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The purpose of this article isn't to be a post-mortem over why Canada came up short for an Olympic Men's hockey gold medal, nor to assess blame.

Rather, it is to identify what in my opinion were the contributing factors for Team Canada woes and how those factors can be addressed for the 2010 Olympics.

ENSURE YOUR BEST FORWARDS ARE YOUR BEST FORWARDS. That means looking at how well prospective Team Canada players are performing this season, compared to past years.

Key forwards such as Jarome Iginla, Todd Bertuzzi, Kris Draper, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis have all had sub-par performances this season. Essentially, they came into the 2006 Olympics "cold".

As one newspaper pointed out, of the top 12 Canadian scorers in the NHL, only four of them were on the 2006 version of Team Canada.

Meanwhile, Canadian players like Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Paul Kariya and Alex Tanguay have had terrific seasons and might've made the difference this time around if they'd been selected for Team Canada.

THEY'VE GOTTA BE HEALTHY. One of the primary complaints about Canada's woeful performance was the play of defencemen Chris Pronger and Rob Blake, who struggled throughout the tournament on the big ice against fleet-footed opponents.

Age may have played a factor for Pronger and especially Blake, but the direct reason for their struggles was they were nursing injuries. Both claimed they weren't a factor, but how else then to explain their poor performances?

That Pronger and Blake tried to tough it out is admirable but in the end perhaps did more harm than good, and they should've been left home to recuperate.

Call-ups were available, after all, Jay Bouwmeester got the nod due to Scott Niedermayer and Ed Jovanovski respective injuries and was one of the few bright spots on the Canadian blueline.

BRING YOUR KIDS IF THEY DESERVE TO BE THERE. One reason why the Russians knocked Canada out of the medal hunt was that they used their young stars like Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeny Malkin. They didn't bench them for experience, and as a result those young forwards helped bury Team Canada.

Would the result have been different if Staal, Spezza, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf had been on the roster? Who knows, but it probably wouldn't have been any worse.

These guys all have international experience at the junior level. They'll eventually need to get it at the big league level, so why not at the Olympics?

Put simply, those four deserved to be there. They'll be there four years from now, but if there's another hot Canadian rookie or sophomore tearing up the NHL prior to the Vancouver Olympics, they should be given serious consideration.

HAVE THE RIGHT COACH. Pat Quinn got the job done in 2002, but for whatever reason he looked as lost as his players in 2006.

The coach is supposed to be able to address problem areas with his roster combinations. Granted, Quinn was perhaps hamstrung by the roster he was given but he just wasn't able to reach his charges.

Perhaps a more better choice would've been somone like Calgary's Darryl Sutter, for whom players want to play for, respect and buy into his system.

Folks raised eyebrows when he, as Flames general manager, acquired underachievers like Marcus Nilson, Roman Hamrlik and Kristian Huselius, yet every one of them turned their performances around playing for Sutter, making it obvious he's the kind of coach that can reach those who are struggling.

LIVE IN THE NOW. It's always worthwhile to look at the experience factor when considering players for international competition, but if the performance of those players have faded since they last strapped on the skates for international play, their experience isn't going to mean much.

There was some talk in the media post-mortems of the Canadians missing the leadership of Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman, who both opted out of the tournament due to either retirement or injury.

Both are great leaders and if they were still in their prime might've changed Canada's fortunes in Torino. But they're no longer in their prime, and if they'd played in Torino, there wouldn't have been any difference in the outcome because, quite frankly, both men have faded noticeably this season due to age and injury.

PRACTICE ON THE BIG ICE. This is why I'd like to see the NHL shut down a week earlier to allow all the players participating in the Olympics, for all the teams, to travel to where the games are being played to have time to practice together on the bigger ice surface.

Yes, many of the Canadian players on this year's Olympic roster were used to playing on it before, but for some of them it's been quite a while, and it was obvious that they were struggling to adjust.


If you're a Canadian or American hockey fan (more so if you're Canadian), you've already seen the media handwringing regarding the performances of your respective men's hockey clubs thus far at this year's Winter Olympics.

Sure, there're some legitimate concerns about this year's versions of Teams Canada and USA. The Canadians don't seem to have fully gelled as a team yet, whilst there's talk of key American players being past their "best before" date.

Yet there seems to be more hype about "What's wrong with Team Canada/USA" and less focus on the teams that have beaten them by North American fans and pundits.

Take, for example, the victories by the Finns and Swiss over Canada and the Latvians tying and the Slovakians defeating the USA.

In coverage of those games in North America, there was more talk about Canada and USA missing chances and less about the play of their opponents.

that's only natural, I suppose, but it seems as though there's not a lot of credit being given to those European teams.

Now the Latvians tying USA and the Swiss beating Canada can be attributed to a hot goaltender, but let's not forget that these were clubs not expected to even be able to compete with their powerful North American opponents, let alone tie or defeat them.

So how then to describe the Slovakian and Finnish victories?

North American analysis seemed intent to pin the blame for those results on what the Americans and Canadians failed to do and made passing mention of the performances of the Slovaks and Finns.

If the Canadians and Americans either fail to win gold or even place in the medals this year, it'll be perceived more as problems with the teams and less to do with their opposition.

There seems to be marvelling at how tight the competition is in this year's Olympics, that more teams are playing much better than anticipated.

One theory proffered by one of Canada's coaches is that some Europeans are playing stronger in the Olympics than they do in the NHL because they're playing for their countries.

That may be true in a minority of these players, but certainly nobody believes Finns like Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Olli Jokinen and Antero Niittymaki are playing any differently than they do in the NHL.

Ditto Slovakians like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Peter Bondra, and Zdeno Chara, or Swiss goaltender Martin Gerber.

The Canadian and Americans aren't the only ones off to an uneven start, as the Czechs - widely perceived as the biggest threat to unseating Canada as gold medallists - have also stumbled through the round robin.

Even the Russians lost their first game of the tournament, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Slovaks.

Maybe, just maybe, teams like the Slovakians, Swiss and Finns are actually stronger than analysts gave them credit?

Yes, Team Canada looked lost in their 2-0 loss to the Finns, but let's give credit where it due; the Finns simply out-worked, out-hustled and out-played the Canadians, and if it weren't for the strong play of goalie Roberto Luongo (one of the few Canadians to play well in that game), the Finns margin of victory would've been much wider.

What we're seeing in this year's Olympics is something I've noted since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, that being countries traditionally seen by North American hockey fans and pundits as doormats improving noticeably with each passing tournament.

Canadians in particular tend to have an insular perspective when it comes to hockey. For two decades, we only concerned ourselves about the Russians, and seemed almost sorry to see them decline in the 1990s.

The Americans didn't really become a serious focus on our radar screen until the 1996 World Cup, and seemingly replaced the Russians as the serious threat to our so-called hockey dominance.

The Czechs upset victory over Canada in the 1998 Nagano Olympics was seen as simply running into a hot goaltender. It took several more years before Canadian hockey fans and observers took them more seriously as an opponent.

That sort of thinking blinds us to reality, that other countries we once took for granted as opponents are getting better, in some cases, are comparable to Canadian talent.

Take a good look at the Finnish roster. They're so deep in goal they could shrug off Miikka Kiprusoff's decision to skip the Olympics much as Canada did Patrick Roy's similar decision back in 2002.

Their defense corps may lack former Norris winners or contenders but they're certainly not to be taken lightly, whilst some of their forwards match up very well against Canada's best.

Surely we should've taken better notice of this back in the 2004 World Cup, when it was the Finns who met Canada in the Championship game and proved no easy victory.

