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Monday, February 7, 2011
5 Things: Peter Forsberg's comeback, Phil Kessel's disconnect in T.O., more

By Scott Burnside

1. How will this Forsberg chapter end?

As predicted, the final chapter in the Peter Forsberg story will be written on a sheet of NHL ice. Will it be a fairy-tale finale? We're about to find out now that the great Swedish star has agreed to a contract for the balance of the regular season in Colorado.

The stage is set for Cinderella, as the youthful Avs have fallen on hard times and fallen out of the Western Conference playoff bracket (1-5-0 in their past six games). They have been outscored 27-11 during that time and rank 29th in goals allowed per game. Forsberg doesn't play goal, so he won't help in that regard, but his leadership in a room that seems to have come unglued cannot be underestimated. If the 37-year-old still can play, that is.

When Forsberg first returned to Denver less than a month ago and joined the Avs on a practice basis to see whether his perpetually sore foot could withstand the rigors of NHL hockey, it seemed inevitable we would get to this point. Forsberg needs to play in NHL games to find out once and for all whether he is done. History suggests that Forsberg will be in and out of the lineup, then admit that his Hall of Fame-worthy career is indeed over. But sometimes history doesn't know. Maybe, instead, Forsberg has enough in those hands and feet to hold up long enough to help guide the Avs back to the postseason.

That's a better story for the Avs, but either way, we're about to find out.

2. Kessel, Wilson and the Leafs' next option

It was more than a little shocking to hear the comments made by Phil Kessel and Toronto coach Ron Wilson after the Maple Leafs were throttled 6-2 by Buffalo on Saturday night.

Kessel, never the most loquacious of players, told reporters in Toronto on Sunday that he doesn't really have much to say to Wilson.

"Me and [Wilson] don't really talk, and that's all I got to say about that," Kessel told reporters.

Wilson acknowledged as much, saying Kessel is a pure goal scorer who seems to let slumps get to him more than other goal scorers he's coached. (Kessel is second on the Leafs with 19 goals but has not scored in 10 straight games.)

Now, it's hard to glean too much meaning from just a few words uttered in the latter stages of another grisly campaign in Toronto, and the two apparently met Monday and told local reporters that there is no bad blood between them. Still, there is an apparent disconnect between the team's most important offensive piece and his coach, which reinforces that GM Brian Burke has a long road ahead of him in bringing this team back to the playoffs.

The Leafs are 28th in penalty killing this season, 24th in goals allowed per game and 20th on the power play. They are 12th in the Eastern Conference and closer to 15th than eighth.

Kessel isn't going anywhere. We're not suggesting that the inmates necessarily need to run the asylum, but with the team showing no sign of forward motion, it leaves one viable alternative for Burke as he contemplates another early offseason: a new coach behind the bench next season.

3. Why Boudreau, Bylsma deserve Jack Adams consideration

As is usually the case when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals clash, Sunday's meeting between the two rivals had a little bit of everything. Well, apart from having no Sidney Crosby and no Evgeni Malkin, that is.

There was Mike Green being felled by a Brooks Orpik shot. (Green needed stitches to close a cut in the ear area and did not return to the game, although the injury isn't believed to be serious.) There was Matt Cooke, a former Cap, going knee-to-knee with Alex Ovechkin late in what would be a 3-0 Caps victory. Ovechkin looked a bit sore after a play that was reminiscent of Ovechkin's knee-on-knee hit against former Penguin Sergei Gonchar in the 2009 playoffs. Then, there was Washington rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth returning from injury and looking terrific in shutting down the Pens.

But the biggest thing we took from the game was the idea that both coaches, Washington's Bruce Boudreau and the Pens' Dan Bylsma, should be given serious Jack Adams Award consideration as coach of the year. It's not going to happen because Jack Adams voters almost always give the award to coaches from lower-profile teams that overachieve. Hey, it's not wrong, but think about what Boudreau and Bylsma have accomplished this season.

