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Friday, December 13, 2002
Updated: December 15, 8:42 PM ET
Allison on par with game's best

By Mike Heika
Special to ESPN.com

When Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray talks about his No. 1 center, Jason Allison, he nonchalantly tosses him in with some of the best in the league.

CHIRPIN'
"I am 10 times smarter than everyone else in this game. Beyond a shadow of a doubt."

-- Detroit winger Brett Hull during an interview with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.
THE NUMBER
35
Saves made by St. Louis goalie Brent Johnson in a 2-2 tie with the Predators on Thursday. It appears Johnson is fully recovered from the high ankle sprain, which had sidelined him since training camp.
WHO'S HOT
Wild goalie Dwayne Roloson waltzed into Detroit on Thursday, made 36 saves and took a 3-2 victory. Last Saturday, he made 32 saves in a 4-2 win at Detroit. In his past four appearances, he is 2-0-2 with a 1.68 GAA and a .941 save percentage.
WHO'S NOT
Defenseman Boris Mironov doesn't want to play in Chicago and nobody else wants him to play on their team. So what do you do with a $3 million defenseman with no place to go?
THIS WEEK'S SIGN ...
... all is not well in the desert: When your part-icon, part-owner says of the talent on your team: "I don't mean this to be controversial and I don't mean it to be a finger-pointing sort of thing. But the fact of the matter is there aren't many guys on our club that (other) teams want, and that's a fact." Wayne Gretzky, of course, was talking about the old, overpaid Coyotes and not the young ones when he made that assessment of his Phoenix squad. Right?
"You have (Sergei) Fedorov and Mike (Modano) that play a different kind of game," Murray said. "He's in that class of those players, (but) he does it a little differently."

Allison isn't as fast or flashy, which may be why his name doesn't strike the cord of fear and respect that Modano and Fedorov do. But a study of the numbers reveals that Allison can definitely lump himself in with the best centers in the league. Since 1997, Allison has 373 points in 368 games, an average of 1.01 points per game. That compares very favorably with Modano (1.05 points per game), Mats Sundin (.958 points per game) and Fedorov (.868 points per game).

In fact, Allison's stock might be soaring even higher than his contemporaries in recent weeks. After returning a month early from a knee injury, Allison has quickly led the Kings to back-to-back victories. He had a goal and two assists in a 3-0 victory against Dallas on Wednesday and now has 17 points in 13 games this season.

"Probably the best part of Jason is his competitiveness," Murray said. "He clearly wants our team to win, but he also wants to be a dominant player in this league."

Allison said his early comeback wasn't that difficult of a decision. Doctors told him he wasn't going to structurally damage the knee further, he just wouldn't have full strength or mobility.

"It's not going to heal for three months," he said. "If you're going to come back in eight weeks, you can come back in five & if you can handle the swelling and the pain.

"That's something we talk about. I'm not going to be myself for a little bit, but I can still do enough to help the team out."

Murray predicts Allison is operating at 70 percent physically. But those in the Kings' locker room know he's a full 100 percent in the heart department. When asked about players like Modano and Fedorov, Allison almost whispered in an "aw shucks" voice, but his words spoke loudly.

"I don't put too many guys ahead of myself," he said quietly, "and that's all that matters."

That said, he does realize there is a difference. Modano and Fedorov have huge playoff numbers and championships in their resumes. Allison still doesn't.

"The big thing I've learned over the last little while is it's so much more important to be on a very good team and be a big contributor than to be the only contributor on a team that's not so good," he said. "You look at a guy like Steve Yzerman or Mike Modano on teams that are winning Cups and might be getting 70 or 80 points. So what if you're getting 95 points, like I did a few years ago, if you're not making the playoffs."

Out of the frying pan ...
This might be the best mess the Calgary Flames have ever seen. They fire a head coach and then decide to open up a world-wide search in which the multi-headed monster of management and ownership throws out various and differing opinions while next to nothing gets done.

And, all the while, your team starts playing its best hockey of the year.

Give credit to Al MacNeil, 67, who has gone 2-1-1 in his first four games as interim coach, for restoring a little cohesiveness to a roster that has some talent.

