BETWEEN THE LINES.

By Alan Campbell.

It's been a while since I've updated my column, but with NHL news being extremely slow, can you blame me? You probably can, but that's beyond the point. Many big name free agents are still unsigned and in this article, I will attempt to predict where these players will end up.

Glen Murray: 2003-2004 Team: Boston Bruins

Murray is a tough one to figure out. He is rumored to be demanding at least 5 million per year in a multiyear deal. I think it's unlikely that he will end up making near that much, but we will see. My prediction is that Murray will end up signing a 3 year deal worth around 12-13 million with…the Los Angeles Kings. Although they've signed Craig Conroy, LA has dropped Jason Allison, Ziggy Palffy, and Adam Deadmarsh. They should have enough room to sign Murray who was with the Kings before.

Alexei Zhamnov: 2003-2004 Teams: Chicago Blackhawks/Philadelphia Flyers

Zhamnov is an extremely talented center who has never quite lived up to his full potential. However, he seemed to be a perfect fit with the Flyers last year and he helped to raise the performance of young talent Simon Gagne. Sources say that the Flyers offered him a 3 year deal worth around 10 million, but it was turned down. However, he won't get more than that on the open market. Bobby Clarke says he won't make any moves until after Sept. 15, but this was the guy who said that he wasn't going to deal for Comrie. I think that Zhamnov will be in the orange and black whenever the season starts.

Petr Nedved: 2003-2004 Teams: New York Rangers/Edmonton Oilers

Nedved is quite a talented player, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent for the past few years. However, he seemed to fit in well in Edmonton and he helped lead a late season run that almost put the Oilers in the playoffs. It was rumored that Nedved might be headed back to the Rangers with his supermodel wife pushing him all the way. But now that New York has signed Michael Nylander, this doesn't seem very likely. In fact, it's now being reported that Nedved and his agent are in serious negotiations with Kevin Lowe. With Edmonton boasting lots of young players that are getting close to the NHL, I can think of worse places to go. The wife may not like it, but I think Nedved stays in Edmonton.

Zigmund Palffy: 2003-2004 Team: LA Kings

While healthy, Ziggy Palffy has to be viewed as one of the best wingers in the world. He did suffer a season-ending shoulder injury last year, but he's still a good fit on a lot of teams. It's just his contract demands that aren't good for a lot of teams. He was rumored to be headed to Detroit and I think he'll end up there. Detroit is thin on RW now that Hull has left and who knows what will happen with Steve Thomas. Palffy will probably rue turning down LA's 3 year 18 million dollar offer and will probably end up signing a 3 year deal that's worth a few million less than that.

Paul Kariya 2003-2004 Team: Colorado Avalanche

Kariya and Teemu Selanne came to Colorado with a discount and hoped they would win a Cup and put up big enough numbers to hit a big payday. But things didn't work out as planned and now they are both struggling to find a team. I don't think Kariya will stay in Colorado. However, I think he'll stay in the same conference, even the same division. Kariya and Vancouver seem like a good fit for each other. With Todd Bertuzzi's status still up in the air, Geoff Sanderson back with Columbus, and Rucinsky signed in Europe, Vancouver needs wing depth and Kariya provides the answer.

That's it for now, I'll look to do more of these type of columns as the off-season goes on. As for weighing in on the CBA, that will come another time.

E-mail me at arccampbell@comcast.net if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.

 

After an action packed 1st and 2nd rounds, the NHL is down to its Final Four. What a list it is too. If I were to tell you that Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Calgary would make it to the conference finals at the beginning of the year, you would probably call me crazy. Philly didn't have a goalie, the Lightning didn't have a stud d-man, Calgary and San Jose didn't have talent. But what's done is done and these will be the teams battling it out. In this article, I'll introduce a special first and second round rating system for each team. 1 will be the lowest rating and 10 will be the highest rating.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

1. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS. 3. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Firs t Two Rounds Rating: The Lightning had two relatively easy series as they conquered the Islanders in five and then swept the Montreal Canadiens. The Lightning weren't physically challenged in this series like they will be against the Flyers, but they should be well rested and ready for the challenge. The Flyers on the other hand finally triumphed over long time nemesis New Jersey in five games before going on to beat Toronto in a hard-fought six game series. The Flyers have had the longer road to hoe and it has probably taken a bit of a physical toll.
TAMPA BAY RATING : 9.5 PHILADELPHIA RATING : 8.0

Defensive match-up: Tampa Bay acquired Darryl Sydor during the regular season and he has been a good player for the Lightning in this year's playoffs. The Lightning also bring Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina, Cory Sarich, Brad Lukowich, and Nolan Pratt to the table. The Flyers perhaps have a bit more talent on the backend, but Kim Johnsson has had injury problems and the status of defensive stalwart Vladimir Malakhov is uncertain. Both defenses have done a good job during this postseason.
ADVANTAGE: NONE

Forward match-up: Tampa Bay has the best group of forwards left in the postseason. Martin St. Louis is a great playmaker and Vinny Lecavalier finally found his playoff stride in the Montreal series. Brad Richards and Frederick Modin are also very dangerous. For the Flyers, Jeremy Roenick and Alexei Zhamnov have been great along with two-way center Keith Primeau and left wing Simon Gagne. However, the Flyers will look to get guys such as John LeClair and Mark Recchi to get it going in this series.
ADVANTAGE: TAMPA BAY

Goaltending match-up: Both of the teams bring fantastic goalies to the table in this match-up. Nikolai Khabibulin has been playing like a man possessed in these playoffs. Teams have learned that what the Wall can see, the Wall can stop. Although Robert Esche does not have Khabibulin's numbers, he has been great for the Flyers and he kept them in Game 6 after Toronto tied it up. Still, edge goes to the Bulin Wall.
ADVANTAGE: TAMPA BAY

X-Factors: Tampa Bay has just looked dominant against any competition that gets thrown against them. However, the physical Flyers present a problem that TB hasn't seen before. TB won the season series 4-0, but this is not the same Flyers team and a confident Robert Esche is a huge upgrade over a shaky Jeff Hackett. I love Philly's heart (Kapanen somehow getting back to the bench instead of crying was just incredible), but I love TB's speed just a little bit more.
MY PREDICTION: TAMPA BAY IN 7

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

2. SAN JOSE SHARKS VS. 6. CALGARY FLAMES

First Two Rounds Rating: These two Cinderella teams somehow worked their way through the first couple rounds as San Jose easily dispatched St. Louis while Calgary took an epic series from Vancouver that will be a classic within ten years. Both teams knocked out one of the Big Two in the West in the second round. San Jose jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Colorado before winning in six while Calgary took a pivotal Game 5 in Detroit en route to a six game series win.
SAN JOSE RATING: 8.5 CALGARY RATING: 8.0

Defensive match-up: Both of these teams have a good group of defensemen that can quietly get the job done. The Sharks have a solid group that includes Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren, and Mike Rathje. The Flames also have a good core led by young Jordan Leopold, but with the status of Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier in question, edge to the Sharks.
ADVANTAGE: SHARKS

Forward match-up: Patrick Marleau leads the Sharks with seven goals and is tied for the NHL lead. Jarome Iginla of the Flames is not far behind with six. Vincent Damphousse has also rebounded from a tough regular season with a good playoff and the Sharks have also gotten good contributions from Jonathan Cheechoo and Nicholas Dimitrakos. Behind 'Iggy, the Flames can bring out Martin Gelinas and Craig Conroy. Both teams also bring out solid checking lines.
ADVANTAGE: NONE

Goaltending match-up: The lost son returns home. The only problem is that he's wearing a different uniform. Mikka Kiprusoff returns to the Shark tank, but the Sharks have a good antidote with Evgeni Nabokov. Both goalies have been nothing short of incredible for their teams and without them, neither team is playing for the conference. Nabby's previous postseason edge gives him the slight edge.
ADVANTAGE: SHARKS

X-Factors: What do I like Calgary? What do I like about San Jose? They both play a great team game and they are both well-coached. Calgary has the best player on the ice in Jarome Iginla, but I like the Sharks scoring depth. Why not go for a another seven game prediction? I'll jump on the Cheechoo train and go with the Sharks.

 

Before I begin, let me offer my apologies to readers for the lateness of this article. For the last few weeks I have been extremely busy, but now, spring break is here and with spring break comes NHL playoff time. In this article, I'll break down the match-ups in each series and then offer my prediction.

