NHL

AROUND THE BOARDS: Francis chases Gordie

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

Francis closes in

As another season grinds to a close, the talk will be largely about the playoffs and the teams that will compete for the Stanley Cup. Which is why we will take this moment to praise a man who won't be going to the postseason this season, Carolina captain . Francis this week secured his 22 consecutive season of 20 or more goals and 50 or more points. At 40, Francis doesn't show too many signs of slowing down, largely because he was never that fast to begin with, but if he hits the 50-or-more-points milestone next season he will surpass one of the legends of the game in that regard, the great Gordie Howe. Francis has one year left on a contract that pays him $5.5 million for next season, but the motivation at this point isn't just the money. "When there's only one other guy, and his name's Gordie Howe, that's something I take a lot of pride in," Francis said.

Nothing like having an in

So who would replace Mike Smith if the opted not to retain their general manager for next season? Well, in the past, ownership has always turned to Bob Pulford, who has been around the and the Wirtz family longer than Oprah has been on a diet. Still, if Pulford might not feel the need to slip into that harness again, he could always call on his son-in-law Dean Lombardi, the current general manger of the San Jose . The have always been a family affair, and though that has often been a part of the reason they don't win, Lombardi is a GM with a solid track record, something the 'Hawks haven't had in quite some time. The 'Hawks see no end in sight to their slide. They have lost 13 of their last 15 through Thursday night and are 14-17-2-2 since Jan. 15. Said veteran the day he was dealt to Anaheim: "Whenever something happens, it's usually negative." True, true.

The root of the problem

A quote from after the 'Hawks put him on waivers: "They are trying to get me to go out and drink so they don't have to pay me," he told the Chicago Tribune. It would be laughable and very sad if it were true. Then again, the Hawks have fired his sponsor, made a very public spectacle of making him a healthy scratch for two games (first time in his career) and let it be known that he was put on waivers. Make your own conclusions. Fleury would have to be bought out of a $4-plus million contract for next season unless of course he violates his aftercare provisions again. The 'Hawks won't keep Fleury for next season, but they will have to deal with team captain , who was arrested for drunk driving after the police stopped his H-2 Hummer because he was driving with his bright lights on. Seems the "Z-man" had a .214 blood alcohol level, more than twice the legal limit in the great state of Illinois. Too bad that "H-2" wasn't followed by an "O".

Here's the deal

The conditional pick coming back to Columbus for (to New Jersey) is a fourth round pick if he plays in half the playoff games, fifth round if he doesn't. This was a $1.6 million salary dump by Columbus, but there's a loss. Columbus used a second-round pick to get Marshall away from Dallas awhile back. He didn't work out in Columbus largely because he couldn't figure out the system there.

And another that didn't go down

Sources tell FOXSports.com that New Jersey dangled and at the deadline and thought they had a deal with San Jose for , and at least one other player, but the deal died when Selanne decided he didn't want to go back East (he, too, has a no-trade clause). Gomez and Tverdovsky were healthy scratches the game before the trade deadline and weren't happy about it, which explains why the have been a tad off their game in their last two outings (both losses). There is some healing to be done between coach Pat Burns and those two players. Gomez will get a redemption chance when Burns plays him with and the newly acquired .

Ouch!

Three guys who came East from New York to Edmonton — , (from the ) and (from the ) — were a combined minus-6 against the in their Edmonton debut Thursday night. That performance and loss will add fuel to a fire in Edmonton where some fans are threatening to cancel season ticket orders for next season feeling they were sold out in what amounted to a salary dump. Given that the traded away their leading scorer at forward, , and their best puck-handling defenseman, Janne Niinimma, they may have a point. There are reports that the got $2 million cash from the but general manager Kevin Lowe denies it and Lowe is a man of his word. The deals were risky and clearly a salary dump, but Lowe is better than your average general manger at being ahead of the curve and he may well prove to have made a good deal over time. The lost to the Thursday because their goalie stunk, not because the trio played that poorly.

