Cross Checks: Henrik Sedin

The most unique contract negotiation in the NHL this season ended the only way it ever could, with twins Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin signing extensions.

The two leverage points in this negotiation negated each other:

1. The Canucks could never replace the twins next summer through free agency and it would have been mighty hard to do via trade.

2. The twins never had any intention of leaving Vancouver.

GM Mike Gillis was handcuffed by reality No. 1, and agent J.P. Barry of CAA Sports was always limited by reality No. 2.

So, find the middle ground, right?

It still took four months of talks, although that had less to do with this being acrimonious -- it wasn't -- but more with the Canucks wanting to do a little more research on where they projected next season's salary cap to go. Plus -- and they might never admit this -- I suspect management wanted to make sure the team didn't come out of the gates this season under new coach John Tortorella and fold like a house of cards under the new regime. They had to make sure this was still a contending team and the window was still open.

The Canucks had a strong start in October led by the twins’ strong play. I think that put everyone’s minds at ease.

Canucks management and the twins’ camp met Monday in what was considered the final, breakthrough moment; ownership approval came over the last day or so; and there you had it, twin deals worth $28 million each over four years.

"Initially, we wanted a five-year deal and they wanted a three-year deal, and we settled on a four-year deal," Barry told ESPN.com Friday.
"At the end of the day, it was trying to find a fair deal for both sides."

People always say that, of course, but in this case I think this is truly what transpired. If the twins had gone to market next July, in what will be another weak free-agent class, they each would have easily fetched $8 million a year over five years. No question.

The new contracts are still a gamble on some level. After all, the twins are 33 and will be 37 when the deals expire. But when you consider their impeccable health and durability, you don’t sense that this is a deal the Canucks should regret too much in three to four years. During negotiations, Barry brought up how fellow Swedes (and CAA clients) Daniel Alfredsson and Mats Sundin remained very productive into their late 30s.

Patrick Marleau, 34, is in the final season of a deal that pays him $6.9 million. Joe Thornton, also 34, is in the final year of a deal that pays him $7 million. Brad Richards, 33, has a $6.66 million cap hit. Jarome Iginla, 36, can earn $6 million this season if he reaches all his bonuses.

I don’t think the Canucks overpaid. And I don’t think the Sedins were shortchanged.

Fair deal.

"People that know us know that money is a small part of the negotiating thing," Henrik Sedin told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. "We love it here. Our families love it here. ... If you go to become UFA, you may get more money somewhere else, but that was never part of the negotiation."

Thank goodness for the Canucks.

"Would have been impossible," Gillis responded at the news conference when asked about trying to replace the twins in free agency. "You're talking about two players, not one.

"They wouldn’t have been replaced in free agency."

He doesn't have to worry about that now.
The loss of Tomas Vokoun for 3 to 6 months leaves the Penguins having to turn to Jeff Zatkoff as their backup goalie behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Zatkoff, who has never played an NHL game, is a 26-year-old former Kings draft pick who has played in the AHL the past four full seasons.

The Penguins signed him as a free agent on July 1, 2012.

"We’re going to go with the goaltenders that we have, we’re going to go with Marc-Andre and Zatkoff, going to give Jeff an opportunity at the NHL level,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com Thursday. "He’s been a good goaltender at the AHL level for four years. He played behind [Jonathan] Quick and [Jonathan] Bernier in L.A., pretty tough to crack that lineup there. He had an outstanding year for us last season in Wilkes-Barre. He deserves an opportunity. You got to find out about these guys. We’ll see where it goes."

It wouldn’t surprise me if Shero adds a veteran No. 3 to the organization as insurance.

But really, this is less about Zatkoff and more about Fleury when it comes to addressing the real crux of the concern in Pittsburgh. If Fleury doesn’t have a bounceback season, there’s trouble.

In the meantime, my sense is Shero will ride this out with the Fleury-Zatkoff tandem and circle back 20 to 25 games into the season to take stock of their performance before deciding whether or not he needs to act.

Lundqvist talks

Henrik Lundqvist told reporters Wednesday that he’s withdrawing himself from contract talks, leaving it in the hands of his agent, Don Meehan, not wanting any further distraction.

The lines of communication remain open between Meehan and the Rangers’ front office, so talks will continue into the season.

The Rangers know Lundqvist will be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL and the highest-paid Ranger when all is said and done. That’s a guarantee. So I don’t think salary, in the end, will be the last hurdle in a deal.

The biggest issue is term. Lundqvist is 31, still with lots of great hockey in front of him, no question. But a maximum term deal of eight years makes the Rangers uncomfortable, I’m guessing, given that he’d be 40 when that deal expired.

So the trick here is to find something term-wise that works for both sides. Six years? Seven years?

Lundqvist is in the last year of a deal that carries a $6.875-million cap hit. Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask have the highest cap hit in the league for goalies right now at $7 million. My guess is Lundqvist will make north of $8 million in his new deal.

Drouin demoted

I think it’s safe to say that the most surprising cut of training camp was Jonathan Drouin.

Unless you talk to scouts who saw him play in preseason. They’ll tell you that he wasn’t terribly impressive; the chief issue being he didn’t play with enough pace and tried to beat too many players standing still.

Now, let’s not get confused here. Drouin will still be a stud forward in the NHL, a franchise player; it’s just that another year in junior will benefit him greatly. The Tampa Bay Lightning are deep up front. I don’t think they needed to force the issue with him just because he was the third overall pick in June.

Just two years ago, another Florida team sent back its third overall pick to junior in Jonathan Huberdeau. He came back the next season and won the Calder Trophy.

I believe the Bolts made the right call here with Drouin. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready.

Ducks' D-man search

Word is the Ducks are looking for blue-line help with Luca Sbisa and Sheldon Souray out.

My sense is Anaheim would be looking for a young defenseman and would be willing to move a forward in return.

Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Toronto are among the clubs with depth on defense, something to keep an eye on.

Thornton's future

Phil Kessel imposed a deadline on talks with the Maple Leafs regarding his extension, saying it had to get done before puck drop for the season and it got done just under the wire.

But there is no such deadline in San Jose from captain Joe Thornton, who enters the final year of a contract paying him $7 million.

Word is the Thornton camp will reach out to the Sharks shortly to get talks going, but there are really no time constraints here. It’ll get done when it gets one. The sense is Thornton doesn’t believe it will be a distraction this season, regardless.

At 34, term will be the issue both sides stick-handle around, not the salary. Thornton remains a real productive player, putting up 40 points (7-33) in 48 games last season and having another strong playoff with 10 points (2-8) in 11 games. He also remains durable, missing only five regular-season games since coming over to San Jose in November 2005.

Thornton's situation is tied in some ways to what happens with Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, also UFAs after the season. The Sharks want all three back but it has to fit with what they're doing cap-wise as well as make sense term-wise.

Sedin twins

Staying with potential UFAs, the Sedin twins enter the season without extensions signed. There was hope that deals might get done before the season started, but nothing yet on that front. It's a priority for the Canucks to get this done as soon as possible.

Having said that, the twins' camp and the Canucks negotiated throughout the season five years ago and it didn't affect their performance on the ice. So the sense is that it shouldn't be too much of a distraction.

I'd say I agree with that premise as long as the good ship Canucks doesn't get off to a slow start and the circus starts in Van City. Then suddenly their lack of an extension would warrant more media spotlight.

So Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis fed head coach Alain Vigneault and assistants Rick Bowness and Newell Brown to the lions.

Hardly a surprise.

That's what happens when a talented, Stanley Cup-hopeful team goes 1-8 in the playoffs over the past two years. The Canucks owned home-ice advantage in both series, and lost the first two games of the series at home both times.

Someone has to pay the price for that kind of underachievement.

And let's not forget, Vigneault was inherited by Gillis when Gillis took over five years ago. Every GM should get to hire at least one coach before any final judgments are issued on his tenure.

