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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Updated: October 16, 12:51 AM ET
Bucci's Mailbag: Goalie debates, Kessel fallout and NHL '94

By John Buccigross
ESPN.com

Hi Mr. Buccigross,

I have to say that I am loving the fact that both Brodeur and Luongo are stumbling out of the gate, given the Olympic implications. As a die-hard Penguins fan, I want to see Fleury make the team and even start. I know you picked Fleury to make the team last year before the Penguins even won the Cup. Do you have anymore insight on this subject?

Eamon Murray
Lehighton, Pa.

Well, Eamon, here is your pool (or pond) of Canadian goaltenders to choose from for February's Winter Olympics in Vancouver: Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Pascal Leclaire, Roberto Luongo, Steve Mason, Chris Osgood, Carey Price, Marty Turco and Cam Ward.

From that list, we can probably cut it down to Brodeur, Fleury, Luongo, Osgood, Mason and Ward.

From that list, I'm cutting Mason. Too many goalies have done well under coach Ken Hitchcock and Mason is only 21. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Canada, and I think we need goalies with Stanley Cup finals experience.

Now we are down to five. Good gosh, this is difficult.

Brodeur: A legend. And he is good in shootouts, which is potentially important in the Olympics. Brodeur already has a gold medal, but this is not a charity. The people who are in charge want a gold medal on their hockey résumé.

Fleury: Back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances. He has great lateral movement and he's fearless. His Game 7 Stanley Cup save on Nicklas Lidstrom is, for my money, within the top three of all-time NHL saves. It's the Bobby Orr picture for goalies. Orr's flying through the air picture is the most poetic hockey picture of all time because of his flight, expression and added aura of the black-and-white picture. But the Bruins would have won the Stanley Cup anyway. It was a sweep. Fleury's moment was a buzzer-beating save in a Game 7 on the road against an all-time great.

Luongo: He's in. His stats, the home-ice Vancouver advantage and what seems like his destiny.

Osgood: I would really like to see him on the team. He will pass Grant Fuhr and Glenn Hall on the all-time wins list this season; 26 wins this season and 25 wins in 2010-11 will give him 440 career wins to pass Jacques Plante. Osgood gets no respect and I don't know how much the Red Wings respect him. I guess we will find out as Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman is running things and Mike Babcock is the coach.

Ward: A Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner. His wins total has increased in each of his four NHL seasons. So has his save percentage. His goals-against has decreased every season. He has to be in the discussion. He has won a lot of big games in his career.

So, what do you do? This could be the last Olympics NHLers see for some time, although the players' passion over their participation may set up an interesting battle with Gary Bettman on the issue. This is a battle I doubt the NHL offices can win and one they probably shouldn't fight. It could get ugly. So, let's assume it is not the last Olympics for whatever reason.

I'm taking Luongo, Fleury and Ward.

Bucci,

You would rank Ovechkin over Jonesy as the greatest Capital of all time?

Jon
Lowell, Mass.

1. When Alex Ovechkin steals another player's stick right out of his hands mid-shift, as Keith Jones did to Anson Carter, because Jonesy had dropped his. And only if the stolen stick was a left-handed stick for the right-handed Ovechkin. Jonesy, a lefty, used Carter's right-handed stick for a good 30 seconds.

2. When Ovechkin negotiates his next contract with the GM in shorts, flip-flops and an empty briefcase, as Jonesy did with Dave Poile.

3. When Ovechkin's offseason workout routine consists of one lap around a high school track.

When Alex can conquer this triple crown, maybe he will surpass Jonesy as greatest Cap of all time. By the way, these exploits of Keith Jones, and many others, can be read in the book "Jonesy," available online everywhere and at some fine mall bookstores. I highly recommend it!

John,

What do you think of this Gilroy kid on D?

Tip Fleming
Hong Kong

A tip of the CCM to Tip in Hong Kong for pondering Matt Gilroy while living and working in "a diverse modern metropolis steeped in unique blends of Eastern and Western traditions."

I saw Matt Gilroy up close while doing play-by-play for the Northeast Regionals of the NCAA tournament this past spring. He was the Hobey Baker-winning defenseman from the national champion Boston University Terriers, who just raised their championship banner last weekend (more on this below).

Gilroy, now 25 and with the New York Rangers, was a man among boys during the NCAA tournament. There was no doubt in my mind he could make the jump. He has good size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and a sense of urgency in big spots. He won't be able to take over a shift like he could in college, but he should have a confidence and fearlessness to be a solid offensive-minded defenseman. He is the patron saint of kids who aren't great skaters but are simply good, competitive and smart hockey players. Too many hockey coaches, especially in youth hockey, favor skill-less speed over smarts.