But once again, it was considered the case of running into a hot goalie - Kiprusoff was in goal for Finland in that series - and thus they weren't taken more seriously when the Olympics rolled around.

So when they defeated Canada last Sunday, the response from Canadian fans and media wasn't, "they lost to a very strong opponent", but rather, "how could this have happened?"

There's no question Team Canada is having some chemistry problems, and yes, there is enough talent and experience on their roster that they shouldn't be struggling as they have in their recent games, but the fact remains, they were beaten by a strong, experienced, hardworking Finnish hockey team.

One that you take for granted at your peril.

As for Team USA, yes, key players like Chelios and Modano and Guerin are getting up in age and perhaps cannot carry the club the way they used to, and there will be second-guessing for some time about the decision to exclude goalie Ryan Miller from this year's lineup.

But there's plenty of good young players on Team USA, like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Erik Cole, and Jordan Leopold, so it's not as though the team is fully stocked with geezers struggling to keep up.

At least, however, there's an expectation in the American media that this is a US team in transition. While there may be puzzlement over some of the teams they struggled against, if Team USA fails to win a medal, there won't be an extensive amount of self-analysis going on within the American press over their hockey programme.

If Team Canada should fail to win Gold, we'll likely see a resurgence of "what's wrong with Canadian hockey" as we saw following the Nagano Olympics.

Now granted, back then there were some issues in Canadian hockey that need to be addressed, and some that still do today, but the bottom line was, there wasn't really anything "wrong" with Canadian hockey.

The real problem was, the rest of the world was catching up.

First it was the Russians, then the Swedes and the Americans and the Czechs.

Now, it's the Slovakians and the Swedes. And while the Swiss roster is stocked with Canadians, their improvement in recent years plus their ability to churn out world class goaltenders like David Aebischer and Martin Gerber should give an even bigger boost to their hockey programme.

And don't forget the plucky German, Latvian and Kazahkstan teams, who've also shown signs of real improvement in recent years.

It's no stretch to assume that within the next ten to fifteen years, not only will those clubs become legitimate medal contenders, but we could also see countries such as Norway, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and China showing significant improvement.

That's going to make Canadian hockey dominance that much harder to achieve and maintain, which in turn is likely going to provoke real changes to the Canadian hockey development system over the next two decades.

And that isn't a bad thing.

So the next time North American hockey teams struggle in international competition, and it's going to happen again, instead of wondering how they could lose to supposedly lesser opponents, perhaps the mindset needs to be adjusted to acknowledge that other countries are just as good.

Meaning "our boys" are gonna have to work that much harder in the years to come to keep Canada and the United States among hockey's international elite.


SWITZERLAND UPSETS TEAM CANADA. And Slovakia upsets Team USA, but the big deal was Martin Gerber stoning Canada on Saturday in round robin play.

Matthew Ryder has analysis in his "End to End" column. As for my take, I think the Canadians took the Swiss team for granted and got bitten in the ass for it, although it probably wouldn't have happened with the goaltending of Martin Gerber, who demonstated to the world he's one of the big reasons the Carolina Hurricanes are sitting first overall in the NHL's Eastern Conference.

And how ironic that it was former Montreal Canadiens forward Paul DiPietro, a Canadian who's been playing in Switzerland since the late 1990s, scoring both goals in the 2-0 Swiss victory.

For Canada, this can go one of two ways. They'll either smarten up and bear down the rest of the way, in which case the Swiss did them a favour, or they'll start to doubt themselves, which was a major concern four years ago in Salt Lake City when they lost to Sweden and struggled to beat the Germans.

In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed the Finland-Czech Republic Men's game on Saturday. Lots of excitement and end-to-end action, everything you'd expect from a game of this magnitude, except for Jarkko Ruutu running Jaromir Jagr from behind.


What a difference a week can make.

It was about a week ago that some folks were predicting the worst for Wayne Gretzky. His assistant coach and buddy, Rick Tocchet was facing charges in relation to his alleged involvement in an illegal gambling operation. His wife, Janet Jone Gretzky, placed bets through Tocchet, which in turn led to rampant media speculation that Gretzky must've known about Tocchet's activities and was trying to cover it up.

But since then, it's been reported that Gretzky's wife won't face charges, although she might be called as a witness if the case against Tocchet and his alleged associates goes to trial.

Additionally, Gretzky is not likely to be called to testify, while Tocchet's slated appearance for February 21st to face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy was waived.

It's not known for certain why his appearance was waived, and it's giving rise to speculation the case against Tocchet may not be as strong as originally believed.

It's still too early in the investigation to tell, but it seems that this story of "Operation Slapshot" may not be the major scandal that it was first reported to be.

If so, those who attempted to smear Gretzky with innuendo and baseless allegations could end up with egg on their faces.

MOORE FILES SUIT ON BERTUZZI. This one has been well-covered by the media and by bloggers Tom Benjamin and Jes Golbez, but here's my two cents anyway.

This was an ugly situation, and the bottom line is Steve Moore can no longer play NHL hockey. Todd Bertuzzi effectively ended his career with a cheap shot, and while Big Bert's supporters claim he was avenging teammate Markus Naslund, whom Moore had injured in an earlier game, that was no justification for what he did.

There are also those who claim that Moore is merely milking his injuries, that he's not hurt as bad as he claims to be, but unless you've got medical documentation to support your claims, I suggest you stuff that nonsense and stop making baseless accusations.

Moore is deserving of compensation for his pain, suffering and potentially lost wages. I don't believe he deserves $15 million but this is probably one of those deals where he seeks a high amount and then hopes to settle for a lower amount. I believe Bertuzzi should compensate Moore for what he did.

I don't like the timing of the announcement of this lawsuit, because it appears calculated by Moore's lawyer to coincide with the Winter Olympics, in which Bertuzzi is participating as a member of Team Canada.

What's more troubling for me is the impression that the Colorado Avalanche, Moore's former team, appear to have washed their hands of him. Ditto the NHL and the NHLPA.

Perhaps there's something going on behind the scenes that I'm not aware of, maybe I'm off-base by saying this, but it seems to me that Moore's been abandoned by the NHL hockey community.

SWEDISH WOMEN PULL OFF UPSET.This may not be on the same level as the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" but for women's hockey, Team Sweden upsetting Team USA 3-2 in a shootout to advance to the Gold medal round is huge.

It's tough that this came at the expense of Team USA, but Sweden's victory will be a breath of fresh air in a major women's hockey tournament that for years has been dominated by the USA and Canada.

This could generate even more interest in women's hockey, and not just in Sweden.

Yeah, I'm Canadian, and I know I should cheer for the Canadian girls like I always have, but I'll be pulling for the plucky underdogs from Sweden this time around, even if it appears they may not have much chance against a thoroughly dominating Canadian team.

If upsetting the USA was huge, upsetting Canada would truly put this on the same plateau as the "Miracle", and would provide an even bigger boost for women's hockey.

CLIFF RONNING RETIRES. He's been out of the NHL for two years now, and the timing of his announcement was buried amongst the Olympic news and the NHL gambling story, but it's still worth noting Cliff Ronning decided to call it a career last week.

I always liked Ronning. He was a little guy (5'8", 165 lbs) who proved he could compete at a time when the NHL was trending toward larger players.

He never played on a Cup winner, although he was a key player on the 1994 Vancouver Canucks that pushed the New York Rangers to seven games in a series considered by many to be the best Stanley Cup finals ever played.