But does anyone anywhere think this was strictly a coaching issue? Does anyone think that as this team stands now it's simply a matter of getting a new voice behind the bench?

Maybe Gillis, who met with the media in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon and opined that people have been after both him and Vigneault for the past five years, actually believes that.

And while Vancouver does have its own unique dynamic with the media and a fan base still waiting for the franchise's first Stanley Cup, is there a GM in Canada or any major American market who doesn't feel the same kind of pressure to produce and, moreover, to answer when there are failures?

Maybe in the coming days and months Gillis will be vindicated with this move.

Maybe someone like Dallas Eakins comes in and takes this team to the greatness foretold when the Canucks advanced to the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Or maybe it's Lindy Ruff who does it. Or Dave Tippett, pending the resolution of ownership issues in Phoenix.

[+] EnlargeAlain Vigneault
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty ImagesAlain Vigneault took the fall for Vancouver's recent failures, but there's more blame to go around.
But if the media and the fans are this day feasting on Vigneault, this is without question a failure that extends far beyond Vigneault's game plans and his inability to get his team to play at a higher level in the postseason.

Gillis shares that burden of failure, having presided over a team that has fallen in a shocking manner from the ranks of the NHL's elite.

Gillis grossly miscalculated the trade market for goalie Roberto Luongo and in the end couldn't even give the veteran netminder away at the trade deadline, despite his best efforts to peddle Luongo to Toronto for a couple of draft picks.

And so the one issue that absolutely needed to be dealt with -– moving Luongo in order to allow Cory Schneider to fully grow into the starting role bequeathed to him at the end of the disappointing first-round loss to Los Angeles last April -- remained the elephant with pads that never left the Canucks' dressing room.

Think the Luongo market will pick up before the start of free agency? Ha.

When you get swept as the Canucks did at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, with Schneider allowing nine goals on 75 shots in two losses to close out the series after Luongo started and played well enough in the first two games, let's just say no other GM is going to be throwing Gillis a life preserver.

Unless he is prepared to use a compliance buyout on Luongo, which brings with it a host of salary-cap issues, Gillis is going to have to eat some of Luongo’s salary and/or take on some other team's contract baggage.

And it's not as if the Canucks don't already have some of that kind of baggage. Winger David Booth has two more years at $4.25 million, defenseman Keith Ballard has two more years at $4.2 million, and Vancouver has five more years of Jason Garrison at $4.6 million, for the former Florida Panther who recorded zero points in the playoffs after taking a long time to get going during the regular season.

According to Capgeek.com, the Canucks are already at the cap threshold for next season with 17 players under contract.

The addition of center Derek Roy at the trade deadline didn't pan out at all –- he had one assist in the Sharks series -– and Roy will likely be headed somewhere else this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

So this promises to be an interesting and perhaps seminal summer for Gillis and the Canucks.

There are still too many elemental pieces on the Canucks' roster to dismiss them entirely. The Sedin twins -- Henrik and Daniel -- are cornerstone players, even if they combined for zero goals in the four-game sweep by the Sharks.

Center Ryan Kesler has proved to be as good a two-way forward as there is in the game, but his durability remains a nagging problem. Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis represent what should be the defensive foundation of a contending team.

But there remains the overwhelming feeling that this isn't a team that has simply hit a speed bump like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks have the past couple of years. Rather, Vancouver is a team that with no obvious second wave of young talent on the horizon is on the verge of seeing its window to glory quickly closing and a window to uncertainty opening.

Maybe it was time for Vigneault to go. He won a Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and led the Canucks to a pair of Presidents’ Trophies and a Cup finals berth, but they blew series leads of 2-0 and 3-2 to Boston in the 2011 Cup finals and couldn't get out of the first round the next two years.

It was likely time for change, even as it seems likely Vigneault will find NHL employment elsewhere quickly, whether in Dallas or Colorado, depending on whether the Avalanche hire Patrick Roy.

But if the clock ran out on Vigneault in Vancouver on Wednesday, then the same clock is now ticking loudly in the ear of Mike Gillis.
It was always going to be the "window" series, two of the Western Conference's long-standing contenders facing off in the first round, with the losers having to face questions about their immediate future.

The San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have been kicking at the contender can for a long time, and folks in both cities this year began to wonder if things were getting a little stale.

Heck, the Sharks even retooled on the fly this season, trading away pending UFAs Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus (while adding Raffi Torres and Scott Hannan) as GM Doug Wilson publicly acknowledged the need to begin the "reset" of his roster.

So a first-round loss to Vancouver would have spurred more moves -- no doubt toward youth -- for the Sharks, who have played the second-most playoff games in the NHL since 2004, behind only the Detroit Red Wings.

Instead, the re-energized Sharks are very much alive, thinking once again about their title hopes, after a four-game dismantling of the Canucks. It's Vancouver that has to answer very difficult questions after a debacle of a series.

The Canucks' window appears to be closing. Back-to-back first-round playoff losses since their run to the Cup finals in 2011 suggest the recipe isn't right anymore.

And getting rid of the cook may not be the only solution.

Everyone who has an opinion seems to think coach Alain Vigneault will pay the price. Certainly, it's a bullet GM Mike Gillis has kept in the chamber ever since he took over the club in April 2008, having inherited "AV" as coach.

Gillis has to shoulder some blame here, too, as all GMs whose teams have higher expectations must after being swept in the first round.

In retrospect, he should have taken whatever the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best offer was last summer and divested himself of Roberto Luongo, as the goalie drama did not serve the team well at all, even if both netminders stayed on good terms with each other.

Of more concern is that Luongo was the better goalie in the series than Cory Schneider, whose confidence has to be rattled after the way things worked out.

But the problems here run deeper.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin deserve some scrutiny here as well. Neither scored a goal in the four-game sweep. They looked tired and head into the final years of their contracts next season ($6.1 million per year). The Canucks will have an interesting decision to make -- one would think as soon as this summer, so as not to have the twins' pending UFA status hang over the team next season.

The defense is set, which is either a good thing if you like this group or a bad thing if you're a Canucks fan who wants change. But Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler all have contracts that run at least through 2015-16. Unless they trade some of these big contracts, that's the Canucks' core blue line for a while.

The Canucks also have the highest payroll in the league, and the salary cap is going down to $64.3 million next season. Obviously divesting themselves of Luongo's $5.33 million cap hit via a trade or a compliance buyout will help in that regard, with Keith Ballard ($4.2 million a year for two more seasons) another buyout candidate as well.

And because of the years of contending and going for it, there isn't a deep pool of prospects in the pipeline, either.

So, to recap:

• Do the Canucks have a bona fide No. 1 goalie in Schneider moving forward?
• Should this team still be built around the Sedins?
• Will Ryan Kesler ever be injury-free?
• Does this team have the right supporting cast to still contend?
• Is it time to retool, rebuild or be patient for one more run with this core?

Many questions at this point, but very few answers.

The only thing for certain is that it won't be dull in Vancouver this offseason.

Morning Links: Day 27 of lockout

October, 12, 2012
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  • Kevin Bieksa spoke out against those scalping tickets for the sold-out charity hockey game he organized. (The Globe and Mail)
  • Rangers legend Rod Gilbert said, from speaking to both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, both men are on the same page, so he doesn't understand why they can't make a deal. "Why don't you split it and get it over with? You're doing damage to the game now and the fans," Gilbert said. (NY Daily News)
  • Sidney Crosby said the NHL just wants their deal and "there is no real meeting [n the middle]." He added that he hopes the owners aren't waiting for the players to cave because, "everybody expects to negotiate in good faith. I hope they're not stalling because they have a certain date in mind. That's not the way to do it." (Pittsburgh Tribune Review)
  • John Davidson is going to Columbus this weekend for follow-up interviews with the Blue Jackets' majority owner John P. McConnell and president Mike Priest, according to sources. (The Columbus Dispatch)
  • The Sedin twins are keeping busy with their "expensive hobby" as their horse Nahar is about to begin harness racing for the winter. (The Vancouver Sun)
  • Bruins prospect Christian Hanson is proud of the legacy his father created by playing one of the Hanson Brothers in the 1977 classic "Slap Shot." (Boston Herald)
  • Braden Holtby considers himself lucky to have a chance to play with the Hershey Bears even though he was expected to start this season in net for the Washington Capitals. (The Washington Post)
  • The Tournee des Joueurs, organized by Maxime Talbot and Bruno Gervais, drew about 5,600 fans on Thursday night, the largest crowd of the series but well short of the 15,000-seat capacity at the Colisee. (Montreal Gazette)
  • St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman joined local business owners to urge the NHL and NHLPA to come to a compromise and end the lockout. (Pioneer Press)


For two weeks, we asked for your opinion on everything ranging from which team will win the Stanley Cup to where the next NHL franchise should go. Now, Scott Burnside weighs in with his thoughts on your votes.

