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EAST KNAPSACK: Chelios has words for Fleury

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

Eastern Conference Knapsack

Our weekend offering of tidbits of information for your knapsack of hockey knowledge. N.Y. Rangers: So just what did Detroit's Chris Chelios say to Theo Fleury that got Fleury so upset this week? Well, neither man is saying, but sources tell FOXSports.com the actual quote was: "Isn't it time you went back to the clinic?"
Western Conference Knapsack
Fleury last season spent time in a rehab unit for undisclosed substance abuse. He's sensitive to the issue. It's also known that he and Chelios have a long-running feud, one that could flare up again as Fleury is slated to play for Team Canada and Chelios is Team USA captain for the Olympics. This stuff goes on all the time on the ice and for years Fleury dished out his share. Chelios, who refuses to disclose his comment, is on record as saying: "Theo is bringing this upon his self. What's happened has happened. It's unfortunate what has happened to him the past couple of years. There's a lot said on the ice." FYI: Sources also told us the NHL looked into the matter to see if supplemental discipline was warranted, but found no reason to act. The league is actually getting a little tired of bending over backward to give Fleury some room. His act has worn thin in NHL headquarters as evidenced by these quotes from NHL vice president Colin Campbell: "Is it proper to comment on a player's personal life if it's public knowledge?" Campbell asked. "Well, is it proper to flap your arms like a chicken at other players? Is it appropriate to make obscene gestures to the fans? I think common sense has to kick in someplace here." Fleury flapped his arms in a game against the N.Y. Islanders and later made the obscene gesture to Islander fans, several of whom were heckling him. No telling if Fleury will get the message. Atlanta: Most teams scouting the Thrashers (hey, they aren't going to the playoffs so there are bargains to be had even on the 29th best team in the league) are said to be looking at Jiri Sleger, a veteran defenseman and soon to be unrestricted free agent. Detroit recently had two scouts at the game in which the Thrashers came from behind to tie the New Jersey Devils 3-3. The Thrashers also beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 earlier in the week, serving notice that they really are starting an upswing. Through Thursday, they were 6-4-2-1 in their last 13 and have been getting production from other players besides Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley. FYI: In the Edmonton game, the Oilers noticed Kovalchuk had a big curve in his stick. They called for a measurement, were right and got a power play. They didn't score, but Kovalchuk came out of the penalty box, took a pass from Heatley and went in and scored a goal. Afterward he skated past the Edmonton bench and pointed to the scoreboard. The kid's got guts, but he may pay down the road. "He's going to learn what goes around comes around," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "He's arrogant, but he stuck it up our rear ends." Another great quote from MacTavish: "That stick was so illegal he should have got a major penalty (instead of a two-minute minor)." Boston: The Bruins aren't saying much, but apparently forward P.J. Stock has some broken bones in his face, the result of a fight with Buffalo forward Rob Ray earlier in the week. Early whispers are Ray broke the orbital bone in Stock's face and he'll be wearing a full-face guard when he comes back, presumably after the Olympic break. FYI: It's not official yet, but don't look for the Bruins to trade either goaltender Byron Dafoe or forward Bill Guerin, even though both are approaching unrestricted free agency. The Bruins simply are playing too well right now (first overall in the Eastern Conference), and unless there's a knock-the-socks-off offer, the Bruins will ride both through the playoffs and deal with the contract issues later. That's always risky for the Bruins in that they tend not to sign their UFAs, but a good run in the playoffs does put more money in the coffers. Buffalo: If it weren't for the Mighty Ducks, the Buffalo Sabres would have the worst power play in the National Hockey League. If you ever saw it, you would say they did. Enough of the Christmas jingles; heading into Friday's game with Ottawa the Sabres hadn't scored a power-play goal in 21 tries. The unit is operating at about 11 percent efficiency and no one has any answers. Here's one: Not enough offensive talent. "The power play is something that could have won us that hockey game and