Back to BU and the raising of its championship banner. The Terriers did it during a preseason game against the under-18 U.S. national team. This was a brilliant idea and I can't see why every NHL and NBA team wouldn't consider doing this in the future.

First, you guarantee yourself a sellout for a non-regular season, full-priced game. Season-ticket holders don't have to buy a ticket to the event, but would be given an option. Throw a "I was at the banner raising" T-shirt on every seat, and you got yourself that guaranteed extra gate. Also, you don't have to worry about any kind of hangover effect that almost always plagues banner-raising/ring-ceremony season-opening games. The game doesn't count.

The Miami Heat had the most over-the-top banner-raising/ring-distributing parade in professional sports history for their 2006 opener against the Chicago Bulls. They lost the game by 42 points!

This BU idea has to be copied.

Dear Bucci,

I'm a Rangers fan living in Da Lat, Vietnam, for the year, and I am already missing my hockey. I explained to my students here what ice hockey is and what it's all about, but I don't think it translated. I have a few Rangers' questions I hope you'll answer.

How many games do you think Marian Gaborik will play this season? What's your prediction for his goals/points? How long do you think John Tortorella will be able to stomach the defensive play of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival? We still need a banger on the back end. How many goals will Long Island native Christopher Higgins score? Do you think Ryan Callahan has a chance to score 35 goals this season? Go Rangers!

John Davin
Da Lat, Vietnam

So, we have two Rangers e-mails and they are from Hong Kong and Vietnam? I love it. Let's go through them one by one:

1. 75 games.
2. 51-42-93. Career highs in ice time and shots on goal will mean career highs in goals, assists and points.
3. If he can't stomach them, they won't play.
4. Higgins? 19-22-41.
5. 35 for Callahan? Not quite. If he gets power-play time, and I think he will, he could sniff 30. I will go with 28.

Hey Bucci/Swiftus,

First off, I loved the "History of the World: Part 1" reference in the Eastern Conference Music-Mash. So, as a Flyers fan, I am really excited for this season and the new additions Homer brought in through the offseason. I'm still unsure about how we match up with the Pens, though. Like you said, the Pens have a solid trio up the middle and I don't think we are there yet. I'm wondering what you think about Jeff Carter as a center. I know his defensive game has improved and he is a pure goal scorer, but he was still shaky on faceoffs, especially in the defensive end. I see him more as a winger.

Dan D'Amico

Jeff Carter's all-around game needs an upgrade. His grit, wall play, neutral and defensive zone play, and those little things that make a "hockey player," could all use a little elevation. I'd like to see him play wing because he is a 300-plus shots-on-goal guy (342 last season). He has a sick release; sometimes we forget what people do well and only focus on their weaknesses.

Bucci,

A few quick thoughts:

1. Summer is too long without your column.

2. Ilya Kovalchuk scored Nos. 300 & 301 last night. How many do you think he can end up with? If all goes right, I think he could have more than 700. Amazing considering the lockout probably robbed him of another 40 goals.

3. Saw U2 for the first time this week. Total religious experience.

4. Say hello to Ken for me.

Taylor Wallace
Dahlonega, Ga.

1. Thanks, Taylor. It's great to be back. It's gonna be a great year on the ice and in this space.

2. Ilya is 26 years old and a shade over 300 career goals. I wrote the following in this space back in 2006: "Ilya Kovalchuk, 22, has a chance to reach 500 career goals. Before he turns 30." Kovalchuk has four full seasons in his 20s, so he will need to average 50 goals a season for the next four seasons. Getting one of those monster 60-goal campaigns would help, as would signing with a real good team with a potent power play next summer (he is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July). His power-play goals totals have gone like this the past four seasons: 27-18-16-12. He also needs to shoot more; he had 275 shots in 2008-09. He needs to be over 300. (Ovechkin had 528 last season! Kovalchuk has 558 over the past two seasons.) But back to your question -- 700 is a huge number. It is possible, but I will put the over/under at 650 for Ilya.

3. I saw Ben Folds for the third time two weeks ago. No one is better.

4. Ken, my pet otter, turned 8 on July 3. Yes, he shares a birthday with Hakan Loob.

Dear John,

I just spent the past three days constructing the most mesmerizing and amazingly convoluted spreadsheet ever for my fantasy hockey draft tonight. I'm 29, have a wife and two kids with one on the way, and doing our fantasy hockey draft every year with the same guys I've known since grade school, high school and college is generally the highlight of my year.