Which player will win the scoring title?

Interesting that in this category, fans were unequivocal about who they think will win the scoring title, and it was No. 87 from Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby.

You'll see below that fans were a little more mixed in their thinking when it came to separating Crosby from longtime nemesis Alex Ovechkin for the coming season, but 46 percent of voters believe that Crosby will best Ovechkin as well as other former Art Ross winners Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Steven Stamkos to win his second scoring title. It's an interesting voting trend given that there remains so much uncertainty surrounding Crosby's health. And it was a bit shocking that the talented Sedin twins from Vancouver, the past two scoring champions, managed to garner just 7 percent of the votes combined. It is hard to bet against Crosby if he's healthy, but so much is unknown about his ability to return from a concussion that it wouldn't surprise us if we saw Ovechkin bounce back with a strong season to grab another Art Ross.

Which player will have the better season?

I love this poll, and it's clear that fans have a long memory, as they picked Tim Thomas in a landslide (69 percent) over fellow Vezina nominee and Stanley Cup finals foil Roberto Luongo. Maybe fans recall Luongo's erratic play in the finals and his strange comments about Thomas. Our question is whether Thomas can be as good as he was a year ago, when he ran away with the Vezina Trophy voting, then was the runaway winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Fans were likewise united (67 percent) that of the two former Philadelphia stars dealt before the draft, former captain Mike Richards and sniper Jeff Carter, Richards who would have more success in his new home in Los Angeles. We agree.

One of our favorite polling matchups involved current and former Florida netminders Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun. Fans left no doubt that they felt Vokoun, now in Washington, would have the better season (82 percent to 18 percent for Theodore). We're not as sold on that proposition being a lock, but Vokoun will sure have a lot more offense going for him than he ever did in Florida. But we also think Theodore has a lot more game left than many give him credit for.

A couple of other players who swapped places, Martin Havlat and Dany Heatley, gave fans more pause. Voting sided with Heatley, now in Minnesota, by a 57-43 percent edge, but we're not so sure. If Havlat can stay healthy (we know, a big if), he'll have an opportunity to put up big numbers, say, 80 points or more. Heatley's numbers have been declining, and Minnesota isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut even with the arrival of the former 50-goal man and his former teammate Devin Setoguchi.

Finally, the age-old question of who will have a better year, Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, also had fans wondering, as Crosby edged Ovechkin with 53 percent of the vote. Still, the uncertainty over Crosby's health as he tries to recover from a concussion that cost him the last half of last season and a curiously down season for Ovechkin make this a toss-up.

Which is the most improved team heading into 2011-12?

Lots of options here, although fans picked the Buffalo Sabres just ahead of the New York Rangers as the team they believe made the biggest strides in the offseason. (Twenty-nine percent picked the Sabres, and 22 percent selected the Rangers.) Both are worthy choices with the Sabres spending like crazy under new owner Terry Pegula. They added free agents Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino after acquiring Robyn Regehr and Brad Boyes, who came over at the trade deadline in March. And it's hard not to like the Rangers' chances of stepping up with the addition of top free-agent center Brad Richards.

But for us, the team that underwent the biggest makeover and took the biggest steps toward improvement is the Florida Panthers. Assuming good health, the Panthers will be looking to incorporate as many as a dozen new faces into their everyday lineup, including smooth-skating defenseman Brian Campbell, onetime Panthers hero Ed Jovanovski, former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore in goal and a clutch of forwards with good scoring potential (Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Tampa's playoff scoring machine Sean Bergenheim). Throw in rookie head coach Kevin Dineen, and you've got a lot of moving parts to get in sync, but we like the Panthers to make it work and join the playoff crowd in the Eastern Conference.

Which team is trending backward?

Most fans -- 33 percent, in fact -- believe that the Phoenix Coyotes are poised to take the biggest step backward this coming season. We tend to agree, although it's never wise to bet against one of the best coaches in the NHL. Former Jack Adams Trophy winner Dave Tippett is a crucial asset to the Coyotes. Still, Tippett will see his coaching acumen put to an extreme test this season, as the Coyotes remain mired in ownership limbo and, as a result, have struggled to keep core pieces of the team in the fold. Even though the Yotes qualified for the postseason for the second straight season this past spring, they never really filled the void created by the departure of defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who signed with Pittsburgh in July 2010. This summer saw the departure of veteran Ed Jovanovski and former Vezina Trophy nominee Ilya Bryzgalov. The team still looks to struggle offensively unless Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris really step forward.

Fans also seemed to think the New York Islanders would slide, but we disagree. With a healthy Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo ready from the get-go in training camp, we think the Isles are ready to jump back into playoff contention in the very tough Atlantic Division.

Which city deserves the next NHL franchise?

There doesn't seem to be much debate among voters about where the NHL will land next if there's movement afoot: Quebec City. More than half of voters (51 percent) believe the former home of the Nordiques will follow Winnipeg's footsteps in returning a team to the NHL. Us? Not so sure. Given that building a new NHL-style arena remains a political hot potato in Canada, specifically in the province of Quebec, we will be shocked if the NHL moves to Quebec City in the near future. And given the uncertainty surrounding the situation in Phoenix, the league may be forced to make such a decision before a new arena is assured in Quebec. There is no chance the league agrees to return to Quebec City until the shovels are firmly in the ground to build a new barn.

Given that, we're going to suggest that Kansas City will be the next stop for the NHL franchise carousel. Yes, only 8 percent of voters agree, but given there is an NHL-ready building simply awaiting a new owner, that might be the most logical of moves if the NHL gets pushed into the relocation corner again in the near future. Our second choice? Seattle. Yes, there are arena issues there, but having lost a big American market in Atlanta this past offseason, the NHL would rather see nothing other than a move to a big U.S. market, and Seattle has lots going for it.

Which player will not have a sophomore slump?

It's not uncommon for players to light it up in their rookie seasons only to fall back the next season. (See Steve Mason of Columbus and Tyler Myers of Buffalo as recent examples.) Some of that is mental, expecting things to come easily. Some of that is opposing teams' knowing how to handle the youngsters. Voters feel that won't be a problem for the defending rookie of the year, Jeff Skinner, and Calder Trophy nominee Logan Couture, who led the polling with 26 percent of the votes apiece. Given that Couture is older (Skinner was the youngest player in the NHL last season), we're expecting he may have an easier time in his sophomore season. We also like another Calder nominee, Michael Grabner, to continue his ascension given that he will play under the radar on Long Island and the Isles should be an improved squad. As for Skinner, he is wise beyond his years, but it will be a tall order for him to repeat his success from last season.

Which coach is most likely to be fired?

Almost half our readers, 42 percent, believe that Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau is on the hottest of hot seats. We don't. Given that general manager George McPhee added significant character in Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern and Troy Brouwer up front while bringing in veteran Tomas Vokoun to backstop the Caps, we figure this team is finally ready to make a deep run into the postseason. Boudreau showed his coaching chops last season, arresting what could have been a disastrous midseason slide and taking a much better defensive squad to the top of the Southeast Division standings.