Ronning always worked hard, was a classy player and a leader, and set an example for smaller players everywhere. His play was always bigger than his body, and his contributions are even bigger. Enjoy your retirement, Cliff, you earned it.

THEODORE INJURED, GONE FOR TWO MONTHS. It it weren't for bad luck, Jose Theodore wouldn't have any luck at all this season.

First, he struggles so badly that he ends up benched in favour of his backup, who's playing as brilliantly as Theodore once did. Then he gets tagged for using a banned substance - in this case, a hair tonic - thus placing him under suspicion of using steroids when it's obvious he's guilty only of vanity.

Then comes word on Saturday that Theodore slipped and fell outside his Montreal home, breaking his right heel and sidelining him for six to eight weeks.

Looks like we can safely put all those trade rumours to rest now.

NO MORE WORLD CUP? That's the word coming from the NHLPA, who are hinting the players would rather participate in the Winter Olympics than in the Canada/World Cup of Hockey.

Can't say I blame the players. Why have two major international tournaments involving the best professional players every two years?

Of course, I know a much easier way to resolve this. Keep the World Cup of Hockey for the NHL players, and only use the world's best juniors to participate in the Olympics every four years.

But it seems the Olympics mean more to the NHL players, as witnessed by the desire of injured stars to participate, sometimes against the wishes of their NHL teams.

The owners, however, might be starting to rethink this Olympic participation business, especially if their key players suffer injuries in that tournament which hampers their performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.



THE GRETZKY MEDIA CIRCUS ROLLS ON. Phoenix Coyotes head coach and Team Canada GM Wayne Gretzky faced the press in Toronto on Monday as his team assembled for a practice prior to flying to Turin, Italy for the Winter Olympics.

In a story that may be of more interest to reporters than to hockey fans, Gretzky again faced a barrage of questions regarding the investigation by New Jersey State Police into the involvement of his friend and assistant coach Rick Tocchet in an illegal gambling ring and his wife, Janet Jones Gretzky, allegedly betting through Tocchet.

Since the story of "Operation Slap Shot" was first reported last week, the focus shifted from Tocchet, who faces charges involving moneylaundering and tax evasion, onto Gretzky, who's done nothing wrong and is not under investigation, based primarily on his wife's betting practices.

Although wiretap information released from anonymous sources within the New Jersey State Police has supported Gretzky's timeline claims of what he knew about Tocchet's alleged activities, some of the media hordes are seemingly trying to keep alive the seamy allegations that Gretzky somehow was involved or at least had prior knowledge of it .

The NY Post on Tuesday ran an article suggesting Gretzky had a heavy gambling problem, based on "whispers" of his dropping around $2 million at Vegas casinos and of having a $25,000 credit line at the blackjack tables.

So what? Even if Gretzky were a heavy better, the Post's gossip claims he does so at casinos...where it's legal to gamble as much as you want if you got the money to place bets.

Even if the Post's gossip is true, even if Gretzky were to have a gambling problem, it doesn't mean he was involved in the gambling ring or even had prior knowledge.

As for those in the press claiming Gretzky will be a distraction to Team Canada, that's nothing but hogwash.

Sure, the players are aware of the story, but they're not pondering it at length in their dressing room or laying awake at night wondering about poor Wayne.

For Gretzky, as a Globe and Mail reporter recently noted on a CBC telecast, he can't win in this case. If Team Canada wins gold, the press will say it was because they rose above the distraction of his presence, and if they fail, the press will try to claim his presence was a distraction.

Bunk either way.

Then there's a report in the Globe and Mail suggesting Hockey Night in Canada's commentators were seen as Gretzky apologists.

Apologists? For what?

According to reports, all they did were stick up for Gretzky, saying the same thing I and other commentators (most recently the Toronto Sun's Mike Ulmer and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel's Chris Joseph) have said: that he did nothing wrong and didn't deserve the media treatment he's received over this.

Again, I have no problem with the media reporting the facts of this story. What I and others have a problem with is the sensationalism, based on little more than baseless speculation and leaks that at times seem half-right at best.

If Gretzky were under investigation, the press would have every right to pursue the story the way they have. But he's not, and there is no reason for him to be hounded like he is.

Leave the sensationalism to the supermarket tabloid, media folks, and stick to doing your job of reporting the facts.

NHLPA RESPONDS OVER NY POST'S MARKETING SLAM. About two weeks ago, I wrote the NHLPA regarding accusations by Larry Brooks of the NY Post of the PA lacking a marketing plan.

A spokesman responded last week to my query, which I would've posted last week if not for all the hubbub about gambling. Anyway, here's the word from PA headquarters:

The PA has a strong voice in all of the new broadcasting agreements, aided by the new Joint Owner-Player Broadcasting/Marketing Committee, and they are putting an increased focus on furthering their relationships with both existing and new licensees and sponsors. They are also in regular discussions with the League on collaborative efforts to market the game, with the recent announcement of the CBC’s ‘Kraft Hockeyville’ as an example.

A significant portion of their Toronto office is devoted to the marketing/licensing aspect of the game.

Despite the strenuous issues that were dealt with in last year’s labour struggles, the marketing relationship between the NHLPA and the League has usually been productive and amicable over the years and this new partnership continues to work off of that.

WHERE IS DION PHANEUF? OK, so Team Canada's blueline corps has been bitten hard by the injury bug, with Scott Niedermayer and Ed Jovanovski sidelined due to surgeries and Rob Blake and Chris Pronger playing through pain.

Obviously, that's resulted in some space on their roster and the taxi squad.

So why hasn't Calgary Flames rookie defence sensation Dion Phaneuf received a call?

In case anyone hasn't noticed, Phaneuf is a better all around defenceman than Toronto's Bryan McCabe and Florida's Jay Bouwmeester. If not for Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, he would be a shoo-in for the Calder as rookie of the year, and should garner serious consideration for the Norris as the league's best defenceman.

I thought the whole idea was for Canada to send it's best players to Turin. Phaneuf is a phenom, a "once-in-a-generation" player who is the total package on defence. He hits like a freight train, plays defence as well as any veteran, has a howitzer shot, a smooth skating style and a maturity beyond his years.

Best of all, he's healthy, something that can't be said for half of Team Canada's current blueline.

Sure, folks can chirp about Crosby deserving to be on the Olympic squad too, but Canada's depth in experienced talent at forward made it tough for "Sid the Kid" to crack the roster.

And if those aforementioned blueliners weren't injured, I'd understand why Phaneuf wouldn't make Team Canada's roster this year, too. But they're missing Niedermayer and Jovanovski, and Blake and Pronger are on the limp. They need quality depth to be there to at least fill in for the latter two should one or both go down.

Let's hope the decision to overlook Phaneuf doesn't come back to haunt Team Canada.

A TASTELESS LIST: The Toronto Sun has posted a list of the 50 worst players to don the Maple Leafs uniform. The Sun staff apparently thought this would be a "fun" list.

What's more fun is the fact that it was compiled by people who'll never have the privilege of playing for the Maple Leafs, or any other NHL team for that matter.

Regardless of the Sun's lowly ranking of these players, or of what anybody thinks of their respective performances, they at least put in the time and effort to be good enough to not only play in the NHL, but for one of hockey's most popular franchises.

Nobody can take that away from them, regardless of their ranking by the Toronto Sun.


No, that's not a porno reference, folks, nor is it a suggestion to do something rude.

It's a saying used in the Canadian Army, usually aimed at someone who's getting unnecessarily wound up over something that might not turn out to be that serious.

