EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 17 -- The growing pains that often come with expansion are nowhere being felt worse than in Minnesota, even though the North Stars have been in the National Hockey League for more than 20 seasons.

The North Stars are a team waiting to be dismantled. The problem is they have an entire season to play before various parts start heading to San Jose. Meanwhile, the fans have continued to treat Met Center like a dentist's office.

George and Gordon Gund, the North Stars' former owners, had threatened to move the team to San Jose. But the NHL did not want to leave Minnesota without a franchise, so the board of governors approved a complex arrangement that gave the Gunds a Bay Area franchise, but also the rights to a large chunk of the players now in the Minnesota organization.

The deal is so complex General Manager Bobby Clarke has to call the league office every time he is contemplating a move to see if it is legal.

The North Stars were fourth in the Norris Division last season and they were 1-4-1 going into tonight's game in Los Angeles. Clarke would like to rebuild the club, but many of the young players may be gone.

Here are the basics:

After this season, the North Stars may protect 14 skaters and two goalies. But to protect a player, he must have played 50 NHL games by the end of last season (1989-90). The only other players that can be protected are 1990 draft picks.

San Jose will pick 14 skaters and two goalies from Minnesota's unprotected list. Then the process of claiming and protecting becomes 1 to 1. The Sharks will pick one from the list and the North Stars get to protect another player. That goes on until the Sharks have 30 players.

Both the Sharks and North Stars will get 10 players each from the other 20 teams in an expansion draft. The other 20 teams can protect 16 skaters and two goalies.

The Sharks will get the second pick in the first round of the 1991 draft, so the worst team from this season will still have a chance to pick Eric Lindros. After the first round, the Sharks will pick first.

Norman Green, now the principal owner of the North Stars, voted for the deal as part owner of the Calgary Flames.

"I think the deal the Board of Governors set is something we can live with," Green said this week, but quickly added he thinks there are different ways of interpreting it and wants to talk about those with the Gunds and the league.

Meanwhile, Minnesota, which was the only team to lose money last season, drew fewer than 6,000 for each of its first three home games. In the fourth, against Boston, the team drew 9,129. Green says he has done away with freebies, so every ticket sold is "money in the cash register."

By cutting overhead (staff), Green projects a $1 million profit this year, even though he realizes there will be more crowds in the 6,000 range.

Opposite Directions

Quebec -- the surprise team of the first two weeks -- is 2-2-3, and both wins were on the road. The Nordiques won only four times on the road last season. . . . The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, who were expected by many to win the Adams Division, are 0-4-2 after losing to Montreal. Phil Housley -- who went from Buffalo to Winnipeg in the trade for Dale Hawerchuk -- said: "Buffalo has a lot of talent, but a lot of guys on this team have a lot of heart and character." . . .

Last week, the NHL filed suit against an equipment manufacturer, Karhu Canada (and its U.S. subsidiaries), accusing it of price-fixing. The NHL requires equipment makers to pay a fee to the league. If they don't, players are forced to paint over the logos on their sticks and equipment. The companies have balked, arguing that if they must pay a fee, then they will raise their prices. That makes common business sense, but the NHL doesn't like it. The manufacturers also have held up equipment.

Kerr Tragedy

The Philadelphia Flyers, who have known their share of tragedy, were rocked Tuesday by the death of Tim Kerr's wife, Kathy, who died of respiratory failure after a bout with a pelvic infection that followed childbirth. She had been in the hospital since having a Caesarean section Oct. 6. Tim Kerr was awakened and told of his wife's death at the team's hotel in Pittsburgh.

Before her marriage, Kathy Kerr worked as a secretary for team owner Ed Snider and afterward was active in charity events run by Flyers wives. Besides the baby, a girl, she had a daughter from an earlier marriage and an infant the Kerrs adopted last year. Teammates wondered if Kerr, who has battled through numerous shoulder operations, will ever be back.

"Timmy has a long road ahead and there are a lot of decisions to be made," Mark Howe told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I don't think any of them are going to be made anytime soon."