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Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Rant answers: Back-up plan for Fleury ... long, cold winter for Oilers

By Pierre LeBrun

Here are some of the rants from you puckheads this week:

SabresFanInTN: As a Sabres fan, I'm obviously upset over their start. While there's plenty there to rant about (inconsistency from game-to-game and period-to-period, woeful special teams and overall mediocrity), I want to focus on their mental toughness. There's been multiple times where an injury (vs. Chicago) or perception of a bad call (vs. Philadelphia) has caused the team to implode for at least 30 game minutes before they get their act back together. Should I be more mad at the coach or players? They both deserve criticism, but which is most responsible for this? Should the GM be called out for not pulling the trigger on a team-shaking trade?

My take: As a Sabres fan, you have a right to be upset. I look at this roster on paper and I see a playoff team. But you mention something interesting regarding mental toughness. It might be time to question whether there's enough leadership on this team outside of the amazing Ryan Miller. Right now, I don't see enough character in this lineup. I don't blame coach Lindy Ruff at all for that, you can't coach character -- that's either in you or not as a player. Bringing in Mike Grier before last season was a smart move, but he's a complementary player. The leadership void right now is smack in the upper echelon of this roster. Am I wrong? If so, time for Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek & Co. to show us.

twisted3829: LeBrun, the Bruins are playing some of the best hockey in the league on both offense and defense, yet they are getting no love from anyone. What gives?

My take: Twisted, I take it you didn't see the piece I wrote on Tim Thomas on Oct. 22? Not to mention their fourth overall placing in this week's Power Rankings? Not to mention the excellent daily coverage they get from Joe McDonald and James Murphy at ESPN Boston? C'mon, man ... the B's are getting a lot of love!

MotorCitySmitty81: What's with not only the fans, but the NHL scribes subscribing to the early-season panic mode that permeates the other, lesser sports? I don't ever remember being a month in and seeing so much hand-wringing and whining so early in the season. Leave that noise to the baseball stat geeks.

Also, can you issue a moratorium on the How Come The _____ Don't Get No Love posts? Maybe a blank fill-in-your-team document. And a Why Pierre Hates Your Team The ______ document, as well.

My take: Don't know about all the hand-wringing, but love your comment at the end. It always makes me laugh how fans think their team is always being ignored. And it's universal. Fans from every single team over the years have complained to me about the lack of "respect" or "national coverage" for their respective teams. I'm with you, MotorCitySmitty81 ... enough already!

CanadianCam: Pierre, when the in the H.E. Double hockey sticks is Brian Burke going to find a big, physical center for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs? I am having trouble believe this year will turn out any different from last unless we get some much needed toughness/size and willingness to go to the net. Honestly, I'm wondering what it would be like to still have Nik Antropov! Somebody do something!

My take: CC, the Leafs continue to work the phones, looking for offensive help and, yes, especially at center. But top-flight centers don't grow on trees; they're prized possessions. A Leafs source reiterated over the weekend that they've got "two hits," meaning two teams that have sparked up an interesting dialogue on the trade front, but nothing good enough yet. The Leafs have about $4 million in cap space and don't want to waste it on a bad move. They want to get it right.

Nsjohn130: Dearest LeBrun, the Minnesota Wild have yet to show any consistency. They play excellent against the Caps, and then horrible against the Hawks. Team problem? Coach problem? This team needs another Gaborik fast.

My take: You nailed it: inconsistency. As for "another Gaborik," the Wild thought they were getting that when they shelled out the money for Martin Havlat. So far, the signing has been a disappointment. His agent, Allan Walsh, shared his concerns to Mike Russo of The Star-Tribune last week. I think it's something that has been boiling over since last season. Havlat and coach Todd Richards don't appear to be on the same page no matter what anybody says, and that could be a troubling situation as the season plays out.

AquaZone: Pierre, what can we do to convince Penguins' ownership that the MAF experiment is over?! He's not in a slump, this is who he is. What you see is what you get. He's a backup goaltender. Help spread the word!

My take: From talking to Pens GM Ray Shero last week, that's certainly not how he feels. And I agree with him. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury's play has been troubling, both last spring in the playoffs and so far this season. But this is also the guy who was outstanding in helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009. It's way too early to give up on this goalie. Patience, AquaZone, patience.

mochabacon: Why are the Coyotes still in the desert? They have poor attendance and a multitude of excuses for it. I believe it comes down to the fact that there are just not enough fans that care in Arizona. Despite the large population, this experiment has failed. But what makes me upset the most is the NHL is stubbornly holding on to the idea that hockey will work in the Sunbelt when there are more deserving places that teams could be relocated to.