In other words, take a deep breath and calm down!

As every NHL hockey fan knows, this past week has not been a good one for the league, thanks to the bolt out of the blue that Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet was implicated in a gambling ring and faces charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

That story quickly morphed into questions of Coyotes head coach and Tocchet's buddy Wayne Gretzky's knowledge of the gambling ring, hyped up by the media over reports Gretzky's wife alledgely placed bets through Tocchet.

It was also a shining example of the media - mainstream and otherwise- at their worst.

The media is within their rights to report on information they received from sources wishing to remain anonymous. Indeed, it was anonymous but solid sources that uncovered the Watergate scandal and contributed to bringing down the corrupt Nixon administration.

The information from the sources regarding this investigation wouldn't be reported by the media if they weren't legitimate.

The problem is that they're only coming in bits and pieces, it's at times conflicting, and are sending some in the press off on a tangent of turning on hockey's biggest name, rather than focussing on the actual investigation.

Not everyone who reported or commented on this were responsible of sensationalism, but for a few days last week it seemed that for every one who stuck to reporting the facts, there seemed to be two playing up allegations and speculation.

That's not surprising. The ongoing story of "Operation Slap Shot", as the investigation was labelled by New Jersey State Police, could be out of a gangster movie or an episode of "The Sopranos".

It allegedly involves both the wife and friend of pro hockey's most famous player, several other players throughout the league, a general manager, a team owner, a movie star, at least one member of the New Jersey State Police and potential ties to the Mafia.

For those pontificators bloviating of "a black eye on hockey", their real interest doesn't appear to be uncovering the facts, but in the sexiness of the story itself.

What's sad about much of the coverage of this story is how the focus has shifted from Tocchet, the only person right now facing any criminal charges, but onto questioning the character of Wayne Gretzky, a man who's been the best ambassador of hockey for over a quarter of a century.

There's no evidence thus far tying Gretzky to this scandal, nor has he been accused of playing any role in Tocchet's alleged operation. But because his wife allegedly placed bets on football games through Tocchet, and earlier reports claimed Gretzky was heard on wiretaps allegedly speaking to Tocchet about his wife's involvement, the story became, "What did Wayne Gretzky know, and when did he know it?"

Nice use of the most famous opening words of the 1973 Watergate hearings to draw a correlation between a man of good character like Gretzky and a crooked U.S. president who resigned from office in disgrace for attempting to cover up his crimes, but that's what appeared in a recent edition of the New York Post.

Everything to do with Gretzky has come thus far from unnamed law enforcement sources believed to be involved in the investigation.

The most damning evidence appeared to be Gretzky's wiretapped conversation with Tocchet, which when first reported claimed the Coyotes coach knew about the gambling ring days before news of the investigation broke.

There was nothing wrong with the media reporting this, but the real problem was some commentators used this to all but accuse The Great One of prior knowledge of the ring and being actively involved in a coverup.

Not only did this spur some commentators into judging Gretzky before all the facts were in, but also fuelled more wild speculation.

Some suggested Gretzky may have used his wife to place bets on football, almost an chauvinistic inference that a woman doesn't bet on football games unless she's doing it for her husband.

Surprise! There are women who actually bet on pro sports all on their own. Gee, who'da thunk it in this day and age. You've come a long way, baby!

There were growing calls for Gretzky to step down as general manager of Canada's Olympic hockey team, claiming he'd bring the scandal to the Olympics and acting as an unwelcome distraction to the Canadian team and even other Canadian athletes.

Yet most members of Team Canada rallied around the Great One, and some of Canada's other Olympic athletes also spoke out to say they didn't feel his presence would in any way distract them or affect their performances.

Some noted Gretzky's prior association with basketball superstar and suspected gambler Michael Jordan and with convicted white collar criminal Bruce McNall. It wasn't hard to figure out what the inference was here: guilt by association.

Gretzky is being tried and convicted by some pundits, accused of being an embarrassment and a distraction, without a single, concrete shred of proof that he did anything illegal or was actively engaged in a coverup of a crime.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Unfortunately, in this era of sensationalism, of hype over substance, that notion often gets reversed.

It's almost as if many of those reporters, having spent years building the Gretzky legend, are getting enjoyment out of trying to tear it down.

It's an embarrassment to those reporters who opt to go down that path, and hurts the efforts of others who are trying to pursue the facts. The unsubstantiated gossip may sell papers, but it makes it difficult for hockey fans to read the truth, or to even trust the media when subsequent facts discredit earlier, more hysterical coverage.

Since the Gretzky media witch hunt began it has been reported that the dates of Gretzky's alledged conversation with Tocchet was not days before the scandal broke as first reported. Instead, Gretzky's call to Tocchet occurred the day the story first broke, due to his being informed by the New Jersey State Police that Tocchet was going to face charges for his alleged involvement in the ring.

As reported by TSN.CA:

"Gretzky was contacted by New Jersey Police and informed about the charges against Rick Tocchet and the fact that his wife Janet would be questioned as part of the investigation.

Shortly after that, Gretzky was said to have phoned Tocchet to find out what was going on and according to the source that was the conversation between Tocchet and Gretzky that was recorded on Police wiretap. This contradicts earlier reports that suggested Gretzky may have had prior knowledge of the alleged gambling ring. "

That's a big difference, folks. If we go by the facts as known, the worse thing Wayne Gretzky is guilty of is concern for his wife.

Suddenly, those who were quick to assume the worst of Gretzky are looking very stupid, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for their mea culpas.

In the early days of this story, I decided not to write about it here until a few more days had passed to allow for more information - specifically, facts - to emerge. The only commentary I made on the subject was in last Wednesday's Faceoff Hockey Show, where I suggested that everyone following this story, from media to fans, should be patient and wait for more information from the authorities on this story before passing judgement on those who could be involved.

All we know for certain about this scandal is that Tocchet appears to be the only one potentially facing criminal charges.

We know Janet Jones Gretzky alledgedly placed bets on football through Tocchet, which in itself isn't a crime, although it may not have been the smartest thing to place those bets through Tocchet.

And does anyone other than me find it interesting that, for all the talk of a dozen players, a general manager and an owner potentially involved in placing bets with the gambling ring, only the name of Gretzky's wife was initially leaked to the media?

The big issue here isn't who in the NHL placed sports bets, unless those bets were on NHL games. Then, it becomes the "black eye on hockey" that's been trumpeted by more than one reporter since this story first broke.

Rather, the real issue - and the real story - is the investigation of the gambling ring and Tocchet's role within it.

It's not just the Gretzkys who are facing a media headache over this. There's been open speculation in the press of potential involvement regarding players known for gambling problems in the past (Jaromir Jagr, Jeremy Roenick), publicized for their poker prowess (THN's 2005-06 yearbook story on Boston's Travis Green) or their friendship with Tocchet from his playing days (Mark Recchi, John LeClair).

Thus far, only Roenick and Green have been mentioned by anonymous sources as either being investigated or about to be for alledged betting with this ring.

That doesn't mean they're guilty of a crime. Most likely, investigators want to question them to determine who they placed their bets with and how it was done.

There's no question that those who bet on games via this gambling ring are guilty of stupidity, particularly in this day and age where legalized gambling is widespread. Those who'll end up publicly named will have to deal with the embarrassment of their questionable judgement, but in all probability that will be the extent of it.

Perhaps the reason why they did this was to avoid paying taxes on their winnings, which could raise the spectre of tax evasion, but thus far nobody who placed bets with this ring are facing that charge, and we don't know yet if there is even justification for them to be charged for that act.

