Bettman puts realignment on a fast track Clubs are asked to offer suggestions


The NHL is about to find out just how much impact new commissioner Gary Bettman has. Now that the league has expanded by five teams in three years, realignment is likely, and Bettman not only hopes to get it done, but he also expects to have it done by April 1.

"For one thing, he is approaching it differently from the way it was done in the past," said Washington Capitals general manager David Poile, when asked about the chances that realignment would happen.

"Every other time we've tried this, everyone just shows up at a meeting, says what they think and nothing gets done. This time, we've sent our suggestions ahead. As I understand it, he will put together the best possibilities and see if he can build a consensus by the time we meet."

Poile said he believes realignment will happen, but not easily.

"No matter what happens, there is always someone who has to sacrifice," Poile said.

Washington's submission to the realignment pool suggests the league stay with the traditional four divisions. The Capitals also want a more balanced schedule within the conference and wild cards for the playoffs.

Poile, who did not give specific details of his entire presentation, said he would like to see the conference playoffs reworked so the teams with the better records would play the teams with the weaker records.

"That would mean if the top Patrick Division teams were all better than the Adams Division, they would get the easier draw," Poile said.

The Capitals also suggested expansion franchises in Miami and Tampa Bay come into the Patrick Division, which means one team would have to go. He didn't say which, but do the Pittsburgh Penguins come to mind?

"Certainly, other teams have other ideas and you have to sell it to the team who would leave," Poile said. "And our suggestion would mean two divisions wouldn't have expansion teams. There are those arguing each division should have one."

But, Poile said, the Patrick Division was denied an expansion team each of the past two years, "so my feeling is we're owed one for putting up with all the stress we face each day in the Patrick Division."

Bettman wants the realignment issue settled by April 1 so that schedules can be made.

Quacking up

Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner came up with one of the cutest marketing gimmicks in pro sports this week when he had Mickey Mouse flip over a sign that renamed Anaheim Arena The Pond at Anaheim. That's where the NHL's Mighty Ducks will play next year.

Now comes word that even though Disney has the right to name the building and has guaranteed it will have no trouble selling the name of the building to a corporate sponsor, Anaheim Arena officials say they will not accept it until they have "proper time to study and research the effect the name will have" on its overall success.

"Sports takes itself too seriously too often," said Grant Rollin, financial officer for the San Jose Sharks, who have been negotiating with corporate sponsors for the name of San Jose's arena. "I can't imagine somebody wouldn't be thrilled to play off that name."

Stanley Cup on network TV

The Stanley Cup finals have not been on non-cable, network television since 1980, but that will change this spring.

The NHL said yesterday an agreement has been reached with ABC to televise five playoff games through an arrangement with ESPN, which holds U.S. rights to NHL games.

The games will be shown on five consecutive Sunday afternoons beginning April 18 with a divisional semifinal game. ESPN will provide production of the games.

"We are thrilled to be back on network television and to have ABC Sports televise the excitement and intensity of Stanley Cup playoff hockey to fans across the U.S.," said Bettman. "The league is anxious to increase the exposure for NHL hockey, and we view this network exposure, coupled with ESPN's coverage this season, as important first steps in this regard."

Hockey poll

The Journal de Montreal polled hockey beat writers in 23 of the 24 NHL cities and came up with these results for postseason bTC awards: Hart Trophy (MVP) -- Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (8 votes), Toronto's Doug Gilmour (5); Norris Trophy (top defenseman) -- Chicago's Chris Chelios (18), Washington's Al Iafrate (4); Calder Trophy (top rookie) -- Winnipeg's Teemu Selanne (20); Vezina Trophy (top goalie) -- Chicago's Ed Belfour (13), Pittsburgh's Tom Barrasso (3).

Only the best

Pat Peake, the Capitals' 1991 first-round pick, dominated the Ontario Hockey League Coaches Poll. Peake has been named the OHL's smartest player, best playmaker, best shooter and most dangerous player in the goal area. He has 53 goals and 56 assists in 36 games.

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