Eastern Conference

1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 8. New York Islanders

Defense: Both of these teams can put a very solid D core on the ice. The Lightning can bring out very talented and very underrated guys such as Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina, Brad Lukowich, Cory Sarich, Darryl Sydor, and Jassen Cullimore. The Islanders counter with Roman Hamrlik, Adrian Aucoin, Janne Niinimaa, and Kenny Jonsson. I know that the Islanders overall have more experience, but I like the core on the Lightning better because you can count on each guy for a good 20 minutes and don't have to have one guy play 30 minutes.
Advantage: LIGHTING

Offense: The Lightning bring a huge amount of talent to the table here. They have 5 guys over 55 points which is incredible in today's NHL. The Isles by comparison do not have one guy over 50 points. Although New York has a good group of forwards, the Lightning arguably have the best forwards in the NHL.
Advantage: LIGHTNING

Goaltending: While Nikolai Khabibulin is a name that strikes fear into the heart of opposing forwards, Rick DiPietro is no slouch either and he has been much more consistent over the year. The Islanders also have a solid guy in Garth Snow who does have some postseason experience. This is close but…
Advantage: ISLANDERS

X-Factors: Mark Parrish has 24 goals in just 59 games for New York although he isn't the best playmaker, the Isles have Yashin to set him up which isn't so bad. Also, something just tells me that the Islanders match-up well against the Lighting. Maybe it's the 3 out of 4 games that the Fishsticks took from Tampa this year.
MY PREDICTION: ISLANDERS IN SIX.

2. Boston Bruins vs. 7. Montreal Canadiens

Defense: Both teams had no-name cores until Boston acquired offensive specialist Sergei Gonchar. The Canadiens do have an underrated group as Sheldon Souray has had a good year while the much-maligned Patrice Brisebois has been very solid. However, I really like Nick Boynton a lot and Boston's D has the muscle to push around Montreal's forwards.
Advantage: BRUINS

Offense: This is an intriguing match-up. I'm betting that Joe Thornton will be good enough to go in Game 1 and this gives Boston a huge boost. Glen Murray only had 32 goals, but he is a great guy to have in the playoffs. The Bruins also have Nylander and others. Montreal has a good group led by Ribeiro, Ryder, and Koivu, but it's not enough.
Advantage: BRUINS

Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft is good, but Theodore is Theodore and this is the man who led Montreal past the Bruins a couple of years ago. Raycroft can keep the Bruins in games, but Theodore can win games for Montreal.
Advantage: CANADIENS

X-Factors: These old rivals were evenly matched during the season and I don't think that much will change during the playoffs. However, deadline acquisitions will decide this one. Kovalev has not looked good with the Canadiens and Dowd is just a 3rd-liner. Gonchar and Nylander have had a great impact and while I expect this series to be competitive, I'll take…
THE BRUINS IN SIX.

3. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 6. New Jersey Devils

Defense: The Devils still have a formidable core, but the likely loss of Scott Stevens in this series could be costly. The Flyers have a group that includes Kim Johnsson, Eric Desjardins, Danny Markov, Matthias Timander, Joni Pitkanen, and Marcus Ragnarrsson. While Niedermayer is the best guy on either side, I'll take Johnsson over Rafalski and the Flyers also have a great veteran leader in Desjardins.
Advantage: NONE.

Offense: The Devils have a fantastic guy in Patrik Elias, but after that, there isn't much. Gomez has been riding Elias's coattails while Langenbrunner has been injured and Friesen unproductive. I'll take Keith Primeau over John Madden and the Flyers overall depth with the return of Roenick and Primeau gives them the edge.
Advantage: FLYERS

Goaltending: While both goalies have looked vulnerable at times this year, it's Martin Brodeur and Robert Esche. Brodeur wins this one easily.
Advantage: FLYERS

X-Factors: While some might argue that the Flyers last two wins over the Devils were due to the absence of Stevens, let's not forget that Philly was missing Primeau, Roenick, and Desjardins. I also like Simon Gagne who has been on a tear lately and the Flyers have the red-hot line of LeClair-Handzus-Recchi. In fact, this line plus home-ice make the difference in the series.
MY PREDICTION: FLYERS IN SEVEN.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 5. Ottawa Senators

Defense: This one is extremely close, but I give a tiny edge to the Sens. I like Leetch a whole lot, but Redden is great and Chara is extremely good defensively and he can also put the puck in the net. I also like Ottawa's overall size better than what the Leafs can bring.
Advantage: SENATORS

Offense: This one isn't quite as close. With nods to the Leafs' Sundin and Mogilny, I'll give this one to Ottawa. Alfredsson, Hossa, and Havlat are three of the most exciting players in the game and Bondra isn't so bad either. Guys like Chris Neil can also match the grit of Toronto's tough guys.
Advantage: SENATORS

Goaltending: Although Patrick Lalime has been stellar in the past, he has been shaky in big games this year. I'll go with Belfour who has won a Cup and is one of the best goalies in the game.
Advantage: LEAFS

X-Factors: This is where the series will be decided. If Belfour can turn in a performance like he did last year, the Leafs will be a very tough team to beat. Toronto has owned the Sens this year and they just seem to outplay them in every game. While Ottawa can win this series, I think that the all-important asset of home-ice can give it to the Leafs.
MY PREDICTION: LEAFS IN SEVEN.

Western Conference

1. Detroit Red Wings vs. 8. Nashville Predators

Defense: While Nashville can bring a gutsy group to the table and Nicklas Lidstrom has looked (gasp!) ordinary this year, Lidstrom, Schneider, Chelios, Hatcher, Dandeneault, and the rest are just better than what Nashville has to offer.
Advantage: RED WINGS

Offense: This one is actually closer than some might think. Detroit has Hull and Datsyuk, but both of those guys were minus players and Datsyuk has been very streaky. Still, guys like Shanahan, Yzerman, Thomas, and of course, Lang outweigh Sullivan and Walker for Nashville although I think Sullivan will be a big problem for Detroit.
Advantage: RED WINGS

Goaltending: I really love this match-up. While Legace is inexperienced, he has done a great job for Detroit for the last few years. Vokoun is also untested, but I like him more than Legace. Vokoun is a guy that can just carry a team and if anyone can pull off a Giguere, it's him.
Advantage: PREDATORS

X-Factors: I don't think that the Predators can pull off another Anaheim because it's their bad luck to be facing Detroit, otherwise, it would be very possible. Still, I think that Vokoun can give the Preds a fighting chance. An energetic Nashville will give the Wings trouble, but Detroit looks like they're on a mission.
MY PREDICTION: RED WINGS IN FIVE.

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. St. Louis Blues

Defense: After a pretty good top 4, I have no idea who the Sharks will play after that. But they've played good team defense all year and I really don't expect that to change at all. St. Louis has had all kinds of problems all year long. Pronger is great, but I don't see a whole lot behind him.
Advantage: SHARKS

Offense: Who is Nils Ekman? I really have no idea, but right now, I am seeing 55 points and +30. Another bad giveaway by the Rangers. The Sharks also have Marleau, Cheechoo (the NHL's new poster boy), McCauley, and Damphousse. However, I like the Blues just a tad better with guys like Tkachuk, Weight, and Demitra.
Advantage: BLUES

Goaltending: I think that we are going to see the Nabokov of old who was one of the best young goalies in the NHL. However, that's just my guess and Osgood is no slouch either.
Advantage: NONE

X-Factors: The Sharks have really been playing like a team this year. The guys have trust and confidence in each other and each one pulls his load. The Blues are certainly a dangerous opponent, but give the edge to the Sharks.
MY PREDICTION: SHARKS IN SIX.

3. Vancouver Canucks vs. 6. Calgary Flames

Defense: The Flames have a very good young stud on the blue-line in Jordan Leopold and the group isn't too bad behind him. However, the Canucks can bring it with Brent Sopel, Mattias Ohlund, and Jovocop. Marek Malik and his +35 isn't so bad either.
Advantage: CANUCKS

Offense: Although the Canucks lost Todd Bertuzzi, the offense is still very potent and the late additions of Sanderson and Rucinsky can give this team a boost. Jarome Iginla is exceeding skilled, and there are a few good guys behind him, but the Canucks will reign supreme in this category.
Advantage: CANUCKS

Goaltending: The Canucks will once again bring out Dan Cloutier while the Flames will try out Miikka Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff has had a great regular season, but as Roman Cechmanek can attest, the playoffs are completely different. Cloutier has experience, but he has had several memorable meltdowns.
Advantage: NONE

X-Factors: There a lot of comparisons that can be drawn between this series and the series last year that featured the 'Nucks and Minnesota Wild which the Wild took in seven. Vancouver will definitely miss Todd Bertuzzi a lot and Jovanovski has not looked the same this year, but I just can't see Calgary coming in and beating Vancouver at GM Place in Game 7.
MY PREDICTION: CANUCKS IN SEVEN

4. Colorado Avalanche vs. 5. Dallas Stars

Defense: This is a really interesting match-up. While the Stars are missing Derian Hatcher, Zubov, Boucher, Numminen, and Matvichuk are all good. I just can't believe what the Avs have done with their blue-line. Vaananen and Sauer do not offer anything more to this team than Morris and Skoula, in fact, they offer less.
Advantage: STARS

Offense: The Avs may have lost Kariya for the postseason as well as Tanguay perhaps. With Selanne being in a yearlong slump, suddenly, the Avs look a bit thin. But Modano has been in an absolute funk in Dallas and this can give Colorado an edge, especially if Forsberg gets going.
Advantage: AVALANCHE

Goaltending: This features two of the best young netminders in the NHL. Both Marty Turco and David Aebischer won over 30 games this year, but I'll go with Turco due to his playoff experience from last year and his greater amount of experience overall.
Advantage: STARS

X-Factors: While the Avalanche could have the bigger names, the Stars are not a team to be taken lightly. The Avs stumbled into the postseason while Dallas has come in on a roll. I think that the tailspin in Denver will continue.
MY PREDICTION: STARS IN SIX.

