The strength of the Patrick Division was emphasized by the Washington Capitals' second-place finish despite the remarkable total of 107 points. That was the best record by a nonwinner since the four-division setup was inaugurated in 1974.
The Patrick Division is so powerful that the Pittsburgh Penguins, a playoff outsider for the fourth straight season, are renewing their plea to be permitted to transfer to a more equitable group, in particular the Norris Division.
Although critics feel the Penguins' view is shortsighted, because the Norris teams would be relatively poor regular-season draws, Pittsburgh officials think the playoff dates would more than compensate for any drop in attendance.
A shift would require a two-thirds vote, which is doubtful for several reasons. Some Norris teams do not want to risk their own precarious playoff chances. Some Patrick clubs, including Washington, do not want the charismatic Mario Lemieux to take those extra divisional dates elsewhere. And the need to effect a new collective bargaining agreement with the players has pushed other issues to the back burner when the owners conduct their rare meetings.
Nevertheless, a minor realignment for next season is a possibility. The compromise scenario would involve Hartford, which can see the advantages of joining the New York teams in the Patrick Division. Toronto, with all those empty seats, would move to the Adams and natural rivals Montreal and Buffalo, while Pittsburgh would get its desire to play with the patsies.
The Washington Capitals' injuries have provided General Manager David Poile with a full quota of headaches. Still, he found another source of woe in what would appear on the surface to be a minor matter: choice of a most valuable player for the team.
There is general consensus that center Bengt Gustafsson was Washington's MVP this season. However, defenseman Rod Langway was the MVP the last three years, and there was risk that a new choice might indicate that Langway's ability was tailing off. Also, with Gustafsson hurt, there could have been psychological damage in entering the playoffs without the MVP. Finally, there was risk that Langway's dressing-room dominance might be subverted.
The selection was discussed at levels as high as owner Abe Pollin, before Poile reached a decision: Langway. The announcement received a mixed reaction Saturday at Capital Centre, which was understandable but hardly flattering to the tireless Langway.
The controversy in essence was pointless. Neither Langway nor Gustafsson seemed to care about the award. Poile got the message. He indicated that next season, there would be no awards.
The NHL recently mailed letters to prospective voters for its postseason awards, reminding them of past embarrassment caused by votes for players at incorrect positions. It included rosters that purportedly contained the position at which each player had performed most of the time.
Washington's Dave Christian, a right wing since the seventh game of the season, was listed as a center. Alan Haworth, a center just as long, was listed as a right wing.
And Mike Ridley, the rookie center who led the New York Rangers in scoring, was listed as a left wing, a position he played briefly in a couple of exhibition games. Voters who saw the Rangers only once or twice no doubt will consult the rosters and pick out either Hartford's Dean Evason or Philadelphia's Pelle Eklund as the center on the all-rookie team. Wendel Clark of Toronto is the logical choice as the left wing. Ridley? His vote almost certainly will be split, and the league will be red-faced.
Quote of the week, from the mouth of Tim Bothwell, color commentator on the Hartford broadcast of Thursday's game in Washington: "Bryan Murray is showing a lot of confidence using Steve Leach out there. He's only a rookie. In fact, he's less than a rookie."