Cross Checks: Phoenix Coyotes

The rant blog seems to still confuse some people. This is not a forum to ask me about trade rumors. This is a forum to rant. Any other questions, check in with me during my weekly chat, Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. Now let's look at some rants from this week:

Toews_me19: Pierre, First of all let me say that I love the Blackhawks and I am very proud of their accomplishments last year. That being said...WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP COMPARING THIS TEAM TO LAST YEAR'S TEAM? And why doesn't this team have any heart? When will this team quit playing on its collective heels and play with some flippin' urgency?? When will some of these guys quit waiting for someone else to make a play and do it themselves??? P.S -- did the Hawks forget that hockey games are 60 minutes in length, not 40 or 20. Come on, UGH.

Last year is long gone, as is a great deal of depth, options, players, whatever you want to say that made this team, oh wait...that team, so awesome. Whenever someone says something like "So-and-so defeat the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks", I want to punch them. This team is not that team so they can't be compared only contrasted -- same core, very different dynamic. And comparing them only causes the pain in my heart to flare into life...pain caused by the necessary roster changes that every team faces every year because of the draconian salary cap.

That being said...the Blackhawks have done a decent job but it's not December anymore. It's time to skate and play to win boys. You are running out of time to get things together and the Western Conference is too tight to let points slip away. If it takes another three years for this team to become lethal again, I may jump in the Chicago River...j/k, but seriously you guys. Go Hawks, sorry for yelling.

My take: Can't say there's a terrible amount of sympathy coming your way since your team was able to enjoy a Stanley Cup last June, something many of our regular readers on this site have never had to experience. So let's not get too carried away with the Chicago pity party. Still, I don't think anyone thought that despite losing half the regulars from the Cup champion squad that the team would be entering the post All-Star break hanging on for their playoff lives. Not with a core still featuring Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. I still think this team will figure it out here over the last stretch of the regular season. One particular statistic points me in this direction: Five-on-five goals/for against ratio. The Hawks ranked fifth overall in the 30-team league with a 1.16 ratio and that’s indicative of a team that at its base, special teams aside, knows what it’s doing most of the time. Barring Kane missing any team flights over the last 30-odd games, I think the Hawks are fine.

bio8r: Why has Keith Yandle not gotten more love from his outstanding play this season. He is the Coyotes most consistent player, plays big minutes every night, and can only barely sneak into the All-Star Game though leading all defensemen in points? I hope people can look past big names like Lidstrom, Letang, and Chara and give this guy some recognition.

My take: Bio8r, you're dead on about Keith Yandle, but to answer your first question: maybe because the Coyotes rank 29th in NHL attendance? If almost no one in his own backyard is noticing, how do you expect the rest of the fans around the NHL to notice? Just a thought. Having said that, Yandle does deserve the recognition, having taken a giant step this season and helping fill the minutes void left by Zbynek Michalek. Shane Doan told me before the season when I stopped through Phoenix during my camp tour that Yandle, before the end of this season, would be among the league’s very top defensemen. He was bang on.

Beastly Backes: The Blues are flat out a bad hockey team. They've won 2 of 12, and the 2 wins are against the sloppy kings. Jaroslav Halak has been inconsistent. One moment he'll make a great save, and the next shot, he lets in an easy goal. He needs to step up. Also, the Blues come out and look sloppy and lack motivation at the start of every game. They go out knowing they're gonna lose. It's great that they have Winchesters and Sobotkas trying to go above and beyond their potential, but the fact is, the coaching staff is extracting every ounce of effort from a lot of average players. Grit is great, but the Blues lack pure talent w/o Perron and McDonald. Even at the beginning of the year, when they won seven straight -- they won every games 2-1, 2-0, 3-1, 1-0 -- they couldn’t score goals!!! Oshie's return is nice and all, but the Blues need more weapons, BESIDES Perron and Andy-Mac. If the Blues don't trade some of their so called "depth" at defense, they will go nowhere. Pietrangelo however is one of the only bright spots on this team. Erik Johnson has played his worst hockey ever this year, Eric the gutless wonder Brewer happens to be playing his best, and Jackman and Polak are still grinding it out. They won't trade youth, which eliminates E.J. and Petro, but Jackman, Brewer and Polak could be trade bait. I personally think that Brewer may actually be worth something this year. TRADE HIM FOR A SCORER!!! GIVE THE "C" TO THE REAL CAPTAIN: David Backes.

BluesFanAlex74: WHY??? WHY DO MY BLUES FAIL? Night in and night out we fail to skate for 60 minutes, defend the net, or dish out hits that make the opposition fly the other way. In a town where hockey is loved, we have players who are young, energized, and have a great hockey sense, but there are also guys who are older and used to be 40 goal scorers (BRAD BOYES) and guys who think standing around and throwing pucks the wrong way are good (ERIK JOHNSON and ALEX PIETRANGELO) these guy would be greater if they knew what to do when the opposition runs around the D-men and behind the net, setting up shop, then scoring because we let the enemy fly in and shoot from the slot. Things were great 10 games into the season, but since Perron and McDonald are gone and we have no inspiration, we are going to lose half our money from season ticket sales because we are not going to win a playoff spot. Great Marketing idea, right? I had hope for this year with a great goalie and young stars, but we have been shot down and self destructive. I hope they find their pace for next year because I don’t think I can take another year of disappointment. From, THE ONLY SMART ONE IN CHESTERFIELD, MO. (JK)

My take: A double dose of Blues' blues. Tough year, indeed. It started with so much promise, St. Louis even leading the ESPN Power Rankings in early November. After improving to 9-1-2 with a win on Nov. 7, the Blues have won only 13 of their next 39 games (13-19-7). Ouch. They actually rallied with an 8-4-2 record in December but went only 2-8-2 in January. Double ouch. But let’s be honest, when you lose two thirds of your top line in T.J. Oshie and David Perron for such a long stretch, plus Andy McDonald, few teams in the NHL can recover from that. And as it was, the Blues actually weren't scoring that many goals even before those injuries. It's going to be a difficult assessment of the season for GM Doug Armstrong should the club not rally back, because he will have almost never had his full lineup in front of him to dissect. If I were the Blues, I would look to add a top-six forward in the offseason if possible -- that would be my priority.

ddiggler08: So, yeah, Patrick Sharp for MVP? What the ####.

My take: Well, Shea Weber, Nick Lidstrom, Anze Kopitar, Loui Ericksson and Danny Briere all had legitimate cases. The consensus press box pick was Weber, who was plus-6 with four assists. Part of the problem is that the 12-member media voting committee (I didn't vote this year, which is only right given my thoughts on the All-Star game) had to select a name midway through the third period. Hopefully next season, the NHL can circle back to USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen, the president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and check with him at the buzzer to make sure the MVP pick still stands. Still, I have no issue with Sharp winning because he's such a good story, a blue-collar guy who's worked his way up to this level. Plus, he's from Northern Ontario, so you know he's a good guy.

CapitalsFan74: LeBrun, I have been a Caps fan since 1985. I have seen good and bad Capitals teams over the years (yes, mostly bad). But can anyone explain what is wrong with this team this year? After last year I was expecting a Cup run, but this team is painful to watch. All the "experts" have said over the years that we were not built (defensively) to win in the playoffs. Now we seem to have THAT but are in jeopardy of not making the playoffs at all. How can we be so much better for the playoffs if we cannot win in the regular season?

My take: Indeed the Caps have tightened up defensively, sitting seventh in the NHL in goals against per game as of Tuesday morning, up from 16th where they finished last season. That's an important evolution for their playoff chances in my opinion. But it's about balance. After leading the league in goals last season, they're only 17th as of Tuesday morning, down more than a full goal per game. Alex Ovechkin has two power-play goals on the season. I repeat, Alex Ovechkin has two power-play goals on the season. Unacceptable. Bruce Boudreau's task over the final stretch of the regular season is to better balance his team's new-found defensive play without forgetting how the team was built: with offensive stars. I think he's up to it.

