JONESING FOR PUCKS

THE ARCHIVES

By Monte Walls Burris.

HOT AND NOT!

Who's HOT and who's NOT approaching the post season….

HOT

Montreal
The Bob Gainey magic is taking form. Nine wins in 11 games, a stretch that includes victories over other contenders such as Ottawa, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Jose Theodore is on fire but several key match-ups still exist including Ottawa, two against New Jersey, Philly and Boston. No one will want to be match up against these guys in the first round. They look like giant killers.

Detroit
Riding an eight game winning streak. Lost only 2 games in last 20. They have had only one away game since Feb 26th about to go on a 5 game road trip. Including a home and home with Colorado on March 27 and 29th…watch those games, I am willing to bet they still haven't forgotten about Claude Lemieux in Detroit. All this success in the face of injury troubles, what a franchise!

Tampa Bay
It took the hockey juggernaut the Carolina Hurricanes to stop the Tampa Bay Lightening. The Lightning had won seven straight at home and lost for the first time in regulation since Feb. 3 until Carolina came to town on March 13. Tampa Bay, 26-4-2-4 since Jan. 3, was 14-0-2-2 to record the longest points streak in the NHL this season. Boston, Toronto, Islanders and New Jersey on the horizon. Martin St Louis for MVP…'nuff said.

COLD

Nashville
With a surging St Louis Blues the Predators best straighten out its act. Stevie Sullivan was a great addition but this team needs to sharpen their game heading into the stretch. Obviously Vokuon is tired he works harder than any man in hockey already played 65 games and league 4th in minutes played, he is in need some much deserved rest, to bad for him he won't get any. Should be a farily smooth sailing ahead with only three teams with winning records in the final 10 games. The Predators simply need to win the games they should win.

New York Islanders
Horrible, the only word that comes to mind. The Islanders are 2-4-2-2 in their last ten. They really haven't put an impressive win on the board since Feb 3rd when they beat Vancouver 5-4 in OT, every win since then has been against teams with losing records. The have a pretty balanced schedule heading to the playoffs. Key games include a two against Philly with the season ending at home against the Flyers. With Alexei Yashin back on March 9th that should give them the boost they need to make the playoffs.

Buffalo
You are supposed to be challenging The Islanders for the eighth spot not bending over for them. 3-4-0-3 in last ten. 6 of the next 9 games are against teams with a losing record. The pucks going in the net but disappointing OT losses in the last three have hurt them. Daniel Briere is a gem, if you haven't watched this team yet this season, then please do…they are playing some good hockey and will not be denied next season.

I received several letters asking for my take on the Bertuzzi incident. This is the last I will discuss of the matter. He got what he deserved, the Canucks got what they deserved, the league handled the situation properly and there is absolutely no need for civil authorities to take action. Placing assault charges at a hockey game is like giving speeding tickets at Indianapolis Speedway. It's a game not every day life, and the game needs to be governed within itself. I'm outta here.

One thing is for sure. No one will ever touch Marcus Naslund again.

 

Time to break down our list of players and pretenders from this year's mix of freshman

Player

Garnett Exleby D - Atlanta Thrashers established himself as a physical presence on the Thrashers top defensive pairing. OK the Atlanta's top defensive pairing is a bit like being the tallest midget in the circus, but that given this young D-man has been effective on both sides of the rink, also of interest is that the Thrashers went winless in eight games when Exelby was lost to groin injury. 0 goals, 8 assists, -10, and 108 pims in 53 games with over 18 minutes on ice per game.

Andrew Raycroft G - Boston Bruins - what can you say about a 23 year old rookie goalie who stole the starting job from veteran Felix Potvin. Well to start with, his 1.92 gaa and 9.21 save percentage is numbered 5 and 4 in the league respectively and to end with, this guy is the real deal and is only going to get better.

Patrice Bergeron - F - Boston Bruins - 15 goals 19 assists in 54 games, he has two gears fast and faster. He may be a mixed blessing for beleaguered Bruins fans. Is emergence as a big league star could be the very thing needed for Harry Sinden to justify not resigning back to back 40 goal man Glen Murray. Such is life in Beantown.

Nathan Horton - F - Florida - Ever here of a five tool player? Ever heard of a five tool hockey player? Horton is one, ok he will become one. Can provide just about everything, grit, speed, strength, finesse, and defense. Could be the key forward building block this team needs to build around. Horton, Bouwmeester and Luongo…not a bad young infrastructure, I would say.

Michal Ryder - F- Montreal- A versatile, two way forward who can play either wing or center. His offensive touch is improving and he has a very respectable 49 points in 69 games.

Michel Zidlickey D - Nashville Predators - great talent; should develop into a fine scorer, perhaps the teams best stick handler - reminds me of Brett Hedican with touch.

Eric Staal, C - Carolina Hurricanes - 19 years old and scoring more goals than Ron Francis and Rob Brind'Amour - not to mention the teams formative playmaker. His skills are unquestionable. He needs to gain size, strength and the endurance for the demanding 80+ game schedule of the National Hockey League, but that will all come with time. If there is one thing Carolina has a lot of, it's time.

Nikolia Zherdev - one word 'wow'. This kid has handle like, dare I say it, Pavel Bure…. Zherdev has mad speed, crazy dummies, and the ability to go both inside and outside of defenders. If only he back checked. But seriously, wow.

Joni Pitkanen - D- Philadelphia Flyers - at 6 foot 3 200 pounds with 8 goals and 16 assists, + 19 what more do I need to say, he oozes offensive ability, is stroing and fast, this guys is going to take home more than one Norris trophy in his time. Bobby Clarke can trade away whomever he wants, just as long as he keeps this stud.

Pretender

Chuck Kobesaw RW - Calgary Flames - His Feb. 11th goal was the first since Oct 29th, justify it any other way the hype was too large for this young player to deal with. Jury is still out on Chuck.

