Things to ponder from the past week
Here are 10 things to ponder from the past week:
Much of what will occur in the Western Conference playoffs next spring will depend on what Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer decide to do in Southern California. Will they play hockey again or will they call Ducks GM Brian Burke and turn in their retirement papers?
Considering they both have so much game left, I would be shocked if they both didn't return sometime in January. Both future Hall of Famers took part in the Ducks' Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony last week.
Selanne said, "I'm happy I haven't had to make a decision yet because I want to make sure this decision is right." Niedermayer said, "No doubt, I feel a responsibility to the guys in the room. When things aren't going well, it's hard. I feel I should be out there, helping in any way I can."
The Ducks play 12 of 13 games on the road starting on Jan. 17. This would be a great opportunity for Selanne and Niedermayer to use that road trip as a training camp of sorts after practicing for a week. It would give them time away from the family to train hard and bond with some of their new teammates. Then, after that road trip, the Ducks play 14 of 21 at home to end the season. Therefore, Niedermayer and Selanne can spend the rest of October, November and December at home. In December, they can pick up the intensity of their workouts. After the holidays, they can announce their return and start practicing with the team before hitting the road to get in top shape and get some cohesion for themselves and the coaching staff.
When they return, they will be sleeping in their own beds for just about the rest of the regular season. That scenario seems so simple; the pair has too much game left and too much money to earn and the Ducks have too good of a chance to repeat for Selanne and Niedermayer to pass up playing this season. Plus, Anaheim needs them. The Ducks miss the dynamic play and flair and underrated grit the players provide.
2. "Drove to Chicago ... all things grow, all things grow"
Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks' first-round pick and the third overall selection in the 2006 draft, played his first NHL game last Wednesday, centering a line between 2007 No. 1 draft pick Patrick Kane and Tuomo Ruutu, who was Chicago's ninth overall selection in 2001. A three single-digit draft-pick line. Where Toews and Kane could really contribute is on the power play, which has really been a problem for the Hawks. Now, they have the talent up front for an average power play -- at least.
Toews scored his first career goal on his first NHL shot. Toews and Kane are absolutely for real and the Hawks' future is beyond bright. The win over the Red Wings at the Joe on Friday night is the kind of win that shapes seasons. For the Hawks to come back the next night and beat Dallas 2-1 in overtime shows they've arrived. Toews assisted on the tying goal with two seconds left and Kane assisted on the winning goal in overtime. Ruutu had a great line last week: "I'll just keep my blade on the ice and get my name in the newspaper." We'll have more on the Hawks next week.
3. Who shot J.R. with the fountain of youth?
Jeremy Roenick got off to a good start in San Jose for the Sharks as he guns for 500 career goals and tries to bring some personality to the Shark Tank. His coach, Ron Wilson, who would take Roenick's wallet on the golf course, sums it up: "J.R. has been great. He's a man on a mission this year. I think he wants to go out the right way, not the way it has been the last couple of years. He realizes he was a caricature of himself. He sat back and maybe looked at things and said, 'My God, I didn't play hockey, I talked about it.'"
4. It's just a fantasy, it's not the real thing
Good exchange between Joe Sakic and The Denver Post's Adrian Dater:
Question from Dater: Do you ever hear from fantasy hockey team owners with stuff like, "You cost me a win last week" or "You won me 300 bucks"?
Answer from Sakic: Yeah, you hear from 'em. I actually have one friend who traded me last year. He told me, too. He was like, "Sorry, had to trade you, bud."
Q: Do you own a fantasy team?
A: Football, I do. A bunch of guys on the team have a league. Reggie Bush had a good week for me last week, but so far, my top guys haven't been my top guys.
5. The Red and White Stripes
Detroit looks great in the early going, especially the magic between Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Kris Draper told the Detroit Free Press: "Those guys, it's like they're on another planet right now, the way they're seeing each other, the way they see the ice."
That said, the Red Wings' roster does look like the kind of team that can make a long postseason run. Right now, they look like the New York Yankees -- great regular seasons, but no championship.
6. You can pay me now or pay me later
Good story by Tarik El-Bashir in The Washington Post last week.