In our mind, other coaches will find themselves in much more precarious positions this season, and you can start with Ron Wilson in Toronto. The Leafs have failed to make the postseason tournament since the lockout, and perhaps more telling is that the team has failed to make strides in the crucial special-teams area. Only so much of those shortcomings can be attributed to personnel. At some point, the coach has to take the fall for not coming up with the proper systems for success on the power play and penalty kill. A slow start in Toronto will almost certainly spell the end for Wilson. Another coach to keep an eye on is Terry Murray in Los Angeles, where the stakes are high for a young Kings team that needs to step forward.

Which coach will have the most successful season?

For the record, 17 percent of voters think Boudreau will have the most successful season, but the runaway winner in this category is Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, the defending Jack Adams Trophy winner who garnered 34 percent of voters' support. It is hard to argue with that pick assuming Sidney Crosby returns to full health in the coming months. We already know that Evgeni Malkin is champing at the bit after knee surgery and James Neal will be fully integrated into the Pens' lineup. If Steve Sullivan can stay healthy, the Pens should return to being one of the most deadly offensive teams in the NHL, which will balance nicely with the defensive mindset that Bylsma has imposed in Pittsburgh, making them one of the most difficult to play (and score) against in the league. For the record, though, if we had to go to a Plan B, we'd go with Boudreau.

You make the call: Art Ross Trophy winner?

August, 8, 2011
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The Art Ross Trophy is awarded annually to the player who leads the league in points at the end of the regular season. Daniel Sedin won the award this past season to follow his twin brother Henrik's win the previous year.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have both won the trophy, and Jaromir Jagr took home the award five times with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But is this the year Steven Stamkos breaks through to lead the league in points? Are we crazy to not have included Corey Perry and Jagr in the poll (both choices Scott Burnside wanted included)?

You tell us who will win the scoring title for the 2011-12 season.

Previous results: Stanley Cup » Conferences » East divisions » West divisions »

Scoring Title?


Will Lightning star Steven Stamkos win his first Art Ross Trophy this season?


LAS VEGAS -- Is this the year someone breaks Pavel Datsyuk's death grip on the Frank J. Selke Trophy? The top Detroit center, long considered the best two-way forward in the game, has won the award the past three years and is again nominated.

The argument against Datsyuk is he was injured and played only 56 games, but he could become the first player to win the award four straight times since Bob Gainey (1978-81).

Datsyuk's competition: Vancouver's Ryan Kesler and Chicago's Jonathan Toews.

Look for Kesler, a finalist the past three years, to finally pry the hardware away from Datsyuk.

Kesler was a key component of a Vancouver Canucks team that was the best defensive squad in the NHL. He blocked more shots than any other NHL forward and took key faceoffs and delivered 124 hits. Kesler was just 33 points behind Datsyuk in last season's voting.

This is the first Selke nomination for Toews. The Blackhawks captain acknowledged he would like to best Kesler, who he has battled against in three straight postseasons now.

"I think at the end of the day, whatever happens tomorrow, if Ryan walks away with the trophy, you got to respect him for that," Toews said. "He's earned his right to be there with the season he's had this year. He's a big part of that team that went to the final. But again, you always want to just give yourself credit and kind of appreciate the moment, knowing what it takes to get here.

"Sometimes outsiders, the media, the people watching, always kind of measure what you do in a series based on goals and assists, shots on net, all those types of stats," he added. "But half the time, basically, what it comes down to is what you're doing against the player you're matched up against every shift."

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sedin
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesCanucks forward Daniel Sedin led all players with 104 points this past season.

The MVP race, times two

It is always interesting to see how the Hart Trophy voting (conducted by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association) varies from the players' MVP voting reflected in the Ted Lindsay Award.

A year ago, Henrik Sedin won the Hart Trophy, while Washington captain Alex Ovechkin captured his third straight players' MVP honor.

This year, Daniel Sedin and Corey Perry are nominated for both awards, while Lightning teammates Martin St. Louis (Hart) and Steven Stamkos (Lindsay) split nods.

Daniel's prime challenge for the Hart looks to come from Perry, who surged through the last third of the regular season to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals (50). The Anaheim sniper scored 19 times in his final 16 games to help the Ducks qualify for the playoffs after a dreadful start to the regular season.

"I think it was one of those things where you get on a roll and things just go your way," Perry said of his torrid finish. "You can't go out and plan on doing that. You just go out and do your thing, and it was a quite a good roll that happened in the last month and a half. It was fun."

The same player has won both the Hart and Lindsay five times in the past 10 years.

Can't escape Jagr talk in Vegas

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma is the favorite to win the Jack Adams Award given his stellar work in guiding the Penguins to the playoffs despite the long-term absences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

He is chomping at the bit to get a healthy lineup back in the fold next season and take another run at a Stanley Cup. One piece he may have in his puzzle is five-time scoring champ Jaromir Jagr, who has targeted a small number of teams for a potential return to the NHL after spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Pittsburgh, Detroit and another team appear to be interested in the Czech star's services.

"Hypothetically, you're talking about a guy who in his last year in the National Hockey League had 75 points, that's leading our team last year," Bylsma said. "That's an intriguing thing to think about -- a power-play guy, what you saw him do in the World Championship against NHL-caliber players was nothing short of outstanding.

"Those are intriguing things to think about hypothetically and it's tough not to think about adding 75 points to your roster if that's something you're capable of doing," he said.

There are reports Detroit coach Mike Babcock has spoken to Jagr. Has Bylsma?

"I've talked to Mike, not to Jaromir," Bylsma said with a laugh.

Wonder twins

Regardless of how Daniel and Henrik Sedin finished out the playoffs (they were a combined minus-20 in the postseason for Vancouver), they remain two of the league's stand-up guys, accepting much of the blame for the team's disappointing turn in the Cup finals against Boston.

In Vegas, the twin brothers can make history if Daniel follows in Henrik's footsteps and wins the Hart Trophy as regular season MVP. He already matched his brother's scoring title from last season by leading all NHLers with 104 points this season. No brothers have ever each won the Hart, let alone in back-to-back years.

Daniel wasn't on hand last year for his brother's big moment in the Vegas sun, and Henrik was nowhere to be seen Tuesday (he was vacationing in Whistler, B.C.)

The youngsters

One of the great stories of the awards is the emergence of Calder Trophy candidate Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders. The 23-year-old was waived by the Florida Panthers on the eve of the regular season and claimed by the Islanders. Grabner went on to lead the Islanders and all rookies with 34 goals. He also had his first child this season.

Although he doesn't have the profile of his fellow nominees, Logan Couture of San Jose and Jeff Skinner from Carolina, Grabner's story is nonetheless compelling. He signed a contract extension during the past season and is part of a dynamic young Islanders team that has people thinking playoffs in 2011-12.

As far as the Calder race goes, if Skinner earns the hardware, he would become the youngest player to win it at age 19. Dale Hawerchuk and Bobby Orr were both 19 years, two months old when they were awarded the Calder in 1982 and 1967, respectively.

"It's been fun," Skinner said. "Just going through everything as a kid, just last year looking up to them and watching them on TV and the next year your sort of around them and talk to them. I think that's really cool to meet some of the guys you grew up idolizing and sort of talk to them as normal guys."

No Sid, no Ovi

These awards mark the first time since the lockout that neither Sidney Crosby nor Ovechkin have been in attendance.

The pair was nominated for rookie of the year in 2006. Since then, at least one of them has been nominated and/or won the Hart Trophy and/or the Ted Lindsay Award.


BOSTON -- Here are five things that will be on our radar for tonight's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins:

1. The goalie wars

Yes, we know Roberto Luongo's comments about Tim Thomas have been overblown and overly dissected. Get over it. It's the Cup finals. But what remains a key for the Vancouver Canucks is whether they get the "home" Luongo, the goalie who has shut out the Boston Bruins twice in Vancouver in this series, or the "road" Luongo, who allowed 12 goals in less than two games in Boston last week.

