AROUND THE BOARDS: Theodore grows up

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

Learn your lessons, Jose

If I'm , goaltender for the Montreal , I'm thinking a lot about right now. It's no so much because I'd want to play like the now-retired Buffalo Sabre and Detroit goaltending great. Given Hasek's style, a style that was so unique that even his teammates didn't always understand it, that's pretty much impossible. It's more that I could learn from the fact that Hasek won more than one Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League's most valuable player and he did it on teams that really had no other stars. That has to be important to Theodore who is struggling in the worst way right now. A year ago, the Montreal goalie was deemed to be the NHL player most valuable to his team largely because the couldn't lay claim to almost any win without him. He was the single reason the team made the playoffs and, for the most part, the reason it upset the Boston in the first round. During much of last season Theodore played near-perfect hockey, rising to the challenge night after night to carry the team down the stretch, into the playoffs and deep into the second round. He was rewarded with the largest contract in franchise history ($16.5 million over three years). With that kind of money comes high expectations for a player who just turned 26. That he is struggling mightily now seems to be a surprise to a great many hockey fans, but it shouldn't be. Great players, even great goaltenders, generally need good players around them. You look at the list of players who have won the Hart in the last two decades and two things become obvious: One, there weren't very many, and two, they all had plenty of help. Wayne Gretzky won the award nine times in his career. Eight of those trophies came while he was with the Edmonton and during a period when the were annually among the league's best teams and often measured against the greatest NHL teams of all time. won it twice (and probably should have won at least two more times) and both times he had teammate contending for the honor as well. Jagr won it once and was first-runner-up three other seasons, usually with Lemieux in the lineup. Even the one time in the past 20 years a defenseman, , won it (first time by a defenseman since Bobby Orr), he had the advantage of having a good team. He also had teammate and defensive partner, , having an All-Star season alongside him. Even when Colorado's edged Jagr the season before last, he had the advantage of playing with a stellar lineup. The Avs' roster also included Petr Forsberg, Ray Bourque, and enough good players to fill out a dozen spots in the NHL All-Star game and win the Stanley Cup that season. Hasek, however, pretty much stood alone. Twice a winner and once a runner-up (to in a season when many thought Hasek was the more valuable player), Hasek pretty much was the whole show for a Buffalo team that never did anything before he became a star. The missed the playoffs immediately after he left. That's the problem for good players on relatively poor teams. Most times when a player wins the Hart, he's been a great player for years and then has the added benefit of playing on a team that became even better as it went along. That's not the case for Theodore, who wasn't anywhere near great before last season (his first above the .500 mark in his career). This year he has a 1-3-1 record, a horrendous 4.38 goals-against average and an .833 save percentage. It's possible that he could be better once again and it's possible that the might become better as well, but for the immediate future, neither possibility looks likely. Either the get really good in a hurry or Theodore morphs into the second coming of Hasek and stands alone as a truly great player. It may well be the only way he ever sees the Hart Trophy again.

How's that again?

We told you even before the season started that New York center was aiming for Dec. 6 and a meeting with the Toronto for his return from serious knee and shoulder injuries. Now his coach, Peter Laviolette, hinted strongly about that being the target date. Laviolette recently let it slip that doctors have given Peca an OK for Dec. 4. The play a game on Dec. 3, and then not again until Dec. 6, giving Peca just enough time to tune up with a few practices. It just so happens that the play the in Toronto on that date and that it was Toronto's that ended Peca's season (and New York's run in the playoffs) with a decidedly low blow to Peca's knee last spring. For the record, Peca says it's just a date and that his return might take longer or happen sooner. If it happens sooner, it won't be before that game on the third against Vancouver. It it's at all humanly possible, however, Peca won't miss that game on the sixth.

One thing we don't like

When Florida's elbowed Columbus' in a recent game, Wright went down hard, bled profusely, had to be helped from the ice and missed the next game, reportedly because of a slight concussion. Ward got a minor for elbowing, a game misconduct and a one-game suspension for the hit, but he floored many more people when he said: "I was just defending myself, pretty much. Everybody knows what type of player he (Wright) is. I haven't seen the replay, but I think he deserves an Oscar for laying on the ground as long as he did. And he has done that for years.'' Look Lance, you belted the guy in the face with your elbow, an elbow that has padding that would withstand impact with a brick wall. You did it with less than 30 seconds left in a game that was already decided. If you don't have the decency to admit you simply did a on the guy, then say nothing. These days, only wife-beaters still blame the victim.