It's a wonderful town

New York forward , ever the diplomat, says he's had three great coaches in his career, Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan and Glen Sather. Since everyone expects Sather to move back to the ' front office after this season (assuming he doesn't get fired should they miss the playoffs again), and since Quinn isn't about to leave Toronto, you can pretty much assume Bure is lobbying for former coach (and former Ranger coach) Keenan. "If (Sather) decided to step down, I think Keenan would be really good," Bure said. "Let's face it, everybody knows Keenan is a coach for superstars. He's not a coach for young guys. So I think it would be a great fit. "And plus, he's coached probably 90 percent of the guys in here." That's true, but given the fact Keenan has coached seven teams in the NHL, Bure could say that about a lot of teams. Look for Iron Mike to execute a buyout at the end of this season in Florida and head to New York. Management in Florida has already moved possible replacements in as his current assistants and told him to stay off the ice during practice. Short of hanging a please-leave sign on his office door, the message is clearly being sent.

Pressure? What pressure?

Understand this. With all the moves and financial risks Ottawa general manager John Muckler made and took at the deadline, coach Jacques Martin needs to get his team at least to the Conference Finals to keep his job. Then again, if and when new ownership comes in everyone, including Muckler, could be at risk.

One final thought

If Mike Keenan does end up in New York next season is that such a bad thing? Keenan paid his penance after leaving New York under less than above-board circumstances. There are horses for courses, and though Keenan has done well pushing buttons on players in Vancouver, Boston and Florida, Bure is right when he says that Keenan is better suited to coaching superstars. It would be fascinating to see Keenan working with the likes of a talented but now chronic under achiever like and others in the Bleeding Broadway Blue Shirts Brigade. Florida could use the change as well. It's not that Keenan has hurt that team, really, but the die has been cast there. He and general manger Rick Dudley are not suited for each other or the direction Dudley wants to take the team. Might as well come to grips with it now. Maybe the could actually trade Keenan's contract to New York. That would get them off a long-term financial hook and maybe even get them a prospect or draft pick in return.
Who's he?
Dallas head coach Dave Tippett gets a lot of pub for stepping into the NHL and driving a team toward first place overall, but we would be remiss in not acknowledging the accomplishments of one Mike Babcock. The rookie coach of the of Anaheim has his team in second place behind the in the Pacific Division and en route to a playoff appearance, a noteworthy step up for the Ducks whose front office made a few notable off-season moves, but nothing along the line of what the did. Babcock has paid his dues for admission into the NHL club. He was the coach of the Ducks minor league affiliate in Cincinnati for two seasons, where he posted a .547 win percentage and a franchise-best 41 wins and 95 points through the 2000-01 season and never missed the playoffs. He coached Canada's World Junior Team in 1997, winning a gold medal in the famed international competition (Canada's last gold). He also coached six years in Spokane in the Western Hockey League, where he was twice named coach of the year. He also coached in Moose Jaw, the quintessential hockey outpost, and developed a college program at Red Deer, Alberta. That makes Babcock a career coach, and though he's probably not going to get the NHL's coach of the year award, despite having the chronically under achieving Ducks 10 games above .500 at this writing, he certainly deserves some consideration. The award almost always goes to the turnaround coach of the year, a guy who takes over for someone who is fired and then gets the team to respond by showing that it wasn't their fault, it was the old coach. Babcock took over for Bryan Murray, who moved up to the GM's chair so he could rebuild a team whose weaknesses he saw first hand. That's often a lot harder, but in this case it made for a nice hand-in-glove fit. The Ducks play a hard-nosed, no-nonsense style in which they win largely because they refuse to lose. That's a result of Mike Babcock's good coaching.
Five things you should know
