as 5th seed in the Campbell Conference. Still, making it into the playoffs is the largest part of the battle as upsets are common and really anything can happen in a best of 7 series in the NFHL.


While the Blues fans ultimately did not get their wish in terms of a playoff series win, what they did get was a ton of offense and loads of goals scored. Unfortunately those goals were being scored in bunches on both sides of the ice. The St Louis Blues matched up against the 2nd seeded Los Angeles Kings and the entire series was a track meet. Not a single game in the series had less than 7 total goals scored, and there were even a couple of games where the teams combined for 13 and 14 goals. The series ended up heading all the way to game 7 and the 7th seeded Blues almost pulled off the upset. Unfortunately, the Kings prevailed in a 7 to 6 high-scoring affair and killed the Blues fans' hopes of their first SMJ Cup win since the innaugural 1971 NFHL season.



Overall, the 1994 offseason has been a quiet one in St Louis up to this point. The NFHL Entry draft was one the Blues organization entered having no picks and any attempts made by the Blues organization to obtain any were unfortunately fruitless.


One reason for the Blues' lack of activity in the draft was the big picks for cash deal that former GM Pat Blais swung with the Colorado Rockies that sent a trio of 2nd round picks to Denver for $2.55 million in cash. The Blues continued to move picks around as they traded their own pick in the upcoming 1995 Entry Draft to the Montreal Canadiens for both Florida's 1st rounder in 1996 as well as Vancouver's. The Blues continued to attempt to bolster their forward group, as they moved solid 28 year old defender Al Iafrate along with Hartford's 2nd in 1995 to Vancouver for a pair of veteran forwards in Patrick Sundstrom and Tomas Sandstrom. This was a solid deal for both teams as the Canucks shedded quite a bit of salary and got younger, while the Blues managed to add more depth to their forward group and Sandstrom in particular is only a year removed from offensively carrying the Quebec Nordiques for almost an entire season in 1992.


The bit of cash GM Blais traded those picks for was quickly eaten up once Free Agency began. GM Blais handed out one of the richer contracts of the week when the team signed veteran forward Mikko Makela to a 4 year, $3.5 million dollar deal. The 29 year old is a solid scorer with some edge to his game and should live up to at least 3 years of the 4 year deal. The Blues went on to bolster their defense corps with the signing of 29 year old Bruce Bell to a 4 year, $2.2 million dollar deal. Bell is a smooth skating relatively dependable defender whose passing ability is his best trait. The Blues also signed veteran defender Ron Meighan to a slightly lower number at $1.5 million for 3 years. Meighan has a similar skill set to Bell but has been known to take more penalties when caught out of position. Meighan could start the year in the minors to keep costs down. The Blues also signed 33 year old veteran depth defender Normand Rochefort to a 2 year, $550,000 contract for another minor leaguer that could step up if defensive injuries were to get dire.


The Future:

The future of the St Louis Blues has got to be one of the bigger question marks going into the 1994 season. New leadership might not have the same vision that GM Pat Blais had in terms of the direction of the team. Many new GMs like to make their own stamp on a team right away which can occasionally set the franchise back for years. The Blues took a nice step forward last season and with the early moves made by GM Blais before he stepped back it looks to be possible that they could continue to progress positively. The Blue Jackets and Oilers throw another curveball at all of the lower seeded Campbell teams, however, as one has to consider whether or not they are better than any of the teams that were better than them last year as well as being better than the two new threats in the conference. Prediction: GM Iannizzotto will take a good chunk of games to see where his team is at before making any major changes. After that, it's anybody's guess which direction he will attempt to take the team. Our guess would be more along the lines of planning for the future.


Smythe Division


Anaheim Ducks:


It seems like only yesterday that when one thought of the Anaheim Ducks, they thought of one of the most feared teams in the Campbell Conference. If looking at the team today, the same thing could be said but maybe for different reasons. GM John Smith quickly moved the timeline of his team up but in doing so greatly shortened the window with which the team was able to compete at the highest level. After losing in the 1992 Campbell Conference Finals to the Colorado Rockies, GM John Smith immediately began to tear it down in Anaheim and do everything in his power to stockpile young assets and picks. On top of that, Smith managed to put together a professional roster that consisted of gritty violent players that would be extremely tough for other teams to play against. The top teams absolutely dread playing the Ducks as they know that none of their star players are safe.


Last Year:

The 1993 season was a rough one for the Anaheim Ducks. In a season where the league's worst teams were historically bad, the Ducks came in 4th from the bottom with 45 points in 80 games played. The Ducks actually could have seen themselves on that next tier in the standings just outside of the "cellar" with the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins if they hadn't gone on a 6 game losing streak and 1-8-1 stretch across the last 10 games. One thing was for sure, most teams were scoring a ton of goals against the Ducks on any given night. Their 434 goals against was by FAR the highest in the league and 26 more goals scored against than the bottom-feeding historically bad New York Rangers. The team's 238 goals scored was the 2nd lowest in the league, just 14 goals better than that same last place Rangers squad. In terms of special teams, the Ducks fell exactly in line with their place in the standings. The powerplay and penalty kill were both bottom 4 with their 13.1% and 80.6% respective rankings. Their penalty minutes per game was tops in the league by a WIDE margin. 62.7 penalty minutes per game was quite a wide gap above the next worst penalty taking team in the Chicago Blackhawks at 49.5. When comparing this to the lowest penalized team in the Red Wings at 15.3, one can really see the kind of effect those kinds of penalty issues can have on a team.


The Ducks' lack of success is even more magnified when examining the shots for and against the team over the course of the year. Anaheim took home the worst numbers in both of these categories, only managing to put up 22.8 shots per game and giving up an astounding 34.9 shots per game. Their goalies never really stood a chance in 1993 and the carousel in the crease should come as no surprise when looking at the work these players had to put in. Some bright spots were the career years that some players were able to have individually. Journeyman forward Mike Bullard managed to hit the 30 goal mark for the 1st time in his career and finished the season with a team-leading 68 points. His 395 penalty minutes also led the entire Ducks team. Forward Keith Crowder also had a solid season, finishing with 24 goals and reaching the 50 point mark for the 2nd most points on the team. Unfortunately the end result of this season showed that the fans and the organization was likely going to be in for some more suffering going forward as the young core that will be looked to bring the Ducks out of the doldrums will likely spend at least another full season in the minors.



It was clear early on that GM John Smith must not have been impressed with 1994's crop of prospects, as he traded his way out of whatever draft picks he possessed going into the 1994 Entry Draft. First, GM Smith traded away his 6th overall pick in the NFHL Entry Draft to acquire talented young forward Andrew Brunette along with a later 1st rounder that originally belonged to the Florida Panthers. The 20 year old Brunette looks to be the best piece of this deal so far, although Chris Drury (who was selected with Anaheim's pick) is younger and could grow quickly and catch up over the next couple of seasons. The extra 1st rounder coming back was a definite bonus in this deal. Anaheim then moved young goalie Tommy Sodderstrom back to the Florida Panthers to obtain a similar package to what he acquired the young netminder for at last season's deadline. GM Smith then sent that Florida 1st rounder to the Minnesota Northstars along with young defender Rory Fitzpatrick to acquire a young forward with similar upside in Sergei Krivokrasov along with Columbus' 1st rounder in the upcoming 1995 draft. This defender-for-forward deal looks to be somewhat of a wash at this point but could swing one way or the other depending on how Columbus finishes the season in the much more competitive Campbell Conference this season.