 

Although the trading deadline passed without any "gigantic" deals (Pronger not leaving St. Louis? I don't believe it), there were still quite a few notable transactions. The story this week though that has grabbed everyone's attention is the Todd Bertuzzi assault on Steve Moore. I'll comment on these two topics in this article.

Deadline Dealing

So if you were wondering, that Pronger comment was a joke, but the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks were headlined the two teams that were wheelin' and dealin' Tuesday. After acquiring Brian Leetch, the Leafs also went out and signed Calle Johansson. Then, they took Chad Kilger off of waivers from the Montreal Canadians before the headline of the day, the trade for Ron Francis. The acquisition that impresses me the most is Francis. He brings great leadership to this team and has already assisted on a goal in the Leafs-Canadiens game as I type. Francis has been there and done that and he also gives the Leafs a pretty good playmaker. Kilger is a good 4th line playmaker although I have my doubts about how much playing time he will actually see in the blue and white. I do have my doubts about Johansson as well. He has missed around sixty-five games and I don't know how hard he has been working out, but nothing can prepare for playing as much as playing itself. While Johansson might be able to log about fifteen solid minutes in the playoffs, maybe a little more, I don't think his overall impact on the team will be that big. The Leafs' obvious need in this season was a back-up, did they get one? No. This could be absolutely huge. Look at the other goalies in the East. Brodeur is Brodeur. Robert Esche has beaten the Leafs three times this season and the Devils twice playing brilliantly in all five games. The Bruins have a stud rookie in Raycroft and Felix Potvin has proven to be a very good playoff goalie if called upon. Tampa has Khabibulin. The Leafs have Belfour and I take him IF HE'S HEALTHY over Esche (by a whisker), Lalime, and Raycroft/Potvin. Is he going to be healthy in the playoffs? That is a big question mark. I cannot believe that the Leafs would be unable to acquire a guy like Manny Fernandez. If Eddie goes down or even if he is unhealthy, the Leafs will make a first round exit. If they had Fernandez, they would have a shot.

My other teams that I will look at in the deadline dealing are the Vancouver Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche (scary coincidence). Vancouver's deals were made out of necessity. I really like the deal for Rucinsky. Umberger is a decent prospect, but Rucinsky is a guy that can come in and help the 'Nucks right away and he had a nice game against Edmonton recently. I also like the deal for Sanderson who has looked real good in a Canuck uniform. These guys aren't going to replace Todd Bertuzzi's menace on the ice, but they should replace his scoring and possibly add something to it. The other active team was the Colorado Avalanche. The trade for Salo was made for the obvious reasons. Salo is just a veteran guy and this trade got the Avs a good back-up without undermining David Aebischer in any way. Pierre Lacroix did well on this trade, but I really don't like the other one that he made. The Avalanche traded a very good d-man, Derek Morris, and a top prospect, Keith Ballard for a stay-at-home d-man and a 3rd line center plus a draft pick. I don't really see how this deal helps the Avs a lot even for this year. I have a feeling that the Avs will really regret this deal in the future because I think they traded away two studs. Vaananen is talented in his own right, but he just isn't going to put up great numbers and Gratton is just a guy who has had a pretty bad year. Of course, if the Avalanche end up winning the Cup, I'll look like an idiot, but that's just two cents.

Tuzzi banned for the Year, Possibly More

I think that any reader knows about the Todd Bertuzzi incident. I personally had to put up with Mullet Boy (Melrose) and the Three Stooges (Gary Thorne, Bill Clement, and John Davidson) blithering about it during the intermissions in Saturday's ABC game. But of course, I got to offer my opinion on the whole thing. I do think that the hit was wrong. Why you ask? If I beat in someone's head with a baseball bat, I think that you'd probably say that was wrong. Maybe Bertuzzi's assault wasn't as drastic, but it isn't too far off from my example. I may just take this opportunity to look at the overall situation with the NHL and what I find so upsetting. Our friends at ABC and wherever the heck else can talk about how the NHL is so efficient and how they can hand down these great rulings so quickly, but what happens when the guy doesn't get hurt. Confused? Probably. I'll give an example to explain more of what I'm trying to say. In the Ottawa-Philadelphia game last Friday night, there were obviously a lot of fights. But there was one that nearly made me sick. On the face-off after the first scrum, Chris Neil takes on Radovan Somik who is a non-fighter, hadn't done anything to start a fight, and weighs 20 pounds less than Neil. After decking Somik, Neil proceeds to pound Somik's head into the ice. As one of the commentators on the game said, "That's just nasty." As far as I'm aware, Neil was not disciplined by the NHL in anyway. If Somik ends up with a bad concussion or a broken neck, I'll bet the NHL takes some kind of action. After telling Neil to grow a pair, I'd slap him with a ten-game suspension, same thing to anyone else that does anything like that. I know that Neil was trailing Brashear earlier and that Brashear didn't want to go, but that is absolutely no excuse for going after a guy like Somik. Just because no one gets hurt doesn't mean that the action is any less punishable. The NHL needs to step up and start punished all offenders, not just the ones that give other guys broken necks. My proposal to the NHL isn't that complicated. For cases of "assault on the ice" significant suspensions need to be handed out. Not just two games. For something like what Neil did, I think that ten games is not too much. For most players, 1-3 games isn't much too miss, but once you start getting into double digits, it's a whole different ballpark. I still completely uphold the Bertuzzi suspension, but the hypocrisy shown by the NHL here is just sick.

On the Fly: Former Blackhawk watch: Zhamnov 10 GP 4 G 8 A +7. Sullivan 12 GP 8 G 11 A +6. Happy Travels…………..Very interesting battle in the Atlantic Division, have the Flyers finally thrown off the Curse of the Devils? Playoffs will tell……….I like the Francis trade as much as the next guy, but I think that the Leafs are 0-2 with him in the line-up…………Playoff Predictions coming soon.

 

Well, this is Article 27 on Spectors Hockey for me, incidentally, 27 is the number of Alexei Kovalev who was dealt last week. If that little hint doesn't give you a hint on what I'm writing about this week, than I don't know what will. Not a whole lot of time on my hands, so this is pretty much the BIG trade article.

Trades, where to begin?

I am just checking TSN.ca for all of the trades have occurred lately and what is the main story on their page? Nashville acquires Sergei Zholtok and Brad Bombardir from the Minnesota Wild for a couple draft picks? But first things first and in my opinion, the trade that jumpstarted all of this was the Viktor Kozlov trade. Kozlov went to the New Jersey Devils for Christian Berglund who is a good 3rd line player and a No.8 defenseman. What does this trade do for the Devils. Coupled with the acquisition of Jan Hrdina, this gives the Devils great depth at center, don't think that the Devils weren't thinking about the Flyers when they made both moves. Kozlov is 6-5, 230 and will match up well against a guy like Michal Handzus, Radek Bonk, or Joe Thornton. The Hrdina trade also helps this team a lot. The Devils now can bring out Scott Gomez, John Madden, Kozlov, Hrdina, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Brylin at center. Lou has done it again, bringing in talent that can really help. However, some defensive help wouldn't be a bad idea and I would expect him to make another move or two before the deadline.

Another headline team was the Montreal Canadiens. First, the Canadiens went out and traded for Alexei Kovalev even though they had to give up a highly regarded prospect and a 2nd round pick. But the cagey Bob Gainey wasn't finished. He went out and also acquired Jim Dowd. Dowd is a great 3rd line player who has been there and done that many times including winning a Stanley Cup with New Jersey. Dowd will bring some much needed leadership to the Canadien dressing room and he will really help the young guys like Ribeiro and Ryder. The best part is that Gainey only had to give up a 4th round pick for the guy.