Phil Suave - G - Colorado Avalalanche - ok so things didn't work out in net, at least it was Suave and not Aebischer who let you down. When I watch Suave I want to hold himdown, scrambling here, sliding there he looks like a forward trying to play goal, no style whatsoever and well, at this point marginal results.

Trent Hunter - RW - NY Islanders - sorry but I am not buying Hunter's new found prowess - sure he is the teams leading scorer and is a justifiable calder candidate if not winner, but I wouldn't go near him in my hockey pool. He is a master of garbage goals and an opportunist at every level. Then again Luc Robitaille made a career of that, so what do I know.

Tuomo Ruutu - LW - Chicago Blackhawks- Okay maybe a 'pretenda' label is a little too early. His skills are mad, but the results seriously lacking. Time will see but right now he lacks the competitiveness and defensive attentiveness of his brother Jarkko. Let's just say that the expectations were a lot higher for Tuomo.

Back from the dead is Matt Datillo with some excerpts on the game of hockey…take it away Matt…

OK it's been a while in the DL so let's hope I can be a better second half player for the home stretch. First things first, have you seen 'Miracle' yet? As an American hockey fan, I have to say I was both moved and duly impressed with this film and it's portrayal of the 1980 Gold Medal victory and the detail with which the producers and Director Gavin O'Connor put into the minutiae of authenticity. Kurt Russell didn't just play Herb Brooks, he was Brooks, and if there's any justice he will get at least a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar. We know the end result, but we still find ourselves wringing our hands with anxiety until Eruzione's shot heard 'round the world. Now Director of Development for Athletics for Boston University, "Rizzo" helps out with his hometown Winthrop High hockey program where his son is a sophomore on a team that just clinched a division championship for the first time since 1985. However, a recent Town Meeting voted to override the $6 million Proposition 2 1/2 and it was rejected, the end result being that all sports programs will be eliminated as of the Fall. Now the program that gave us Eruzione and Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, along with every other sport, will dissolve into the ether. Shame on you, voters of Winthrop.

Will there be a season without a goalie controversy in Philadelphia? You could almost set a clock to their troubles. It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out for Sean Burke, but things didn't start off so well. Unfortunate timing of the loss of Roenick and Primeau, right after wheeling Mike Comrie to the desert for the aging goalie could cause the downward slide to pick up steam. The Bronx cheers that have been floating from the Wachovia Center after routine saves can't be helping. Alexi Zhamnov is a skilled but risky band-aide that is working out so far, but may blow up in Clarke's face when the Eastern Conference playoff wars start in earnest.

Would anyone have predicted that with 3/4's of the season over, that the Northeast would be standing as the strongest division, top to bottom? That's three teams with 80+ points and with Buffalo's recent improvements, a division average of 77 points or 5 higher than the Northwest and 4 out of 5 teams currently in playoffs.

I can't remember a tighter race for the Calder Trophy than what's going on this season. As of this writing, Montreal's Michael Ryder was leading the pack with 49 points with Trent Hunter right behind him with 45, but leading the way with 22 goals. Poor Ryan Malone is working his tail off for a terrible Penguins team and has averaged a point-per-game over the past month, pushing him to #4 on the rookie scoring sheet. Joni Pitkanen is giving the Flyers what they seem to have been seeking for what seems like forever: a young, puck-lugging offensive defenseman. His +19 leads the Flyers, and with Marcus Ragnarsson dinged up, he stands to have more responsibility heaped on him.
Here in Boston, Patrice Bergeron has fallen a bit off the leading scorer's race for rookies to third, but he's doing everything the Bruins ask of him, which is pretty much everything except fight. He's killing penalties, playing on the power play, switching between wing and center, and winning face-offs like a savvy veteran. Coach Mike Sullivan rolled him out to the face-off circle time and again, especially late, in a recent game against the Islanders. Boston walked away with the win and he had over 25 face-off wins, the majority of them in his own end. Earlier in the season he earned the wrath of Ottawa by taking out two Senators with clean hits. One of them was Vaclav Varada, no stranger to chippy play, who is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered. Has it been mentioned that he's the youngest player in the league?
Speculation persists, fair or not, that Bergeron's position in the Calder race is diluted due to the presence of his teammate Andrew Raycroft and the attention split between them being on the same team. It says here that the trophy is Raycroft's to lose. Among the league leaders in goals-against average (1.97) and save % (.930), Razor is easily Boston's MVP and he and Felix Potvin is giving them the best goaltending tandem since Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin. It's not inconceivable that he would garner consideration for the Vezina should he maintain this pace. Whether or not he can repeat some of Moog's success in the playoffs is where the Boston faithful are placing their hope.

Glen Sather finally said "uncle" last week, but likely should have been fired, and probably will be come April. Bob Francis and Joel Quenneville (Jack Adams winner, 2000) fell to the P.R. headsman the day prior. With due respect to Tom Renney, Slats would do well to hire either one the talented but deposed bench bosses, should he keep his job. While Mike Kitchen got the keys to the kingdom and a contract extension with the Blues, the well-traveled Rick Bowness steps into the desert with the word interim attached to his name. The last coach to bring Boston to the conference finals in '91-'92, Bowness' experience with the formative years of the expansion Senators should lend itself to a good fit, should the 'yotes respond for the last 20 games.