The Ducks managed to get a bit younger in another deal with the Florida Panthers, sending Dane Jackson to Florida for a younger forward with similar upside in Craig Johnson. The Columbus 1st rounder in 1995 that the Ducks had just acquired was flipped to the Edmonton Oilers shortly thereafter for a known quantity in young defenceman prospect Craig Rivet. GM Smith connected yet again with Florida's GM Matheson on a trade that would bring one of the nastiest forwards in the pros in David Mackey to Anaheim in exchange for Vancouver's 3rd round pick in the 1996 Entry Draft. This move showed GM Smith's further committment to the idea that if they aren't going to win a lot of games this year, they will still make things miserable on their opponents night in and night out.


In terms of Free Agency, the Ducks had already bolstered their lineup last offseason and were not in the position to really bring many other names into the organization. They did however bring in a veterand defender in Bruce Cassidy on a 2 year, $350,000 contract and he will likely play much of his time in the minors to increase the Ducks' minor league affiliate's chances of winning a title.


The Future:

It's likely to be another painful season in Anaheim for the fans of the club that aren't interested in the development of their young stars and want wins right now. For those that have the patience and are interested, the trio of Andrew Brunette, Hal Gill and Manny Fernandez all came out of the Ducks' Training Camp looking to be exceptional at their respective positions for their age. Fernandez in particular has grown into what would likely be considered a top 5 goalie prospect in the league for his age, and Brunette and fellow forward Martin Lapointe could be as close as 2 seasons away from making an impact on the organization's pro roster. Prediction: The Ducks will finish similarly to where they did this season in terms of overall league standings, but will drop to the very bottom of the Campbell Conference. The massive amount of penalties will continue to cost this team in games and it will be another season fans would like to forget.


Calgary Flames:


What a strange rollercoaster ride it has been over the years for the fans of the Calgary Flames. Stay with us here, as it might get a little bit confusing! It was not long ago that the original Washington Capitals suddenly became the Philadelphia Flyers, and vice versa. Not long after that, the same Flyers franchise packed up shop and switched locations with the original Calgary Flames. Shortly after this move the team was handed to GM Andrew Panunto and was in line for a rather long and patient rebuild. One would have thought after years of a new GM trying to stabilize the franchise that this squad would have stuck around in Calgary for a while, but with the 1994 offseason came more uncertainty and chaos for the fans of Calgary. With the unprecidented flurry of relocations and expansion happening around the NFHL this past offseason, it has become somewhat forgotten that the market of Calgary actually lost their team as it went across the country and made Montreal its new home. Thankfully for the good fans in Alberta the Flames were given the opportunity to immediately become one of the pair of new expansion teams coming into the league in 1994. This new team has been set up with a GM who is brand new to the NFHL as well in John Mosher. While Mosher is not new to the role of managing a hockey team, the 1994 season will be his rookie season here in the NFHL. The 1994 Expansion Draft was a heck of a way to start things off for the new General Manager.



As last year's Calgary Flames were already discussed in the Montreal Canadiens' profile, we will take a look at how GM Mosher's 1st major event went and examine the kind of assets he was able to assemble in the Expansion Draft. With the opening pick in the Expansion Draft GM Mosher made it count and picked a player that reportedly greatly pained GM Smith of the Rockies to lose in Alexei Gusarov. That's likely a clear indication that GM Mosher made a decent 1st pick. The Flames continued to stockpile high end defensemen as Murzyn was picked next to the Flames from the Quebec Nordiques. Next, came a couple of forwards in Kelly Buchberger and Dave McLlwain. While Buchberger has been known to take more than his fair share of needless penalties, both he and McLlwain are 27 and 26 respectively and have further steps in their game that they could take as they come into the prime years of their careers. At this point, GM Mosher made a point of addressing the crease, as he selected 26 year old backup goalie Ron Tugnutt. The backup goalie market has been notoriously thin for the last several years and doesn't look to be improving so this could be a pretty underrated pick in terms of potential value down the line. The identity of this season's Flames team looks to be leaning on the super mean side, as their next pair of selections in forward John MacLean and defenseman Dave Manson fit the mold of being talented in their respective positions but also play a gritty and undiciplined game. Their next selection of the 24 year old Marty McInnis continued to demonstrate that exact same trend.


The trio of Doug Houda, Trent Yawney and Warren Rychel have the exact same style of play as many of the previous picks made by Calgary. These players are all extremely talented and should be able to produce some points, but it will be interesting to see how often a team built like this spends on the penalty kill. GM Mosher continued to add to his stockpile of backup goalies by adding Mike Vernon and Bill Ranford from Quebec and Winnipeg respectively. Both squads have managed to fill the holes left by the departure of these netminders, so hopefully Mosher is able to find a couple of buyers as we ramp up into the upcoming season.



Once the Expansion Draft was complete, it was time for GM Mosher to get his trader hat on and see what he could get for his newfound assets. In Florida GM Shane Matheson's quest to accumulate the entire 3rd round of picks, Mosher made out ok moving his 3rd rounder in 1994 for Stu Grimson, Joaquin Gage and gritty defender Dean Kennedy. The 20 year old Gage is another netminder that adds to the currently crowded Calgary crease, but should be one of the few sticking around and hopefully developing in the minors alongside Jose Theodore. The 29 year old Grimson is another defensive forward who plays extremely gritty and occasionally quite dirty, while the same can be said about the 31 year old defender Dean Kennedy. Kennedy is an extremely talented defensive defender, but constantly finds himself getting into penalty trouble. While it's rumored that there were talks between the Colorado Rockies and Calgary Flames about the reaquisition of Alexei Gusarov, but the Edmonton Oilers came out with the better offer and got their man. The Oilers came in with a solid offer of young forward prospect Todd Bertuzzi, St Louis' 1st round pick in 1994 and Pittsburgh's 2nd rounder in 1994 in a 3 for 1 deal for the top end defender. This had to be the best move of the offseason for the new GM of Calgary as they maximized on their most valuable piece from the Expansion draft and managed to bring in a couple of high picks along with their clear-cut top forward prospect in Todd Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi is as much of a can't-miss prospect as one could find in a 19 year old as his strength is already elite and his skating and  scoring are above average for his age at this point in his career. There are no real holes in his game at this point, so the Flames have the luxury of just being able to build the young prospect.


Some good fortune shone on Calgary in terms of lottery luck, as the Flames won the 1st overall pick in the 1994 NFHL Entry Draft. While this draft was not known to be the deepest in terms of talent, the top end of it still had a handful of solid players. Many thought that forward Patrick Elias was the consensus number 1 pick, so GM Mosher's pick of defenseman Ed Jovanovski was a bit of a shocker when it happened. Overall, Jovanovski was undoubtedly a top 3 talent in this draft and ended up not being a bad pick whatsoever. That being said, the young defender does have some holes and is right on the edge of being a liability penalty wise if bad habits aren't coached out of him early in his career. With the 13th overall pick, the Flames made a solid addition to their young team with the selection of young goaltender Jose Theodore. Theodore ended up being among the best goaltenders in the draft class and early on looks to have quite a bit of potential to become a starter one day if put on the right development path. With their early 2nd round pick the Calgary Flames selected a solid young forward prospect in Richard Park. The young center needs to work on his shot to have any chance on a future top 6 role in the pros, but looks to have all the tools to grow into a decent pro forward if development goes well. The team's final selection in the Entry Draft was a mid 2nd rounder and brought in defenseman Wade Belak. Belak is a defensive minded defenseman with elite level strength for his age, but has a ton of work to do in order to develop his game into something that would work at the pro level. He has trouble making solid breakout passes and also gets caught quite a bit in his own end at this point. How the Flames organization is able to fill these holes in the years to come will determine if this player can graduate from the minors.


