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Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Belfour, 'Canes, Preds latest success stories

By Barry Melrose
Special to ESPN.com

I have to start off by saying congratulations to all of the players who were selected for their respective Olympic teams. The Olympic tournament in February is going to be exciting to watch.

There are more salutations to go around this week, so let's get started.

The Good

Any time you can get to No. 2 on an all-time list is pretty impressive. Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour did just that this week, passing Terry Sawchuk for second on the all-time wins list.

Ed Belfour
At age 40, Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour won his 448th career game on Monday.

Goaltenders are unique individuals who behave in weird ways with their superstitions. And hey, they're willing to put themselves in front of flying pucks every night. When you're in net, you're out there alone, and it takes a special individual to do that, especially for how long Belfour has been around.

Belfour has had success for the same reasons as Patrick Roy, the overall leader in career wins: motivation, good health and strong work ethic.

Two teams that are showing resilience are Carolina and Nashville. Both teams are still going strong -- the Hurricanes have won six of their last seven games and the Predators are 7-3 in their last 10 games.

They both are also similar in the respect that they are two models of small-market clubs that are doing things the right way. Both traded well and made smart offseason signings. The personnel for both teams are being rewarded right now.

The Bad

Luc Robitaille has been in the news as of late, voicing his frustration over being a healthy scratch in Los Angeles. Maybe this is a case when players stay in the game too long. When a player stays around longer, he is treated differently. Much to Robitaille's chagrin, it is a lot like the Steve Yzerman situation.

Hockey Night

Yzerman knew his role with the Red Wings would be different this season. Robitaille has never been a great skater, and the game is faster now. The Kings have won the last three games when Robitaille has been a healthy scratch.

Coaches have to make tough decisions, and this has been a tough one for Andy Murray. Murray can't just play Robitaille 26 minutes a game simply because he's Luc Robitaille. I remember being in a similar situation when I had to bench a healthy Jari Kurri because I thought it was better for the team at that point.

It's a situation like this that shows why a lot of coaches don't like to have older stars on their teams. But the good coaches make these decisions, no matter how tough they are. Players have to accept these decisions, otherwise they are hurting their teams.

The Maple Leafs are also in a delicate spot right now. Barely holding on to the eighth overall spot in the Eastern Conference, Toronto's Achilles' heel is starting to show: injuries.

With players such as Eric Lindros and Alexander Steen out of the lineup, Toronto doesn't have the depth to make up for the injuries, like Philadelphia, which keeps winning without players like Simon Gagne and Robert Esche.

If the Maple Leafs can get healthy quickly, they have a shot to make the playoffs. And if they make the postseason, period, it will be a good season for them.

The Ugly

We have mentioned them before, but the Pittsburgh Penguins make our "ugly" category again after this week's firing of coach Ed Olczyk.

The reason Olczyk got fired was because the team's star players didn't get the job done and they threw Eddie under the bus. I never heard any player say "we were terrible" or "we let Eddie down." We need to be hearing that from the team's veterans, particularly Sergei Gonchar, whose 14 points in 30 games is paltry compared to his five-year, $25 million contract.

I think Olczyk is a good guy and I think he never should have been hired in the first place because he didn't have enough experience. But since he was given the job, he was put into a tough spot. He had a dressing room full of veterans and a player everyone was calling the next Gretzky, and there was no accountability.

Mario Lemieux's future is also in doubt. The season is not going the way he wanted it to, the team is likely not going to make the playoffs, he had to fire his friend, he's not 100 percent healthy. Why should he put himself through this? Maybe, it's time.

Either way, the team can only go up from here.

Until next time, Happy Holidays everyone!

Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.