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Chris Pronger. Al MacInnis. Bryce Salvador?

When the Blues decided to protect two goalies in the expansion draft last spring, it meant they could protect only three defensemen. Pronger and MacInnis, Norris Trophy winners, were gimmes. Salvador was anything but. At 24, he's coming off a knee injury. He had no goals in 55 games last season at Worcester, his third year on the AHL farm team. He spent five major-junior years at Lethbridge of the WHL. Tampa Bay drafted him 138th overall in 1994, but never invited him to camp. "Go to school," they told him.

He had thought of that once before. A recruiter from McGill, a Montreal university with an elite hockey program, called Salvador after his third season in juniors and asked, "Can you throw a football?"

But Blues scouts Teddy Hampson and Pat Ginnell saw something they liked in the the 6'2", 218-pound stay-at-home defenseman, and they signed him as a free agent in December 1996. Why? Because when he's aggressive, he's effective. His style complements a partner who likes to jump into the offense (e.g., Al MacInnis). Although he was hardly what you'd call a hot prospect, the Blues knew he had progressed enough that the new teams would be interested.

Salvador has some quickness, but, according to ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, "He has to play aggressively if he wants to stay in the NHL."

Salvador gets it. "Crash and bang," he says. "I turn away from no one."



One great thing about all these penalties (assuming the NHL and its referees have the guts to keep calling them) is that defensemen will be forced to learn how to play the position. Too many guys think playing D means slashing an opponent's arms and hands. Defensemen will have to start gauging speed and distance, cutting off angles, playing the body and finishing their checks. Look, I played defense. Believe me, it's hard. To do it right, you have to outsmart your opponent-determine if he's a righty or a lefty shot, know what his tendencies and favorite moves are, account for his quickness. And you have to calculate all this at top speed, with an open lane to your goalie behind you. Now that defensemen can't whack an opponent's arm to make him lose the puck, we're seeing forwards play more aggressively, trying to put the puck through the legs of defensemen, challenging them to one-on-one battles. This is going to be great for the game. But only if they keep calling the penalties.

A side note: Teams with coaches who can teach the art of defense gain an edge. That means St. Louis, with Joel Quenneville; New Jersey, with Larry Robinson; and Dallas, with assistant Rick Wilson.

Bad Trips. GMs fight for the best schedules they can get, but life isn't fair. Phoenix does not have a road trip longer than four games this season, while San Jose has three six-game road trips and one five-gamer. Once the schedule is final, all a coach can do is try to turn a bad situation into a good one. He'll cut out a few practices to keep his team fresh. He'll charter more flights if he can. And he'll demonize the NHL: "The league is screwing us," one coach used to scream to his players. "They don't give a ... about us. They don't want us to win. They gave us this crappy schedule on purpose so we'd lose. Let's go win it all and stick it up their "

Which coach was that?



Jozef Stumpel's contract impasse in L.A. has become Eric Belanger's ticket to the NHL. The 96th pick in '96, Belanger languished last season with the Kings' AHL farm club in Lowell, Mass. One team official said he wasn't sure Belanger could play even at that level. In September, Belanger had a great training camp and won a spot on the roster. His play has been so good that coach Andy Murray uses him between high-scoring wings Luc Robitaille and Ziggy Palffy ... Because of Glen Sather's shrewd moves, the perennially soft Rangers are now tough. Slats stole physical D Brad Brown and irritating LW Michal Grosek from Chicago for an unwanted D Stephane Quintal. Brown fits nicely alongside finesse D Kim Johnsson, while Grosek provides room for smallish linemates Theo Fleury and Mike York. The roster also includes punchers



Philly at Rangers. Did you know they hate each other?




online > Hradek on the Hrink, every Wednesday > espnmag.com



The seasonOs just begun, but already the seats for at least seven coaches are white-hot:

DARRYL SUTTER, SHARKS Real hockey fans don't have to ask about a Sutter brother. By getting erratic Patrick Marleau to play more like, well, more like a Sutter brother. By forgetting that Sutter brothers are to the NHL what the woolly mammoth is to planet earth. Jan. 21, if they falter during a critical woolly mammoth is to planet earth. Jan. 21, if they falter during a critical

PAT BURNS, BRUINS Ex-cop and former coach of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. By bonding with all those young, talented players who are supposed to make the B's great again. Because, well, there is that rep he's trying to shed about not relat-ing to young players. March, if B's blow road trip vs. Lightning, Panthers, Canes, Avs, Stars and Blues. Any knowledge-

TERRY MURRAY, PANTHERS The brother of Bryan. Why does that matter? Bryan's the GM. By double-shifting Pavel Bure, who can score 60 again with the refs not allowing obstruction. When he lets it slip that his older brother used to pin him down and give him pink bellies. April 8-end of the regular season-if Panthers aren't in first in

JACQUES MARTIN, SENATOR S Low-key career coach who earned his stripes in St. Louis. By keeping Alexei Yashin happy, which includes good seats at the Corel Centre for Carol Alt. By mentioning to Yashin, over beers, that he really isn't paid as well as the league's other stars. April, if the talented Sens lose in

BOB FRANCIS, COYOTES Son of Emile "The Cat" Francis. Which is a pretty nice pedigree. By sucking up to the new owner. Not the corporate guy in the suit. The other one The Great One. When he asks the new owner, "Hey, when will Janet do another Playboy pictorial?" February, when the Coyotes begin their annual second-half dive. The owner. The

LAIN VIGNEAULT, CANADIENS Ex-NHL defenseman/ successful ju-nior league coach. By making playoffs. Habs have missed for three straight years-first time for that since '22. In hockey-crazed Montreal, any three game losing streak will do the trick. Christmas, if they drop back-to-back home games to Blue Jax and Predators. Some French-Canadian

PAUL MAURICE, HURRICANES Youngest coach (33) to win 400 games. By purchasing 8,000 season tickets. Per game. And convincing 8,000 people to go for free. By harping on highly paid D Sandis Ozolinsh's ample defensive deficiencies. Feb. 1, if they fail to take advantage of 11 home dates in January. We really (Ted



The thing about goal scorers is that they can score at any level of the game. Meet Buffalo RW J.P. Dumont, a 22-yearold Montreal native who had 215 goals in 301 QMJHL games and 53 goals in 84 AHL games. The Islanders grabbed him with the third overall pick in 1996 but couldn't sign him, so they dealt his rights to the Blackhawks, where he was Rookie of the Month in April 1999. He suffered a concussion early last season and, in March, the Blackhawks sent him to Buffalo as an extra in the Doug Gilmour deal. Fully healthy last spring, Dumont got back on track. He scored 14 goals in 21 postseason games with Rochester in the AHL, and made the Sabres this season out of training camp. "He's an opportunist with the puck," Gilmour says. "He knows how to find the holes on the ice." He also knows how to stay in Buffalo. Says Dumont, who had two goals in his first two games: "I'm here to score."