VANCOUVER, OCT. 31 -- The Edmonton Oilers -- the defending Stanley Cup champions and one of the NHL's smoothest-run teams -- have now won as many games as the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs, who are disorganized on and off the ice.
Friday, Tom Watt replaced Doug Carpenter as the Maple Leafs' coach, but the team likely will struggle all season. There have been reports of infighting among players. Gary Leeman had 51 goals last season, but he scored only his third goal Tuesday night. It is said his teammates are not particularly fond of him.
The Oilers, on the other hand, are not rotting from within. They are just missing too many parts.
"It's too early to tell about them," said Vancouver Coach Bob McCammon, whose team is in the middle of the Smythe Division standings, while Edmonton brings up the rear. McCammon added that, "L.A. is for real."
It's hard to believe the Oilers won't pull themselves out of their hole.
"Anytime you take 30 Stanley Cups out of the lineup you can see that it might hurt a bit," snarled Mark Messier, the Oilers' injured captain and unquestioned leader.
Messier will be out for at least another month with strained ligaments in his knee. The Oilers are getting good goaltending from Bill Ranford, but they won't have Grant Fuhr to fall back on until at least Feb. 18.
The defensemen are playing reasonably well, but Kevin Lowe and Charlie Huddy are 31. All can improve, but the Oilers can't bring back Jari Kurri, who now lives and works in Milan. As McCammon said: "He was the best two-way right winger in the league." Please, Somebody Shoot
A common complaint about European players is that they overhandle the puck, waiting for the perfect shot. Detroit Coach Bryan Murray at times has played his two new imports -- Soviet Sergei Federov and Swede Johann Garpenlov -- together.
"Put them apart and they'll always pass to someone else," Murray said. "Put them together and somebody's going to have to shoot."
By the way, Murray who used to complain about not having good goaltending during his years in Washington, apparently is going to use Tim Cheveldae until he drops. The improved Red Wings are 6-4-3, but Cheveldae has started 12 games and relieved in the other.
Murray, who used Don Beaupre in 16 of the first 18 games last season, reportedly said he was glad to have someone who could play well for long stretches. Beaupre wasn't thrilled with that comment. . . .
Pittsburgh General Manager Craig Patrick may have the early favorite for trade of the year. In June, Patrick sent a 1990 first-round draft choice (Nicholas Perreault) to Calgary for Joe Mullen. In 13 games, Mullen has 10 goals. Larmer Earning His Pay
Although former Blackhawk Dennis Savard drew louder applause, Steve Larmer led Chicago in scoring the previous two seasons, as he is doing in this one. Savard, now with Montreal, is scheduled to make just $290,000 in this, his option season. Larmer just signed a four-year, $3.1 million contract.
Besides providing points, the Blackhawks usually can count on Larmer playing with any ailment. He has played in 653 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak and fourth longest in NHL history. . . .
The Minnesota North Stars are facing the prospect of being broken up after the season, with the expansion team in San Jose getting many of the young players. However, the North Stars may have found a way around the agreement that calls for San Jose to get about 30 players from their organization.
The North Stars will be able to protect 14 skaters and two goalies. But if they let contracts expire or buy out other contracts, then they won't have to give those players to San Jose. If some understandings were reached ahead of time, Minnesota could re-sign those players.