Updated: February 1, 2010, 6:17 PM ET

Time ticking for Team USA; Waddell's dilemma

Burnside By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com
Archive

1. Time running out for Team USA

The next couple of days will be important for Team USA. Paul Martin withdrew his name from the team as he continues to recover from a forearm injury, while Mike Komisarek is nearing the point of no return in terms of getting in enough action before the Olympics as he recovers from a shoulder injury.

Martin met with doctors Monday and was hopeful that the cast on his broken forearm would be removed so he could get in some serious conditioning and a handful of games before the Olympic break. But the Devils defenseman released a statement later in the day, saying he didn't want to rush back.

"While the decision was an extremely difficult one, I feel it is in my long-term best interest to not rush any return to the ice," Martin said in the statement. "Team USA was informed of my decision earlier [Monday]. I look forward to re-joining my New Jersey Devil teammates in the near future, and would also like to wish my fellow Devils' Olympians and the rest of Team USA good luck in their pursuit of the gold medal."

Martin hasn't played since Oct. 24, when a Bill Guerin shot broke a bone in his forearm.

"He's not going to play two games and get on a plane [to Vancouver]," Team USA GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun on Sunday. "So I don't know if the number is five or three [games], but it's not two. But we need this guy, he's a good player."

Burke was hopeful another important defenseman, Komisarek, could return to action this week for the Toronto Maple Leafs and would, likewise, get in enough action to play for the Americans in Vancouver.

"We haven't given them a fixed number of games that they have to play. So, we've never said to Paul Martin, 'You've got to play five games, or four games.' But they have to play games. They can't be cleared to play and get on a plane," Burke said. "Komisarek is the same thing, but we expect there's a good chance he's going to play Tuesday."

The two players represent different styles and would require different kinds of replacements.

Atlanta's Ron Hainsey or Anaheim's Ryan Whitney would likely be the top choices to replace Martin, whose puck-moving skills were important to the U.S. attack. If the hard-hitting Komisarek can't go, look for L.A. Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, who won a Cup in Pittsburgh last season, to be at the top of the list.

2. Goalie logjam in Atlanta

Speaking of difficult decisions, Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell has his hands full of them. Not only is he trying to sign or trade star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, but he will also find himself with three goaltenders on his roster this week with the return of Kari Lehtonen.

It seems like a long time ago when Lehtonen, the second overall pick in 2002, was "the future" between the Thrashers' pipes. And that's because it was a long time ago for the injury-prone netminder. But Lehtonen, who will become a restricted free agent in July, is back after two offseason back surgeries and hoping to resurrect his faltering career. The problem is that the Thrashers already have two pretty decent goaltenders in Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec.

Hedberg, who will also be an unrestricted free agent in July, has been steady as the Thrashers are still in the East playoff hunt. Understudy Pavelec has been streakier but has shown enough to suggest he has the tools to be an NHL starter. Pavelec, like Lehtonen, will be a restricted free agent this summer, and Waddell told ESPN.com he's received calls on all his goaltenders, and therein lies the dilemma.

From our vantage point, it's time to cut ties with Lehtonen. He has struggled with conditioning, and questions remain about his ability to compete at a high level. But the last thing Waddell wants to do is trade him and then see him light it up in Dallas or St. Louis. Still, what is Lehtonen's value given that he hasn't played a single NHL game this season? The dilemma for Waddell and coach John Anderson is they can't really throw Lehtonen back into action and hope he's not too rusty or he can get his groove back with the Thrashers in a life-or-death struggle to make the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. Did we mention dilemma?

3. Henrik the hero

The Vancouver Canucks continue their NHL record 14-game road odyssey with visits to Montreal, Ottawa and Boston this week. Perhaps more interesting, though, is the fact Henrik Sedin continues to lead all NHL point-producers with 78 points, two more than defending Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin heading into Monday's action.

Sedin's continued excellence has created a groundswell of support as a potential league MVP. Now, he's not nearly as flashy or controversial as Ovechkin, but if Sedin can continue to stay in the hunt for the Art Ross Trophy and the Canucks remain one of the league's best teams (they won seven in a row heading into this week), Sedin will be in a position perhaps to become only the second Swede to win the Hart Trophy. Olympic teammate Peter Forsberg was the first in 2003.

Sedin is a better two-way player than Ovechkin, but whether he can steal enough votes away from the two-time defending Hart Trophy winner will be an interesting development when it comes time to put pen to paper for the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

4. An end to the mess in Tampa Bay?

It appears the Tampa Bay Lightning are about to be sold for the second time since late in the 2007-08 season, this time to financial wizard Jeffrey Vinik, a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox. Although reports suggested the deal was imminent, sources told ESPN.com that "imminent" may be relative.

Several things seem certain, though. First, current owner Oren Koules will not stay on as a partner with Vinik but will be bought out along with estranged partner Len Barrie. Second, reports that one of Vinik's terms of purchase was that captain Vincent Lecavalier would be moved are erroneous, a source familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.com.

Lecavalier has a no-trade clause in his monster 11-year deal, a deal that pays him $10 million a year through the 2015-16 season and is an annual cap hit of just above $7.7 million. Now, would Vinik like to trim payroll? Possibly. Or maybe he'd like to keep his franchise player and hope the team can return to the form that made them a Cup winner in 2004. Regardless, Lecavalier will go nowhere unless he wants to; Vinik will have to be cautious about being seen as trying to run the team's biggest star out of town, especially after the ham-handed way defenseman Dan Boyle was pushed out of town when he was dealt to San Jose in July 2008.

As for Koules, don't be surprised to see the Hollywood movie-maker remain connected to the hockey world. Although the ownership group took some knocks, especially early on with the ill-fated hiring of ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, Koules has been a passionate owner. He moved his family to the Tampa area, his wife has become involved in local charities, and he has attended virtually every Lightning game since taking over. In other words, he cares, and there are rumors he has already been approached about staying involved with other NHL franchises that need a helping hand financially, if and when the sale of the Lightning becomes final.

5. Gretzky and Messier make appearance at KHL bash

The Kontinental Hockey League trotted out its finest on the weekend in its annual All-Star Game, and what a curious blend of the obscure and aging it must have been.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the event in Minsk, Belarus, was the appearance of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier for the ceremonial puck drop. It must have been a sweet deal to get two of the greatest hockey players of all time to fly to Minsk to preside over a game that included "luminaries" such as Karel Rachunek, Denis Parshin, Jozef Stumpel, Karri Ramo, Martin Strbak and Josef Vasicek. Talk about star-studded.

The greater question? Would the NHL have been able to get Gretzky to attend its own All-Star Game (had there been one this season), given the acrimony that exists between the two factions after Gretzky was unceremoniously pushed out the door with the change of ownership in Phoenix? Discuss among yourselves.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

SPONSORED HEADLINES