NHL

AROUND THE BOARDS: Offense scarce in Philly

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

What's up with the ?

Don't let that recent come-from-behind 4-3 win over St. Louis obscure the fact the are seriously worried about their offense. They went 167 minutes, nine seconds without scoring a goal before they got their first one past the road-weary . Most of the big guns have been silent all season and the defense is one of the lower scoring units in the NHL. Injuries have been a factor, but even with the 4-3 win against the , the are 3-5-1-1 in their last 10 and have scored just 12 goals in those 10 games including the three in the third period vs. St. Louis. "I see way too many, for lack of a better term, stupid plays with the puck," winger said after the were blanked in back-to-back games with Minnesota (their fourth shutout in their past eight games). "Whether that's judgment or lack of support or just guys not wanting to have the responsibility with the puck, I don't know. But there are plays that are there that aren't being taken. "I'm not going to panic and nobody else should panic. We have a quality squad, but we have to bear down and work together. It's not a lack of effort. It's a lack of playing smart. Offense is created off of being smart as well as hard work. You can work as hard as you want, but if you make errors and lackluster plays with the puck, it doesn't matter how hard you work." Left unsaid is that the had a swoon like this right around this time last season and never recovered. Their offense failed them completely in a first-round playoff loss to the Ottawa . That collapse brought on a series of pointed barbs directed at then-coach Bill Barber and forced management to fire him in favor of Ken Hitchcock. Now, however, the stage is set. Management has backed itself into a corner by stating at Hitchcock's hiring that, this time, it won't be the coach's fault. If the don't rebound, and fast, either the players or general manager Bob Clarke will pay a price. Bet on the former over the latter. Center did the most to get Barber fired and he hasn't score in the last 11 games. Already there are rumors that the want to move Primeau and they won't wait until the end of the season to do it. Possible, but that's a tough trade at the deadline. Primeau is a big-ticket item and has a reputation for poor postseason play. He'll be difficult to move at the trade deadline.

Quotable

  • New Jersey goaltender has been amused by all the recent talk about him having a chance to finally win the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender this season: "It's never been like this," he said. "Before it was like, 'At least you'll get to go to the ceremony to watch Dominik (Hasek).' " Brodeur is closing in on a record eighth straight season with 35 or more wins.
  • Vancouver general manager Brian Burke on the trade/sale involving Pittsburgh and the New York : "As a GM of a Canadian team, I don't think you can view the Kovalev trade as anything but dangerous. While it was packaged cleverly, the notion that a player could be sold is disturbing to a team like ours. It raises competitive issues and questions the integrity of the process." "I don't fault the NHL or the commissioner's office. The NHL rule is that cash may be involved in the trade but has to be incidental to the players involved. It can't be a linchpin in any deal. Because of the number of players involved I think the clubs insulated themselves from anything the league could do. That being said, it's a dangerous trade. It's a dangerous trade for small-market teams in general, but particularly for Canadian teams. You have to hope that this kind of transaction will be addressed in 2004."
  • Said New York GM Glen Sather: "Why is it bad for the league? Stuff like that ... that's always the way it is," Sather said. "The guys in Toronto whine. Listen, they've been in every deal we've been in trying to get players. We end up getting the guy because the guy wants to come to New York. Part of the deal was Alexei wanted to come back (to the ). So they whine but they were in the deal, they just didn't want to give enough to get him. Depends on how badly you want him. It's free enterprise. That's how the U.S. works." True enough, especially the part about Toronto whining, but when Sather was in Edmonton he argued just the opposite and often railed about the spending habits of New York. Must be the way Canada works.