The Boston Bruins also made two big trades. First, they got Sergei Gonchar for Shaone Morrisonn and their 1st and 2nd round draft picks. Gonchar made an immediate impact in his first game as a Bruin tallying a goal and playing nearly 25 minutes. However, I don't think that Gonchar is the type of player that can really help Boston with defensive play. But the thing about this trade that makes it better than the Leetch trade for the Leafs is that the Bruins can pair a guy like Sean O'Donnell with Gonchar and O'Donnell can hang back and cover for him. Gonchar is also big enough that he can usually hold his own on the forecheck with an average player. The other trade that the Bruins made was trading a 2nd round pick for Michael Nylander. Nylander has been hurt for pretty much the whole season, but he gives the Bruins another good center and these two trades do make the Bruins even more dangerous going into the playoffs as they now have three very solid lines.

In yet another big deal, the Edmonton Oilers acquired Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen from the New York Rangers for prospect Dwight Helminen, goaltender Stephen Valiquette, and a 2nd round pick. The Oilers are around six points out of a playoff spot, but Kevin Lowe does not want to go quietly. He is telling his guys that he still thinks that they can make the playoffs and that he has some confidence in them. He also gets Markkanen back who is a pretty good goalie and who can challenge for a No.1 job. Does this mean that Jason LaBarbera is backing Dunham in goal now? Strange move by the Rangers.

A team that has made two big moves is the Nashville Predators. Early in the trading season, they went out and got Steve Sullivan for virtually nothing. Sullivan has been an instant success with sixteen points in just nine games as a Predator. Just today, the Predators traded for Sergei Zholtok and Brad Bombardir giving up only a 3rd round draft pick and a 4th rounder. I like the attitude by the Preds management. They think that the team can win and they are passing that message to the players and the fans. The defense may not have a top stud, although Kimmo Timmonen isn't that far away, but is has a good scorer, Marek Zidlicky, and other good role players. Bombardir should fit in just fine in that role. Zholtok also gives the Predators a 3rd line player although he could flourish in Nashville as he can play with a guy like Sullivan or Scott Walker. With Tomas Vokoun in net, there's no telling where this team could end up going.

The final big deal that I will look at is the Brian Leetch deal. Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for prospects Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, a 1st round pick, and a 2nd round pick. Did the Leafs overpay in this deal, yes. Was that overpaying acceptable, yes. Kondratiev and Immonen were two late picks that could be traded for a valuable player, kudos to the Leafs' scouting team. As for the deal itself, the Leafs lost in the Gonchar sweepstakes, no doubt. However, Leetch is still an excellent player and he proved it in his first game in the blue and white. But, this should not be the end of the Leafs trading. Leetch does not bring a big physical presence to the blue-line and he can get out muscled when defending against the forecheck. In the end though, this is a good trade for the Leafs. You can bet that guys like Sundin and Mogilny will love playing with Leetch and definitely adds another dimension to the Leaf attack, one that other teams will have to consider come playoff time.

On the Fly: The Flyers and Senators played a very entertaining game on Friday night with the Flyers emerging as the 5-3 winners. Both teams had about five guys left on the bench at the end of the game. Patrick Lalime looked very shaky and expect goaltending rumors out of Ottawa to intensify………..Another former Blackhawk that's thriving in new surroundings? Try Alexei Zhamnov who has nine points in seven games…..Final trade rumor does involve none other than the Flyers (yet again). With Chris Therien and Joni Pitkanen going down against Ottawa, whispers about Brendan Witt to Philly are going very strong, stay tuned.

 

As the NHL 2003-2004 season starts to wind down, there are plenty of topics to write about. In this week's column, I'll take a look at some of the trade rumors going around the league. In a last minute update, I'll also comment on the Robert Lang trade I'll also take a look at a very interesting Eastern conference. Five teams are separated by just two points and that doesn't even include the New Jersey Devils. Is this the year for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I'll see what's what in TO.

Lang dealt to Red Wings; Rumors and Such

To be honest, I had headed this paragraph by saying that Sergei Gonchar was the most likely Cap to get dealt. Although rumors had been strong before the season, I think that this trade came as a bit of a surprise to many, including myself. The return was low, a decent prospect and a couple picks for the top scoring center in the league. We all know what Washington's motive was in this deal, salary dumping. However, a look at what this deal does for Detroit is very interesting. Down the middle, Detroit's top three centers are now Lang, Pavel Datsyuk, and Steve Yzerman. I know that the Flyers can rival this IF they get a healthy Jeremy Roenick and a healthy Keith Primeau back, but even the Flyers may not be able to outgun those guys. Detroit has also been getting players back from injury and the only notable absences left are Derian Hatcher and Dominik Hasek. If Hatcher returns to the team for the playoffs, than Detroit is a team that absolutely no one wants to play. Their defense and goaltending stack-up to Colorado's and their forwards may have the slight edge over the speedsters in Denver. Steve Thomas might have thought that his best chance at a Cup happened last year in Anaheim, but don't count out Detroit this year.
Over the past few weeks, rumors have been flying around faster than the Ottawa Senators. Even with the Lang trade, there will probably still be a lot of guys that will be dealt. Those rumors mostly involve the Washington Capitals and their few remaining top players. The guy that seems next in line to leave is Sergei Gonchar. While I will acknowledge that Gonchar is a great puck-moving defenseman who is able to hit 60 points, I think that a guy like Brendan Witt would be more valuable to a team for the playoffs. Today's NHL playoffs are about defense and grit. Gonchar seems to prefer offense and finesse. When the asking price is a first round pick and a good prospect, I think that a price like that is too high and that an acquisition of Witt would be better for most teams in the long run. The Leafs in particular should concentrate on getting more of a physical type of defenseman. They already have Tomas Kaberle who is a poor man's Gonchar. The same thing goes for Brian Leetch. Although he is still a great power-play quarterback, he is does not play the best defense and he is not a great guy to have for a playoff team anymore. Having said this, I think that both guys will probably be dealt by the deadline. Many teams are feeling the need to stock up on talent and if Gonchar is available, then I would expect a team to pick him up ASAP and if it's Ottawa or Philly, I pity the team that has to face their respective power-plays. Any team that is looking for an affordable scorer might want to take a look at the New York Rangers' Martin Rucinsky. Rucinsky has been having a pretty good season and is currently a team leading +20. However, Sather might be loathe to deal the one cheap scorer he has on his roster. Still, if a team is looking for a guy like Leetch or Kovalev, taking a run at Rucinsky might not be a bad idea.

Can it get any closer?

Think that the Eastern conference was sort of tight early in the season? Just look at it now. An astonishing five times are all within two points of each other at the time of this writing. These teams would be the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, and Ottawa Senators. Who has the guts, grit, and skill to win down the stretch. Two of these teams, the Flyers and Leafs have just gotten important players back from injury. The Leafs have gotten Alexander Mogilny and Eddie Belfour while Robert Esche returned for the Flyers. The Flyers also hope to have Keith Primeau, Eric Desjardins, and Jeremy Roenick return before the playoffs. The Ottawa Senators recently added Peter Bondra and the Lightning have acquired Darryl Sydor to strengthen an already dangerous roster. The Bruins look to the return of Sergei Samsonov. One team has remained silent, but the eyes in the swamp are not blind. Lou Lamoriello has to get in on the bidding sometime, NJ has looked pretty weak without Scott Stevens and they took a drubbing the last time they played divisional archrival, Philadelphia. So who has the strength to come on down the stretch and who is going to fade? To be honest, I just don't like the chances for the Bruins. They end the season with a lot of teams that are either up in the standings or teams that want to solidify their positions in the standings. I am also not sold on the Devils. They got a couple games against Philly left and I just don't like the team with Scott Stevens. But if Stevens returns in good health, then they do have a good chance. I just don't like the Maple Leafs period, but the return of Belfour really boosts this team a lot if he can stay healthy. I like the Sens a lot. They have speed, skill, and most importantly, experience. While Lalime can be streaky in goal, he looked very sharp against the Flyers on Thursday evening and I think that he and Prusek can get it done. To be honest, the team that scares me the most is the Tampa Lightning. This team has great skill and Lecavalier has been turning up the heat lately. Khabibulin is a stud goalie and Sydor has been a very good addition. I think that this team could surprise a lot of people and they have the talent to take the East. Finally, you get to the Flyers. They are a team that has had some injury problems, but they have hung on and if they get healthy, they are a team that can cause a lot of trouble. However, my pick for the Eastern conference is the Ottawa Senators followed closely by the Flyers and Lightning.

Looking at Toronto, is this the Year?