He keeps going and going ¿

It's not that we want to keep harping on the curious decision by Chicago not to re-sign and then go after , but it still intrigues us. It's especially intriguing now that Amonte has gone past the 420 mark in consecutive games played. That's by far the longest active streak in the NHL today and, for his career, Amonte has only missed eight games, none with his newest team, the Phoenix . "He's old school, he plays through injuries,'' coach Bobby Francis said. ''You can see what a fiery competitor he is and his will to win is obvious.'' Not that he never gets hurt. In a recent game against Ottawa, Amonte was hit on the toe with a slap shot. Three times during the course of the game doctors heated a needle and drove it into the toe (through the toenail) to reduce a buildup of blood. He returned to the game each time. Three nights later in a game against Toronto, he was hit in the face by a puck, suffered a broken nose and bled profusely. Still, he didn't miss a shift. By the way, Hawks coach Brian Sutter is again hinting that Fleury might rejoin the team in a couple of weeks.

But who's minding the front office?

Funny, but Toronto boss Ken Dryden spent a considerable amount of time last summer drafting a letter telling the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, telling them how to put a better hockey product on television. You would think Dryden might have spent a little of that time pondering what it might take to improve his team over that team. The Leafs did pretty much nothing in the free-agent market in the off-season, other than replacing the goaltender that left for Detroit (Curtis Joseph) with the goaltender that wasn't invited back to Dallas, (Ed Belfour). The result of that inaction has the Leafs, traditionally the biggest draw on the CBC's prime-time hockey show, Hockey Night in Canada, vying with Atlanta for last overall in the Eastern Conference standings. Sure, it's early, way early, but holding out for the return of injured forward suddenly doesn't seem like much of a plan. Far be it that we folks, who just happen to be connected to a television network, would tell you how to do your job, Ken. But from where we sit it appears you have a need to separate Pat Quinn the coach from Pat Quinn the general manager and do it right quick. Should the Leafs fail to make the playoffs this season, it will be in part because of the paralysis at the top of your organization. The Leafs need one man to coach and one to manage and one man to lead. That last part is your job, Ken, and you need to do it even if Quinn protests. It's that or miss the playoffs, a suggestion that surely wasn't on your to-do list for the CBC.