Under the terms of the deal that sent Jaromir Jagr from the Capitals to the New York Rangers in January 2004, the Rangers pay only $4.9 million of his $8.36 million salary, while Washington pays the rest. Plus, only that $4.9 million counts against the Rangers' salary cap. That gave Rangers GM Glen Sather the cap space to sign both free-agent centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez this offseason. Although the $3.46 million payment doesn't count against the Capitals' salary cap, it does impact the team's budget. According to the article, Capitals big cheese Ted Leonsis expects to spend about $42 million on player salaries this season and 8 percent of that goes to Jagr.
"Do I like paying a player who doesn't play for us? No," Leonsis told the Post through a team spokesman. "But I agreed to the terms of the deal when we made the transaction. In hindsight, we would make the same deal again. I am very satisfied with how we have built and developed our team."
Jagr finally got on the scoreboard Saturday night as the Rangers lost to Ottawa for the second time in a week. He's had only one other season where it took him four games to notch his first goal of the campaign.
Mats Sundin scored his 390th career goal for his 917th point last Thursday night against the Islanders, passing Darryl Sittler to become the Maple Leafs' all-time leader in both categories.
"He has got no ego, which makes him the perfect role model," Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice told the Toronto Sun, comparing Sundin to Ron Francis, whom Maurice coached in Carolina. "I've never had Ron or Mats come into my office and say 'I'm too skilled to play [defense].' Ronny back checked all the time. Mats blocks shots and does everything asked of him."
But so far, Toronto does not resemble anything near a playoff team in the early going. The Leafs' defense is atrocious.
8. The Young and the Flightless
Good two sentences to keep in mind from Bob Rossi in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "The Penguins are comprised of 12 players with less than four full years of NHL experience. Their core of [Sidney] Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin, [Jordan] Staal, [Marc-Andre] Fleury and defenseman Ryan Whitney has played exactly one season together."
Predicting when they will truly blossom is impossible. I would expect it is sooner rather than later although Fleury needs to step up in net. Crosby's two-goal game in Toronto, along with his third-period game-winner, could energize the Penguins.
9. Time for Me To Fly
This column has often pegged Mike Richards, whom many see as a future captain, as one of the key players in the resurgence of the Flyers. The more he improves, the better the Flyers' chances to be a playoff contender. Last week in Vancouver, Richards was strong.
John Stevens told reporters: "That had to be one of [Richard's] best games as a pro. He did so many things. He was great on faceoffs, heavy on the puck, killed penalties, scored goals. He was a very active player in all facets of our game."
Then, the Flyers came back and won their home opener. Philadelphia will be a playoff team if it continues to get contributions from Richards and Jeff Carter.
Jim Jamieson of the Vancouver Province had a Q&A with Cam Neely. Here's an excerpt:
Q: You recently joined the Bruins as a VP. What are your duties going to be?
A: It's somewhat evolving at this point. But primarily, it's advising [Bruins GM Peter] Chiarelli in all aspects of hockey operations and also work with Charlie Jacobs on some other business-related aspects of the organization. It's a great opportunity. I'm excited about learning the business part of the sport and the on-ice part. Hopefully, I can be a part of getting the Bruins back to where people would like to see them.
Q: What was your take on the Steve Downie hit? Are we seeing more of that kind of behavior in the NHL?
A: I'm a big fan of playing physical and playing hard, but also playing within the guidelines of the game. I'm not saying I did everything within the rules, but I certainly tried to respect the rules of the game. I think what's happening is that some of these guys realize there isn't the policing that there used to be in the league. I think it's been taken out of the game. I'm not a huge fan of two referees. I think guys should be able to go out there and control certain things themselves.
Your questions, their answers
From time to time this season, we will offer you a chance to ask a person in the hockey world a question. Last week, we asked you to e-mail questions for St. Louis Blues rookie defenseman Erik Johnson. You did.
Johnson will turn 20 in March. He was the first overall draft pick in the 2006 NHL draft. He will answer your e-mails now.
Question from Sean Leahy (North Babylon, N.Y.): Did you have a backyard rink growing up?
Answer from Johnson: Yes. My dad used to flood the back for me and my sister. I remember playing out there all the time. It was so much fun back there.
Question from Paul Christensen: Who was your favorite NHL team growing up?
A: Since the North Stars moved when I was really young, I ended up cheering for the Vancouver Canucks. I loved Pavel Bure, so I cheered for them. But I also loved the Gophers seeing as there really was no other hockey team in Minnesota.
Question from Joe Volpe (Ithaca College): It's weird watching players younger than me now (21). What was your favorite TV show/cartoon growing up?