Maybe it's just me, but as time goes on, do Toronto fans seem to get more desperate as year recedes into year and still, no Cup for the Leaf faithful. Now, I know I might be opening up a big can of fish with that comment, but so be it. My e-mail is at the bottom of the article. As this veteran squad continues to win, one can't help but think that although this year's team looks good, Toronto's best chance at a Cup was a few years ago and that this is a team that is just struggling to hang on. In my opinion, Pat Quinn is just not capable of coaching this team to a Cup. Promising guys like Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovksy get 11 minutes a game while players such as Robert Reichel and Darcy Tucker get 16-17 minutes. What is wrong with that picture? Once again, it seems that the Leafs two main threats on forward are Alexander Mogilny and Mats Sundin. What else is new? Owen Nolan plays with a lot of heart and guts, but his old skills just aren't as sharp anymore and injuries have taken their time. After Nolan, you have the aging Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk and the oft-injured Nik Antropov. With all due respect, those aren't forwards that strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses save for Almo and Sundin. I would rate Philadelphia's, Ottawa's, Boston's, and Tampa Bay's forwards. The D is also not so distinguished. Although Bryan McCabe is having a very good year, Ken Klee and Tomas Kaberle are the only real quality defensemen behind him right now. In the NHL, you can't get far in the playoffs playing just three defensemen. In fact, I'd take Toronto's roster last year over the one last year and the one last year went out in the first round. The only advantage that they have over most teams is Belfour and even Belfour may not be enough to take them that far. This team needs a guy like Brendan Witt to at least give them a decent top 4 on defense and they also need a forward that can give them a 2nd line that actually scares people. Is this the year? No.

On the Fly: The LA Kings are just somehow finding ways to get points. They have less wins than Calgary, St. Louis, and Edmonton, but they are ahead of these three teams in the standings…………What's on the TV tonight? Try a marquee match-up between the Flyers and the Red Wings. The Wings have only lost five at home and this game is at the Joe.

That's all for now, e-mail me at arccampbell@comcast.net.

 

Well, it's been a while since I last have had anything up. In this week's issue, I'll take a look at this week's Flyers trade. It does seem like they make one every week eh. I'll also comment on the NHL's policy about some recent hits. And finally, is Buffalo for real?

Flyers Acquire Center Alexei Zhamnov

In the Philadelphia Flyer's latest deal, the team went out and won the Alexei Zhamnov sweepstakes. The full trade had the Flyers trading prospects Colin Fraser and Jim Vandermeer along with a 2nd round pick in 2004 for Chicago's 4th round pick in 2004 along with Zhamnov. While I know that Vandermeer is highly regarded in some circles, I believe that the projection of TSN.ca of him being a 3rd pairing defenseman is accurate. I have seen him play this year and he seems to get out of position sometimes. Also, on his AHL team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, Vandermeer is a minus-9. No other player on the Phantoms' roster that has played more than 20 games is even a minus player. His seven points were also not overwhelming and he was being outplayed by defensive prospects such as a Dennis Seidenberg and the surprising Randy Jones. The Flyers also have a few other defensemen in the system that make this trade affordable. Fraser is a hard-nosed player and he could have a career as an NHL 3rd liner some day, but the recent acquisition of Ben Eager for the Flyers made Fraser expendable. The Flyers also hope to have some crowded forward lines in coming years with some decent young prospects. As for the swap in picks, 2004 has been regarded as an average draft at best outside of the Top 10 while 2005 looks to be more promising. The Flyers get a good center in Zhamnov that has played with Tony Amonte before and Zhamnov will also give them a good solid 17-20 minutes which will be especially useful when Primeau and Roenick continue to be on the shelf. Although I may have given Chicago a bit of a bum rap in this deal, they still did okay. They got rid of a guy that didn't want to be there that much for two guys that could develop into very solid players and they also get a 2nd round pick which is never a bad thing. Overall, the Flyers filled a gaping hole in their forward lines with a talented playmaker and Chicago managed to cut some more salary which is never a bad thing. One last comment, one cannot say that the gods of hockey do not have a sense of humor. Three days after the Flyers trade a good center in Mike Comrie, two of their centers go down with serious injuries. What can they do?

Hitting getting out of Hand?

Over the last two weeks in the NHL, two injuries occurred to two NHL All-Stars. Both of these injuries were on hits that were questionable to say the least. The two hits that I am referring would be the Bobby Holik hit on Keith Primeau and the Steve Moore hit on Markus Naslund. I am personally shocked and appalled that the NHL has not taken action on either of these hits. I really like a good physical hockey game and I always enjoy games such as the Flyers-Rangers or the Canucks-Avalanche. But when the hits are coming to this, it's just unacceptable in my opinion. In the Holik hit, I saw it live and it really looked like Holik's elbow was up in a bad position for anyone that was in the way. The hit also took place in a tight game (1-1) and it occurred just one minute after Flyers center Jeremy Roenick was knocked out of the game after taking a puck in the jaw. Coincidence? I think not. I don't care how classy it was for Holik to visit JR in the hospitable at all. What happened was wrong and even if it was an accident, what is Holik doing skating around with his elbow up? Was Holik punished? Nope. We have seen the effects of this hit on the Flyers team as they have gone 1-3 since Primeau was knocked out from the line-up. With the Naslund hit, I didn't see the hit live, but from what I have seen and heard, the hit wasn't exactly the cleanest collision that I have ever seen and once again, a big-time marquee player goes down with a head injury. Is it just a strange chance that sees a Selke trophy candidate and the NHL's leading scorer go down within a week of each other? I really don't think so and what makes me even more upset is that the players responsible are not being held responsible for what they did. Even if it was an accident, I think a few stiff suspensions would do the trick of preventing stuff like this from happening again. The Rangers aren't going to make the playoffs barring a minor miracle and Moore is just an 4th liner on the Avalanche. The NHL needs to slap down a suspension on these guys and make it clear that things like this will not be tolerated. I would recommend that each player stays out of the line-up for as long as it takes the player that they injured to recover. And one more thing, I don't know how many readers saw the game between the Flyers and Rangers last Saturday, but what does it say about a team when a guy like Bobby Holik who stands 6-4 and weighs 235 won't fight his own battles. It was guys like Jamie Lundmark that were getting in the fights. Lundmark is 6-0 and 195 pounds.

Something's Cooking in Buffalo

In my fourth article here at Spectors Hockey, I previewed the Buffalo Sabres. My final thesis was that the Sabres were a darkhorse team that had more talent than some people expected. I thought for sure that they would make the playoffs although I believe I stopped short of saying so in my article. For most of the season, the Sabres have disappointed many fans. But in the last few weeks, the Sabres have begun to make a push for the playoffs. Miro Satan has begun to catch fire and that is never a good sign for other teams in the league. The Gratton for Briere trade will be an absolute steal for Buffalo and it already has been as Briere in on pace to break 60 points and he has taken over the first-line center duties for this team. JP Dumont is also beginning to fulfill some of the potential that he showed in 2000-2001. Martin Biron has also turned up his game lately and the Sabres have a good tandem with Biron and Mikka Noronen. Although the battle for the playoffs is an uphill climb, the Sabres definitely have the potential to get there. Montreal has faltered lately and Buffalo has played one less game. Regardless of what happens, the Sabres will be a team to keep an eye on as the year draws to a close.

On the Fly: I haven't mentioned the Peter Bondra, but it is a very good deal for the Senators. Bondra will make a lethal Ottawa powerplay even scarier for opposing teams………Remember Marian Gaborik? He has come to life recently and Minnesota has turned up their play although it will take a very hard push to get them back into the playoffs…………………Who deserves the MVP award this year so far? I think that Jarome Iginla deserves a lot of consideration. He is 21 points ahead of the next leading scorer on the Flames roster and he has really helped to hold the team together. Did I mention that he will probably break 40 goals?

 

It's been an eventful week since my last article. With Robert Esche down, Bob Clarke makes a deal for Sean Burke which has the hockey community buzzing. A very entertaining All-Star game was played last Saturday, I'll also have some comments on that. Finally, I'll take a look at the proposed rule changes from the NHL GM meetings in Phoenix.

Flyers acquire Sean Burke, Branko Radivojevic, and Ben Eager from the Phoenix Coyotes for Center Mike Comrie.