While the Calgary Flames didn't exactly make a huge splash in Free Agency, GM Mosher did manage to add some players to fill his roster by signing several relatively inexpensive depth contracts. They signed a pair of veteran defensemen in their mid-30s in Dave Feamster and Doug Crossman. Feamster signed a 1 year, $250,000 contract, while Crossman got a 2 year, $400,000 deal. Both players will likely be in the minor leagues but one or both could see some pro games depending on who gets injured or traded out of Calgary over the course of the season. 32 year old defender Bob McGill signed an identical deal to the Crossman one, and will provide a similar depth role to the other defender. Veteran forward Mike Allison signed a $400,000 deal for 3 years with the Flames and looks to provide the same kind of depth on forward in case the pro players in Calgary get injured or traded. GM Mosher also targeted a pair of overage undrafted prospects in Eric Boguniecki and David Ling. The two young forward prospects signed $250,000 and $275,000 deals for 2 years respectively and are just a couple of extra darts on the board that the Flames organization are hoping can take some leaps in the coming years. Finally, the Toronto Maple Leafs and their GM Kevin Huggan released 27 year old forward Tony Horacek, and the Flames were able to sign the player to a 3 year, $350,000 deal. This was a decent move as Horacek could potentially hold some sort of value on the trade market and the $350,000 salary can be cut to $35,000 if the player is buried in the minors for the forseeable future.


The Future:

The Calgary Flames are in the unique position of technically having a clean slate with a new GM and completely new roster, but are also in the unfortunate position of being in a market that has just spent years waiting for their rebuilding team to return to contention. Do the Flames come out of the gates selling off whatever veteran assets they have left and just spend the next handful of years doing what the last iteration of the Calgary Flames did? Do they take what youth they have and try to add pieces to their veteran core to become more competitive and speed up the timeline to entertain the fans? At this point, it is hard to tell what direction a brand new GM in John Mosher is planning on going in. The Gusarov trade might be an indication that the organization might be looking towards the future. One thing is for sure - until major trades are made the Calgary Flames currently look to be icing one of the meanest rosters in the NFHL, rivaling even what we are seeing coming out of Anaheim this year. Prediction: We will see GM Mosher continue to sell off assets and the Flames will end up a bottom 5 team in the league by season's end.


Edmonton Oilers:


Are Oilers fans ready for this? It feels like only yesterday that the Edmonton Oilers were an absolute powerhouse franchise, sporting names like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Tom Barasso, Jari Kurri, and so many more absolute studs. All the work done to accumulate all of these stars resulted in a single SMJ Cup win in 1986. After that, the Oilers were unable to meet the lofty expectations surrounding the team and saw the Colorado Rockies become the dynasty level team that they were expected to become. GM Mark Jones proceeded to pull the plug and began to move out almost everyone of note. When the dust settled, the Oilers came out with arguably the deepest, most talented prospect pool in NFHL history. The funny thing was, their roster still didn't look all that bad and was a fringe playoff team at its worst! Let's take a look at how the Oilers franchise as just about come full circle in extremely speedy fashion not long after their window for competition slammed shut.


Last Year:

In the last season or so, the Campbell Conference began to become a bit more competitive. In 1993, the conference had 8 teams that were clearly trying to win and secure spots in the playoffs, and the Edmonton Oilers were not one of them. Despite not being one of these teams, the Oilers still finished with 74 points in 80 games, just missing on the 8th seed in the Campbell conference by 2 points. To put it in perspective even more, the Oilers' goal differential ended the season at -1 as their 292 goals scored were just a single goal behind the 293 goals they allowed over the course of the regular season. The Oilers would have tied the 8th seed Quebec Nordiques for the 8th seed if they were in the Wales Conference, although the Nords finished with an extra win so would have taken the tie-breaker. The most obvious area that if improved even just a bit would have snuck the Oilers into the playoffs would have to be the team's Penalty Kill. The Oilers ranked dead last in the league with a 79.6% kill rate. In a season where officials seemed to be calling an unprecedented amount of penalties, this was a definite factor in the long offseason in Edmonton.


There were some bright spots in Edmonton when looking at some of the individual results of players on the team. Budding superstar forward Teemu Selanne began to show the kind of promise GM Mark Jones saw in him when he completed that blockbuster deal with the New Jersey Devils a couple of trade deadlines ago. Selanne led the Oilers in both goals and points as he finished with 32 goals and 66 points after playing all 80 games in the 1993 season. What was even more impressive for such a young player was the fact that Selanne finished the year with a +21 rating in terms of plus/minus. This is even more impressive when comparing it to the rest of the team. Dallas Drake and his +10 rating was the next closest player in this stat, which is a clear indicator of just how individually dominant the young superstar Selanne has already proven himself to be. Rookie forward Doug Weight also put together a Calder Tropy caliber season, finishing with 21 goals and 57 points. Weight was also extremely impressive defensively for such a young player as his +9 rating was among the best on the team. The success of these young forwards was certainly something for the entire Oilers team to rally around throughout a season where they just narrowly missed yet another playoff berth.



Many thought that the Edmonton Oilers would be one of the quieter teams going into the offseason. Granted, the Oilers had quite a bit of picks in the days leading up to the draft. Roster spots had started to become a premium in Edmonton, however, and adding even more prospects to the kind of pool that had accumulated within the Oilers organization seemed more than a bit redundant. With all the movement happening around the league, the wily veteran GM Mark Jones realized that despite wanting to wait another year before making moves, the time was now. First off, Jones moved up in the 1994 draft by packaging the Florida 1st along with young forward Andrew Brunette for the 1st rounder held by the Anaheim Ducks. Then, the fireworks started in Edmonton. GM Mark Jones got on the phone with Buffalo Sabres GM Brandon Johnson and pulled of a major blockbuster. Sami Kapanen, Ian Moran, Darcy Tucker, Michel Grosek and a pair of 1st rounders in the upcoming 1994 draft were shipped to Buffalo for a pair of franchise players in forward Steve Thomas and defenseman Phil Housley. Thomas has been one of the top forwards in the league production-wise for several years, but is also one of the most talented defensive forwards in the game today. Phil Housley is arguably one of the top 3 defensemen in the league and is the most elite goal-scoring defender in league history, recently setting the NFHL record for goals by a defenseman in 1991 with 29 goals. The crazy thing is, Phil Housley finished the 1993 season with 28 goals, so it is fully possible that he is able to crack the 30 goal threshold sometime during his tenure in Edmonton! Jones didn't stop there, as he connected with GM Mosher in Calgary to bring in coveted defender Alexei Gusarov for a 1st and 2nd rounder in the upcoming 1994 draft, along with top forward prospect Todd Bertuzzi. Gusarov further stabilizes a strong Edmonton blueline and if nothing else his presence in Edmonton kept a Colorado reunion off the table! GM Jones connected once more wih the Sabres this offseason for bottom-pair defender Norm Schmidt. Lastly, Jones moved out defensive prospect Craig Rivet for Columbus' 1st in 1995.