A: Growing up, I liked "Full House" with Bob Saget and Dave Coulier. I guess he is a big hockey fan, and in the show he always wore a lot of Red Wings stuff. Oh, and the Olsen twins, too.
Question from Ted Reiff: It's Ted Reiff from Holy Angels. Regular Biology; I'm sure (hope) you remember. Congratulations on your success. I'm proud of you (and a lot of teachers over there are, too). Here's the question: When did you feel your development as a hockey player really took off? Feel free to say that it was immediately after the DNA model project I assigned to you (we both know that it's true). Stay true and good luck.
A: Wow, Mr. Reiff! I'm not sure we are on speaking terms right now. You gave me a "C" in my sophomore-year biology class, even after that flawless DNA model that me and Mike Potts created! Still a little rattled about that. But I am glad you wrote in. I would really say my development gradually kept getting better over my four years of high school. Obviously, Coach Trebil and Coach Olson had a great deal to do with that at Holy Angels.
But when I went to Ann Arbor, that was a huge step for me. My conditioning level was phenomenal after my two years there strengthwise. I would say if it wasn't for me going to the National Team Development Program, I would not be where I am today. So, I have a great deal of respect for USA Hockey, especially my coach, John Hynes, for where they helped me get today.
Question from Chris Lund (Seattle): At what age did you not care what NHL team you played for as a pro? I think it would be hard to play for a rival team from your childhood favorite, even as an adult.
A: I never was really a die-hard NHL fan, so it didn't matter to me where I was going to play when I got drafted. I was happy to go wherever. But St. Louis has been a great fit for me so far. I love it here. I want to be a Blue forever.
Question from anonymous: Being a Native of Bloomington, Minn., I am curious why you chose Academy of Holy Angels over Bloomington Jefferson, two powerhouse hockey programs in Minnesota.
A: I went to private schools my whole life and my middle school was next door to Holy Angels, coupled with the fact Holy Angels had two of the best high school coaches in the state in Greg Trebil and Guy Olson, and it was a better hockey program in general. And for all the people who think Holy Angels recruit, they don't. Myself, Jay Barriball, Mike Carman, and Jeff Frazee all went there because it was a good academic institution and a great hockey program.
Question from Pete (Woodbury, Minn.): So far, how much faster is the NHL game than the college game was last year, and what other changes have you noticed? Also, what chances do you give the Gophers at winning the WCHA and possibly making a national championship run again this year?
A: It was a pretty big difference, especially since playing at Mariucci Arena, where the ice size is about as big as Lake Calhoun. So, in a way, it has been a lot easier defensively because forwards have less room to operate and it is much easier to shut down a play on the smaller ice than the big sheet.
But the players are so skilled at this level. I have learned you always have to be aware and communication is so important, as well. I think the Gophers are going to win the national championship this year. Frazee is going to be a rock for them in net; he is going to be the factor and I think he is going to have a monster year this season. They will have no trouble scoring goals. [Kyle] Okposo, Barriball, [Ryan] Stoa, [Blake] Wheeler and [Ben] Gordon will all have great years up front. The defense is inexperienced, but [Derek] Peltier is a quiet leader and a tremendous hockey player. [David] Fischer will have a good year and [Brian] Schack will be solid. They have some younger guys too, but they are all really skilled. I think they will be in the top three in the WCHA, but win when it matters most. Don't make me look bad boys!
Question from Joyce (Tampa, Fla.): What CD were you listening to today?
A: Hinder. Great CD.
Question from Jason (Columbia, Mo.): What is a typical morning like at Chopper's [Al MacInnis'] house? I envision a giant bowl of Cocoa Puffs, about three dozen eggs and some slap shots off the garage door.
A: Good one, Jason! It is awesome. His wife and kids are great, and Al is a great mentor to have. It is a great place to live. He loves his breakfast, so he's quick to get on me if I decide to sneak out of the house and not have his omelets. I don't think he uses his slap shot anymore because it is basically a weapon.
A: Paul Kariya is the definition of a professional hockey player. How he handles himself and how he prepares for the game is unbelievable. Not only is he a superstar, but he is also such a leader. Jay is a huge leader on our team, too. He has been battling injuries, but he still has such a good attitude about everything. On top of being a great defenseman, he is a better guy in the room. Since we have both been hurt, he has been a good guy to hang out with.
Question from Chris McDonnell: Being a rookie in the NHL, are there any habits you've picked up from other players? For example, eating routines before games or workouts?