Well, the deal that was talked about all weekend has finally come to pass and I'm sure that all Flyers fans have breathed a pretty big sigh of relief. The deal that was circulating earlier was Radivojevic and Burke for Comrie and Dennis Seidenberg. I have seen Seidenberg play a few times and I can tell you right now that he definitely has potential to be a Top 4 defenseman also a very dangerous guy on the power-play. This deal still works very well for both teams. First I'll take a look at it from the Flyers point of view. The Comrie trade was probably ill-advised in the first place although hindsight is 20/20. Mike Comrie is not an Eastern Conference type player and he is not a Ken Hitchcock type player. He just wasn't a good fit for this team, especially when he was being forced the play wing. But back to the present: the Flyers lost their No.1 in Robert Esche and Jeff Hackett retired. Antero Niittymaki has been good, but can he handle the big boys? Burke is a guy that can fill the temporary void in goal and then he can be a very good back-up to Esche. Esche and Burke were best friends in Phoenix and hopefully that relationship will help both guys. The Flyers also get a physical guy in Branko Radivojevic. This is only his 3rd season I believe, but he is a tough gritty player who has displayed some scoring touch and he could become a 20-20 guy for this Flyers team. He is also a RW and the Flyers needed a right wing with the trade of Justin Williams. The Flyers also helped the thin out the logjam at center by trading Comrie. Finally, they pick up a decent prospect in Ben Eager. Although he was taken in a weak draft class, he has some physical edge and he could develop into a quality NHLer. He's worth a shot. The Flyers do benefit quite a bit from this trade. On the other hand for Phoenix, this was also a good deal. Burke was being outplayed by Brian Boucher and the 'Yotes also have Zac Bierk who played well last year. They can easily afford to get rid of him and his big contract. Radivojevic is a loss and his toughness will be missed, but the return of Comrie is very good. Comrie is a guy who can hit 70 points playing with guys such as Ladislav Nagy, Shane Doan, and Mike Johnson when he returns. Finally, the Coyotes gave up prospect Ben Eager. Although Eager has some talent, the Coyotes have guys such as Jeff Taffe and Fredrik Sjostrom in the system and Eager's loss is okay for them. Overall, this is a good deal for both teams. It addresses the Flyers need for a back-up goaltender and it also gets Phoenix a legitimate No.1 center although one must wonder why the Coyotes felt obligated to deal Danny Briere last year.

Eastern Conference Triumphs in All-Star Game

This year's all-star game was an entertaining affair. Although I am not a Gary Thorne fan, the game was good enough to make up for some of his less desirable qualities. The goaltending was fantastic, the action was exciting, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored a beautiful goal. On top of this, Joe Sakic pulled a hat trick out of the bag while Mark Messier played in what probably was his final all-star game and picked up two points. A couple things leapt out at me during this game. First of all, I know that these goalies were the class of the NHL and I know that they do have very big pads, but those guys are just amazing. Every single goalie had at least one outstanding save and Dwayne Roloson's stick stop could be the save of the year. I know that there are many other reasons why there isn't more scoring in the NHL, but I think that goaltenders could have a bigger part in it then some people give them credit for. I know that they are world-class guys, but one must remember that they were also facing world-class players. Despite the goaltending, the final score was 6-4 and many of the goals did not disappoint. Sakic's 2nd goal on Jose Theodore (who had an outstanding weekend) was a thing of beauty. Sakic's on ice intelligence is extremely high and he showed why with this goal. Most other players in the league probably would want to settle the puck a bit more and then try to roof it glove side or go 5-hole. Instead, Joe just flipped the puck past Theodore on the blocker side. No way Jose is Theodore making that save. Ilya Kovalchuk's goal was also a real pretty one although he paid the price going into the boards. Finally, I'd just like to talk a little bit about Scott Niedermayer. He just gets passed over so much, I didn't mention him in my season preview article or in any other article for that matter. His dazzling backhand pass to Mark Messier on the doorstep is something you don't expect to see from a defenseman not named Nicklas Lidstrom. It seemed like he was always making smooth passes and he even won the fastest skater competition. Finally, he logs over 25 minutes a night for New Jersey and has stepped up with Scott Stevens out. While people can tout their Blakes and Lidstroms for the Norris Trophy, I think that Scott Niedermayer deserves a lot of consideration.

Sweeping Changes to follow GM Meetings in Vegas?

I won't comment on how weird it is to hold hockey meetings in Las Vegas, but I'll focus on the meetings themselves. It seems that the GMs finally woke up and realized how boring the game has become. Here are some of the notable proposed changes. Goalies can no longer handle the puck behind the net, doing so will result in a 2 minute penalty. The width of the goalie's pads will be limited to 10 inches instead of the 12 that it is now. The nets will be moved back to 10 feet away from the boards instead of 13 feet. Finally, the touch-up offsides rule will be brought back. The NHL will also ask the AHL to try modifying the points system and seeing how that works. Notably absent from this list is the elimination of the red line and also the elimination of touch-up icing. I'm sure that the first goalie rule will soon take up the name the anti-Martin Brodeur rule although in all honesty, it should create more opportunities for big hits and scoring chances. The changing the width of the goalie's is also good because as Patrick Roy said, in today's NHL, a sniper only needs a couple of inches. Although I'd rather have a longer rink then having the nets moved back, this is a good change because teams will have more time to build up speed going in on goal. The tag-up offsides rule should keep the game moving quicker which is good. However, before we get too excited about next year, we should all remember that a lock-out still looms and that it's quite possible that these rules won't be implemented for a couple years. Also, assuming that there is no lock-out, it needs to be remembered that these rules would still need to be approved by a couple committees and also the owners. However, it is a start and hopefully, more rule changes may follow after the lock-out/next season.

On the Fly: With Rob Blake down with a broken leg, expect the Avalanche to be poking around, too bad for Pierre Lacroix that he missed out on Eric Weinrich who was traded for a 5th round pick. However, Blake's injury doesn't appear to be too serious………The Detroit Red Wings also lost Dominik Hasek for a season. Here's hoping that Curtis Joseph can redeem himself in Hockeytown………After a couple bad showings by Patrick Lalime against the Toronto Maple Leafs, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ottawa make a deal for a goalie, but Burke is gone already.

 

Before I begin the article for this week, I would just like to thank all of the readers that sent in comments on my last article. The Jagr issue is very controversial and it was a lot of fun to talk about it with so many people. And know we go to this week's issue of between the lines. In this article, I'll take a look at the Colorado Avalanche who have been coming on in the West. I'll also look at the erratic Boston Bruins and the legacy of Bobby Clarke. Finally, in a last minute update, I'll look at the injury to Flyers net-minder Robert Esche.

No Roy? No Problem.

A couple articles ago, I was reminded by a reader that I have not really taken a look at the Colorado Avalanche and what they have been doing. In this section, I'll take a look at the Avs and their chances for a Cup. When I think of the Avs, I first think of Peter Forsberg. The things that he has been doing lately are extraordinary. If he had been healthy for the whole year, he could have been looking at breaking 120 points this year. He has only placed 26 games, but he already has 43 points. He also has seven goals in his last five games. This guy is pretty much the best talent in the NHL right now. But the Avs have more than just "Foppa" on the forward lines. Alex Tanguay has become a great playmaker, Joe Sakic is having a good year, and Milan Hedjuk has been a constant threat. Teemu Selanne has been a little disappointing, but Paul Kariya has been a very good player for the team when he is healthy. One contributor on offense that often goes unmentioned is Steve Konowalchuk. He has provided the team with some gritty play and he is also on pace for a 20 goal season. The Avalanche also have some good role players such as Dan Hinote and Andrei Nikolishin. While the offense is excellent, the D isn't lacking for talent either. Rob Blake continues to lead the D and he is having a pretty good year despite the criticism that sometimes can come his way. Derek Morris has also been a good guy for them and the steady Adam Foote is usually very responsible in his own end and he has shown that he can get involved in the offense as well. I have never been a Martin Skoula fan, but he has been solid along with Karlis Skrastins. The name that I saw on the roster that has really interested me is John-Michael Liles. A little research on him and I found out that he was a Hobey Baker Finalist last year, but not a lot more. He doesn't get a lot of ice time (about 15 minutes) and he isn't very large (5-10, 185 pounds), but he has put up some pretty good numbers and he has become that reliable 6th defenseman that the Avalanche needed going into the season. But the big question that has surrounded the Avs all season in the question in goal. David Aebischer has been very good for the team and rumors regarding the Avalanche trading for a "No.1" have died down. However, there is a bit of an issue regarding back-up Philippe Sauve. Although he has won his last five games, his numbers haven't been very good and he has become a bit of a liability. I would expect the Avalanche to trade for an experienced back-up soon if Sauve doesn't pick it up.