But seeing my favorite team (the Penguins) teamed with my favorite musician (Ben Folds) in your hockey preview was the highlight of my day. Every year you write the preview, I scan quickly through it to see if you included Ben Folds before I sit down to actually read it, and scrolling through the entire thing only to be rewarded with a little Ben with the Pens made me a lot happier than it probably should have.

Jason Kumpfmiller

Everyone reading this should see Ben Folds and his piano at least once. Knowing his material adds to the experience by 67 percent. Warning: He will swear. More than once.

John,

I don't understand your infatuation with Phil Kessel. He has caused problems with his attitude everywhere he has been, starting with the Minnesota Gophers. No one on the team liked him. Yes, he has dynamic speed and a great release, but he is a perimeter player who does not play with any grit. That may be great for regular-season numbers, but as reported in the Boston Herald today, the great Ken Linseman once said, "Preseason games mean nothing and regular-season games don't mean much more."

You may sell tickets with Phil Kessel's flash, but you do not win Cups with perimeter/me-first, players. When called upon to run through a wall for a playoff win, Kessel would be looking for a way around it. Let's see who the Bruins pick up, either via trade or with the draft picks, before mocking this deal.

Jim Cavanaugh

Phil Kessel's playoff stats: 15 games, nine goals, six assists, 15 points. That's better production than his regular-season averages.

I am not infatuated with Phil Kessel, only his talent. My point with the Kessel trade to Toronto was that I believed it was a poor trade for the Bruins this season because it weakens them to the point where I don't think they are a Stanley Cup contender in the East. I don't see how they can hang with the Big Three of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. You need major skill to win the Stanley Cup. Heck, you need major skill to just get out of the Eastern Conference for the next six to eight seasons. Kessel was a big part of that. Patrick Kane is a "perimeter" player, whatever that means. Should the Blackhawks trade him?

Now, in five years, it could end up being a good trade for the Bruins. I don't see how the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this season, and the Bruins could end up with decent odds at getting the first overall pick with some lottery luck. At worst, it looks like the Bruins will pick in that area from No. 5 to No. 8, which also makes the second-round pick a valuable chip. Toronto has new players and bad goaltending, and that's a bad combo right now. The Leafs should get a little better and Kessel will give them a scoring lift. But playoffs?! Playoffs?! No.

So, you are right, Jim; long term it could be a good trade for the Bruins. But I think it hurts Boston big time this year unless the B's flip those potential high picks, and other things, for someone like Ilya Kovalchuk if he tells the Thrashers he won't re-sign with them. And remember, Kovalchuk's best season in the NHL was in 2005-06, when he scored 52 goals, 27 on the power play! Marc Savard, now on the Bruins, was his center.

The Bruins might not have the team speed and skill to win the East this season, but trading Kessel just about secured that. But don't worry, they will get better and have a strong finish. But I think it will be 38 years and counting since the Bruins' last Stanley Cup unless they replace Kessel's speed, skill and goal scoring.

Hey John,

With Mats Sundin's retirement, only 22 players remain in the NHL who were in the greatest hockey video game of all time, NHL '94:

1. Rob Blake
2. Rod Brind'Amour
3. Chris Chelios
4. Adam Foote
5. Bill Guerin
6. Roman Hamrlik
7. Curtis Joseph
8. Alexei Kovalev
9. Slava Kozlov
10. Nicklas Lidstrom
11. Brad May
12. Mike Modano
13. Scott Niedermayer
14. Owen Nolan
15. Michael Nylander
16. Mark Recchi
17. Mathieu Schneider
18. Teemu Selanne
19. Brendan Shanahan
20. Darryl Sydor
21. Keith Tkachuk
22. Doug Weight

Joseph and Chelios appear to be the next to go.

Darrell Sampson

The coolest hockey readers on the Web are right here.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

BUCCI'S FAN PHOTO

Hi John,

The air is getting crisp, the leaves are falling and crunching underfoot ... it must be hockey season. I love it.

You mentioned the passion of Flyers fans in your Eastern Conference preview -- amen, brother. Born and raised around Philly, I remain a loyal Black and Orange supporter, even though I now live in Switzerland. And I am now happy to pass the love on to the next generation. You can see that our four-month-old daughter Valentina is looking forward to her first season of Flyers hockey. So, here's to the hope the boys can raise the Cup this year after a way-too-long wait for their passionate and loyal fans, even those of us living more than 3,000 miles away.

Matt Meehan
Basel, Switzerland


Fly like an eagle.

DON'T FORGET THE COLUMN ...


How can a game between the Penguins and Senators illustrate Bucci's favorite part of the NHL game? Let him count the ways. His weekly column returns with a whole new look. Column

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