Luongo has shown remarkable confidence since being yanked in Game 4 and has sounded very captain-like in his dealings with the media, even when it pertained to the Thomas issue. Still, these are the facts heading into Game 6: Luongo is 5-5 with a 3.49 goals-against average on road this postseason and 10-3 with a 1.70 GAA at home. If he cannot reverse that road trend, we're headed for Game 7.

[+] EnlargeSedin Twins
Jeff Vinnick/Getty ImagesThe Sedin twins have a combined two points so far in the Cup finals.

2. Sedins floodgate, or bust

There are two schools of thought on Daniel and Henrik Sedin's lack of production in this series. One is the two Vancouver forwards are working hard, getting chances and simply ready to burst with a cacophony of scoring just when the Canucks need it most. The second is, Daniel Sedin has the only two points between them in this series because the Bruins have found the same kind of formula other top teams did in keeping the twins from working their cycling magic in the corners and off the half-wall.

The fact the Bruins will get the last change at home in Game 6 should give Boston coach Claude Julien an easier time in getting his shutdown defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the ice against the twins.

If Daniel and Henrik do break out, it will put even more pressure on the Bruins to open up and match offense for offense, which will increase the odds of Vancouver hoisting the Cup for the first time in franchise history. If not, look for plenty more pointed questions about the twins' ability to bring it when it matters most as the series shifts back to Vancouver.

3. Invisible, visible, invisible

That has been the pattern for two of the Bruins' top players, Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Lucic, a Vancouver native and former junior star in that city, has looked out of sorts in the three games he's played there. While he has only one assist at home, he has been better in the two wins in Boston. So has Krejci, the team's leading playoff point producer (22).

In Vancouver, playing mostly against Ryan Kesler's line, Krejci has been bounced around and looked timid and uncertain. At home, Krejci has a goal and three assists and has been the dynamic puck-mover that caused problems for Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

We understand the third member of that top unit, Nathan Horton, has been gone since early in Game 2, forcing Julien to roll through a number of wingers, including Rich Peverley, who scored twice in Game 4, Michael Ryder and rookie Tyler Seguin. But Lucic and Krejci are the engines that drive this line and the Bruins' offense. They have to deliver in Game 6.

4. Which team has the power?

Is it possible the Stanley Cup will be awarded tonight to the Canucks, whose prolific regular-season power play is clipping along at just 4 percent in the finals? Is it possible the Bruins will force a seventh game with a power play that is cooking at 14.3 percent?

Through the first five games of this series, the power play has produced a combined four goals on 46 opportunities. Two of Boston's three power-play goals came in Game 3, an 8-1 rout of Vancouver. If the Bruins can somehow manage to win the power-play war (popgun though it might be) in Game 6, they'll be headed back to Vancouver.

Julien insisted Monday morning he thinks it has been more a matter of execution than personnel that has been plaguing the Bruins, especially in Game 5 when they were given the first four power plays of the game and came up empty en route to a 1-0 loss.

"It was more what we didn't do in our decision-making," the coach said.

Like the Sedins, though, there is a lingering belief Vancouver could simply explode with the man advantage and pour two or three past Thomas and that will be that. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, who has said he believed the power play has been ready to break out for the past two games, joked that he thinks Game 6 might be the night.

"Now I really, really mean it," he quipped.

Daniel Sedin agreed.

"We feel that we're close," Sedin said Monday. "Our confidence is high and it should be. We've got to go out there with a swagger and that's when we're at our best. We're going to do that tonight and I think we have been the last few games, too."

5. Cup jitters?

So, everyone knows the Stanley Cup will be in its protective case at TD Garden on Monday night. The Vancouver Canucks' family and friends have descended on Boston in the hopes of a celebration. There are parade plans afoot in Vancouver.

Does all that disrupt the thought process for either team?

"We're not really worried about it being here," Boston forward Michael Ryder said of the Cup's presence. "We just want to win the game."

Andrew Ference was part of a Calgary Flames team that blew a 3-2 series lead against the Lightning and lost Game 7 in Tampa in the 2004 finals. He said you have to approach this game like every other game this postseason.

"I don't know if you ever want to win one game more than another. The motivation is so strong for every game," the Boston defenseman said.

Ference recalled preparing for Game 4 against Philadelphia in the second round. Even though the Bruins led the series 3-0 and would sweep the Flyers, he said the team's approach didn't change.

"I remember the emotion in here before Game 4 was pretty much the same," he said. "There wasn't any less motivation then to do the job."

As for the Canucks, they don't have a single Stanley Cup winner on their active roster (Mikael Samuelsson won with Detroit, but is injured), but Vigneault said he thinks the team's approach will not vary even with the Cup on the line.

"We're not going to talk about the Cup. We're going to talk about the process," Vigneault said. "That's been our whole mindset since the first day of training camp."

Manny Malhotra is one of the older Canucks players at age 31. Vancouver is his fifth NHL team and he understands there are no guarantees of ever getting back to this point.

"So you keep that in the back of your mind and you think that this may be the only opportunity you have to make the most of it," Malhotra said. "[Thinking about holding the Cup] is peripheral stuff right now. We realize the type of effort that's going to be needed to win and our focus, as it has been all year, is on the process and how we play the game."


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Here are five things that will be on our radar for tonight's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks:

1. Discipline

Each team had six power plays in Game 1, and the Canucks were guilty of taking a double minor for high sticking and giving the Bruins a lengthy 5-on-3 early in the second period. No power-play goals were scored, so the penalties didn't end up being a factor in the Canucks' 1-0 victory. Still, the number of minor penalties certainly didn't make either coach happy. Part of the reason might have been the emotion of the first game, but don't look for a similar parade to the penalty box in Game 2.

"I think going into our first game, it's pretty tough to keep your emotions in check," Vancouver defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said Saturday. "Obviously, for most players, it was the first game on that stage, so you probably saw that a little bit on all the penalties that were taken. Now that we got the first game out of the way, I think everybody is going to be a little more comfortable in Game 2."

The fewer the penalties, the better it is for the Boston Bruins, whose penalty kill has been terrific this spring, while their power play has been, well, dirt.

2. Speaking of the power play ...

We know Boston coach Claude Julien has repeatedly pointed the Bruins' ability to hold the Canucks in check on the special-teams battle in Game 1 (both teams went 0-for-6). Fair enough. But the Bruins' chances of winning this series without getting any meaningful production from their power-play unit are slim at best.

Before the start of the playoffs, GM Peter Chiarelli said Tyler Seguin's skill set put him in the top 5 percent of the league. Hyperbole? Maybe. But if it's so, why did Seguin see just 1:20 of power-play time in Game 1 while Mark Recchi, the NHL's oldest player, was allotted 3:34 of time?

When your team has scored just one road power-play goal throughout the playoffs, isn't it time to think outside the box a little? For the record, Seguin had zero shots on goal in Game 1.

The Bruins will be playing with fire if they give the Canucks six more power-play opportunities. As recently as the Western Conference finals against San Jose, Vancouver has shown it can bury you if you are going to give it chances with the man advantage. We're guessing Game 2 features the first power-play goal(s) of the series.

3. The twins and the tower

Boston captain Zdeno Chara (28:09) and his defensive partner Dennis Seidenberg (27:13 combined) played more minutes than any other skaters in Game 1. They will likely do so again in Game 2. A lot of those minutes were logged skating against Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who were held off the score sheet in Game 1.

Watch for that battle to intensify in Game 2. If the Bruins can continue to hold the Canucks' top forward unit at bay, it bodes well for gaining a split in the series.

"I've said all along he's one of the top defensemen in this league," Daniel Sedin said of Chara. "He's got a long stick, so I think you've got to get close to him and try to use that to your advantage, move the puck quick and move your feet. That's the only way you can beat him."

4. Missing D

The Canucks played for most of the last two periods of the Cup finals opener without Dan Hamhuis, one of their top defensive defensemen and a player who regularly logs big minutes against opposing teams' top forward units.

