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Monday, October 28, 2002
Updated: October 31, 12:57 PM ET
The common theme: Take one for the team

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

THIS WEEK'S ZAMBONI RIDE ...
• The Great 8: Teemu Selanne
• Mr. Jones and Me
• E-mail bag
• More stuff
Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in a one-room log cabin. When Lincoln was 9 years old his mom died. When he was 18, his sister died. When he was 26, the woman he was deeply in love with died. When he was 41, his 3-year-old son died. Less than a year later, Lincoln's father died. When Lincoln was 53, his 12-year-old son Willie died. His wife, emotionally wrecked, never recovered. Meanwhile, Lincoln was serving as president of a country that was exterminating itself. Experts say 700,000 people died in the Civil War, almost equal to the number of U.S. deaths in all subsequent wars. Lincoln practically bereaved each death, from 1-700,000, in his mind. Everyday. When he was 56, that mind was blown to kingdom come by John Wilkes Booth.

What in the world does this have to do with Antti Laaksonen?

Perhaps the best way we can use history as a tool in present day society, is as an anti self-absorption mechanism, to remember that there are many examples where men and women stood tall in the name of duty, honor and most importantly, SELFLESSNESS. And that's why we study history. Life is much too different and complex today to learn much from history's details. What we can take is the relentlessness of duty. Throughout his tragic life, Lincoln mucked and grinded to the end. He fought through the pain and mental anguish for the good of the team. The UNITED States of America. There were no $10 million book deals and MSNBC talk shows to appear on in 1865. This was character at its core. A self-made, selfless man. He would have loved Terry O'Reilly.

Enter Antti Laaksonen. Now, there are many reasons why a 29-year-old from Tammela, Finland, can earn $750,000 a year in the U.S. playing ice hockey. And this is not to surmise that the Civil War has anything to do with NHL owners and NHL players coming together on a working agreement to operate their 30-team fantasy league following the 2003-2004 season. But, for me, stories like Lincoln's -- the life he led, the times he lived in -- are vivid reminders that some U.S. residents are ungrateful and unaware of the blood, smarts and sacrifice that it took so they could open their garages by pushing a button and earn millions by making a movie like "Jackass." Yes, the U.S. produced "250 years of unrequited toil," followed by poor working conditions during the industrial revolution, continued racial inequities for too long, permitted women's inequalities, and has cultivated a corporate greed that has made America's working class uneasy. But, the model is good, and the people, largely kind and giving, and that's why we fight to keep it alive and keep improving it.

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
TOONS ON ICE Hockey (www.toonsonice.com)
When I see people at sporting events leave their hats on during the national anthem, I am filled with a Terry O'Reilly/Bob Probert rage that rivals a pack of hungry wolves on the back of a meat truck. We enjoy what we have because of blood spilled. Show a little respect.

So, Lincoln's story and the country's struggles to right itself has shown us that two things get results: selfless leadership and the power of the people. A democratic, free-market society is run by an ACTIVE populace. YOU have the power to affect political leadership and corporate health. An organized movement, with consistent, all out, 50-second shifts, will prevail.

Now, we activate the flux capacitor and travel at the speed of light from real, social issues to the playground of organized, entertainment-based & so we are not accused of blurring slavery and unrestricted free agency. Chill out, Sparky, I understand the difference.

What will cause an NHL work stoppage when the current collective bargaining agreement ends in September 2004? Greed, deceitfulness, non-hockey people, and fan apathy. You have surely read that the much anticipated labor strife is a battle between two sides. The owners and the players' association. It is not. This is a three-headed monster between the owners, players and YOU. And YOU are the most powerful.

This summer's preemptive strike by baseball fans clearly prevented a strike. Clear, well spelled out threats by you and your fellow fan, via signs at the games, letters to the teams threatening season ticket cancellation, letters to corporations whose naming rights are on NHL arenas, radio call-in show passion and any other well thought out civil action is the best way to prevent an NHL strike.

The league/owners, players and fans must all do their part to prevent a strike, because of the SHEER STUPIDITY of it. I think the stupidity factor would make me more angry than missing the hockey games that would be cancelled. Watching the daily updates of a millionaires' and billionaires' fight over millions would be like watching an endless loop of Dominik Hasek karaoke singing the greatest hits of Earth, Wind and Fire.

The owners ...
Let's be clear about this. THIS IS ALL THE OWNERS' FAULT. Bobby Holik should not have a contract that pays him $9.5 million. Some owners have the restraint of Barry Melrose at an ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT BACON BAR.