    Leftovers from the All-Star notebook

    At the All-Star game, commissioner Gary Bettman made a point of saying he would not release the stats for giveaways, takeaways and hits to the public because the league had "no confidence" in their accuracy. Oddly enough, we feel the same way about the league's attendance figures. The commissioner never says that he has no confidence in the league's announced attendance figures, even though they are usually reported as tickets distributed and not tickets sold. Seems to us that it would be easy to release accurate counts from turnstiles and ticket takers, or perhaps even make public the secret and very detailed attendance sheets that are distributed among the 30 teams than to divine a "tickets distributed" number. Perhaps the league should do what newspapers and some websites do and have their figures audited by a third party. That way we wouldn't have to rely on unverifiable figures should the league announce yet another year of record attendance. In that same press conference, the commissioner called on Colin Campbell, the league's vice president for hockey operations, to comment on the league's continued enforcement regards the crackdown on obstruction fouls, a topic of considerable debate between the league and the players. Campbell maintained that the system is working, though it is not perfect, especially when it comes to the work of some referees. He then said, "There are nights when you would like to reach inside the television and strangle the people who work for you." No word yet as to whether or not Bettman will fine his VP for public criticism of the officiating. Also in the press conference, the commissioner indicated he might pay more attention to after Hull said some 75 percent of the league's players were overpaid. He might want to change his tune on that. Perhaps emboldened by a series of interviews that started with a Hockey Night in Canada telecast and carried on through an interview in The Hockey News and Detroit newspapers, Hull recently did a question-and-answer session in Sports Illustrated in which he referred to the NHL owners as "Neanderthals." It would be difficult for any commissioner to give credence to any player who refers to his bosses in that context. It's a part of the reason Hull hasn't received more consideration as a true spokesman for the game, despite the fact he often has intelligent things to say.

