AROUND THE BOARDS: Chicago finger-pointing

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

More on the Fleury incident

There appears to be a movement afoot to blame management of the Columbus for the story of how and when and two Chicago teammates were bounced from a Columbus-area strip club early Sunday morning. Sources tell FOXSports.com that Chicago management is fingering Columbus management for having tipped reporters to the story. Coach Brian Sutter indicated strongly that it was done by the and others in the organization, hinting it was done in order to cover tracks of Columbus players who may or may not have been inside. That's weak. First, of all, there is no law in the Columbus area prohibiting anyone from going to a strip club. Second, police weren't summoned to the scene of a brawl involving anyone other than Fleury and his companions. Fleury went to the club with two teammates who various Chicago publications indicate are likely to be rookie and veteran defenseman , neither of whom have confirmed nor denied the report. Fleury alone, however is responsible for his actions, so it matters little how reporters found out. (For the record, however, sources have told FOXSports.com the story was the result of dogged reporting by staff members of the Columbus Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune and not because of Columbus management.) Fleury acts like he's taking full responsibility, but he really hasn't. Saying one "messed up," made "bad choices" and put others in "awkward positions" actually says nothing about the state of his battle with substance abuse and whether or not he violated the terms of his rehabilitation contract. Sutter and team management haven't done anyone any favors either. They've helped to put the whole concept of accountability for one's actions at risk and embarrassed both the NHL and the NHL Players' Association with actions that give the appearance of circumnavigating the spirit and the intent of the program in an effort to keep a star player in the lineup. It's not just coincidence that Fleury is still playing and that the 'Hawks have a difficult schedule en route to trying to keep themselves in the race for a playoff spot. Don't for a minute think that this hasn't been noticed by other teams in the league who might have considered signing Fleury this past off-season, but felt that, under the terms of the program as they relate to him, it might prove to be too big a risk. (Who wants to pay $4 million to a player in a clinic?) Now they are learning that perhaps there are ways to get around having a player go into Phase Three of the program (automatic suspension and time spent in rehabilitation), just stonewall. It surely will not win any friends around the league for the . Sutter again came to Fleury's defense this week, saying the veteran forward "made a mistake" but no one has yet said exactly what that mistake was or whether or not Fleury actually was intoxicated as police reports claim. To date, the word "alcohol" also hasn't been mentioned and since the club in question does not have a liquor license but allows people to bring their own booze, there's some question as to whether alcohol could have been obtained at such a late hour. That might exonerate Fleury and his companions, but it could also open the door to allegations that perhaps some other substance might have been involved. Since police didn't test and the 'Hawks and Fleury aren't making any statements, rumor and innuendo will likely fill the void. So the cloud continues to build and Fleury and the 'Hawks continue to talk proud. But they're really saying nothing and the whole concept of a program designed to help players with serious substance abuse problems has now been tainted by the actions of people who only say they "messed up" and seem to want to redirect attention to management of Columbus. This is not a good thing for anyone, especially Columbus, the National Hockey League and the NHLPA, all of whom appear to have had their options limited by Fleury and the admitting to nothing other than "messing up." One has to wonder if they have any idea what a true mess they've made of the alcohol and substance abuse policy in the game today.

And one other thing

Sutter said Thursday that he's not worried about Fleury. He said that Fleury is "incredibly strong" and that "he's not afraid to face the music and be honest and up front." He also said that others — apparently those who were with Fleury — were not so forthcoming and would have to pay the piper. Don't think that won't cause problems. As we've said before, there are issues in the locker room when players get special treatment. In reality, Fleury hasn't faced any music and hasn't been honest and up-front with a great many people about his actions. Had he not opted to slug a bouncer, his companions, it's fair to say, would also not be in the trouble they are in right now. They face repercussions from management and the coaching staff, and they certainly have a few issues to explain to family members as well.

Cleaning up the McLaren trade

San Jose general manger Dean Lombardi had the framework of an agreement for Kyle McLaren done when he announced the trade Thursday night, but it's not done yet. That's because it's likely to be a long-term affair that carries McLaren through any labor issues in 2004 and the NHL — which has had difficult relations with Lombardi, and he with them — will want to take a good hard look at the structure of that contract. As predicted, the Montreal recalled goalie Matthieu Garon on Thursday night and installed him as No. 2 behind . They then put veteran right winger on waivers in hopes that he'll be claimed despite his $3 million per-year salary. Sources tell FOXSports.com that Audette is hoping for the same thing and wants out of Montreal in the worst way. No claim, however, means a ticket to the minor leagues. Oddly enough, Audette and Garon have the same agent. What got the deal done for Boston was that defenseman comes over along with . The needed that defensive prospect because of the loss of McLaren. The felt they could make that deal because of the improved play of rookie . Like Jillson, Fahey is a right-handed shot. For the record, the other thing that made getting appealing to Montreal is that the agreed to pick up 25 percent of his $1.8 million salary. Clearly, Montreal continues to have budget issues.

