STICK ATTACK CONTINUES TO STICK IN KHRISTICH'S CRAW : PENALTY BOX.
While Dimitri Khristich has refused to discuss the Barry Potomski stick-swinging incident with English-speaking reporters, he made it clear in an interview with a Russian radio station that he remains angry at his former Kings teammate.
Khristich said he didn't believe Potomski's punishment - a demotion to Phoenix of the International Hockey League - was severe enough. Which should make things interesting if the Kings ever decide to bring Potomski back.
Khristich also said he did nothing to prompt the attack, that previously there had been no bad blood between the two and that Potomski followed up the swing of his stick with a punch.
Khristich has every right to be angry. The stick struck him in the right eye, partially tearing the retina and necessitating laser surgery. After missing seven games, he returned to the lineup Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Potomski, meanwhile, probably derailed his Kings career. He had established himself as a valuable member of the checking line and had shown a willingness to challenge the league's toughest fighters, even though he lost most of those battles.
But he also turned off team management with his sometimes negative attitude and by not getting back into proper shape after being sidelined with a low-back strain early in the season.
He is in the final year of his contract and if it comes down to choosing between Khristich and him, it's an easy decision.
Khristich not only leads the team in scoring but is the best defensive forward.
Kings coach Larry Robinson said he hasn't ruled out bringing Potomski back but indicated it would happen only if injuries force his hand.
When injuries depleted the forwards ranks, however, the Kings recalled borderline prospects Nathan LaFayette, Paul DiPietro and Chris Marinucci while leaving Potomski with the Roadrunners.
See ya, Potomski. You have no one to blame but yourself.
Counterstrike: Give Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix credit for moving aggressively to keep the corps of the Avalanche together.
With Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic scheduled to become restricted free agents after this season, conventional wisdom said the Avalanche wouldn't be able to re-sign both because each would command an astronomical salary.
Lacroix always told people to wait and see, but he wasn't sitting around waiting for something to happen. Last week, he signed Forsberg to a retroactive three-year deal worth $13.539 million.
According to the Rocky Mountain News, Forsberg's base salary of $573,000 this season was increased by $2.3 million, and he will receive a signing bonus of $666,000 on July 1. Forsberg will earn $4 million next season and $5 million or $6 million in 1999-2000, depending on whether the club exercises all of its options.
Now Lacroix is turning his attention to Sakic. Stay tuned.
Sowing his Oates Adam Oates moved ahead of Rick Tocchet as most-likely-to-be-traded by the Boston Bruins.
While Tocchet has subtly campaigned for a trade since training camp, Oates all but guaranteed he would be dealt after ripping team management following an overtime loss last week.
``The guys upstairs are not doing their jobs,'' he said, later adding, ``We've gotten worse since I've been here. You can't blame anyone except (management). . . . It's a joke.''
Management responded by stripping Oates of his status as alternate captain.
Talent thin: Two signs of how desperate teams are to find serviceable players: Detroit coach Scotty Bowman is excited about the return of 36-year-old defenseman Mike Ramsey, who retired after last season but hopes to be ready to play in two weeks. Petr Klima, who the Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins gave up on this season because of his lazy play, was expected to sign with the Edmonton Oilers.
If the NHL follows through on its plans to expand, it will only get worse. Barry Potomski could be in demand.
Coaching honor: With the Sabres holding the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, Ted Nolan is the leading candidate for the Jack Adams Award as the league's Coach of the Year.
But he isn't letting it go to his head.
``That reminds me of (former Winnipeg coach) Tom McVie's joke,'' he said. ``Last year, the team stunk and they wanted me fired. This year, things are going great and they're talking about erecting a bridge in my honor, but that's just so if we stink again next year they'll have something to push me off.''
Add Sabres: Buffalo enforcer Rob Ray has fought every tough guy around, but his favorite opponent is Toronto's Tie Domi.
``Crowds in this town for Montreal and Toronto games are usually split 50-50, and I always do well against Domi,'' he said. ``I hate his guts. Nobody else in the league I feel that way about. I just love pounding on his big head.''
Slap shots: With Toronto 12th in the Western Conference and Montreal teetering at eighth in the East, this might be the first season since 1969-70 that both teams failed to qualify for the playoffs. . . . Kings coach Larry Robinson didn't make a big deal out of giving gutty forward Ian Laperriere an `A' to wear on his jersey against the Vancouver Canucks after injuries sidelined captain Rob Blake and alternates Kevin Stevens and Steven Finn. ``They didn't say anything. They just stuck it on there,'' said Laperriere. ``It's a great feeling.'' It's an honor the hard-working Laperriere deserves. Even though he's playing with a shoulder injury that will assuredly require surgery after the season, he hasn't strayed from his kamikaze style. . . . Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr said a flat right foot is causing him groin problems, so his skate sponsor has given him a new pair of skates in hopes it corrects the problem.
Al Sims, San Jose
There's nothing wrong with the coach being optimistic, but there is something wrong with being Pollyannish. After the Sharks completed a four-game series sweep of the Dallas Stars, Sims said, ``We hope to meet 'em in the first round of the playoffs, that's for sure.'' The Stars, who are in second place in the Western Conference, won't have a problem making it. San Jose, however, was dead last in the conference, nine points from a playoff berth.
Steve Yzerman, Detroit
He played in his 1,000th regular-season game last week, assisting on three goals. Even more amazing is that he's played all the games in a Red Wings uniform. ``I think to the players it means a lot for a guy to get 1,000, but it's really no big deal,'' said Yzerman. ``You kind of reflect on all the guys you've played with. Doing it with one team is something I'm proud of.''
``I'd like to put him over my knee and spank him,'' Oilers general manager Glen Sather, after former first-round draft choice Jason Bonsignore went public with complaints about being in the minor leagues.
L.A. ON ICE
Trying for third three-game winning streak of the season.
Wednesday - Edmonton
Friday - at Washington
Sunday - At Detroit
One-point out of playoffs; no time to waste.
TOP 10 AND NO. 26
1. Colorado-Went 11-4-2 without Sakic
2. Buffalo-Ted Nolan is Coach of the Year
3. Philadelphia-Always looking to add toughness to protect Lindros
4. New Jersey-Owes no apologies for style
5. Dallas-0-4 against lowly San Jose
6. Florida-Ed Jovanovski has returned from injury
7. Detroit-Injuries forced them to use three rookie defensemen
8. New York Rangers-Wayne Gretzky breaks 21-game goal drought
9. Pittsburgh-Defense has been shaky
10. Edmonton-Not an elite team
26. Boston-Even Adam Oates can't stand it
Box: PENALTY BOX (see text)