Depite giving up a lot of picks in trades leading up to the draft, the Edmonton Oilers were not without ammunition on draft day. With the 6th overall pick Edmonton receintly acquired from Anaheim, GM Jones picked forward prospect Chris Drury. Drury was one of the better players picked in the 1994 Entry Draft. Despite his scoring and passing abilities not immediately jumping off the page, both are in fine spots for his age and Drury was one of the more well-rounded players selected in the draft. Just a couple of picks later at number 8, the Oilers selected another forward in Jeff O'Neill. O'Neill looks to be near the overall caliber of Drury, yet seems a bit more of an offensive-minded player destined for the wing. If O'Neill can work on his speed over the next few years he should eventually fill the role of a top 6 scoring winger quite nicely. With lack of roster spots being a concern as well as the general opinion that players selected outside of the top 10 in the draft weren't exactly projected to be very good, Jones had moved his remaining draft picks for the 1994 Entry Draft and came out with 2 solid prospects in the top 10.


Again, the Oilers weren't able to make a giant splash during the Free Agency period as lack of roster space has certainly come at a premium. GM Mark Jones did manage to add a pair of veteran players, however. Veteran forward Joe Mullen was awarded a 1 year, $1,750,000 contract to play in Edmonton. Mullen is likely to start the season with the minor league club and only earn 10% of his current contract unless catastrophic injuries occur on the pro team. The other veteran forward brought in still possesses a decent amount of pro level skill but could also find himself on the minor league team to start the year. John Ogrodnick is a 35 year old winger with pro-level scoring and speed and he signed a 2 year, $1,750,000 with the Oilers as well.


The Future:

While the distant future seems even brighter, the immediate future coming up in 1994 will likely be an exciting one yet again for Oilers fans. The emerging stars like Weight, Selanne and Forsberg are just beginning to find their game but should be brought along even quicker getting to play with guys like Steve Thomas and Phil Housley. Goaltender Patrick Roy has also never looked better coming into a training camp and has certainly stepped into his prime going into this season. It might be premature to think that the Oilers have the firepower throughout the lineup to go toe to toe with the top of the conference, but the Oilers should be able to hold their own with most of the league. Prediction: Whether they like it or not, the Oilers are in win-now mode currently. If they do not come out with the start they are hoping for, expect to see GM Jones open up the war chest and bring in another big piece or two to speed things up even more.


Los Angeles Kings:


The LA Kings have suffered through some tumultous times but have seemingly found some stability under the supervision of current General Manager, Jamie Weatherhead. The balance between having a team that is able to compete in the present time while also focusing on developing and maintaining a talented pipeline can be a delicate one to say the least. The parity in the Campbell Conference over the last handful of years hasn't been all that high, and many teams have had to sell the future of the team in order to be able to compete with the top of the conference and the league's elite. Weatherhead has shown great patience throughout his tenure and improved his team where he could without mortgaging much of the organization's future. It will be interesting to see how much reward can be attained from trusting the process that has been set up in Los Angeles over the last couple of seasons.


Last Year:

When the 1993 season wrapped up, the LA Kings had managed to finish with the 4th seed in the Campbell Conference and their 95 points were 16 points better than the 79 points earned by the end of the 1992 season (where they finished with the 7th seed). Above the Kings in the standings at the end of the 1993 season were the higher tier of teams in the Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets and the Colorado Rockies. That tier of teams started at 15 points higher than where the Kings ended up. On the other side of things, the Canucks were the next closest team below the Kings and they finished 14 points below them, at 81 points in the 5th seed. The Kings started off the opening segment of games of the season on an absolute heater and were near the top of the league for quite a bit of it before they came back down to Earth a bit. One of the reasons for their sustained success throughout the year was the strength and effectiveness of their Powerplay. The Kings' powerplay conversion rate of 17.8% was the 7th best in the league. This really powered the team early on when the officials were calling an unprecedented amount of penalties to start the year. The Penalty Kill in Los Angeles was even more exceptional, finishing the season in 3rd place among the league at an unbelievable 87.4% kill rate. When both ends of the special teams are that good, it is certainly a recipe for success and Kings Head Coach Bryan Murray should be commended for the good work he did in these areas. Overall, the Kings finished in the lower half of the league in terms of scoring, but the defensive side of the game was much stronger and was what led the team to the kind of overall success they had this season. Much of this defensive success could be attributed to the Vezina caliber goaltending the Kings received from Ron Hextall. Hextall's 3.36 goals against average and .880 save percentage were among the league's best and a huge reason the Kings stayed near the top of the Campbell Conference. That being said, there was certainly some notable offensive success to speak of this season. Superstar forward Luc Robitaille had a breakout season, scoring 45 goals which led the entire league in this category. 'Lucky Luc' also contributed in being a harder team to play against as he was 2nd on his team with 203 hits.


In the Blues' writeup, we described at length the offensive showcase that the Kings and Blues put on in the opening round of the 1993 playoffs. The series went the full 7 games and plenty of goals were scored by both teams in every game. Ultimately, the Kings emerged victorious in game 7 as they downed the St Louis Blues by a score of 7 to 6 in another barn-burner of a game. Unfortunately for the Kings, the top-heavy Campbell Conference meant it was more likely than not that their 2nd round opponents would be one of the Rockies, Jets or Red Wings. The North Stars' upset win over the Winnipeg Jets in round 1 caused the Red Wings to be the 2nd round matchup for the Kings, and this did not seem to be a favorable one whatsoever. The Detroit Red Wings made short work of the Los Angeles Kings, dispatching them quickly in a 4-game sweep that sent Kings fans home disappointed. While the Red Wings were able to put up 6 to 3 and 4 to 1 victories in a couple of the games. The other pair of games were decided by a single goal and could have potentially swung the way of the Kings if things had just bounced a little differently. Sadly, the playoff run was cut short and the Kings would have to go into the offseason to regroup and figure out other subtle ways to add to a team that showed many flashes of brilliance at certain times throughout the season and playoffs.



The LA Kings came into the 1994 Entry Draft with quite a bit of ammo, especially in the 1st round. Unfortunately, all of the 1st rounders were in the later half of the draft and the depth of the talent pool in this one was a bit more shallow than in the past few seasons. That being said, GM Weatherhead made a really nice selection with the 17th overall pick when he brought Andreas Karlsson into the organization. Karlsson will have to put some work into getting a bit faster up and down the ice as well as being able to put the puck in the net more effectively, but he has the strength and overall skillset of a potentially nice center going forward. If he is able to grow those other parts of his game even just a bit, Karlsson will end up being a very decent top 6 forward in the pros one day. Jason Botterill was picked just 5 spots later at 22, and has a very similar look to Karlsson. Unfortunately, Botterill lacks the overall skating and passing tools that Karlsson has already begun to develop, so this late 1st rounder would be a few steps behind his new teammate. With the 26th and final pick of the 1st round of the Draft, the Kings selected a goalie prospect in Jamie Storr. The goalie pool in this draft dried up pretty quickly and Storr was one of the more underwhelming ones selected in the 1st round, unfortunately. There were a handful of more talented prospect skaters still available going into the 2nd round so it might have been more prudent to attempt to grab Storr with one of their 2nd round picks, if possible. It's too early to project were Storr's career will end up, but as it stands right now it would take a lot of work to bring the young netminder to more than a backup role once he hits his prime. If the Kings were drafting to fill the cupboards of that particular position they might have wanted to wait for a draft that had a few more talented goalies in it, but Storr could come out and surprise us all with some excellent development over the next few seasons. With the 38th overall pick, the Kings selected a forward prospect in Bill Muckalt. Muckalt doesn't jump off the page offensively or defensively, but does have above average strength and the ability to hold on to the puck better than many players his age. If the chips fall favorably over the course of his career he could carve out a nice bottom 6 role in the pros one day. With their final selection in the draft at pick 46, the Kings selected another forward in Brian Swanson. At this point, Swanson looks to be an extremely long shot to even stick in the minor leagues. Swanson came into camp extremely out of shape, getting winded in many of the opening drills, and looked to be below average in basically every metric the team looked at. If the team looks to make roster space at any point, it wouldn't be surprising to see Swanson among the first of any roster cuts being done.