The Canucks prevailed, but if Hamhuis cannot play in Game 2 (he is a game-time decision, according to coach Alain Vigneault), it will once again test the Canucks' formidable defensive depth. We're guessing Keith Ballard would draw back into the lineup, as he did in the Western Conference finals when Ehrhoff was sidelined.

"Our team was built on a strong and deep defense, and we've used it all year long with different guys being out at different times," Ehrhoff said. "Everybody can play with everybody, so it's not a big adjustment we have to make. Obviously, whoever comes in has to step up and play some big minutes and that's what we've done all year."

5. Hero wanted

With the big guns on both sides held in check in Game 1, it was checking winger Raffi Torres who seized the moment with 18.5 seconds left (converting a terrific pass from equally low-profile forward Jannik Hansen) for the game winner.

The Bruins are looking to find their own hero as they hope to knot this series up before returning to Boston for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday. Based on their level of play in Game 1, look for Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly to factor into a Boston victory. Both were terrific in the opener.

As for Vancouver, the team's third line has come in for much-deserved praise throughout the playoffs, but Maxim Lapierre was especially dynamic with six shots on goal. Only Daniel Sedin (eight shots) had more for either team.

Hit of the Night: Chris Neil on Henrik Sedin

February, 8, 2011
2/08/11
10:54
AM ET

Ottawa forward Chris Neil delivered a big neutral-zone hit on Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin on Monday night:


RALEIGH, N.C. -- The week-long rumored split-up of the Sedin twins indeed took place Friday night.

"We had the feeling before," said Daniel. "It's my first All-Star Game and Henrik's second one. It will be fun. I'm happy. I got picked first."

The twins have never played against each other before.

"I won the first race," said Henrik, who was born six minutes ahead of Daniel back on Sept. 26, 1980. "It was fun talking about [the split], but it's more for media and fans. It would be fun to have the lines play against each other, that's for sure."

There were other familial ties at play Friday night.

Staal, for instance, made his brother Marc, a defenseman with the New York Rangers, sweat a bit, taking Boston's Zdeno Chara ahead of him in the fourth round.

[+] EnlargeDaniel and Henrik Sedin
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesCan YOU tell the Sedin twins apart? Let's hope the All-Star captains got it right.

"I was a little surprised obviously," Chara acknowledged. "It's a huge honor being picked early, and when you look at it, Staalsy picked me in front of his brother [and] that tells me a lot and it's a huge honor ..."

Marc Staal joked on television that he was hurt by not being picked earlier in the proceedings (he was finally selected by Eric in the seventh round), but acknowledged that perhaps the new format will inject a little more competition into the traditionally staid All-Star event.

"Nobody really told us what it was going to be like, so nobody really knew what to expect," Marc Staal said. "But it was well done. It was pretty cool, it was a lot of fun. It makes it a little more interesting than East and West, a little different dynamic to it. Hopefully it works out to be a good game."

No, Toews is not mad

It may have appeared on TV that Jonathan Toews wasn't super pleased with having to wait until the 16th overall pick in Friday's All-Star draft, but the Chicago Blackhawks captain said that wasn't the case.

"It wasn't a big deal," he joked afterward. "It was kind of funny just sitting there. I was sitting with Corey [Perry] and Rick [Nash] and we were joking. I think everyone was pretty loose. Maybe everyone was a bit nervous before the whole thing, not knowing what to expect, but once we got there and sat down, the pressure was on the captains pretty much. Most of us just sat back and enjoyed it, so it wasn't too bad."

His Blackhawks buddy Patrick Kane enjoyed seeing Toews sweat it out before finally picking him for Team Lidstrom. We asked Toews why he didn't bring up Kane's missed flight from Friday morning on national TV as a comeback.

"I could have thrown him under the bus pretty good," said Toews. "But I got orders I'm not supposed to be talking about that. It was pretty funny, but he made it here on time, thankfully."

Stamkos picked second

Steven Stamkos was juiced about being selected second overall, as Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis helped Team Lidstrom select him with its first pick.

"Marty told me if he had a chance, he'd take me," said Stamkos. "He's usually pretty solid on his word."

We asked Stamkos how much money he had to pay St. Louis to take him so high. "Nothing, I just had to baby sit his kids today on the airplane."

One of the reasons the All-Star fantasy draft resonated with players and fans is the competitive nature of the process.

Who hasn't been in a fantasy draft and tried to plot the best strategy? Who hasn't been in a pick-up game and not fretted about being picked last or next to last?

"It was, I've got to be honest, I was a little bit nervous for some reason, but it was fun," said Chara.

The Boston Bruins defenseman is 6-foot-7 and won the Norris Trophy two years ago and he was nervous about where he might be picked?

"I think that we all had fun," said Chara, who was picked by captain Eric Staal for Team Staal. "It was nice to see everybody had a little fun with it, but also everybody was taking the business seriously, picking the right mix of players. Yeah, I liked it."

Head shots discussion

The NHL's board of governors will meet Saturday morning in Raleigh, and the issue of blows to the head is expected to dominate the discussion, a number of sources have told ESPN.com.

It's believed Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice president and director of hockey operations, will present a video compilation of various head shots, including the blow that arguably knocked Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby out of action.

The upshot of the discussion is believed to be that the concussions being sustained are not from a specific type of blow to the head, but rather different types of hits.

Mom, Dad and automobiles

Patrick Sharp's parents made a long trek to Raleigh.

"They had a heck of a travel day yesterday and last night," Sharp said.

His parents flew from his native Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Minneapolis and then Newark, but the flight to Raleigh got canceled Thursday.

"They met some friends on the plane, rented a van and decided to drive," said Sharp. "They drove from midnight to 8 a.m. from Newark to Raleigh just to be here. I better do something special this weekend."

Kopitar and the Kings

Anze Kopitar hopes his Los Angeles Kings can rebound post All-Star break. The first half certainly didn't go as planned.

"It was definitely surprising," Kopitar said Friday night. "I don't think anybody expected that. It was a roller-coaster, but we battled back. Last few games before the break, we got back on track. Hopefully after the break we can keep it going and meet the goals we want to accomplish. It won't be easy, but it'll show the character of the team."

Canucks hurting

The loss of defenseman Alexander Edler (back surgery) is a huge loss for the Western Conference-leading Canucks. He is out indefinitely.

"He's been our best defenseman, so without a doubt it's going to be a tough loss for us," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Friday night. "But it's like Sami Salo not being there. The guys are going to have to pull together and get the job done."

Elias is happy to be here

One guy with a bigger smile on his face Friday compared to a month ago was Patrik Elias, the only member of the New Jersey Devils who was invited to All-Star weekend.

Although they dropped a 3-1 decision against Detroit in their final game before the break, the Devils are playing their best hockey of what has been a difficult season so far.

Still, Elias wasn't bemoaning the break in action.

"The break is a break," Elias said. "I think even that we've been playing better, the first 40 games take a lot out of you, especially when you're not playing well, mentally and physically. Everything seems tougher. ... The guys will really enjoy [the break] and ... I think it came at the right time actually."

After a grisly start that cost rookie coach John MacLean his job, Elias said the atmosphere around the rink is markedly different.

"I think we just enjoyed it and kind of have that feeling that we can win any game against anybody," Elias said. "We've been playing better hockey, no doubt. It gives you confidence, and we're more happy to come to work, to practice, and it shows in the game."

Preds in da house

Shea Weber was the lone Nashville player selected to play in the All-Star Game, and the Preds hit the break on a tear (10 wins in their past 14 games). That will up the expectations for the Predators to make the playoffs and win their first playoff series.

While the outside view of the Predators is that they are an overachieving team, Weber said that's not the view from within the locker room.

"I don't think we ever doubt ourselves," Weber said. "Obviously, the people on the outside looking in might think that. We've got to play with that confidence that we have, guys that come in and step up, or else teams are going to come in and roll over us."