 

Last year I lambasted the Tampa Bay Lightening organization (Dec. 2003), focusing the majority of the attention on Head Coach - John Tortorello. I was wrong not once, but twice in this column. For this I will baste on crow and not braised lamb. Clearly the strong arm of Tortorello did whip Vincent Lecavalier into shape; my biased against the cockled superstars of today's gen. clearly influenced my call. I like this team more and more with new found respect for its management; I think they could be the surprise team of the Eastern conference side of the post season. My second error was that I presupposed Vinny to the leadership position and focal point behind the Lightening. That role should be permanently tattooed to one Martin St Louis. St. Louis has carried the Lightning to the top of the Southeast Division leading the team with 57 points, including a team-high 24 goals. He is an astonishing plus-19, on special teams; he leads the team on the highlight reel too, with six dramatic shorthanded goals, best in the League, and another five on the power-play unit. On average, he plays a little more than 20 minutes per game, tops among all Tampa Bay forwards. Best of all he is one of the most entertaining players in the league to watch.

Okay on to the things I was right about. Glen Sather is now considering trading off Brian Leetch and few others veterans in an attempt to bolster the Blue Shirts prospects. Good move Glen, only about four years to late.

This one I am glowing about. Watching this revamped Buffalo team make a run for the post season is good news for small markets everywhere. Satan is finally starting to put the biscuit in the basket he has five goals and five assists in the last six games. Briere, Dumont, and even And Delmore is finding their scoring touch. The Sabres are within 5 points of the Islanders and 6 points of Montreal.

With Alexei Yashin and Mark Parrish out of the lineup, the Isles are 6-2-3-1 in their last 12 heading into action in Phoenix. However, with the Sabres charging you can bet Milbury is counting the days until their return.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Alexander Mogilny on his return back from aggravating hip injury "It's like having sex… it's getting closer and closer and you just can't wait."

The hyper charged Leafs fans may blow their load even before Alexander the Great steps on the ice. Toronto's rabid fans are approaching nirvana over their team's third place ranking in the league standings. The Leafs haven't won a Cup in 38 years, as Alex said "you just can't wait."

There are a lot of good defensemen having fantastic years which makes the Norris Trophy race especially fun to watch. Sheldon Souray is a surprise contender as is perennial favorite Nicholas Lidstrom, and Chris Pronger. Rob Blake is having a fantastic season as is Ed Jovonovski, Mattias Ohlund, and Mathieu Schneider but check out Adrian Acoin. With Jovonovski, Blake, Souray, anf Gonchar injured, Aucoin is the current front runner. Aucoin has three goals and 29 assists in 57 games played. He has a plus-23 (second in the league), with 38 PIM, and a fourth best 26:29 time on ice.

Here are his closest rivals:

Pronger
Stats: 57 GP, 12 G, 25 A, 37 Pts, minus-5, 70 PIM, 27:46 TOI.

Schneider
Stats: 56 GP, 10 G, 27 A, 37 Pts, plus-16, 36 PIM, 24:34 TOI.

Ohlund
Stats: 56 GP, 7 G, 18 A, 25 Pts, plus-15, 53 PIM, 25:16 TOI.

Lidstrom
Stats: 58 GP, 6 G, 23 A, 29 Pts, plus-6, 12 PIM, 27:46 TOI.

Word from Sir Bettman's office is that if the 2004-05 season is cancelled next year, the 2005 entry draft will be decided by a random lottery between the leagues 30 teams. The standard method is a lottery between the 14 teams which didn't make the playoffs from the prior season. Effectively this would allow all 30 teams a shot at coveted 16 year old Sidney Crosby.

The Sidney Crosby watch:

49 games played 48 goals 63 assists +35

On the record hunt. QMJHL Records for 16 year old players.

Normand Dupont (Montreal Junior) 125 points
Mike Bossy (Laval National) 70 goals in 68 games
Denis Savard (Montreal Junior) 79 assists.

 

I nearly fell off my seat laughing… 9-1, 9-1 loss to the Senators in Jagr's debut. Sather you need to be fired and laughed out of New York. Better yet resign now; you are only doing yourself a huge disservice, your desperate acts only call into question whether you just got lucky in Edmonton. You sold the farm for over-rated, over paid, has-beens, you drafted poorly, traded worse, and Rangers fans deserve more. Hell James Dolan deserves more (I can't believe I said that). Your farm system is void of legitimate prospects, your defence is porous, your powerplay stinks, and your goaltending shoddy, so what do you? You trade for Jaromir Jagr; possibly the moodiest, worst defensive, and highest paid goal-suck in the league. If the 9-1 clinic you received from the hands of Ottawa doesn't illustrate the point, nothing will.

I didn't call it but I can't say I am all that surprised. The Sharks have gelled under head coach Ron Wilson boasting a 22-11-11-4 record good for 4th place in the Western Conference and 1st place in the Pacific. Lead by Patrick Marleau's 19 goals and 12 assists the Sharks are young and fast something Detroit, Vancouver, and Colorado all learned the hard way in three game stretch in mid-January.

Rookie goalie Scott Clemensen shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 in his first NHL start.

Wade Brookbank the strapping tough guy from Saskatchewan has played on four NHL teams in the last 4 months, something only two other players have accomplished. That makes 8 teams in five leagues over the last six seasons for Brookbank. No wonder he's in a bad mood. Here is a quick look at Brookbank's busy year:

Oct 3 Nashville claims the 6-4 220 pound tough guy off waiver wires from Ottawa Senators

Dec 16th Vancouver trades for the Brookbank offering future considerations

Dec 19th Ottawa claims Brookbank off waivers

Dec 27th Ottawa sends Brookbank to Florida for future considerations

Dec 30 Vancouver claims Brookbank again off waivers

Jan 3rd In his first game as a Canuck Brookbank plays 14 seconds and collect 10 penalty minutes scoring a one punch knock-out over Calgary's Krystzof Oliwa

Player's in Quebec's triple A midget league are going to be the first youth hockey in North America to be tested for performance enhancing drugs. There are indications that many of the 15-17 year olds are taking steroids and other performance enhancing substances. My childhood was so naïve.