Boudreau has come under fire for not having his team playoff-ready the past couple of seasons. Then there was the gruesome eight-game winless streak during the HBO "24/7" filming in December. But Boudreau managed to redefine the team's personality, and the Caps currently rank fifth in goals allowed per game and are second in penalty killing. Oh yeah, they also are within a few points of the top spot in the Southeast and a lock to make the playoffs again. Worthy of Jack Adams consideration? Definitely.

Then there's Bylsma, whose team has been without Jordan Staal for most of the first half, then lost Crosby (concussion) for the past month with no timetable yet for his return. Now the Pens likely will be without Malkin for the balance of the season (knee injury). Even when he has played, Malkin hasn't been himself. And through all of this, Bylsma's squad has managed to stay in the Atlantic Division hunt and has established itself as a top defensive club. (The Pens are second in the league in goals allowed and first in penalty-killing success.) Jack Adams-worthy? You bet.

4. Ottawa not a safe bet for All-Star success

It was interesting to hear a number of people, including my esteemed colleague Pierre LeBrun, suggest that this season's All-Star event was the best in a non-Canadian city in recent memory, if not ever. The assumption -- or is that conceit? -- is that next season's shindig in Ottawa is a lock to be a big success. It being the Canadian capital and all, with frozen canals on which to skate and beavertails to eat (deep-fried dough that looks like, well, a beaver tail, not the real thing).

But anyone who has been to Ottawa in the past couple of years knows that the Senators are not a sure thing when it comes to selling tickets, and they sure aren't sure things on the ice as they careen toward a lottery pick this season. The weakest of all Canadian markets, it isn't a given that the 2012 All-Star event will be a roaring success. In fact, it would be more than a little surprising if it topped Raleigh for buzz and excitement. It sure won't happen by osmosis.

Also, we have been thinking about the All-Star draft that proved to be such a big hit. There has been a lot of pro-and-con discussion about the concept, especially given that it was Kessel who ended up being picked last. (The distinction was softened by a new car and $20,000 to donate to charity.) Still, the pick became a news story because it was Kessel and he is a Maple Leaf. I'm not sure it would have been the topic of discussion if Paul Stastny had gotten picked last. (He was the second-to-last selection.)

But a longtime NHL executive did point out to us that the league has to be careful that it doesn't hold any of its players up to ridicule at an event that is supposed to be about promoting the game. It needs a healthy buy-in from the All-Stars themselves to make it work. We hadn't thought of it that way, but it is a good point: You can't sell players on giving up three or four days of time off if it's going to be unpleasant for even one of them. NHL sources say the league is awaiting feedback from the NHL Players' Association on how players feel about it. Here's hoping the draft stays, even if it needs some tweaking.

5. Brunette's milestone

The Minnesota Wild, in the midst of a surprising bid for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, will take time before Wednesday's game against Colorado to honor Andrew Brunette for his 1,000th NHL game. The 37-year-old from Sudbury, Ontario, was drafted 174th overall in 1993 by the Washington Capitals. He has parlayed marginal foot speed and modest raw talent but exemplary determination into a fine NHL career. Brunette is more than deserving of the attention from the Wild; he's played there in six of the past nine seasons after spending three seasons with the Avs in between stints in Minnesota. He has collected an impressive 690 points during his career.

Brunette's 1,000-game milestone (which he hit last week) reminded us of a conversation we had a year ago with New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson, who was then in the midst of a breakout season for the Isles.

Moulson, a ninth-round draft pick who was given little chance of making a career, told us he actually patterned himself after Brunette, trying to replicate his hard work around opposing nets.

"Actually, when people kept cutting down my skating, Mike O'Connell, he was with L.A., and told me to look at a player named Andrew Brunette," Moulson told us, crediting the former Bruins GM who is now with the Kings' player development staff. "I used to tape all his games and watch them and watch what he did. [Brunette] may not be the fastest guy out there, but he's great at protecting the puck and making plays around the net and getting to the net.

"He was up and down in the AHL as well [to start] his career, and he's made a pretty good player of himself and pretty good name for himself in this league. He's someone I followed closely."

You could do a lot worse.