AROUND THE BOARDS: Which coach is next?

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

Under fire

We're not proponents of coaches getting fired at a rate equal to some third-world country's firing squad practice round, but if we had to predict the next two to go it would be Easterners Robbie Ftorek of Boston and Bryan Trottier of the New York . Trottier has been iffy since the day he was hired (Day One of this season). Even though his team has been beset by injuries, there are quiet rumblings out of New York that his players don't respect his coaching abilities. Word is they could live with any of the assistants — Jim Schoenfeld, Terry O'Reilly and Ted Green — all of whom have been head coaches in their past lives. The true test for Trottier is whether or not he loses captain . So far, Messier has been keeping the team together about the debate, but he's also been listening to the complaints and the talk about a replacement. If Messier sours on Trottier, it will end the first-year coach's career faster than he can tie on a blindfold. It's even more perilous for Ftorek who is presiding over a slide of unprecedented proportion in Boston. Ftorek can't be responsible for injuries to and or for the fact that management has refused to sign on for top-flight goaltending or move unsigned defenseman Kyle McLaren. But he is responsible for the fact that his players seem to be losing in part because they aren't working near as hard as they were earlier in the season. The are having difficulty staying focused, as evidenced by the recent three-straight two-many-men-on-the-ice calls in one period. One such penalty in a game is odd, two in a game is unusual. Three in a period is a good indication that players aren't paying attention. A third coach under the gun is Carolina's Paul Maurice. It was thought that he bought himself an automatic year just for getting the 'Canes to the Stanley Cup finals last spring (where they lost to the in five games), but that glow has faded. Normally, we leave Maurice off our list just because he's been involved in "crying-wolf" situations more times than a room full of Jack London fans. But the days of banking good will are over in this league and if it takes firing the coach to get the 'Canes back into playoff contention, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford won't be afraid to finally pull that trigger.

While we're talking coaching

Can someone explain to me again why Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix thought the inexperienced Tony Granato could somehow do a better job than the fired Bob Hartley? Last time I checked, the Avs were losing with the same regularity that they did when Hartley was behind the bench. Worse, the Avs were smoked by archrival Detroit late last week in a game that should have meant everything to the . Colorado played an emotionless game and lost 4-2 in an effort that produced a fourth straight loss at home. Poor goaltending, a thin defense and a lack of timely scoring is at the root of Colorado's problems. Lacroix may not see it that way and he continues to spout the now-tired line that this is "the best team ever". If that were true, you would think that someone could get the Avs to play that way. Under Granato, the Avs are 7-6-1-1, including Monday's 1-1 tie with Dallas in the Pepsi Center. That's 16 points in 15 games and is actually a slight step backward from the pace of 33 points in the first 31games, a record that got Hartley fired.


St. Louis forward after a tough outing with referees Don VanMassenhoven and Craig Spada: "Boy, I'll tell you right now that Don VanMassenhoven is actually a pretty good ref but the other guy is atrocious. He should definitely think about resigning, because he'll definitely get fired. It's atrocious. It's amazing ... I've been around a long time and this guy just comes in and calls dives and terrible calls. It's a joke. And that's why you don't see him reffing a lot. That guy was terrible. It's amazing what people like that get away with. It's a joke. It's affecting games. It's affecting people coming to games. It's a joke." What's amazing is that although coaches and league officials can be fined for criticizing referees (see Montreal general manager Andre Savard's $50,000 earlier this season for a case in point), the most a player can be fined for anything is $1,000. Players can lose salary if they are suspended and that can run up a tab pretty quick, but they don't get suspended for criticizing officiating. So $1,000 is a relatively small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from ripping a guy who's out on the ice trying his best just like the players.

While we're talking the talk

Former singer, songwriter and part-time Ottawa Senator owner Paul Anka recently made it clear he has no intention of buying back into the bankrupt franchise. "Absolutely not," the aging crooner said from his Los Angeles digs when asked if he might consider being a part of the Save the financing scheme. "I'm staying away from any sports team. I was part of the team that brought the to the city, and got crucified by the press. Now the team's worthless, which is okay. It doesn't matter. I just care about the city. They should have hockey in Ottawa. It's not a commentary on NHL hockey in Ottawa. It's a commentary on hockey in Canada." But wait, the author of The Tonight Show Theme and My Way was just warming up. "I wouldn't want to be at the forefront of any sports team now," he crooned. "These kids are overpaid and spoiled and half-stoned half the time and have no respect for the fans and coaches. They should give half their salaries to education. "It's not a business I want to be in as an owner. It's a thankless situation. It's unfortunate that the consumer pays for it all. I would hate to see the team leave Ottawa but I think there's a great possibility (of that happening)."

