Cross Checks: New York Rangers


BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and agent Kent Hughes, who reps star blue-liner Kris Letang, are slated to meet here in Boston on Wednesday, a source told ESPN.com.

It only makes sense because Hughes lives in Boston and Shero is in town for the NHL's general managers meeting.

It could potentially be a pivotal meeting in terms of what transpires on the Letang front. The blue-liner has one year left on his deal, but Shero’s usual M.O. is not to wait it out. Just look at the Jordan Staal situation a year ago. After Staal, who had one year left on his deal, rejected a contract extension from the Penguins, Shero dealt him quickly thereafter.

It could be that Shero will get the ball rolling on trade talks if Letang rejects whatever offer might be coming from the Penguins' GM.

And know this, I don’t think Letang signs for any less than $7 million a season.

Wednesday’s meeting, therefore, will be a compelling discussion either way.

BRIERE BUYOUT

Daniel Briere will be an unrestricted free agent soon, with the Philadelphia Flyers deciding to buy him out.

A source told ESPN.com that Briere and Paul Holmgren met last week, at which time the Flyers' GM informed the veteran center of the team’s decision. No bitter feelings, though, as I’m told Briere feels Holmgren handled it with class.

The buyout will wipe out Briere’s $6.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

What remains to be seen is whether the Flyers will buy out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a decision that has been met with mixed opinions within the Flyers front office.

The decision is whether to do it now or wait one more year, when they can still get a cap-friendly buyout.

Perhaps what might push the Flyers into buying out Bryzgalov now is the availability of young netminder Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings.

My TSN colleague, Bob McKenzie, reported during our Insider Trading segment Tuesday night that the Flyers, Maple Leafs and Islanders were most interested in Bernier.

One source told ESPN.com Tuesday that five teams have serious interest in Bernier, the list cut down from the nearly dozen clubs that poked around about him.

COACHING CAROUSEL

Could the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks simply swap coaches this offseason?

It’s possible.

We know Alain Vigneault will be the new Rangers bench boss, the official announcement imminent. But what about John Tortorella?

He has interviewed in Vancouver, and a source told ESPN.com that the Canucks were impressed with Torts. He is among the final four candidates for the Canucks' coach gig vacated by Vigneault. The others are John Stevens, Scott Arniel and Lindy Ruff.

The intensity that Torts brings and the accountability he would demand from players are elements that impressed Canucks brass.

Stevens would be a more cerebral coach, his defensive work on the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings not to be overlooked. Ruff is a stud candidate, of course, and Arniel is viewed by some in the industry as a guy who deserves another shot after what happened in Columbus.

Another potential candidate is Dave Tippett (whose deal is up), depending on what transpires with the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership front. If Tippett were to become available, my guess is both Vancouver and the Dallas Stars would want to talk to him.

TUUKKA’S FUTURE

Give agent Bill Zito a lot of credit. When he signed his client Tuukka Rask to just a one-year deal a year ago, some people criticized him. The gamble, though, was that Rask would excel in his first full season as Boston Bruins starter with Tim Thomas gone -- and boy, oh boy, has that been an incredible decision by Zito.

Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Zito and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli talked about an extension back after the lockout-shortened season began in January, but then mutually decided it would be better to wait until after the season was over to pick it up again regarding the star netminder, a restricted free agent.

SIGNINGS

On the heals of the Penguins locking up star center Evgeni Malkin a year before he was due to become a free agent, the Detroit Red Wings and Pavel Datsyuk, while the Sharks have agreed to a five-year extension with Logan Couture worth $6 million a year.

A couple of thoughts on each deal: First in Detroit, where I wonder what the Datsyuk signing means for pending UFA center Valtteri Filppula. In a weak UFA class, Filppula can likely fetch north of $5 million on the open market, and I think that coin is too rich for Detroit. Expect the Wings and Zito, also Filppula’s agent, to meet next week at the draft though.

As for Couture, the term (five years) is reflective of how San Jose has managed to keep its top players from signing those lifetime deals that other stars get around the league, which allows GM Doug Wilson to stay out of a payroll/cap jam. Other than Couture now, not a single player on the Sharks roster has a deal that extends past five years, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both signing shorter-term deals a few years ago.

SENATORS UPDATE

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray held a brief discussion with Jack Adams Award winner Paul MacLean about a contract extension last weekend and is expected to sit down with his coach next week at the draft. MacLean has one year left on his deal.

Murray has chatted briefly with captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is an UFA and undecided on whether to keep playing or not. In a perfect world, Murray would get an answer before Alfredsson goes back to Sweden for the summer next week, which would give the Sens the ability to hit trade talks/free agency with the knowledge of whether or not he’s back.

But if Alfredsson needs more time to think about it, Murray said it would be no problem at all. Meanwhile, other UFAs on the Ottawa roster include Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin and Mike Lundin, none of whom likely will get a contract offer from the Senators.

THIS AND THAT

Veteran agent Don Meehan expects to meet with Rangers GM Glen Sather in New York/New Jersey the week of the draft to talk extension for star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. That’s going to be an expensive re-sign. …

The Carolina Hurricanes offered pending UFA Dan Ellis a new deal, but the veteran backup netminder informed them he was headed to market. …

Speaking of the Hurricanes, they’ve gotten calls about their No. 5 overall pick for the June 30 draft, but the intention right now is to keep the pick. …

Contract talks have been ongoing since the end of their season between the Kings and pending UFA blue-liner Rob Scuderi. The expectation is that veteran agent Steve Bartlett will meet in person with Kings GM Dean Lombardi on draft week. With Slava Voynov signing a six-year, $25 million deal Tuesday, Scuderi is now clearly the top priority. …

No surprise at all but the expectation is that pending UFA center Derek Roy, who was dealt by the Stars to the Canucks at the deadline, is headed to market. …

The NHL’s 30 GMs meet here Wednesday before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, and while Patrick Roy will be handling trade discussions for the Colorado Avalanche, Greg Sherman will represent the franchise at the meeting.

Stock Up

Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers: Is the talented Hemsky heating up at just the right time for the Oil to cash him in for some more assets moving forward? Hemsky, who has skill to burn but has had trouble staying healthy, has four goals and six assists in his last seven games. Hmmm. Think L.A. GM Dean Lombardi has noticed? What about Pierre Gauthier in Montreal?

Matt Moulson, New York Islanders: We spend a lot of time hammering the Islanders for their various faux pas, but there are lots of interesting things happening on Long Island, including the high-end work of big forward Moulson. Kudos to GM Garth Snow for getting Moulson under contract as opposed to trading him -- something that had been rumored earlier in the season. Moulson has rewarded the Isles' faith in the form of a three-year contract extension with eight goals and three assists in his last eight games.

Stock Down

Brian Boyle, New York Rangers: Boyle has been one of the surprising bright lights for the Rangers this season, chipping in 19 goals from the center position, a thin spot for the boys from Gotham. But Boyle's production has slowed of late with just one goal in his last 10 games. No coincidence that the Rangers have also found points hard to come by in the standings.

Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens: Plekanec remains the Habs' leading scorer by a wide margin but will need to get back on track to keep the Canadiens pointed in the right direction. Plekanec has just one goal and three assists in his last nine games. Lack of production from him and the team's top line puts additional pressure on a banged-up defense and netminder Carey Price.

OMG! New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist ran into teen sensation Jeff Skinner ... oh no, we mean Justin Bieber! ... at Wednesday night's Mavericks-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.

What were the guys chatting about? How much Bieber is a fan of "Beavis and Butthead"? How Lundqvist's Rangers are better than Bieber's Leafs (the singer loves Toronto)?

You tell us!

Henrik Lundqvist and Justin BieberJames Devaney/WireImage

What to watch for Tuesday night

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
3:39
PM ET

Boston Bruins (28-15-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (24-5-6, 1.81 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (22-15-5, 2.70 GAA)
Preview: Two weeks after the Bruins finished a home-and-home sweep of the Hurricanes, Carolina tries to end the series with Boston on a high note. The Hurricanes got only two of their 76 shots past Tim Thomas in back-to-back losses to the Bruins on Jan. 17 and 18. Carolina is one point out of the eighth-seed in the East, while Boston leads the Northeast division.

Chicago Blackhawks (26-20-4) at Columbus Blue Jackets (23-21-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-1 Chicago
Starting goaltenders: Marty Turco (10-10-2, 3.02 GAA) vs. Steve Mason (15-12-2, 3.20 GAA)
Preview: The Blackhawks begin a six-game road trip in Columbus after All-Star weekend featured four Chicago players, including game MVP Patrick Sharp. Heading into their final 32 games, the Blackhawks are tied for seventh in the West with San Jose and Colorado. Minnesota and Los Angeles are a point behind that group, and Columbus, tied for 13th, is five back.

Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-4) at New York Rangers (29-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (23-11-2, 2.19 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (21-16-3, 2.29 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers have lost four in a row to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden and haven't won a home game against the Penguins since Jan. 5, 2009. Pittsburgh hasn't won five straight at MSG since a streak from Dec. 31, 1989 to March 17, 1991. Neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin is ready to return, but the Penguins are 5-3-1 without Crosby and 2-1-0 without both Crosby and Malkin this season.

Philadelphia Flyers (33-12-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky (21-6-3, 2.42 GAA) vs. Dwayne Roloson (7-3-0, 2.25 GAA for Bolts)
Preview: The East's top two teams face off for the third time this season with the Flyers looking for their first win of the season against the Lightning. The Lightning have won five straight games and are in the midst of a 12-game home stand. The Flyers have won two straight and six of their last seven games. Philadelphia leads the Presidents' Trophy race after 50 games for the first time since the 1986-87 season.

Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5) at Washington Capitals (27-15-9), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Carey Price (24-16-5, 2.36 GAA) vs. Semyon Varlamov (8-7-3, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have looked like a different team since getting stunned by the Canadiens in the postseason. They cruised through last season and won the President's Trophy, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Montreal. This season, the Capitals are 17th in the league at 2.71 goals per game, have been shut out seven times and Alex Ovechkin is on pace for career lows in goals and points.

Los Angeles Kings (27-22-1) at Minnesota Wild (25-19-5), 8 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA) vs. Niklas Backstrom (15-11-3, 2.52 GAA)
Preview: After an up-and-down season, the Kings went into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the Kings now begin a 10-game road trip. The Kings are 5-8-0 in their past 13 road games. The Wild won four of five before the break and are currently tied with the Kings, but Minnesota is just 4-6-1 at home since the start of December.

Vancouver Canucks (31-10-9) at Dallas Stars (30-15-5), 8:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Cory Schneider (8-2-2, 2.35 GAA) vs. Kari Lehtonen (22-11-5, 2.57 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks and the Stars both lead their divisions, but Vancouver has dominated the series. Vancouver has outscored Dallas 11-2 in the two games. But the Canucks will now need to depend on defenseman Lee Sweatt more with an injury to Alexander Edler. Edler, who leads the Canucks with 24 minutes of ice time per game and tops the defense with 32 points, is having back surgery and will be out indefinitely.

Phoenix Coyotes (25-17-9) at San Jose Sharks (25-19-6), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Ilya Bryzgalov (19-12-6, 2.64 GAA) vs. Antti Niemi (13-13-3, 2.69 GAA)
Preview: The Coyotes will try to win their sixth straight away from home Tuesday night and end a six-game slide against the Sharks. Phoenix has limited its opponents to 1 for 17 on the power play during its run on the road. Veteran center Joe Thornton has two goals and three assists, and Antti Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals-against average in two wins over the Coyotes this season.

Contender/Pretender: Capitals, Hawks, more

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
12:29
PM ET
As the season heads into the final stretch tonight, our experts (Scott Burnside, E.J. Hradek and Pierre LeBrun) separate a few of the contenders from the pretenders:


Atlantic Division: New York Rangers

Burnside: Pretender
The Rangers will be looking to find more consistency through the final third of the season. They are just 5-5-0 in their past 10 games and will need to string some wins together if they're going to fend off Carolina (or perhaps Buffalo) down the stretch. That said, coach John Tortorella has somehow managed to keep his team afloat through injuries to top personnel such as Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Ruslan Fedotenko and Vaclav Prospal.

The Rangers can expect to get Callahan back this week; Prospal, who has yet to play a game this season while recovering from a knee injury, may return, as well. Tortorella will have to hope it helps jump-start the enigmatic Marian Gaborik, whose production is well off last season's pace. In the end, we don't see the Rangers falling much further than seventh (they were sixth as of Monday). Come playoff time, this is the kind of team that could give a higher seed such as Boston all kinds of problems. Still, without a top center and an inexperienced blue line, we don't see this Rangers squad as a contender. Not yet, anyway.

Hradek: Pretender
I think the Rangers are moving in the right direction. They are a young, hard-working group that competes hard in all three zones. Plus, they have a top stopper, Henrik Lundqvist, who will keep them in just about every game. At this point, I see them more as a sleeper that will give an opponent a tough time. I just don't think they have enough to be considered a true contender ... yet. But they're getting there.

LeBrun: Pretender
Contenders for a playoff spot, but pretenders for the Stanley Cup. Ranked fifth in the NHL in goals against per game, the Rangers' work ethic and commitment to defense suggests a team that won't slip-slide away in the home stretch. But a Stanley Cup championship is out of reach this season because goals are too hard to come by without a bona fide No. 1 center.


Northeast Division: Montreal Canadiens

Burnside: Pretender
The Canadiens hit the post-All-Star run in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. We don't see them challenging for the top spot in the Northeast, as they have for most of the season (they are four points back of Boston), but we also don't see them falling completely out of the playoff picture.

Terrific team defense (they rank sixth in goals allowed per game and on the penalty kill) should keep them in the top eight. The Habs play six of eight at home coming out of the break and are dynamite at the Bell Centre. On the road, though, they will have to play better (their 11 road wins are tied for the fewest among the current East playoff teams). As for the postseason, we don't think this team has another Cinderella run in it. Look for the Habs to be cannon fodder for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

Hradek: Pretender
After their surprising playoff run last spring, it's tough to slap the pretender label on them. They are a well-coached, veteran group. Still, I'm just not sold the Habs will have the same kind of good fortune this time around.

LeBrun: Pretender
Like the Rangers, the Habs are contenders for a playoff spot, but pretenders for the Cup. Carey Price has been a rock in goal, but the losses of Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov on defense have been harmful. If the Canadiens want to have any chance of repeating last spring's magical run, GM Pierre Gauthier needs to get on the horn to try to land Chris Phillips or Tomas Kaberle. We don't see a long playoff run this season.


Southeast Division: Washington Capitals

Burnside: Contender
A lot of discussion about the Caps' lack of scoring punch. Alex Ovechkin has only two power-play goals (he had 13, 19 and 22 power-play goals the past three seasons, respectively) and Alexander Semin disappeared from the score sheet before being knocked out with a groin muscle injury. The streaky Semin should return with his brand-new contract in hand, and his production will be key down the stretch and into the playoffs if the Caps are going to erase last season's disappointing first-round exit against Montreal.

Still, this is a very different Caps team than a year ago. It is harder to play against, ranking seventh in goals allowed per game and second on the penalty kill. It is on pace for one of its best defensive seasons, and we think it will overtake Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division crown, which will be key in avoiding Philadelphia or Pittsburgh in the first round.

Hradek: Contender
There's a lot of talent in D.C. I think we all know that. I get the sense the Caps are stalled right now; something seems to be missing. I'll be interested to see if GM George McPhee makes a move or two before the Feb. 28 trade deadline. While they're still seeking just the right mix, I see them as a contender.

LeBrun: Contender
Well, of course they are. But they've got their fans more than worried. Last season's top-scoring team is 17th in goals per game. Shocking, quite frankly. Yes, it has improved defensively, but this team was built to score goals. A playoff berth is a given, but can the Caps finally break through? The hope is their new-found defensive game will pay dividends come playoff time.


Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks

Burnside: Contender
At the beginning of the season, we picked the Blackhawks to return to the Stanley Cup finals. Yes, there has been a dramatic lineup overhaul since June's magical Cup run. Don't care. Look for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to return to dominant form down the stretch. Corey Crawford has inspired confidence, as he has usurped veteran Marty Turco as the go-to guy in the Hawks' net. Marian Hossa has been hampered by injury but should be back to elite status by the playoffs.

Critics suggest the loss of players such as Dustin Byfuglien, who is having a Norris-worthy season in Atlanta, and Andrew Ladd will be felt keenly in the playoffs, and that may be true. But we think players such as Dave Bolland, who was so dynamic during the playoffs last season; rookie Bryan Bickell; and Troy Brouwer will answer the challenge. The Hawks may not enjoy home-ice advantage to start the playoffs, but we don't think many teams will relish facing the defending Cup champs come mid-April.

Hradek: Contender
The problem is simple for the defending champs: You can't defend your title if you don't make the playoffs. With 20 of their final 32 games on the road, the Hawks aren't a cinch to earn a spot. If they get there, however, I don't think anyone will be eager to face them in the first round. That means they're still a contender.

LeBrun: Contender
We just can't bring ourselves to believe the Cup champs will miss the playoffs. Yes, half the team is gone from last season, but the core remains strong. If GM Stan Bowman can add a piece on defense before the trade deadline, the Hawks will be a scary lower seed come playoff time. One note of concern: They're relying on rookie goalie Crawford. Then again, Antti Niemi was wet behind the ears last season and that seemed to work out just fine.


Northwest Division: Vancouver Canucks

Burnside: Pretender
The Canucks are the sexy pick to advance to the Stanley Cup finals, and there are many who think the Cup will come home to Canada for the first time since 1993. We're not those folks. Yes, goalie Roberto Luongo has been very good for the most part and the offense is intimidating, especially with Ryan Kesler having a breakout season with 27 goals, but the loss of Alexander Edler on the blue line is a big loss. Suddenly, a team that had a glut of defensemen is now looking more vulnerable.

Sami Salo should return from injury, but he is injury-prone, to say the least. The Canucks should get out of the first round (unless they face arch-nemesis Chicago), but we're still not sure Luongo has the internal fortitude to get the Canucks much farther.

Hradek: Contender
Coach Alain Vigneault's team clearly is a contender. They are well-stocked up the middle with centers Henrik Sedin, Kesler and Manny Malhotra, respectively. Can they get it done in the spring? Can Luongo take the Canucks where they want to go? Those are the big questions. We'll see if they have the answers.

LeBrun: Contender
Big-time contenders for the Cup. This is their time; their window is now. Sedin and Kesler are a strong 1-2 punch at center. Luongo is looking dynamite so far this season, but he won't silence his critics without a long playoff run. The injury to Edler is significant because he played a ton of minutes in all situations and is not replaceable.


Pacific Division: San Jose Sharks

Burnside: Pretender
After supposedly getting the playoff monkey off their backs last spring by advancing to the Western Conference finals, the Sharks have struggled through an up-and-down season that has seen them flirt with the idea of missing the playoffs altogether. We don't think that's going to happen, but we don't see the Sharks being the kind of team that can simply turn on the playoff switch and take its game to another level.

Yes, Niemi won a Cup with the Hawks last season, but he doesn't inspire much confidence for us. Then, there is the annual question of whether players such as Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley can elevate their games when it matters. History suggests they can't, and in the end it wouldn't surprise us one bit if the Sharks were one-and-done come April. That's assuming they don't fall out of the playoff picture altogether.

Hradek: Pretender
After terrific puck-mover Dan Boyle, the Sharks aren't mobile on defense. That means they get stuck in their own zone too often. That's not good. I think this group might have hit its peak by going to the conference finals last spring.

LeBrun: Pretender
The Sharks need help on defense. Rob Blake retired and was never replaced. Having said that, one interesting dynamic for the Sharks this season is they're not in first place and will go into the playoffs (if they make it) under the radar. Having the spotlight removed might make them a dangerous opponent. Cup contenders? That's a stretch at this point, but not totally out of the question.


Pacific Division: Los Angeles Kings

Burnside: Pretender
After making the playoffs last spring and challenging the Canucks in the first round (they lost in six entertaining games), the Kings seemed positioned to join the big boys at the top of the conference standings. Hasn't happened. The Kings have gone through long stretches of dispirited play and hit the All-Star break outside the playoff bubble in 11th place, one point out of eighth.

GM Dean Lombardi has had to publicly defend coach Terry Murray and shelled out $50,000 after complaining about NHL replay officials. The Kings have all kinds of cap room and assets, but we don't know if there's an impact player that will be available to move the Kings forward. We must admit, this lineup looks like it has it all -- gritty veterans, Stanley Cup experience, dynamic young players along the blue line and up front -- and yet, something seems to be missing.

Hradek: Contender. Murray's team is riding a roller coaster this season. The highs have been high and the lows have been low. I can't label it a pretender, though. The Kings have a legit No. 1 center, nice balance on defense and a pair of good young goalies. Right now, it's hard to predict which way they'll go this season. If they get into the playoffs, they could make a long run. They're contenders because they have the right mix. Lombardi is also positioned to add a significant piece if one becomes available before the trade deadline.

LeBrun: Pretender
They began the season as Cup contenders, but right now I don't think they are. Contender for a playoff spot? You bet. Los Angeles is missing a high-end piece up front. Not enough creativity offensively. Let's see what Lombardi does before Feb. 28 to help his team. The Kings entered the break on a five-game winning streak and seemingly have turned their season around. But Cup contender? Not so sure anymore.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at where teams stand at the All-Star break:

Burnside: Well, my friend, the All-Star break has arrived, the unofficial start of the stretch drive. There were a couple of interesting games to close out this part of the NHL schedule on Wednesday night, most notably here in Atlanta.

With even more bad news on the ownership front in recent days (they're suing their own lawyers), the Thrashers have been in danger of falling right out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. But on Wednesday night, Ondrej Pavelec was terrific in net and one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL buttoned up and shut out Washington 1-0. The win keeps the Thrashers in eighth place, just ahead of surging Carolina. What caught your eye last night other than the nonstop commercials for this weekend's All-Star shindig?

LeBrun: As you know, I love my Western Conference hockey, and that's really where the action was last night. The Sharks and Kings put on some kind of show, especially in a wide-open overtime period. The single point finally put San Jose back in a playoff spot at the break, a real important mental development for the Sharks. They streaked into the break with a five-game points streak (4-0-1) and I just don't see how they could possibly miss the playoffs now. They've figured it out.

Similarly, the Kings roar into the break with a three-game winning streak, and their celebration after the shootout last night was playoff-like. They needed that one badly. They're only a point out of eighth in the crazy West and, like the Sharks, seem to have turned the corner. But it won't be easy for either team; only two points separate seventh from 12th in the conference.

Burnside: Having spent some time in Denver last week and seeing the Avs turn in a solid effort against St. Louis on Monday, it was surprising to see them play so poorly against Phoenix last night in a 5-2 loss at the Pepsi Center. Once again, the Avs dropped out of the top eight.

Chatted with Avs GM Greg Sherman last week and he insisted he's comfortable with his goaltending tandem, but once again the goaltending was average Wednesday. I don't know if they can make the playoffs without upgrading that position. As for the Coyotes, there's just no quit in coach Dave Tippett's team; it looks like a squad destined for the postseason.

LeBrun: While you were in Denver, I was in Vancouver, and one of the games I caught was Calgary's big shootout win over the Canucks. The resurgent Flames enter the break on a 10-3-3 run, a stretch that began with coach Brent Sutter breaking the rest of the season into three-game segments and convincing his players all they needed to do is get four out of six points in those segments and they'd be in the playoffs. Well, they're only two points out of a playoff spot at the break, perhaps one of the most stunning turnarounds of the season.

There are other teams to jump over and it's going to be difficult, but the Flames have given themselves a shot, which is more than anyone would have predicted. Let's jump back to the East, where the Hurricanes enter the break one point back of the Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff spot, only three points behind Montreal. How do you see that playing out?

Burnside: I still think the Canes are the only team capable of cracking the top eight right now, but it is interesting to note that Buffalo is 7-3-0 in its past 10 games and has three games in hand on the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers, especially because of their defensive shortcomings, seem the most vulnerable. The Canadiens, hammered Tuesday by Philadelphia, aren't safe and sit just two points ahead of Atlanta, although they have two games in hand.

Then there's the New York Rangers; they're only five points ahead of ninth-place Carolina and have played two more games. It's not as jam-packed as the Western Conference, but I foresee much drama at the bottom end of the East standings. Remember last season? The Flyers earned a playoff berth on the final afternoon of the regular season in a shootout.

LeBrun: I wouldn't worry one bit about the Rangers. They were really unlucky to lose that game against Florida earlier this week, and the consistency of their effort, night in and night out, is superior to Atlanta and, to some degree, Montreal. The Rangers are in. I've always had a soft spot for the Sabres and their loyal fans, but I just don't see them getting back in. Despite their recent play, losing Derek Roy is just too big a blow.

Well, I will see you in Raleigh tomorrow morning as we arrive for the All-Star festivities. I will try to keep an open mind about the whole weekend!

What to watch for Monday night

January, 24, 2011
1/24/11
12:10
PM ET

New York Rangers (28-19-3) at Washington Capitals (27-14-8), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Martin Biron (7-4-0, 2.33 GAA) vs. Braden Holtby (4-2-1, 2.79 GAA)
Preview: Coming off his first hat trick of the season, Alex Ovechkin looks to end his drought against the Rangers and avenge the Capitals' most lopsided defeat of the season, a 7-0 loss to New York. Ovechkin has not scored in his past three games against the Rangers, the longest drought of his career against New York. While the Capitals are hoping for more production from Ovechkin, the Rangers are looking for the same from Marian Gaborik. After ending his eight-game goal drought with a four-goal outburst against the Leafs, Gaborik has no points in his past two games.

St. Louis Blues (22-18-7) at Colorado Avalanche (24-18-6), 9:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Colorado
Starting goaltenders: Jaroslav Halak (17-15-5, 2.58 GAA) vs. Peter Budaj (11-7-3, 3.12 GAA)
Preview: As Colorado tries to avoid a third consecutive loss, it will need to continue its recent luck against St. Louis. The Avalanche have won five consecutive games against the Blues, their longest win streak against St. Louis since the franchise moved from Quebec at the start of the 1995-96 season. All-Star center Matt Duchene has a five-game point streak against St. Louis and is one point shy of 100 in his two-year career.

Nashville Predators (27-15-6) at Calgary Flames (22-21-6), 9:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Calgary
Starting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-11-4, 2.08 GAA) vs. Miikka Kiprusoff (18-18-2, 2.84 GAA)
Preview: The Predators are an NHL-best 10-2-0 since New Year's Eve, helping them vault from 12th place in the West to fourth. But their hot streak has not helped them against the Flames recently. Calgary is 7-2-0 against Nashville since the start of the 2008-09 season. A Predators win Monday night would give Nashville 10 wins in January, which would be the just the sixth time in franchise history they have won 10 games in a month.

Dallas Stars (29-14-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-9), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Kari Lehtonen (21-10-5, 2.49 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-7, 2.35 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks are winless in their past four games, but have pushed the past three games beyond regulation to hold on to their lead in the West. Vancouver has won six of seven against Dallas, including all three meetings at Rogers Arena. But Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is 6-0-1 in January with a 1.70 GAA average. Lehtonen will need to continue his strong play to shut down the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler, who has 26 goals, which is already tied for his single-season career high.

Boston Bruins (27-14-7) at Los Angeles Kings (25-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Los Angeles
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (23-4-6, 1.83 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (20-14-1, 2.22 GAA)
Preview: The Bruins have picked up at least one point in their past nine road games heading into Monday night's matchup in Los Angeles, but they will need to overcome an injury to Marc Savard to improve their streak. Savard returned to Boston to be evaluated after being checked into the boards and leaving the game on Saturday. The Kings are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since a four-game winning streak from Dec. 21-27. With Tim Thomas' save percentage currently at .945, the Bruins goalie is trying to become the first with a save percentage of .940 or better heading into the All-Star break having played at least 20 games.

What to watch for Thursday night

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
4:26
PM ET

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-4) at New Jersey Devils (13-29-3), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Pittsburgh
Starting goaltenders: Brent Johnson (8-3-2, 2.04 GAA) vs. Martin Brodeur (8-18-2, 2.97 GAA)
Preview: The Penguins take the ice without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first time since Malkin came into the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate Malkin is day to day with a sore knee, while Crosby is still recovering from a concussion. Pens coach Dan Bylsma will put Dustin Jeffrey on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. With a win tonight, Bylsma will tie Scotty Bowman for third place on the Penguins' all-time coaching wins list with 95.

Anaheim Ducks (26-19-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-5), 7 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Jonas Hiller (23-15-3, 2.45 GAA) vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-7-3, 2.73 GAA)
Preview: Jean-Sebastien Giguere will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto. Giguere helped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning it all in 2007. Giguere is also the Ducks franchise leader among goalies for games played (447) and wins (206). The struggling Leafs are coming off a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Giguere said Wednesday morning that he would consider waiving his no-trade clause if the team asked.

New York Rangers (27-18-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-18-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist (20-14-3, 2.21 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (19-14-5, 2.72 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 win on Wednesday night, but they are an impressive 10-2-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-back games and haven't allowed more than three goals in the second games. The Hurricanes are sitting in ninth place in the East and trying to fight into the playoff picture, but have lost three of their past four.

Washington Capitals (25-14-8) at New York Islanders (14-23-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 3.84 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-6-4, 3.43 GAA)
Preview: Looking the beat the Islanders for the ninth time in their past 10 meetings, the Capitals turn to Braden Holtby in net. Recalled from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday with both of Washington's two top goalies injured, Holtby will be making his fifth NHL start of the season. The Capitals have been held to three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and have one win in their past five games.

Ottawa Senators (17-23-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-11-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Philadelphia
Starting goaltenders: Brian Elliott (12-16-6, 2.01 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (18-6-3, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: Already leading the Eastern Conference, the Flyers now get to add top defenseman Chris Pronger back to the lineup. Pronger missed 13 games with a broken foot, but the Flyers went 9-4-0 in his absence and had the highest offensive production in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game. While Philadelphia is vying for the best record in the league, the Senators are tied with the Maple Leafs at the bottom of the Northeast due to a 1-6-3 stretch.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-15-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 4-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson (4-3-0, 2.92 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-11-5, 2.49 GAA)
Preview: With the Capitals struggling this season, the Southeast Division is wide open and the Lightning are taking advantage. Steven Stamkos has reclaimed the league goal-scoring lead with 35 goals after scoring in his past three games. Also, Stamkos has a point in seven of eight career games against the Thrashers with six goals and six assists.

Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) at St. Louis Blues (22-17-6), 8 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Jimmy Howard (22-7-4, 2.83 GAA) vs. Jaroslav Halak (17-14-4, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: The injury-riddled Red Wings will welcome back Jimmy Howard as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss. Howard missed two games after bruising his right knee. And with Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, the Wings are in talks to sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday.

San Jose Sharks (23-19-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-7), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (11-13-2, 2.79 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-5, 2.38 GAA)
Preview: After earning at least one point in a 17 straight games, the Canucks are just 1-2-1 in their past four games. The Canucks now return home from a five-game road trip with a three-point advantage for the Western Conference lead. Vancouver has outscored San Jose 10-4 in two meetings this season, but the Sharks come into the game on a two-game winning streak.

Burnside: More senseless on-ice acts

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
11:12
AM ET

Another night, another series of potentially devastating plays by players who apparently aren't able to lace up their skates without disengaging their brains.

One can only assume NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell will again be talking to the Calgary Flames after Curtis Glencross drove Minnesota Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner head-first into the boards while forechecking during Wednesday's 6-0 loss to the Wild.

The Flames are already without Tom Kostopoulos, who was suspended six games for his cheap shot that broke Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart's jaw. The only difference between the two reckless plays is Stoner wasn't seriously injured -- not that it should have any bearing on potential supplemental discipline.

We're guessing six games would be appropriate, although clearly no lesson was learned from the Kostopoulos penalty, so maybe it should be more. Glencross was given a major for boarding early in the second period with the Flames already trailing 2-0 in a game they desperately needed to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. Can you say selfish?

Here's hoping Campbell & Co. will take a good look at Toronto forward Colton Orr's chop on New York Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger's hand/wrist late in the Rangers' 7-0 rout of the Maple Leafs.

Like Glencross, Orr is fortunate Eminger wasn't seriously injured, but a mindless play from a marginal player like Orr, who was assessed a major for slashing and a 10-minute misconduct, should also face some time in the press box given the potential for serious injury. Not that the Leafs would miss his services.

Watch Glencross' hit here (courtesy: NHL.com):

Video: Matthew Barnaby on Leafs-Rangers

January, 19, 2011
1/19/11
10:16
PM ET

Matthew Barnaby says if the Rangers are going to go anywhere they need more performances from Marian Gaborik like he had against Toronto in New York's 7-0 win.


What to watch for Wednesday night

January, 19, 2011
1/19/11
3:15
PM ET

Toronto Maple Leafs (18-21-5) at New York Rangers (26-18-3), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Jonas Gustavsson (6-12-2, 3.13 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (19-14-3, 2.27 GAA)
Preview: The Maple Leafs seemed to have ignited their offense during a four-game winning streak where they scored 21 goals, but have since struggled to score. And, the Rangers have not had much more luck. After averaging more than 3.0 goals per game at the end of 2010, the Rangers have been held to two goals or less in all nine games in January, giving them the lowest goals per game rate this month (1.44). These teams haven't met since playing three times in October, but the Rangers are 3-0-2 in their past five home games against the Leafs.

Columbus Blue Jackets (21-20-5) at Florida Panthers (21-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Mathieu Garon (8-9-3, 2.66 GAA) vs. Tomas Vokoun (16-15-1, 2.56 GAA)
Preview: The Blue Jackets look to avoid their second seven-game road skid in less than two months in their first meeting of the season against the Panthers. Florida has earned points in four straight games (3-0-1) largely in part to its power play, which is 7-for-18 in that span. But, the Panthers have not beaten the Jackets at home since Jan. 3, 2004.

Minnesota Wild (23-18-5) at Calgary Flames (20-20-6), 9:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-2 Minnesota
Starting goaltenders: Niklas Backstrom (13-10-3, 2.58 GAA) vs. Miikka Kiprusoff (17-17-2, 2.75 GAA)
Preview: Niklas Backstrom is expected to make his first start since missing nine games with a hip injury, but rookie Anton Khudobin has been playing very well in Backstrom’s absence. Minnesota is within three points of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, and Backstrom is 3-0-1 with a 1.22 GAA against the Flames this season. The Flames have had their own goaltending issues as Miikka Kiprusoff was pulled from two of his past three starts. Kiprusoff has not had much luck against the Wild, going 1-7-2 with a 2.48 GAA in his past 10 games, but is expected to get the start. Watch for Flames teammates Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay to find the net as Iginla has more goals and points against the Wild than any other active player with 31 goals and 58 points. Tanguay is fourth on the list with career 42 points against the Wild.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at two teams -- the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings -- that are

Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Let's start our daily free-for-all with a discussion of the New York Rangers. To me, they've been one of the surprise stories in the Eastern Conference. With no real No. 1 center and a young blue line that bodes well for the future, they've still been in the thick of things in the conference.

But they've started to slide a little (5-4-1 in their past 10 games). Unless Marian Gaborik gets into some sort of groove, you have to figure it will be a battle for them to make the playoffs. Coming off such a strong season last season, Gaborik has been hurt and has not been the same player since his return. He's gone eight straight games without a goal and was a healthy scratch. Ouch.

LeBrun: The Rangers are an intriguing tale. Under the excellent tutelage of coach John Tortorella, they've scratched and clawed their way to maintaining a playoff spot all season. Imagine if Gaborik was along for the ride? To be fair, he doesn't have a bona fide No. 1 center to play with. But let's be honest, where has the speed and explosion gone? Remember Gaborik in Minnesota? He was the fastest player in the league. I spoke with someone this week who figured Gaborik has never been the same player since his hip surgery; or maybe it's just going to take longer to get it all back? The Rangers better hope he does; there's three more years left on his deal at $7.5 million per year.

[+] EnlargeMarian Gaborik
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesMarian Gaborik has 11 goals and 13 assists in 33 games this season.

Burnside: The problem for teams like the Rangers, who have to constantly scratch out low-scoring one-goal wins, is it taxes everyone. You need to have those games where the offense makes it easy on everyone, especially goalie Henrik Lundqvist and that young blue line.

The Rangers have managed to cobble together passable offensive numbers, but Gaborik's job is to make them better than passable. Wojtek Wolski should help up front, but Gaborik has to do more than he has or it's going to be a difficult road to the postseason for the Rangers.

Speaking of difficult paths, how about the Los Angeles Kings? The offseason darlings of most prognosticators, the Kings have won just twice in their past 11 games. They dropped a 2-1 decision to St. Louis on Tuesday night, their second straight 2-1 loss. They woke up Wednesday morning in 12th place in the Western Conference, five points out of eighth. All is not lost, of course, but how long is coach Terry Murray's leash? I think ownership will not be pleased if this promising young team falls short of the playoffs this season.

LeBrun: Kings fans were tweeting me last night, asking for Murray to be fired. I hope he isn't -- talk about one of the nicest guys in the business. But it's funny how the players are escaping the blame. There are some young, important players in L.A. that don't have the same commitment as they did a year ago. This is a young Kings team that believed their press clippings and didn't realize they had to work even harder to take the next step. Interestingly, they went 9-2-1 from Dec. 2-27; I remember talking to Murray and thinking they had turned the corner. They've gone 2-9-0 since. Something's got to give there. As we've said all season long, the Kings have cap room, but do you really want to trade for a rental now that you're five points out?

Burnside: I blame you for putting the curse on them last month! Well, if there's pressure on Murray, who I think hasn't received the credit due for helping introduce structure to a raw group of players the last couple of seasons, there's double the pressure on GM Dean Lombardi.

He escaped the Ilya Kovalchuk trap, but signing the injury-prone Willie Mitchell hasn't worked out, and there are precious few impact players available before the Feb. 28 deadline. But I remain mystified that veteran players like Rob Scuderi, Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams and Michal Handzus aren't enough to get this team over the hump. From the outside, this looks like a team that has a perfect blend of youth, talent and experience, but it's not getting it done. Are they waiting for help from the outside? It's help that may not be coming.

LeBrun: Calgary insists it won't trade Jarome Iginla. Dallas would be crazy at this point to move Brad Richards. Patrik Elias won't waive his no-movement clause in New Jersey for personal reasons. Just where is that big ticket that can save the Kings? There is still a lot of time before the trade deadline, but the Kings need some wins now. Until tomorrow, my friend.

Excellent rants this week, my friends. It's tough being a hockey fan when things aren't going your way! Let's take a look at what you had to say:

Marc.Sims: For almost the last ten years, its always been a privilege to watch the Ottawa Senators make it to the playoffs, though doubts always persisted around the team. Almost every year they were on these runs, I would disagree with anyone saying the Sens won't make the playoffs ... but I would find myself agreeing with anyone who contends that they are not a playoff team. ... This year, I don't see the Sens making the playoffs, and they certainly do not look like a playoff team. So what is there to do? So LeBrun, what would you do in such a situation? Make a trade? Ride it out? Fire personnel?

My take: First off, owner Eugene Melnyk needs to decide whether or not Bryan Murray is his GM past this season because the kind of changes this roster needs should be carried out by the man who is going to run this team for a few more years. Murray's deal is up at the end of the season. Murray also told me this past weekend that he must decide whether he wants to do this past 2010-11. That's another important decision.

Once the GM question is settled, the operation begins. Alexei Kovalev is an unrestricted free agent after this season and is obviously gone. Chris Phillips is also a UFA; I would try to move him (he has a no-trade clause) and get a high draft pick or good prospect in return. If Phillips wants to return to Ottawa on July 1, leave that door open. And really, if I'm the GM, outside of Erik Karlsson, the door is totally open on any of these players if there's an offer.

Valkrane21: Pierre, do you think the Rangers could play for 60 minutes every game instead of one out of every four or five games? It's really getting ridiculous. Look at the last two games they've played. Montreal and Philly are both teams that they have huge problems playing against, and I expected them to get dominated for 60 minutes in both games. But the fact that they controlled the third period (or most of it) in both games actually bothers me even more than if they would have been dominated for 60 minutes. The way they controlled the flow of play made it seem like the ice was tilted, and I'm getting sick and tired of seeing this happen for 10 or 15 minutes a game, and the effort being nonexistent for the rest. ... Too bad these guys can't seem to make it last for more than a period.

My take: Let's remember where most people had the Rangers before the season started. Eighth? Ninth? Tenth? They've had a wonderful, surprising season. The best part of it is that it's the homegrown Rangers players making the difference. Let's not get greedy here. There are going to be nights when they just don't have it; they don't have a bona fide No. 1 center. The offense will be an issue some nights. But these guys are working for coach John Tortorella, and they're fun to watch. Take the good with the bad!

RobbyVee: Here in the West, all we hear is 'Nucks and Wings. The Hawks aren't dead yet like you hear from the front running fans that became Hawks fans on June 9,2009. One guy had the nerve to call them terrible. 20 wins in the entire 2003-04 season is terrible. Maybe it's a good thing for all the longtime Hawk fans; you know, guys who know who guys like White, Pappin and Martin were. The front runners can go back to watching reruns of Family Guy. Stewie and Brian know more about the NHL then they do.

My take: That is an interesting point. Just a few seasons ago, the United Center seemed too big for hockey because it wasn't getting filled. The bandwagon jumpers certainly came on board last season. But that's OK; winning is the best sales tool in the world. Your job as a longtime Hawks fan is to educate newer Hawks fans and remind them of the Alexei Zhamnov era.

holstkakert5: The dallas stars are getting no recognition; they were projected for second to last in the conference, now [they're] contending for one seed. What do they have to do to be recognized as a team no one wants to play?????

My take: I ranked them fourth overall in this week's Power Rankings; what else do you want, buddy? But here's some good news for you: I'm in Vancouver this weekend and plan to write a Stars story off Monday night's game. Some national coverage is coming your way!

grantconnor8990: I have read the reports that Doug Wilson has no intentions of firing [coach Todd McLellan] or his staff during this horrible start to 2011 for the Sharks, but can we take a look at the defense please? When the Blackhawks canned their defensive assistant coach (our current defensive coach) their defense improved significantly, and as it appears to me, defense is our huge weak point. Inability to handle the forecheck, break out of the zone, and play physical in our own zone really add up to a defensive core that is painful to watch.

At this point I can't tell whether it would be best to shake things up with a coaching change, a trade or simple waive a couple of the underachievers on our blue line to give [Justin] Braun, [Derek] Joslin, [Jason] Demers, etc., more of the load. Clearly things aren't working as it sits now, so what can we do?!

My take: GM Doug Wilson told me point-blank this past weekend that McLellan isn't going anywhere, which is the right decision. This is not a coaching issue; this is about players underperforming. It's also about a blue line that lost Rob Blake and never replaced him. Wilson is on the lookout for defensive help, but it doesn't grow on trees. As Sharks fans, you should be relieved San Jose didn't sign Anton Volchenkov or Sergei Gonchar to those contracts in July!

prashanthiyer: The Red Wings injuries. This is getting ridiculous. I thought last year was bad, but now with [Pavel] Datsyuk, [Daniel] Cleary, [Tomas] Holmstrom, [Mike] Modano, [Jimmy] Howard, [Chris] Osgood and Brad Stuart out, this is nuts. My rant is basically this: I know Mike Babcock gets overlooked for coach of the year consideration because he runs the Red Wings juggernaut, but with the amount of injuries the Wings have had this year, to still be the No. 2 team in the NHL is something otherworldly. Look how much Pittsburgh has struggled after Crosby went down. ... Ultimately, Babcock has to be in the running for the Jack Adams, and if the Wings keep this up, he has to win it.

My take: I totally agree. I actually mentioned several times last season that Babcock was doing some of the best coaching of his career by keeping the injury-riddled Wings afloat. Unfortunately, the Jack Adams Award is one of the few awards I don't get to vote on (the broadcasters do). To be fair, it was hard not to agree with Phoenix's Dave Tippett receiving the honor last season. But with Babcock doing it again with all the injuries in Detroit this season, he's definitely a coach who deserves serious recognition if the Wings survive.

karthi: Pierre, what the heck is wrong with the Sabres? Why are [Lindy] Ruff and [Darcy] Regier never ever taken to task for the pathetic performances this team puts out against mediocre to bad competition? It's why they missed the playoffs after [Chris] Drury and [Daniel] Briere left and why they are going to miss the playoffs this year. Each year that passes is a year less of having Ryan Miller in his prime. They should be fired immediately along with Larry Quinn.

My take: I have to disagree with you, my friend. Money, money, money ... the Sabres have never had any. GM Darcy Regier has had to let players go because he couldn't afford to pay them market value. Toni Lydman, for example, was a big loss; but the Sabres couldn't match what Anaheim gave him. Coach Lindy Ruff? He'd be hired by another NHL team within days of a firing; he's a great coach.

Here's the hope now for Sabres fans: a prospective new owner in Terry Pegula with deep pockets and a passion for the team. Once his purchase goes through, it might present an exciting, new era for the team and its passionate fans, an era when the club could be able to compete financially with the big boys.

mcgrizzle20: In a world so perfect, My Blue Jackets would be a playoff contender each year not a perennial pretender. But here we are, so I need some opinion from someone other than a Red Wings fan (I moved to Michigan from Columbus a few years back). Is Scott the right coach? Do we need to move some of our forever underperforming "rising stars" [Derick] Brassard, [Nikita] Filatov? Is it our poor drafting? Help me, Pierre, to understand why I have suffered for 10 years.

My take: Why have you suffered? Poor drafting, for many years. Yes, Scott Arniel is definitely the right coach. Steve Mason's struggles are a major hit; they need get him back on the right track. The blue line is not good enough. It's tough to attract good free agents to Columbus because there's no track record of success, so the team overpays for average players (Mike Commodore).