One final thought

That was a nice win for the New York and goalie Monday night, but for the record, the Tampa Bay have scored more goals than the this season and allowed fewer. Since the payroll for the is under $35 million and the payroll for the is said to be in excess of $65 million, the do not appear to be getting full value for their roster. It's especially noticeable when you consider that the have played 11 games and scored just 28 goals while the have played a mere nine and has scored 36. Of course no team has given up more goals than the ' 38. Oddly enough, the Minnesota , another low-budget team, have also scored more than the so far this season and they've allowed only 19 goals (admittedly through just nine games).
Who's he?
You may not have ever heard of , but he's making news in Vancouver. The 23-year-old forward has refused a request by the team to take a "conditioning" assignment in the minor leagues. It's a strange stance in that he isn't dressing for the majority of Vancouver's games and hasn't asked to be traded. Normally when a player is asked to accept a conditioning assignment he does so knowing that if he doesn't, he's put himself in an extremely bad situation with his bosses. Druken, however, knows that the can't force him to take the conditioning stint and that they can't move him to the minors without first exposing him to waivers, where it's likely some club will take him. Druken scored a big goal for the last season, one that put the team in the playoffs in the final stages of last season, but he played just 27 NHL games last season (largely due to injury) and was not a standout performer in training camp. His future now remains largely uncertain, but it's a safe bet that he will pay a heavy price for his decision within the organization. Last year when the had issues with , they waited a year before they moved him (to Ottawa). Druken says he doesn't want to leave Vancouver and considers himself a part of the team and the community. Odd, but most players who consider themselves a part of a team generally do what's best for themselves and the team. Except to show that he has some power, Druken has done neither. No matter what's being said, this seems very much like a situation where a player wants to leave and is attempting to force the club to make it happen.
Five things you should know
1. NHL games really are faster. The Edmonton and Dallas recently played one in a mere two hours and five minutes. NHL statistics report that faceoffs are averaging 23.4 seconds (a marked improvement even if there are no figures from last season to measure them against). The longest game of the season, oddly enough, took place on opening night when the Buffalo and New York engaged in a fight-filled affair and even that game played out in 2:43. Three-plus hour games were not uncommon in the NHL in recent seasons, especially in the playoffs. 2. played his 1,613th NHL game Monday, moving him into third place on the league's all-time games-played list. Messier should zoom past Larry Murphy (1,615) for second place, but then has only a middling chance of surpassing Gordie Howe's record of 1,767. Messier would have been closing in on Howe had Howe stayed retired after 25 seasons with Detroit (1,687 games), but Howe came out of retirement to join his sons in the World Hockey Association and then played 80 more NHL games with Hartford after that team was absorbed into the league. 3. Hey Atlanta, take a clue from the Nashville as to how to get that first win of the season. The Preds used the emotion of a sellout crowd who showed up to see the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit to end a seven-game winless streak from the start of the season. Of course it helped to have an all-world performance from goalie . Maybe a better strategy would be to try and obtain Dunham. The only team without a win this season, Atlanta's goals-against average of 4.33 is the No. 1 reason the are losing. The next worst team total is 3.75 and that's from San Jose, a team that started the season without its No. 1 netminder because of a contract dispute. 4. Unlike the aforementioned Druken, Montreal netminder is willing to keep himself "in shape." Garon can't be reassigned to the minors without clearing waivers, and as a highly regarded NHL prospect that would never happen. Yet the Habs have a goaltending bottleneck with last year's league MVP struggling and veteran playing well, though always rumored to be tradable. Problem is the Habs can't trade Hackett until Theodore starts playing well. So Garon, who was supposed to be Theodore's backup this season, keeps agreeing to conditioning stints so that the Habs can keep re-assigning him to the minors. It's bending the rules, but as long as Garon agrees and the continue to list him on their 23-man roster, it doesn't break them. 5. From the Just Wondering Department: If it's all about scoring and wide-open play, then how do you explain the offensively-challenged New Jersey leading the Atlantic Division? Start with goaltender 's stunning 1.57 goals-against average through the first seven games. Add in new coach Pat Burn's always-intense commitment to team defense and then focus on the value of timely scoring. Through Monday, the Atlantic Division had the top four goal scorers in the NHL, but the don't have a single scorer in the league's top 30. They also have the league's lowest goals-for total (18). Still, forward leads the league in game-winning goals and was tied for that honor (with many) in overtime goals. Five of New Jersey's first six wins were by one-goal margins.
Thug Watch
Phoenix Coyote forward is expected to need three months to recover from shoulder surgery because of a preseason fight with Vancouver's John Craighead. Meanwhile, Craighead, who also suffered a shoulder injury in that fight (Oct. 1), has recovered and has received a new two-way, two-year contract with the Vancouver . Ironically, May was once a Canuck but was deemed expendable because of chronic shoulder problems. "I feel bad for Brad," Craighead said recently. "He's a good character player and a good team guy and he's up for negotiation on his deal. I don't wish that on anybody." It hasn't been all bad for May. While seeing a specialist in California he got to take in Game 7 of the World Series in Anaheim. Craighead has no guarantees either. As part of his two-way contract, Craighead was sent down to Manitoba of the AHL Tuesday.
In the next 48 hours
  • Look for the Montreal to shift veteran center to left wing in an attempt to jump-start the offense. Ironically, one of the reasons Gilmour dissed Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff was because Ruff played him on the wing instead of center. Gilmour eventually quit the and retired, only to restart his career the following season in Montreal.
  • Expect the Vancouver to initiate talks with defenseman about a contract extension. He'll become a free agent at the end of the season and it's either make a deal in the next week or so or forget it until the off-season.
  • Look for Dallas forward to resume skating any day now. He suffered a serious ankle sprain in the opening game of the season and is attempting to come back by the end of this week.
  • F.Y.I.
    The Colorado have grabbed 10 of a possible 16 points heading into Tuesday night's road game with the Minnesota , but they've yet to win a game at home. They are 0-3-1 at the Pepsi Center yet 3-0-0-1 on the road. The reasons for not winning at home are still mostly unexplainable, but don't discount a too-casual approach to home games. The Avs are used to winning and used to showing off at home. That leads them to not prepare and to take chances they normally don't take on the road where the hostile environment and the fact the home team is always focused to beat them, puts them in focus. Also, the power play overall is a mere 5-for-50. The Avs won a lot of games with the power play last season but subtracting forward and adding defenseman (via trade) has meant adjustments up front and on the blueline and the units haven't sorted themselves out yet. It will be a while before the Avs have a chance to sort things out at home. Tuesday's game opens a three-game road swing that also has stops at Vancouver and Calgary.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Tie Domi, Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Stars, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Avalanche, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Capitals, Coyotes, Panthers, Predators, Jets, Blue Jackets, Derek Morris, Tony Amonte, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Jose Theodore, Jason Arnott, Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Joe Sakic, Chris Drury, Chris Pronger, Darcy Tucker, Gary Roberts, Ed Jovanovski, Peter Schaefer, Jaromir Jagr, Brad May, Mike Dunham, Tyler Wright, Michael Peca, Mathieu Garon

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