St. Louis continues to unravel losing eight straight games and falling from fourth place to 9th place in the Western Conference in just 4 short weeks; the battered Blues defensive line has grounded the once high flying St. Louis club. Wonder how that will affect their decision on Keith Tkuchuk's $9 million option for next year. Or goalie Chris Osgoode's $4.5M option year? Wonder how it will effect coach Quinneville's employment?

Speaking of high priced free agents no one in Beantown is talking about the coming free agency of Glen Murray. Murray will command a pretty penny, likely more the Bruins will want to pay, and its not like Sinden to let talent like that leave without some compensation in return. Don't be surprised if Murray is shopped, despite the Bruins sound positioning going into the playoffs.

The NHL General Managers are about to take a three day hiatus in Las Vegas to discuss rule changes. Here is order of priority is what they should discuss and change:
1. Can the instigator rule - fighting is part of the game, and a fan favorite. Five minutes in the box, no matter who started it.
2. Remove the centre line - tired of the trap, sick of 1-0 games? Open up the ice, by removing the center line, goals will happen.
3. Change the playoff structure - Currently the Vancouver Canucks have the second best record in the league but if the playoffs were start tomorrow, they would be seeded fourth. How can that be, you ask? Because division winners, regardless of their record are seeded one, two and three in their respective conference. Coming second in your division no matter how good your record is can only seed you as high as fourth. This has lead many a successful team astray in recent years (Toronto, Philly, and Ottawa). The league needs to seed teams by the record, not their division ranking.

If I were an NHL player and I were traded to the LA Kings I think I would decline to report unless I received "danger pay". Just when it seems the Kings couldn't possible receive any worse injury news, Ziggy Palffy, the teams leading scorer goes down for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. The Kings are an infirmary ward with more missed man games than any team since the 1982 Montreal Canadiens, and I am not talking about third and fourth liners. With Palffy, Allison, and Deadmarsh, out for the remainder of the season GM Dave Taylor should start considering his moves for next year….golf anyone?

 

I suppose I would be negligent if I didn't comment on Brian Boucher saving his career with 5 consecutive shutouts in a row. Any suspicion that Sean Burke was going to be traded is virtually assured now with Boucher's stellar play. I would hazard a guess that Burke will end up in the Eastern conference by years end. "Hello Mr. Clarke, please."

Just to clear up and misconceptions that may have occurred from my last week's article, I am predicting Ottawa to finish in first place in the Eastern Conference at regular season's end, not, as erroneously stated "to win the Eastern Conference", my bad.

I was surprised that none of my readers commented on my glaring omission in mentioning Rick Nash's 27 goals. Sure he is -13 and only has 5 assists, but the kid can find the back of the net and they pay millions for that. Good on you Rick, you're 19 years old and will only get better.

How can hockey pundits wax about Marc-Andre Fleury's World cup blunder, more than one sports columnist has questioned the kid's mental constitution. "Fleury struggles to get over loss to Team USA, will he ever recover?" wrote one of those acronymic sports sites. Recover? Struggles? The kid is 18 years old and played one game since the gold medal game. Don't waste our time with this pink journalism.

One of the Sedin twins took a shot on net in a game against Anaheim, and it hit the post. The rebound bounced right on the stick of his brother, who shot the puck…and it also hit the post.

Best quote about Cam Neely, whose jersey was recently retired by the Boston Bruins. Teammate Gord Kluzak commented "He didn't have to backcheck because, usually, there were bodies strewn all over the ice". Neely was a great one and definitely worthy of a spot in the Hall.

Did you say something Mr. Clarke er… Mr. Feaster? "I have no intention of trading either of our goaltenders," Jay Feaster, GM of the Tampa Bay Lightening was quoted as saying. Given that only one goalie can play at any given time and that Feaster has two legitimate starters, one who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, I am betting Feaster makes a liar out of himself by trading Nikolai Khabibulin by seasons end. He would look pretty good in a Canucks jersey.

I have to disagree with Don Cherry recent tirade on the state of the game. Grapes was adamant on last Saturday's Coaches Corner that the game of hockey hasn't "tightened up", Don insisted the leagues plummeting goals per games numbers was due strictly to goaltending improvement and bigger and better equipment. I am not going to argue that the today's goalies are better athletes; they are more flexible, faster and larger than generations past. The equipment is also larger and no doubt better. But so are the forwards, faster, stronger, quicker, and today's Kevlar sticks have more bend than a George Bush promise, producing harder, faster and more deceptive shots. Cherry's argument goes something like this … you can measure the "tightness of the game" by the number of shots on goal, and because average shots on goal per game have only dropped from 61 to 57 the games couldn't have "tightened up". The fact that we have dropped from 7.1 goals per game to under 5 must therefore be the result of better goaltending. Don I love ya, but open your eyes, this is complete hogwash. The evidence is interesting but the conclusion is assumptive. Mr. Cherry assumes that today's 57 shot are of the same caliber as the 61 in 1984, which they clearly are not. Grapes is ignoring the obvious; the neutral zone lock, trapping defense of today, the size and speed of today's defenseman has forced more shots from the point, the perimeter and the corners. Hockey fans displeasure with today's game has nothing to do with number of shots but rather the number of scoring chances. Today's game is just as likely to be decided by a fluke bounce, a lucky deflection, from someone "throwing the puck at the net" as by a contest of skill. That, Mr. Cherry, is why the public is unhappy with the drop in goals.

Jeremy Roenick doing his best Brett Hull impersonation…"$91,000 for throwing a water ball is pretty excessive don't you think? It's like fining Bettman for throwing all those lies about the bargaining agreement coming up. He throws those around like their candy. The NHL (I assume he means the NHLPA) should fine him for those. Hey if I don't play again, I've had a pretty good career. I'll live comfortably with my family and he's going to have to deal with a sputtering league. I've been here a long time. He's not intimidating me. All I know is 10 years ago this league was a pretty darn good. When did he come into term?"