One final thought

New Jersey forward denies having asked to be traded. Maybe he didn't, but reading between the lines you have to think otherwise. "There's a thing there. Maybe a wall," Gomez said of his relationship with first-year coach Pat Burns. "But, then again, he's got that presence. He's Pat Burns. You know who he is in this league ... maybe it's a little different for both of us. Our personalities are a little different. "Larry is Larry," Gomez said of his favorite coach, the fired Larry Robinson. "He's awesome. He's helped my career a lot. He's a legend. Him and (goaltending coach Jacques Caron) came up and fished in Alaska. We hung out. They were pretty sorry at that. But it was kind of nice giving back." Ironically, Burns might be the coach who could make Gomez a real NHL player. Gomez hasn't had a good year since the lost to free agency and he hasn't improved his game since year one in the NHL. Burns knows how to get the best out of players who are chronic underachievers. If Gomez gives him half a chance, he might actually save a career that is going nowhere. It might be better to finally cut bait, than try and go fishing with this coach.
Who's she?
Hayley Wickenheiser is a household name in Canada. She's on course to become a big name in Finland as well and if she's successful she may well advance the cause of women's hockey in the United States and the rest of the hockey-playing nations of the world. Wickenheiser helped the Canadian women win a gold medal in hockey at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City last winter. She was captain of that Canadian national team and she is Team Canada's all-time leader in points. She is also now under contact to play center in a men's league in Finland and is likely to do well there. Wickenheiser already has played three games for Kirkkonummi Salamat, a lower echelon men's team in that country that just happens to boast as a part owner. She impressed enough to get a contract for the rest of the season and is expected to center a third line and play 10 to 15 minutes a game for a squad that competes at a level about two rungs below the Finnish Elite League. A publicity stunt? To a certain degree, yes, but the fact remains that at 24 Wickenheiser has pretty much done all she can at the amateur level and since there are no women's pro leagues of consequence, measuring herself in a previously all-male league is the next obvious challenge. Wickenheiser is not the first woman to play in a men's league. Three others have done it, albeit for a short time, as goaltenders and there is a report that a German woman played in a men's league at a forward position during the 1998-99 season. Still, Wickenheiser is the first truly high profile North American woman player to make a run at playing in an all-men's league and any accomplishments there will be viewed as noteworthy. No one expects her to someday make it to the NHL and, truth be told, it's not likely she'll be a star in Finland either. But just taking her game to another level should serve as a reasonable role model for young girls throughout North America who need to know that it's OK to always push the boundaries, to find new ways to be the best you can be. Measuring oneself against an ever-higher level of competition is a good way to go about it.
Five things you should know
1. Alexander Daigle, the former No. 1 draft pick who attempted to restart his failed career with the Pittsburgh this season, recently was named American Hockey League Player of the Week. That's a good thing in that many felt Daigle would quit again after the demoted him to the minors. The fact that he's sticking it out and actually playing pretty well down there is an indication to management that he's serious about resuming his career. In a recent three-game stretch he scored two goals and picked up six assists. 2. A recent players' poll in the Toronto Sun listed Paul Stewart and Terry Gregson as the fairest referees in the land. What¿s odd is that both were dropped from the rotation early on in the playoffs the last few years. Stewart had never gotten far in the playoffs and was once let go by the league only to be reinstated later. Gregson's career seemed to falter after he was on the ice and in the down-low position when scored the controversial goal (often referred to as "No Goal") in the deciding game of the 1999 Stanley Cup playoffs. The fact that both played the game before becoming full-time refs no doubt factored into the players' thinking. 3. A recent media poll by the same newspaper listed New York center as the most overrated player in the game. He wasn't alone. Teammate was No. 3 in the poll and teammate was tied for the No. 5 spot with . The No. 2 was a New Yorker of a different sweater, Islander and No. 4 was Philadelphia center . 4. Yashin hit a rare double as he was also rated No. 2 on the top five list of laziest players. Oddly enough another Ranger, defenseman , was rated No. 1 and Bure was No. 3. Bad week for Russian-born players. 5. Phoenix's trading of to Dallas wasn't just a salary dump for the . Sources close to the say the veteran forward had soured on the youthful ways of the team and wanted to have a chance at yet another Stanley Cup before his career ends. He'll get that chance in Dallas even though he collected the bulk of a $4.2 million salary with Phoenix.
Thug Watch
Columbus' doesn't get mentioned in the same breath as NHL tough guys like , , and , but he's piling up the penalty minutes like no other. Shelley has 150 minutes in 42 games to lead all enforcers at the halfway point of the season. He also hasn't backed down from any altercations. He's also wrested the lead in fighting majors (17) away from the injured Boulton (broken orbital bone courtesy of Worrell). Worrell and Boulton are tied at 14.
In the next 48 hours
Look for serious rumors regarding a possible trade between the Pittsburgh and the Toronto regarding one . The can't afford to re-sign the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent and are listening to offers. Toronto is said to be offering prospects at this point. Ironically, the bidding might not get too far beyond that because teams have learned not to overpay for free agents.
The NHL is often an easy target for media criticism, but take a good long look at the league's policy on concussions and it's far better than the NFL. How many times do we read of an NFL player suffering a "slight" concussion, having his "bell rung" or being knocked "just a bit woozy"? Then that same player is back out on the field taking hits while often wondering where he is, who he's playing against and why all those down linemen in front of him have 10 fingers on each hand. The NHL, on the other hand, has a mandatory policy of having a player sit out at least a week if he has any sort of head injury. That same player must prove to be completely symptom-free before he's allowed to resume even practicing with his team. He must also meet standards established in baseline testing at the start of the season, proving that he is back to normal readings before he can get medical clearance to play. That may be looked upon as "sissy" in some circles, but NHL players in general are tougher than any players in any sport. The league gives pause to players with concussions or concussion syndrome because too much is still unknown about injuries to the brain. It's a solid and sensible precaution even if it does keep some great players away from the ice for surprisingly long periods of time.
Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Red Wings, Oilers, Stars, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Coyotes, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Sergei Samsonov, Kyle McLaren, Joe Thornton, Georges Laraque, Brett Hull, Alexei Yashin, Keith Tkachuk, Alexander Mogilny, Jaromir Jagr, Jody Shelley, Scott Gomez

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