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BLUELINES: Coach Messier on the horizon?

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  • Mark Messier's medical sabbatical automatically raises these questions: A) Can the Rangers make the playoffs without him? B) If they miss the playoffs, will Ron Low continue as coach? C) If the Rangers miss the playoffs and Low steps down, would Messier be the next logical coach of the Rangers?
  • More teams are angling for Darius Kasparaitis as a playoff plug-in than not. With Dmitry Yushkevich out for the season, the suddenly defense-weak Leafs have become a priority Kaspar-seeker along with the Red Wings. Detroit scouts Mark Howe and Bob McCammon both viewed Toronto against the Devils last Friday. Whatever Darius' spring destination, it's a good bet he'll use his unrestricted status this summer to sign with the Islanders.
  • The Isles, by the way, would love to land either Geoff Sanderson or Shawn McEachern to play alongside Alexei Yashin. Bait could be Mariusz Czerkawski-plus.
  • John Hughes, father of Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, reps Neil Smith among other clients.
  • If Corey Schwab doesn't work out for Toronto in Curtis Joseph's absence, Pat Quinn might find Stephane Fiset an appealing stop-gap ¿ or Ed Belfour.
  • Some in the Toronto media are suggesting that Joseph and Quinn have drifted apart. They base the argument on what seemed to be a lukewarm handshake at a pregame "Honor The Olympians" ceremony. Those who know Cujo insist it's yet another Toronto press exaggeration. Nobody — not even Joseph — can argue with Quinn's Olympic gold.
  • Scouts tell us that, in their eyes, two of the best young players to emerge from the Olympics were Canadians — Simon Gagne and Eric Brewer. The latter is projected by one birddog as the next Rob Blake.
  • With Rob in mind, let us now say that Blake wins the unofficial prize as nicest multimillionaire in the entire NHL.
  • Whatever possessed Slava Fetisov to bypass Sergei Brylin, a genuinely honest all-purpose pro, in favor of Oleg Kvasha, one of the biggest NHL disappointments?
  • One of the best hockey towns outside the NHL is Oklahoma City. The Central League team is averaging 8,624 fans per game while runner-up Austin averages 4,937.
  • Speaking of Texas, Laredo will ice a new CHL team next fall. Club president is Julian (Kiki) DeAyala. Ex-NHLer Terry Ruskowski will coach the Bucks at a new arena.
  • Bobby Holik offers the most sensible comment on Larry Robinson's return to the Devils. "This turn of events is minor compared to what's going on with John Cuniff. (The Devils' assistant coach is being treated for throat cancer.) I've known Cunny as long as I've been with this organization. Everybody just wants what's best for Cunny." We'll second that statement.
  • Good move by Lou Lamoriello hiring John Hennessy — who paid his dues in Albany — as Devs' radio play-by-play man, replacing Mike Miller, now Toledo's GM.
  • John McMullen has sufficiently recovered from his several-month home confinement to have jetted to Florida for a visit with his son. The former Devils owner is still very much on top of his former team, chatting regularly with Lamoriello and some of his favorite players, including Ken Daneyko, who now has a radio gig.
  • The Coyotes got the green light from Steve Ellman to spend for a possible player to help them over the playoff hump; that is if GM Michael Barnett believes said stickhandler is available and can do the job.
  • According to NHL people who know, Theo Fleury's beefs about officiating went unheeded because of his diving tactics. Those dives also supposedly bothered his Team Canada teammates during the Olympic run.
  • By far the best unheralded coach in the minors is working for the Syracuse Crunch. Gary Agnew survived an injury-plagued season, yet kept the Blue Jackets' farm club is not only alive, but thriving. He's likely to be among the AHL grads (Bob Hartley, Marc Crawford, et al.), who made it to the bigs.
  • Two fighters — one retired, one the current heavyweight champ — say NHL fighting is on the way out. Georges Laraque tells us fisticuffs will be eliminated "in a couple of years." Mike Milbury adds that the league doesn't need fighting. "It could be phased out," says Milbury. "Body contact is enough."
  • Laraque tells us the second-best NHL fighter is Don Brashear.
  • Asked to give advice to new GMs, one veteran boss says, "Never listen to the media. I've never learned anything about hockey from reading a newspaper." That's a virtually unanimous opinion, by the way.
  • The West Coast Hockey League will have a club in Las Vegas for the 2003-04 season.
  • Nice move by the Flames, dedicating their Pengrowth Saddledome media lounge and broadcast booth to the late Ed Whalen, longtime voice of Calgary hockey.
  • Stan Saplin, the Rangers' first full-time press agent, died last Friday. A giant in the business, Saplin put together the first-ever NHL team press guide, "Inside The Blueshirt," in 1947. He also was a prize-winning journalist at the New York Journal-American. Stan was both a gentleman and a scholar.
  • Ed Belfour's latest dressing room rampage should earn him a pre-deadline-out-of-Dallas deal.
  • Phil Esposito has been helping the Lightning find the net. "One thing hasn't changed since I played," says Espo. "You still have to score goals to win. My theory is, 'Shoot the puck. Get it on net at all costs.' " He's right.
  • Nobody amazes Peter Laviolette more than Alexei Yashin. "It's amazing how he holds on to the puck with two, and sometimes three, players draped on him," says the rookie coach. "It's artwork."
  • Keep an eye on Columbus prospect Brad Moran, a former WHL MVP. Skating for the Syracuse Crunch, Moran — according to some viewers — displays a bit of a Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya style.
  • A top Canadian publisher is fuming over a double-cross pulled by a long-retired NHL Hall of Famer. The player had agreed to have his autobiography ghosted by a well-published Canadian author. The writer spent a wad of his own cash to put the project on track before the player pulled the rug on him and the book company.
  • Having enjoyed huge success through three-quarters of the season, Detroit's brass is X-raying its roster for potential playoff weaknesses. Conclusion: Lack of speed must be addressed. Known as "The Hockey Maven" in both local and national circles, Stan Fischler is one of the most outspoken authorities on the game of hockey. Fischler can be seen offering NHL analysis on "MSG SportsDesk" and on Fox Sports Net's "Regional Sports Report — New York Edition." Fischler also provides studio interviews and pre- and post-game features and reports for both the Islanders and Devils on FSN. His columns appear regularly on MSGNetwork.com.
  • Tagged: Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Stars, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Ducks, Blue Jackets, Eric Brewer, Georges Laraque, Ed Belfour, Sergei Brylin, Bobby Holik, Alexei Yashin, Shawn McEachern, Simon Gagne, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Curtis Joseph, Paul Kariya, Geoff Sanderson

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