 

Last week I covered some of the biggest surprises, disappointments, and stories from the first half of the season, today I will cover what we can expect from the second half of the season.

Ottawa will win the Eastern Conference. The Senators are hot and way to experienced to not take control of their own destiny. Going 7-1-2 in the last 10 the Sens are just starting to kick it into gear. Suffering miserable losses in four consecutive playoffs has taught this team that peaking too early can hurt when it matters. Don't expect the Sens veterans to make that mistake this year. Lalime is starting to look like his old self, since December 1 he has 1.96 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Canadian Teams will be buyers at the trade deadline. With the strengthened Canadian Loonie and so many Canadian Teams in the hunt look for teams to buck the trend of the last decade and participant on the bidding side of the spring talent exchange. The Canadian dollar has risen from an historic low of just under 62 cents on January 17, 2001 to about 78 cents this week. That makes a huge difference when you consider that the Canadian clubs collect all revenue in the less than mighty loonie and pay salaries in greenbacks. As of today 5 of 6 Canadian teams are positioned to make the playoffs (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal).

Dallas Stars will make the Playoffs. Relax Texas, this team will make the playoffs, it will likely come at the expense of Phoenix. Mike Modano and Marty Turco will carry this team on their Cooperalls.

Tampa Bay will only make the Playoffs if John Tortorella is Fired. Any sports poolers out there wondering why Vincent Lecavelier and Dan Boyle are stinking up the stats sheet. Tortorella is a brilliant coach and Tampa General Manager Jay Feaster knows this, but Feaster's caught in a Catch 22. This team will not make the play-offs without Vinny and Dan performing, and they won't perform under Tortorella. If Feaster were smart he would have the name "Keenan" overheard by the press. If Iron Mike doesn't put some spark in the Lightening, nothing will.

If Edmonton slips from playoff contention Eric Brewer will be Dealt. They already have you say? Well they are close. General Manager Kevin Lowe needs a top line scorer and he will get one, by way of disappointing thorough bread d-man Brewer. Big things were expected from the 6'3" 220 pound defenseman. Brewer however is only 24 and although not the scoring blue-liner he was once heralded as, he could shore up the Leafs blue line. Then again he wouldn't look bad in a Flyers uniform either.

If New Ranger's are in Playoff Contention Jaromir Jagr will be Acquired. Sather can't help himself. He's a crackhead with Cablevision's money and Ted Leonsis wants Jagr moved BAD. The deal was done, we all know that, desperation, from Sather to make the playoffs and keep his job and from Leonsis to rid his team from the Cancerous Jagr. Next to go will be McPhee, and then Kolzig.

Colorado Avalanche Acquire a Goaltender. Not to replace David Aebischer who has been improving on a monthly basis, stacking up an impressive (tied for second most in the league) 18 wins to 8 ties and 5 losses. With 2.09 goals against and .926 save percentage Aebsicher has silenced most critics. Rather help will come in the form of veteran backup to relieve the young Sauve as Aebischer's backup. Sauve is 4-4-2 in 10 games this season, and GM Pierre Lacroix will be damned if he is going to let his investment hinge on the maturity of Aebischer and a 23 year old backup.

Mike Milbury pulls off a stupid Trade. He's past due.

Lou Lamoriello pulls off a brilliant Trade. He always does.

The CBA is left unfinished through the Playoffs. Ego, stupidity, greed, the usual seven deadly sins and we are all going to be forced to listen to it for seven long weeks of playoff hockey.

 

As the year has now changed and we have come to the conclusion of the 2003 part of the 2003/04 NHL season I would like to reflect on some of the biggest surprises, disappointments, and stories from the first third of the season.

The hottest team in the league. The Leafs. Sure they have a team full of superstars, but superstars from the last millennium, and those defensemen? who would have guessed the Leafs would be 21-8-7-3 with a league leading 54 points. After a disappointing start to the season and rumors of Pat Quinn's firing, the Leafs collected to put on an incredible 14 game point run, perhaps the Leafs rationalized that although Quinn isn't perfect, he also isn't Mike Keenan.

The second hottest team in the league. Calgary Flames. The red hot Flames have a 19-11-3-3 record and 44 points they are currently tied with the star studded Avalanche for 4th place in the West. Lead by Jarome Iginla and Shean Donovan's team leading 12 goals each, this is a team whose confidence is building just as their premier goal scorer warms up. If Jamie Mclennan can mind the pipes as well as the recently injured Mikka Kiprusoff, there just might be playoff hockey in Cowtown this year.

Biggest player disappointment. Mike Modano, after last years MVP worthy season, Modano and the Stars have positively stunk to date. Modano has 8 goals and 17 assists and is a minus -17 this season. He is playing uninspiring woeful hockey and is on pace for a career low 52 points.

Biggest team disappointment. Washington Capitals, not that I didn't see it coming but this team is awful and anyone who makes 7 figures a season should be embarrassed to collect a pay check., if you happen to make 8 figures, you should be selling sodas during intermissions. Ranked 28th in the league with a payroll over $50 million. Shameful.

Hottest prospect barely old enough to drive Sidney Crosby. The Rimouski Oceanic Centre is only five-foot-10, 185-pound but he leads the QMJHL in scoring with 33 goals and 43 assists in 33 games. Best part is he is only 16 years old. Stop drooling Pittsburgh fans, he isn't eligible until 2005.

Most disappointing prospect. Tuommo Ruutu has 4 goals and 3 assists and is -14 in 39 games. Sure they're a terrible team but Ruutu, last year's Hockey News "Best Player in the World Not Playing the NHL" hasn't even made a positive contribution to the Balckhawks efforts. In fact right now he is being outplayed by his brother, Jarko "the bobblehead doll" Ruutu of the Vancouver Canucks. Ruutu started the year lined with Daze and Sullivan on the first line and has since been dropped to the chequing line on Travis Moen and Scott Nichol.