1. The Colorado made a bid for San Jose forward , and it was a strong one, but Damphousse had some rights in the negotiation (including a no-trade clause) and he refused to waive some contract clauses to accommodate the Avs. That's not to say this deal might not be approached again in the off-season, but the early indications are that Damphousse wanted to stay in San Jose. The deal killer, however, was the fact the Avs wanted San Jose to pick up $1 million of the $4 million contract. Damphousse had agreed to waive the clause if he liked the deal, but the didn't like that part of it. 2. The main reason the St. Louis weren't able to pry goalie out of Phoenix will largely be explained as the setting the price too high. That's true, it was rookie of the year candidate and three first-round draft picks. But before you make the the bad guys who didn't have the guts to go for glory, understand the price was that high because the didn't want to trade Burke. They are opening a new building next season and with gone, they needed to keep their star gate attraction. At first they just asked for Jackman, later, when they thought the might still be interested, they added the three No. 1s. 3. Price points played a role in Buffalo as well with general manager Darcy Regier entertaining offers for both and . Neither moved because the price was deemed too high. Regier always does that, but he may have had extra motivation this season. New ownership is on the horizon for the and once its onboard the GM will have a better idea if he has to continue to cut payroll or he can keep one or even both of the veteran players. 4. Colorado wasn't the only team interested in Damphousse. Vancouver made a pitch, as well, but the deal hung up on the same $1 million. The also bid for rugged center , but for a team trying to stick close to a $32 million budget, Ricci, too, was out of general manger Brian Burke's range. 5. The deal that sent Colorado forward back to the Calgary for a draft choice should never have been approved. It violated a trade restriction put in to prevent teams from stashing players to avoid losing them in the waiver draft. The NHL came up with this rule after several teams had found the loophole useful. Now McAmmond appears lost for the season. He'll still be in Calgary and the Avs will still get the draft pick, but McAmmond likely won't be able to play for the remainder of the season as the league and the two teams and the players' association look to work out a compromise. One of the hang-ups is who pays McAmmond's salary. Messy.
Thug watch
Now that has left the Buffalo for the Ottawa , he may leave a record that will never be broken. Ray spent 14 seasons with the and has the club and NHL record for most penalty minutes with the same team, 3,189. Most enforcers don't last 14 years in the league, let alone with one team. Seems odd that a guy who managed just 40 goals and 50 assists in 899 NHL games will someday leave the game with a record that may never be broken, but then Ray surprised everyone with the length and depth of his NHL career (it includes the NHL's King Clancy Award for community service) and he'll likely keep doing it with the or maybe even return to the next season. Ray is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and if he does want to play another season, it's likely there will be some interest just because he's still good in the room, tough on the ice and great in the community. Speaking from first-hand knowledge of this guy from the day he entered the NHL, beyond the tough-guy role, there simply isn't a finer person to be had.
In the next 48 hours
  • Look for mostly bad news regards a knee injury to newly acquired Toronto forward . He left the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary on crutches and wearing a knee brace late Thursday night after a collision with Dave Lowery of the . Gilmour is expected to be re-examined back in Toronto today, but the injury looks to be long-term.
  • Expect the Carolina to permanently assign goalie to the minors. Management was unable to give the goalie away at the trade deadline but rather than keep him on the roster riding the bench behind , it decided the rest of the season would be spent looking at goalie Andre DesRochers to see if he's NHL material.
  • Look for the Columbus to announce they've signed potential unrestricted free agent to a new three-year deal worth about $3 million per season.
  • F.Y.I.
    Because you are bound to ask, the NHL tie-breaking procedure is as follows:
  • If two or more clubs are tied in points at the end of the regular season, the standing of the clubs in each Conference will be determined in the following order: 1. The greater number of games won. 2. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any "odd" games, shall be used to determine the standing. 3. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.
  • Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Sabres, Blackhawks, Oilers, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Canucks, Coyotes, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Miroslav Satan, Tony Amonte, Grant Marshall, Patrik Elias, Brad Isbister, Radek Dvorak, Kevin Weekes, Sean Burke, Geoff Sanderson, Scott Gomez

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