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Monday, December 27, 2010
Five things: Value of Dwayne Roloson, justice for Jason Spezza

By Scott Burnside

1. Roloson an attractive option
Because most of the news from Long Island this season has been miserable, it's been easy to overlook what could be a compelling storyline as the weeks tick toward the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Although many have assumed that Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun will attract most of the attention from teams looking to shore up their goaltending down the stretch, we give you the indestructible Dwayne Roloson.

If Chris Chelios had been a goaltender, he'd have been Roloson. At age 41, Roloson has quietly turned in one of the most compelling netminding performances in recent memory. He is 5-13 (one of his losses was in a shootout) yet has managed to turn in a save percentage of .920, ranking 10th among goalies who have played at least 1,000 minutes, and a more-than-respectable 2.38 goals against average. The native of Simcoe, Ontario, has won three straight, allowing just one goal in each of those games and facing 109 shots total in the three wins for the lowly Isles. He was also named one of the NHL's three stars for the week ending Dec. 26.

No doubt NHL GMs are taking note of Roloson's renaissance campaign on Long Island.

Roloson makes $3 million this season, but his cap hit is just $2.5 million. Compare that to Vokoun, who, like Roloson, can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Vokoun makes $6.3 million this season with a cap hit of $5.7 million and is playing for a significantly better defensive team than the Islanders.

So, if you're Washington GM George McPhee and you're secretly wondering about bringing in a nice veteran presence for the playoffs, Roloson has to look pretty darned attractive. Stay tuned.

2. Spezza out after hit
We often talk about the NHL's "justice" as if there is such a thing. In the end, maybe it's a simple acknowledgment that sometimes there just isn't any justice. Take the grim case of Jason Spezza and the Ottawa Senators. Spezza chipped in two assists for the Senators as they beat the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Sunday. But early in the second period, Spezza was drilled from behind by Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang. Spezza got up clutching his shoulder, and the team announced Monday that he is out indefinitely.

Letang, who has no history as a dirty or reckless player, got a two-minute boarding penalty while the Senators saw their modest playoff hopes take a swift kick in the shins.

Letang did not run at Spezza. He didn't leap into the air to check the Ottawa center. But he did give him a good, hard shot from behind, sending Spezza head-/shoulder-first into the boards. It is a play the NHL has been trying to weed out of the game.

Yes, Letang was penalized.

But did the penalty fit the crime? Until the NHL comes to grips with marrying the results of dangerous plays with the plays themselves, that question will never be fully answered.

As for justice, what happened on the ice in Ottawa on Sunday seems a long way from justice if you're a Senators fan.

3. Thrashers finally get stability
Good news, at least in theory, for the Atlanta Thrashers, as the never-ending legal infighting between members of the ownership group finally ended.

Not surprisingly, Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon were announced as the two who will remain at the top of the group that owns the Thrashers, the NBA's Hawks and Philips Arena, with Steve Belkin gone from the scene for good. Sources close to the team believe this newfound stability should be attractive to potential investors and/or potential owners who would be interested in buying the hockey team and working with current ownership to keep the team in Atlanta.

The Thrashers continue to struggle with their attendance, ranking 28th in the league in spite of the team's on-ice success (it began the week in sixth in the Eastern Conference and was three points out of first place in the Southeast Division), so any ray of sunshine would be welcome at this stage.

It was interesting to see that Levenson told the team's broadcast partner after the lawsuit was settled that the ownership bickering had "zero impact" on the team and that it wasn't a distraction. If that's true, then ownership was even more incompetent than we had previously believed. But the fact of the matter is that the ownership squabbles did have ramifications on the team whether it was in terms of attracting quality free agents, hiring competent coaches (or being willing to pay competent coaches) or trying to properly market the franchise in a market rich in corporate potential.

The question now is whether someone will see value in this exciting young team and try to keep it in a market that has never been fully cultivated in part because of ownership's failures. Or, will the team continue to struggle and force NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to reward the patience of the good folks in Winnipeg by allowing the team to be sold and moved?

4. U.S.-Canada rivalry brewing in WJC?
We've never been huge fans of the world junior championships given that the odds are generally stacked heavily in favor of the Canadians, the only nation that really cares about the annual showcase of under-20 hockey players. In general, teams would have had better luck selling their equipment and taking on the house odds in Vegas than in trying to unseat Canada's entry because the tournament is held either in Canada or in border communities most of the time.

Hey, we get it. Television ratings are through the roof in Canada regardless of where the tournament is played. And tickets sell like hotcakes when it's in Saskatoon (as it was last year) or Ottawa (two years ago) or Buffalo (this year's host). But every game is a home game for the Canadian side, and that has, at least in part, contributed to Canada's perennial success at the WJC.

But a funny thing happened to the dynamics of this tournament a year ago when the brash Americans came into the Canadians' house (so to speak) and stole the gold medal in overtime to end a five-year run of championships for the Canucks.

If tournament organizers, even those in Canada, were being honest with themselves, they'd be rooting for a repeat for the host Americans this year. First, an American win would establish a perfect storm of a rivalry between the neighboring hockey nations and would suggest to other nations that it's not all Canada all the time when it comes to the WJC.

With the games being broadcast in the U.S. on the NHL Network (it was a pleasure to hear Gary Thorne's voice above the slash of skates on ice and the thwack of sticks on pucks again), it will be interesting to see whether the tournament generates a following south of the border, especially if it looks like a rematch of last year's gold-medal contest. The Americans eked out a 3-2 win in overtime over Finland on Sunday, while the Canadians beat Russia 6-3 to start this year's proceedings.

5. Injuries add up for Wings -- again
Can't help but feel a certain sense of déjà vu all over again watching the Detroit Red Wings lose piece after piece of their stellar squad. Pavel Datsyuk is already out for a month or so with a hand injury, and the Wings lost their top goal producer in Daniel Cleary when he suffered a fractured ankle courtesy of teammate Brad Stuart during Sunday's 4-1 win over Minnesota. The loss is disappointing for the team and for Cleary, who battled through injury last season to become one of the team's most complete players this season. He had scored his 16th goal of the season earlier in the game.

Last season, the Wings struggled without Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall, among others, and had little gas left when the playoffs began. They were beaten in the second round by San Jose after narrowly defeating Phoenix in seven games in the first round.

This season, head coach Mike Babcock was hoping to use a healthy, balanced lineup to keep his team fresh and ready for another long playoff run. Now, he'll be looking to some youngsters up front to try and keep the team afloat while Cleary and Datsyuk heal. With San Jose, Chicago and Vancouver building up steam, the Wings are going to be under fire while that happens.