SUN Hockey Pool

Short and sweet

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Today, 35 years after Dustin Hoffman starred in Little Big Man, the National Hockey League's small fry are standing tall in the scoring race.

A glance around the standings shows Steve Sullivan (5-foot-9), Marc Savard (5-foot-10), Brian Gionta (5-foot-7), Pierre-Marc Boucher (5-foot-10) and Daniel Briere (5-foot-10) all leading their respective clubs in the scoring race with Saku Koivu (5-foot-10) second on the Canadiens by a point to Alexei Kovalev.

Certain to join that club if he keeps a regular gig with the Maple Leafs will by Kyle Wellwood (5-foot-10). With Sullivan and the 5-foot-10 Paul Kariya at its core and Scott Walker, Marek Zidlicky and Kimmo Timonen in the cast, the undefeated Nashville Predators power play does not feature anyone taller than six feet, yet is second in the Western Conference.

"It's 1980s hockey again," said former Leafs captain Wendel Clark, a 5-foot-11 winger in his playing days. "In the 1990s, they stopped calling hooking and interference and teams started drafting (big defensive specialists). Now, a defensive player can't just use his stick, he has to be a skater, too. It's a foot race, like the safety in football, who has to keep up with the receiver, but can't touch him.

"It's great for a guy such as Wellwood, who you wouldn't have seen before, but who can really get in there now."

The one Smurf missing from the list so far this season is a glaring absence -- Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. He had one goal and one assist in six games before last night.

"He's squeezing the graphite right out of his stick right now," Tampa general manager Jay Feaster told Leafs TV yesterday.

"But you get the feeling if he gets one, he'll get a bunch."

A Brett of fresh air

Goodbye Brett Hull and thanks for the Memorex. The third-highest goal scorer in league history wept at his retirement news conference in Phoenix on Saturday and all reporters will be shedding a tear at the loss of one of the best deadline quotes in sports history.

The NHL cringed at some of his denouncements of the game's direction, but commissioner Gary Bettman also respected the fact Hull put the spotlight on the game as few could.

"(We) will miss Brett's skill, his scoring touch and his fun-loving attitude," Bettman said in a statement. "He was a splendid athlete, a passionate player and someone who never hesitated to speak his mind."

It strengthens the case to widen the Hall Of Fame's doors in 2008, with Hull, Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and Al MacInnis all becoming eligible.

A few Leafs coaches no doubt wish Hull hung the blades up sooner. His career totals versus Toronto were 73 games, 53 goals and 52 assists and just 10 penalty minutes.

NHL seat sale

Going strictly by the game summaries, two Saturday nights in a row, with a near-full slate of games, showed NHL crowds at or near capacity, with a few sparsely attended matches. Most clubs either held the line on ticket prices after the lockout or made cuts in the 5% to 10% range.

"I'll admit, I go to the paper and check the attendance before I read about the game," Feaster said. "We just can't pay lip service to selling the game. If Vinny Lecavalier is asked to go on a sports talk show in Washington on a Sunday and it sells just five more tickets to the game the next day (it's worth it)."

Ice chips

The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins opened without a win in their first five games was 1978-79 ... Philadelphia goaltender Robert Esche likely will need another game such as his team's romp over the New York Islanders on Saturday to convince coach Ken Hitchcock not to start splitting game assignments with Antero Niittymaki ... The 5-0 Predators trailed at some point in four of their first five victories, finally winning by more than one goal on Saturday against St. Louis ... Calgary has captured 13 of a possible 14 points against Edmonton dating back to 2003-04.

The week ahead

On Saturday, Colorado and Vancouver clash at GM Place for the first time since Todd Bertuzzi was reinstated ... Wayne Gretzky, who caused visiting coaches so much grief in Edmonton when he played there, will walk that beat himself on Thursday when Phoenix visits ... On Friday, Tampa Bay meets the so-far undefeated Senators, picked by many to succeed them as Cup champs next spring.

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CHANGE 'EM UP

THE EFFECT OF THE NEW RULES

Once thought to be below minimum height requirements for the NHL, members of this group were either leading their team in scoring before last night's game or close to the top:

Player, Team Ht. Pts

Sullivan, Nash 5-9 10

Savard, Atl 5-10 9

Briere, Buff 5-10 7

Kariya, Nash 5-10 7

Bouchard, Minn 5-10 7

Koivu, Mtl 5-10 5

Wellwood, Tor 5-10 5

Gionta, NJ 5-7 4


Photos