Going into Free Agency, the Kings had been pretty quiet and made no moves since selecting their players at the Draft. One GM took this opportunity to strike, as Montreal GM Andrew Panunto targeted a young Kings defensive prospect in Chris Therien for a 4 year, $1,999,999 offer sheet. Therien signed the offer sheet and surprisingly, GM Weatherhead opted to let the player walk and collected compensation. The main prospect coming back for compensation was young defensive prospect Oleg Tverdovsky. Tverdovsky looks to be a more offensive minded defenseman who has been criticized as being out to lunch at times on the ice as well as being a nightmare in his own end defensively. Panunto made out like a bandit leveraging the young defender as the main piece of compensation to acquire a fine young prospect such as Therien. Also coming to the Kings was 28 year old defensive forward Marc Bureau. Bureau must have been more of the piece that Weatherhead was looking at, as his abilities could prove to be a useful addition to the Penalty Kill and bottom 6 group of forwards. GM Weatherhead did not go on to sign anybody else during the Free Agency period.


Shortly after compensation was reached between Montreal and Los Angeles, the two GMs connected for another deal that sent a 21 year old prospect with a chip on his shoulder in Darren McCarty to Montreal for Doug Zmolek and $200,000 in cash. The 23 year old Zmolek is a slight bit more controlled in his play than McCarty, but not much. At this point, the 21 year old McCarty looks to have quite a bit more upside moving forward if some work can be done to get his emotions under control. McCarty is roughly in the same spot in his development as Zmolek but is 2 years younger, so on the surface this trade looks like a pretty decent win for Montreal. Towards the end of the offseason, the Kings pulled off one more deal. The Winnipeg Jets sent veteran forward Marc Habscheid over to the LA Kings for a younger forward in the 27 year old Tom Chorske along with LA's 3rd rounder in the upcoming 1995 Draft. This was a move pulled off by the Kings to attempt to get more competitive right away adding a 31 year old veteran defensive playmaking center, but came at the expense of a player 4 years younger. In this case despite getting older, LA might have come out on the favorable side in this deal just a bit considering Chorske's rather low passing ability and none of his other offensive or defensive tools really jumping off the page.


The Future:

Going into the 1994 season, the Los Angeles Kings have added a few role players but didn't really do anything to improve at the level that all of the teams above them in the Campbell Conference did. Adding to that, the top team in the stacked Wales Conference from last season in the Columbus Blue Jackets has also jumped into the Campbell Conference looking for one of those precious top seeds. Add to that the vastly improved Edmonton Oilers that are looking to charge back up the standings and suddenly the Kings could be back to fighting amongst the lower seeds in their conference this upcoming season. Prediction: While the Los Angeles Kings will likely remain a playoff team this season, the team will likely look much more like the 1992 version of themselves and have trouble keeping up with the top 5 teams in their conference. The Kings will finish no better than 6th seed in the upcoming 1995 season.


San Jose Sharks:


One of the more enigmatic franchises over the past several years has been the San Jose Sharks. Looking back to the last time the NFHL expanded and brought in the Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks, GM Al Harrison saw the opportunity to move on from his position with the Boston Bruins and accepted the opportunity to move to California and attempt to build this new franchise from the ground up. Up until recently, he would likely admit that things have not gone according to plan. When looking at the meteoric rise of their expansion cousin Anaheim Ducks by comparison, one could assume that this could have been a factor in how aggressively GM Harrison has made trades over the course of the last several years. At times it has looked like the San Jose organization has pushed all of their chips into the middle for a playoff run, but then over the course of the same season the organization could be seen as being in the middle of a teardown. Overall and for better or worse, the San Jose Sharks has gained the reputation over the years of being the league's biggest wild card.


Last Year:

The 1993 season was a bit of a roller coaster for the San Jose Sharks and their fans. By the time everything had wrapped up, everyone surrounding the Sharks had to have breathed a large sigh of relief. For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks had claimed a playoff spot and their fans were finally treated to postseason hockey! It was a tight race, but the Sharks' point total of 76 was enough to edge out the Oilers (who finished with 74 points) for that 8th and final playoff spot in the Campbell Conference. One would think that a .475 winning percentage might not be enough to get into the post season, but with The Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks still patiently building their young teams in the minors, it really was a 2 horse race between the Sharks and the Oilers for that final spot. That being said, only 5 points separated the San Jose Sharks from the 5th seed Vancouver Canucks as they finished with 81 points. There's no clear conclusion as to whether the many trades made in San Jose throughout the year helped push the team over the edge towards the playoffs, or if they made the race a lot closer than it would have been without all the moves. One would have to think that Vincent Damphousse and Joey Nieuwendyk would have provided some next level offense if they'd continued their careers in sunny San Jose. Instead, the Sharks were led by forward Ulf Dahlen. Dahlen was able to score 30 goals and finished the season with 79 points. He led the team in goals, assists, points and his +11 rating was also the second best plus/minus rating on the team. The 91 points put up in a career year from Damphousse alone would have likely resulted in at least a handful of more wins and the Sharks could have been going into the postseason playing a team a bit more beatable than the eventual SMJ Cup Champion Colorado Rockies. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, and in spite of any potentially regrettable deal the team might have made, the Sharks' 1993 season would have to be considered a success. No matter how difficult the matchup, there's always the chance of a massive upset if the right teams are hot and cold at the right times.


In this case, the playoffs started off in extremely surprisng fashion and the Sharks made their fans believe one of these upsets could actually be completed! In the opening game of the series, the team must have been so pumped up to be experiencing playoff hockey for the first time in team history that it powered the Sharks to a 4 to 3 victory over the Rockies in Denver. Game 2 the next night was even more impressive, as the Sharks shut the high octane offense of the Rockies right down and cruised to a 3 to 1 win to blow ahead in the series 2 to 0! Unfortunately as the initial addrenaline collectively wore off, the magical run came to a screeching and disappointing halt. In game 3, the Rockies got back to business and let their experience take over as they cruised to a 4 to 1 win in San Jose. The next night, the offense really got going as the Rockies absolutely blew out the Sharks by a score of 9 to 3. Game 4 was another rough one back in Denver as the Rockies kept rolling with a 4 to 1 victory. The momentum continued in game 6 and the Sharks looked more lost than ever as they fell to the Rockies in an 8 to 0 shutout to unceremoniously end the most successful season ever had in San Jose. While the loss was disappointing, taking the eventual SMJ Cup Champs to a game 6 was an extremely impressive feat and an appropriate way to top off a great season for the club.



The draft cupboards were completely bare for San Jose going into the 1994 Entry Draft, save for a handful of picks in 1995 and a few 2nd rounders in the distant 1996 Draft. Because of this, the San Jose Sharks were radio silent the night of the 1994 Draft and no picks were made by the organization.