SRDetroitfan: I'm from Detroit and a Wings fan and want to apologize to everyone who has to read people complain about why the Red Wings do not get any Love. I am not going to lie, I love when I see something about the Wings come up in one of these chats or in an article, but Detroit fans PLEASE stop complaining about how much love Detroit DOES not get and how no one pays attention to us. We don't need attention! The way we have played for the past 20 years should be attention enough! And lets be honest...is there really anyone happy with the amount of "love" their team gets from the media?

My take: My man, thank you so much for this post. I can't tell you how many Wings stories both myself and Scott Burnside have written for this website over the last three years. A 2,500-word Nick Lidstrom story, anyone? Wings fans are incredibly sensitive for a market that's done so much winning. Ken Holland is routinely labeled by us as the best GM in hockey. Mike Babcock is often called the best coach by most of the media covering the game. What else can we do????

egotonusf: OK, how do the Lightning win a blowout and then shut out the Leafs, BUT FALL 2 SPOTS IN THE POWER RANKINGS? I guess its just hatred for south hockey, we will see come playoffs...

My take: No hatred my friend, it's because Burnside and I alternate weeks and have different views on where the teams should rank. So a team's performance alone isn't the only factor in influencing the ranking, fixing Burnside's mistakes is also another. Or as Scotty would view it, fixing mine, ha ha.

Dubsg123: Pierre. What really bothers me is how little attention some of the outstanding young players of the NHL get league wide. One of these such players is Anze Kopitar. As a Kings fan, I know that he is one of the best two way centermen in the league, but when you have national hockey broadcasters that announce his name Annzee Kahpiter you really can see how he doesn't get much recognition. In the All-Star Game, he was the first player to score two goals, and he looked like he was having fun doing it. This year on the Kings, the players that have really been getting the attention (at least with the media, thankfully the fans got it right with voting him to the All-Star Game) overshadow his success: Drew Doughty, Jon Quick, Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth, etc. I know that Crosby has a concussion. I know that Ovechkin isn't scoring like he used to. I know that Steven Stamkos is too good to play in the NHL. I just don't want to be hearing their names in a headline article every morning. Let's give Kopitar the love he truly deserves!

My take: Kopitar is 12th in NHL scoring with 49 points in 50 games, having himself another terrific season. While I agree he doesn't get as much attention as some of the other young snipers in that top 15 group, it's ironic that Loui Ericksson is tied with him at 49 points and there's a guy who actually gets zero national attention. I mean, way less than even Kopitar. Here's what I really like about Kopitar -- he's sporting a plus-16 rating as of Tuesday morning. He was a double-digit minus player the first three years of his career. Last season, he finished plus-6. So his progression in his two-way play has been impressive. And when you consider he doesn’t really have a high-end, superstar winger to play with like other centers in this league, you understand that he is indeed full value for his production.

neufeld85: I am a Colorado Avalanche fan and they might be the most frustrating team to watch in the NHL. Whenever they get a lead, I never expect them to hold it. Their defense is pathetic and what happened to Craig Anderson this year? I love Adam Foote but the guy needs to retire, he constantly gets burned by speedier forwards. If it wasn't for all the miraculous comeback wins, the Avs would near the bottom of the West. They have given up the second most goals in the conference this season. Do you think the Avalanche will be able to squeak into the playoffs?

My take: Scott Burnside actually has a nice Avalanche feature story that's going to be posted this week after he spent some time there last week. So make sure to check that out. At this point, this team is not going to make the playoffs unless they can tighten up. Ranked 30th -- dead last -- in the NHL in goals against per game doesn't get you anywhere. Some of it, yes, is Anderson having an off-year, but I rest most of the blame on a blue-line corps that, as predicted by some of us last September, has been dreadful defensively.

benjies77: As a delusional Leafs fan, I, along with the rest of Leafs Nation, thought the Leafs might make the playoffs. Now, rather than rooting for the eighth spot, I'm biting my nails just to see them stay out of the cellar. It pains me to think we will give another lottery to Boston. I love Kessel and hope he will eventually come into his own when he learns to deal with the pressure of playing in Toronto. But, shoot me straight. With the Leafs sitting in the fifth spot of the bottom five, is there ANY hope of them climbing out of the bottom? I feel like that is the only thing left that can "save" another sad season.

My take: As most people know, I live in Toronto, so I see the pain and suffering that Leaf fans go through. My brother-in-law, Mitch, is a die-heard Leafs fan, watches every single game and allows the knife to twist in his gut. I actually sat beside Leafs GM Brian Burke on the flight down to Raleigh last Friday. Believe me when I say no one is taking this harder than him. He wants to turn this around badly. The work will continue over the next few weeks with the trade deadline approaching. Kris Versteeg, Francois Beachemin and maybe Jean-Sebastien Giguere (depending on his health) could get moved, while Tomas Kaberle will be dealt only if he chooses to waive his no-trade clause and the Leafs can accommodate the small list of teams he would hand over. Changes are coming, Leaf fans, hang tight.

curley214: I am so angry that John Tavares was not in the ASG. Yeah, we have it tough right now on LI, but the kid is damn good and earned a spot. I guarantee you if you asked 29 other GM's in the league would they rather have Patrik Elias or JT, 28 would go with JT (Brian Burke would trade his rights back to the Isles for Blake Kessel and the next 11 Leafs first round picks). The Isles get a bad rap and are rebuilding the right way. Kevin Poulin looks promising for the next couple years to get some regular NHL time. DP has been playing and has a .914 save percentage in the past couple weeks. Things are slowly looking better. My question Pierre, when do the Isles unload some assets for some proven help? THANKS!

My take: I don't agree every team should be represented in the All-Star Game, but I do think Tavares should have been at the game anyway. You are right to be angry.

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.

Stock Up

Lee Stempniak, Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes continue to hold onto a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference thanks in large part to their balanced offense. Recently, it's been Stempniak, who became a Coyote just over a year ago at the trade deadline, taking the lead. Stempniak has a seven-game point streak during which he's collected 11 points. During the past two weeks, no one has delivered more points (although Stempniak is tied with Philadelphia's Claude Giroux during this stretch). The native of West Seneca, N.Y., has five goals during that span, all at even strength, and a plus-4 rating.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia Flyers: So much for hitting the rookie wall. After a slight wobble, Bobrovsky (Bob to most around the NHL) is on a tear heading into the All-Star break. Bobrovsky has won six straight starts and has allowed two or less goals in each of those contests, while facing just over 30 shots a game during the streak. No wonder the Flyers hit the break as the NHL's top team and the annual talk of Flyers goaltending uncertainty has quieted to a faint hum.

Stock Down

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: Yes, the Blues have been beset by injuries throughout this difficult season and maybe this is a factor in what appears to be the breaking down of Halak, last year's playoff hero in Montreal. Acquired by the Blues with the expectation he would lead them to the playoffs, Halak has just two wins in his last 10 appearances. Seven times over that 10-game span, Halak has allowed four goals. No wonder the Blues are slowly sinking beneath the surface in the Western Conference.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: It's as ugly as you can get in the Canadian capital these days with the Senators in freefall and ownership determined to keep the current management/coaching staff in place, at least until the end of the regular season. Even Alfredsson, the team's classy captain, has not been immune to the woes that have brought this team to its lowest point in well over a decade. Alfredsson has delivered one goal in his last nine games and just one assist over that period. A guy like Alfredsson deserves better.

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.