Placing a bet isn't a crime, nor is receiving money from winning those bets. The criminal act is skimming a portion of those winnings for yourself, which is one of the charges Tocchet is facing if this investigation proves it.

Another is soliciting friends to place bets with your bookie or placing bets for them, something that still has to be determined in this case.

And as long as Mrs Gretzky and those as-yet unnamed players didn't wager on hockey, and thus far, that's what the investigators maintain, they probably have nothing to fear from the long arm of the law.

The worse they may face is questioning from investigators as to who their contact was and their methods. They're not the big fish the investigators are pursuing, but rather those who are running this ring themselves.

As for all the chatter of this scandal causing irreparable harm to the NHL, let me stress again that the only way this will occur is if those who placed bets with this ring were betting on hockey games. According to investigators, that didn't happen.

What's also upsetting about some of the coverage of this situation is the hypocrisy.

There've been published reports since this story broke that gambling amongst NHL players isn't new, that this has happened for decades, but there's been scarcely a peep in the press about how disgraceful it was.

Now that a former NHL player is facing criminal charges related to gambling, and the wife of hockey's most famous player placed bets with that ring, suddenly it's the end of the NHL world as we know it.

What must happen is everyone needs to wait for the facts in this case to come out. Even then, some in the media must must avoid a rush to judgement on those involved and how it potentially affects the image of the National Hockey League.

It's time to suck back and reload.

NOTE: For more on this, check out this post from Hockey Nation.


The Canadian sports website The Score recently posted a list of players that could become potential trade candidates as the March 9th trade deadline nears.

What follows is my own take on this list, bearing in mind that anything is possible.

I've posted their original assessments, followed by my own, italicized for your protection. Enjoy!


Olli Jokinen, C, Panthers
The Panthers captain is enjoying another strong offensive season, despite his team's penchant for playing defensive hockey. Jokinen is very sought after, so the Cats will have no trouble finding fair market value if they cannot re-sign him soon.

I don't see Panthers GM Mike Keenan shopping Jokinen, for the simple fact that trading him almost certainly guarantees the departure of goalie Roberto Luongo in the summer of 2007 via unrestricted free agency. Jokinen's a "Keenan-man", one of those players who developed into stars thanks to "Iron Mike's" tutelege, and I think Keenan will do everything he can to re-sign him before July 1.

Dwayne Roloson, G, Wild
With fellow pending UFA goalie Manny Fernandez now the clear No. 1 goalie in Minnesota, Roloson could be a decent alternative for contending teams with serious issues in the crease. The Wild will make a move to open the door for Josh Harding.

Some suggest Fernandez would be the guy on the way out because of his supposedly abrasive personality, suggesting Roloson would be the better guy to tutor Harding. In this instance, I concur with The Score's take on this. Roloson, not Fernandez, will be the out man out.

Saku Koivu, C, Canadiens
Could the Canadiens captain be on his last legs with the only NHL organization he's ever known? With the team struggling in the standings, and Koivu still un-signed beyond this season, there's a chance big changes are made in Montreal.

It's possible, but unlikely. The Little Captain gives his best in every single game, and that's the kind of player Bob Gainey wants to keep around.

Martin Biron, G, Sabres
With Ryan Miller now back healthy and entrenched as the Sabres' starting goalkeeper, GM Darcy Regier may finally pull the trigger on a deal involving one of his goalies. Biron could help several teams, but Regier is still holding out for a good return.

Agreed. It's not a question of "if" Biron is shopped, but "when".

Ruslan Salei and/or Keith Carney, D, Mighty Ducks
The Ducks have two potential free agent defensemen, so expect the team to negotiate an extension with one and deal the other before the deadline. They've added blueline depth this season in anticipation of this situation.

Another take I agree with. Of the two I think Brian Burke would prefer to keep Carney, as he's seen as more of a character player than Salei. Still, money talks and their respective asking prices could determine who stays and who goes by the deadline.

Brian Leetch, D, Bruins
Leetch has been rumored to be heading back to either of his former clubs--the New York Rangers or Toronto Maple Leafs. However, several other playoff-bound teams would have serious interest in Leetch--the 1994 Conn Smythe trophy winner.

If the Bruins continue their hard charge up the Eastern Conference standings, they may opt to hang onto Leetch for the stretch drive.

Jan Hrdina, C, Blue Jackets
Right-handed centers who are defensively responsible and good on face-offs are extremely valuable come playoff time. As a result, there could be a big market for Hrdina. With Gilbert Brule on the way, Columbus can afford to move Hrdina.

Good point about Brule. At some point MacLean will have to make room for this kid, and Hrdina could be the expendable crewmember.


Jose Theodore, G, Canadiens
Theodore's elevated salary and on-ice struggles this season may hinder the possibility of a trade. However, with several Western Conference clubs looking for goalie help, there is a chance for a blockbuster deal with the Habs.

Not gonna happen. The salary alone would make most teams blanch in this salary cap world, and couple with his loathsome performance this season, that pretty much shuts down any logical chance of Jose being dealt. GM Bob Gainey was recently quoted saying Theodore won't be dealt, so if we take him at his word, Jose will be staying in Montreal for another season at least.

Roberto Luongo, G, Panthers
The Panthers badly want to keep their franchise goalie around, and have already offered him a multi-year deal worth $6 million/year. However, Luongo's reluctance to accept those terms could lead to trade involving a Western Conference club.

Another one that ain't gonna happen. Keenan blew his opportunity last summer to lock up Luongo long term, but as long as Luongo's rights belong to the Panthers, Keenan will hang onto him, or for this season at least.

Jiri Hudler, LW/RW, Red Wings
Hudler is one of the top scorers in the AHL this season, but doesn't have much of a future in Detroit. That's because the team is loaded up front, and has other players waiting in the wings. His value is high, so a trade is plausible right now.

I agree. Much was expected of Hudler but he's having trouble cracking a deep Detroit roster. GM Ken Holland suggested earlier this season he was seeking blueline depth, and Hudler could be potential trade bait to accomplish that.

Tyler Arnason, C, Blackhawks
The Blackhawks need to start fresh with Arnason, so expect a trade before the trade deadline. If not for the team's current lack of center depth, he'd already be gone. Arnason could attract attention from both contenders and also-rans.

The only thing limiting Arnason's value is concerns about his attitude and consistency. He was expected to improve playing for Trent Yawney this season, since he'd played so well for Yawney in the AHL. That hasn't happened, and those perceived problems might limit that attention.

Marian Gaborik, RW/LW, Wild
A restricted free agent this summer, Gaborik may be starting to wear out his welcome in Minnesota. Contract issues have been a problem in the past, but the Wild may choose to hold onto the talented winger because of their contending status.

"May choose to hold onto the talented winger"? How about "WILL choose to hold onto the talented winger". Previous contract woes aside, Gaborik is the sole cannon in an otherwise popgun Wild offence. Their need is to bring in a decent offensive linemate for him. Gaborik will remain in Minnesota.

Antoine Vermette, C/LW, Senators
The Senators are expected to make at least one big move before the deadline, with a second-line center being their main target. As a result, Vermette may have to be sacrificed. He's struggled under coach Bryan Murray this year.

That's possible. They've tried unsuccessfully to move Vaclav Varada, so Vermette could become potential trade bait by the deadline.

Andrew Raycroft, G, Bruins
The emergence of both Hannu Toivonen and Tim Thomas this season, plus the recent acquisition of Craig Anderson from Chicago, suddenly makes Raycroft expendable. However, he may not be dealt to a contender this season.