My take: No one wants to see the NHL back in Winnipeg more than me and, yes, a 4,000 season-ticket base in Phoenix is a joke. But let's look at what's happened here. This team hasn't had ownership stability in two-plus years; that has driven many fans away because they don't know or think the team is here for the long run. I also think if you've actually been out to Glendale and looked at the Westgate complex, it's pretty impressive. I've been there several times now, and every time I go, I come away thinking they've done a great job with the rink and the surrounding shops, restaurants and hotels. Before we pull the plug on this team, I'd like to see how the market responds under stable ownership (Matthew Hulsizer, if his deal goes through). At least we'd get a truer picture.

IshH92: Why is the Stars' defense playing with my emotions so much? They're a pretty green D-core made up of the two vets, Robidas, who's a beast, and Skrastins, who's a pretty good shot blocker, Trevor Daley, who we're STILL hearing about untapped offensive potential, Niskanen, who's having a bounce back year so far, and Grossman and Fistric, who are slowly becoming monsters. Why can't they play like they did against Buffalo more than one night out of 4?

For a few games, they look like swiss cheese, then they tighten up and lock it down and do a great job. And then, the offense has an amazing shooting percentage in the first 6 games and then goes dry once they finally find a way to out play other teams. AHHH, night in and night out, this team either looks like the bottom-dweller we've seen the last two years, or like a playoff team that could potentially be a powerhouse to some extent.

My take: Dallas' 4-0-0 start masked the truth, and now that the team has come down to earth a bit, this reality is back: the blue line is the weakest link on this hockey team. Don't think Stars GM Joe Niewendyk doesn't know it, either, but the ownership situation tied his hands in the offseason in terms of trying to improve the roster. In a perfect world, he would have dealt Mike Ribeiro for defensive help, but the GM couldn't find a taker last summer. But that's definitely the area of the team Niewendyk is focused on improving moving forward.

adrockamd: Do you think John MacLean is in over his head with the jump to coaching in the NHL? I mean, there is no excuse for the Devils' terrible start with that roster. As maddening as it was seeing Jacques Lemaire's line juggling at the end of last year, at least the team still stayed true to their 'defense first' philosophy.

My take: I don't think he's in over his head. He's been around with the organization too long not to be qualified to take over as head coach. The biggest problem right now is with two of their top blueliners hurt (Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador), it's almost an AHL defense playing in front of Martin Brodeur. When you can't get the puck out of your zone, you can't get the puck to your forwards, and you then can't score goals. That's where the biggest problem lies right now.

agbigeasy: I hate the fact that Edmonton isn't considered a quality free agency destination ..... makes me think that players now are all about the money and not about the game. We have some of the diehard hockey fans, Rexall Place is always packed and the franchise history is ..... well, historic. Weather is bad? Hmm, hockey is played on ice. In the winter. If i were a veteran free agent in the next couple years and wanted a chance to make an impact and win, I'd be looking at this young nucleus and climbing aboard.

My take: Honest story: I once had an Oilers player complain to me that one of the things he hated about playing in Edmonton is the players' parking lot was not heated or covered in the winter, that he hated having to walk out in the cold to get to his car. My good friend and colleague Mark Spector, a terrific writer for Sportsnet.ca, lives in Edmonton and tells me things have improved in recent years with young lads going out to start the cars and warm them up in the dead of winter. But still, no heated garage.

"I guess that's just another reason they need a new rink in this town," Spector told me. You'd think if Edmonton was good enough for Wayne Gretzky for the first half of his career, it would be good enough for anybody. But I have indeed had agents and players tell me they would never play there. Too bad. They'll be missing a good thing over the next few seasons with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle rocking down the house.

Bears in 2008: Nice call on the Isles getting 3 out of 4 points from the Habs last week.

My take: So you're saying I was a bit off because they got zero out of four? Ouch.

prashanthiyer: My rant involves Pavel Datsyuk and why he's not considered the most dominant player in the NHL. This past week, I attended a Caps-Canes game in Carolina to see Ovechkin. I have now seen Datsyuk, Crosby and Ovechkin all live, and neither Crosby nor Ovechkin is as dominant all over the ice as Datsyuk. Sure, Crosby and Ovechkin score more goals and points than Datsyuk, but that is only one half of the rink. Every time Datsyuk is on the ice, a buzz goes through the air. He will back-check like a dog and steal the puck away from you. He will dazzle and dangle the puck through the neutral zone and make a pass that only a handful of NHL players could dream of. Watching him against Nashville this past week only showed me just how dominant he can be. I want to know why people don't consider him the most dominant player in the NHL from shift to shift at both ends of the rink.

My take: I totally agree with you and have always raved about Mr. Datsyuk. Check out what I wrote in the Power Rankings this week. One of the reasons he hasn't had the same kind of league-wide praise/buzz is because the man doesn't talk. He's quiet, goes about his business, and doesn't attract media attention. I've tried to interview him a few times, and while you can tell he's a very smart man, his actual quotes aren't of much use. It's just not this thing. But he deserves to be considered among the top players in the world ... and right now, one month into the season, I'd argue he's in the Hart Trophy debate.