AROUND THE BOARDS: Coaches crack down

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

A sudden display of brass ones

We're not exactly sure what's going on all of a sudden, but the top brass behind the bench in several NHL cities has begun to play hardball. In the last week, Vancouver coach Marc Crawford sat top forward for a 10-minute stretch in the second period after Bertuzzi was hit with a triple minor. The benching didn't cost his team the game (the rallied for a tie) but it may have cost the forward a chance to extend his then-season-high 12-game point scoring streak, the longest in the NHL this season. Bertuzzi was said to be incensed by the benching and argued that he was being singled out. But from where we sit, Crawford was trying to make a delicate point. No player is bigger than the team, even . The fact he took a triple-minor, coupled with the fact that he has had issues and incidents with officials at other points in the season is unacceptable and could be fatal in the playoffs. Bertuzzi is a gifted player, but he needs to learn that officials are human, too, and they aren't above the concept of payback. In the same week, New Jersey coach Pat Burns delivered an in-game benching to name players and , and earlier in the season delivered a verbal rant about the play of . New York coach Glen Sather this week made a point of noting that the highly paid and highly underachieving isn't heading for a line change, but a seat in the stands if his play doesn't improve and soon. At the same time, New York coach Peter Laviolette demoted $10 million man to the fourth line. Saturday in Toronto, Leafs coach and general manager Pat Quinn made a very embarrassed healthy scratch. A week earlier, Detroit's went public with a rant about what he perceived as a lessening of his ice time, a move that he felt singled him out as a scapegoat for the not winning some games. Last Saturday, Atlanta coach Bob Hartley pointedly yanked goaltender in a game with the . What's going on here? Plenty. Coaches pretty much have just two motivational tools left to them, ice time and public displays that tend to embarrass players. By and large, they've been cautious about how they use those tools because the backlash can be fatal. However in recent months, coaches have discerned that the public is becoming less and less enamored with star players who make huge amounts of money but don't always perform up to their capabilities. They've taken that perception and run with it, using the power of public opinion (read public embarrassment) to get their point across. Not every coach does it, but the ones who do usually fall into two categories: Coaches that have the full and passionate backing of their immediate superiors — Crawford, Burns, Quinn (who is his own superior), Hartley and Philadelphia's Ken Hitchcock — and coaches who have absolutely nothing to lose — Detroit's Dave Lewis, Sather, Laviolette, Buffalo's Lindy Ruff and a handful of others. Said Burns on Elias and Gomez: "These guys will mature. I'm just hoping it's in our hockey lifetime." There's no underestimating the words Burns used in his assessment. A hockey coach's professional lifetime is among the shortest in all of sports. They aren't going to sit and wait for a player to come around any more. What good does waiting do unless you're looking to get fired?

Mentor no more

Chicago general manager Mike Smith, under considerable pressure to keep his job, fired Jim Jenkins, the babysitter the club hired to take care of . Smith implied he was acting under advice from the people directing Fleury's alleged substance-abuse rehabilitation program, but if you look closely at his explanation it's clear Smith, not the doctors, decided that Jenkins' role had come to an end. It's hard to imagine that this wasn't the first snip in what will eventually be the cutting of all ties with the under-performing Fleury. Despite the fact that coach and management have bent to the extreme in protecting Fleury, he has not rewarded their efforts with good play on the ice and he embarrassed them to no end with his actions off the ice. Fleury's most recent misstep, being beaten by a bouncer at a strip club in Ohio, only adds to Fleury's dismal rap sheet. The will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs this spring unless Fleury completely reinvents his game. Firing his $200,000 traveling companion is a pretty good indication of where Smith and the 'Hawks will place the blame if he doesn't get the job done.

Careful what you wish for

Toronto forward hinted strongly that he might waive his no-trade clause now that he was a healthy scratch from a Leafs game Saturday night. This just in: The Leafs would welcome this on a level that saw Major League Baseball embrace the umpires' decision to resign in an ill-fated job protest a few years back. The Leafs have long had "issues" in their locker room and one of them has something to do with how much influence Corson and his brother-in-law, , exert over the club. Corson said over the weekend that he would have to see how things play out in the next few days before he makes a decision (on asking for a trade). Quinn followed that up by announcing that Corson would be out of the lineup again Tuesday night when the Leafs play Carolina. That's a message that has to hit right between the eyes. Ironically, Corson lost his spot when veteran returned after a lengthy absence due to injuries. There's a certain irony in this, given that sources have told FOXSports.com that a Roberts-Corson rift over who leads in the locker room is a part of the problem there.