There's a danger in this. Suppose Toivonen and Thomas struggle next season and Raycroft regains his form with another club? That could be too much of a gamble. It's entirely possible the B's might carry the three of them into training camp and the pre-season and then decide which one to cast off. Still, if the return is promising, one shouldn't rule anything out.

John LeClair, LW, Penguins
The big left wing has played well of late, but his trade status is still very much up in the air. After all, LeClair still has one year left on his contract and will be 37 years old in 2006-07. That said, his big body is still a presence in front of the net on the power play.

I suspect the Pens will look to dump some salary by the deadline, and LeClair could indeed be the guy on the way out.

And as an added bonus, here's some names The Score missed that I believe could be trade bait.

J.S. Giguere, G, Mighty Ducks.

Notice that backup Ilya Bryzgalov has been seeing more ice time of late? That his stats are roughly similar to "Giggy's"? That even with the raise Bryzgalov will get for next season, his salary will still be more affordable that Giguere's $3.9 mil? That could all add up to a trade for the 2003 Smythe winner.

Mike Ribeiro, C, Canadiens.

He's off the scoring pace from his breakthrough season of 2003-04, and has been pretty much related to powerplay duty of late. Like Arnason in Chicago, his attitude and work ethic are being questioned, and given his Group II status this summer, it's quite possible he could find himself playing elsewhere by March 9th.

Mark Parrish, RW, Islanders.

An unrestricted free agent at season's end, Parrish made headlines on Long Island back over a month ago by suggesting he'd love to return to his home state of Minnesota and sign with the Wild. If the Isles should slide out of the playoff race by March 9th, Parrish could see his wish fulfilled much sooner than expected. Or at the very least, he could be playing somewhere other than with the Islanders.

Curtis Joseph, G, Coyotes.

"CuJo" becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there was talk of the Coyotes shopping him by the deadline to a playoff contender if they're out of the race by March 9th. Their recent trading of Brian Boucher to Calgary, however, suggests they might now be thinking otherwise, but one shouldn't rule out the possibility.

Vesa Toskala, G. Sharks.

He wouldn't fulfil the role of experience starter that so many teams are seeking, but for those looking for a seasoned backup, Toskala could be the man. The Sharks just re-signed Evgeny Nabokov to a long-term deal, and at some point Nolan Schaefer is gonna get called up for good, so keep an eye on Toskala as the deadline approaches.

Keith Tkachuk, LW, Blues.

He's got a no-trade clause and insists he wants to remain in St. Louis, but if the right club were interested in his services the possibility exists of Tkachuk changing his mind. His contract for this season was at the league-mandated limit of $7.8 million, but next season that figure gets chopped in half, which would make him even more palatable for clubs seeking scoring depth at left wing.

Jason Allison, C, Maple Leafs.

He'll be eligible for several performance and health related bonuses in the one-year deal he signed with the team this season, and all the gossip out of Toronto since December has the Leafs trying to move him for some blueline depth as well as to get out of that deal.

Brendan Witt, D, Capitals.

Like Biron in Buffalo, it's not a question of "if" he'll be dealt, but "when". Caps management insists they'll honour his trade request of last summer, but it's apparently they're going to hang onto him as long as possible to get the best possible return. The Leafs would apparently love to land him, but so would several other clubs in both Conferences desperate for defensive depth.

As for the breaking news on the NHL's potential gambling scandal, I'll have my take on that in this Sunday's Soapbox.


CBA CHANGES COMING? The Canadian Press reported on Saturday the NHLPA is considering "possible changes to the method in which the salary cap is determined in order to pay less in escrow in future years."

CP reports the PA posted a document on its players-only website asking them if they want to change the way the salary cap is set up in order to reduce their future escrow payments.

CP explains:

"According to current revenue projections, the team-by-team salary cap for next season is slated to be $46 million US, a jump from the current $39 million. But the proposed changes would see the cap rise to a minimum of $42 million instead, and cut the percentage in escrow players would pay out of their paycheques next season anywhere from 2.5 per cent to five per cent.

Currently, the salary cap is calculated by finding the average among the league's 30 payrolls and making the upper limit $8 million higher than the average and the lower limit $8 million lower than the average payroll. So next year's minimum payroll is currently slated to be around $30 million, up from this season's $21.5 million. But the proposed changes would see the method changed so that the upper limit is only $5 million higher than the average payroll, and the lower limit $11 million below the average payroll. That would set the lower limit at around $27 million next season."

CP reports the players have been asked to discuss this, with the decision to be made by the end of February.

Not surprisingly, the NHL has no problem with this, after all, any suggestion from the players that would effectively lower the cap ceiling and limit the increase in the cap floor is bound to be received enthusiastically by the owners.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post broke this story back on January 22nd, reporting the PA was apparently "terrified" over potentially significant escrow losses over the life of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Brooks suggested this decision if implemented would restrict options for free agents and give successful teams less room to keep their rosters intact or for lesser clubs to bring in free agent help.

He then tore the PA a new one for taking "the fool's way" to avoid escrow losses instead of working with the league to increase league revenues.

"It's almost beyond belief that the players would submit to such a change halfway through the first season of this terrible deal. It's even more astounding that they're being asked to even consider such a significant adjustment to this deal without having the time to be educated on the long-term ramifications of such a move, and to study the impact of this amendment.

How, in the middle of a season, can the players possibly be competent to make such a decision? They can't, and they aren't. And yet they appear ready to herded as sheep into making such a call, all in the name of avoiding escrow losses in case league revenues flat-line over the length of the CBA."


"It's remarkable. But of course, it isn't. The NHL - Gary Bettman, by the way, has already informed Saskin that the Board will accept amending the CBA to adopt the $10M band - has not developed a single revenue-producing initiative this year. The league has no Research and Development department.

The NHLPA, whose sole responsibility under this agreement would seem to be to find ways to create new revenue streams, similarly has done nothing to create new programs. It has no department dedicated to producing new business. The joint NHL-NHLPA marketing committee established by the CBA seems to be a farce."


"(NHLPA Director Ted) Saskin has told Slap Shots, "Reducing the band is not a 'Ted issue.' "

We're told that the issue was raised by players worried about escrow. But rather than extol the virtues of generating revenue-enhancing programs, Saskin presented the easy, narrow-band option.

It's narrow-minded and short-sighted and mind-boggling. Rather than demanding that its leaders work to generate revenue in order to avoid escrow - never mind actually increasing the cap and the value of the 54 percent which increases to 55 percent when revenues hit $2.2B, by the way - these beaten-down players appear ready to adopt an even lower ceiling for themselves than they agreed to under duress last summer.

If they do this - in the middle of a season, without any education, without any time to study the issue - they deserve ridicule. If they now give back on the one position to which they remained firm throughout the lockout, this group of players will be known as the weakest and most foolish in the history of organized labor."

Strong words from Brooks, who's been critical of Saskin and the PA Executive ever since they opted to negotiate a salary cap with the league and dumped former Director Bob Goodenow in favour of Saskin in a controversial vote that upset a minority of PA members (more on that later).

Is Brooks justified in his criticism of reducing the salary cap band? At first glance, it certainly appears that way. The cap ceiling could apparently go as high as $46 million next season, and given how escrow will have no effect on players salaries this season (they'll get all those escrow deductions back this summer with interest), it does indeed seem as though some players, including perhaps some on the player executive, are giving in to fear.

But perhaps the real reason was inadvertently explained by Brooks in his own article.

