Tom McVie of the Washington Capitals is a minority-group member, an NHL coach who retained his job. Ten of the 18 teams will have new faces behind the bench when the league's 720-game schedule commences with four games Wednesday night.
Two teams figure to profit most from the exercise in coaches' musical chairs. Chicago, stymied by complacency, has already been revived by Bog Pulford who moved from Los Angeles. And Toronto has benefited from an injection of McViesim in the form of Roger Neilson, long time developer of junior talent at Peterborough, Ontario.
The other coaches with new homes include Bobby Kromm, Detroit; Ron Stewart, Los Angeles; Jean Guy Talbot, New York Rangers; Marcel Pronovost, Buffalo; Johnny Wilson, Pittsburgh; Pat Kelly, Colorado; Orlando Kurtenbach, Vancouver, and Leo Boivin, St. Louis.
A junior draft free of the effects of the underage raids of three years ago has injected good, new talent into most of the NHL clubs. Unfortunate in this category, however, were Los Angeles, Atlanta and Pittsburgh, which had traded away those important No. 1 picks. The King's first selection came in the fifth round, No. 84 overall.
There is a bit of added suspense involved in the Stanley Cup selection process this season, with only the top two teams in each division guaranteed playoff berths. The remaining four spots will be filled according to point production. If this plan had been in effect last year, The Washington Capitals would have remained in contention another month, losing out by 10 points rather than 19.
If only the division champion were assured a spot in the playoffs, the Capitals' chances would be far better. As it is, the Patrick Division is likely to furnish four playoffs teams, the Smythe two and the others three each.
Regardless of the 12 qualifiers, it would take a surprising series of events to unseat Montreal as Stanley Cup champion. The Canadiens are too strong for the rest of the NHL and it is idle gossip to pretend otherwise.
Here is a brief look at each of the NHL's four divisions, in order of probable finish: NORRIS DIVISION
Montreal - The Canadiens were winless until their fifth exhibition game, but the slow start did not raise hopes elsewhere. A team anchored by Ken Dryden in goal, with Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe on defense, and with Guy Lafleur skating around everybody, has nothing to worry about except a plane crash. General manager Sam Pollock, who worries about nothing else, refuses to board an airplane, which merely proves he's human.
Los Angeles - The Kings will miss Pulford, but they have too much talent to slip below second place. Marcel Dionne, Butch Goring, Tom Williams and Mike Murphy are excellent forwards and with improving defense man Gary Sargent, make up the most potent power play in the league. The addition of Randy Manery should help a so-so defense. But if goaltender Rogie Vachon runs into misfortune, all bets are off. He's the key to the Kings' success.
Pittsburgh - The Penguins have little depth, trimming as many players as possible to keep going financially. They had a staggering number of training-camp injuries to add to off season operations and enter the season uncertain about the condition of Pierre Larouche, Wayne Bianchin, Lowell MacDonald, Syl Apps and Vic Hanfield. The trade of Ron Schock to Buffalo for Brian Soencer was no blue-ribbon deal. If the injuries continue to plague the penguins, they will be vulnerable from below.
Washington - The Capitals must get some offensive help from the wings or centers Guy Charron, Gerry Meehan and Walt McKechnie will be watching a lot of setups spill down the drain. Goalie Gary Smith is a question mark. Robert Picard will add a lot of excitement, however, and he lifts the Capitals that much closer to the draft-poor Kings and Penguins.
Detroit - The Red Wings obtained a draft plum in center Dale McCourt, but teammate Greg Joly can advise him of the problems associated with a rookie trying to carry a team on his back. The Wings have four goaltenders but few defensemen of NHL ability. Last season Detroit won only three games after Jan. 1. Dan Maloney's absence contributed to that total collase and he is back, so all is not lost.Just most of the games. ADAMS DIVISION
Boston - The hard-working Bruins did not place anyone on the first two all-star teams, but they reached the Stanley Cup final by sweeping Philadelphia. Goaltender Ron Grahame, signed away from WHA Houston, is more consistent than Gilles Gilbert. Right wing Dwight Foster has a bright future despite his status as No. 16 in the draft. The defense is too weak to challenge Montreal, but it's good enough in a division with similar shortcomings.
Toronto - Neilson should obtain maximum results from a talented group that includes Darryl Sittler. Lanny McDonald and Borje Salming. The Leafs would probably be stronger if they had used their two first-round draft picks to better advantages than hometown Marlies John Anderson and Trevor Johansen. Goalie Mike Palmateer, a sensation as a rookie, must maintain his performance to lift the Leafs to the 100-point plateau after a so-so 81 last season.
Buffalo - After several years of battling Boston for first place, the Sabres will find themselves fighting Toronto for second. Goaltending is a problem area and the defense lacks depth. Still, Gil Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert will keep the red lights blinking.
Cleveland - The Barons have good young talent and, for once, they won't have to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from. There is still fan apathy, however, and that empty feeling will carry over to the playoffs. PATRICK DIVISIOn
Philadelphia - it is fashionable this year to pick the New York Islanders to beat out the Flyers. Certainly, the Islanders were more impressive in last season's playoffs. Over the long haul, however, the Flyers have the greater ability to feast on the also-rans. The Islanders, while outstanding defensively, lack a solid scoring punch. The Flyers drafted Kevin McCarthy, an excellent offensive defenseman, and obtained winger Barry Dean, one of Colorado's few class performers. Philadelphia has slipped a bit, but it still one of the NHL's best.
New York Islanders - The Islanders are a quality club, too. Their goaltending and defense are superb. It will be interesting to see how No. 1 draft choice Mike Bossy, a one-way high-scoring wing, fits into the Islanders' up-and-down system.
New York Rangers - Conditioning has been a Ranger problem area in the past and this time it occupied the forefront of training camp. First-round drafts Lucien DeBlois and Ron Duguay should inject some life into a somewhat somnolent club. The Rangers can score, but whether their vulnerable defense can stop anyone is the key.
Atlanta - The Flames can't seem to develop any consistency. The defense is error-prone at crucial moments. Still, the Flames are big and strong and should battle the Rangers to the wire. They should earn that playoff wild card, too. SMYTHE DIVISION
Chicago - Pulford and his fitness program have revived the league's laziest team. Defenseman Dough Wilson, the No. 1 draftee, is rated high and imports Battleship Kelly and Pierre Plante should shake a few bodies.Goalie Tony Esposito is still around, always a plus.
ST. LOUIS - The Blues didn't score a lot last year, but they have shown some punch during the exhibition campaign. Dick Redmond, Jim Roberts and Len Frig will give the *defense a lift. The main concern is whether the players will be able to survive all the jokes spawned by new owner Ralston-Purina.
Minnesota - The success of Roland Eriksson has prompted a further influx of Swedes - forwards Kent-Erik Andersson and Per-Olov Brasar. Pete Lopresti's continued improvement in goal should match the North Stars' climb back to respectability.
Vancouver - Too much travel and too little talent will stymie the Canucks again. Left wing Jere Gillis, the first draft choice, will add muscle up front, where the team badly needs it.
Colorado - Only the second worst team in the NHL last year, the Rockies should challenge Detroit for bottom honors this time. Fan apathy remains a problem, although top draftee Barry Beck should fill some seats with remnants of the fight crowd.