Hottest prospect old enough to drive but not old enough to drink. Marc-Andre Fleury okay so he tailed off to the end of his rookie season. No one can tell me he wasn't worthy of his number one pick. This is kid is a stud. Fleury finished with a 3.20 gaa and .910 save percentage, not terrific numbers agreed, but he's 19 years old and has proven to everyone that he can keep a terrible team in any game. His 2.83 goals against average and .918 save percentage filled the seats in Pittsburgh and any rookie that can do that deserves an award.

Best Goaltender Martin Brodeur, of course, what can be said about Marty that has only been said about Patrick before him. 18-8-8, 8 shutouts, .173 gaa and .926 save percent. Simply the best.

Best Defenseman Chris Pronger is the best defenseman in the game. His size, quickness, and toughness is unparalleled. His 28 points in 36 games doesn't hurt either. He's part of the reason the Blues have managed to hold third place in the Western Conference with veteran defenseman Al McInnis and Sophmore D Barret Jackman lost to injury.

Most Valuable Player Marcus Naslund, sure I am biased, but then again his peers voted him MVP last year, this year his 43 points in 37 games, plus +14, 4 game winners and taken to the Canucks to 2nd place in the Western Conference. He is the best two way player in the game.

Why We Hate the Trap Minnesota Wild are 0-0-10 in overtime. Yawn.

Totally Useless Stat The top four Western teams (Detroit, Vancouver, St Louis and Colorado) are 23-5-20 in overtime; the top 4 Eastern teams (Toronto, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Ottawa) are 7-11-30.

Top three Coaches least likely to have a job by end of the Season

Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres, good coach but time for a change. He has had fall outs with half his team, the Sabres are slipping fast and the coach is just not being heard.

Dave Tippett Dallas Stars, true he is Doug Armstrong's boy, and he will remain in Dallas as long as Doug can rationalize it, but the simple fact is that Dallas is lost at its core and ultimately the Coach will not be able to answer to ownership and fans expectations.

Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster currently supports John Tortorella and his treatment of Lightening forward Vincent Lecavalier, will he still support him when the Lightening fail to make the playoffs.

 

Isn't it ironic? It increasingly looks like the very player the Wings tried to trade, waive, and then demote will now have control over the Red Wings fate. You really have to admire the cool headed Curtis Joseph; he's been a class act through the entire Detroit mismanagement and mistreatment. History does have a way of repeating itself, and Cujo may have suspected this would eventually happen, ironically it was Joseph's 1998 free agent signing with the Leafs that resulted in the Felix Potvin's departure to Long Island and sent his career into a spiral.

Speaking of the superstars, Pavel Datsyuk looks ready to take Stevie Y's torch; Datsyuk has 9 goals 12 assists in the last 10 games and is well poised for superstardom.

Not taking anything away from the recent success the Toronto Maple Leafs are having but last time I checked a Stanley Cup wasn't given away for 6 months.

Speaking of success, the Orszagh, Arkhipov, and Erat line who make up the aptly monikered "Vowel Line" in Nashville is turning into a lethal point machine; I may not be able to say their names but I understand the 44 points the have accumulated in the first 28 games.

What's going on in Calgary? Miikka Kiprusoff arrives and suddenly the Sparks become Flames. Since being acquired from the Sharks the Flames have won 7 of 10 and allowed only 15 goals.

More Nashville facts, the 14-12-2 Predators have used 9 rookies in the lineup this year.

Among the package the Rangers sent to the Penguins for Alexie Kovalev was Rico Fata, a gritty forward who just might be one of the fastest players in the game. Rico Fata playing alongside the Zamboni driver and "this evening's lucky fan" has 9 goals in 21 games. Kovalev has scored 5 goals in 30 games. Fata's contract, by the way, is still being paid for by the Rangers (as is Kovie's).

I think Martin Brodeur has a sole mission to better Patrick Roy's legacy and retire the undisputed best goaltender ever. Marty you continue to amaze me.

Best New York Rangers summary. This is from ESPN fantasy hockey correspondent Brian Leeds.

"I don't think we played a bad game tonight, but I don't think we played a great game," said Captain Mark Messier. You don't think so, Skip? Allow me to retort, because evidently you guys are huffing paint fumes between periods: you stink! You're in tenth place and you're getting railroaded by teams with 1/8 of your experience and 1/4 of your payroll. Tampa Bay players were openly napping between shifts during that game and they still beat you -- came back in the third period no less! And Montreal had roughly five good scoring chances -- all from giveaways! -- and they beat you! Arrrrrggghhh! The delusional patheticism <sic> of this team is unreal. I'd actually care about this if the New York Rangers weren't dead to me now.

Thanks for that Brian, the only thought I can add is that if it doesn't already exist, it should: www.fireglensather.com I mean really, there is no one else left to blame.

Dave Tippett. Dead man coaching.

 

Manny Malhotra claimed of waivers by the Blue Jackets. What happened to this guy?

Ok Islanders fans I can understand your frustration. But booing Mike Peca is venting in the wrong direction. Peca has been the heart of a soulless team ever since he arrived in Long Island. Mike Milbury is the root of all the Islander's problems and just because Peca hasn't scored in 11 games doesn't exonerate one of the worst GM's of all time. Milbury's eight years of mismanagement continues to boggle the mind. It was Milbury who traded away Bertuzzi, Brian McCabe and Jarko Ruutu for Trevor Linden, and if that wasn't bad enough then how about this series of deals? Milbury traded Darius Kasparaitis and Andreas Johansson to the Pittsburgh Penguins to acquire Bryan Smolinski, he then traded Ziggy Palffy and Brian Smolinski for Oli Jokenen and Josh Green (who?), If you put those two deals together it look like this:

Palffy, Kasparaitis, Johansson, Smolinski for Jokinen and Josh Green…HELLO?