Stock up

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: It hasn’t been a banner season offensively for the venerable Coyotes captain, but Doan is lighting it up now with an eight-game points streak, during which he’s collected 13 points. The Coyotes, by the way, were back in the playoff bracket and just six points out of the Pacific Division lead with a game in hand as of Friday morning. Doan’s continued strong play will be crucial to the Coyotes’ playoffs hopes.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Another player whose first half wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for is Hornqvist, who led the Predators with 30 goals last season. The Preds have been up and down in 2010-11, but are currently on an up-swing with four straight wins. Hornqvist is also starting to roll with goals in four straight games, five goals in all, including two in a big win over Los Angeles on Thursday. As of Friday, the Predators were fourth in the Western Conference.

Stock down

Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens: It’s been difficult times for the Habs of late. Defenseman Josh Georges is out for the season with a knee injury and the offense has gone south, as the team has fallen from first in the Northeast Division to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. There’s not much help coming from Kostitsyn, who has scored once in his past 16 games. Maybe the Habs got rid of the wrong Kostitsyn? Andrei’s brother Sergei is thriving in Nashville.

James Neal, Dallas Stars: While the Dallas Stars continue to lead the tough Pacific Division, it isn’t all warm and fuzzy in Big D. The Stars are hoping Neal will rediscover his scoring touch in the second half -- he has scored once in the past 12 games, even though he has a respectable 14 goals on the season. Neal had a breakout season in 2009-10 with 27 goals.

Burnside: This week's games to watch

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
5:15
PM ET

Monday: Detroit Red Wings at Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m. ET)

The Wings play their second road game in two nights after defeating Minnesota on Sunday. They will be without Daniel Cleary (broken ankle) as Chris Osgood tries once again to get his 400th win. Meanwhile, the Avs hope to have Milan Hejduk and Cody McLeod back in the lineup.
Prediction: Osgood gets his milestone win.

Tuesday: Philadelphia Flyers at Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET)

It's not too big of a stretch to imagine these two teams meeting next May with the Stanley Cup on the line. The Flyers are dominant on the road (10-2-3), while the Canucks are strong at home (12-3-2). This should be a good one.
Prediction: The Canucks hold serve at home.

Wednesday: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils (7 p.m. ET)

It's like watching a train wreck that never ends now with the Devils. New/old head coach Jacques Lemaire was putting his charges through their paces Monday after they were beaten 4-1 by woeful Toronto on Sunday. Poor Lemaire would need a month of Mondays to get this team right.
Prediction: The Rangers in a walk.

Thursday: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m. ET)

The Lightning are playing much better defensively, Dan Ellis has shored up the goaltending and Steven Stamkos is back scoring goals. Not a good sign for a Montreal team that is showing signs of taking on water in spite of its place atop the Northeast Division.
Prediction: The Lightning continue their winning ways.

Friday: Phoenix Coyotes at St. Louis Blues (8:30 p.m. ET)

Happy New Year's Eve. The Coyotes hope to ring in the new year with Ilya Bryzgalov back between the pipes while the Blues hope they can continue to build on their strong play of late, especially at home where they are 12-4-2.
Prediction: The Coyotes continue to keep pace in the packed Pacific Division with a road win.

What's it like to be an emergency call-up? Tom Fenton dishes to 'SportsCenter'

December, 17, 2010
12/17/10
1:43
PM ET

ESPN's Linda Cohn interviewed Tom Fenton about his emergency call-up to the Phoenix Coyotes after starting netminder Ilya Bryzgalov came down with the flu.

Jason LaBarbera got the start Thursday night against the New York Rangers. With no time to call up a backup goalie from the minors, the scrambling Coyotes signed Fenton. If the name doesn't sound familiar, that is because earlier Thursday, the 26-year-old Fenton was working in his job as director of game operations and communications at Manhattanville College in nearby Purchase, N.Y. He was signed to an emergency contract, but isn't expected to move off the Coyotes' bench unless LaBarbera, a former Rangers player, is knocked out of the game.

Fenton's goaltending experience consists of a four-year stint at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He went 1-12-1 with a 3.60 goals-against average in the 2008-09 season.

What to watch for Thursday night

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
5:17
PM ET

Phoenix Coyotes at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET

The Rangers face the Coyotes after beating the Penguins 4-1 on Wednesday night. The Rangers are 8-0-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, having outscored their opponents 27-6.

Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET

The Islanders have one win in their last 21 games (1-17-3). The Buffalo Bills (3) and Detroit Lions (2) have more wins than the Islanders since this disastrous streak began on Oct. 23.

Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET

Tim Thomas looks to continue his run of 10 road games without a regulation loss this season. He is 9-0-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (12 games in 2006-07), Chris Osgood (11 games in 2008-09) and Dwayne Roloson (10 games in 2002-03) are the only other goalies in the last 10 seasons to get at least one point in each of their first 10 road games of the season, according the Elias.

Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET

The Kings, at 4-0-1 in December, are one of two teams without a regulation loss this month. The Predators are 6-0-1 in December.

-- ESPN Stats & Information

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss some of the hot topics in the NHL today.

Burnside: Well, my friend, no shortage of topics today. Let's start with the wackiest game from Monday night. Colorado scored three times in the last 2:24 to defeat the defending Cup champs from Chicago, 7-5. Marty Turco was long gone by then, but the goaltender didn't have a very good night. He gave up four goals on 10 shots before he was pulled for Corey Crawford, who gave up the tying and winning goals before the Avs added an empty-netter.

But what I thought was interesting was Tomas Fleischmann, recently acquired by Colorado from Washington, who chipped in a goal and two assists in the third period to help pace Colorado and push the Avs back into a playoff spot in the tightly-packed Western Conference.

LeBrun: The man they call "Flash" now has seven points (2-5) in his six games since leaving Washington and he's showing that if you give him minutes, he can produce just like he did last season with the Capitals. He played more than 16 minutes only three games out of 23 this season with the Caps, but has already played more than 16 minutes in five of his six games with his new team. And you see the production. The Avs have scored the most goals in the NHL, meanwhile, and are a blast to watch. I'm prepared to announce that even though the Western Conference race is incredibly tight, the Avs will make the playoffs. And the Canucks better be careful, the Northwest Division title is up for grabs.

Burnside: Agreed, my friend, I like the Avs' pluck even though they continue to soldier on through a bevy of injuries to key players. The other game that was dynamite Monday night was the Thrashers' 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa in which they blew a 3-0 lead. One of the Sens' comeback goals was scored by Jason Spezza on a penalty shot, but it was Spezza's no-look drop pass early in OT that Bryan Little took the length of the ice and beat Brian Elliott for the winner. Yes, the Sens got a much-needed point, but, once again, Alexei Kovalev was a non-factor, minus-1, zero points, so you can feel the tension building through the snow in Ottawa. Meanwhile, the red-hot Thrashers have Washington in their sights as they are two points back with a game in hand. They are in Tampa for another big game Tuesday night.

LeBrun: I know from talking to Sens GM Bryan Murray pretty much every week over the last two months just how disappointed he is and how much better he feels this team should be. He's been trying to make a trade to shake up the team for a long time, but has been offered bad contracts in return and doesn't want to do that. The trade holiday freeze is Dec. 19-27, so I suspect he'll give it one more college try. I also wonder just how safe Corey Clouston is behind the bench. Hopefully for him, the head coach can turn this around soon and keep his job because that's another area eventually where you'd think Murray will feel obliged to act on if the team keeps losing. As for the Thrashers, wish I had put them higher in the power rankings this week. Fell asleep at the wheel there. They're on fire and at this point, I'm not sure how Craig Ramsay isn't the odds-on favorite for the Jack Adams Award.