Most championship teams are built through the draft and refined through free agency. It's hard to build a team through free agency because a team can't grow together and sacrifice together when they each drive home alone to their 5,000-square foot mansions in their Escalades. Dallas' signing of Bill Guerin and the Red Wings' moves during the summer of 2001 are smart. That being said, the owners and the league have the most difficult job in all of this - to find the system that grows the game. If 30 teams are determined to be that system for growth, then we will have markets that are significantly smaller than New York. So now what?

I don't like salary caps. If the NHL had a salary cap, we wouldn't have any GREAT teams, just like the NFL. And if Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were on different teams there wouldn't be any great NBA teams, either. Watching the Red Wings and Avalanche play the Western Conference Final last spring was pure art and joy. A salary cap would probably prevent that much hockey talent from competing on one sheet of ice. So, whether it's a luxury tax or salary ceilings or some other form of sharing or wisdom, the puck is in the owners' crease. They need to open their books and display the revenue streams so the proper model can be implemented. So, they MAKE money. Owners should make money. A lot of money. They shoulder all the risk and pay all the employees OTHER than the players. Everyone seems to forget about those underpaid people. The NHL needs owners who love hockey, not the Tom Hicks of the world, and they should be allowed to make money every year.

... the players ...
The American sports fan is astute. They understand that if a large amount of money pours into a company, it is only fair that the workers share in that wealth. In some ways, U.S. corporations should mirror professional athletics more. Very few people make most of the money at billion dollar corporations. At least on a hockey team, the workers on the ice are well compensated. NHL fans, and sports fans in general, understand sports is a billion dollar, international industry, and that the players are therefore compensated well.

It took time, but the fan has gotten over that.

Their concerns now are a fair-priced ticket, re-signing of popular players, a well-managed front office and the overall health of the team they invest so much of their money, time and emotion in.

The NHL player is largely a bright, down to earth guy. They understand how lucky they have it and how fortunate they are. Their average salary is over a million dollars a year and they have summers off. Pretty cool. I had a slight disagreement with an NHL player a few years ago when I said that YOU, the NHL fan, are the most important part of his sport and my business and that they the player should be WAY MORE understanding of that.

The players need to make sure THEIR voices are heard by NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow. Fans may not mind highly-paid athletes, but they cannot stomach a highly-paid athlete who strikes. A striking school teacher who is asking for a raise from $30,000 a year isn't remotely similar to Anti Laaksonen striking. If second grade school teacher Rod Jarrett in Clyde, Ohio, makes $30,000 a year, it would take Rod 25 years to make what Antti Laaksonen will make this year. And I know Rod will have a better year. That being said, the players play a very dangerous game that brings joy and excitement to millions of people and doesn't last all that long. They have a skill, albeit one that entertains, that few have. And fans understand that some players, although not enough, are very generous with their time and money. Joe Sakic's charity golf tournament this offseason raised enough money to distribute 1.1 million meals to the poor.

... and YOU!
Again, YOU control this thing. You must demand through your voice and spending choices that sheer stupidity does not win out. The power is right there in your wallet. That cash, check card and credit card that go to buy $250 hockey sweaters, $70 dollar tickets, parking, hot dogs, gigantic pretzels and beer. Don't sell yourself short. You are NOT a tremendous slouch in this game. Season ticket holders unite, fans petition, loudmouths start your engines. You are the most vital cog in the NHL engine. It doesn't give you the right to throw things on the ice, puke on the guy next to you, or jump naked on the ice with red socks. (Thanks goodness there is no more clutching and grabbing.) But, it also doesn't mean that after all your emotion, money, and time you should have to assume the position in the fall of 2004 while Anti Laaksonen gets his daily full body massage while he "strikes" in Finland.

Can't you feel them circling honey?

The San Jose Sharks were hungry and confident last spring. They had a 3-2 series lead and a 1-0 lead in Game 6 against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference semifinal. In THEIR tank. It slipped away. They lost Game 6 and Game 7, and frankly THEY WERE STUNNED. While the rest of the hockey world paid little attention to their championship quest, they and their passionate fans truly felt a Stanley Cup was within their reach. So, entering this season, hopes were high that a year's experience would bring the Sharks even closer to title contender status.