The defenseman with the big shot also admitted he thought his defensive partner Ryan Suter also belonged in Raleigh. As for getting a text or call about his draft status, Weber said he wasn't sure he'd get one given that Suter was back at home on his farm and likely driving a tractor.

1. Briere's suspension

The NHL on Monday handed down a three-game suspension to Danny Briere after he gave New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen a shot to the head with his stick in the waning minutes of the Flyers' 6-1 rout Saturday.

The two players were jawing at each other before the draw and Briere then swing his stick cross-check-like and grazed Nielsen's noggin. Despite the "five games minimum" howls from some in the hockey media, I must admit I could have gone either way on this one.

I didn't like the league's assessment that Jordin Tootoo's flying hit on Carlo Colaiacovo late in the Blues' victory over Nashville on Thursday night was justly penalized on the ice (major for charging) and warranted no supplemental discipline. Having seen the league's handling of that incident, I believed the same standard could have been used on Briere. Both Briere and Tootoo have histories of being suspended and both plays were reckless, but neither Colaiacovo nor Nielsen was seriously injured. Briere was issued a major for the stick infraction and thrown out of the game.

Bottom line for those who think the league plays favorites with its talented players: The Briere suspension reiterates that inconsistency in discipline doesn't take into account how many goals a player has (Briere leads the Flyers with six); inconsistency is just a fact of life with the league as it tries to figure out what the line is between "a bad thing" and "a really bad thing."

2. Blue-line Byfuglien

There was a lot of discussion about how the Atlanta Thrashers were planning to use former Chicago power forward Dustin Byfuglien after they acquired him from the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason.

GM Rick Dudley spoke with Byfuglien's stepfather, a former teammate and roommate of Dudley's from the World Hockey Association, and was told Byfuglien preferred playing on the back end. Despite his success as a forward, the Thrashers were intrigued by Byfuglien's size, shot and mobility, and hoped his presence on the blue line would complement an improving group of defensemen.

"He was moved to forward out of necessity," Dudley told ESPN.com on Monday. The fact he played well at forward "didn't mean that he couldn't play defense," the GM added.

So far, the experiment is paying dividends for the improving Thrashers. Byfuglien leads the NHL with three game winners, including a spectacular end-to-end rush against Buffalo on Friday night. He leads all defensemen in shots and is averaging 22:13 a night in ice time, playing mostly with former all-rookie team member Tobias Enstrom. The two have combined for 20 points in this young season.

"Buff is a difference-maker," Dudley said. "I'm not going to say he's perfect defensively, but he's getting better."

So are the Thrashers. They have collected points in four straight games (2-0-2) and are 5-4-2 overall.

3. Don't forget the Sabres

Much of the early-season attention has been focused on the New Jersey Devils' woes, and with good reason. Heading into Monday's tilt against Vancouver, they are a league-worst 3-8-1. Yet, hiding in the shadows of the Devils' miserable start are the Buffalo Sabres, who aren't much better off with the first month of the NHL season in the books. The Sabres (3-7-2) are riding a three-game winless streak and have been outscored 14-6 over that stretch.

Even with defending Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller in goal, the Sabres are 23rd in goals allowed per game and are 27th on the penalty kill. On the other side of the puck, the Sabres aren't faring much better (22nd in goals per game and 20th on the power play).

Over the past couple of years, much of the discussion about the Sabres' woes has centered on personnel, especially after they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs last season. And certainly the Sabres have seemingly suffered from an acute leadership void since the departure of players like Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Brian Campbell and Jay McKee, among others.

The team has been ultraconservative in its approach to free agents, preferring to wait on the development of homegrown talent like Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and defending rookie of the year Tyler Myers. Thus far, Myers has struggled in his sophomore campaign. He has been a healthy scratch and has committed a series of defensive gaffes, including being stripped of the puck and giving up a short-handed goal against Dallas on Saturday.

But beyond the personnel, the Sabres may also be victims of the league catching up to their style of play. Coming out of the lockout, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff and his staff found a way to attack the offensive zone with speed that, combined with a talented roster, made the Sabres one of the most dynamic teams in the NHL.

"The game has changed. Teams don't play it the way they did a year ago," Ruff said during a recent chat with reporters. "I saw from two years ago where there was maybe three or four teams playing the same. Now, probably in the East, you've got 13 teams that are defending the rush the same way, which has changed."

Sadly for the Sabres, they haven't managed to stay ahead of that learning curve.

4. Gotta have backup

The face of goaltending in the NHL is changing before our very eyes. Philosophies are now divided over whether a team is better off allocating precious cap space to a topflight goaltender like Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur, or putting that money in team defense or scoring and spending less on competent (if not lower-profile) goaltending.

Last season, the Blackhawks and Flyers showed that low-profile netminding can get you to the Cup finals. Detroit won a Cup behind Chris Osgood in 2008 and then went to Game 7 of the finals the next season against Philadelphia with a goaltender often given little regard around the league.

This season, we are seeing more evidence that regardless of which side of the goaltending fence you favor, having a capable backup is crucial and, conversely, the lack thereof can spell big trouble.

Montreal's Carey Price and Dallas' Kari Lehtonen have combined to play in 19 games this season, but both their backups (Alex Auld and Andrew Raycroft) came on to provide important relief last week. Auld allowed just one goal in his first start of the season as the Habs topped the Islanders, while Raycroft helped the Stars stop a three-game slide with a 34-stop shutout of the Buffalo Sabres.

Without Craig Anderson, who's hurt in Colorado, Peter Budaj is going to have to carry the freight, and the perennial backup has played well thus far with a 3-0-1 record. The best example of a backup making a difference can be found in Pittsburgh, where Brent Johnson has turned in a sparkling 5-0-1 record with 1.16 GAA and .960 save percentage while starter Marc-Andre Fleury works out some kinks in his game.

It hasn't always worked out perfectly for the backups and their squads, though. Martin Biron got a win against Toronto, but looked soft in a loss to Atlanta last week. So, Rangers coach John Tortorella went with Henrik Lundqvist in back-to-back games even though Lundqvist had lost the first one to Carolina. It turned out to be a good move as Lundqvist shut out Toronto on Saturday (hey, who doesn't shut out the Leafs these days?). Calgary backup Henrik Karlsson earned a win in his first NHL game while giving Miikka Kiprusoff a rest, but then was ineffective in a 6-5 loss against Colorado.

5. The 'other' Sedin

Hovering in the shadows of last season's superlative effort by Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin -- a 112-point campaign that saw him take home the NHL scoring title and the Hart Trophy as league MVP -- was his brother Daniel. Although he suffered a foot injury that limited him to 63 games, the "other" Sedin collected 29 goals and 85 points.

So much for the shadows. So far this season, Daniel Sedin has managed to collect at least a point in every Canucks game with seven goals and 12 points. Not that Henrik has been any slouch -- he's just a point behind with 11. But after that, things drop off pretty quickly for the Canucks, who don't have any other player with more than six points.

Should the Sedins continue to produce at this level (they began the week just outside the top 10 in league point production), it will be interesting to see if they split the vote when it comes time to pick an NHL MVP next spring.

As for Daniel's point streak, he has a long way to go to match the all-time points streak from the start of a season -- that was 51 games by Wayne Gretzky in 1983-84.

Rant answers: Goonery, SO stars, more

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
11:00
AM ET

Welcome back to another season of ranting, puckheads. We're not even a week into 2010-11 and there are already some annoyed people out there! Let's take a look:

HeWhoOwnsAll: It's week one and I'm already sick of the "sometimes" three-point game. Another column in the standings isn't going to confuse people? Give me a break. Make a W worth another point and maybe teams won't play for the tie as SOME ALREADY HAVE. Regulation win is three points, OT/SO win is two points, OT/SO loss is one point, regulation loss is nothing. Quantum physics and a Rosetta stone not required. Rant off.