Burnside: Don't sweat the Power Rankings my friend, I'll clean up your mess when I do them next week. And you're right about Ramsay and the Jack Adams. Which is a good segue for my final thought, that of the Phoenix Coyotes, where defending Jack Adams Trophy winner Dave Tippett again has Coyotes looking like they're playoff-bound. Tuesday night the City of Glendale will vote on a new lease agreement with Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer. It will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars to keep the team in Glendale, but the other option is for the league to move the team to Winnipeg, a process that would begin early in 2011 if no new lease is in place. I think the council will hold its nose and agree to the lease and a deal for Hulsizer to buy the team from the NHL for about $170 million will be announced within days, leaving us only hockey to talk about in the desert moving forward. Now all Hulsizer will have to do is make it work where so many have failed before him.

LeBrun: As stinky as those lease conditions are for local residents, I don't see any other option for the City of Glendale given that the alternative would be seeing the team leave town and that would cost taxpayers even more money in an empty arena. Our colleague from the Toronto Globe and Mail, David Shoalts, also reminds us in today's edition that "there is a chance the Goldwater Institute, a public watchdog, will take Glendale to court for violating Arizona laws against excessive public subsidies for private enterprises." But it does appear the Coyotes mess is finally coming to an end. All of which will shift the attention to your town of Atlanta, Scotty, where the Thrashers' ownership situation and low attendance has people in Winnipeg and Quebec City licking their lips. Until tomorrow.

As I get set to answer some rants, yet another reminder folks that this weekly forum is for "rants," not questions. If you have a hockey question, ask me during my Wednesday chat. But come Mondays, rant, rant, rant!

csoula5: I'm sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick of "respect for the game" being called out by players ... Dear Steven Stamkos, the fans loved Linus Omarks goal, go ahead and check out how many hits he gets online by people watching that one goal, I think its too close to the number of people watching your sweet goals, wait a minute, could that be the issue?? Oh and that wasn't the first time this year, lets not forget about P.K. Subban getting the first degree for being a confident cocky brilliant young player, thanks for putting him down because he got to you Mike Richards (you should only start talking when you start showing up to games on the regular) ... bottom line is that the NHL needs players like PK and his big ego, and Linus and his high risk, high reward style. The proof is in the pudding, the fans love it, its good for the game, and oh yeah the fans love it. We love it, please more Subban, more Linus ... maybe the Flyers and the Lightning will grow up one day and stop being jealous children. Guess what, I've never heard Sidney Crosby rattle off about respect, never heard the Wings cry over respect, oh yeah they are winners ... let your play do the talking guys, and remember you get payed to play for OUR (THE FANS) entertainment!! So do your job and entertain us!! This is our game, get back to work!!!

thoefel77: With the Omark spin I don't get what all the hoopla was all about. Isn't the whole point of the shootout to score but if you do a really impressive move you get a bunch of frowny faces on all the opposing players. Yeah it was flashy but I think the shootout needs some flash like that just to get people to watch it. Why can't guys have more freedom to do what they want in the shootout without being criticized.

My take: Funny how the Omark debate has split the hockey world evenly between fans versus the hockey establishment. That's not surprising, given that NHL GMs hate the shootout and hope to minimize its impact by once again possibly looking at Ken Holland's 3-on-3 OT proposal in March at their next meetings. I think the Omark shootout goal, even though he fanned on the shot, was exciting for Oilers fans, and I'm OK with that. But I'm also a fan of the history of the game and how young players earn their respect, keep their head down, etc. Let me ask you this: Would you picture a young Steve Yzerman doing that? Yeah, didn't think so.

denile17: I can no longer put into words the level of frustration I have with my favorite team in all of sports, the New York Islanders. The crazy thing is, the frustration has almost nothing to do with hockey! I can't be mad at John Tavares for not producing when he's surrounded by no talent, and I can't be mad at James Wisniewski for not playing like a top two defenseman. Wang (and the yes man Snow) simply will not field an NHL caliber roster. Players like Wisniewski, Bruno Gervais, Jack Hillen, Rob Schremp, P.A. Parenteau, etc. are forced into roles they simply cannot handle because the ownership refuses to spend a dime on anyone not named Rick DiPietro or Alexei Yashin. And for all the people criticizing attendance and saying that Quebec deserves a team over NY, take a look at the islanders history before you start bashing the fans. Islanders fans have been the most tortured fans in pro sports over the past 20 years, and we have to sit in the worst building in pro sports. No one shows up to watch a perennial loser, look at the Blackhawks. However, if we can rid of Wang, and put in an owner who will be reasonable in his search for an arena, the islanders can once again become a thriving franchise. Gary Bettman, you were once a fan, please give us isles fans a break, I think we deserve it!

My take: I absolutely agree regarding Islanders fans. They are a loyal group. This isn't the Thrashers or Coyotes you're talking about moving, this is a team with four Stanley Cups and a solid following. Right now most Islanders fans are fed up with the league's worst product and aren't going to games to the league's worst arena. Can you blame them? The solution here is Charles Wang selling the team, and the new owner -- with deep pockets -- building a new rink. It's a long shot.

mochabacon: Why can't I be given $100 million and another 97 million over five years to own a hockey team? I mean I too have played hockey in college and I have a deep love for the game. I also have grandparents that live in El Paso, Texas. They need to experience hockey too so lets relocate the Leafs.

My take: Indeed the City of Glendale, Ariz., is set to vote on the lease agreement with prospective owner Mathew Hulsizer later on Tuesday night. While the terms of the deal are not terribly appealing with to local taxpayers, I think Glendale has come to the conclusion that it beats the alternative -- losing the team entirely and having an empty arena at Westgate, which would be a bigger financial hit for the city and its taxpayers. This isn't ideal, but it's the best solution at this point in time, with the NHL clearly warning Glendale that the team will be relocated if this wasn't ironed out before the New Year.

gladius710: So personally I am getting pretty sick of all of this crazy hype building up around the Canucks. They are only ONE game ahead of my Colorado Avalanche. I know the Western Conference is tight but in this week's power rankings they are a whole 13 spots ahead sitting at No. 4 while the Avs fall out of the imaginary playoff picture at No. 17. Again I wish to emphasize ONE game separates the teams. This is frustrating as an Avs fan to see your hated division rival with all of this over rating going on towards Vancouver. When will the Avs be ranked within sight of the Canucks? When they are five games ahead of them???

My take: I did the power rankings this week, so blame me. Hey, three points separated 12 teams in the Western Conference on Monday morning. You have to rank teams even though they're basically all tied! The Canucks are closer to contending right now than the Avs, but I love where Colorado is headed with its young core and, quite frankly, some of the most exciting hockey played right now. If they keep winning, next time I'll have the Avs higher in the power rankings.

prashanthiyer: Why can't the NHL wake up and smell the coffee that certain cities need to get a franchise and certain cities need to lose their franchises. New York could stand to lose the Islanders if thousands of old Nordiques fans are willing to travel and make more noise than the Islander fans. Phoenix doesn't deserve to have a team if it can't manage to fill its stadium to 60 percent capacity despite having a great season last year and having one of the best goaltenders in the NHL in Ilya Bryzgalov. And finally, take away the Thrashers (even though this will never happen according to Bettman) because despite their incredible season this year and the signs of promise shown by the front office and the team, the stadium still barely tops 60 percent capacity. This year I attended a Thrashers-Blackhawks game in Atlanta and was surrounded by thousands upon thousands of Blackhawks fans. The game went to the shootout and the only players cheered for were the Blackhawks shooters, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. Its getting ridiculous and with cities such as Winnipeg, Quebec, and Windsor having willing and waiting fan bases, it seems imperative that the NHL capitalizes on the possible lockouts of the NBA and NFL and start generating some real money by moving teams to revenue generating markets.

My take: I traded e-mails with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Saturday regarding all the Quebec Nordiques fans traveling to Long Island for the Thrashers game. "No one has ever doubted the passion of hockey fans in Quebec City," Bettman told me. Remember, the team only moved in 1995 because they were playing in an old rink and there were no plans to build a new one. But while Bettman has always been publicly and, quite frankly, privately coy about his intentions for Quebec City and Winnipeg, I believe he wants to eventually put NHL teams back in those two cities. Whether that's by expansion in the next decade or by relocation, which would be his last resort because he doesn't want to move teams, I think Bettman wants to see NHL hockey again in Quebec City and Winnipeg before he retires as commissioner.

fbullock: Help Wanted: (D.C. Area) Team in need of kick of the pants after horrible six-game losing streak. Applicants most be able to take superstar talent and man handle accordingly. Must be able to understand that expectations are high (Cup or Bust) and the ability to speak Russian is a big plus. Must be able to mold young talent without breaking them and must be willing to show some sort of patience when forming lines (Boudreau goes through more line changes than a three year old through diapers on bad poutine). If you feel you meet the above requirements please see GM at Verizon Center. References Required. Pay based solely on how many past teams you have either buried or resurrected. Caps are an EOE. Plus if your references include Burnside, LeBrun or Mr. Cherry, you may just have landed one tough positon.

My take: A clever rant, well done. Listen, it was pretty obvious to anyone that coming into this season no NHL team would have more pressure on them than the Caps after the first-round playoff loss to Montreal last spring. The Caps are the new Sharks, since San Jose lotted its playoff monkey with a Final Four push last season. But at this point, I don't feel replacing Bruce Boudreau is the answer. As I wrote over the weekend, I think facing some adversity right now isn't the worst thing for this Caps team, which lolly-gagged wire-to-wire last regular season before folding in April once it finally faced adversity. This little bump in the road will toughen up this team.

1. Board of governors meetings

We are in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the NHL board of governors meetings Monday and Tuesday, and while you can't necessarily expect any hard news to break out at the posh resort where the governors are ensconced, there will be lots of discussion on the ownership front.

Of particular interest will be Matthew Hulsizer's first appearance before the board of governors' executive committee. The Chicago businessman is in the final stages of working up a new lease agreement with the City of Glendale, Ariz., and a final purchase price with the NHL to buy the long-troubled Phoenix Coyotes.

Sources continue to tell ESPN.com that everything is on track for both sides of the deal -- new lease and purchase price -- to be settled by Christmas, but the league will be in position after Dec. 31 to begin negotiations to relocate the team if a deal isn't in place, so there is some urgency to get everything squared away before the end of the calendar year. The time line on a final deal, along with how he plans to right the long-listing franchise, is sure to come up during Hulsizer's meeting with the executive committee on Monday.

As my colleague Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend, commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to tell the owners that the salary cap will likely go up again next year, thanks in large part to the continued strength of the Canadian dollar, which has seen revenues continue to rise even though there are attendance problems in places such as Atlanta, Dallas, Long Island and Phoenix.

We are told the cap could go up about $3 million from the current $59.4 million.

USA Hockey officials are expected to discuss initiatives, and the governors will be brought up to speed on negotiations on national television contracts in the U.S., which come up at the end of this season.

2. Callahan's lack of suspension

Guess we really don't understand the NHL's blindside hits rule. We still don't understand how New York Rangers forward Ryan Callahan wasn't suspended for his elbow/forearm to the head of an unsuspecting New York Islanders forward, Frans Nielsen, on Friday night.

Callahan was whistled for an elbowing penalty, and Nielsen did not miss any time during the game between the Islanders and Rangers. But we thought the whole point of introducing sanctions against blows to the head against unsuspecting players was, well, to stop it. Nielsen did not see Callahan coming, and he sure didn't see the elbow/forearm as it connected with the side of his head, a hit that immediately dropped Nielsen to the ice.

Oh well, maybe next time. Or not. Funny how it was the Rangers, specifically Brandon Dubinsky, who accused Sidney Crosby of slew-footing Callahan during a recent game. Wonder what Dubinsky thought of Callahan's hit on Nielsen.

3. Flyers whirlwind year

A couple of anniversaries of note in the NHL this past week that illustrate positive change can be both swift and glacial.

In Philadelphia, Peter Laviolette celebrated his one-year anniversary as head coach of the Flyers. He took over a Flyers team that had underachieved early on for former head coach John Stevens. Although it took some time, Laviolette got the Flyers into the playoffs, after which they enjoyed one of the more remarkable playoff runs in franchise history, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the second round and advancing to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1997, losing in six games to Chicago. The Flyers this year look even more formidable under Laviolette and are considered, along with Pittsburgh and Washington, to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

The other anniversary was the arrival of Brian Burke in Toronto two years ago. Burke's tenure has been significantly rockier than that of fellow American Laviolette. Burke's Leafs have not made the playoffs since the lockout, and there is every indication they'll miss again this year. Burke acknowledged last week that the team isn't where he envisioned it would be when he took the job after overseeing a Stanley Cup win in Anaheim.

Although he continues to be flayed for trading what looks to be two lottery picks for Phil Kessel (the Boston Bruins picked Tyler Seguin second overall with the Leafs pick last June and own the Leafs first-round pick in the 2011 entry draft), Burke's biggest challenge may lie ahead of him. Burke has steadfastly refused, at least publicly, to consider replacing head coach Ron Wilson, who is a close friend. And while he may not do so before the end of the season, another year without playoff revenues and no appreciable improvement in key areas like penalty-killing and the power play and Burke may have no choice next summer but to look for a coach who can move his Leafs forward.

4. Jackets weaknesses showing

When the season started, there weren't many folks who considered the Columbus Blue Jackets to be a playoff-worthy team. But their play under rookie head coach Scott Arniel through much of the first quarter of the season was one of the surprise stories early on in this campaign.

Now it's crunch time for Arniel and the Blue Jackets, who have started to look a lot like the team that sputtered through most of last season. Columbus has lost five straight games and has been outscored 22-8 over that period, highlighting two significant problems Arniel must deal with. The squad's defense hasn't been good enough through this stretch, and the widely-held belief that the Blue Jackets' blue line isn't mobile enough has been born out through this skid. The team's balanced scoring, a big part of the team's success early on, has dried up, too. Derick Brassard, for instance, has one goal in his last 13 games and one assist through the team's five-game slide. Jakub Voracek, likewise, has one assist in his last five games. And so on.

As of Monday morning, the Blue Jackets were still in playoff position, tied for the eighth spot with Nashville but technically ahead of the Preds based on their number of wins. So it's not too late for Columbus to get back on track. But this is the time in the season when water reaches its own level and the Blue Jackets will have to work hard to ensure they don't end up where many believed they would reside -- under the surface.

5. East's defense shifts balance of power

It's generally accepted that the balance of power continues to lie in the Western Conference, but it's interesting to note that the top four defensive teams in the NHL all reside in the Eastern Conference. Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, in that order, are allowing the fewest goals per game this season. Boston and Montreal are allowing fewer than two goals a game (Boston 1.88 per game and Montreal 1.96). Last year, those four teams finished second, 13th, 20th and 15th, respectively, which is a credit to the coaching staffs on all four of those teams. If it's true that defense wins championships, maybe observers shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the Eastern Conference, even if it is home to some of the worst teams in the NHL.

Whether it's coincidence or not, the Washington Capitals have won two straight since the Alex Ovechkin-Ilya Kovalchuk laughing controversy.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com Saturday that he believes the incident after last Monday's 5-0 loss in New Jersey actually brought the team together even though he thinks it was exaggerated.

"I was doing my press conference and there was a laugh and I looked over," Boudreau said. "But it wasn't Ovi that laughed, it was Kovalchuk that laughed. I don't know what Ovi said in Russian, maybe something like, 'Boy, did we suck.' And Kovalchuk laughed. It was like someone clapping real loud. It's a noise that startles you. So you look over. I made nothing of it."

My colleague and friend Cory Masisak certainly did in an interesting piece that raised eyebrows in D.C.

Boudreau realizes the optics weren't great.

"I can understand as an old-school guy, we never used to talk to our opponents," Boudreau said. "But in hockey's new age, you see it after every game."

The coach chatted with his franchise player about it.

"The next day, we talked about a lot of things, that was just a very brief part of it," Boudreau said. "He said to me, 'That was just my friend and we were just talking after a game.' I said, 'I know, I know.' But when you lose 5-0, people accentuate more than it is. To us, it was a nothing deal."

Boudreau also understands the desire for players of the same country to touch base after games.

"When I played in Europe, if there was a Canadian on the other team, even if I didn't know him I would wait after the game for him," Boudreau said. "Just to talk in our native language, or just to catch up. I'd like to compare notes on how teams were treating us over there. Do they pay the bills? That's what Canadians wanted to know over there. So we were always waiting to talk to guys after the game. I can see that if you're Russian, Swedish, German, whatever, that maybe having a chance to talk to a hometown friend you haven't seen in a while in your native language after a game, it's a big deal."

Sens' work doesn't generate traction


The up-and-down Senators have worked the phones hard all season long but still no move.

"We do continue to talk and attempt to shore up our team, but at this point there is nothing," Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com Saturday.

Murray would not get into specifics, but a league source told ESPN.com that the veteran GM sent a memo to the other 29 teams saying defenseman Brian Lee was available and that hasn't generated much traction at this point. Meanwhile, other sources told ESPN.com that the Sens have received calls from other teams inquiring about forward Nick Foligno, who didn't have a goal this season entering Saturday night's game against Toronto. Not sure the Sens, however, would want to give up on him this early in the game when he's only 23 years old, but I guess stranger things have happened.

Coyotes sale still not there


The sale of the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL to a group led by Chicago businessman Mathew Hulsizer is inching closer but it’s still not there.

A source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com Friday that he believed the aim was to close before Christmas. A final lease agreement with the city of Glendale has progressed, said the source, but still hasn't been finalized, either.

Another source told ESPN.com that while the sale was progressing, it would not be completed in time for the Dec. 6-7 Board of Governors in Palm Beach, Fla. But that's not the end of the world since NHL owners can vote on team sales via fax at any time.

Avery Rule in Effect


Quite the gutsy call by young referee Ghislain Hebert when he disallowed Mike Richards' overtime goal Friday and called Chris Pronger for an unsportsmanlike penalty for waiving his glove in front of Miikka Kiprusoff's face.

We call it the Sean Avery rule but in fact it never was a new rule, more a new interpretation of an existing rule -- unsportsmanlike conduct. The NHL released a memo during the playoffs a few years ago after Avery was waiving his glove in front of Martin Brodeur's face.

I checked with the league on Saturday and this was the first time the penalty had been called for this specific reason since Avery.

"It has not been called since then," Terry Gregson, director of officiating for the NHL, told ESPN.com via email. "The spirit and intent of the USC rule is to keep an acceptable hockey decorum in the game, in this case when a player is screening. This type of act is outside the normal boundaries and needs to be controlled for the good of the game."

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren sent Gregson an e-mail to underline his disagreement with the call and Gregson explained to Holmgren why it was the right one. Personally, I think it was the right call. Pronger's glove was in the face of Kiprusoff -- the tape doesn't lie.

Chelios coming out of retirement?


Reports out of Russia over the past few days linked a few KHL teams to retired blueliner Chris Chelios, 48. TSN's Darren Dreger confirmed Friday that there were at least talks between KHL club Vityaz and the Chelios camp.

In fact, Chelios told ESPN.com that two KHL teams were in the mix.

"Two teams are looking for a D-man, so might as well listen," Chelios told me via text message. "Just sniffin' around, nothing serious."

Bergeron gets final clearance


Unrestricted free-agent blueliner Marc-Andre Bergeron got the final clearance from doctors Thursday and can resume his NHL career after recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Bergeron, 30, can help a power play, as he did last season when he potted 13 goals and 21 assists in 60 games with the Montreal Canadiens. He had 14 goals and 18 assists in 72 games the season before in Minnesota. You know what you're getting in Bergeron, a power-play force with a heavy shot but a defensive liability in his zone. Still, double-digit goals can only help a team in dire need of power-play help.

The Florida Panthers have the lowest ranked power play in the NHL, but GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com Saturday that, at this point, his team wasn't involved in talks with Bergeron. While Tallon would not say, I suspect the reason is that he'd have to unload a contract before he could ever think of phoning the Bergeron camp. Columbus (ranked 28th on the PP), Nashville (27th), St. Louis (24th), the Islanders (17th), the Rangers (14th) and the Coyotes (13th), also all told me they weren't in on Bergeron.

What about the Devils and their 29th-ranked PP? There's a blue line that needs an injection and I believe there is some interest there. I also think the Dallas Stars, ranked 22nd on the PP, have a bit of interest in him.

Secret is out on Coyotes' success

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
2:51
PM ET

There's only been one back-to-back winner of the Jack Adams Award since the NHL began handing out the trophy in 1974.

Can Dave Tippett join Jacques Demers (1986-87 and 1987-88) as only the second coach to pull off the feat?

Well, guiding the Phoenix Coyotes to their best start in a decade sure isn't a bad way to start the title defense of his Jack Adams.

The smoking-hot Coyotes have won six in a row entering Tuesday night's home date with the Edmonton Oilers, their 10-5-5 start is their best through 20 games since the 2000-01 season.

"Our team chemistry is starting to find its way a little bit," Tippett told ESPN.com Monday.

The Coyotes have posted wins over Chicago, St. Louis, Calgary [twice], Edmonton, Vancouver, capping the winning streak by sweeping through Western Canada.

The way Tippett sees it, the team's 20 games this season is a tale of two halves -- the first 10 games (3-4-3) versus the last 10 games (7-1-2). The team took too many penalties in the first 10 games and the power play struggled like it did last year. In the last 10 games, the power play has been terrific, the team has taken less penalties (none at all in Sunday's win at Vancouver) and the offense has picked up.

A constant throughout has been steady goaltending from starter Ilya Bryzgalov and backup Jason Labarbera.

It may just be that the Coyotes also had to realize that the secret's out. After a 107-point season last year, which stunned the hockey world, they weren't going to sneak up on anyone this season.

"Without a doubt," Coyotes captain Shane Doan told ESPN.com Monday. "And I think that's what you want. You want those expectations from the outside and from yourself. You want to be expected to win. I think as a team when you start to win, and the more you win, the expectations of the group change.

"Now, it's unacceptable for us to not give ourselves a chance to win every night, with our goaltending playing as well as it is."

Doan only has one goal this season, although to his defense, he's missed seven with injury and three via suspension. Still, imagine had someone told Tippett before the season that October would come and go with Doan, Ray Whitney and Wojtek Wolski all without a goal (they've combined for seven goals in November).

"I would have been wondering what our record would be, that's for sure," chuckled Tippett. "But in the end, it made us realize that we have to be that score-that-committee crew. It's allowed other players to jump up and show what they can do. Lauri Korpikoski has been a very good player for us. He's got five goals and 10 points. If you had said that he'd be fifth in team scoring to me before the season, I'd probably doubted that on you. But he's played real well. For every guy that had a slow start, we've had another guy jump up and do good things for us."

The Coyotes may not have a superstar forward, but they've got offensive balance, as underlined by Taylor Pyatt scoring twice Sunday night in Vancouver, Doan said. There's always someone contributing every night.

"You can go through our lineup and find maybe eight to nine guys who might get you 20 goals this year," Doan said. "When you have that variety, yes it makes it tough maybe in not everyone getting as much ice time as they wanted, but on nights where you're going, the coach is going is going to keep you going. I think that's huge for us right now. We've got someone different stepping up every game. It makes us tough to play against."

Because there are no big superstars in the forward group, Tippett doesn't have to dance around egos when he's doling out the minutes. How many coaches in the league can truly look at his 12 forwards every night and decide who to play based on only that night. No favors required.

"A guy like Marty Hanzal is a perfect example," Tippett said. "He wasn't very good in the Edmonton game and ended up playing around 11 minutes and sat a lot on the bench. And then Sunday night, he jumps in and plays a bit portion against the Sedins, plays 20 minutes, and was a real good player for us. You pick and choose, find a guy or a line that you think can make a difference on that night. It's been alright."

Now the team just needs Coyotes fans to buy in again like they did late last season. But once again entering the season without new ownership has left some fans at home. The Coyotes through Monday night were dead last in attendance, averaging 10,265 per game.

"All the years I've been here, the beginning of the season is always tough because there's just so many other things going on here in the Valley," Doan said. "As the winter goes on, more people come down from northern States and Canada, and the second half of the year we usually do very well. I'm assuming it'll be probably similar.

"Obviously the [ownership] instability has created some questions for the fans, but I think as we win and as the season goes on it'll fill up and we'll finish like last year where we were sold out."

Kaberle rumors persist

For whatever reason, the Tomas Kaberle trade rumors have picked up again over the past week. That's news to the man who holds the key to any trade for the star Toronto defenseman because of a no-trade clause.

"There's no reason for any talk to commence," veteran agent Rick Curran of the Orr Hockey Group told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "Nothing has changed from our standpoint. So whatever the media has initiated and tried ... I can assure you it's certainly not coming from me and I know it's not coming from Tomas. ... My understanding of the situation is that unless we were to initiate conversation, then there shouldn't be one."

Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has repeatedly gone on record, including with ESPN.com, as saying he would not ask Kaberle to waive his no-trade clause. When the Feb. 28 trade deadline rolls around, everyone involved in this situation will obviously have to have another chat. But if Kaberle wants to ride it out and walk away July 1 into unrestricted free agency, that's his right and his call.

Besides, with star blueliner Dion Phaneuf suffering a leg injury Tuesday night, Kaberle is hardly expendable at this point.

Buff-a-low

Somewhat overshadowed by the drama in New Jersey, at least on a national level, is the equally stunning start to the season for the Buffalo Sabres.

The defending Northeast Division champs carried a 3-7-2 record into Wednesday night's game at home against red-hot Boston, good for 14th place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of those famously maligned Devils.

The team that brought home the Vezina Trophy (Ryan Miller) and Calder Trophy (Tyler Myers) last season can't buy a win. This is a team I had pegged for another playoff berth, and I'm not the only one who is surprised at what has transpired.

"Yes, I'm somewhat surprised," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "It's hard to put a finger on what it is. I don't think it's just one thing, but generally, we haven't played well enough. It's something we have to rectify."

Regier is as patient as they come among the league's 30 GMs and, for the most part, it has served him well. Panic trades are not in his DNA. The offseason is usually when he does his personnel work. But, yes, he's looking around.

"Working the phones is happening now," Regier said. "I think that's something that happens in the background for most managers regardless. It's one thing to work the phones, and it's one thing to get something that works for you. And there's times where maybe you're looking a bit more than others. ... For now, we're going to continue to take a patient approach and I'll continue to talk to my [GM] counterparts and hopefully we can right this season in the near future."

When a team that has high expectations struggles in the opening month, the question that gets asked is about the coach's job. Of course, this isn't just any old coach, it's the NHL's longest-tenured bench boss in Lindy Ruff, a former Jack Adams Award winner. Personally, I don't see how replacing him could possibly solve anything, and it's not something on the GM's mind, either.

"No, it's not," Regier said. "We've been through a lot of these situations together and we'll get through this situation, as well."

If the losses keep mounting, a trade seems like the most obvious path, even for the ultra-patient Regier.

Dire Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are off to another shaky start at 4-7-1 (14th in West), and it hasn't taken long for the coach watch to start with Randy Carlyle. GM Bob Murray quickly jumped on those rumors, telling local media Monday his coach was safe, a comment he reiterated to me Tuesday.

"I've got a good coach and he's got a hell of a record," Murray told ESPN.com. "He's won a Stanley Cup. He knows how to win."

The message from Murray is simple: The coach isn't going anywhere, so the players have to play better, or else there might be trades.

"They've got some time still ... but eventually, at some point, I've got to say, 'What the heck is going on here?'" Murray said.

Reading between the lines, here's my take on all this: Carlyle doesn't have a job for life if the losing continues, but Murray is going to move some bodies before he considers canning his coach. I could be wrong, but that's my read.

In the meantime, Carlyle and Murray need to light a fire under their players. The Ducks got waxed in a one-sided loss to San Jose this past Saturday night and lost the previous night at home to a New Jersey Devils team that can't beat anyone else these days.

"As troublesome as people might think the San Jose game was, more troublesome to me was the flatness coming out against New Jersey last Friday night," Murray said. "That should have been two very desperate teams. But the first eight minutes, there was only one desperate team -- New Jersey."

The penalties have been damaging. The Ducks lead the NHL in penalty minutes per game, and that has to stop. "Our guys have to play hard and play smart," Murray said.

This GM is aggressive when it comes to trades. He's not scared to make one. I know from talking to other teams that Murray has been busy on the phone over the past few weeks. If the Ducks don't start winning, you might see a move or two before the end of November.

Contract talks in the desert

Contract talks with the Coyotes' two prized UFAs-to-be, Ilya Bryzgalov and Ed Jovanovski, are still on hold until Matthew Hulsizer's bid to buy the team is signed, sealed and delivered.

"I'm waiting for ownership to get settled and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told ESPN.com. "Once that's done, we can take a look at our free agents."

Maloney spoke to the agents for Bryzgalov and Jovanovski before camp, basically telling them to hold on until the ownership mess was taken care of.

"Everyone understands our situation," Maloney said. "Unless a deal was just phenomenal for us ... I mean, we can still sign deals, but it would have to be a terrific deal for us. No one is giving us a bargain-basement deal just yet."

Here are some of the rants from you puckheads this week:

SabresFanInTN: As a Sabres fan, I'm obviously upset over their start. While there's plenty there to rant about (inconsistency from game-to-game and period-to-period, woeful special teams and overall mediocrity), I want to focus on their mental toughness. There's been multiple times where an injury (vs. Chicago) or perception of a bad call (vs. Philadelphia) has caused the team to implode for at least 30 game minutes before they get their act back together. Should I be more mad at the coach or players? They both deserve criticism, but which is most responsible for this? Should the GM be called out for not pulling the trigger on a team-shaking trade?

My take: As a Sabres fan, you have a right to be upset. I look at this roster on paper and I see a playoff team. But you mention something interesting regarding mental toughness. It might be time to question whether there's enough leadership on this team outside of the amazing Ryan Miller. Right now, I don't see enough character in this lineup. I don't blame coach Lindy Ruff at all for that, you can't coach character -- that's either in you or not as a player. Bringing in Mike Grier before last season was a smart move, but he's a complementary player. The leadership void right now is smack in the upper echelon of this roster. Am I wrong? If so, time for Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek & Co. to show us.

twisted3829: LeBrun, the Bruins are playing some of the best hockey in the league on both offense and defense, yet they are getting no love from anyone. What gives?

My take: Twisted, I take it you didn't see the piece I wrote on Tim Thomas on Oct. 22? Not to mention their fourth overall placing in this week's Power Rankings? Not to mention the excellent daily coverage they get from Joe McDonald and James Murphy at ESPN Boston? C'mon, man ... the B's are getting a lot of love!

MotorCitySmitty81: What's with not only the fans, but the NHL scribes subscribing to the early-season panic mode that permeates the other, lesser sports? I don't ever remember being a month in and seeing so much hand-wringing and whining so early in the season. Leave that noise to the baseball stat geeks.

Also, can you issue a moratorium on the How Come The _____ Don't Get No Love posts? Maybe a blank fill-in-your-team document. And a Why Pierre Hates Your Team The ______ document, as well.

My take: Don't know about all the hand-wringing, but love your comment at the end. It always makes me laugh how fans think their team is always being ignored. And it's universal. Fans from every single team over the years have complained to me about the lack of "respect" or "national coverage" for their respective teams. I'm with you, MotorCitySmitty81 ... enough already!

CanadianCam: Pierre, when the in the H.E. Double hockey sticks is Brian Burke going to find a big, physical center for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs? I am having trouble believe this year will turn out any different from last unless we get some much needed toughness/size and willingness to go to the net. Honestly, I'm wondering what it would be like to still have Nik Antropov! Somebody do something!

My take: CC, the Leafs continue to work the phones, looking for offensive help and, yes, especially at center. But top-flight centers don't grow on trees; they're prized possessions. A Leafs source reiterated over the weekend that they've got "two hits," meaning two teams that have sparked up an interesting dialogue on the trade front, but nothing good enough yet. The Leafs have about $4 million in cap space and don't want to waste it on a bad move. They want to get it right.

Nsjohn130: Dearest LeBrun, the Minnesota Wild have yet to show any consistency. They play excellent against the Caps, and then horrible against the Hawks. Team problem? Coach problem? This team needs another Gaborik fast.

My take: You nailed it: inconsistency. As for "another Gaborik," the Wild thought they were getting that when they shelled out the money for Martin Havlat. So far, the signing has been a disappointment. His agent, Allan Walsh, shared his concerns to Mike Russo of The Star-Tribune last week. I think it's something that has been boiling over since last season. Havlat and coach Todd Richards don't appear to be on the same page no matter what anybody says, and that could be a troubling situation as the season plays out.

AquaZone: Pierre, what can we do to convince Penguins' ownership that the MAF experiment is over?! He's not in a slump, this is who he is. What you see is what you get. He's a backup goaltender. Help spread the word!

My take: From talking to Pens GM Ray Shero last week, that's certainly not how he feels. And I agree with him. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury's play has been troubling, both last spring in the playoffs and so far this season. But this is also the guy who was outstanding in helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009. It's way too early to give up on this goalie. Patience, AquaZone, patience.

mochabacon: Why are the Coyotes still in the desert? They have poor attendance and a multitude of excuses for it. I believe it comes down to the fact that there are just not enough fans that care in Arizona. Despite the large population, this experiment has failed. But what makes me upset the most is the NHL is stubbornly holding on to the idea that hockey will work in the Sunbelt when there are more deserving places that teams could be relocated to.

My take: No one wants to see the NHL back in Winnipeg more than me and, yes, a 4,000 season-ticket base in Phoenix is a joke. But let's look at what's happened here. This team hasn't had ownership stability in two-plus years; that has driven many fans away because they don't know or think the team is here for the long run. I also think if you've actually been out to Glendale and looked at the Westgate complex, it's pretty impressive. I've been there several times now, and every time I go, I come away thinking they've done a great job with the rink and the surrounding shops, restaurants and hotels. Before we pull the plug on this team, I'd like to see how the market responds under stable ownership (Matthew Hulsizer, if his deal goes through). At least we'd get a truer picture.

IshH92: Why is the Stars' defense playing with my emotions so much? They're a pretty green D-core made up of the two vets, Robidas, who's a beast, and Skrastins, who's a pretty good shot blocker, Trevor Daley, who we're STILL hearing about untapped offensive potential, Niskanen, who's having a bounce back year so far, and Grossman and Fistric, who are slowly becoming monsters. Why can't they play like they did against Buffalo more than one night out of 4?

For a few games, they look like swiss cheese, then they tighten up and lock it down and do a great job. And then, the offense has an amazing shooting percentage in the first 6 games and then goes dry once they finally find a way to out play other teams. AHHH, night in and night out, this team either looks like the bottom-dweller we've seen the last two years, or like a playoff team that could potentially be a powerhouse to some extent.

My take: Dallas' 4-0-0 start masked the truth, and now that the team has come down to earth a bit, this reality is back: the blue line is the weakest link on this hockey team. Don't think Stars GM Joe Niewendyk doesn't know it, either, but the ownership situation tied his hands in the offseason in terms of trying to improve the roster. In a perfect world, he would have dealt Mike Ribeiro for defensive help, but the GM couldn't find a taker last summer. But that's definitely the area of the team Niewendyk is focused on improving moving forward.

adrockamd: Do you think John MacLean is in over his head with the jump to coaching in the NHL? I mean, there is no excuse for the Devils' terrible start with that roster. As maddening as it was seeing Jacques Lemaire's line juggling at the end of last year, at least the team still stayed true to their 'defense first' philosophy.

My take: I don't think he's in over his head. He's been around with the organization too long not to be qualified to take over as head coach. The biggest problem right now is with two of their top blueliners hurt (Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador), it's almost an AHL defense playing in front of Martin Brodeur. When you can't get the puck out of your zone, you can't get the puck to your forwards, and you then can't score goals. That's where the biggest problem lies right now.

agbigeasy: I hate the fact that Edmonton isn't considered a quality free agency destination ..... makes me think that players now are all about the money and not about the game. We have some of the diehard hockey fans, Rexall Place is always packed and the franchise history is ..... well, historic. Weather is bad? Hmm, hockey is played on ice. In the winter. If i were a veteran free agent in the next couple years and wanted a chance to make an impact and win, I'd be looking at this young nucleus and climbing aboard.

My take: Honest story: I once had an Oilers player complain to me that one of the things he hated about playing in Edmonton is the players' parking lot was not heated or covered in the winter, that he hated having to walk out in the cold to get to his car. My good friend and colleague Mark Spector, a terrific writer for Sportsnet.ca, lives in Edmonton and tells me things have improved in recent years with young lads going out to start the cars and warm them up in the dead of winter. But still, no heated garage.

"I guess that's just another reason they need a new rink in this town," Spector told me. You'd think if Edmonton was good enough for Wayne Gretzky for the first half of his career, it would be good enough for anybody. But I have indeed had agents and players tell me they would never play there. Too bad. They'll be missing a good thing over the next few seasons with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle rocking down the house.

Bears in 2008: Nice call on the Isles getting 3 out of 4 points from the Habs last week.

My take: So you're saying I was a bit off because they got zero out of four? Ouch.

prashanthiyer: My rant involves Pavel Datsyuk and why he's not considered the most dominant player in the NHL. This past week, I attended a Caps-Canes game in Carolina to see Ovechkin. I have now seen Datsyuk, Crosby and Ovechkin all live, and neither Crosby nor Ovechkin is as dominant all over the ice as Datsyuk. Sure, Crosby and Ovechkin score more goals and points than Datsyuk, but that is only one half of the rink. Every time Datsyuk is on the ice, a buzz goes through the air. He will back-check like a dog and steal the puck away from you. He will dazzle and dangle the puck through the neutral zone and make a pass that only a handful of NHL players could dream of. Watching him against Nashville this past week only showed me just how dominant he can be. I want to know why people don't consider him the most dominant player in the NHL from shift to shift at both ends of the rink.

My take: I totally agree with you and have always raved about Mr. Datsyuk. Check out what I wrote in the Power Rankings this week. One of the reasons he hasn't had the same kind of league-wide praise/buzz is because the man doesn't talk. He's quiet, goes about his business, and doesn't attract media attention. I've tried to interview him a few times, and while you can tell he's a very smart man, his actual quotes aren't of much use. It's just not this thing. But he deserves to be considered among the top players in the world ... and right now, one month into the season, I'd argue he's in the Hart Trophy debate.

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