Teemu Selanne
Teemu Selanne has 74 points (42-32-74) in 102 games as a Shark.
Right from the start, a team that had a lot go its way last year, in terms of young players performing and overall health, had things going in the opposite direction. Gary Suter retired, Evgeni Nabokov and Brad Stuart held out and Scott Thornton injured his shoulder. Four significant subtractions from last year's team. The Sharks have improved their point total seven straight years. Making it eight will be difficult. The Sharks are like a golfer trying to lower his or her handicap. The lower you go, the harder it is to make improvement.

In my mind, the Sharks' best player is Teemu Selanne. If he plays five more years, he will retire with close to 600 goals and be a Hall of Famer. Outside of the 2000-01 playoffs, when he was hurt and failed to score a goal, Selanne has been a proven playoff producer. Take those six games from two years ago out and Selanne has 18 playoff goals in 33 games. He has shown a willingness to battle more and play a little grittier as he has gotten older. His 40 penalty minutes last year were the most since his rookie year. Selanne seems to be more of a competitor now than he's ever been. At the Winter Olympics last February, we saw a passionate Selanne play with every ounce of his heart. He seemed to enjoy it and he brought it to the Sharks down the stretch.

The Finnish Flash is a decent, friendly person who loves to live life fast. Fast cars and fast airplanes. As he turns 32, he realizes that a great player is deemed greater with a championship. A lot of it is timing and luck. Selanne is on a good team and seems to be saying to himself: "I can do this. I can be the difference. I can score 50 goals this year, get us in the playoffs and help lead us to a championship."

Championship teams need difference makers. The Wings have the most and that's why I think they will win it all again this year. Sometimes, hot goaltending and one hot leader can make the difference.

No. 1: Your team got off to a 1-4 start. Your goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov was finally signed. Why was it a problem with him not in there?
Selanne:
"Mentally, it is an issue. You like to trust your other goalies too, but when your No. 1 goalie is out, you might have some problems. That being said, you can't blame the goaltenders. We had a bad start as a team and we're going to have to get better and better."

Teemu won the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy for most goals (47) in 1999.

No. 2: What has been the problem?
Selanne:
"We take way too many penalties. That's going to cost us lots of games."

No. 8 has played in 8 All-Star games.

No. 3: How do you remember your days in Winnipeg?
Selanne:
"I think Winnipeg really deserves a hockey team. They were great fans and I'm happy I started my career there. I have great memories of the fans and city and playing with Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhamnov, it was an unbelievable line. Young guys and all rookies in the same year. Winnipeg was great."

Selanne was Winnipeg's first choice, 10th overall, in the 1988 draft. In his rookie year he scored 76 goals - my vote for the most unbreakable NHL record of all time. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year that season.

No. 4: Do you and your coach get along?
Selanne:
"Me and coach Sutter have never had any problems."

Selanne has performed well in the Olympics. In 1998 he had 4-6-10 in five games. Last February, he had 3-0-3 in four games.

No. 5: No one thought you would re-sign in San Jose, especially a one-year deal. Why did you stay?
Selanne:
"We had so many things going there. We didn't want to move anywhere. I was very happy to test the free-agent market and shop around. But, if you add those things together, there are not many better packages than the San Jose Sharks."

No. 6: We know you like fast cars. Apparently, you like fast planes as well. You recently rode with the Blue Angels. What was it like?
Selanne:
"One of my best friends is an F-18 pilot in the Marine Corps and told me how much fun it is. What a great experience. I have so much respect for those guys and what they do. It was a great ride. UNBELIEVABLE!"

Teemu was born in Helsinki, Finland, on July 3, 1970.

No. 7: What affect has Gary Suter's retirement and Brad Stuart's unsigned status had on the Sharks?
Selanne:
"Our defensemen have played a lot of minutes. Maybe some of them are playing too much. Of course, it hurts when two great players are out, but I think we have to make a lot of adjustments with the new rules. I think last year we played right on the edge of taking a penalty or not. This year, you cannot do that. There's a lot of things we have to learn because special teams are so important and our penalty killing hasn't been anything to write home about. We have to find a way to play 60 minutes. That's the bottom line we have to fix."

No. 8: What are your plans after you retire? Where do you see you and your family living?
Selanne:
"Probably in Orange County. I have a house there. But, you never know. I still enjoy the game and hope to play many more years. The perfect situation for me would be to spend summers in Finland and then when it gets dark and cold, I can go back to California."

Keith Jones is 33 years old and washed up. Well, HE's not washed up, but his knee is. Just as his career was coming into focus and he found the spots on the ice where he could be a productive player, it all came crashing down on him in the form of Eric Daze.

