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Panthers Record Won't Keep the Lead in Atlantic Division

Column by Bo Light
Associate Sports Editor

All right, we have a lot to cover this week, so let's get right to it. We start our coverage this week with the wonderful world of the NHL.

On the Ice

As promised, this week's EA Sports reviews the Atlantic Division, and is that really the Florida Panthers in first place? You'd better believe it. After a seven-game winning streak, the Panthers have the best record in the league.

Right behind Florida are the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the New Jersey Devils, all of whom are already over 20 points. For those keeping score at home, this gives the Atlantic Division the last two Stanley Cup winners (New York and New Jersey), this year's Cup favorite (Philadelphia), and the league's hottest team (Florida). It may be early in the season, but the Atlantic has already proven itself to be the toughest division in the league.

Florida should be the first of the recent expansion teams to make the playoffs, but they won't be able to stay on top of the division. The Panthers will wind up fighting with the Washington Capitals for fifth in the division. But both teams should make it to the post-season, thanks to the weakness of the Northeast Division. After an impressive inaugural season three years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning have yet to improve. Maybe a few more high draft picks will help. On the other hand, I don't know what will help the pathetic New York Islanders. Maybe another uniform change?

Next week: The Norris -- er, Central Division.

Hoops Report

It's time for the second half of our long-awaited NBA preview. But first, a little commentary on hoop fashion. What is with these new uniforms? It seems like every team has come out with new jerseys (insert Nets joke here), and most of them are ugly. The Toronto Raptors, by the way, have taken the Triple Crown of Gaudy -- silly name, ugly uniforms, and a blinding home-court paint job (hey guys, you're supposed to paint the inside of the lane). Is the NBA trying to bring back the 1970s, and if so, why?

The mass uniform changes have a simple explanation, of course -- merchandising. The more often you change your uniform design, the more often fans have to buy it. But one would think the teams would have put more thought into their changes. NBA champs or not, the Rockets look goofy. That said, let's look at the Western Conference.

Midwest Conference

Who will win the Midwest? It's tough to say. This will be the toughest race in the league. Houston has won back-to-back NBA titles, but they were at their peak two years ago. Utah still has the talent to play with anyone, but their main weapon is still Stockton-to-Malone, and time is running out on John and the Mailman. David Robinson can take San Antonio to the playoffs by himself, but the Spurs just aren't the same team without Dennis Rodman (sad, but true).

Denver has a Rookie of the Year candidate in Antonio McDyess, but having the Rookie of the Year didn't do much for Detroit or Dallas last year. Which brings us to -- speaking of Dallas -- the Mavericks, a young, talented team that should go far in the regular season (the post-season is another matter).

However, the rest of the division shouldn't be too far behind. Look for five Midwest teams to make the playoffs. Which five? I'll give you a hint: Vancouver and Minnesota won't be playing in June.

Pacific Division

The Pacific used to be such an easy division to predict. The Lakers always finished first, the Clippers were always last, and you could throw darts to pick the teams in the middle. Now, the Lakers are mediocre, the Clips are mediocre, and the worst team last year could easily run away with the division this year. And speaking of perennially lousy teams, the Sacramento Kings should win the Pacific this year, behind Mitch Richmond and a load of young talent (in case you haven't noticed, young talent is a theme in the league this year). The Phoenix Suns, despite having mostly old talent, will still take second place, but the fighting will be fierce for the third spot. With the strength of the Midwest, only three teams from this division are likely to make it to the post-season, and when the dust has settled, that third team will be everyone's favorite group of underachievers, the Seattle Supersonics. The Lakers will just miss the playoffs. They have a way to go before they match up to the Showtime teams of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Clippers will rue the day they traded Antonio McDyess for Brent Barry. Really, could you possibly make a worse deal? Brent Barry indeed. They deserve their spot, down in the basement with the rapidly declining Trail Blazers and the luckless Golden State Warriors.

Western Conference Playoff Teams: Dallas, Sacramento, Houston, Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio, Denver, Seattle.

Conference Finalists: Sacramento and Phoenix.

Conference Champion: Sacramento.

NBA Champion: Chicago over Sacramento, 4-1.

Trivia Question

Mario Lemieux is on a pace to score more than 160 points for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. What is the NHL record for most points in a season, and (this is the easy part) who holds it? Send your answers and comments to easports@the-tech.mit.edu

Answer to last week's question: Before the 1987 and '88 Lakers, the last team to repeat as NBA Champions were the 1968 and '69 Boston Celtics. The Celtics' 1969 Championship finished off an incredible run of nine titles in the 1960s. Correct answers were sent in by Eric H. Allen G and Jean Fitzmaurice.