- Jim Kelley
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Michael Peca is drop dead certain he won't be disciplined for his knee-on-knee hit with New York Rangers forward Jamie Lundmark on Thursday night that Rangers coach and general manager Glen Sather said was "uncalled for."
"I know I didn't intend to hurt him, and I think the tapes make that very clear," the New York Islanders captain told ESPN.com Friday. "I'm 100 percent certain of that."
Beyond that, not much else is certain in Peca's mind these days, including whether he'll be an Islander much longer.
"Whatever the future holds, I'll deal with it," Peca said. "I'd have mixed feelings about going because this organization has been very good to me and allowed me to get on with my career. I will always be grateful to them for that."
Peca made it clear he is not agitating for a move, but he said he was aware of the rumors that have him linked with several deals making the rounds in the NHL rumor mill. He's also aware that the team is struggling, that he's been struggling and that, if the team continues to lose, something's got to give.
"[General manager] Mike [Milbury] said it best," Peca said. "He said this can't continue, and that if somebody drops a bomb, it shouldn't be unexpected."
Milbury's exact quote was stunning. He told the assembled press on the Island: "If we have to drop a bomb, we'll drop a bomb. If [owner] Charles [Wang] drops a bomb on me, fine ... Something's gotta give. This is unacceptable."
That "bomb" could come in many forms. The Islanders have lost seven straight games. There appears to be dissension in the locker room, splits between some players and first-year coach Steve Sterling and even some rumors that Milbury is likely to be fired if the team keeps losing.
Peca declined comment in that regard, but having gone goalless in his last 12 games and hearing chants of "Mike must go!" is an indication that anything could happen in Islander land. If a trade is in the works, Peca would be a player of interest.
He has captained two teams (Buffalo and the Islanders), he plays a gritty, rugged two-way game that coaches and a whole lot of general managers love. He'd likely bring something significant in return. But most of all, his contract is tradable. His teammate Alexei Yashin's is not. There are reports that Toronto and Ottawa are interested.
Sources tell ESPN.com that the source of the friction in the room is threefold.
1. There are players who are concerned that management is not committed to winning and point at recent budget trims (waiving Jason Weimer being the latest example) as evidence.
2. The players who thought the firing of former coach Peter Laviolette was wrong still haven't gotten over it. They clash with the players who agreed with the move.
3. There are players who are upset that they are asked to pay a physical price to win hockey games while others (read: Yashin) are not.
All of it has brought the temperature in the room to a boiling point, and Milbury knows it. His rant after the Rangers game indicted most every player on the team.
"The guys in that locker room have got to look in the locker room," Milbury said. "We've got All-Star players on defense that are playing like chumps. We've got goaltenders that are quality goaltenders who are looking behind them every time somebody shoots the puck, before they even have a chance to save it. We've got All-Star forwards that have scored so few goals that it's unthinkable."
Milbury then brought up how it was the players who asked him to fire Laviolette and that he did so: "Quite frankly, they wanted the coaching change, they needed a coaching change, they got a coaching change," he said. "What's the problem now? What's the answer now?"
Peca admits to being a fan of Laviolette but said he's also working with Stirling and does not have a problem with him. He told New York Newsday that he is concerned about his lack of production, but he insists that his play in all other areas hasn't hurt the team.
"I haven't been a liability. I'm capable of doing other things to help the team, and I think I've done that at this point," Peca said. "Obviously, no matter how many times Mike or Steve [Stirling] told me at the start of the year, 'Don't worry about the goals, just play defense and everything else.' I knew eventually goals dry up, and it's going to fall back on me. But that's the expectations I place on myself also."
Peca told ESPN.com that whatever happens, he intends to give his best to the Islanders.
"These are the people who restarted my career after Buffalo," he said, referring to the ugly contract negotiation impasse that resulted in his trade to the Islanders after sitting out a full season. "They made me captain, and it's my job to lead. There's nothing left to say. All I can do is go out and play as hard as I can and hope that rubs off on the other guys in a positive way."
Knutsen finished in NHL?
You might have noticed that the Columbus Blue Jackets have assigned forward Espen Knutsen to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League. While it may appear to be a conditioning stint, Knutsen actually cleared waivers before the start of the season and it's more likely the former All-Star forward has played his last game for the team.
Sources tell ESPN.com that Knutsen is considering not reporting to Syracuse and might approach the club about a buyout instead. If that happens, the Norwegian star likely will sign a contract with a European team.
Knutsen hasn't fallen out of favor with Blue Jackets management, who still hold the center in high regard. But a string of seemingly endless injuries, problems adjusting to playing on the wing and what seems to be lingering difficulty in dealing with the death of 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil, who died in March 2002 after being hit in the head with a puck that deflected off Knutsen's stick, all seem to have taken a toll.
Knutsen was the Blue Jackets' leading scorer the first two seasons of the expansion franchise's existence and was the team's first-ever All-Star Game participant in 2002.
Fraser comes clean
Ten years later, longtime NHL referee Kerry Fraser admits he blew the call on a controversial play that perhaps cost the Maple Leafs their best chance at making the Stanley Cup finals in four decades. Fraser refused to send then Los Angeles Kings forward Wayne Gretzky off the ice after Gretzky whacked Toronto forward Doug Gilmour across the nose with his stick in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final. Later, Gretzky went on to score the game-winning goal in overtime and the Kings went on to lose to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.
Fraser, 52, said recently "it was a missed call, and it was unfortunate." He said that he was blocked on the play and that the linesmen didn't see it either.
Fraser, who has officiated the most games in NHL history, has missed some other big calls that have cost teams as well as himself. Fraser was dropped from the playoff rotation last spring after missing a call in an earlier round. He also blew a call on a disputed goal in the 1998 Eastern Conference final between the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals that resulted in the league apologizing to the Sabres.
Still, it's a tribute to his overall ability that he reached the 1,500 games officiated mark on Sunday. It's also a tribute to his character that he can admit officials do indeed make mistakes.
Forechecking, backchecking and double-checking
While the natural tendency may be to criticize the NHL for disallowing what would have been Blue Jackets winger Nikolai Zherdev's first NHL goal -- on a spectacular play no less -- the league should be commended instead. Zherdev and a Nashville defenseman had knocked the net up on its front pins as Zherdev was driving from behind to the front of the net, and it hadn't settled back into position when his shot crossed the goal line.
To determine the proper call, the on-ice officials went to video replay and the video replay officials went to the NHL's war room in Toronto for further review. The NHL keeps a staff of officials in the war room every game night for just these kinds of situations. They reviewed the play, applied the proper rule and disallowed the goal.
It was the right call and the right move by everyone involved. Emotions run high when a player scores his first goal for his new team, especially after arriving under cloak-and-dagger circumstances as the 19-year-old Zherdev did, and it's often too loud to hear yourself think, never mind notice small details on video.
The war room is the result of a series of video-replay mistakes over the years. The system has been refined to the point where the league now makes every effort to make sure the right call is made under the right conditions and to the best of everyone's ability.
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance