Cross Checks: Phil Kessel
Devils 2, Lightning 1
* Jaromir Jagr (NJ): 119th career game-winning goal (passes Phil Esposito for 2nd on NHL all-time list)
* Jaromir Jagr (NJ): 684th career goal (trails Mario Lemieux by 6 for 9th all-time)
* Steven Stamkos (TB): PPG (9) in 2nd period; extends point streak to 4 games (4G, 4A during streak)
* Devils: won 2 straight games after 1-5-4 start
* Lightning: 3-game winning streak ends
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Jaromir Jagr scored the game-winning goal for the Devils in a 2-1 win over the Lightning. It was Jagr’s 119th career game-winning goal as he passed Phil Esposito for 2nd-most in NHL history (Gordie Howe holds the NHL record with 121). Jagr now has 684 career goals and trails former teammate Mario Lemieux (690) by 6 for 9th on the all-time list. ... Jaromir Jagr extended his point streak to five games when he scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the Devils’ 2–1 victory over the Lightning. Jagr had only one longer streak of consecutive games with points since he returned to the NHL a little over two years ago, after playing three seasons for Omsk in the KHL. Jagr had a seven-game point streak for the Flyers in October/November 2011.
Maple Leafs 4, Oilers 0
* Phil Kessel (TOR): 21st multi-goal game since joining the Maple Leafs in 2009-10, the most multi-goal games on the team in the last 5 seasons
* Kessel: 8th and 9th goal of season (most on team); scored goal in 4 straight games
* James Reimer (TOR): 43 saves in 1st shutout of season (2nd career shutout with at least 40 saves)
* Oilers: allowed 4+ goals in 9 games this season (most by any team)
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Phil Kessel scored two goals and assisted on two goals in the Maple Leafs’ 4–0 win at Edmonton. In Leafs franchise history, the only other Toronto players to register four or more points in a shutout victory and score or assist every goal in the game are Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul, who both did that in a 4–0 win at Ottawa on March 30 last season. Kadri recorded three goals and one assist in that game and Lupul posted the reverse totals.
Coyotes 3, Kings 1
* Kyle Chipchura (PHX): goal, assist (2nd career game with a goal and an assist - 1st since 2010)
* Mike Smith (PHX): saved 41 of 42 shots (4th career game with at least 41 saves and save pct of .976 or better)
* Andy Miele (PHX): 2 assists (1st career NHL points)
* Coyotes: 7-1-2 in last 10 games
Blackhawks 6, Senators 5
* Jonathan Toews (CHI): 3rd-career hat trick (also had assist)
* Blackhawks: won 5 straight home games vs Senators
* Senators: lost 3 straight games
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Jonathan Toews scored three consecutive goals in the Blackhawks’ 6–5 win over the Senators. Toews is the third NHL player to register a “natural” hat trick this season, following ones by Radim Vrbata and Jason Spezza. There were only three such hat tricks in the entire lockout-shortened 2012–13 NHL season (by Kyle Palmieri, Jeff Carter and Nazem Kadri). Over the last six seasons, the only other natural hat trick by a Chicago player was the one Toews recorded in the Blackhawks’ 5–0 win at Edmonton on Nov. 17, 2010.
Blues 3, Jets 2
* Alexander Steen (STL): go-ahead PPG (11) with 1:00 left in 3rd period; has scored goals in 5 straight games (7 goals during streak)
* Alex Pietrangelo (STL): goal (2), assist
* Blues: won last 2 games (had 1 win in previous 4 games)
* Jets: 2nd straight loss; 1-3-2 in last 6 games
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Alexander Steen scored at the 19:00 mark of the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and his goal gave the Blues a 3–2 win over the Jets. It was the 11th goal in 10 games for Steen, who becomes only the third NHL player in the last 20 seasons to register 11 goals in his team’s first ten games. The others were the Blues’ Scott Young in 2000–01 and the Thrashers’ Ilya Kovalchuk in 2003–04.
Canadiens 2, Stars 1
* Carey Price (MTL): 26 saves (only 2nd win in last 5 starts)
* Canadiens: 3-1-0 in last 4 games
* Stars: 1-5-0 in last 6 road games
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: The Canadiens beat the Stars, 2-1, Tuesday night, one day after beating the Rangers, 2-0. It’s the first time in five years that the Canadiens won consecutive games despite scoring no more than two goals in either of them. Montreal beat Carolina 3-2 in a shootout and then had a 2-1 victory over Minnesota on October 28 and 30, 2008.
Ducks 3, Flyers 2
* Kyle Palmieri (ANA): scores tying (2) and go-ahead (3) goals in 3rd period
* Ducks: improve to 3-2-0 on current 8-game road trip
* Flyers: 2-game winning streak ends
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: The Ducks trailed, 2–1, at the end of the second period in their game at Philadelphia but Kyle Palmieri scored a pair of third-period goals which earned Anaheim a 3–2 win over the Flyers. Palmieri was the first NHL player this season to score the final two goals of a game, both in the third period, and turn a one-goal deficit for his team into a one-goal victory. The only player to do that last season was the Penguins’ Brandon Sutter against the Bruins on March 12.
Rangers 3, Islanders 2
* Benoit Pouliot (NYR): go-ahead goal (2) with 6:14 left in 3rd period
* Thomas Vanek (NYI): 1 shot on goal in 19:49 of ice time in Islanders debut (acquired from Sabres in trade Sunday)
* Rangers: 2nd straight road win (1st time this season NYR has won consecutive road games)
* Islanders: 1-3-1 in last 5 games
FROM ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Third-period goals by Ryan McDonagh and Benoit Pouliot enabled the Rangers to overcome a 2–1 deficit and record a 3–2 in their game against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Rangers are 8–0–2 in their last ten games versus their neighbors from Long Island; it’s their second-longest point streak ever against the Islanders, behind an 11-game skein from January 2003 to October 2005.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / OCTOBER 28, 2013
STAMKOS, KESSEL AND KESLER NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (Oct. 28, 2013) – Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel and Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Oct. 27.
FIRST STAR – STEVEN STAMKOS, C, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Stamkos tied for the League lead with seven points (3-4—7) in helping the Lightning win a trio of games. He opened the week with 2-2—4, including the primary assist on Martin St. Louis’ overtime winner, in a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Oct. 24. Stamkos then recorded one assist in a
3-2 triumph over the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 26 and 1-1—2, plus the shootout winner, in a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers Oct. 27. The 23-year-old native of Markham, Ont., has posted five multi-point games this season and ranks second in the NHL with 17 points (8-9—17) in 11 contests.
SECOND STAR – PHIL KESSEL, RW, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Kessel found the back of the net in all three of Toronto’s games, leading the NHL with five goals while scoring on half of his 10 shots. He recorded his fourth career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in a
4-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks Oct. 22. Kessel added a goal in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Oct. 25 and closed the week with 1-1—2 in a 4-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins Oct. 26. The 26-year-old native of Madison, Wis., has recorded at least one point in nine of his 12 games this season, totaling 7-7—14 to lead the Maple Leafs in goals and points.
THIRD STAR – RYAN KESLER, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Kesler ranked second in the NHL with four goals and tied for third with six points as the Canucks closed a season-long, seven-game road trip with three consecutive wins (5-1-1 overall). He opened the week with a pair of 1-1—2 games: in a 5-4 overtime win over the New York Islanders Oct. 22 and in a 3-2 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils Oct. 24. Kesler then scored two goals, including the overtime winner, in a 3-2 triumph over the St. Louis Blues Oct. 25. The 29-year-old native of Livonia, Mich., leads the Canucks with seven goals, including two game-winners, and ranks third on the team with 10 points in 13 games this season.
MONTREAL -- Before the Maple Leafs were going to throw numbers out at his agents, GM Dave Nonis needed to first hear from Phil Kessel that he wanted to stay in Toronto for a long time.
Nonis wanted that commitment, face-to-face, before he was going to get serious in contract talks with Newport Sports. He got the answer he wanted from the Team USA Olympic winger in a meeting last week, which gave the Leafs' GM the trigger he needed to get the ball rolling with agent Wade Arnott.
"I said this before camp, we weren't about to throw any money at any player, Phil included, until we were sure, I was comfortable, that he wanted to stay in Toronto," Nonis said at a noon-hour news conference at the Bell Centre. "He brought up to me last week how important it was to stay. And that’s when we started negotiations."
"I want to finish my career here," Kessel said at the same news conference. "It would be a great city to win in, and we're going to do whatever we can to make that happen."
Don't underestimate Toronto’s ability to re-sign center Tyler Bozak on July 5 as a major factor in Kessel staying put. The two linemates are very close friends off the ice; heck, they live together. Had Bozak walked, and he did test free agency before circling back to the Leafs, it might have hampered Toronto’s ability to re-sign Kessel.
Having said that, talks didn’t get going with Kessel for real until last week after the Nonis-Kessel meeting.
With Kessel’s self-imposed deadline of opening night acting as the pressure point because the star player didn't want to discuss an extension during the season, both sides came together Tuesday morning on a $64 million, eight-year contract.
For one, the Leafs shared Kessel’s desire not to have this drag into the season. There was concern that it would affect his production on the ice as his contractual future hung over him.
So there was mutual interest in seeing this done.
Many will believe it's too much money for Kessel, but the numbers, at least, suggest otherwise:
• Only Kessel and Steven Stamkos were among the top 10 scorers in the NHL each of the past two seasons.
• Only Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux have more points than Kessel over the past two seasons.
• And only Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry have more goals than Kessel over the past three years.
Kessel’s $8 million cap hit in the new deal is still less than Giroux's new deal ($8.275M), Perry's ($8.625M) and Ryan Getzlaf's ($8.25M), the three contracts brought up the most in negotiations by Kessel’s camp.
"He’s had several great years, that’s something some people overlook," Nonis said. "If you look at his goal totals and his point totals over the past few years, he’s up there with some pretty elite players."
But perhaps most importantly for the Leafs was Kessel’s playoff performance last season, when he proved he could step up in the clutch and was terrific against Boston in a seven-game first-round loss.
That erased any concern that the Leafs' front office might have had about building a team around Kessel.
"It certainly opened some eyes," Nonis said of that series.
So now the attention turns to Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, whose contract will expire after the season. But unlike Kessel, the star blueliner doesn't care if talks go into the season. As he pointed out to ESPN.com on Tuesday morning, the last contract he signed was done during the season with the Calgary Flames, so it’s not new territory.
Phaneuf said he'll leave it with his Newport Sports agents Don Meehan and Craig Oster, knowing they'll figure something out with Nonis.
"They’ll get together and talk, they’ll handle it," a totally relaxed Phaneuf said.
If anything, Phaneuf was more excited for his teammate's big signing. Which perhaps, in some ways, affects how he viewed his future with the Leafs.
"I really like what we’re doing here, what direction the team is headed in," Phaneuf said. "Phil is a huge signing for us. It’s great news. He’s one of the top forwards in the game, such an important guy for us. He’s really elevated his game the last few years. This is great."
Kessel’s deal includes $22.5 million in signing-bonus money that’s spread over the first four years of the deal and the last two years of the contract. Of interest, his last two years of his deal carry only a $1 million salary, and the rest is bonus money, protected against a possible lockout because bonus money gets paid out regardless, whereas salaries do not in the event of another lockout.
One of the hot topics all season for Toronto will be goaltending, with newly acquired Jonathan Bernier trying to unseat incumbent James Reimer as starter.
The two have stalls next to each other in the visitors dressing room at the Bell Centre, but only one of them was smiling Tuesday morning.
Reimer was thrilled to be getting the opening night nod in net, while Bernier -- while saying all the right things -- did admit he was a bit disappointed, citing that family and friends would be on hand in his hometown. He’ll very likely start Wednesday night in Philadelphia as the Leafs play back-to-back, but it’s obvious that Bernier would have loved to start in his native province on Tuesday night.
The incident occurred at 10:01 of the third period. A match penalty for slashing (attempting to injure) was assessed on the play.
NEW YORK -- Of the many memorable hours leading up to the epic gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 between Canada and the United States, this is one that has stayed with us.
It was a conversation with then-U.S. associate GM David Poile the day before that game.
He had spoken earlier in the process about the importance of the Olympics, specifically the impact a strong showing might have on future generations of U.S. players. About how the 1980 Miracle on Ice team became a beacon for a generation or more of American players as well as -- to a lesser degree -- the U.S. team that defeated Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship.
As the gold-medal game approached, it was hard not to be swept up in the emotion of what lay ahead.
“I don't think anybody knew how good we'd be. We didn't know how good we'd be,” Poile said that Saturday. “Let's call it like it is.”
The Americans would be denied a shot at Olympic immortality by the slimmest of margins, a Sidney Crosby goal in overtime, from a bad angle at that.
We were reminded of the legacy -- or at least the potential legacy -- of that team Saturday, when we were swept up once again in the quest for Olympic glory as Poile was formally announced as GM of the U.S. team for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Part of the charm of the Vancouver team was the fact it was the youngest team in the tournament. As GM, Brian Burke was fond of repeating that no one gave the Americans a spit of a chance to earn a medal, let alone battle for gold.
No question the dynamics will be dramatically different in Sochi on a host of fronts.
“In Vancouver, we were turning the page,” Poile told ESPN.com on Saturday.
That team was the first that didn’t hearken to the glory days of Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Keith Tkachuk et al. The idea was that if the team had any success at all, it would provide a good base on which to build for 2014.
The Americans’ run to the silver (going 5-1 in the tournament) means they will not sneak up on anyone in Sochi. Not with the past two Conn Smythe Trophy winners on the roster in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Quick. Throw in top-end talent like Ryan Suter, who in our book was the hands-down best defenseman in the NHL this season (finished second to P.K. Subban in Norris Trophy voting), Minnesota Wild teammate Zach Parise, David Backes, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown and there will be a strong core returning from the Vancouver squad.
Still, trying to handicap Olympic contenders based on results from a tournament four years in the past is a mug’s game. Yes, some continuity is important. Understanding the routines of an Olympic tournament, the media, the schedule and the ebbs and flows of a short, high-drama competition is critical to how a team comes together.
But each tournament represents a different world, and that is where the management structure and coaching staff are so critical to a team’s success.
USA Hockey neatly sidestepped a potential public relations problem early on by structuring its management team in the manner it did. Poile moved up the ladder and will be joined by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, who will act as associate. The two worked together for the Nashville Predators and were part of the U.S. management committee that helped put together the 2010 team.
But Burke, the architect of that team, has been kept in the fold as director of player personnel. He will accompany the team to Sochi.
It was Burke who came up with the idea of opening the process of selecting teams for international competition to American GMs. He invited colleagues like Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia Flyers), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles Kings), Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks), Dale Tallon (Florida Panthers) and former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell to join in the process.
The openness and inclusiveness established by Burke was universally praised by those involved, and as Poile pointed out Saturday, the validation of the process was in the result -- a silver medal.
That Burke, dismissed from his post as GM and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs on the eve of the lockout-shortened regular season in January, continues to have a strong voice in the building of the 2014 team is an important nod to what he’s accomplished. To have marginalized him would have sent a disappointing message.
“He will have a big part in the formation of this team in 2014,” Poile said.
But a nod to the past is also being balanced by a nod to the future, which is critical given that neither Canada nor the U.S. medaled in the two Olympics held away from North American soil since the NHL began participation in 1998 in Nagano. (2006 in Torino was the other.)
A bigger ice surface, time issues and different cultures will conspire to make life in Sochi exponentially more difficult than it was in Vancouver and, before that, Salt Lake City in 2002, when Canada defeated the U.S. for the gold medal.
The committee, which represents 150 years of NHL GM experience and six Stanley Cup championships, will have to keep all those things in mind, Poile said, when making selections, just as it did in choosing the Pens’ Dan Bylsma as head coach.
Burke built a team that could play an NHL-style game with a blend of hard-nosed forechecking, strong defense and goaltending mixed with opportunistic scoring, but the style of play in Sochi may make some of those qualities less important.
Clearly, skating and puck movement will be at a premium on the big ice surface, which suggests players like Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk and perhaps Matt Carle or John Carlson may be more attractive than other, more physical defensemen.
What about a speedy, skilled forward like Alex Galchenyuk, who had a strong rookie campaign for the Montreal Canadiens?
“Our philosophy is going to be a little bit different because this is in Europe,” Poile said. “We have to tune up our thinking a little bit.”
One thing Poile made clear is that, while a résumé of strong play has historically been a factor in inclusion on the final roster handed in late in December, getting off to a good start next fall will be key in the committee’s final decisions.
In introducing the management team Saturday in New York, president of USA Hockey Ron DeGregorio suggested that an American team is no longer the stuff of miracles but rather the stuff of expectations.
A fine sentiment, and after Vancouver, it would seem it is true. Now it’s up to Poile and the rest to meet those heady expectations.
“This is the ultimate honor and challenge,” Poile said.
BOBROVSKY, KESSEL AND BACHMAN NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (April 15, 2013) – Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel and Dallas Stars goaltender Richard Bachman have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending April 14.
FIRST STAR – SERGEI BOBROVSKY, G, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Bobrovsky went 3-0-0 with a 0.97 goals-against average, .971 save percentage and one shutout in three games, stopping 100 of 103 shots he faced in 185 minutes of play. He opened the week by making 30 saves in a
4-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks April 9, his fourth shutout in the last month. Bobrovsky then picked up a pair of weekend wins, denying 31 shots in a 4-1 triumph over the St. Louis Blues April 12 and 39 shots, plus another two in the shootout, in a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild April 13. The 24-year-old Novokuznetsk, Russia, native has allowed two or fewer goals in 16 of his last 20 appearances, including one goal or fewer in 13 of those contests. In 32 total games this season, Bobrovsky is 16-10-6 and ranks second in the League with a .932 save percentage and sixth with a
2.01 goals-against average.
SECOND STAR – PHIL KESSEL, RW, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Kessel led the NHL with five goals and tied for the League lead with seven points in three games. He scored two goals, including the game-winner, and added an assist in a 4-3 triumph over the New York Rangers April 8. Kessel then recorded both of Toronto’s goals in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers April 10. He capped the week by posting his 13th multi-point game of the season (1-1—2) in a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens April 13. The 25-year-old Madison, Wis., native has played in 41 games this season and leads the Maple Leafs with 27 assists and 42 points.
THIRD STAR – RICHARD BACHMAN, G, DALLAS STARS
Bachman posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.08 goals-against average and .963 save percentage to help the Stars continue their push for a playoff berth. He stopped all 22 shots he faced in relief of an injured Kari Lehtonen in Dallas’ 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings April 9.
Bachman then made back-to-back weekend starts, recording 26 saves in a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators April 12 and 31 saves in a 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks April 13. The 25-year-old Salt Lake City, Utah, native has played in 11 games this season, going 6-3-0 with a 3.18 goals-against average and .884 save percentage.
Sorry, but it’s still taking some time to get our head around the fact the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t just visiting from the NHL’s land of the living dead but are actually back for good.
It’s always a bit quaint when a perpetually lousy team rises up, if only for a short period of time. There’s always a spasm of praise for a team’s determination, even if the expectation is that we’ll get back to the normal order of things soon enough. We’ve seen it this season with Columbus jumping suddenly into the playoff fray in the Western Conference before sliding out of sight in recent days. Edmonton, too, generally manages to tantalize for a few days before sliding back into a comfort zone in the nether regions of the West, as has been the case in recent days.
But the time is long past for that kind of regression from the Leafs, and love them or hate them (and there is rarely a gray area in this matter, especially in Canada, where the hockey media is concentrated in Toronto and every murmur and whisper emanating from the club is big news), the Leafs have all but punched their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Monday night, the Leafs surged ahead of the New York Rangers 3-1 and then, when it looked as though they might crumble after the Rangers tied it on some strong work by Rick Nash -- who had two goals on the night -- they bounced back and the oft-maligned Phil Kessel scored the winner. Actually, it’s the less-maligned Kessel these days as the Leafs continue to find ways to get the job done, even if they don’t have all their top-end players putting up top-end numbers. They are fourth in the league in scoring. They have the third-ranked penalty-killing unit in the league after being bottom dwellers in that important category for years. And, more important to long-suffering Leafs fans, they are nestled in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a four-point bulge on sliding sixth-place Ottawa.
We covered the Leafs for part of what could realistically be called their most recent "golden" age under Pat Quinn when the Leafs made the playoffs for six straight seasons from 1999 to 2004. Twice the team advanced to the Eastern Conference finals during that period. Those Leafs teams boasted bigger names -- Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Alexander Mogilny, Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph et al. -- but watching the Leafs’ effort against the Rangers Monday it was hard not to see certain similarities. Both Quinn and current head coach Randy Carlyle are old-school coaches who aren’t married to the idea that every win has to be 2-1 or 3-2. This Leafs team has benefited from scoring from up and down the lineup (Kessel’s winner was only his 12th goal of the season and his two-goal effort marked his first goals in 10 games). More than that, Carlyle’s team has displayed the kind of resiliency that has long been missing in Toronto, missing indeed since Quinn was making the Leafs regular playoff participants. That resiliency was on full display Monday night. And for the first time in almost a decade, Leaf fans can count on seeing it in the postseason.
My remote needed new batteries after flicking around a dozen games last night. Here’s what I retained:
• In Glendale, Ariz., the hockey code was in full force. Coyotes winger Raffi Torres had to answer the bell for his vicious hit on Marian Hossa last spring. To Torres’ credit, he did. Just 2:35 into the game, he fought Chicago’s Jamal Mayers. And that was that. Again, credit to Torres for understanding the need to do this. We can all move on now. The Blackhawks? They then pummeled the rest of the Coyotes 6-2, and there’s no arguing who the best team in the NHL is right now. The 9-0-2 Hawks are now 3-0-2 on the season-long, six-game road trip.
• A little more than a week ago, I spoke with Shea Weber about the Nashville Predators' struggling start: one win in six games (1-2-3). The Preds' captain said his team understood the urgency of the situation, not wanting to dig a hole it couldn’t get out of in a shortened season. The Preds faced road games next in Los Angeles, San Jose and St. Louis. No problem. The Preds swept those three and then came home Thursday night to shut out the Kings 3-0 and are now 5-2-3, fifth in the Western Conference. Tip of the hat to the Preds. It starts with star goalie Pekka Rinne, who allowed only three goals on that four-game road trip.
• In Pittsburgh, the Penguins made it five in a row with a 5-2 throttling of the woeful Capitals. The win propelled the Pens into first place in the Eastern Conference at 8-3-0. The Pens have found their wings. But this night told you more about the Caps, and my colleague Scott Burnside summed it up perfectly in his column after witnessing the carnage. There’s no easy fix. There is no trade GM George McPhee could make this season that would be a cure-all. If I’m the Caps, I pull the plug at some point over the next few weeks if things don’t turn around and focus on one of the best NHL drafts in a long time coming up in June.
• In Winnipeg, he scored, he scored, scored! You could hear the car horns honking on Yonge Street on Thursday night here in my home of Toronto. OK, I’m kidding. But Phil Kessel did indeed end a season-long goal drought, and what better way than by snapping home the winner in a 3-2 win over the Jets. Know this: Kessel will score a ton now. He’s unleashed. Meanwhile, that was a hard-working win by Toronto. It’s on nights like these that you can see what Randy Carlyle is trying to do. But this team doesn’t show up every night.
• Speaking of 3-2 wins, the Hurricanes needed overtime, but it still counts, in a win over the Senators in Ottawa. Most noteworthy was that Cam Ward was terrific for a second straight start. Perhaps his early-season struggles are behind him now. After starting 0-2, the Hurricanes have gone 5-2 and look ready to challenge Tampa for the Southeast Division crown.
• In St. Louis, the Blues were thumped 5-1 by the Central Division-rival Red Wings, a second straight win by Detroit over St. Louis within a week. Suddenly, the Blues have lost three straight, and have been outscored 11-2 over the past two games, including a 6-1 loss to Nashville. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his players were "cheating" all over the ice and he’s right, of course. From my vantage point on the couch, the Blues didn’t pay the price. They took lazy routes to pucks and didn’t make smart decisions when they had the puck. I’d love to be at the next Blues practice.
• Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, it doesn’t seem to matter for Vancouver. The Canucks comfortably beat the Wild 4-1 in Minnesota as Schneider played for the first time in 11 days and stopped 22 of 23 shots for the victory. The goalie debate rages in Vancouver, but whenever coach Alain Vigneault flips his famous coin to determine his starter, he never makes a wrong decision. That’s because there isn’t one. But at some point, it would certainly be better for everyone involved if the Canucks finally found a new home for Luongo. For the Wild, meanwhile, despite shuffling the top two lines, it was still another loss -- a third straight -- to fall to 4-5-1. There were boos from the home crowd and the frustration is growing fast for a fan base expecting big things after the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings last summer. The Wild have 21 goals in 10 games, the 27th-ranked offense in the NHL. Pretty sure that’s not what owner Craig Leipold had in mind when he shelled out a fortune last summer. Something’s got to give in Minny.
• Speaking of desperate teams, the Sabres were facing essentially a must-win and got it by the skin of their teeth, Thomas Vanek forcing overtime with less than two seconds left before being one of two Sabres to score in a shootout to beat the Montreal Canadiens in a gigantic 5-4 victory. Vanek (two more goals) keeps looking like Superman, but the guy who might have saved the game was agitator Steve Ott, who suckered Montreal’s Ryan White into a double-roughing minor 7:32 into the third period with the listless Sabres losing 4-2 at the time. Vanek scored on the ensuing power play, which energized the Sabres. It was also Ott who was parked in Peter Budaj’s crease with seconds remaining, making the goalie’s life hell before Vanek tied the game. Is this the turning point for Buffalo? Far too early to tell, but the Sabres needed this one big-time.
• The Devils beat Tampa Bay 4-2 to move within one point of the Eastern Conference lead. I really hope the Devils keep this up; what a story it would be for New Jersey once again to prove its doubters wrong and make the playoffs despite the loss of Zach Parise. Pete DeBoer is my early-season pick for the Jack Adams.
• The story in New York was rookie J.T. Miller scoring twice against the Islanders in his Garden debut, but to me it also underscored the Rangers’ lack of depth up front that they’re looking to a kid to help answer their secondary scoring problems. Most notably, captain Ryan Callahan returned and you could see his impact. No shortcuts in his game.
• The Panthers beat the Flyers 3-2 in a shootout. What’s up with Philadelphia and shootouts? The Flyers were 4-7 in the trick event last season, and all-time (including last night) they are 23-42 in shootouts since the NHL adopted the event in 2005.
• The Flames edged the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. Alex Tanguay scored the OT winner and, according to Elias Sports, became only the third active NHLer to have at least four regular-season OT winners all scored in visiting rinks. Dustin Brown and Brad Boyes are the others.
The conspiracy theories will abound about Brian Burke’s GM firing Wednesday, but I believe there were a number of factors involved, not just one crystal-clear reason.
And despite the denial from Toronto Maple Leafs COO and president Tom Anselmi, I believe the last straw was Burke’s reluctance to trade for star Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
That’s a sentiment shared by several NHL team execs we talked to Wednesday, who believe the rest of the Leafs' front office is pro-Luongo, but Burke wasn’t sold on him.
(On a side note, expect trade talks between the Leafs and Canucks to heat up big time now that Dave Nonis is GM. Nonis acquired Luongo during his days as Vancouver's GM and has always been high on him.)
There might not have been one singular reason for his firing, but a source close to the situation told ESPN.com that the relationship between Burke and the new owners -- Bell and Rogers -- was not warm and fuzzy, and that some board members didn't appreciate Burke's bombastic style.
The decision by the MLSE board of directors to make a change was in the works before Wednesday -- perhaps in the works going back weeks.
After all, as everyone tries to uncover the conspiracy, sometimes one can’t see the forest for the trees.
Fact is, this is a team that’s been mediocre in the four-plus years Burke has been at the helm, failing to make the playoffs once, although it showed promising signs last season in holding a playoff spot until crumbling late.
Since Burke’s hiring as GM on Nov. 29, 2008, Toronto went 129-135-42, tied for 26th among the 30 NHL teams during that stretch. Also during that stretch, the Leafs ranked 30th in goals-against per game and 30th on the penalty kill.
But if there’s a signature moment that Burke was never able to distance himself from, it’s the Phil Kessel trade. The September 2009 blockbuster that sent two future first-round picks plus a second-round pick to Boston for Kessel simply has backfired to no end.
The Bruins used those picks to draft Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight. We already know what Seguin’s soft hands can do in the NHL, and Hamilton will be a stud on defense.
It wasn’t all bad, not at all. Burke’s acquisition of Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner in February 2011 from Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin was an absolute steal for the Leafs. Burke deserves to get more credit for that deal.
Another positive from Burke's tenure was how he rebuilt the reserve list for the organization. The team has more depth from top to bottom, especially at the minor-league and junior level, than when he took over, in November 2008. No one can argue otherwise. So perhaps in three years when some of those youngsters blossom, people will look back and give Burke more credit.
Still, his inability to get Toronto over the hump -- the Leafs haven’t been in a playoff game since April 2004 -- cost him in the long run.
And as too many GMs who have taken office in Toronto have found, the incredible allure of wanting to win overnight and end the Cup drought that dates to 1967 hindered Burke’s decision-making. He wanted to win now. He didn’t want to rebuild as the Edmonton Oilers have done. He made a point of saying that publicly, that he didn’t believe in the bottoming-out, traditional rebuild.
Guess which of those two teams has a brighter future.
Still, I have a lot of time for Brian Burke. He’s an honest man. He cares about the game. He’s passionate about selling the NHL brand and, unlike some GMs, is able to think big-picture while trying to improve the game on and off the ice, and not just think about his own needs.
He’s also a Stanley Cup champion from his days as GM in Anaheim, so although Toronto will have been a major disappointment on his resume, you can’t ignore his success with the Ducks.
In the end, what I find unfair in the firing is not the fact he lost his job, but rather the timing of it.
MLSE should have either fired Burke in September if it knew this would be the outcome or -- and this is what I would have liked to have seen -- given Burke at least half of the shortened season to see if his team was finally turning the corner.
I believe Burke deserved that chance.
In the end, though, I’m not sure the result would have been any different.
GATINEAU, Quebec -- Tim Thomas would rather focus on the NHL All-Star Game, but the controversy surrounding his decision to skip the Bruins' visit Monday to the White House has followed him to Ottawa.
Following the NHL’s All-Star draft Thursday night, Thomas met briefly with the media and was asked about the reaction that followed his decision, including that of his teammates.
“They’ve given me their full and unwavering support, and I really appreciate that,” he said.
He declined to comment on another question with a firm "No comment," but paused for a long moment when he was asked whether avoiding the issue altogether only fuels the debate.
“I did address it,” he said. “Everything I said in my statement was what I believe to be the absolute truth. I don’t believe I need to revisit something I stated so clearly.”
-- Craig Custance
Datsyuk Thrilled To Be No. 1
Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk was perfectly content going last in the fantasy draft. "I want the car," he said last weekend.
But it was quite the opposite. Zdeno Chara made Datsyuk the first overall pick, bypassing teammates and fellow countrymen. Chara was going strictly on talent and production. One of the game's elite two-way players, Datsyuk has surged toward the top of the points race with 53 points in 49 games.
The honor of going first trumped winning a new car. Plus, it was a Honda, which probably wouldn't have gone over well in Detroit anyway.
"I'm just more happy. Surprised," Datsyuk told ESPN.com. "A car is a car but I want to be first, too."
He said he's excited to be reunited with former teammate Marian Hossa as well as fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.
"I don't play with Russian for a long time, same team," he said. "Now it's a chance. Who knows? We play good and Ken Holland see, [maybe he'll] bring in a Russian guy."
-- Craig Custance
Couture Goes Last
One wouldn’t know by looking at San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture after the draft that he had gone last overall.
You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
"Being the young guy here and playing on the West Coast, I knew it was a possibility," he said.
Hey, he got a car, right?
"A lot of my friends and my brother are blowing up my phone asking if they can have the car," Couture said, laughing.
Sharks captain Joe Thornton was among the callers. We also texted Thornton after the draft to ask him for his reaction to young Mr. Couture going last.
"Love it, his family will love the new car!" Thornton told ESPN.com.
-- Pierre LeBrun
Kessel Not Last
Tyler Seguin would have been an ironic last overall pick a year after Phil Kessel was, given their forever link to The Trade.
Just don’t tell Kessel that.
"I didn’t think about that until you just said that right now,’’ Kessel insisted afterward.
Really? Not sure we believe that one.
There was no car for Kessel this year, with the Leafs sniper going 15th overall. Although he keeps insisting he doesn’t care.
"Anything would have been fine," Kessel said, shrugging. "It’s an honor to be here. It’s not a big deal at all [to go last]. It doesn’t matter."
Any Maple Leafs reference got booed mercilessly Thursday night by rival Ottawa fans, so much that Kessel was taken off guard by it.
"I didn’t realize it was that bad, to tell you truth," Kessel said of the Senators fans’ venom for the Leafs. "When we play here, there’s a lot of Leaf fans at the games ... but we’re looking to have a good time here this weekend."
-- Pierre LeBrun
That Ol' Softie Zdeno
Zdeno Chara might be among the most imposing of players in the NHL but he definitely has a soft spot or at the very least a strong sense of fair play. Even though it was obvious Chara’s counterpart and former Ottawa Senators teammate Daniel Alfredsson was trying to corner the market on Senators in the draft, Chara allowed that to happen without disrupting the natural order of things by stealing a Milan Michalek or Jason Spezza.
"I think it’s fair enough to have the team guys kind of together especially, you know, for Ottawa fans and people in Ottawa. When they could have their home team players on the same team, I think it just makes it very special for them. Obviously, I didn’t want to interfere with that, and respect that," he said.
-- Scott Burnside
Campbell Close To Home
Lots of familiar faces for Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell this weekend in somewhat familiar surroundings. Campbell played his junior hockey in Ottawa, skating on the Rideau Canal during his leisure time, and he has a dozen family members either in town already or en route.
His inclusion in this All-Star weekend, his fourth All-Star appearance, reinforces Campbell’s decision to agree to a trade from Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup, to the Florida Panthers last summer. Campbell is second in the NHL behind Erik Karlsson in scoring among defensemen and is the lone Panthers representative here. But he did hook up with former Hawks teammates Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
"I think you’re always worried when you move to a different team and a different city, but for myself personally, it was the best decision," Campbell said.
He noted that he is getting a chance in Florida to showcase his skills in a way that perhaps he wasn’t able to do in Chicago. Still, he was quick to reinforce his feelings about his time in Chicago and specifically playing for coach Joel Quenneville.
"I loved my time in Chicago," he said. "The organization was great, and Joel, I learned a ton from Joel about how to play the game. Now that’s the past, and [you] take a lot of good things out of Chicago and you move forward."
As for the curious route of leaving the warmth of South Florida for the chill of an Ottawa winter during the break, Campbell is OK with that.
"There’s lots of time for the beach and all that. I know the boys are having fun I’m sure somewhere wherever they are, but I’m happy to be here," Campbell said.
-- Scott Burnside
Home Game For Perry
Corey Perry is actually from Peterborough, Ontario, but he has family and friends who live here in Ottawa, so this is an NHL homecoming of sorts.
"I’ve got a lot of cousins here; my dad’s side pretty much lives in Ottawa," the reigning Hart trophy winner said after the draft. "It’s going to be a fun weekend."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Ottawa Is Living Large
No doubt the Ottawa region and the Senators would have been pumped to host the All-Star weekend, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have the oomph this weekend stands to have if the team had been languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings as most believed it would be.
Instead, the surprising Senators hit the break in sixth place in the conference and looking forward to the final 30 games of the regular season.
"We’re looking forward to a lot of divisional games, a lot of important hockey games, and last year at this point of the year, we didn’t have important hockey games, so we’re excited to have important hockey games coming into this part of the season," Senators center Jason Spezza said Thursday.
And the team’s play has sure made taking part in the weekend’s celebrations more palatable for him and his teammates.
"Yeah, I think so," Spezza said. "We feel like we’re here on merit and because the team’s played well. You want to be a part of something like this but it’s nice when you’re having a good year and things are going well up to this point. Our fans are excited; we’re excited about it. I think because the club’s played good hockey, everybody’s really excited about hockey right now, and this is really just icing on the cake on it at this point."
As for teammate Erik Karlsson, with whom Spezza sat before being selected by teammate Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza agreed that no one seemed to be having as much fun as the young defenseman, who leads all NHL defensemen in points with 47.
"Erik’s a great kid. He’s a real light-hearted guy. I think the more and more people get to know him, the more and more they’re going to like him. He’s a confident kid that believes in himself and he’s a heck of a hockey player and he’s a great guy in the dressing room," Spezza said.
-- Scott Burnside
Dallas Stars center Jamie Benn won’t lie. He was sweating it just a little when it was down to him and Sharks center Logan Couture. But he insisted he was also having fun with it.
"A little bit of both," Benn said after Friday night’s All-Star draft. "We knew it would come down to the wire. It doesn’t matter. We’re all here to have a good weekend, and we might as well have fun with it."
You might argue being picked second to last is the worst possible outcome because there’s no car as a prize, right?
"Well, it was a little bit of a win-win before those final two picks, either picked or get a car," Benn said, laughing. "I’m happy I got picked."
Benn was activated from the Stars' injured reserve just before the All-Star weekend. We asked him whether he put a little friendly pressure on Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to do that.
"A little bit, yeah," Benn said, smiling. "He was nice enough to let me come here. He wanted me to come here; it’s a good experience for a young guy like me."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Kane Caught On Tape
It wouldn’t be an event without Patrick Kane making things interesting.
"That blonde’s unbelievable," Kane was caught saying on the telecast.
"It was a little blonde kid in front; that’s all I was talking about," a smiling Kane insisted afterward, in no way convincing any of the media on hand.
"I can’t believe they put that on," Kane said, knowing he was busted. "No more mic'ed up for TSN."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Our first Hart Trophy look this season. It’s still early, but six weeks into the season, we can start to have fun and identify some candidates. Speaking of fun, thank you to the massive list of Twitter followers who responded to our Hart Trophy question. To show how democratic we are at ESPN.com, your responses have largely influenced this list:
Honorable mentions: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins; Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars; Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres; Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Shea Weber, Nashville Predators.
Trophy Tracker: Hart Trophy
Claude Giroux trails Phil Kessel by three points in the scoring race.
TORONTO -- Their cherub faces on the ice were all smiles and chuckles during Monday's morning skate at Air Canada Centre.
Funny what a four-game winning streak, all on the road no less, can do for the confidence of the NHL's second-youngest team.
But it's not arrogance you sense as you walk into the Colorado Avalanche dressing room. Far from it. It's the feeling of a youthful core that is growing in belief.
"Everyone's clicking," Avs star center Paul Stastny told ESPN.com ahead of Monday night's game against the 3-0-0 Toronto Maple Leafs. "It's a young team and guys are having fun. Obviously when you're winning, confidence is high. But even throughout the preseason, you felt something different about this year."
An atrocious second half last season sank the Avs. That's why, despite the obvious young talent on this roster, the experts were largely unsure of what this season was going to bring.
"I think the easy prediction is that we weren't going to do that well this year. Obviously, a lot of people felt way," Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson said Monday.
But Johnson points to the devastating injuries the club suffered last season. Just from a health standpoint alone, he said he believes that is one major factor for a turnaround.
"I also think we're one of the deepest teams down the middle with Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly and Jay McClement," Johnson said. "Varly [goalie Semyon Varlamov] has been tremendous. ... We've got a lot of confidence in this group, but we want to stay even keel. That's what we're preaching right now."
And that's the key for this young Avs team. Impressive road wins in Boston and Montreal, in particular, tell you this team can get it done. But it's whether such a young club can deliver consistently over 82 games.
Sometimes the pitfalls of a young club, once a bump in the road comes along, it can become a wall. Can this young collection of talent avoid that this season?
"We have to learn from last season," Avs GM Greg Sherman told ESPN.com on Monday. "We know there's 77 games to go, and that's a long way to go. Consistency is what we need to attain as a group. That was part of the learning experience last year."
It was only one game, but the young Avs survived a comeback from the Habs and came back themselves to tie it before winning in a shootout Saturday in Montreal, one of the most intimidating rinks in the league. It showed resiliency; a year ago, they might have folded in that situation.
"When you look at the group as a whole, our identity is pretty straightforward. We're a young, energetic, enthusiastic team,” Sherman said . "Our plan hasn't changed in how we're putting this franchise back on track."
Attendance has dipped in Denver over the past few seasons in what was once an automatic sellout at the Pepsi Center. The club was 24th last season, 27th in 2009-10 and 26th in 2008-09. The club must renew acquaintances with fans that were spoiled during the Joe Sakic/Patrick Roy/Peter Forsberg days.
The team has a long way to go to get back to those heady days, but this young roster can play an entertaining game. That can sell tickets, or at least that's the hope.
"It's up-tempo. We want to put an exciting brand on the ice," Sherman said. "Back in the days when we had Sakic and Forsberg down the middle, now we have Stastny, O'Reilly and Duchene down the middle. We feel really strongly about what we've done on the blue line. And finally, we addressed our issues between the pipes."
Varlamov was the marquee offseason addition, as the Avs traded away their 2012 first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder in 2012 or 2013 to Washington for the services of the young Russian netminder.
Some people viewed that as a heavy price to pay, especially when there were veteran UFA goaltenders such as Tomas Vokoun available who wouldn't cost any assets to sign. And there was a lot of buzz about the first-round pick they gave up. If the Avs have another season like 2010-11, the Capitals could have a lottery pick on their hands.
The Avs, however, wanted to bring in a starting goalie who fit in with the youth movement, and they got that in Varlamov, a player who's ready to help this team right now.
"Absolutely within the plan, he's 23 years old," Sherman said. "He's a former first-round pick. We just felt as an organization it was the right time to bring in a person like that and not have to move any of our roster players or current prospects."
If they keep playing the way they have so far this season, they won't have to sweat that 2012 first-round pick too much.
Playing it safe with Mueller
Avs winger Peter Mueller was set to sit out his third straight game Monday night.
"He could have been available to us tonight, but it was my decision to have him take a few more days," Avs coach Joe Sacco said Monday.
The Avs don't play again until Thursday, so Sacco said he thought the extra few days would do Mueller good. The Avs' first-line winger missed all of last season with a concussion.
Strong start for Kessel
Maple Leafs star winger Phil Kessel was named the NHL's first star of the week after posting five goals and three assists in his team's opening three games of the season.
"It's just the flow right now," Kessel told reporters Monday. "I'm just going out there and playing the game and doing whatever it takes to get wins."
Kessel's plus-7 rating jumps out, and he has been rewarded with ice time late in games.
"Statistically, it's pretty clear the way he's played," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "There were some great performances obviously throughout the league, but Phil's done it in every game, so I think it's deserved."
"It really came down to the likelihood of him getting into our lineup [he's been scratched a lot this season], and hopefully giving him an opportunity to play [elsewhere]," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told ESPN.com Wednesday. "We'll know more at noon tomorrow and we'll go from there."
No team contacted Regier and asked him to waive Rivet. The Sabres GM discussed this move with Rivet's agent Pat Morris on Tuesday morning. Rivet, 36, is earning $3.5 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Fans from the Blackhawks and Canucks were especially asking me Wednesday whether their teams would be interested in Rivet. The answer is no. But hopefully Rivet finds a home somewhere. He's a quality person.
The Sabres, meanwhile, continue to examine ways to improve their team before next Monday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. But it's clear they're not in the market for a rental player [players who are UFA July 1].
"Where we are, we have to take a longer-view of both trying to make playoffs and helping ourselves for next season at a minimum," Regier said.
In other words, any player the Sabres acquire between now and next Monday will be signed at least through next season.
"That's the goal," Regier said.
- In Ottawa, Sens GM Bryan Murray and the agent for Chris Phillips, J.P. Barry, chatted Wednesday about the blueliner's future. Phillips is an UFA July 1 and has a no-movement clause. Will he stay or will he go? Phillips is either going to sign an extension and stay, or there won't be an extension and he'll be traded. "Discussions are ongoing," Barry told ESPN.com. "I'm sure Bryan is trying to get a handle on what certain players are worth on the trade market, including Chris Phillips. In our case, he has to compare that value to the benefit of keeping Chris via an extension going forward. Nothing has been decided yet, and we will continue our talks as he gets a gauge on the market."
- In Toronto, while the Maple Leafs continued their search for a defenseman, cyberspace was filled with talk from Leaf fans that somehow Phil Kessel was being shopped. I should know better but given how many Toronto fans kept asking me about it Wednesday, I went straight to the top and asked Leafs GM Brian Burke via e-mail whether he was shopping his star winger.
"No. He has not, and will not, be shopped," Burke told ESPN.com via e-mail.
- My colleague Scott Burnside tweeted Wednesday that it's possible the Atlanta Thrashers claim Nikolay Zherdev off waivers Thursday. In no way was Burnside saying it was a definite, simply that the Thrashers were considering it. Zherdev, who simply never fit in with the high-flying Flyers, is earning $2 million this season and will be an UFA July 1.
Once the Flyers shed Zherdev's salary off their salary cap, expect them to search the market for a depth defenseman.
- The fallout from Peter Stastny's scathing comments regarding Colorado's trade of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis continued to buzz around the league. Matt Keator is Paul Stastny's agent and also knows Peter Stastny well.
"Peter is a passionate guy," Keator told ESPN.com Wednesday. "He really enjoyed watching his son play with Chris Stewart because they had great chemistry and synergy together. I think he was just frustrated that Paul lost his linemate."
Keator didn't think the father's outburst would be an issue for Paul.
"No, he's a low-key guy, he's very well-like by his teammates," Keator said. "This won't be an inflammatory issue."
It just so happens that Paul's name has surfaced in trade rumors this week and some rumors also had the player asking for a trade out of Colorado. Not true, said Keator.
"Absolutely not true," said Keator. "Paul loves it in Denver and loves playing there. He doesn't want to leave."
- Tomas Vokoun wasn't slated to be in net for Florida on Wednesday night, backup Scott Clemmensen getting the start instead. That raised eyebrows that maybe Vokoun was close to being traded. But Panthers GM Dale Tallon, via e-mail, told ESPN.com that Clemmensen starting was a "hockey decision."
1. How will this Forsberg chapter end?
As predicted, the final chapter in the Peter Forsberg story will be written on a sheet of NHL ice. Will it be a fairy-tale finale? We're about to find out now that the great Swedish star has agreed to a contract for the balance of the regular season in Colorado.
The stage is set for Cinderella, as the youthful Avs have fallen on hard times and fallen out of the Western Conference playoff bracket (1-5-0 in their past six games). They have been outscored 27-11 during that time and rank 29th in goals allowed per game. Forsberg doesn't play goal, so he won't help in that regard, but his leadership in a room that seems to have come unglued cannot be underestimated. If the 37-year-old still can play, that is.
When Forsberg first returned to Denver less than a month ago and joined the Avs on a practice basis to see whether his perpetually sore foot could withstand the rigors of NHL hockey, it seemed inevitable we would get to this point. Forsberg needs to play in NHL games to find out once and for all whether he is done. History suggests that Forsberg will be in and out of the lineup, then admit that his Hall of Fame-worthy career is indeed over. But sometimes history doesn't know. Maybe, instead, Forsberg has enough in those hands and feet to hold up long enough to help guide the Avs back to the postseason.
That's a better story for the Avs, but either way, we're about to find out.
2. Kessel, Wilson and the Leafs' next option
It was more than a little shocking to hear the comments made by Phil Kessel and Toronto coach Ron Wilson after the Maple Leafs were throttled 6-2 by Buffalo on Saturday night.
Kessel, never the most loquacious of players, told reporters in Toronto on Sunday that he doesn't really have much to say to Wilson.
"Me and [Wilson] don't really talk, and that's all I got to say about that," Kessel told reporters.
Wilson acknowledged as much, saying Kessel is a pure goal scorer who seems to let slumps get to him more than other goal scorers he's coached. (Kessel is second on the Leafs with 19 goals but has not scored in 10 straight games.)
Now, it's hard to glean too much meaning from just a few words uttered in the latter stages of another grisly campaign in Toronto, and the two apparently met Monday and told local reporters that there is no bad blood between them. Still, there is an apparent disconnect between the team's most important offensive piece and his coach, which reinforces that GM Brian Burke has a long road ahead of him in bringing this team back to the playoffs.
The Leafs are 28th in penalty killing this season, 24th in goals allowed per game and 20th on the power play. They are 12th in the Eastern Conference and closer to 15th than eighth.
Kessel isn't going anywhere. We're not suggesting that the inmates necessarily need to run the asylum, but with the team showing no sign of forward motion, it leaves one viable alternative for Burke as he contemplates another early offseason: a new coach behind the bench next season.
3. Why Boudreau, Bylsma deserve Jack Adams consideration
As is usually the case when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals clash, Sunday's meeting between the two rivals had a little bit of everything. Well, apart from having no Sidney Crosby and no Evgeni Malkin, that is.
There was Mike Green being felled by a Brooks Orpik shot. (Green needed stitches to close a cut in the ear area and did not return to the game, although the injury isn't believed to be serious.) There was Matt Cooke, a former Cap, going knee-to-knee with Alex Ovechkin late in what would be a 3-0 Caps victory. Ovechkin looked a bit sore after a play that was reminiscent of Ovechkin's knee-on-knee hit against former Penguin Sergei Gonchar in the 2009 playoffs. Then, there was Washington rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth returning from injury and looking terrific in shutting down the Pens.
But the biggest thing we took from the game was the idea that both coaches, Washington's Bruce Boudreau and the Pens' Dan Bylsma, should be given serious Jack Adams Award consideration as coach of the year. It's not going to happen because Jack Adams voters almost always give the award to coaches from lower-profile teams that overachieve. Hey, it's not wrong, but think about what Boudreau and Bylsma have accomplished this season.
Boudreau has come under fire for not having his team playoff-ready the past couple of seasons. Then there was the gruesome eight-game winless streak during the HBO "24/7" filming in December. But Boudreau managed to redefine the team's personality, and the Caps currently rank fifth in goals allowed per game and are second in penalty killing. Oh yeah, they also are within a few points of the top spot in the Southeast and a lock to make the playoffs again. Worthy of Jack Adams consideration? Definitely.
Then there's Bylsma, whose team has been without Jordan Staal for most of the first half, then lost Crosby (concussion) for the past month with no timetable yet for his return. Now the Pens likely will be without Malkin for the balance of the season (knee injury). Even when he has played, Malkin hasn't been himself. And through all of this, Bylsma's squad has managed to stay in the Atlantic Division hunt and has established itself as a top defensive club. (The Pens are second in the league in goals allowed and first in penalty-killing success.) Jack Adams-worthy? You bet.
4. Ottawa not a safe bet for All-Star success
It was interesting to hear a number of people, including my esteemed colleague Pierre LeBrun, suggest that this season's All-Star event was the best in a non-Canadian city in recent memory, if not ever. The assumption -- or is that conceit? -- is that next season's shindig in Ottawa is a lock to be a big success. It being the Canadian capital and all, with frozen canals on which to skate and beavertails to eat (deep-fried dough that looks like, well, a beaver tail, not the real thing).
But anyone who has been to Ottawa in the past couple of years knows that the Senators are not a sure thing when it comes to selling tickets, and they sure aren't sure things on the ice as they careen toward a lottery pick this season. The weakest of all Canadian markets, it isn't a given that the 2012 All-Star event will be a roaring success. In fact, it would be more than a little surprising if it topped Raleigh for buzz and excitement. It sure won't happen by osmosis.
Also, we have been thinking about the All-Star draft that proved to be such a big hit. There has been a lot of pro-and-con discussion about the concept, especially given that it was Kessel who ended up being picked last. (The distinction was softened by a new car and $20,000 to donate to charity.) Still, the pick became a news story because it was Kessel and he is a Maple Leaf. I'm not sure it would have been the topic of discussion if Paul Stastny had gotten picked last. (He was the second-to-last selection.)
But a longtime NHL executive did point out to us that the league has to be careful that it doesn't hold any of its players up to ridicule at an event that is supposed to be about promoting the game. It needs a healthy buy-in from the All-Stars themselves to make it work. We hadn't thought of it that way, but it is a good point: You can't sell players on giving up three or four days of time off if it's going to be unpleasant for even one of them. NHL sources say the league is awaiting feedback from the NHL Players' Association on how players feel about it. Here's hoping the draft stays, even if it needs some tweaking.
5. Brunette's milestone
The Minnesota Wild, in the midst of a surprising bid for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, will take time before Wednesday's game against Colorado to honor Andrew Brunette for his 1,000th NHL game. The 37-year-old from Sudbury, Ontario, was drafted 174th overall in 1993 by the Washington Capitals. He has parlayed marginal foot speed and modest raw talent but exemplary determination into a fine NHL career. Brunette is more than deserving of the attention from the Wild; he's played there in six of the past nine seasons after spending three seasons with the Avs in between stints in Minnesota. He has collected an impressive 690 points during his career.
Brunette's 1,000-game milestone (which he hit last week) reminded us of a conversation we had a year ago with New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson, who was then in the midst of a breakout season for the Isles.
Moulson, a ninth-round draft pick who was given little chance of making a career, told us he actually patterned himself after Brunette, trying to replicate his hard work around opposing nets.
"Actually, when people kept cutting down my skating, Mike O'Connell, he was with L.A., and told me to look at a player named Andrew Brunette," Moulson told us, crediting the former Bruins GM who is now with the Kings' player development staff. "I used to tape all his games and watch them and watch what he did. [Brunette] may not be the fastest guy out there, but he's great at protecting the puck and making plays around the net and getting to the net.
"He was up and down in the AHL as well [to start] his career, and he's made a pretty good player of himself and pretty good name for himself in this league. He's someone I followed closely."
You could do a lot worse.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel's phone exploded in text messages after he had the ignominy of being chosen last overall Friday night in the NHL’s inaugural All-Star fantasy player draft.
"They were all just asking about the car," Kessel said of his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates. "They're all on trips and stuff. I was supposed to go with a bunch of guys on vacation. They just gave me little bombs.
"We're happy with our last pick in the draft, so we'll take Phil Kessel," Kane said.
But, honestly, Kessel said after the event, he's not hurt by going last, especially since he got a brand new car and $20,000 to give to charity.
"I don't care one bit at all," Kessel said. "I'm just excited to be here. It's an honor. I wouldn't get here without my teammates, they play a big role in this.
"I'm just happy to be here. I'm going to have a good time and enjoy myself. When I was a kid, I would never have dreamed of being here. Hopefully, the fans in Toronto are happy to see me in the game. I'll play well in the game for them."
Every All-Star asked had the same answer when asked about feeling bad for Kessel.
"No, he got a free car," smiled Steven Stamkos, an answer echoed throughout. "I'm sure he's pretty happy for that. No, you do feel a bit bad for the last couple of picks. They're sitting there by themselves with the lights on them. But at the end of the day everyone realizes how great every player is that's here."
"Well somebody had to be last," Zdeno Chara said. "But I guess getting a car, it’s also not a bad deal."
Nicklas Lidstrom, the captain and GM of his team, said Kessel has a unique opportunity this weekend.
"He could very well win the car on Sunday, he can be the MVP," said the Wings captain. "That's how much talent we have here."
And the car?
"I'll drive it," Kessel said.
Kessel, a cancer survivor, also got money to donate to a charity of his choice for being the last pick.
"Something good [comes out of it]," Kessel said. "Obviously, $20,000 to charity, that's unbelievable. I'm real excited about that."
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.