Win now, worry later
The second half of the league takes the second Zamboni ride of the New Year.
We have begun to hear talk of the trade deadline, what the temperature might be with the looming CBA and which teams are worried about budgets with the future so uncertain. I'm here to tell you none of that will mean a thing.
Hockey is an emotional sport with emotional people with the golden egg being the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's where all the money and all the glory are. If you're a fan of the big trade, the multiple trade deadline deals, don't worry, they are coming. The same people who give Alexei Yashin a 10-year contract will once again make emotional business decisions. The only thing holding back trades will be if a lot of teams are in the hunt for a playoff spot. And as leaguewide scouting and drafting continues to improve, the NHL will see more and more parity.
|SHOT OF THE WEEK|
Every week we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to Phoenix Coyotes managing partner Wayne Gretzky:
"Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Idi Amin and Bob Goodenow walk into a bar..."
"Wayne, if that guy behind us doesn't stop whistling like a bird, turn around and pop him one for me. There'll be an extra draft pick in it for you."
-- Bruce Duesterhoeft, Atlanta
"So I says to him, I says 'Hey! Cost certainty is possible!' I just slay myself!!!"
-- Danny Hatem, Buffalo, N.Y.
"No, we're not going to get a new CBA, but I did just get a great deal on my car insurance."
-- Robert Bingham, St. Louis
"Wayne, if that guy sitting behind me doesn't stop with the duck calls, will you back me up?"
-- Dave Karelus
"Don't turn around, but I think that is Art Modell sitting behind us."
-- Jeremy Ellis, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Through Brian Sutter's screaming, the losing, bad ties and stories from life on the farm in Viking, Alberta, there was one thing Igor Korolev couldn't decipher: Why was Harvey Keitel a Blackhawks trainer?
Once again, Happy New Year, yo.
Guy Lafleur comeback
They are keeping their heads above water with their boring style of play. They are one of those teams I don't even consider watching when I check the NHL Center Ice package at home. Sheldon Souray has been a major lift. He came into the season with 13 career goals in 287 career games and had 12 before the New Year! Holy Shhnikey. He's an All-Star.
If I were GM: This team will have a hard time sustaining its first-half success and will need to add some scoring to fend off the second half-charge of the Rangers, Lightning and Hurricanes. Maybe a Ron Hainsey package deal to Buffalo for a Miroslav Satan package.
George Strait postgame concert and goals
They got off to a solid start, which is what teams that struggle to score goals have to do to make the playoffs. They need to score a few more goals because they are not an outstanding defensive team. Also, call George Strait and ask him to give a postgame concert, charge $80 for every ticket, sell out the joint, and keep playing that aggressive style. The Preds are fun to watch. I'm sure Strait would do it in exchange for a Martin Erat signed helmet. "Baby's Gotten Good At Goodbye" is still George Strait's best song.
If I were GM: I'd look into that Satan thing as well. Otherwise, stay the course and keep drafting big, aggressive, North American forwards.
New Jersey Devils
A new arena and 50,000 more fans
A current ESPN employee told our NHL2Night crew this year that he once applied for a job in the New Jersey Devils' PR department and a Devils employee admitted to him that they have a very low fan base and that it is hard to sell tickets. That's not breaking news, but it is still a major issue for the Devils and for the NHL's TV ratings. They have great fans, but there aren't enough of them. Former Hartford Whalers fans look at the Devils and get even angrier they don't still have an NHL team. For so many years, the Whalers outdrew the Devils and other current NHL teams, even when they were bad. If the NHL put a team in Hartford next year, it would outdraw Carolina, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, the Islanders, Florida, Washington, Chicago, Nashville and Anaheim.
If I were GM: Fire myself and hire Lou Lamoriello.
New York Islanders
Calm and consistency
This is a good team. Solid defense and they are scoring goals. They scored one less goal in their first 38 games than the Canucks scored in theirs. They will miss Mark Parrish and eventually miss Yashin's occasional goal, but they should be a good, solid 90-point playoff team in the end.
If I were GM: Buffalo needs defensemen; I need a scorer. A Satan deal fits here real well.
