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The NHL
Kostya Kennedy
February 02, 1998
Not Just a Roughneck
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February 02, 1998

The Nhl

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BUST AND BARGAIN

LW Andrei Kovalenko
Oilers
1997-98 salary: $1.1 million
Edmonton G.M. Glen Sather, who signed Kovalenko (three goals through Sunday) in July, says, "I want the money back."

LW Ray Whitney
Panthers
1997-98 salary: $300,000
Sather wants the player back, too. He unwisely waived Whitney (19 goals at week's end) in November.

Not Just a Roughneck

The Devils' McKay makes the transition from fighter to scorer
Don't overlook Bowman
Poor Peake

The bridge of Randy McKay's nose is slightly flattened, his knuckles somewhat worn. McKay came to the NHL in 1988-89 as an enforcer for the Red Wings, and in his first three seasons he scored four goals and had 234 penalty minutes in 83 games. He made his most memorable mark in the 1991 playoffs when he rammed Blues defenseman Mario Marois so hard that Marois crashed into Detroit's star center, Sergei Fedorov, and gave Fedorov a concussion. After his third fight, a bloodied McKay was ejected from the game.

This is the same Randy McKay who was the powerful Devils' second-leading goal scorer through Sunday, with 17. The last time McKay, 31, had more goals than that in a season was nine years ago—when he played in the minor leagues. His teammates are calling him the Rocket, as in Maurice (Rocket) Richard. "I'm just going to the net more," says McKay, a rightwinger. "I always knew I could score if I got a chance."

McKay is an NHL rarity, having made the transition from fighter to all-around player. Forwards Darren McCarty of the Red Wings, Bob Probert of the Blackhawks and Chris Simon of the Capitals (the latter two are sidelined with injuries) have similarly blossomed in this decade. Veteran winger Rick Tocchet of the Coyotes is perhaps the best example of a hell-raiser turned scorer.

The transformations occur for several reasons. Fighters who can use their hands for something other than throwing punches can earn promotions to top lines—McKay, for instance, plays with talented forwards Dave Andreychuk and Bobby Holik. Also, when a brawler is on the ice, opponents tend to give him room to work with. Not least of the factors is the resolve all goons to goal scorers seem to share. "The development comes from within," says former NHLer Chris Nilan, a cannonball of a forward who made the transition as a Canadien in the mid-1980s. "You have to want, more than anything, to improve."

These days McKay, who signed a four-year, $7.5 million contract last month, makes an impact even in subtle ways. On New Jersey's third goal in a 3-1 win over Detroit on Jan. 20, Devils defense-man Scott Niedermayer skated untouched to the side of the net and fed an open Andreychuk in front. All the while, the Wings defense had been eyeing McKay, who was also hovering near the crease.

For all his newfound success, McKay has no plans to forsake his old game. "I'm still going to fight sometimes, and I'm still going to play tough," he says. "That's what got me here."

Yeoman Bowman

In press rooms and barrooms, discussions of who has the early hold on coach of the year honors have begun. Three candidates are most commonly mentioned: the Bruins' Pat Burns, the Penguins' Kevin Constantine and the Blues' Joel Quenneville. Each is in his first full season with his club, and each has jump-started an average (or, in Boston's case, lousy) team and guided it into contention.

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