    One final thought

    The NHL often comes under criticism for problems that largely are not of their making. This season the league is being blasted in numerous quarters because its perception that fighting is down (it is marginally) and that the league has somehow engaged in a Machiavellian scheme to make it so. Give us a break. Fighting is down in part because the league went to a hurry-up faceoff this year and that cuts down on the amount of time players have to mill about and create confrontations, many of which were planned confrontations designed to change the momentum of the game or even just buy time to give key players a rest. Oddly enough, many of the same people complaining about the lack of fighting were the first to endorse the hurry-up faceoffs, clearly not aware of the unintended consequences. This is a classic case of "be careful what you wish for." This is yet another case of critics crying when the truth is they simply didn't do their homework. One needed only to watch the hurry-up at work in the AHL last season to realize that fight time would be cut. The AHL proved it. The NHL has done the same.
  • Who's he?
    Look, we expect you know who is. He's was the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft last summer until the Florida did a little two-step and flip-flop that allowed Columbus to move to No. 1 and select while Florida still got Bouwmeester at No. 3. Bouwmeester is just 19 and he's gone largely unnoticed in the talk about candidates for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, but that's not because he isn't deserving of consideration. Defensemen, especially young defenseman, almost never win the Calder, and the aren't playing well enough to draw a lot of attention. But for the record, Bouwmeester is playing exactly like many thought he would, only a whole lot quicker. He's fast, he's poised, he rarely makes mistakes, he's very physical and he plays a ton. When the traded All-Star defenseman at the All-Star game, they did it in part because they felt Bouwmeester was already playing at a level that had moved him into the top two defensive positions on the team. "I said to him, 'Congratulations, your rookie season ended after just 52 games,' " coach Mike Keenan said. In a recent game with state-rival Tampa, Bouwmeester even showed a heady offensive touch, scoring a goal with 11.8 seconds left to complete a comeback from a 4-1 deficit and forge a 4-4 tie. "He doesn't play like a rookie," Keenan said. "He is probably as mature as any just-turned-19-year-old defenseman that's ever come into this league." Keenan should know. He made the deal in Chicago to bring a then still-young there and made him the lynchpin of the defense there for years. He also made the deal to bring the even-younger to St. Louis to be the anchor there. He feels he has a similar player in Bouwmeester, and so far the kid hasn't disappointed.
    Five things you should know
    1. It's time to think of the Minnesota as a legitimate playoff team. They are hanging tough with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit in the Western Conference standings. They are 20-0-1 in games in which they lead after two periods. They are 10-3-1 against Eastern competition and they recently shutout the Philadelphia in back-to-back games at home and away and with two different goalies. That's consistency that's hard to beat. 2. The Nashville became the last team in the league to record a shutout win this season. It happened Thursday vs. the New York as goalie stopped 36 shots. Vokoun has been "the man" for the Preds, stepping up after the Dec. 12 trade that sent to the New York . He has gone 13-9-5 in that stretch, and, at 17-18-7 for the season, has a chance to become the first goalie ever to have a winning record at season's end. 3. Ottawa's got his first NHL goal Wednesday in a game against the Pittsburgh . Before the game, Dahlman and another call-up from Ottawa's farm team in the American Hockey League, , went to the team store, bought sweaters and got to sign them. After the game, Dahlman had thought about asking Lemieux to sign the puck that his teammates retrieved for him, but thought it might be in bad taste. 4. The Shark Watch continues. We told you about San Jose having a difficult road stretch which would give them a chance to make up points in the hunt for a playoff berth. It hasn't gone well. Four games into the seven-game stretch they have lost all four. They scored the first goal in the first three games and went on to lose. They allowed the first goal to Columbus in the fourth game and lost 1-0. If the fail to earn eight more points this season, they'll break the 1970-71 Detroit ' record of a 40-point drop from one season to the next. The had 99 points last season. Through 57 games they have 51 points. As a playoff contender, the are finished. 5. There's tension in Phoenix. After a fourth straight loss Wednesday (3-0 to New Jersey), the players held a closed-door, players-only meeting. Sources tell FOXSports.com that several players, including the recently acquired , were called out by name in that meeting. Amonte, long a fixture in Chicago, signed as a free agent with Phoenix in the off-season and has but 11 goals for his $6 million salary.
    Thug watch
    Tampa's got the minimum three-game suspension for abusing officials in a game recently. Roy pushed linesman Lyle Seitz while Seitz was steering him to the penalty box after a fight. What surprised a great many people is that Roy only got three games (which resulted in $25,609.77 in lost pay). Abuse of officials is a serious offense in the NHL and since Roy had been sat down for 13 games earlier in the season for a similar offense under similar circumstances many thought the league would come down harder. There's a school of thought that argues that league VP Colin Campbell showed Roy some mercy because he will now lose nearly seven percent of his salary (he lost $75,000 for the 13-game suspension) for his actions, but that's not likely. A more logical explanation is that Campbell may have determined that the officials involved were overly aggressive in handling Roy and that the big forward might not have pushed back had he not been pushed by Seitz and referee Paul Stewart.
    In the next 48 hours
    An event that bears watching in Buffalo is a fan protest about the current state of the NHL. A local all-sports radio station (not the rights holder to games) is encouraging fans to walk out of the arena bowl in the second period and watch the game on monitors in the hallways before returning to their seats. The action is supposed to protest the high cost of NHL hockey and the predatory actions of teams that buy players because other teams can't afford to keep them. Not surprisingly, the radio station chose the Buffalo-New York game Saturday night. The recently made a purchase disguised as a trade to acquire from the cash-strapped Pittsburgh . The -Rangers game is slated to be nationally broadcast and the radio station is hoping the protest sparks a nationwide reaction.
    F.Y.I.
    If the Chicago don't make the playoffs this season (and it's iffy at best), general manager Mike Smith could be in trouble. There are rumors in Chicago that ownership is unhappy with some of Smith's financial decisions, including the money spent on ($8.5 million over two seasons) in light of his production and his off-ice problems. There's also concern that Smith's draft picks haven't panned out and that he contracted with for $1.7 million yet had to send him to the minors on Wednesday. Having run through a couple of coaches, including the ill-fated Alpo Suhonen, hasn't endeared Smith to management either. Chicago often gives the appearance of a united front, but history shows ownership is quick to turn on anyone in charge not named Bob Pulford. Smith knew that going in, but having signed an agreement that calls for three one-year contracts with the club holding the option for each year does not bode well for his future.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Sabres, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Sharks, Blues, Lightning, Coyotes, Ducks, Panthers, Predators, Blue Jackets, Wild, Tony Amonte, Sandis Ozolinsh, Brett Hull, Martin Brodeur, Andre Roy, Keith Primeau, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Pronger, Tomas Vokoun, Rick Nash

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