New York Rangers
A healthy Brian Leetch
Brian Leetch is regaining his form at just the right time. He is still a special hockey entity for the Rangers. He is so Broadway. If he stays healthy, the Rangers will be fine and make the top eight in the East. They are clearly playing with a desperation they didn't apply last year until St. Patrick's Day. Unless they are convinced Mike Dunham will be 100 percent healthy for the next four months, they should trade for a goaltender.
If I were GM: As Dominik Hasek returns to the Wings this week, I'd take a flier on Curtis Joseph before Boston or Atlanta does. I might be fighting for the eighth spot against these teams. If Cujo gets hot, he could carry these defensively challenged teams into the playoffs. I'd get him to keep him away from other East teams and because he might be better than what I have now, especially considering injuries.
I saw the Sens play the Bruins in person last week in Boston. From my vantage point, this team has found its playoff form. A lot of things stuck out, but a couple were what a nice player Peter Schaefer is and Jason Spezza's vision. He knows where all the moving parts on the ice are at all times. This team will soon take over first place in the Northeast from Toronto and probably will win the Presidents' Trophy because it plays in a weak division.
If I were GM: I would be bold. I would get Sergei Zubov from Dallas. I think he would add a lot to this team. Cups have followed him around, and his outlet passes could spring an Ottawa forward for a big playoff goal.
Bob Clarke has told everyone but Kofi Annan, Hall and Oates, and Nick Esasky that his goaltending is fine. I don't buy it. I know Clarke badly wants to win a Cup without a name goaltender. Sometimes I think he wants to win that way more than the actual winning of the Cup. This team is like the closer-less Boston Red Sox of 2003. The Devils have Mariano Rivera, and the Flyers have Mike Timlin. Timlin is fine, but he's not a legend.
If I were GM: I'd go get Sean Burke or Joseph now. Burke would be my first choice. His style seems to fit the Flyers best, and with Brian Boucher playing so well, maybe now is the time the Coyotes will move Burke.
The Coyotes are where they are because, besides being a well-coached team playing well, they have been very healthy. For the most part, the same guys have been lacing up every night, and that is a factor that can never be overstated for an average young team. Can they make the playoffs? Yes. The Western Conference is now composed of four top-shelf teams (Red Wings, Canucks, Blues, Avalanche), two bad teams (Chicago and Columbus) and nine average ones. Who gets the other four playoff spots out of those nine teams will come down to health and goaltending. The Dogs have both right now.
If I were GM: Announce a Tom Hicks type deadline on a Burke trade and move him for the best young player you can get. If no one bites, announce another deadline. It's all so easy.
NHL history has shown that it is very important to acquire No. 1 overall draft picks or at least single-digit first-rounders, whether you draft them or trade for them. Those picks mean Stanley Cups. Some examples: Devils, Scott Stevens (fifth), Scott Niedermayer (third), Jason Arnott (seventh); Red Wings, Steve Yzerman (fourth); Avalanche, Eric Lindros (first) trade, Raymond Bourque (eighth); Stars, Mike Modano (first), Derian Hatcher (eighth). It's my ol' street hockey philosophy: The team that gets to choose first usually wins. That's why if the Penguins get the first overall pick and select Alexander Ovechkin, they'll probably be better than Dallas and Colorado in five years.
If I were GM: Pray and scout. Pray that I win the draft lottery and get Ovechkin. And scout to make sure those second- and third-round picks are future impact players.
San Jose Sharks
Like the Coyotes, the Sharks are a part of that group of teams that require lots of health and above-average goaltending. Their key players are not missing any games. We see how the Kings are starting to struggle as their injuries mount, especially at goaltending.
If I were GM: See whether I can get a good prospect for Mike Ricci, who would be a great addition for a really good team looking to add some depth. Ricci in Atlanta?
St. Louis Blues
This is an example of a team able to deal with injuries. They have been nicked up, but Joel Quenneville might still be head coach for the Western Conference All-Stars (coach of the team with the highest point percentage by Thursday). And they've done this all without their No. 1 pair of defensemen last year. Al MacInnis still might not return because of his eye injury, and rookie of the year Barret Jackman's shoulder still hasn't fully recovered from Todd Bertuzzi's thunderous check early in the season. GM Larry Pleau probably is looking for one more defenseman right now.
