- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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As we push toward the playoffs, the games keep getting better and better. They've been getting closer, too. In the past two weeks, nearly 40 percent of the contests have gone to overtime and the shootout. The intensity is definitely rising. I think we all love that.
Like many of you, I can't wait for the playoffs to begin. It promises to be another wide-open run for the Stanley Cup with multiple teams believing they can skate away with the big prize. For now, though, as we count down the days to our favorite time of year, I figured I would look at five questions that have been recently circulating throughout the hockey world.
1. Is NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin in trouble?
Nearly 20 months after the end of the lockout, Saskin continues to be dogged by many questions from a determined group of constituents. There's an ongoing internal review to examine the way in which he was elevated to his current position, as well as a look at the financial state of the union.
On Tuesday, the Toronto Star reported that local police are investigating allegations that Saskin ordered the union's tech support staff to access player e-mail accounts. Saskin chose not to comment on the story other than to say he's "confident that there have been no illegal activities at the NHLPA." If, however, there's proof of such e-mail spying, criminal charges could follow.
Once upon a time, I figured Saskin would survive the various challenges from within the fractured group. Now, I'm no so sure. There's been a lot of smoke around Saskin since he replaced longtime NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow. Is there fire? I don't know, but when you hear about so much smoke, there usually is.
2. Will Ryan Smyth return to Edmonton as a free agent?
I doubt it. The Oilers, currently in full CYA (cover your a--) mode, are painting Smyth as the greedy player who wanted too much money. On Saturday night, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, while not wanting to single out Smyth (how could he have avoided that?), wondered aloud, "When is enough, enough?" to a national Canadian television audience.
In 1992, there were many Edmonton fans who likely had the same question for Lowe, who opted to leave the Great White North for greener ($$$) pastures in New York.
Smyth is probably too busy on Long Island to notice the smear job taking place in his former home. But, Smyth's agent, Don Meehan, is no doubt aware of what's taking place in the City of Champions.
Unless Smyth falls head-over-skates in love with Long Island or Isles owner Charles Wang offers a lifetime deal (not out of the realm of possibility), I expect him to test the open market on July 1. At that point, he's going to get significant offers from a dozen or so clubs. If the Oilers couldn't re-sign him when they had exclusive negotiating rights, why should we think they'll be able to outbid so many other suitors?
3. Will Brendan Shanahan play again this season?
I don't see Shanny playing again in the regular season. I spoke with him after the Rangers' 3-2 shootout win over the Blues on Saturday afternoon, and he said he's still suffering from concussion symptoms as a result of his nasty collision with Flyers winger Mike Knuble on Feb. 17.
In the immediate aftermath of the hit, Shanahan suffered from a significant case of vertigo (a feeling that things are spinning around you). While the vertigo has subsided, it hasn't totally disappeared. Shanahan said he will not resume workouts until he's completely symptom-free.
If he gets to that stage, he'll have to climb several steps in the rehab process. If, at any point, the symptoms recur, he'll have to go through the same steps from the beginning. With about a month left in the season, I just don't think there's enough time for Shanahan to get back into game shape. I also think it would be foolish for him to rush back and put himself at risk.
4. Will the Penguins leave Pittsburgh?
When you're dealing with politicians and money, any foolishness is possible and it would be ignorant to totally dismiss the possibility of a move. It remains a distinct possibility.
That said, I continue to believe the Pens will stay in Pittsburgh. From the start, I believe it makes too much sense for everyone involved. Plus, I've never gotten the impression the league has many warm and fuzzy feelings for Kansas City. I think they're more interested in markets like Seattle, Las Vegas or Houston. Somewhere in the not-too-distant future, whether we like or not, I think we'll be looking at a 32-team league.
In regard to this question, however, there is some good news. I think this long, drawn-out process is finally coming to an end. I say these Pens won't have to march to get their new Igloo.
5. Does Ducks GM Brian Burke regret penning his trade deadline diary (published in USA Today)?
No. He at least didn't have any regret when I spoke with him Monday afternoon. Burke said he agreed to pen his deadline diary upon request from the newspaper through the league office. He said he wrote it himself, vetted it through his PR staff and kept final editorial control.
Since the publication of the diary Thursday, a couple of clubs have quietly grumbled about some of the things he mentioned in the piece. In particular, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey has come under some media scrutiny in Montreal concerning the deal that sent defenseman Craig Rivet to San Jose.
The entry from Burke read: "Craig Rivet is traded to San Jose by Montreal, and I call and whine to Gainey about not calling me back and telling me he was available. He tells me that I was late to that party, and he had been talking to Doug Wilson for three weeks. Fair enough."
From my own experience, anyone in the Montreal media who believes that Gainey doesn't act in the absolute best interest of his team is a fool. Period. Burke said he'd received just one phone call from another club (not Montreal) in regard to the diary. That call didn't center on any one thing, but rather it focused on whether it was wise to make such trade-deadline discussions public.
For his part, Burke said he decided to do it for two reasons. First, the league asked him to participate in the project. Second, he believes the teams, especially in the U.S., need to do as much as possible to connect with fans. On that second point, Burke is bang on. I must say, I did enjoy reading his diary.