One final thought

In keeping with our theme of brass ones, consider this: There has been considerable lobbying in the New York media for the to reacquire Ziggy Palffy from the Los Angeles . It went so far in recent days that an unnamed Islander was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying that Palffy would "pay for himself" based on the number of new and old fans he would bring in. GM Mike Milbury clipped that quote, hung it in the locker room and wrote alongside it that the player who said it should come see him so that he could "include you in the (expletive) trade." I love New York.
Who's he?
We generally don't give this space over to owners, but we would be remiss in neglecting that shot New York owner Charles Wang fired in the general direction of his in-state neighbor, the New York . "You can't just keep spending, spending, spending," Wang said. "Some teams have proven that is not the way to success." Yow, here it comes again, MSG. For the record, Wang is on record as having approved a $42 million budget for the this season, a franchise record. He has engaged in his share of checkbook-team building (witness the senseless 10-year contract given to two seasons back), so Wang is by no means perfect. Still, he has run the team in something akin to a business model and, like a lot of owners, was aghast at the recent acquisition by the , an acquisition largely viewed as a flat-out purchase. The have adopted the New York Yankees' business model (sans the championships of course) and are on course to break the bank over the competition. The question now is: How many owners will allow it to continue? Judging from Wang's remarks, fewer than you might think.
Five things you should know
1. Ever notice how often the Detroit play goalie against the Vancouver instead of ? Well, one of the reasons is that prior to Tuesday's games, Joseph had allowed four or more goals in 12 of his 17 starts against the and has a 5-9-2 record against them. Legace meanwhile has a 4-0-1 career record against Vancouver. 2. What's the most effective 1-2 combo in the NHL this season? Start with Vancouver's and . The duo has 67 goals on the season. Oddly enough, the next four are units from the supposedly weaker Eastern Conference: Marion Hossa-Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa), 58; -Glenn Murray (Boston), 58; -Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta) 55 and -Jaromir Jagr (Washington) 53. 3. Coaching update. Since Doug MacLean took over for the fired Dave King, the Columbus are 8-7-2-0 and recently were smoked by the failing Chicago 7-1. It isn't the coaching, never was. 4. Toronto captain is nine points away from getting his 1,000th NHL point and 18 games away from his 1,000th NHL game. That's good production in any league. 5. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel has come down against women playing in men's hockey leagues. In an essay that leaves little doubt as to where he stands, Fasel argues that Canadian women's superstar Hayley Wickenheiser is talented and admired, but that he sees no future for the idea of "mixed" hockey. Fasel cites the potential for serious injury. That said, there is no bylaw that prohibits women playing in men's leagues in that the IIHF does not have jurisdiction over individual nations. Wickenheiser, captain of Canada's gold-medal winning team at the most recent Olympics, is playing in Finland for a second-division team. She recently scored her first goal in that league.
Deadline draws near
We told you last week that the rumors would be heating up all over the NHL soon and indeed they are in full bloom now. You also might have heard that the San Jose are definitely trying to move and that the Toronto are more than interested. What you probably haven't heard is that teams are ringing Phoenix general manager Mike Barnett's phone off the hook in hopes of convincing him to part with veteran netminder . Let us assure you that it's likely to happen with at least a half-dozen teams having an interest, with the St. Louis at the top of the list. The are a Stanley Cup contender in every area except goaltending. Given that head coach Joel Quennville pulls No. 1 netminder more times than he yanks a reporter's chain, look for the two teams to start talking right about now.
Thug watch
So which teams have logged the most fighting penalties this season? Do you think it was those big, bad Boston , the always-ready-to-rumble Philadelphia or the hard-nosed St. Louis ? Think again. According to Stats Inc., the "honor" falls to Columbus and Phoenix. The have had 49 fighting penalties this season; the 43.
In the next 48 hours
  • Look for Ottawa coach Jacques Martin to notch his 750th game behind an NHL bench. It will happen Feb. 20.
  • Expect injured Buffalo pest to return from a near five-week layoff which was the result of a knee injury. Varada has been skating on his own in recent weeks and could make a return to the lineup Wednesday against Montreal.
  • F.Y.I.
    There appears to be a developing feud between Atlanta coach Bob Hartley and his goaltender, . Hartley gave Dafoe the hook over the weekend in an eventual loss to the Detroit . The eventually got a delay-of-game penalty on that move in part because Dafoe came out slowly and backup didn't get in the paint in time to satisfy the refs. In the ' next start, Monday against Buffalo, Dafoe pulled a groin muscle in the warmups, forcing Hartley to play the third-string goalie (Nurminen was injured against Detroit). There is no doubt that Dafoe is injured, but Hartley reportedly was not pleased. Look for goalie , the goalie that was dispatched to the minors when Dafoe was signed earlier this season, to get a good long look in the nets as the season winds down. He was recalled to Atlanta on Tuesday.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Capitals, Coyotes, Jets, Joe Thornton, Sergei Fedorov, Patrik Elias, Alexei Yashin, Darcy Tucker, Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Curtis Joseph, Sean Burke, Jeff Friesen, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Scott Gomez, Brent Johnson, Manny Legace

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