BrewsHouse: YO LEBBY ... the Flyers are just continuing to play great hockey, even without the presence of a guy like [Chris] Pronger. They are ONLY sending 1 player to the AS game this year. Now I understand we have so many players contributing this year, and the wealth is being spread out all over the place. Flyers will have at least 9 20-plus goal scorers this year ... pretty ridiculous all said and done. So in the understanding the guys like Crosby and Eric Staal get more attention because they CARRY their team, it's still frustrating that i feel the flyers should be representing at least 2 more forwards (probably 5). Pretty upset that Briere got snubbed too considering what he is doing. ... Pick a team full of all-stars, then have them play against the flyers for the all star game. Ha, ha! ...

My take: Although I think it's foolish for anyone to lose any sleep over the All-Star Game or its rosters, I do agree it's brutal that Briere isn't there. Major oversight. He deserved it. As one of the best teams in the league, the Flyers deserved to have more than one representative there.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate which team got the better end of today's trade between the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes (New York sent Michal Rozsival to Phoenix for Wojtek Wolski):

Burnside: Hello, my friend. Well, we had an honest to goodness hockey trade today. The New York Rangers moved quickly to fill the gap created by the season-ending injury to Alexander Frolov by adding Wojtek Wolski, who was underachieving in Phoenix. In exchange, the Coyotes get much-maligned defenseman Michal Rozsival.

The Rangers get even younger on the blue line, which is a risk. The Coyotes, 16th in goals scored and goals allowed per game, hope Rozsival will help plug the big hole left by the offseason departure of Zbynek Michalek. Is it possible this deal solidifies a playoff berth for both these squads?

LeBrun: Wolski has been real disappointing in Phoenix this season, scoring only six goals in 36 games. But I think it's worth the gamble for the Rangers since he's only 24 years old, which fits into the Rangers' plan.

"I was surprised last year when Colorado traded him," veteran Rangers GM Glen Sather said to reporters on a post-trade media call. "Sometimes these things just come up and it came up pretty quickly today."

The move leaves the Rangers' blue line with a lot of peach fuzz, as you said Scotty.

"We like our young defense," Sather said. "We think they're all progressing very well. We know it's a little risky ... but we felt this was just too good an opportunity to turn down."

The Coyotes, in my mind, never recovered from the loss of Michalek to free agency. While no one will ask Rozsival to replace Michalek, it's a blue-line corps that overall should benefit from his arrival.

Burnside: I think it will be interesting to see how Wolski fits in with a very demanding coach in John Tortorella. In his past seven games, Wolski had zero points and saw his ice time dwindle to less than 10 minutes a night, a sure sign he wasn't putting in the effort for defending Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. Wolski took just seven shifts in his last game for the Coyotes. Two teams have now given up on the former first-round pick after Colorado dealt him at last year's trade deadline, which may or may not be a red flag. He has lots of skill, but he'd better bring it all if he's going to play for Tortorella.

LeBrun: Sather said you don't get a player at this age unless there have been issues. He said it was up to Torts and his staff to bring the best out of this guy. But this deal may pay off in more ways than one for the Rangers. They save cap space in this deal; Rozsival is a $5 million cap hit this year and next, while Wolski is $3.8 million. Sather indicated he would try to use those cap savings to look at another deal or two before the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Interestingly, while Rozsival's cap hit is $5 million, his salary next season decreases to $3 million, which means the Coyotes saved $1 million in salary for next season given that Wolski will be making $4 million next season. So while the Rangers save cap space, the Coyotes save actual real-life money.

Burnside: Well, real-life money has always been important to the Coyotes, and they certainly don't have to worry about bumping into the salary cap. Have to imagine Rozsival will thrive playing for Tippett. He'll also benefit from a change of scenery; Rozsival was made a scapegoat at Madison Square Garden, not necessarily for his play, but his salary.

In Phoenix, the points have to come from everywhere in the lineup, and the bottom line is that Rozsival's 15 points is just one behind the number put up by Wolski. He joins a very productive blue line that includes Keith Yandle, Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski. I can't help but imagine both teams will wake up tomorrow a little happier than they were today.

LeBrun: There's more upside in this trade for the Rangers because of Wolski's age, but I agree both teams get better this season. Wolski had 18 points in 18 games after arriving in Phoenix last season, so you know it's there. If Tortorella can't bring the best out of him, at least the Rangers have only committed contractually to Wolski for another season and a half. It's worth the gamble. Until next time, my friend.

Monday: Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET)

The Canucks jumped into the top spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings on Monday (the highest honor that a team can receive short of being named Grand Poo-bah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo). They have not lost in regulation in their past 10 (9-0-1) and were tied for the conference lead with Detroit as of Monday. San Jose, meanwhile, rebounded after losses last week to Los Angeles and Minnesota to beat the Kings and Chicago. This is a good test to see if the Sharks really are among the league's best as we cruise into the second half of the schedule.

Prediction: The Canucks continue their ascension with a big road win in the Shark Tank.

Tuesday: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET)

We all know about the surging Capitals, who have won five of six (5-0-1) after knocking off Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic on Saturday. But the Lightning, 8-1-1 in their past 10, were actually in first place in the Southeast Division on Monday based on their winning percentage. The Lightning will have new netminder Dwayne Roloson in the fold for what should be an interesting clash between teams with dynamic offensive tools. Tampa sniper Steven Stamkos is now just one goal back of Sidney Crosby in the goal-scoring race with 31.

Prediction: The Lightning, who are in Pittsburgh the next night for another big tilt, come up with a win but it'll take extra time.

Wednesday: Carolina Hurricanes at the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET)

The Canes began the week seven points back of the seventh-place Rangers with three games in hand. If the Hurricanes, in ninth at week's start, hope to force their way back into the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference, these are the games they need to win. Carolina has won three straight and seven of 10.

Prediction: The Rangers hold off the Canes at MSG.

Thursday: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET)

The Penguins look to bounce back after a disappointing end to 2010 with losses on Long Island (in a shootout) and in the Winter Classic. The Habs, meanwhile, are trying to hang on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Shocking but Sidney Crosby has zero points in his past two games. Carey Price is winless in his past four (0-3-1) and wasn't great in an overtime loss to Atlanta on Sunday.

Prediction: The Habs' woes continue as the Penguins get back on track.

Friday: Detroit Red Wings at Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET)

The Wings are trying to muddle through without offensive pieces Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Cleary and lost to the Islanders (in overtime) and Philadelphia in their past two outings. Calgary is hoping to build on some recent success as the Flames start the week riding a four-game winning streak. Any coincidence the wins are coming with the departure of GM Darryl Sutter, who was forced out last week? Discuss amongst yourselves. Regardless, these are the kinds of games the Flames must win if they're serious about getting back in the playoff picture in the competitive Western Conference.

Prediction: The Flames shock the Wings.

Last Week: 4-1

SPONSORED HEADLINES