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Flames eye plkayoff cure // PACIFIC DIVISION


Last season: 16-27-5, 24th overall.

Playoffs: None.

Coach: Ron Wilson (third season).

Scouting report: Watch out for this team in two or three years. The Ducks have a stockpile of good young players. Paul Kariya, who's been compared to a young Gretzky, led the team in scoring with 39 points as a rookie. He will play on a line nicknamed "Special K" with Todd Krygier and first-round pick Chad Kilger (a speedster with a 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame) ... Center Mike Sillinger had difficulty cracking the Detroit lineup, but Wilson thinks he can produce 75-80 points. ... Anaheim will count on four young defensemen: Oleg Tverdovsky (1994 first-round pick), Jason York, Milos Holan (a sniper) and Dave Karpa... The Ducks were awful on special teams last season, finishing last in penalty killing and power-play scoring. ... Guy Hebert may be one of the most underrated goalies. Mikhail Shtalenkov is a consistent backup.


Last season: 24-17-7, seventh overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Sharks in first round.

Coach: Pierre Page (first season).

Scouting report: The Flames haven't won a playoff series since Terry Crisp led them to the Stanley Cup in 1989. Dave King led the team to consecutive division titles, but was fired because of two first-round upsets in the playoffs. ... Page, who last coached the Nordiques, will try to stop the post-season failure with a team that lost nine players. Most notable are Robert Reichel (opted to play in his native Germany after losing his arbitration case) and defensive center Joel Otto. ... The Flames must have another big year from Theo Fleury, the NHL's sixth-leading scorer last season with 58 points. Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk must remain healthy. Roberts played in only eight games last season after neck surgery. Nieuwendyk hasn't played in the preseason with a herniated disc in his back. ... Calgary features four offensive-minded defensemen (Phil Housley, Zarley Zalapski, Steve Chiasson and James Patrick). The problem is they sometimes forget to play defense. ... Trevor Kidd nicely replaced the departed Mike Vernon in goal. Kidd went 22-14-6 with a 2.61 goals-against, but he played the second-most minutes in the league and faltered come playoff time. The acquisition of Rick Tabaracci should alleviate that problem.


Last season: 30-13-5, second overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Rangers in first round.

Coach: Marc Crawford (second season).

Scouting report: The first NHL team to make Denver home was so bad fans nicknamed it "Rocky Hockey." The team moved to New Jersey in 1982 and became the Devils. This time around Denver is fortunate to inherit the former Quebec Nordiques, who last season had the second-best overall record and fourth-best home record in league history (19-1-4). ... Colorado moved from the tough Northeast Division to the easier Pacific, but don't expect a cakewalk. The Avalanche has plenty of talent, but also plenty of questions. What will become of holdouts Wendel Clark, Scott Young, Chris Simon and Martin Rucinsky? ... Even without the holdouts, the Avalanche still has a loaded attack with Peter Forsberg (1995 rookie of the year), Joe Sakic (leading scorer with 62 points) and Owen Nolan (30 goals in 46 games). Mike Ricci and Valeri Kamensky also can score. But the team hasn't found a replacement for underrated two-way center Bob Bassen. ... The defensive corps is solid in its own end, but lacks offensive skills. John Slaney is the best they have on the power play. Look for the team to try to acquire an offensive-minded defenseman. There was talk Colorado might deal Clark to Calgary for Phil Housley. ... In goal, Stephane Fiset is solid but isn't at the elite level projected for him. Jocelyn Thibault, at 20, is developing at a good pace.


Last season: 17-27-4, 22nd overall.

Playoffs: None.

Coach: Ron Low (second season).

Scouting report: The Oilers allowed the most goals (183) in the league last season. Its poor penalty killing (next to last in the league) was a major contributor. But this is a team that could be the surprise of the season. GM Glen Sather has assembled some of the best young talent. Jason Arnott has shown his two-way skills. Todd Marchant and David Oliver both had outstanding rookie seasons. Playmaking center Doug Weight, 24, led the team in scoring with 40 points. Center Mats Lindgren (1993 first-round pick) and Jason Bonsignore (1994 first-round pick) both will make the team. ... The Oilers likely will start slowly due to inexperience, but expect a surge after Christmas. That's when they could wear teams down with their hard hitting, led by Arnott, Kelly Buchberger, Luke Richardson, Kirk Maltby, Scott Thornton and Bryan Marchment, one of the league's dirtiest players. ... The coaching turmoil appears settled. Low, an Oilers assistant coach the past 6{ years, took over for the high-strung George Burnett. ... The team could use veteran leadership to replace departed Shayne Corson... Veterans Ken Sutton and Jiri Slegr should help on defense. ... Bill Ranford is coming off a poor season, but still is a quality goalie. Expect holdout Curtis Joseph to be traded, perhaps to San Jose.


Last season: 16-23-9, 20th overall.

Playoffs: None.

Coach: Larry Robinson (first season).

Scouting report: Robinson was asked if he had watched videotape of the Kings' defensive play last season. Robinson's reply: "I watched one period and had seen enough." ... The Kings, who were in the Stanley Cup Finals three seasons ago, have become one of the league's worst teams. Even Wayne Gretzky in his heyday would have difficulty making these Kings a winner. ... Robinson inherits a team distracted last season by Bruce McNall's legal problems and the firing of coach Barry Melrose. The Kings are small at forward, shaky defensively and have a goalie (Kelly Hrudey) who is dependable but not spectacular. Jamie Storr is the backup and the future. ... Dimitri Khristich from Washington should help on offense. The Kings also need better years from key veterans _ Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Rob Blake, Darryl Sydor and Rick Tocchet (who said his bad back is feeling good). ... Aki-Petteri Berg, the 1995 first-round pick from Finland, should help a defense devastated by injuries last season.


Last season: 19-25-4, 18th overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Red Wings in second round.

Coach: Kevin Constantine (third season).

Scouting report: The Sharks have become the first-round upset kings, ousting Detroit two seasons ago and Calgary last season. But the 5-year-old team again will have difficulty advancing past the second round. ... The mediocre offense will be helped by a full season with playmaking center Craig Janney. But can he bring out the goal-scoring abilities of underachiever Pat Falloon? Talented young forwards Jeff Friesen, the surprise of the 1994 rookie crop, and Viktor Kozlov, a 1993 first-round pick, could make an impact. ... Veteran Igor Larionov still is a capable forward, but Russian linemate Sergei Makarov was waived. ... The best defenseman, Sandis Ozolinsh, is a camp holdout. He signed in September with San Francisco of the IHL. The Sharks call it a negotiating ploy. ... Goalie Arturs Irbe can be the team's greatest strength or major weakness. If he falters, Wade Flaherty can handle the No.

1 duties.


Last season: 18-18-12, 13th overall.

Playoffs: Lost to Blackhawks in second round.

Coach: Rick Ley (second season).

Scouting report: The Canucks could give the Avalanche a good run for the Pacific Division title. They have the talent, but do they have the work ethic? ... Trevor Linden will center speedy scorers Pavel Bure and new addition Alexander Mogilny on what could become a great line. Newcomer Mike Ridley also should provide some solid two-way play. ... The forwards are sound, but not as big as they used to be. But the new mandate to call obstruction penalties could greatly benefit players like Mogilny, Bure and Cliff Ronning. ... Defensively the team is steady, anchored by Jeff Brown and Jyrki Lumme. When the corps does falter, Kirk McLean is there in goal. He had the second-best goals-against average of his career at 2.75.