SUN Hockey Pool

Changes? Hate 'em

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

The most penalized player in National Hockey League history hates the league's squeaky-clean makeover.

But in blasting the league yesterday, Tiger Williams said he was defending the skill players of yesteryear as well as his lunchbucket buddies.

"They've taken everything out of the game," the former Maple Leaf complained yesterday at the Air Canada Centre, after helping a team of Canadian legends beat a team of Russian legends 7-4 in an exhibition game.

"Guy Lafleur would grind out his 50 goals every year and so did (Lanny) McDonald, (Bryan) Trottier, the Rocket, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Now, you don't have to get a broken nail on your finger and you're going to score 40 or 50 goals.

"Is that what we strived to do in the NHL the past 70 years? Guys paid a price to score on a regular basis. They get carte blanche now to score on power plays."

Williams said he was disillusioned with the officiating while attending a recent Edmonton-Calgary game.

"Was that exciting to watch, five power plays in a row from the same team?" he asked. "I'd rather watch peewee hockey, and that's not a knock against peewees."

Williams believes the game's poor image prior to the lockout can be traced to its rapid growth to 30 teams in the 1990s.

"The problem was that some idiot in New York expanded the league too quick and we couldn't put enough quality players on all those teams. So the coaches had to do what they had to do. The (league) created the situation and now they're trying to un-create it by changing the whole tradition of our game. You can sell that lie to the media, but you can't sell it to me."

ME AND THE BOYS AND OUR 50

Cam Neely is not sure if the game has opened up this year to the extent that the coveted 50 goals in 50 games mark will fall. He once did it in 49 games with Boston.

"A few guys are on a 50-50 clip," Neely said of Jaromir Jagr, Simon Gagne and Daniel Alfredsson. "We all know it's hard, but with the way the game is being called, I don't see why you won't see guys get 50 or 60 (by the end of the season). Getting 50 in 50 is a different story, but I wouldn't be surprised."

DR. TUCKER WEIGHS IN

Leafs forward Darcy Tucker wonders if the Tampa Bay Lightning's streak of good fortune with injuries is influenced by its environment.

The Bolts had six men play all 82 games in 2003-04. Three more were out just one night and defenceman Dan Boyle's four-game absence was the longest that a regular was hurt.

"I know from playing in Tampa that your body feels pretty good when you get out of the rink," Tucker said. "It certainly helps when you come out and it's (30C) and sunny. Your body doesn't get cold and stiff. I know when I played there, I didn't miss any games due to injuries. Maybe it's something in the water down there.

"It's weird how nice it is to get up in the morning, the sun is shining and you get into your car and drive to the rink. You're not shovelling snow off your car."

Tucker's theory does not account for why the neighboring Florida Panthers have been so bad, but as for himself, he's content with the fickle forecast in Toronto.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said. "It's a great hockey city. I'll take the snow and cold weather any day."

TURIN TURNAROUND?

While in town for the Hall of Fame festivities tonight, International Ice Hockey Federation boss Rene Fasel is meeting with NHL counterparts to discuss officiating at the Turin Olympics. The IIHF has not followed the NHL's lead on rule and equipment changes and there is bound to be confusion regarding obstruction for NHLers who will have played almost six months under zero-tolerance conditions.

In other Olympic bits:

- Expect Team Canada to announce its final roster Dec. 21 in Vancouver, a day ahead of the deadline

- Alexander Karpovtsev was asked his opinion on Pavel Bure being named general manager of the Russians: "Every year the coach and GM change," Karpovtsev said. "Every day something happens. It could change every day. Right now it's Pavel Bure, by Christmas it could be somebody different."

- Dave Lewis, formerly coach of the Red Wings and now a pro scout for the team, will be behind the Team Canada bench with head coach Marc Habscheid at next month's Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Curtis Joseph, who might finally make his first post-Leaf appearance here on Jan. 14 with Phoenix, won his return engagement in Detroit on Saturday.

But ex-Sabre Dominik Hasek was kept out of the lineup earlier this week when the Senators played in Buffalo. Denying it was a deliberate move to spare Hasek grief from the crowd, Senators coach Bryan Murray hinted that Buffalo fans should be careful what they wish for.

"They love to boo him, they don't love to see him. There's a big difference," Murray said. "But we play here (three) more times, so they'll get their chance."

FLEURY FANTASTIC IN AHL

Not only have the Pittsburgh Penguins started winning, their AHL farm club in Wilkes-Barre is 11-0 with a shootout loss. Leading the way is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ... Ex-Leaf Bryan Marchment is out of the Flames lineup with a "mystery injury" according to reports.

BRUIN BATTLES MS

Jordan Sigalet, who is backing up Hannu Toivenen in Boston while Andrew Raycroft heals, is in a battle with multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed in mid-season two years ago while playing for Bowling Green University, suffering numbness in his hands and feet that gradually worsened.

He finished the season, began taking a new drug that that controlled his condition and went on to be a Hobey Baker Award finalist in the 2004-05 season.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins plays his first NHL games in New York's Madison Square Garden tonight and Saturday ... A determination on Joe Nieuwendyk's return -- or possible season-ending back surgery -- will be made by the Florida Panthers ... The Sabres try to avoid another double-digit embarrassment on Saturday against the Senators.


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