A: A lot of guys do different things. Some guys change laces after so many periods. Others do breathing exercises with elastic bands. And some guys take down a lot of Red Bull.
Question from Shawn Lawson (Belle Plaine, Minn.): Chicken parm or a good homemade Minnesota Hot Dish?
A: The Parm at Paul Manno's in Chesterfield, Mo. Hands down. Unbelievable!
Question from Bill Dame (Edison, N.J.): Halo 3 or NHL 08?
A: All my buddies back home play Halo, headsets and everything. They are a joke. I hate it and I have never played NHL 08. I liked NHL 07.
Question from Cary Picardi (St. Louis): Thanks for signing my UM jersey at FanFest. Which is your favorite hockey movie: "Slap Shot," "Youngblood," "Miracle" or none of the above?
A: You're welcome. "Miracle." It is one of the most inspirational movies I have ever watched. It brings me back to my roots.
Question from Jay (Tampa, Fla.): What is it like having John Davidson as the president of hockey operations of your team? Do you hear a lot of "Oh, baby!" when he comes to watch practice?
A: Blues hockey would not be where it is right now if it wasn't for the new ownership and John Davidson. He brought life back in St. Louis for the sport of hockey. He is such a good man and cares about us players. He is not in it for himself; he bleeds blue. I remember I had a highlight video called "NHL Ice Hot '96." He was the host. I probably watched that video 100 times. So, I was very familiar with him already.
Question from Trevor Silverstein (N.J.): If you had to choose between being on the penalty kill or the power play, which would you choose?
A: Well, I used to play power play and PK, so I know both situations. I like the PP better because I like having the puck on my stick and making plays. But penalty killers don't get enough credit because of the lack of glory, but it is so important. So, power play for me.
Question from Jake (St. Louis): Congrats on goal No. 1. Can you describe your thoughts once you knew it went in? Do you have the puck? I thought I saw a Kings player shoot it into the stands.
A: Thank you. I don't really know what my thoughts were. I was so pumped because you dream of it your whole life, and then it happens, and you don't know what to do. It was special to me having Doug Weight and Paul Kariya assist on it. Dougie made such a good pass to me and Pauly worked his ass off down low to get it to him. Yeah, Rob Blake shot it against the boards, but [Keith] Tkachuk went over and got it for me. It was the experience of a lifetime.
Question from Tony D. (Pasadena, Calif.): What do you think of the hot new hockey book in the stores right now? You know, the one soon to be on the best-seller list? "Jonesy"!
A: I haven't heard of it. I will have to check it out.
THE COLUMNIST WILL NOW TAKE A KOHO FROM 1983 AND SMACK ERIK JOHNSON ACROSS THE SHINS.
Don't forget -- I want you to interview subjects for me. E-mail me your question along with your name and location. I'll pick the best questions, ask the subject and give the answers the next week. Next week, I'll talk to former NHL winger Shjon Podein. E-mail me your questions for Shjon!
1. Jeremy Roenick is having success in San Jose because after four-plus years of I-TECH/Reebok experimentation, he's finally gone back to his classic CCM helmet.
2. I met ["Miracle on Ice"] goaltender Jim Craig at the bar of Capital Grille in Washington, D.C. on Friday night (he could not have been nicer!).
3. I got my copy of "Jonesy" in the mail last week. I told myself I'd save it for my next flight to Asia, but who was I kidding? I read the foreword and ended up finishing it all in two sittings. It was pure hockey candy for the literary mind.
4. You mentioned U.K. band Lush in a recent article. They're one of my all-time favorites. I saw them live six times from 1991-1996, including in August 1994 when Weezer opened up for them at Washington, D.C.'s then-Radio Music Hall. Once I scan it in, I'll e-mail you my March 1992 backstage photo with Lush lead vocalist Miki Berenyi.
We love Patrick Kane in our home! My son Benjamin is destined to skate like him. Being Hawks season-ticket holders, we hope Ben will grow up watching Kane develop in Chicago.
Elmwood Park, Ill.
There's more mailbag where that came from! Check out Bucci's Mother of All Mailbags every Thursday at ESPN.com.
John Buccigross is an anchorman for "SportsCenter" and ESPNEWS. For questions, comments or crosschecks, e-mail him at email@example.com. To check out his new book, "Jonesy: Put Your Head Down & Skate", click here.