If I were GM: Insurance probably will cover MacInnis's salary, so Pleau has some wiggle room. Don't be afraid to trade for Burke. It blocks him from other Western teams, and Chris Osgood can handle it. Trade Christian Backman and 2003 first-round pick Shawn Belle for Brian Rolston.
Tampa Bay Lightning
A John Tortorella and Vincent Lecavalier couples massage
I'm always fascinated by coach/player feuds. I mean the quotes you read from these two guys. Do they talk when they pass each other on the plane? Does a coach do this only when he knows the rest of the team agrees with him so he doesn't lose the team? I mean, I think Barry Melrose is an idiot, but I don't take my personal issues to the media thus alienating a person I have to work with every day. Oops.
If I were GM: Ask the Flyers for a do-over on the Joni Pitkanen-Ruslan Fedotenko deal. Two observations on this team from watching them recently (and I know they haven't been that good in their last 10 games): They don't pass very well, and they aren't a really good skating team. I would get a defenseman to move and pass the puck and upgrade my speed. Bryan Berard would have been good here.
Toronto Maple Leafs
More of the same
But is that likely? They are off to a torrid start, and they have home games in hand, but I just don't trust that defense will hold up for 82 games. There is a lot of heart here, but they likely will have a tough road to win three playoff rounds to get to the final. I think Ottawa will overtake them for first in the Northeast Division, which means the Leafs will have the fourth or fifth seed and a first-round matchup with the Devils or Flyers. They are better off finishing sixth and playing the Southeast Division champ.
If I were GM: I have to get a defenseman. Dallas is in a selling mode. I'll make a move for Zubov, who will run my power play and make beautiful tape-to-tape outlet passes to my forwards.
Help for the Big Line
They are in prime position for a Stanley Cup. That's right, this team has the foundation for a Cup. But now is the time to get aggressive and add pieces to support Markus Naslund and Bertuzzi. I don't believe they have enough to win four playoff rounds. The only way I believe they win the West is to be very bold. The fans have been great; give them a gift of a star. I also believe this team needs a jolt of energy going into the playoffs.
If I were GM: I would try to see if I could get Rolston or Sergei Samsonov from Boston. Call Chicago about Alexei Zhamnov, maybe the Blue Jackets will move Andrew Cassels for the playoffs. Go for the green in two. Don't lay up.
Sell, sell, sell
Trade everyone you can and get in the Ovechkin sweepstakes. Trade Olaf Kolzig, Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang. Let Peter Bondra hang around to get his 500th goal, then retire his number to the rafters. It's time to stink really bad for a couple of years in hopes of getting lucky in the draft lottery.
If I were GM: Put the team in a position to be really bad and then really good. Trade for prospects and draft picks.
I was wondering what your fascination with Walt Poddubny is? I was the equipment manager for two of his four-plus seasons coaching in Alaska for the Anchorage Aces. I always hear you making comments about him but I don't know why. Is it because of his great mullet, his hockey skills (before the knee injury) or his ability to party like a rock star?
It's just a great hockey name. Hockey has the best names -- although, we now have the potential for the greatest hockey name of all time. Ducks defenseman Niklas Havelid and his wife Anna just had twins. One of the boys is named Hudo. It is now my hope that Hakan Loob will adopt an infant girl next Tuesday. Hudo Havelid will grow up and meet this woman and fall in love over crayfish and a Carlsberg. Hudo will take his wife's last name as a show of love and will thus be named HUDO LOOB. And it will be good. By the way, in next week's column I'll "Weird Al Yankovic" Adam Sandler's classic "Hannukah Song," using his melody but changing his lyrics to all things Swedish. It's my first annual "Hakan-Hannukah Song."
It seems to me the best way to open the game up, restore good flow and eliminate the trap is to allow offensive players to touch up on offside again. The automatic whistle is an NHL-only rule that was put in place to increase D-man skill with the puck. Unfortunately, it slowed the game down. Currently in the NHL, if a player is offside and the puck is shot in to the zone, either 1) the whistle is blown immediately, or 2) the team that is offside clears the zone and sets up the trap. If they were to leave the zone and enter it again and chase the puck, the whistle blows. Since they cannot chase the puck in the offensive zone, they trap.
Boynton Beach, Fla.
They also took the touch up offside out in youth hockey, and it is maddening to watch.