Something's Bruin in Boston

One of the strangest teams this year has been the Boston Bruins. After a torrid start to the year, the Bruins cooled off noticeably before going on trends of hot and cold. They have been on a hot streak lately, so I'll take a look at what's going on in Boston. The Bruins have gotten an odd performance from Joe Thornton. He is not scoring like he did last year in the goal department and he is only on pace for about twenty. Thornton has stayed in much more of a playmaking role as he sets up snipers such as Glen Murray and Mike Knuble for some good looks. The Bruins have also gotten solid contributions from guys like Brian Rolston, Sergei Samsonov, and young rookie Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins haven't really had any big names on the blueline since Ray Bourque, but the core that they have this year is solid. They have a couple young guys such as Boyton and Jillson along with veterans Dan McGillis and Hal Gill. Finally, there are guys like Sean O'Donnell and Jiri Slegr who won't dazzle on the stats sheet, but are solid players all the same. And keep an eye on Slegr who has displayed some unexpected offensive flair. But the one guy who has really intrigued me on this roster is young goaltender Andrew Raycroft. I didn't read anything in the preseason about this guy, but he has come on and he could hit 30 wins. He is also 4th in the NHL in both save percentage and GAA. He has kept the Bruins in games when they needed to stay in and without him, I don't think that this team is going to be running for a playoff spot in the East. I like this team a lot with Raycroft and I think that they could be a bit of a darkhorse in the East. This team is only two points behind Toronto, but they are not getting any recognition or attention. Finally, they have Felix Potvin who is a big-game goalie, who knows where they could go?

Bob Clarke, his legacy, Robert Esche, his injury

For the last couple weeks, talk about Bob Clarke has heated up once again. I have not been a fan of his and I think that has not gotten the best team that he could have gotten for the money that Comcast (team owners) have spent. I have never liked Clarke, not the player, not the GM. As a player, he was tough and gritty, but he was also dirty and even cowardly. Who can forget the infamous scene in the 1972 Summit Series when he broke Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov's ankle with a vicious slash. The Soviets never liked him that much and I can't really say that I blame them. Clarke has spoken out against players who use their sticks to trip, slash, or otherwise impeded other players. He seems to forget that he was pretty handy with a stick when he was in the league. And I'm not talking about just goals. Clarke was also the type of player who was always eager to start a fight, but never willing to finish it. I do not know much about him when he was with the North Stars as GM and also the Panthers. Some of his trades as the Flyers GM have been genius. The trading of Recchi for LeClair and Desjardins and the reacquisition of Recchi for Dainius Zubrus was a great sequence. I did not like the trading of Brind'Amour for Primeau, but one must admit that "Prims" has helped the team a lot. The Ouellet trade was horrible, no doubt about it. Ouellet will be a pretty good goalie when his time comes and giving up 3 high picks only made it worse. The Boucher trade was a great one. Handzus will hit 50-60 points this year and Esche can be a No.1 for this team in the future. The Pitkanen deal was also good. However, to those deluding themselves about Clarke's last three trades, I will try to correct them. Carolina wanted to dump some money of the payroll and dealing a disappointing Kapanen for a couple decent prospects was a good deal for them. Same thing with Phoenix and Amonte although Amonte made a lot more than Kapanen, therefore, he came for less. In the Comrie deal, you can bet that Lowe was relieved to deal Comrie to an Eastern Conference team and get a very good prospect plus a pick in return. The Comrie trade also created a logjam at center which has both Comrie and Jeremy Roenick struggling right now. The Williams trade simply filled a need for both teams, nothing fantastic about it. Given the resources that Clarke has been given, I think that the Flyers should have won a Cup by now or at least have reached a Cup final in the last five years.
Not to dwell on the Flyers, but they have been the team in the news lately and an injury to Robert Esche demands some attention. There are four players on the Flyers that have willed this team to wins in the last two weeks. These guys would be Esche of course, and the line of LeClair-Handzus-Recchi. The most important of this guys is out for at least three weeks and he could miss up to a month with the luck the Flyers have been having lately. Should the Flyers trade for a goalie? The answer to that question right now is no. Give a talented young goalie a chance in Anterro Nittymaki. If he and Neil Little both fall flat on their faces, then Clarke has the All-Star weekend to ship Therien and a pick or two for a decent goalie. Plus, this is an opportunity for some veterans on the team to start earning their pay. Both Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte need to start contributing and the loss of Esche might get these guys going.

On the Fly: Although he is not the threat that he was earlier in the season, Mariusz Czerkawski has still been a valuable player for the New York Islanders and he has played well in his own zone……..Anson Carter has 4 points in 5 games as a Washington Capital and is plus-2. Jaromir Jagr has 5 points in 6 games as a Ranger and is -1. Both teams are still losing although Washington is showing signs of life…….Think teamwork isn't important? No one on the San Jose Sharks has over 40 points, but there are nine players with 20 points or more.

 

Another week, another article. The Jaromir Jagr trade headlines NHL news this week, is the subsequent 9-1 pounding at the hands of Ottawa a sign of things to come? Is Robert Esche the man in Philadelphia? I'll take a look at that question and other goalie news. And what are a couple forgotten keys to the Cup? I'll take a quick look at that one is well.

Jagr on Broadway

I am a member on Hockey Trade Rumors and I read the debate between Spector and mikster (Mick Peroni). I like mikster a lot even though I have only spoken with him a couple of times, but I think that some Ranger bias is getting in the way here. I have heard some Rangers fans say that this move will ignite the powerplay? If Alexei Kovalev, Eric Lindros, Petr Nedved, Bobby Holik, and Anson Carter can't "ignite" the powerplay, then what will? I'm sure that eventually, the Rangers will score more goals. Maybe even the power play will get going. But what's the point of scoring 5 goals if the other team scores 6? Carter was the one really valuable guy that the Rangers could have traded easily. Kovalev is making 6.6 million this year, good luck trading him in today's market. Eric Lindros is making 3.3 million this year and has concussion problems. Petr Nedved getting nearly 5 million this year and he has 22 points. Bobby Holik is a very gritty player who is solid at both ends. The only hang-up is that he's making over 8.5 million. Messier is too old and Rucinsky has been your best player. So who are the Rangers going to deal for that elusive second defenseman? Fedor Tjutin? Hugh Jessiman? You won't get very much for those two. Rangers fans need to face facts. The goaltending has been bad and I have no idea what Dan Blackburn is doing right now, but I don't see him on their AHL roster and I don't see him in the NHL. I expect that the Rangers are going to lose a lot of 5-4 games. People say that this wasn't like the Bure move…..? I don't see the difference. Picking up a pure scorer, did I say that the Rangers missed the playoffs last year? People also say that Kovalev isn't an impact player because he is in a checking role? Simon Gagne on the Flyers has been in a defensive role, he has become one of the best defensive LW's in the NHL and he also still creates a lot with chances. Star-power isn't a problem for the Rangers. The problem is that they don't have a coach who can whip all of these stars into shape. If the Rangers had gotten Hitchcock or someone similar, I can almost guarantee you that they would have been a Cup contender. The other thing that this team needs is some defense as I said before. I have said this countless times and I'm sure that I will say it until my hair turns gray. In today's NHL, defense wins championships. Even with a mediocre defense, you can reach a Cup final, but defense wins championships in today's NHL. Slats seems to have forgotten this lesson (if he ever learned it) and it is costing the Rangers big time.

Is Esche the man?

I have read so much recently about how Robert Esche is just a young guy and how he can't be trusted to win the big games. To all those critics who have been saying this, I say, "OPEN YOUR EYES!" With the Flyers struggling and Hackett out, Esche has come on strong winning 5 of his last 6 games. He won two big games against Toronto and another big one against the Rangers not too mention wins against Buffalo and Washington. In his one loss, against Montreal, he had to deal with a couple of two-on-nones in the crease. He also has the good habit of after giving up a bad goal, not giving up another one. I was at the game against Buffalo and Buffalo's one goal was a pretty bad one. But after that, Esche stonewalled the Sabres. He stopped Satan from five feet out and he made several difficult saves through traffic. I have said this on many forums and websites and I will say again in this article. Robert Esche wins. He has come up big when the team needed him. The Flyers will go into the playoffs with a very strong defense and Esche may not be the best of the bunch, but he will make the saves when they need him too. There are also a few other goaltending questions/rumors around. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rangers offer Dunham plus something for Kolzig or Khabibulin, but I don't know how smart that would be. Kolzig is playing on a bad team I know, but he has just not been very good this year. I also agree with Spector when he says that the Bulin Wall isn't leaving as long as the Lightning stay in playoff contention. Burke might also be a possibility for the Rangers and he might be expendable with Boucher playing so well. To all of those teams looking for a veteran back-up, a look at Johan Hedberg might not be a bad idea. I heard that he is down in the AHL for a while and he has been injured. He got recalled recently, but he is not played. I get the feeling that Brian Burke likes Alex Auld a lot and that Hedberg could be had for a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick. I would expect the Colorado Avalanche to at least make an offer for Hedberg though. And don't forget Zac Bierk in Phoenix who has not played for two months. I am not sure what his status is, but he was pretty good for Phoenix last year.