It was Milbury who traded Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza and Bill Muckult for Yashin and then paid him an outrageous sum of money to score 26 goals (this year he is on pace to score 18). He also dumped Roberto Luongo and Jokinen for Mark Parrish. It was Milbury who floundered first round draft choices, how about Brett Lindros?

So when the booing is directed in the Meadowlands make sure you remember which Mike put you in your current situation. Oh by the way, since Milbury released Jason Wiemer and his $1.6 million contract on November 11th , for cost cutting reasons, the Islanders have lost nine of 11 games. Before that, the team had won three straight games and held a 7-3-2 record. The class act that Mike Peca is, I hope for his sake he gets booed right out of Long Island and into a playoff contending team.

I watched the outdoor game in Edmonton between the Habs and the Oilers, and I just couldn't understand all the media fuss made over the temperature. You're telling me that those players, who grew up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Surahammer Sweden never played in -29 weather? Get over it. The media attention should have been directed to the health hazards of the fans sitting for three hours liquored to the brim in Commonwealth stadium.

No one's ever doubted Marc Savard's offensive ability, but his attention to the defensive game is making him look like the second coming of Denis Savard. To date Savard has 5 goals and 9 asssists in 12 games. Savard is +2.

From the Humble Pie category (also known as the eat shit category) the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to own the Vancouver Canucks

What does John Tortorello think he is going to accomplish in benching Vincent Lecavalier? Does he really think the strong arm tactics are going to make the rising star put the puck in the net? No one doubts Tortorello's coaching ability, just as no one is doubting Lecavalier's skills, but taking it the media rarely accomplishes the desired results, and the media is always the first to notice when a star player is not on the ice.

Thinking ahead to the 2006 Olympics Canada appears to be well positioned to retain their gold medal, the same can't be said of the American aspirations. With young studs like Thornton, Nash, Heatley, Tanguay, Bertuzzi, Jovonovksi, Redden, Bouwmeester Briere, Doan, Spezza, St Louis, Denis, Luongo, and Giguere ready to replace the old guard of Lemieux, Yzerman, Patrick Roy et al. I challenge you to come up with a lineup that will rival the Canadian young talent. Best national line up get published.

 

Best nick name for a line in the NHL, The Mattress Line, two twins and a King. Let me also say that this may also be the best cycling line in the NHL.

Perhaps Messier should just stay at the Old timer's game this weekend. As much as I hate to say it, maybe its time for the "moose "to hang 'em up, it's quite obvious this is not a good team and Messier certainly isn't helping matters. He is ineffectual as a checking centre, and his leadership and respect are declining nearly as fast as his point production.

There's thrifty and then there's just plain cheap. The Pittsburgh Penguins traded up on draft day to pick Marc Andre-Fleury with the first pick. They then rewarded him without his name on the back.

Ask the professionals who is going to be the next superstar; Rick Nash had over 130 different Rookie Cards produced.

It appears to me that Sabre's coach Lindy Ruff is going to argue his way right into a pink slip. So far he has alienated Martin Biron, Andy Delmore, Daniel Briere, and Mikka Noronen and Eric Boulton. In Montreal the situation is completely different Claude Julien has Bob Gainey's blessing and support in benching Yannic Pereault. Ruff is walking on egg shells in Buffalo.

Before Tuesday night's contest, the Canucks had never beaten the Canadiens on home ice while wearing their original blue and green jerseys. Their first win against Montreal in Vancouver didn't come until 1980 - 10 seasons into their franchise history.

Maybe Messier can drag Big E off with him. Rangers are 2-4-2 with Lindros in the lineup and 4-2-2 with him out injured.

I want to thank Matt Datillo for contributing to this weeks Jonesing For Pucks, I'll be back with you next week.

Matt can be reached at Rayna77@comcast.net . Take is away Matty… mb

What's going on in Dallas anyway? Turco holds out for the money and now it's looking like a hold up. There's some tremendous veteran leadership in that room, most notably Billy Guerin, but when Derian Hatcher booted for Detroit, it appears he took a bit of that team's heart with him. Teppo Numminen is a quality veteran, but he doesn't strike the fear in opposing forwards that their previous Captain did. Getting Jere Lehtinen back should help tremendously, but their problems start from the back.
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Speaking of former Captains, the Caps trade Steve Konowalchuk away to Colorado in a salary dump. How's that working out for you, George McPhee?
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Yeah, Cujo is the ultimate example of an expensive back-up goalie, but not too far behind is Byron Dafoe riding the pine in Atlanta to the tune of $3.5 million per. Not too far removed from being a Vezina finalist, the ever-affable Dafoe could definitely help a few teams out there. Too bad he sits in the unenviable Catch-22 of needing the starts to show his wares, while being rusty at the same time. Should the Thrashers skid continue, look for Lord Byron to get a few cracks at the prize.
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Keenan fired in Florida? Hold on while I paste on my surprised face. A throwback caustic disciplinarian who brooks no argument and treats "his guys" quite differently than the rest of the team really doesn't have a long-standing place in today's professional sports. Hard to argue with 584 career wins, a Cup victory in New York of all places and other playoff successes, but his style wears out its welcome before the ice cube he chews on behind the bench melts. Here in Boston he publicly challenged Joe Thornton to be the best, and arguably gave him the bump that pushed him into being one of the top five players in the game. In Florida, the player chosen two spots behind Thornton, the much-traveled Ollie Jokinen, blossomed into an All-Star on Iron Mike's watch. If total autonomy was not his M.O., Keenan could be the first of a new (old?) breed of assistant coach: the Taskmaster. You have a young potential franchise player not meeting expectations? Let me introduce you to your new 'tutor.' Well, as long as he isn't a goaltender.
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Open letter to Joe Juneau: Just zip it.