How about we call Detroit "The Rest of our teams (stink), so we have to be Hockeytown."
Vancouver, British Columbia
I'm agnostic by nature, but if I have to resort to prayer to stop the Bruins skid I'll do it! And what right-thinking hockey fan wouldn't want to see Cam Neely's number lifted on high? As for Billy Joel, don't pass over "Stiletto." Stick's in your head, (no pun intended) and only shows up on "52nd Street."
I'm very pleased at the Billy Joel e-mail love from you. Here is my Top 12 Billy Joel Songs List. Download the ones you don't know and you'll love them.
1) "Summer Highland Falls"
2) "Sleeping With the Television On"
3) "The Ballad of Billy the Kid"
4) "Angry Young Man"
5) "I've Loved These Days"
7) "Miami 2017"
8) "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant"
10) "All for Leyna"
11) "She's Right On Time"
12) "The Downeaster Alexa"
Hi Sir John,
My name is Zico Pollari, Dallas, Texas, originally from Finland.
and I'm your fan.
So you're the one.
From the December 22, 2003 e-mail bag: "I would say the winner of the 2004 draft lottery will either be Pittsburgh or Chicago. If the Penguins land Ovechkin and have a hard time getting him to the U.S. from Russia, they could finish last again and have a chance at Sidney Crosby the following draft." My question: What happens if there is no season next year due to the labor problems? Would there be a 2005 draft and what would determine the draft order? Has this been discussed? Wouldn't the team who gets Ovechkin have the incentive to keep the work stoppage going to get a shot at Crosby?
John! Loved you with the Bruins in 1989-90 -- 17 goals, good playoff. I always thought you looked like John Cusack in a hockey helmet. I was hoping one day you would skate out to center ice at the Boston Garden with a boom box over your heard blaring out "In Your Eyes." As far as your question, it's a great one, and it is being discussed, but again it is moot. There will not be a work stoppage of more than three months.
Under your Dallas stars heading you say this: "This organization is underrated in how many inept decisions they have made. They are becoming the New York Rangers West." Do not ever say this again. Think, think, think. John, you have to think to keep a good job like one at ESPN, the Stars actually go to the playoffs every year, and in recent history they won a Cup and finished second the next year. Think, think, think. Please think before you type.
Since losing in the Cup final, the Stars have missed the playoffs once and lost in the second round in the other two. They are on a downward spiral. I remember watching Brett Hull's last year there and when he would miss a game, I remember thinking what a different team they were without him. I remember thinking the same thing when Derian Hatcher would miss a game last season. They still are a good team, but they are no longer a Stanley Cup threat and they are sliding downward. I bet the Rangers get more points than the Stars do this season unless Dallas makes some really good trades to reshape its team.
Because many people, both inside and outside the NHL, value your opinion, please immediately amend your recommendations for Detroit. We just got rid of our last overpaid, selfish, no effort player. We don't need another (Lindros). All you need to know about Sergei Fedorov is that during the summer of 2001, when every high-dollar player offered to defer money to get Hull, he was the only one who refused. From what I've read and heard about Lindros, he would have acted the same. That kind of attitude works in the NBA, not here.
San Diego Police
(Warren, Mich., native)
Heya Bucci --
I polled some girlfriends and we have agreed that the female version of the Sunday Morning Save Percentage is very simple. It is the portion of money from your "Saturday Night Out" budget that is still in your wallet the next morning because most of your drinks/jukebox tunes/pool games etc. were paid for by drunken, deluded, dunderhead men who actually thought that YOU were going to be a factor in THEIR Sunday Morning Save Percentage. Suckers.
In your most recent column you wrote: "The Bruins' first and only offseason priority should be to give free-agent-to-be Scott Niedermayer all the years and money he needs to sign in Boston." Niedermayer will only be a restricted free agent.
John -- It is my belief that one of the concessions the owners will have to give on in the new CBA is a lowering of the unrestricted free agent age. This would allow Niedermayer to become a free agent if he waits and if that move would be allowed.
Is it a bad sign for the Bruins when seeing you at the game was the best part of the night, or are you just that cool?
Yes, it is a bad sign, Mark. I thought the best part was watching Jeff Jillson stare at the Bruins' ice girls.John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.