While working with the league to increase revenues is indeed the more industrious way as Brooks suggested, remember what he wrote in that same article about the NHL's "R&D" department.

They don't have one.

Remember what Brooks wrote about the joint NHL-NHLPA marketing committee?

It "seems to be a farce".

I don't know why, as Brooks pointed out, the NHLPA doesn't have a "department dedicated to producing new business". I've written the PA and hopefully they'll shed more light on this.

But if the league has no R&D department and if the league-PA marketing committee is as bad as Brooks suggests, then perhaps reducing the salary band is a wiser course of action for the players to protect themselves.

If the league has nothing in place to generate more revenue, essentially adopting a "business as usual" approach, then the PA by limiting the salary band may be protecting the best interests of the players over the long run.

Sure, revenues were higher than anticipated this season, but if the league has nothing in place to maintain that trend, they could level off over the next couple of seasons should the novelty of the "new NHL" wear off.

If revenues level off by the mid-point of the CBA, that could have an adverse affect on players salaries as escrow payments could increase under the current salary band.

Should revenues continue to rise over the life of the CBA, reducing the band would bring about the limitations Brooks noted, but they would be blunted by the fact that escrow payments would be almost guaranteed to return to the players, with interest, by the end of each season.

And with the cap continuing to rise with revenues, it would continue to mean higher salaries for the players, at a slower but steady pace.

Yes, it would restrict what teams could spend on salaries, in turn making it harder for good teams to keep their rosters intact, but it would also seperate the front office wheat from the chaff.

Remember, you can't legislate against stupidity. There were some bad signings under this season's $39 million cap. A jump in the cap from $39 million to $46 million would see even more.

A rise to $42 million would impose some limitation on those decisions, forcing teams (whether they want to or not) to manage their rosters more wisely.

We'll know by month's end if the PA agrees to reduction of the salary band, and only time will tell if it was a truly wise decision, but given the uncertainty of revenue increases under this CBA, a cautious approach by the PA may be the more sensible one.

NLRB REJECTS NHLPA REBELS: The attempt by former NHLPA player executive member Trent Klatt and his supporters to have the NLRB look into Ted Saskin's hiring as the PA's executive director hit a brick wall on January 23rd when the Board decided not to look any further into the complaints.

The NLRB ruled that it didn't have jurisdiction to investigate the Toronto-based NHLPA.

Saskin and NHLPA president Trevor Linden were pleased (and probably relieved) with the results, and hoped that this mean the PA can now move forward.

There's been apparently no further updates to Klatt's website and no further word of late as to his future plans on the matter. I've written him on the matter and hope to hear back from him soon.

This may not be finished. Some observers have noted Saskin will have to face the NHLPA membership in a general meeting at season's end, raising the possibility that he may face questioning and criticism from the players over his hiring, possibly even another vote on the matter.

THE CANADIENS HAVE GIVEN UP. In the Montreal Canadiens first twenty games, they posted a 14-3-3 record and were battling the Ottawa Senators for first overall in the Eastern Conference.

Since then, the Habs have been in a freefall in the standings, posting a putrid 10-20-3.

Almost a month ago, GM Bob Gainey fired head coach Claude Julien and took over the coaching reins along with Guy Carbonneau. Since then, the team has gone 5-7.

Everything that can go wrong for the Habs has gone wrong.

Their starting goaltender is suffering a crisis of confidence.

Their team defence, admittedly average prior to Julien's firing, has inexplicably gotten worse under the defensive minded Gainey and Carbonneau, being outshot in most games by a two-to-one ratio.

Their offence, the primary reason for their hot start to the season, has cooled off dramatically. Most of their best players have simply not played like their best players since mid-November.

The Canadiens players and coaches all say the same things on a daily basis about how they must work harder, shoot more and improve their defence. But what they say and what they actually do are two completely different things. The Habs players simply don't believe in what they're saying.

Over the past ten years there've been lesser Canadiens teams that nevertheless played as hard as they could to overcome talent depth and the injury bug, even if it was apparent by the stretch drive they were playing for a lost cause.

This year's version has been healthier and deeper in talent, yet they clearly lack drive and desire. With a few exceptions, they're dead players skating, perhaps awaiting the hammer they know will eventually fall upon the roster by the March trade deadline.

I never thought I'd see the day, but this is a Montreal Canadiens "team" that has, quite frankly, given up on themselves and the season.

Forget about the playoffs, Habs fans, it ain't happenin' this year. And unless major improvements can be made in the off-season, it won't happen again next year either.

The rebuilding process in Montreal isn't over. Not by a long shot.


Toronto Globe and Mail hockey columnist David Shoalts recently had some unkind things to say about the media's coverage of the Maple Leafs during their recent losing skid:

"When things are going badly for the Leafs, it is rarely the media's finest hour. Too often, thanks to laziness, a pack mentality and a lack of adult supervision, newspapers and radio and television stations seize on a story of dubious provenance at best and turn it into a raging issue."

Shoalts' critique was focused on media coverage of Leafs captain Mats Sundin's tenure with the team, which fell all over itself suggesting Sundin was not only unhappy with the current Leafs roster but might consider asking for a trade.

"It started with column by Ottawa Sun hockey writer Bruce Garrioch. In it, Garrioch speculated that Sundin might waive the no-trade clause in his contract and ask for a trade to a Stanley Cup contender.

When the Toronto Sun splashed it all over its sports section, the media dogs were let loose. Sundin and the Leafs spent two days denying something that was not remotely true. Even a cursory reading of the column shows this.

The key word here is column. It was an opinion piece, not a news story. Garrioch emphasized that Sundin had not asked for a trade nor was he likely to. All he had to support his theory was that "sources" told him Sundin was not happy."

Shoalts did credit Garrioch (or "Boo" as he is nicknamed) as a good reporter but admitted "Garrioch, like many of us in this business, likes to cause a little mischief from time to time."

Shoalts finished with the following: "This was not Garrioch's fault. It was the fault of people in the media who should know how to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Two days later, the fuss still had not died a deserved death. A couple of the dimmer bulbs in the media were still asking Leafs GM John Ferguson if Sundin was up for grabs.

Somewhere in Ottawa, Boo is gnawing on a big plate of chicken wings and having a good laugh."

So what have we learned from Mr. Shoalts piece?

For one, "Boo" loves chicken wings and stirring up a little mischief.

More importantly, when it comes to trade rumours, use your common sense before taking as gospel every media speculation you read.

And yes, that applies to me as well, because I've been sucked in a few times myself over the years.

But thankfully, not over Garrioch's story on Sundin. Anyone who either knows the Leafs captain or has followed his career knows that he loves playing in Toronto, loves being a Maple Leaf and above all wants to lead the team to their first Stanley Cup in almost forty years.

The last thing Sundin would do is bail on his team when they need him most. Such is the character of the man.

LOOKING FOR A FAN'S MID-SEASON ASSESSMENT? Check out "Hoorock's " reports on Doubleviking.com. (Warning: their website is intended for a mature audience.)

His mid-season report card and assessment of the rookies is as good as anything you'll find from "legit" media sources (even if I disagree with his ranking Dion Phaneuf as #5!).

I'm a Lamborghini Murcielago!

You're not subtle, but you don't want to be. Fast, loud, and dramatic, you want people to notice you, and then get out of the way. In a world full of sheep, you're a raging bull.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Vroom! Vroom!!!


How many of us - pundits or fans - expected the Carolina Hurricanes to be not only leading their division by this point of the 2005-06 NHL season, not just leading the Eastern Conference, but also leading the overall league standings?