Forgotten Keys to the Cup

Nowadays, when people talk about those keys to the Cup, defense and goaltending are usually the two that are mentioned. However, there a few that usually aren't mentioned. The two that I will look at today are depth at forward and good coaching. First of all, I will tackle depth at forward. The New Jersey Devils did not have any real stars at forward last year. I don't think that anyone on the team had over 60 points during the regular season. However, the Devils could roll four lines and this way, all of their players could stay relatively fresh. By rolling four lines, I am not talking about the 4th line getting five minutes. I'm talking about having a 4th line that can play 10-12 minutes and can be relied upon late in the game. A good example of how important 4 lines are would be last year in the famous Leafs-Flyers playoff series. In that overtime game in Game 4, the Flyers rolled four lines for the whole game and eventually wore down the Leafs who were playing only three lines. The Flyers won the game and went on to win the series. If you take a look at the last few teams to win the Cup; New Jersey, Detroit, and Colorado, you will notice that all of these teams were pretty deep at forward. My other key is coaching. Once again, I will look at the last three teams to win the Cup. New Jersey was led by Pat Burns who is very strict, but he gets a lot out of his players. Detroit's bench boss was Scotty Bowman who is just a man who knows how to coach. Finally, Colorado had Bob Hartley who is not very famous, but look at what he has done with the Atlanta Thrashers. All of these teams had good head coaches and good staffs that know what they are doing. Some coaches just have the ability to get more out of teams and they also have the ability to be winners. This is what sets the Rangers apart from other teams. They don't have a good coach. I know that earlier in the article, I said that defense wins championships, this is still very true, but the two ingredients listed above are also important to Cup success.

On the Fly: One of the keys to the San Jose Sharks' recent success is Brad Stuart. After a disappointing campaign in 2002-2003, Stuart has bounced back strongly. Also "no-names" such as Jonathan Cheechoo, Nils Ekman, and Niko Dimitrakos are having strong seasons……..You got to love the guts shown by the Los Angeles Kings. With their three top scorers out, the Kings are still holding onto a roster spot. Alexander Frolov has been very good for this team and Trent Klatt has recovered the scoring touch that he has not had since his time as a Flyer…………A very interesting team in the East is the Boston Bruins. Joe Thornton is on pace for only 18 goals and no one else looks like they will break 60 points, but the team has just hung around in the playoff race and they have won 7 of their last 10.

 

A lot has happened since I last had an article, the trade deadline is plodding nearer and rumors are beginning to heat up. The Leafs-Flyers home and home set was a statement for one team and a setback for the other. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators continue their hot play. Also, I'll take a look "The Team to Beat" in each conference. Finally, although Spector beat me to it, I'll take a look at NHL officiating as well.

Analysis of the Markov trade

With Eric Desjardins and a couple others out, the Flyers made another big move in acquiring defenseman Danny Markov from the Carolina Hurricanes for young winger Justin Williams. This is a trade that the Flyers probably needed to make. In my 5 or so years in writing about hockey, I have never seen injuries hit a team like they have hit the Flyers in the last week. They have lost four defensemen, 3 to serious injuries. This trade will help bolster that blue-line and it also gives the Flyers a defenseman for the future when guys like Eric Weinrich and Chris Therien leave town. On the flip side, the Flyers do lose a good player in Williams. Although he has not scored a lot, he can create a lot of chances and he plays with a lot of heart. Most Flyers fans have to be upset to see a guy like this go. However, the Flyers already have some very talented young guys in Mike Comrie and Simon Gagne and the trade for Comrie made Williams or Gagne expendable. Williams was the one that had to leave and I think that it was a good deal for the team. When Desjardins and Ragnarrsson return, the Flyers will have one of the top defenses in the East and this should help them in the playoffs especially with an inexperienced goaltender in Robert Esche. And one must also remember that the Flyers forward lines are very deep. Although Williams is a loss, he was only getting 3rd line minutes and on a team like Carolina, those minutes will go up. To all the Flyers fans, don't get too upset if the team struggles a little bit. Getting a guy like Markov who will play 23 minutes is a big change for the team and the loss of Desjardins will really hurt. It will take some time for all of these defensemen to get on the same page. But once they do, this trade could end up helping both teams get better.

The Teams to Beat

A lot of the time, you hear that a team is the "team to beat." But who are these teams in each conference? Is it the New Jersey Devils or Ottawa Senators in the East? The Colorado Avalanche or the Detroit Red Wings in the West? In the East, I am going to pick the Devils. Although they have hit a few bumps in the road, they still have 55 points and are right behind the Flyers. Martin Brodeur is the best goalie in the NHL although he does need some rest in my opinion. Although the forwards don't really measure up to Philly's or Ottawa's, they are still very solid and they play a good defensive game. Their defense might be aging a little bit, but it is still very solid. Quietly, Scott Niedermayer is having a great year and he is really the mainstay of the defense now. They might not have the talent of some other teams, but the Devils have experience and the best goaltender in the NHL on my side. Over the summer, I picked the Red Wings over the Avalanche in the West. I got a lot of angry e-mails from some Avalanche fans about that one, even a couple from a diehard Avs fan in Germany. However, I still think that the Red Wings are the best team in the West and they are also the team to beat in the West. Curtis Joseph has really stepped up for the team and Manny Legace is a great back-up. Pavel Datsyuk leads a talented group of forwards and a possible return of Derian Hatcher could make this team even better. Remember, in today's NHL, defense and goaltending win and the Wings have both plus some very good chemistry.

Officiating Issues

We've all heard a lot about Jeremy Roenick's comments so there is no need for me to talk about them, I'm going to talk just about the officiating that I did notice in those two Flyers-Leafs games and some other stuff that I have been seeing. Those two games were very entertaining, but I was just getting sort of frustrated with all of the clutching and grabbing that was going on. I know that this has been an issue for the last few years, but just seeing two marquee teams going at it and having this happen just really beat the point home to me. A lot of the time, when it looked like one team was going to get a really nice scoring chance, a little hook here, a little hold there, and there goes the chance. Most of those chances wouldn't have been goals, but they do add a lot of excitement to the game. I have been a diehard fan for a while, but if my team isn't playing and a game is on TV, unless it is an unusually good game, I switch the channel. Another thing that got me was the way some of the "fights" were handled, especially in the first game. As Gary Dornhoefer summed up that part of the game when he said, "The ref must get a bonus for the number of fights that he prevents." The NHL needs to realize that the fans want to see fights. Why do you think football is so popular? It ain't all because of the cheerleaders, I can tell you that much. Spector notes in his piece that many league players and other people involved with the NHL complained about the crackdown of last year. Well if I'm Gary Bettman, I listen politely to these people and then I say, "Your concern has been noted," and continue with the crackdown. Everyone knows that officials make mistakes, but your average fan with rather have mistakes that increase the scoring, not decrease it. Well, I've pretty much stated my view, now I'll come up with a few things to do about it. Before I do, I will just talk about how the CBA problem should be solved. I know the players will complain about "I need to feed my family," (Alexei Kovalev), but the NHL needs to institute a salary cap. Those guys make more money than 99% of North America, they can afford to lose a few million off their contracts. However, because of the high priced players that many teams have, I would have the salary cap slowly decrease. Basically, that means that the first year, it could be 10 million, second year: 9 million, etc. This could happen until a good cap is reached (those numbers are just made up). Now for cleaning up the NHL game.

1. I know this could create a big sniff, but the NHL needs to size down, there are just too many teams and the talent is spread too thin. The possibility of some teams moving to Canada should also be looked at.
2. Make the rink longer. I know that there has been some talk about moving the net back, but a lot of skilled players still use the space behind the net to create plays. Making the rink longer could also help break the trap. One good way to break the trap is to have a lot of speed going out of your own zone. Larger defensive zones could allow teams to build speed coming out of their own zone and it could also allow tactics like cycling to work more effectively.
3. Eliminate the red line. This is an obvious one, but it needs to be done.
Honorable Mention: Make one face-off circle and make it be directly in front of the net. This was actually a Bobby Clarke idea, but I think it could create a lot more scoring chances off draws and since teams ice the puck a lot more when they are in the lead, this could make draws a bit more exciting.

Some of these suggestions are a bit revolutionary and they could have "hockey purists" up in arms, but I really think that they could work.

On the Fly: It looks like Ottawa has returned to form and if you ask me, Martin Havlat has been a key cog in this team……………..Although they have stayed under the radar, New Jersey is just a few points behind Ottawa, Philly, and Toronto and they have played less games than each of these teams………..With some weak performances by Philip Sauve lately, look for the Avalanche to start looking around for an experienced back-up…..Would San Jose be willing to add some salary since they're winning, if so, co

The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in Between the Lines copyrighted (C) 2003 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.