My take: This is one of my favorite topics because I, too, am tired of the three-point game. I've brought it up in the past few years with NHL officials and the feeling there is they like the parity it creates in the standings and the exciting races at the end of the regular season. While I also enjoy those races, I still think the better teams in this league should be better rewarded for their superior talent. Three points for a regulation-time win would help the cream rise to the top. At least there's a new tiebreaker rule in play this season that eliminates shootout wins from the win column when deciding a tiebreaker in the standings at the end of the season. That was Columbus GM Scott Howson's idea, and it's a good one.

georgejhall: Why do the Flyers always seem to switch goalies? They have a 22 yr old rookie start on the road vs. Pittsburgh, he looks great, and by the next game, Boucher is back in net. They had a day off so it's not like he would have even been playing back-to-back days. Why not leave him in there? Who is really the starter?

My take: Well, it's Philadelphia, so of course there's a goalie story! Why would you want it any other way? The Flyers haven't had long-term stability in net since Ron Hextall's first tour of duty in Philly. It's been one goalie drama after another, and what's bizarre is the Flyers have remained a very good team despite that. But to answer your question, I have no problem with Brian Boucher playing the second game. The guy was solid last spring in the playoffs when Michael Leighton was injured, posting a .909 save percentage and 2.47 GAA. And how about Saturday night? Only two goals against and a .920 save percentage in an OT loss at St. Louis. Give him a break! Sergei Bobrovsky is an intriguing rookie pickup from the KHL and he's looked sharp, but he is a rookie. There will be ups and downs. Who's the starter? That's a 20-year-old question in Philadelphia.

RickPlaysStick: Ugh, the Ducks look like a lottery pick after this weekend's minus-7 point differential. Oh man, can Bob Murray get us a defenseman?

My take: Your wish is Bob Murray's command. On Monday, the Ducks GM signed veteran blueliner Andreas Lilja to a one-year deal worth $600,000, plus an additional $150,000 available in games played bonuses. The injury to Toni Lydman before the puck was even dropped this season was a letdown for a team already thin in that area. Plus, Scott Niedermayer's retirement came a year after Chris Pronger was traded to Philly. That's a double blow no organization in the league can ignore. The Pronger deal was a nice trade for Anaheim given everything the Ducks got in return, but in the short term, this is a blue line with real issues. Once Joffrey Lupul returns from his injury, that will give the Ducks another top-six forward. I suspect they'll look at dealing from their area of strength in order to beef up the blue line.

Hulkymon: A lot of people seem to be doubting Chara and his ability to play after 40 and say the Bruins overpaid. There is no way the Bruins overpaid for a guy who will not shrink, and is an athletic freak. There are plenty of blueliners that have played their best (and smartest) hockey of their careers, namely Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, and that list goes on.

My take: I totally agree regarding Zdeno Chara's durability. I wrote that in my weekend blog, but I have no issue with the long-term deal here because not only do I think Chara will pay until he's 41 as the new extension calls for, but I also think he may play past that. He's in incredible shape. And besides, if he does retire before the end of his extension, the rest of his deal wouldn't count against the cap since the new deal kicks in before he's 35. No risk here on the Bruins' part.

Kavashaforlife: Another day, another Islander injured, this time the supposed savior John Tavares. Time to research the top prospects for this year's draft, Garth. Signed, Hopeful Islander Fan.

My take: Hey, at least your team got a big win over the rival Rangers on Monday! Still, it looks like another long season ahead. The arena issue needs to be resolved once and for all. Their current home is a total dump and an embarrassment to the league and a franchise that has a rich history on Long Island. On the ice, I like some of the young pieces, but the injuries to Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit are especially difficult to take given the lack of depth.

djs2714: urgh, lebrun! I'm not too happy with my team the penguins. their defense looks new and improved, but I still don't think Alex Goligoski should be on the roster. He's just too inconsistent. not to mention the awful power play. pass to gogo, pass to crosby, pass to malkin. they all take slap shots and miss, or it gets saved. pass pass pass pass pass pass. no shooting on the power play. they look for the perfect play every single time. they need to just shoot and stop worrying about it.

My take: Hopefully Monday's 3-1 win over the Devils helped calm you down a little. It's early in the season, my friend. Sergei Gonchar is a huge hole to fill on the power play and it won't happen overnight. Paul Martin will be key there as time goes on and he gets used to his new teammates. He's calm with the puck and has terrific vision. The Pens' power play will be fine; move on to other concerns.

Ihatedallas4: Pierre, longtime reader and I'm hoping you'll address this for me. What was up with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond headhunting a 20 year old rookie? I understand teams fight when they're down to prove a point, but what point are you proving when you snatch up a kid in his second NHL game? I have no qualms with fighting in hockey, but Johansson was quoted as saying he declined the fight. Why didn't he, I don't know, pick on someone his own size? Or maybe someone who wasn't a teenager last week?

My take: I thought it was gutless. For those who haven't seen it, the big meathead goes after a rookie. Well, gee, you're so brave Pierre-Luc. I ask: Why is this guy even in the league? Tough guys are supposed to fight tough guys. Anything else is total garbage. It's embarrassing for such a model franchise like the Devils, run a by GM in Lou Lamoriello that I have so much respect for, to have a thug like him in the lineup.

Fingers00: McIntyre's KO punch to Ivanans in the late minutes of the Edmonton/Calgary game made me wonder about the role and consequences of goons in today's NHL. In the 80s, without the instigator rule, the team enforcer would "police" the way they saw fit. Today, the enforcers are 250lbs-plus (compared to the 200-215lbs of the 80s guys), are woefully underskilled compared to the rest of the team, are responsible for the vast majority of the "cheap shots" that they are supposed to be "policing", and only fight each other. It's time to put an end to goonery (not fighting entirely) in the NHL before someone dies from one of these bare knuckle matches between huge human beings.

My take: I thought Bob McKenzie had a terrific blog on this last week, one which I totally agreed with. I haven't gotten to the point where I think fighting should be totally banned from the game because I think it still keeps people honest. But I don't understand, at all, the point of two goons going at it late in a game that was already decided. One solution that's made the rounds in recent years is the theory that if you reduced NHL rosters by one player, teams would likely drop their goons. It's an idea that has got merit.

Dashmasterflash: I'm a lifelong Edmontonian born in Toronto, and for once, I have nothing to rant about.

My take: I thought that was funny. Indeed, heady times for the Oilers and Maple Leafs early in this season! The 29th- and 30th-ranked teams from last season are a combined 4-0-0. The Leafs are getting saves and appear to have fixed their special-teams issues. The Oilers are gushing with their three-headed rookie monster. Ah, the giddiness of October victories.

jchen16: Just one game into the season and I already need to get this off my chest. After all the hullabaloo from the Canucks' opener against the very well-dressed Kings and the celebration of its 40th year and the revealing of Henrik Sedin as captain, I cannot believe coach Alain Vigneault stapled Sedin to the bench in the shootout. According to Vigneault, neither of the Sedins are great shootout players (but of course, they only have a sample size of 9 shots since the introduction of the SO), but what better way to show off your Art Ross-winning captain by giving him a chance? I don't get it.

My take: Daniel is a dismal 3-for-16 in career shootout attempts, so that's why you didn't see him. Henrik is 0-for-2 in his career, so you've got a point there in that he certainly hasn't tried it much.

"Look at their stats," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun in Monday's edition. "They're great players on the ice when there's opposition in front of them, but when they seem to be alone against the goaltender, it just seems to be a little more challenging for whatever reason. It doesn't mean we're not going to use them. Sometimes players like that find a way in pressure situations to get it done. But their stats, shootout-wise, have not been very good."

Sometimes star players just aren't good at this trick event. Paul Stastny is 0-for-8 all-time, Bobby Ryan is 1-for-11, Jeff Carter is 3-for-17, Martin Havlat is 3-for-18, Dany Heatley is 4-for-25, Eric Staal 2-for13, and so on. On the flip side, some non-star players have been huge in the shootout, players such as Jussi Jokinen, Frans Nielsen and Erik Christensen. Go figure.

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