But, what to do with this coaching search? As of Thursday, there were no names that could be ruled out as candidates. If you did some nice work in your son's bantam league, the Flames want to talk to you. OK, maybe that's a little drastic, but you get the picture.

Management is leaning heavy toward minor-league bench boss Jim Playfair, but ownership doesn't want to look down in a year and have another coach admitting he might not have been ready for the gig, as Greg Gilbert did in his exit interview.

So bank on the Flames throwing an offer to a more veteran coach -- whether it be Ted Nolan, Larry Robinson or Darryl Sutter -- but also bank on Playfair as their safety valve.

Wild, wild, Northwest
Heading into a Thursday night game between Detroit and Minnesota, the team that could pull two points would jump into a tie for first place in the Western Conference. So the betting line had to be on the Red Wings at home, right?

Wrong guess. In one of the most important games in the short franchise history of the Wild, Minnesota made a statement with a 3-2 victory that gave it 39 points in 30 games and a share of the Western Conference lead with Dallas.

Despite a shaky start in a hostile arena, the Wild rallied behind Dwayne Roloson's goaltending and took a 3-1 lead after two periods. They then rode out a tough third period to win their third game in a row.

"That's how you get respect in this league," said Wild center Sergei Zholtok.

Amen to that.

Difficulties in Big D?
The Stars have struggled of late, going 1-2-2 in their past five games and putting in one of their worst performances of the season Wednesday in a 3-0 loss to division rival Los Angeles.

"By all means, we're nothing special if we don't work hard," said defenseman Darryl Sydor. "This has been creeping up the past few games."

The Stars held a team meeting after the game and held a hard practice on Thursday. They play at home against Atlanta on Friday before taking off on one of the toughest road trips of the season -- Sunday in Chicago, Tuesday against former coach Ken Hitchcock in Philadelphia, Thursday in Detroit against former teammate Brett Hull, Saturday in New Jersey against former teammates Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner and Sunday in Carolina against the defending Eastern Conference champs.

Depth chart
  • The Sharks are going to try to start fixing their problems by tightening the defense. They sent Jeff Jillson to the minors this week and recalled Jim Fahey. It's a risky move, but not as risky as keeping Jillson, the team decided.

  • The Predators are definitely sending a message to the room. Mike Dunham was close to his teammates, and his trade Thursday to the Rangers was somewhat shocking to them. Plus, GM David Poile placed Reid Simpson on waivers and sent Martin Erat to the minors the same day. Poile is definitely placing the onus for a slow start on the players. In addition, Poile said, "We are giving Tomas (Vokoun) the puck to make him our No. 1 goaltender."

  • Now, the Avalanche are struggling on the road. Colorado lost a 3-1 game in Vancouver on Wednesday and plays Friday against red-hot Edmonton. With a 9-8-8-3 record and sitting 10 points behind division leader Minnesota, the Avalanche have to make a move. "We're not going to catch anybody the way we're playing now," said center Joe Sakic.

  • With the Thrashers signing Byron Dafoe and the Rangers trading for Dunham, the Blues' options for trading either Fred Brathwaite or Tom Barrasso have been reduced. The Blues might have to carry three goalies or leave Barrasso on IR until after the Christmas trade freeze.

  • Claiming Mike Eastwood off the waiver wire was an interesting move by the Blackhawks. Eastwood has a fairly high price tag ($950,000) and has not played well this season. However, he's an excellent faceoff man and he had 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists) in 1999-2000.

  • The reason for Edmonton's hot streak? The Oilers aren't about to erase a message written on their white board by Shania Twain, who was in town to sing during halftime at the Grey Cup, before their Nov. 23 game against Detroit. The message: "Way to go, eh!" The result: 9-1-1 in their last 11.

  • Great line by Blues coach Joel Quenneville when food poisoning forced his team to play with only 16 skaters in a 2-0 loss to New Jersey. "I would have (dressed), but only if really, really needed." The league put the kibosh on any creative solutions the Blues were pondering.

    Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.