didn't," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said after a 2-2 tie at Boston where the unit went 0-6. "It's been a concern and will remain a concern." For the record, the Sabres haven't had a top-10 power play unit since the days of Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk, Alexander Mogilny and Dave Andreychuk, all of whom were dealt and mostly because of money issues. Carolina: After their 2-1 loss to Los Angeles recently, the 'Canes have won just one of their last 10. They are slumping so badly that even being 11 points back, Washington now looks like it still has a shot at the Southeast Division title, or perhaps a shot at the eighth and final playoff berth. Must be time to float the fire-coach-Paul-Maurice rumor again. Funny thing is, this time there are two Stanley Cup winning coaches — Ken Hitchcock and Larry Robinson — out there on the sidelines, along with three-time coach of the year Pat Burns. We're not saying it's going to happen, and the 'Canes have cried wolf too many times in this area. But remember this: Carolina cannot afford to miss the playoffs this season. They will limp into the Olympic break intact, but any stumble at the resumption of play and Maurice's job security will be at issue — again. Florida: Coach Mike Keenan benched Valeri Bure and Victor Kozlov for a part of a 6-6 tie with the Islanders, fueling long-standing rumors that one or both will be traded. Problem with trading Val is it may tick off brother Pavel and Keenan can't have that. It puts the coach between the proverbial rock and a hard place, but it makes it worse for Kozlov. There is little doubt that Keenan would like him out of Florida faster than Elian Gonzalez. FYI: Having pointed out somewhat repeatedly that Robert Svehla has gone 20, then 30, then 40 games with out a goal (the streak actually reached 45) we are pleased to tell you that through Thursday he has scored three in his last three games. Montreal: Is it just me or can we hook Jose Theodore's back-to-back shutouts back to Wayne Gretzky's comments about the Canadian Olympic goaltending situation? Gretzky, part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and general manager for Team Canada Saturday said that if a goalie were injured or pulled out, Phoenix's Sean Burke gets the nod and that there is no other. He threw a bone to Theodore noting that his time might well be 2006, but so what. The NHL might not even be back in the Olympics after this year. Theodore has been mum on motivation, but he's been brilliant in net, beating conference rivals New Jersey and Pittsburgh by identical 1-0 scores since the Great One made those remarks. FYI: The Canadiens fell 82 tickets short of a sellout for Mario Lemieux's return to Montreal Thursday night, a surprising and disturbing miss. Montreal is Lemieux's hometown, and the game was expected to be not only a sellout but an in-demand ticket for scalpers. New Jersey: A loss to the Atlanta Thrashers just about two weeks ago was the loss that caused general manager Lou Lamoriello to ultimately pull the plug on coach Larry Robinson. Blowing a two-goal lead Thursday night in Atlanta in an eventual 3-3 tie couldn't have set well with his replacement, Kevin Constantine. We won't bore you with details, but we will pass along this quote from Thrasher Jiri Sleger. Asked if the tie might cost Constantine, Sleger, a former Devil said: "Hey, you never know with Lamoriello." Sleep well if you can Kevin. N.Y. Islanders: Michael Peca had a career high three-assists in the Islanders 4-1 win over Toronto Thursday. Not bad for a defensive-minded forward on the team's second line. In 53 games this season, Peca, a former Selke Trophy winner as the league's best defensive forward, has 42 points, is on pace for 61 points and is well on his way to surpassing his career-high 56 points. FYI: Look for the Islanders to be active once the trade market heats up. While there is much talk of dangling goaltending prospect Rick DiPietro for defensive help now, the bids would have to be of All-Star proportion. DiPietro, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2000 entry draft is starting to play to form in the minors. Atlanta is said to be asking about the former Boston University netminder and may be willing to throw its No. 1 pick in the mix (which would be no worse than fifth overall). However, the Thrashers don't have a lot to offer in terms of quality defensemen. Ottawa: Patrick Lalime got his 73rd win as a Senator in Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Blue Jackets. He and Ron Tugnutt, who was in net for the Blue Jackets, had been tied at 72. It's a nice milestone of sorts, but most of the goals allowed were ugly, and Ottawa's other goalie, Jani