One final thought

The deal for Kyle McLaren is one the should have made before they fired coach Darryl Sutter. Now they remain well out of the playoff race and have to wait for McLaren to both get into game shape and gel with his new teammates. McLaren adds the grit that the need, but it may come too late to save this season.
Who's he?
Normally we feature a young man in this spot and earlier this week we had the occasion to feature a young woman, but we feel compelled this week to turn the spotlight on a veteran, one you may have lost track of in recent years. found his NHL career back from the brink when Calgary coach Darryl Sutter asked that he be recalled from Saint John in the AHL. Lowry responded by scoring three points in only his third game back, a 4-3 win Monday against Edmonton. It was Lowry's second three-point night as a Flame and one shy of his four-point performance in late 1990 with the St. Louis . Lowry is just a few weeks away from his 38th birthday and had been banished to Saint John at the start of the season based on observations that he might have slowed a little too much. Sutter, who coached Lowry in San Jose for a time, said he wanted him back for leadership purposes and that the points were a plus. "I said at the outset that we brought him up for his leadership," Sutter said. "But it's nice to see him get rewarded on the ice, because a lot of times guys like that don't get appreciated enough by everybody."
Five things you should know
1. Florida forward , who once went 50 games without an even-strength goal in Calgary, has no goals since Nov. 9, a span of 21 games. Left wing has one goal in his past 18, none in 14, and left wing has no goals since Nov. 24, a span of 25 games. And you thought scoring didn't get tougher as the season rolls along. 2. The Edmonton will get a fifth-round pick, a fourth if Montreal makes the playoffs, for the loss of Hamilton Bulldogs coach Claude Julien to Montreal as a replacement for Michel Therrein. Montreal and Edmonton shared the AHL franchise. Edmonton also gets an exhibition game out of the Habs and it will be in Edmonton. That's said to be worth some $400,000 in gate revenue. 3. Goalie is going great guns for the Minnesota . That was no lucky pickup either. Minnesota general manger Doug Risebrough signed Roloson to his first pro contract when he was working in the Calgary organization in 1994. He signed him again for the as insurance, but he's stepped up to the role of No. 1 since an injury to . Roloson made his seventh straight start Thursday night, beating Los Angeles 2-1. That's a club record for consecutive starts. His goals-against (1.89) and save percentage (.932) are All-Star-like. 4. will get a couple of starts, including Friday night against Philadelphia, but it's going to be time on Long Island real soon. The have a $2 million option on Snow for next season, and , now making $4 million per season, will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year. With Osgood injured (ankle, 3-4 weeks), the need to know if DiPietro, the No. 1 pick overall in 2002, is ready to be a No. 1 guy. The betting is that if DiPietro shows well, Osgood will be swapped at the March 11 trade deadline. 5. had three goals in the season's first 38 games for the New Jersey , but after his breakout game against San Jose he has five goals in his last eight games, including the 500th of his career last Friday against Carolina. New Jersey is 7-0-1 after that 5-4 overtime win Wednesday night over San Jose where Nieuwendyk got the game-tying goal with 12.5 seconds left and then the winner in OT.
Thug Watch
Ottawa's is by no means a thug, but when he kissed his fingers and pointed to the crowd in Ottawa after the beat the Tampa Bay 7-0 last week, Tampa players took the gesture like a finger in the eye. Tampa paid back big time with a 6-2 win the next time the two teams met. "We remembered what they did,'' said. "They beat us so handily and Havlat was doing that. It was just a little bit more motivation for us.'' The victory also was meaningful because the had toyed with the in two previous games, outscoring them 13-3. "We wanted to go out and prove something,'' Taylor said. "We wanted to show that we could go out and compete with that team. We proved we could compete with teams at that level.'' This is how teams start to grow in the NHL. It should be noted that Taylor is considered a team leader by head coach John Tortorella, and Tortorella made a point of showing the gesture on a video on the team bus after the 7-0 loss. The players, led by Taylor and , did not forget it.
In the next 48 hours
  • Look for and , both recovering from serious concussions to rejoin the lineup of the Buffalo when they host the Toronto on Friday night.
  • Detroit's needs one more goal to become the sixth player in NHL history to score 700. The 700-goal club has just five members — Gordie Howe (801), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731), Wayne Gretzky (894) and Mike Gartner (708).
  • The Carolina can tie a franchise record for consecutive games lost should they lose to the Florida on Friday. They can break it Saturday night. Both games are against Florida, the team that started them on their recent skid with a home-and-home sweep. Goalie will set a franchise record for consecutive losses by a goalie if he loses the first game in the series.
  • F.Y.I.
    What's the value of a hot start, or worse, a brutal start? Well, the San Jose are still no closer to a playoff spot and they went so far as to fire a coach and make a major player trade. Meanwhile the bankrupt Buffalo , who were abysmal in the first two months of the season are near perfect so far this January, but even picking up seven of a possible eight points on a recent road swing has left them no closer to the playoff pack. In fact heading into Friday's game with Toronto, the were unbeaten in their lasts six (4-0-2) and 6-1-2 in their last nine, but they were still tied with the Atlanta for the fewest points in the NHL. By comparison, the Ottawa got off to one of the best starts in their 10-year history this season and they remain the only team in the NHL who has been able to sustain membership in the 700 Club (a better-than .700 win percentage). The Sens are at .704. The next closest teams are the New Jersey (.674) and the Dallas (.673). The Philadelphia are hanging tough despite injuries. They are in at .670.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Hurricanes, Stars, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Senators, Flyers, Sharks, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Panthers, Jets, Wild, Kyle McLaren, Jochen Hecht, Brett Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jose Theodore, Garth Snow, Rick DiPietro, Martin Havlat, Kevin Weekes, Tim Taylor, Manny Fernandez, Jim Fahey, Tyler Arnason, Niklas Hagman, Kristian Huselius, Jeff Jillson, Dwayne Roloson

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