Wednesday, February 1, 2006 Updated: February 3, 1:48 PM ET
Can't beat moves of Canes, Preds, Pronger
By Barry Melrose Special to ESPN.com
Well, we're back for another week of fun. But I don't think it's been a great week for Montreal Canadiens fans, especially after their 8-2 loss to Carolina on Tuesday night.
Don't worry though, things can only get better: The season will end soon enough.
Here we go
The easiest thing for a good team to do is stay with the status quo and rest on the laurel of being a good team. The Carolina Hurricanes are not doing that, and I love it. They are going after wins and still fighting for wins, and their acquisition of Doug Weight proves just that.
The best part of the Hurricanes' trade with the Blues is that the team didn't wait until the last days of the trading deadline to get the deal done. The Canes moved quickly. That extra time will be so important. How many late deals have we seen go bad? It's so difficult to make it a smooth transition.
Barry thinks Chris Pronger doesn't get enough credit for his offensive talents.
But with the Canes, the extra time gives Weight a chance to get to know his teammates and the team's power play and game plans. The extra time will also allow Carolina to make an educated decision as to where to play Weight once fellow center Matt Cullen (broken jaw) returns in a month or so. Do you keep Weight at center or move him to wing? Personally, I think Weight is more creative at center, but it depends on how he's playing. Either way, the Hurricanes will be ready to make that decision.
The same thing can be said for the Nashville Predators, who picked up Mike Sillinger from the Blues this week. Overall, the deal is not as big as the Weight exchange, but the move gives Nashville two of the best faceoff specialists in the league in Sillinger and Yanic Perreault. That will be huge for the team down the stretch.
The Edmonton Oilers got a huge play that will give them confidence down the stretch, thanks to big defenseman Chris Pronger. If you didn't get a chance to see it, Pronger scored a tying goal with three-tenths of a second left in regulation, and the Oilers eventually beat the Coyotes in a shootout.
I don't think people realize how hard it is to pull off that kind of play, but it takes a great player to have the confidence to try it. Pronger is that. Another thing fans don't realize is how offensively talented Pronger is. He is one of the best passers in the game, and if he ever wanted to give up a little of his defensive game for some more offense, he'd be one of the top scorers in the league. He never gets his due for his offensive talents.
People might pay more attention to the Marek Malik goal (the Rangers defenseman's flip-through-the-skates shootout goal vs. the Caps). It was interesting and funny, but in that situation, he wasn't going to score any other way because he was the 15th shooter! So don't count out Pronger's talent here.
And how about the talent of goaltender Tim Thomas, who has single-handedly turned around the Bruins' season? A 31-year-old career minor leaguer who is 6-1-2 in his last nine starts for the B's, Thomas has helped move Boston three points out of the final playoff spot in the East.
Hey, the Bruins aren't geniuses here. Thomas was a last resort. And I know some have wondered what the Bruins would do once Andrew Raycroft was ready to come back into the fold, but I think Boston would be crazy to put Raycroft back in net -- he's too fragile. He can say what he wants, but I don't think he wants the starting gig. I think he's happy just to be on the ride right now. It's Thomas' job until the end.
Now, I am not saying the Olympics are all bad. The best part of the Olympics is seeing the greatest players in the world play against each other. These players will do things at full speed that other players just dream about. The NHL is the best league in the world, but most NHL teams don't have the best 20 players in the world on their rosters. Olympic teams do.
But there is a bad element hanging over the Games for NHL teams: injuries.
I am excited about the Games and I'll be interested in seeing how the final rosters play out up until the start of the tournament. But there will be a dilemma for players who could really use the two weeks to rest up and heal injuries.
Players are paid big money by their NHL teams to play in the NHL. The bonuses aren't big enough to risk getting hurt in the Olympics. Players' allegiances should be to the NHL, not the Olympics. I think you owe your loyalty to your team.
A perfect example is Flyers star Peter Forsberg, who has been battling groin injuries his whole career. You can pull your groin once, and it takes a while to come back from that. But if you aggravate the injury two, three, four times, you have to think there is a weakness there for the player. With Forsberg, that's the case. I think he needs to take the two weeks, rest and help the Flyers down the stretch.
Three teams that might not be in the race are the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Thrashers, as all three are struggling as of late.
The Leafs are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games and are barely holding on to the eighth overall spot in the East. Montreal is 4-6-0 and is three points out of that last spot. The Thrashers, who made quite the run last month, are now out of the playoffs and are tied with Montreal and Boston with 52 points. We are going to have great races for those last few spots in both conferences.
It is more of the usual ugliness this week. The Blackhawks, Blues and Penguins are still terrible and nothing seems to be getting better. All three continue to struggle as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals have slowly become more competitive and hungry.
Chicago got hit by the injury bug again as Adrian Aucoin is out 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury. The Blues traded away two big players and have thrown in the towel. The Penguins are still the worst defensive team in the league.
It's disappointing to see. We need these teams to do well, we need to see these strong hockey markets in the playoffs. But unfortunately, there's no sign that things are going to get better for any of them.
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.