Hurme, hasn't been particularly sharp either. The Sens are worried about that. "It's probably one area where we expect to be better and they know it," said coach Jacques Martin, a man who normally goes positive no matter what the circumstance. "Our goaltenders have given up eight goals in the last two games and at least half of them haven't been good. It happens at times of the year and I think they recognize it." Philadelphia: That push Rick Tocchet made to get back in the lineup this week has put the Flyers coaching staff and management team in a tough spot. They love the aging veteran whose knees are pretty much shot, but they don't want to break into a winning lineup to accommodate him. Tocchet is pushing for a trade, but realistically, who needs a 37-year old who is pretty much physically spent? Tocchet has missed two thirds of the season with knee problems. The Flyers likely would accommodate any trade request, but getting it done will be difficult. Pittsburgh: If the Penguins fail to make the playoffs this season, it will end an 11-year streak, the second longest in the league behind St. Louis' mark of 22. Lots of people will want to cite the trade of Jaromir Jagr and the injuries to Mario Lemieux for that, but the real reason is the defense. The Penguins made two deals in the offseason, getting Mike Wilson and John Jakopin from Florida. Both have been in the minors for most of the season (Wilson is up for a look-see stint at the moment). The Penguins are hoping big time that the 35-game stint in the minors will reawaken Wilson's competitive instincts. He was a first-round draft pick with Buffalo and never played in the minors before he turned pro there. He was a bust, and they dealt him to Florida, and he was a bust there. The Penguins are hoping he's finally matured. They need him to be an NHLer, but at the same time, this is likely the 26-year-old's last chance. FYI: Martin Straka, out since October with a broken leg, is skating again. He's not doing contract drills yet, but might start that once the Olympics are over. Tampa Bay: Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin shrugged off the fact he didn't win the MVP Award at the All-Star game (20 saves while his team went from down a goal to an 8-5 win). However, the voting body, the Professional Hockey Writers Association, has acknowledged it may have blown the call. "I could have pulled a Castro and overruled the vote," said PHWA executive board member David Neal. "I blew it." FOXSports.com told you at All-Star weekend that because of time issues there are provisions for overriding the vote. Neal said he thought about a vote change but didn't follow through. It cost the Tampa goalie a new truck and perhaps a contract bonus. The PHWA doesn't look particularly good either. Toronto: In a turnaround that is as sudden as it is shocking, the Leafs, which had one of the lowest injury ratios all season, are in serious trouble. They've lost Alex Mogilny to a back injury, Cory Cross to a stomach muscle problem, forward Nik Antropov to season-ending knee surgery and now defenseman Dmitry Yushkevich to a blood clot problem. Mogilny and Cross are expected to heal during the Olympic break, but Yushkevich could be lost for the season. Since the Leafs are already thin on defense and had been expected to be in the trade market for blue-line help at the trade deadline, the problem is now compounded. Antropov was to be the trade bait. Now they don't have him or Yushkevich. Yushkevich is on blood thinners, but there is no guarantee they will dissolve the clot in time for him to resume play this season. Washington: For the record, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr are the only players who have a better points-per-game average than Capitals center Adam Oates. Still, Oates, who earlier this month notched his 1,000th NHL assist, is likely trade bait, especially if the team can't mount a playoff push. He's an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He hasn't fit well with Jaromir Jagr. He asked to be traded last off-season and the Caps opted not to do it because they thought he would be the perfect fit with the $11 million-per season Jagr. As a playmaker extraordinaire, he would be courted by any number of teams looking to add to their roster for a Stanley Cup run. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Red Wings, Oilers, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Coyotes, Ducks, Panthers, Jets, Blue Jackets, Bill Guerin, Chris Chelios, Jose Theodore, Rick DiPietro, Patrick Lalime, Martin Straka, Nikolai Khabibulin, Dave Andreychuk, Alexander Mogilny, Jaromir Jagr, Sean Burke, Michael Peca

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