Would anyone, even in their wildest dreams, have thought the 'Canes would land Doug Weight from the moribund St. Louis Blues as a playoff rental to bolster their Stanley Cup hopes? Or that Weight would even accept going there in hopes of winning a Cup over the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, and Calgary Flames?

Even die-hard Hurricanes fans - don't laugh, they exist and in larger numbers than casual observers believe - wouldn't have dared to dream this large. They would've been happy with barely scraping into the postseason on the last week of the season.

That's how far the 'Canes fortunes had fallen since their Cinderalla run to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, where they had the misfortune to meet a powerhouse Detroit Red Wings club. Sure, they put up a helluva fight but in the end were overmatched by a Wings team that had double their payroll.

Big things were expected of the Hurricanes after that, but those expectations fell flat over the next two NHL seasons as it became painfully apparent the 'Canes were an overachieving club that had blossomed too soon.

Promising young players struggled to match their 2001-02 performances whilst key veterans appeared mere shadows of themselves following that incredible playoff run.

So heading into this season, the first in the NHL's brave new post-apocalyptic lockout world, the consensus amongst most observers was not to expect very much from a rebuilding Hurricanes franchise that looked at least another couple of seasons away .

In ranking the 'Canes fourth in the Southeast in my Season Preview, I wrote the following:

Shook up the roster with some free agent signings and trades, but this club is still in the midst of a rebuilding phase. Martin Gerber should provide solid goaltending and they could turn some heads offensively, but there's still questions about their blueline and checking line depth.

Turns out I was a little more generous that others, but essentially I didn't give the 'Canes much of a chance this season.

Yes, I expected Martin Gerber to improve their goaltending situation, having been impressed by his tenure with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and become convinced he was more than a backup.

I anticipated their off-season acquisitions of Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney would compliment promising young forward Eric Staal, providing them with more offensive punch than in the past couple of seasons.

But come on, Oleg Tverdovsky and Frantisek Kaberle as their best blueliners this season? The former was returning from a two-year sabbatical in Russia and the latter was best known as "hey, is he related to Toronto's Tomas Kaberle?"

Checking line depth? It was all gonna fall on poor, battered Rod Brind'amour, whom we all knew wouldn't stay healthy throughout this season, given his style of play.

Yet, wonder of wonders, the Hurricanes are indeed the Beasts of the East, and the NHL's top team heading into February and the Olympic break.

So how was this possible? Was it all a fluke? Did the planets align just so? Did the Hurricanes management get lucky?

Or perhaps they reached this point because of the savviness of general manager Jim Rutherford?

The evidence to support the latter is overwhelming.

Rutherford had done a fine job around the turn of the century in turning the Hurricanes from the laughingstock they'd been in their final years as the Hartford Whalers into a playoff contender.

He'd done well at the draft table, selecting Erik Cole, Josef Vasicek, Niclas Wallin, David Tanabe, and Jaroslav Svoboda, who played various roles in improving the club's fortunes between 2000 and 2002.

Rutherford also brought in experienced veterans via trades and free agent signings. The most notable of these included Rod Brind'amour, Arturs Irbe, Kevin Weekes, Bret Hedican, and Ron Francis, the latter having begun his NHL career with the franchise back in Hartford in the 1980s.

These moves formed the key components of the roster that went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, something better teams at the time, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators, had been unable to accomplish.

When the Hurricanes fell apart following their miracle spring of 2002, it would've been easy for team owner Pete Karmanos Jr to decide his team needed a change at the helm and give Rutherford his walking papers.

He could've but he didn't. I may not like Karmanos hardline stance during the lockout and consider him as much to blame for contributing to driving up player salaries as those he sought to blame, but he does deserve credit for not panicking and retaining Rutherford as his GM.

Rutherford to his own credit didn't complain about the payroll constraints imposed upon him, but rather worked with what he had, cutting away the salaries of players who were no longer working out (Weekes, Svoboda, O'Neill) and looking for more affordable deals elsewhere (Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, Ray Whitney, Gerber).

The 'Canes low placement in the standings 2003 and 2004 made it easy for Rutherford to swing for the fences at the draft table, bringing in highly-touted forwards Staal and Andrew Ladd with his first round picks. He got an assist with the post-lockout draft lottery in 2005, enabling him to select promising US college blueliner Jack Johnson, who hasn't made their roster yet but there's talk of bringing him in for the postseason.

Sure, it's easy to say that it doesn't take a genius to draft those players, but remember, NHL history is full of high first round picks who never lived up to expectations. Rutherford could've just as easily bobbled it but didn't, thanks in part to his scouting staff.

The end result is a Hurricanes franchise that cannot be considered a fluke, one that is far superior than the 2002 Stanley Cup finalist roster.

In the 21-year-old Staal, they have a true superstar, the logical heir to Francis as their franchise player, whose best years remain ahead of him. In Ladd, Johnson, Williams, Anton Babchuk and Cam Ward, they've got the nucleus for a strong future.

With Stillman, Whitney, and Tverdovsky, they've got experienced players who know what it takes to win the Stanley Cup and are still in their prime and able to contribute.
In Gerber, they've got a goaltender keen to prove he belongs among the best in the league.

This is a team that has what every general manager strives to build: a good mix of veteran talent and rising young stars.

Of course, none of this would be even remotely possible if not for a good head coach, and for that, Rutherford again deserves credit, scooping up Peter Laviolette after he'd been fired by the New York Islanders.

Paul Maurice had been behind the 'Canes bench since their last years in Hartford, and did a tremendous job coaching them to the '02 Finals, but it was obvious by December 2003 that he'd lost the players, that they were no longer listening to him.

By replacing Maurice with Laviolette , Rutherford gave his roster a fresh approach behind the bench and a fresh start heading into this season.

Laviolette's work has been nothing short of impressive, molding this club into a winner that has taken the NHL by surprise as well as by storm, and proving he was the correct choice to coach Team USA in the upcoming Olympics...as well as once again proving the NY Islanders folly of retaining Mike Milbury for so long.

The 'Canes rise to prominence this season put Rutherford in a position he wasn't accustomed, dealing for a "name" player as a playoff rental to bolster his team's depth for the playoffs.

Some have noted the return Rutherford sent to St. Louis (3 players of varying ability but most importantly 3 draft picks, including his first round pick in 2006) was bold, perhaps a bit steep.

But look at the return more closely and it's not as steep as believed.

That first round pick will be between 25th and 30th overall, depending on where the 'Canes place this season. The other picks are mid-rounders from Chicago and Toronto respectively, which he could afford to give up.

Weight is a risk as he may opt to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but given how little Rutherford actually gave up and considering the promising young talent already on his roster, it was a calculated risk that'll do little harm to the Hurricanes future.

Compare it to the Toronto Maple Leafs parting with Brad Boyes and Alyn McCauley to San Jose for Owen Nolan a couple of years ago, and it's apparent Rutherford has not sacrificed much of his team's future for a playoff fix today.

Of course, nothing is set in stone and no one should start planning the Stanley Cup parade route in Raleigh just yet. Injuries could slow them down the stretch, or perhaps a lesser club will do what the 2002 Hurricanes did and upset supposedly better clubs enroute to the Finals.

Rutherford will have his work cut out for him this summer attempting to re-sign Staal, Williams, Gerber, Kaberle, and Cole, but if he's able to keep this core together, (hopefully with Karmanos loosening the purse strings), the Hurricanes could be Cup contenders for the next several seasons.

And that means fewer season previews underestimating them.