Time ticking for Team USA; Waddell's dilemma
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.
What To Watch This Week
1. The Philadelphia Flyers look like a team headed in the right direction under new coach Peter Laviolette. But they will play five of their seven games remaining before the Olympic break on the road, beginning with Monday's tilt in Calgary against the remade Calgary Flames. The Flyers are 11-12-1 on the road this season, and that record will need to improve if they're to become a force come playoff time. This will be a good stretch to determine whether netminder Ray Emery is really back in the groove after returning from an abdominal injury.
2. The new-look Calgary Flames will get a dose of the Eastern Conference this week as they try to integrate a passel of new faces into their lineup while trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race. Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan et al. will see lots of familiar Eastern Conference faces as the Flames entertain Philadelphia on Monday and Carolina on Wednesday before heading to Florida, Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
3. Speaking of new looks, GM Brian Burke's revamped Toronto Maple Leafs will get a stern test with a home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and Friday before entertaining red-hot Ottawa on Saturday. After swinging deals with Calgary and Anaheim on Sunday that brought Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere into the fold, Burke told reporters he still thinks his squad can get back in the East playoff hunt. Collecting at least four out of six points this week will be crucial in proving him right. The Leafs begin the week 12 points out of the playoffs, sitting in last place in the conference.
4. Another team looking to alter its makeup was the New York Rangers, who were rumored to be on the verge of acquiring underachieving Calgary center Olli Jokinen in a multiplayer deal that included disgruntled forward Ales Kotalik. Regardless, the Rangers face an imposing week as they close out a three-game road swing against the red-hot Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and then return home to entertain the Washington Capitals on Thursday. The Rangers began the week in eighth place in the East, tied with three teams (57 points).
5. The Anaheim Ducks were the forgotten player in Sunday's big moves, but they remain very much in the Western Conference playoff equation and will be looking to stay that way during a big week against conference foes. With new forward Jason Blake and netminder Vesa Toskala in the house, Anaheim will entertain Detroit on Wednesday before a home-and-home against the Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks began the week five points out of the final playoff spot in the West.
Take This To The Bank
Stock Up, Stock Down
Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes' classy captain has lit it up of late with nine points in his past four games and 15 points in his past eight, as the Coyotes continue to hold down the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks: Good news for Team USA GM Brian Burke, whose American squad will be tested down the middle in Vancouver. Pavelski has 13 points in his past seven games, and two of his six goals during that period have been game-winners.
John-Michael Liles, Colorado Avalanche: The skilled blueliner was a healthy scratch Sunday as the Avs lost for the third straight time. According to the Denver Post, it marked the third time this season Liles has been a healthy scratch. Does this mean Liles could be on the market before the March 3 trade deadline?
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Brodeur, the man expected to carry the load for Canada at the Olympics later this month, has lost three of four. In his lone win, Brodeur allowed two late goals by Toronto to tie the game at 4. The Devils went on to win in overtime, but Brodeur allowed a late Los Angeles goal in his next game to give the Kings a 3-2 victory. The recent performances reinforce the notion that the workload is too heavy for a 37-year-old netminder, no matter how golden his résumé might be.