Keith Jones
Between trips to the minors and injuries, Keith Jones never played a full NHL season.
It was the 1996-97 season and Keith was in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche, having been traded earlier in the season from the Washington Capitals. He was 28, in a great city, and playing with the likes of Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic. It couldn't have been any better, and Jones thrived -- 23 goals in 67 games and 105 penalty minutes. The kinds of stats that makes a player popular with the fans, his teammates and the coaching staff. Colorado had just won the Stanley Cup and looked primed to do it again.

"I started playing with Forsberg and (Valeri) Kamensky since Claude Lemieux was out with an injury," Jones recalled. "Everyone realized what a great player Peter was, but a lot of people don't realize what a great player Kamensky was. He had set me up with numerous empty-net goals. He was very unselfish and probably at the peak of his career. When Lemieux got healthy, he went back with Forsberg and Kamensky, and I moved over to play with Joe Sakic and Adam Deadmarsh. Not a bad tradeoff! I also played on the second power-play unit with Deadmarsh and Mike Ricci and we were very successful."

Everything was going perfectly. Youth and experience were intersecting at that athletic window where confidence, reflexes, hunger and strength equal production. The playoffs were coming, the Avs were stacked and Jonesy could smell the smoke from the engraving tool, carving his name into the Stanley Cup.

The playoffs began against the Chicago Blackhawks, and in Game 2, the Avs created a line of Lemieux-Sakic-Jones. It didn't matter to Jonesy, he was scoring no matter who he played with.

"I had at least a point in the first five games of the series against Chicago," says Jones, "Three goals and three assists, and we were up three games to two. I had just hit the crossbar with a shot and went to get a rebound and I put my leg between Eric Daze's feet, trying to gain position. Basically, it was my fault. Daze fell and my knee got stuck between his legs and 255 pounds fell on my knee and blew out my ACL. It also severely bruised my knee since it was an impact ACL."

Jones season was naturally over. The Avalanche would not repeat as Cup champions and the upcoming summer would mean surgery and not celebration.

Coming back from ACL surgery is very common these days. However, Jones the odds were being stacked slowly against a comeback. First, he is very bow legged, which is great for skating, but rehabbing knee injuries can be dicey because of the structure of the joints. Second, doctors told Jones that the best situation would be to use his patella tendon as a replacement for the destroyed ACL. As it turns out a cadaver graft would likely have saved Jones career. Instead, it ended 164 painful games later.

"Had I gone with the cadaver, I would have been in much better shape," Jones said. "My knee injuries that resulted after the surgery weren't that my ACL wasn't put in properly, because it was. What happened was, when they used my patella tendon, it scarred down and I was never able to get the strength back in my quad. When your patella tendon shrinks, it changes the tracking of your kneecap. Every time I tried to extend my knee, my femur would run into my kneecap and send pain all the way up my quad. They haven't come up with anything to lengthen the patella tendon."

So, Jonesy was never the same. He could never move properly after the first surgery because he had no quad strength. Slowly, all the cartilage and pain buffers he had surrounding his knee wore down. Keith enjoyed one more run playing in the great hockey city of Philadelphia. He fit in perfectly and played with Eric Lindros and John LeClair. During the 1998-99 season he scored 18 goals in 66 games. The fans loved him and he made good money. Eventually, the pain became too much. But, he is not bitter. It's a big reason why I love Jonsey. He doesn't whine. He misses the game, but he doesn't whine. "If you wanted to look things negatively you could say that something was done wrong if you were that type of person. But for me, I just live with the fact that I had a surgery that didn't work out," he said. "It was all worth it, though. I have no complaints whatsoever."

Today, the most famous knee injury belongs to Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. We saw him limp his way to another Stanley Cup Championship last spring. Can he come back this year? Keith Jones would know.

"Since hockey is played on ice, he a shot. It's not like basketball, where the knees take a bigger pounding. It still hurts in hockey, but it's not as debilitating. I was never able to run 3 feet after my first surgery, but I could still play NHL hockey."

Over the summer, Yzerman had a bone-realignment procedure, an osteotomy, to relieve the pressure on his knee. He is hoping to come back in January. At the time of the surgery, Detroit team physician Dr. David Collon described the surgery as "totally successful" and that the osteotomy was the right way to go.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: In an osteotomy, "the surgeon reshapes the shinbone (tibia) or thighbone (femur) to improve the knee's alignment. The healthy bone and cartilage is realigned to compensate for the damaged knee. Knee osteotomy surgically repositions the joint, realigning the mechanical axis of the limb away from the diseased area. This lets your knee glide freely and carry weight evenly on a more normal compartment."

