- Al Morganti
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The fates of two of the NHL's elite teams will be determined by the injury updates on two of the league's biggest names.
One is an immediate problem. Scott Stevens, the New Jersey Devils captain, is suffering from what appears to be a post-concussion disorder that could have resulted from an accumulation of hits to the head and jaw area. His absence leaves a huge void on the Devils blue line.
The other could turn into a long-term problem. Colorado Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg continues to suffer from a nagging groin injury that flared up late in Thursday's 4-1 win over Dallas, in which he scored twice. Forsberg sat out Saturday night's game against San Jose, a 4-1 loss that snapped a nine-game point streak.
Forsberg's latest setback is less serious than the groin/abdominal muscle problem that sidelined him for 22 of 24 games earlier this season, but there is still a concern about his status for the rest of the season. Forsberg returned to the lineup after a 19-game absence on Dec. 27 and proceeded to register 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 11 games.
The Avalanche are now on a four-game road trip that started Monday at Tampa Bay (a 5-4 OT win on a Milan Hejduk penalty shot) and continues through Florida, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. It won't be surprising if Forsberg doesn't play until the team returns home, as the Avs will likely err on the side of extreme caution when gauging his return.
By far, the bigger impact is Stevens' situation.
Last week, Detroit Red Wings scout and former NHL star defenseman Mark Howe was glancing down some statistics, and looked up to ask why Stevens was still missing from the Devils' lineup. When told Stevens had the flu, Howe shook his head.
"Scott Stevens is missing games with the flu?" he asked incredulously. "I don't think so. If Scott Stevens says he can't play, something else is wrong. He's too much of a competitor."
That's one of the reasons why when Stevens' diagnosis was changed to post-concussion symptoms, the level of concern for Stevens changed, as well. Stevens is a feared hitter who has made a living out of making opposing forwards think twice about cruising into the Devils' zone. If Stevens returns, the question will be whether or not he'll be able to maintain his style of play.
Although a big hit is devastating to the player on the receiving end, there is also some force being absorbed by the hitter. One of the reasons Eric Lindros took so long to return after his concussion problems was the concern about delivering the kind of physical payout that made him such a feared player.
The Devils have lived well on the amazing play and durability of Stevens and goalie Martin Brodeur. If Stevens is unable to resume his style of game, it will be a severe blow to the Devils -- and to the NHL.
Worth the shot?
Word around the league that some of the few players remaining who use wooden sticks are being told to use them as an advantage. The idea is to slash away at the shafts of the composite sticks in hopes that the stress will cause those shafts to break on a future shot. Count on the issue of metal sticks to be discussed at future GM meetings, but don't expect them to be banned -- with scoring down so much, it would be difficult to argue for a rule prohibiting a piece of equipment that gives a shooter any advantage at all.
Trade talk heating up
The trade winds will gain force over the next few weeks. Those players most in play include center Alexei Zhamnov of the Chicago Blackhawks and defensemen Luke Richardson, Darryl Sydor and Scott Lachance of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets will also listen to calls concerning Geoff Sanderson.
The Tampa Bay Lightning should have some interest in some of Columbus's defensemen, while the Atlanta Thrashers are likely to make a move in that department, as well. The Thrashers have lost their grip on the division, and need to stop the bleeding or fall out of playoff contention.
Flyers' goalie rotation stops on Esche
The Flyers hope they have found their No. 1 one goalie in Robert Esche. The idea that Jeff Hackett could take the team to a Stanley Cup has been erased, and Esche's two wins over Toronto last weekend have earned him the favored spot. If Esche slips, the Flyers could still take a run at Olaf Kolzig of the Washington Capitals.