The Sharks ended up dealing another pick along with prospect Stephane Yelle to the Tampa Bay Lightning expansion team for a veteran forward with some decent tread on the tires in Dino Ciccarelli. Ciccarelli has the ability to fight for the top spot in scoring on San Jose in the coming year and could also provide priceless veteran experience and leadership if the team were able to secure another playoff berth in 1994. After the draft, GM Harrison connected with old friend Shane Matheson on yet another deal between their two teams. Nolan Baumgartner, Tomas Jonsson, Roman Ndur and $500,000 in cash went to San Jose for a solid young prospect in Martin Rucinsky and veteran forward David Mackey. Already, this seems to look like a rough one and it might have been more prudent to shop Rucinsky around to a few more teams before adding him to this package. GM Matheson did seem to fumble the Rucinsky trade value a bit in his ensuing flip to the Islanders, which should make this one sting a bit less for the Sharks. However, after just a single training camp on Long Island, Rucinsky is a prospect to watch and would be named by many as the best player involved in the deal. Jonsson was certainly the only piece holding real value in this one, as both Baumgartner and Ndur are longshots to ever become pro level players. That being said, the inhuman amount of strength posessed by Ndur would be a fun storyline in the future if he is able to fill in some of his other holes enough to make it to the big club. The Sharks continued to add, as they brought in some grit and toughness in the form of defenseman Ken Daneyko for Mario Doyon and the team's 2nd round pick in 1995. Daneyko has been known to get into quite a bit of penalty trouble but when he is on the ice is able to provide the hits and defensive skill that will make the Sharks a tougher team to play against. Shortly after this move, the Sharks answered yet another call from sunny Florida, and paid what can only be called a kings ransom for a bottom 6 defensive forward in the 29 year old John Tucker. Not only did GM Harrison give up Edmonton's 1st rounder in the upcoming 1995 draft, but also added $1,000,000 cash to the deal. This seems like an unbelievable overpay, especially when GM Matheson was able to flip that same 1st rounder just days later for $5,000,000 in cold hard cash from the Montreal Canadiens. Going forward, it might be a good idea for GM Harrison to invest in some Caller ID and allow some of those calls from the Florida area code to be picked up by the answering machine! Finally, the Sharks added another veteran defender that could be added to their 2nd or 3rd pair this season in Igor Stelnov. The 32 year old Stelnov should help supress shots against as he is a tough defender to play against. The 3rd rounder in the 1997 draft going back to Winnipeg seemed like a fair enough value to add another pro level veteran to the team.


The San Jose Sharks were not as active as they have been in years past when it came to Free Agency, but they did still manage to make a couple of signings to fill out the bottom 6 forward group. First, the Sharks came to terms on a 4 year, $1,500,000 contract for veteran forward Rich Sutter. The 30 year old Sutter plays his game on the edge (and oftentimes goes over that edge), but brings both an extremely high defensive side to his game while still possessing the speed and scoring acumen to put the puck in the net. Next, the Sharks signed another veteran forward in Craig Coxe to a 1 year, $1,500,000 contract. Coxe has the same concerning level of issues in terms of taking penalties, but he is also a defensively responsible pass-first forward who loves to hit. He should be a nice complement to Sutter's style of game if the two are put together on a line together.


The Future:

While there is plenty of room for optimism with this team after finally making the playoffs and having a surprising amount of success early on against a team as absolutely stacked as the Colorado Rockies, there is also quite a bit to be concerned about going forward. Asset management has got to be a mantra repeated in San Jose over and over again until everyone in the organization realizes what a priority it is. As we have gone over several times, the Campbell Conference just got that much more competitive with not only the growth of the young up and coming teams, but the re-emergence of the Oilers to contender status and the Wales Conference Champion Columbus Blue Jackets being added into the playoff mix as well. A team that was a mere 2 points away from missing the playoffs yet again in 1993 has got to be more careful with their younger assets and be more patient in trying to add complimentary pieces. If GM Harrison is able to show a little more patience in 1994 and beyond, it is fully possible that he can take the success his team experienced last season and build on it going forward. Prediction: The San Jose Sharks have got to be one of the more difficult teams to make predictions on, as they might have one of the most unpredictible GMs in the league at this point. If the Sharks slump out of the gate we could see all of the veteran pieces that were recently added be abruptly put on flights out of town in other deals. If GM Harrison is able to stay his hand, we could see the franchise get some much needed stability and chemistry could take hold. The Sharks could nab the 8th seed for a second straight year if all goes well.


Vancouver Canucks:


The Vancouver Canucks have been somewhat stuck in a Campbell Conference pergutory for the last few years. Historically, the team has usually been the one fighting in that 4th to 5th seed range in the Campbell Conference attempting to start the playoffs with home ice advantage. The Rockies have been that constant team that has generally been a shoe-in to at least reach the Conference Finals, while the Ducks (for a time), Oilers, Jets and Red Wings have all been among that 2nd tier of teams in the Campbell. GM Panunto took over a team that had been managed poorly for years and had little to nothing in terms of current or future assets. It took an extreme amount of patience for GM Mike Panunto to get to this point, as he built his roster from the ground up with tons of home grown talent and waited for prudent deals and Free Agent acquisitions to improve his team for the most part. All these years later, while the Canucks might not be widely considered a pereneal contender, they are always in the hunt and are fully capable of stealing a round or 2 once playoff time hits.


Last Year:

The 1993 season was one where the Vancouver Canucks exactly lived up to what most would have for them in terms of expectations. They were a slightly above average team that safely coasted into a playoff spot in the Campbell Conference. They finished the 1993 season with 81 points in 80 games played, just a hair above the .500 line coming in with a .506 win percentage. In the Wales Conference, 81 points was good for 7th seed but the Canucks being in the Campbell Conference was beneficial to them as they finished the year in the 5th seed position. Towards the end of the regular season the Canucks did falter quite a bit, but thankfully won their final pair of games, bringing their record in the last 10 games to 4-5-1 and managed to secure a higher seed than it looked like they would. Special teams played a definitive role in the team being able to string a successful enough campaign to secure the 5th seed. Their powerplay ranked 9th in the league, but was actually 5th if just looking within their own conference. On the other side, their penalty kill was 2nd overall in the entire league, just behind the Leafs who were still in the Wales Conference last season. These areas of the game attributed greatly to the team's +27 goal differential. The Canucks' scoring was carried largely by a breakout season from young budding superstar, Mike Modano. Modano managed to score 39 goals and finish with 93 points, leading the team in both categories. Another impressive stat for such a young player was the fact that he finished the year a +12 in terms of plus/minus, proving that he was not only able to handle top line minutes but also get the better of many opposing top lines. The 2-headed goalie monster of Byron Dafoe and Ed Belfour was also a huge surprise, and became one of the strengths of this Canucks team that was one of the harder teams to score against in the league. Going into the playoffs, it was well known that if one goalie had started to falter early on that GM Panunto could simply start the other and have just as much of a chance to have them steal a game if needed.


Unfortunately, the 1993 season was not one in which the 5th seed in the Campbell Conference was set up particularly well. The Detroit Red Wings were a team heavily favored to be fighting for that top couple of spots in the Norris Division but the massive rebound year from the Jets coupled with the historic season from the Rockies pushed the Red Wings behind both of those teams. Add to that the fact that the 95 points the LA Kings finished with was enough to steal the 2nd seed due to the weaker Smythe Division, and we had a rough 1st round opponent for Vancouver this past season. Sure enough, the Red Wings showcased their depth in all areas of the ice and outclassed the Canucks in the opening round of the playoffs. Sadly, the Canucks were dispatched in 4 straight games as the Red Wings completed the sweep. The Canucks had an extremely hard time scoring, as they ended the 4 game series only scoring 7 goals total. Meanwhile the Red Wings appeared to be firing on all cylinders, putting 18 goals in the Vancouver nets over the course of the same 4 games. This quick loss had to have the Canucks organization searching for answers a bit. The teams above them in the standings all took rather big swings to add giant pieces to their rosters and those swings appear to have paid dividends in the playoffs for the most part. It is unlikely that the expectation around Vancouver is that just getting into the playoffs is a successful season at this point, so the chances of bigger pieces being added to the team going forward seemed likely.



In terms of the 1994 Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks were one of the handful of teams that came into draft day with no picks and did not end up making any selections. Our theory with this was that there was not a single prospect drafted that day with the name Mike or Michael so immediately GM Panunto was no longer interested in this year's class! We kid, of course...


As soon as the trade window opened back up, however, we saw GM Panunto spring to action. The Canucks and Panthers connected for a trade right away, that saw John Tonelli return to GM Matheson's team now located in sunny Florida for another veteran in Mike Krushelnyski. Apparently, the Mikes that were not available in the draft had to be acquired via trade this offseason! Father time has caught up with both of these players, to be sure. Tonelli has turned into a more one-dimensional scoring threat that will likely be used most on the powerplay. Krushelnyski still has quite a bit more of an all-around game left and can be a complimentary piece somewhere in the bottom 9 group of forwards. GM Panunto then connected with his brother in Montreal Andrew Panunto, sending Tim Sweeney to Montreal for $250,000 in cash. Next, Panunto went on to make another deal with trader Shane in Florida. Kent Carlson was acquired from Florida for the duo of Craig Johnson and Dale Craigwell. The 30 year old Carlson likely slots in as a 7th defenseman when looking at the potential opening night roster. Meanwhile, both Johnson and Craigwell look to be prospects who might see time in the pros eventually, but certainly not imminently. At the end of the day, the deal was pretty mutually beneficial despite not being all that exciting of a move for either team. In a slightly more exciting move, the Canucks were able to acquire an old linemate of newly acquired Mike Krushelnyski in Bernie Nicholls from the Buffalo Sabres. Nicholls still posesses quite a bit of talent and was one of Buffalo's most productive players last season while playing a 3rd line role. Adam Graves and the Calgary Flames 2nd rounder in 1996 went back to Buffalo, and this seems right now to be a pretty fair deal for both sides. The deals between Florida and Vancouver continued, as the Canucks acquired Dane Jackson from Florida for Nevin Markwart and $500,000 in cash. With Nicholls and Krushelnyski being added, it seemed as though the 29 year old Markwart was expendable and Panunto seized this opportunity to bring back a half decent future defensive depth forward in Jackson. Next, came the blockbuster deal that all Canucks fans had been patiently waiting for. Vancouver managed to connect on a rare Hartford deal where they acquired future hall of fame defenseman Paul Coffey for Randy Burridge, JJ Daignault, Paul DiPietro and John Slaney. While the package sent to Hartford had some value, this seems at first glance like a homerun for Vancouver as he kind of managed to trade 4 quarters for a dollar in this one. GM Panunto further added to his improving blueline by acquiring Al Iafrate from the St Louis Blues for the forward duo of Patrick Sundstrom and Tomas Sandstrom. Iafrate will likely participate on the top line next to Coffey and the Blues acquire a couple of potential difference makers at forward. The 28 year old Iafrate is just heading into his prime, which makes this deal worth it for Vancouver.


Where patience and careful moves has generally been the way that GM Panunto has operated in Vancouver over the years, the exact opposite has seemed to be the case in Vancouver when Free Agency time rolls around. It wasn't long ago that the great Don Edwards was given a max contract to come to play for the Canucks, and it was reported that Vancouver was attempting to be in on the James Patrick Sweepstakes last offseason. Vancouver again went after this big fish in Free Agency this year, as the team managed to agree to terms with veteran defensive forward Guy Carbonneau. The Canucks and Carbonneau agreed on a $5,500,000 contract for 2 years, and the longtime star in the league has exactly the type of gritty two way play that will complement the rest of the lineup. With the team's big signing out of the way, the Canucks were forced to go on the defensive when those pesky Colorado Rockies came out with another offer sheet on a young player. The Rockies extended an offer sheet worth $999,999 for 1 year to young Canucks defensive prospect John Slaney. Slaney signed the offer sheet, but the young defender was too vaulable a prospect for the Canucks to lose and they quickly matched and retained their player.


The Future:

The Vancouver Canucks have continued to add when the safe opportunities have arisen, and have managed to accumulate a nice grouping of pro talent in every position of the ice. Superstar Mike Modano has just begun to scratch the surface of his potential, and having an elite blueliner like Coffey able to make that breakout pass that much easier is only going to enhance what Modano and the rest of the group of forwards are able to accomplish. Ed Belfour has reached the prime of his career and should continue to produce even better results backstopping a team with better defensive forwards and a much stronger defensive corps as well. On the other hand, what kind of an impact will the improving teams around the Canucks have on their standing going forward? Were there opportunities out there for the Canucks to add more impactful players by simply moving out some of their higher quality youth? Will the moves they made be enough to be able to compete with the Rockies, Jets, Red Wings, Oilers and Blue Jackets this season? Prediction: Despite some decent improvements being made to the team, if no other major adds are done between now and the trade deadline the Canucks will have a team with similar results to last season. Unfortunately with other teams improving around them, this will likely have them finish the 1994 season around the 7th or 8th seed in the Conference which could result in a pretty tough 1st round playoff matchup again.


Winnipeg Jets:


The Winnipeg Jets have also been known to operate within a fairly careful and measured approach over the years. While the team has been quite competitive for an extremely long amount of time, the only criticsm that could possibly be directed towards the organization would be that they have been on the quicker side of moving out their impact veteran players as soon as their talents show signs of decline. The Jets also tend to hold on to much of their young pipeline in order to continue to remain competitive as their older players age out. This has been an effective system over the years to continue to make the playoffs every year and usually end up with a higher seed, but it hasn't always resulted in deep playoff runs for the team. As the NFHL entered the "superteam" era, the Jets looked towards the future and seemingly have looked to slowly reload where they can without disrupting or displacing any of the young pieces within their core. It has been said in the past that the Jets have constantly felt like they were "one big trade" away from being able to compete with the elite teams in the league. While the Jets have managed to win some playoff rounds over the years, they have been unable to return to the SMJ Cup Finals stage since 1987, where they quickly fell to the Montreal Canadiens. As their next wave of stars enter their prime, do the Jets have what it takes to get there and maybe even further this year?