Jones feels Yzerman knows now whether or not he can return.

"In my case, I knew right away after the first surgery that something wasn't right," Jones said. "I never got the feeling back. When I hear Yzerman say he can come back in January, I believe him. I think he would know now that it was going in the right direction. And if that's what his quotes are, then he truly does believe he can get back. I'm not surprised he's trying to come because I would have done the same thing. I am so glad I just got the chance to play in the NHL. I would have done it all the same and I'm sure if things don't work out for Yzerman, he would say the same thing. We all love hockey that much."

John,
Could this be the year where Matthew Barnaby finally breaks out of the bad boy image and becomes a goal scorer/play maker? Go Sabres!
Brian
Baldwinsville, N.Y.

Goal scorer and play maker might be a little strong for the self-proclaimed "boy band junkie." But, Matthew is clearly one of the few Rangers playing with passion and energy on every shift. In 1996-97, Barnaby had 19 goals and 24 assists, both career highs. This could be the year he gets 20. He's 29, a dad, and getting smarter. He'll always be wacky, but experience has made him an asset and not a liability. The Senators would love to have someone like Barnaby. He was born there and is exactly what they need.

PANG FAMILY ALBUM
Rhys Bevan, from Windsor, Ontario, offers us a photo from Darren Pang's days with the Ottawa 67's (circa 1982-84)
John,
Being only a casual hockey fan, I'm sometimes confused by certain terms and penalty calls. What does plus/minus mean? Like when you said that Adam Foote has a career plus/minus of plus-100 -- how do I interpret that?
Christopher Hetherington

Plus/minus is simple. In even-strength or short-handed situations, if your team scores, Chris, you get a plus. In even-strength or power-play situations, if the other team scores. you get a minus. If you are on the ice for your team's first two goals -- and they are both even-strength or short-handed - you're a plus-2. If the other team scores at even-strength or short-handed, you're back to plus-1. It's kind of like life, Chris. Asking a girl out on a date, a plus. Even if she says no, you gave it a try. Eat five doughnuts in one sitting? That's a minus. Three is the limit.

Mr. Buccigross,
In last week's column, you posed the following question: "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE ACADEMY, NAME ONE INSTANCE WHEN THE WORD CLOG IS USED IN A POSITIVE SENSE?" Here is your answer: Miss Michigan 2001, Stacy Essebaggers listed as her talent, CLOGGING. Now, even to picture Miss Essebaggers clogging is beautiful enough, but imagine this: She severely sprained her ankle while practicing the night before the competition, yet STILL performed her routine the following night! Is that the kind of fortitude that would make a hockey player proud or what! So, therein lies the answer to your question. NOTHING is more positive than Miss Michigan 2001 clogging with a bum ankle at the Miss American pageant.
Tom Mellinger
Muskegon, Mich.

Hold me, Tom. No, really, hold me.

John,
I love the column and read it religiously. I think that I have found yet another sign that the apocalypse is not too far away. In addition to Uwe Krupp wearing a "C" this year, EA Sports NHL 2003 has Eric Daze rated as a 95 while Mario Lemieux is a 94. I think I hear hoofbeats.
Billy Nauman
Tallahassee, Fla.

Those are Eric's. Eric, why the long face?

Hi John,
Talk about hitting the nail on the head. You summed up my frustration as a lifelong Bruins fan pretty well. For the past three years, I have boycotted them by not going to the games. I'll still watch them and root for them on TV.
Damon
New Hampshire

John,
I'm a huge Bruins fan, and I also think they are a joke when it comes to running the organization. But let's be honest, Bill Guerin may be the most overrated player in the NHL. Granted, he is a very good goal scorer, but that's all he does. Do you suck up to every player who will participate in you're (Derek wrote that misused word, not me or my editor) mediocre column.
Derek Franco
Massachusetts

From the games I have watched Bill Guerin play over the last two years and this year, I have seen him: always play hard, score goals, skate beautifully, shoot the puck hard and accurately, play hard, aggressive hockey on the puck, fight Jarome Iginla (last week), stick up for his teammates, finish his checks, and make nice, rink-wide passes. His career assists almost match his career goals. And like a lot of 30-year-olds, he is getting more experienced and smarter while still in his physical prime. He is what he is: one of the NHL's best all-around players. A world-class leader? Maybe not, he seems to have a lot of little kid in him still. But, I'd take him on my team any day.

John,
I just have one thing to add to the ongoing discussion on faux pas with hockey sweaters. I absolutely hate the guys who think they are the cleverest, wittiest dude for cutting his Vancouver Canucks jersey lengthwise and sewing it together with the other half of the opposing team, say the Maple Leafs. OK, dude, I get it. The 'Nucks and Buds are your favorite teams and you are "torn" between cheering for both of them. You just wasted good money ruining two hockey jerseys. Clown. Now go get me a Kokanee.
Darren
Vancouver

Kokanee is a pilsner style lager brewed in the Kootenays of British Columbia, where Darren does most of his hockey sweater surveillance. Kokanee is brewed with mountain stream fed water, a blend of three malts and a blend of western grown North American Hops. Darren sounds pretty peeved. I'd go get him one. And while you're there&

John,
As you wrote in your October 21 column: Imagine Cam Neely with a Synergy stick. Well, John, I believe I speak for defenseman everywhere when I say...FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO!!!! Cam Neely would take a pass down the right wing, cross the blue line, tee up that slapper ... and poor J.J. Daigneault would be missing his left leg from the knee down. You scare me, John. Stop it.
Dennis MacMullin
Boston

John,
YOU RULE and I can prove it. I have compiled a list of the 100 top reasons you rule, but in the interest of space and the fact I do not receive compensation for writing your column, I have chosen 10.
2. Your alias is Mette Bergmann.
5. You build a home ice rink. Words cannot describe how cool that is!
8. Cam Neely gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.
9. Paul Kariya, cha-cha-cha
13. You work with Chicken Parm.
16. Fins to the left. Any Buffet reference is a great reference.
26. Literary references galore!
27. You have an otter in your car. I want it!!
77. You golf with your son. Everyone loves a man with his priorities straight!
99. You are paid to watch hockey. Need I say more?
Erika Sell
Pennsylvania

Nice try Erika. All that wishy-washy talk strategically placed around your true wishes and desires. You want my otter. Well, you know what, Erika? YOU CAN'T HAVE MY OTTER!! GET YOUR OWN DAMN OTTER!! YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO FIND A GOOD OTTER NOWADAYS?!! KEN IS MINE!! HE WILL ALWAYS BE MINE!!

John,
If you wish you were from Canada instead of from his fine country then move there. With your lack of hockey knowledge you'd be working at a Tim Horton's up there. Traitor!
Derek Olson

MMMMM....Doughnuts...Is there anything they can't do?

Stuff, stuff and more stuff
  • I talked with Byron Dafoe's agent Sunday night. Bryant McBride told me that it is disappointing that things didn't work out in St. Louis. Dafoe and McBride thought that was a good fit. Dafoe continues to work out with Merrimack College, and McBride says that Dafoe could be ready to play in an NHL game in three days. McBride says that two teams have been in contact with him about Dafoe, but nothing is seriously pending. Of course, all it takes is an injury or an emotional G.M. for Dafoe to be employed again.

  • While we're on the subject of unemployed NHL players, I just got off the phone with Pat Verbeek. He hasn't retired and would still like to play one more season. While he waits for a call, he's doing some TV work for Detroit Red Wings broadcasts. He'll be on the air for their Western Canada swing to Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton (Nov. 19, 22 and 23).

  • During the 1982-83 NHL season, 82.5 percent of the NHL was Canadian born, 8.5 percent European. born and 9 percent U.S. born. This year, 53.6 percent of the NHL is Canadian born, 33.3 percent is European, and 13 percent is U.S. born. The U.S.-born percentage peaked during the 1994-'95 season when it stood at 17.9.

  • The Carolina Hurricanes lead the NHL in United States-born players with six. Florida and Ottawa had no U.S.-born players on their opening night roster.

  • The average NHL player is 16 pounds heavier than during the 1981-82 season. The average NHL player then was 6-0, 188 pounds. Today, the average player is 6-1, 204 pounds.

  • Players are playing longer and that is reflected in the average age. The average age during the 1981-82 season was 25.3. This season it is 28.1.

  • The heaviest team in the NHL is Washington (212 pounds). With 15 players 30 years of age and older, Chicago is the league's oldest team with an average age of 30.8 years. Dallas is the second oldest team (30.3) and Detroit is the third (29.9). The youngest team in the league is Florida (25), followed by Edmonton (26.5).

    John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Wednesday-Sunday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.