As fans of the great game of hockey, we sometimes find ourselves in the ever-present debate of "who are the toughest athletes?" Naturally we draw comparisons to a sport like the great game of baseball when we hear about a pitcher getting taken out of a game because of a hangnail, and we scoff. So we wince when we read that the Canadien's forward is giving himself an out if he has an off game for the upcoming outdoor contest vs. Edmonton, concerning himself that the innovative event could carry the feel of a pre-season game, with the conditions playing a factor. Thanks for being up front and not giving the "taking us back to the roots/it's going to be a blast" pat answer, Joe, but how about you just tighten the bootstraps jump into your Under Armor and play your best and don't worry about the wind being at the back of the opposing point men.
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Juneau may be facing off in that game with old Boston line mate Adam Oates, who just signed on with the Oilers. It will be strange when he finally hangs them up, because there always seems to be a market for savvy veterans who can win upwards of 60% of their face-offs and dish the puck with the velvety precision that Oates has shown through his career. His speed has always been between his ears since the days of setting up John Carter at RPI to Brett Hull in St. Louis and Cam Neely in Boston. Ryan Smyth seems like the ideal candidate to benefit from his hands and vision.
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The race is on: will John Muckler's patience wear out in pressure-packed Ottawa before that talent laden group can get on the roll we all expect at any moment? To a lesser extent, they remind us of last year's Sharks when considering the expectations vs. return factor. We all know what happened there.
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Yes, it's still early, but Boston is currently on pace to set a record for fewest goals allowed in a season. Pretty amazing when you consider their PK has been nowhere near what it's been over recent seasons.
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Not to be Master of the Obvious, but is there a bigger waste of money in the NHL- or possibly all of professional sports- than Jaromir Jagr?
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I guess if you can compare a whole team, the New York Rangers, to Jagr, then sure, I guess there is a bigger waste of money. There are a lot of talented players playing hard on that team on most nights, but as the Lemonheads sang, "A ship without a rudder's like a ship without a rudder."
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All Bruins fans should be warmed by the natural disdain that Nick Boynton (an old Leafs fan from Nobleton, Ontario) and Patrice Bergeron (a loyalist to the Nordiques out of Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec) have publicly shown for their long time rival in Montreal. Where have all the rivalries gone?

 

There's something Mickey Mouse about Florida. This weeks Tampa-Florida showdown featured executives who served on both sides of the bench. Running Florida's bench is former Lightning GM Rick Dudley, who was unceremoniously fired in February of 2002; former Tampa head coach Steve Ludzik, fired by Dudley in the middle of the 2000-01 season; and former Lightning assistant coach John Torchetti, fired by Tampa Bay at the end of the 2000-01 season. Standing behind the Tampa Bay bench is the coach of the year finalist hired by Dudley and who was an assistant under Ludzik, John Tortorella, as well as the man Dudley is believed to covet to coach his current team, Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay. Everyone get that?

Exactly who just arrived in the NHL Jason King or the Sedin twins?

Is anyone really surprised by Rick Dudley's early dismissal of Mike Keenan. Iron Mike tried to pull a schizophrenic attitude change, which just wouldn't stick. Barred from practice Iron Mike had become a figure head behind the bench, responsible for game time strategy and player motivation. Player motivation does anyone here see the irony in that statement.

Is anyone really surprised at the Capitals slump? They have an owner who desperately wants to pare payroll, a star player with a gambling and tax problems, and a coach the players can't stand. Lets make something clear the only feelings stronger than the Capitals player's wanting Bruce Cassidy fired is their own desire to be traded.

Alexander Daigle 5 goals and 2 assist in 15 games, I think that's a career year for him.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from one of the worst GM's of all time, Mike Milbury of the NY Islanders on Dave Seldin new CEO of the team, "David, frankly, doesn't know diddley about hockey" May 1998 approximately three month after Mike traded Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and 3rd round selection (Jarkko Ruutu) in 1998 to the Vancouver Canucks for Trevor Linden.

Stupid idea of the week. Penalize players for blocking shots. Did the Fox Network come up with that one?

Check you physics text Jim Duthie…how does leaving the net to block a shot decrease your angle?

Speaking of Mickey Mouse: Sergei Federov 0 goals 1 assist in last 5 games.

15 games into the season Martin Czerkawski 's already paying off the Islanders to the return of $80,000 a goal. Jaromir Jagr will need to score 137.5 goals to get his salary to the same return on investment.

Talk about seeing an opportunity and jumping on it, you have to hand it to Pasi Nurminen he's 7-3-3 in thirteen games this season with a 2.19 gaa and .92 save percentage. Byron Dafoe on the other hand is 0-2 3.05 and .870 in two games. Dafoe by the way makes $3.5MM, Nurminen only $1.1M.

Have you had a chance to see the future, his name is Marc-Andre Fleury and he has all but supplanted Sebastien Caron as the Penguins' No. 1 goaltender. Caron, who was given a four-year, $3.2-million deal in the off-season. But he has struggled under the competition from Fleury posting a 0-3-1 record and a league-worst 5.67 GAA. Some smart GM could do worse than trading for Caron while his stock is cheap, after all your upside is tremendous. Caron was named to the NHL's all-rookie team last season.

Monte Walls Burris is Canadian citizen living in Boston M.A. He hates the trap, loves a good fight, thinks all the books are cooked… He can be reached at monteburris@yahoo.com

Monte Walls Burris can be reached at monteburris@yahoo.com.

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 Jonesing for Pucks copyrighted (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.