Last Year:

The 1993 regular season was a rousing success for the Winnipeg Jets organization. They capped off a nice preseason by bringing back old friend Denis Maruk for one last run with his old team. Shortly after the start of the season GM Dave Corcoran made another big move with the San Jose Sharks acquiring Joe Nieuwendyk and Nikolai Borschevsky for a bunch of quality prospects and a couple of 1st round picks. This was uncharacteristic of how the team normally did things and made an immediate impact on the success of the team that year, as the entire trio of acquired players had more than 30 goals each to finish the season and were huge contributors to the overall success of the team. The 114 points in the standings that the Winnipeg Jets ended the season with was the 2nd highest ever by the franchise, and most since their franchise best season was turned in back in 1980 with 118 points. That being said, the season was also 84 games long back then, so the 1993 season could be considered by many as the most success the team has ever had in the standings as the winning percentage of .712 in 1993 is actually better than the .702 percentage earned in the 1980 season. Ending the regular season on a 4 game losing streak was surprising for this team and avoiding it could have vaulted them over the powerhouse Maple Leafs in the Wales for 2nd overall in the entire league. Having so many offensive weapons was a huge factor in this newfound success, as the team was able to boast 6 different players who scored 30 or more goals. Having that kind of offense in front of a stacked defensive corps and a solid goalie finally elevated the Jets into the realm of the "superteams" this season. Alan Bester has finally come into his own as a prime time starter, as he finished the regular season playing a heavy load of minutes and ended the season with a 3.05 goals against average and an .883 save percentage. All of this team success came in spite of not having the best special team units. To be fair, the Jets did finish the year top 5 in terms of powerplay conversion rate, but the penalty kill finished the year towards the middle of the league. This was a bit surprising considering the amount of talent across the blue line in Winnipeg. Despite the 4 game losing streak to end the season, the regular season as a whole was a franchise best and the organization had to be coming into the playoffs with their confidence at an all time high as the 3rd seed with an opening round matchup with the Minnesota North Stars.


Unfortunately, that's where the good times ended for the 1993 edition of the Winnipeg Jets. In what could only bring back painful flashbacks of the 1987 SMJ Cup Finals where another Glenn Merkir-led team dashed the championship dreams of all the Jets faithful, the Minnesota North Stars completed the massive upset and sent the Jets home before the end of the 1st round. Things started off as many would expect, with the Jets coasting to a 5 to 3 victory in the opening game of the series. In game 2 the North Stars came roaring back and stunned their opponents by a score of 7 to 2. After that horrific loss, the Jets never seemed to be able to get that momentum back as they fell in 4 straight games to Minnesota to lose the series in 5. Game 3 was a closer decision as it ended with the North Stars edging the Jets by a score of 4 to 3. The Minnesota offence continued to run wild, as the following night they won a track meet against Winnipeg in a 7 to 6 decision. They wrapped up game 5 with another close 4 to 3 win. Other than the game 2 blowout, the Jets played the series extremely closely. Unfortunately, one of the top defense corps in the league was just completely unable to contain this Minnesota squad for whatever reason. The Jets seemingly got lured into a run-and-gun style of play that ended up burning them and sending the entire team home stunned, disappointed and far earlier than anybody expected.



The 1994 Entry Draft was a more quiet one in terms of how active GM Corcoran has normally been over the years. As the Draft began, the Jets were only in possession of a pair of late 2nd round picks. The Jets ended up making both of those picks, and brought in another couple of prospects to begin to refill the pipeline. With the 42nd overall pick, the Jets selected a forward prospect by the name of Jason Wiemer. This was a pretty solid pick consdering how late in the draft it was. Wiemer is a defense-first prospect who despite his lack of scoring skill could easily project to becoming a valuable bottom 6 forward with time given on the penalty kill. The other Jets pick was the 50th overall pick and at the very tail end of the 2nd round. The selection was another defensive forward prospect in Steve Webb. Webb at first glance looks extremely similar to Wiemer, but lacks any kind of offensive ability. What gives way in offense comes back in raw strength and speed, which could make the pair a vaulable bottom 6 duo one day.


The loss of Maruk left a hole that the Jets were certainly looking to fill going into the 1994 season. That being said, the deals that brought in all of those difference makers last season had left the team's prospect pool a bit more bare than usual. That didn't stop GM Corcoran from doing his best to make an impactful deal. Corcoran sent the prospect duo of Viktor Kozlov and Todd Marchant to the Buffalo Sabres to bring in one of the better two-way forwards in the league in Kevin McClelland, along with a nice depth piece in former Winnipeg Jet, Mike Gartner. Corcoran also managed to get GM Johnson to throw in backup netminder Karl Friesen in order to replace the loss of their backup to the expansion draft earlier in the offseason. This was a solid deal for both teams, as Corcoran was able to bring in an elite 2nd line player along with some added depth for prospects that were good but not at the level of being able to buy them a superstar. With that major deal out of the way, the Jets were able to tweak with a couple of smaller ones. They connected with the Colorado Rockies to send bruising defender Rob Ramage along with Vancouver's 2nd rounder in the 1996 Draft for veteran depth defenseman Ilya Byakin along with Columbus' 2nd rounder in 1995. This was a solid move for the Jets as Byakin is on the last year of a cheap contract and is able to start the year in the minors until needed to fill in for injuries on the pro blueline. Next, the Jets sent another veteran in Igor Stelnov over to the Sharks for their 3rd rounder in the 1997 Draft. This was another deal that helped both teams as Stelnov wasn't needed in Winnipeg and being able to grab another future pick could come in handy down the line. Lastly, the Jets moved out Marc Habscheid to the LA Kings for a young forward depth piece in 27 year old Tom Chorske along with LA's 3rd rounder in the upcoming 1995 Draft.


The 1994 Free Agency period saw the Jets look to make minor deals and add some depth to their minor league team and in case of catastrophic injuries to the pro club. They ended up signing a trio of vets when all was said and done. Veteran depth defenseman Denis Potvin was signed to a 1 year, $350,000 deal. Potvin is a shadow of his former self and will likely spend the entire year in the minors, but his wealth of experience and leadership ability would come in handy if the Jets were to run into a string of injuries on the blueline at any point. Next, the Jets signed veteran forward Rick Vaive to a 1 year, $950,000 contract. While Vaive's best days have been behind him for quite a while, he still possesses the ability to put the puck in the net well enough to fill in on a 4th line role if injuries come to the pro team. Lastly, the Jets signed another depth forward in Pat Conacher to a 4 year, $250,000 contract. Conacher will also likely start the season in the minors but could be called up if the center depth on the pro team runs into injury trouble. This was also a rare offseason where the Jets were put on the defensive in terms of their exposed Restricted Free Agents. While GM Corcoran has been notorious in the past for sending out opportunistic offer sheets around the league, this offseason the Philadelphia Flyers turned the tables a tiny bit when they sent defensive prospect Brendan Witt an offer sheet worth $749,999 for 1 year. It wasn't exactly the richest offer in Free Agent history and GM Corcoran quickly matched the offer and retained his player.


The Future:

Despite the fact that the playoffs went exactly opposite to how everyone in Winnipeg had hoped, There is plenty of reason for optimism going into the 1994 season. The young core that the Jets have been developing have begun to reach their prime years and are joining the remaining veterans on the team in becoming difference makers on a nightly basis. GM Corcoran has thrown caution to the wind finally and has done everything possible to ensure he has the firepower and depth in all positions necessary to take on even the most talented teams in the league. The Winnipeg Jets are looking to build off of their most successful regular season to date, and try their best to make the SMJ Cup final again for the first time since 1987. Prediction: The Winnipeg Jets will learn from the mistakes made in 1993 and while their point total might not reach what it did last year, they will not look past their playoff opponents no matter who it is. The Jets will make it to the Campbell Conference finals in 1994.



We hope you have enjoyed the extremely long read this turned out to be and that there were entertaining tidbits for every team to take a look at. Here's to the best season yet as the NFHL makes its triumphant return this week!