KELLEY'S KNAPSACK: Lindros braces for rough return to Philly; plus Eastern notes

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Jim Kelley


Eastern Conference Knapsack

Our weekend offering of tidbits of information for your knapsack of hockey knowledge. Philadelphia: Eric Lindros comes home to Philadelphia this weekend, but like he did when the Flyers came to New York, he downplayed the situation.
All-Star Snubs
"You know what? I didn't get into the mudslinging (then), and I'm not going to start now," Lindros said. "I really don't care to bring up any of that. I just don't feel it needed to occur, so we'll play hockey and go from there." Two things. One, it's questionable whether or not Lindros will play hockey there given his concussion problem and the possibility of head hunting that could go on. Two, it's a dead-solid bet that someone in the Flyers organization will sling the mud that Lindros has repeatedly sought to avoid. Hey, these guys just can't help themselves. Lindros can lowball this all he wants, but the Flyer fans will be on him big time in Philly, and someone in the Flyers lineup is sure to want to try and curry their favor by popping the big guy big time at some point in the game. Atlanta: Talk about need for motivational therapy. Thrashers goaltender Damien Rhodes has won just two games this season and both have been against his former team, the Ottawa Senators. Rhodes, who was supposed to be the Thrashers No. 1 goalie (a role he long ago surrendered), is 2-10-1 on the season. Rhodes on his triumphs: "I guess the weird thing is that my only two wins have come against Ottawa." Gee, do you think? Boston: Bill Guerin got off to a poor start this season, but he's making up for it now. The Bruins big forward Thursday scored his 21st goal in his last 26 games and is on pace for a 45-goal season. What makes that so remarkable is that Guerin went virtually pointless the first five weeks of the season. This is a good time to get hot. The Bruins are streaking and challenging for first overall in the Eastern Conference, and Guerin is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. A 45-goal man is a valuable commodity on the open market. Buffalo: The defending Jennings Trophy winner as the best goals-against team in the NHL last season is failing on all points of the ice. The Sabres have yet to win more than two in a row at any point this season and they give up about the same number of goals that they score. Worse, they give up the key goals, goals that cost them a chance to win when the game is on the line. The absence of Dominik Hasek is a big part of that, but the Sabres seem to think they are more of an offensive-minded team this season and they've let their commitment to great defensive play slide. Couple that to the fact that their goaltending has been spotty and their highest paid players are stone cold. Miro Satan hasn't scored in 13 games going into the weekend and Chris Gratton hasn't scored a goal since Nov. 8, and it could well cost them a playoff berth. FYI: Tough guy Rob Ray surpassed the 3,000 minute mark in penalties, all with the same team. That's far and away an NHL record for PIMs with one team. Carolina: The 'Canes are being lobbied by Latvian officials for the release of goaltender Arturs Irbe to play for that country in an Olympic qualifier Feb. 10 against Slovakia. It must be particularly painful for Irbe to see his teammate and fellow netminder Tom Barrasso have no conflict problems as the goalie for Team USA while his country has to beg to be able to put a team together to hope to qualify for the round that Team USA and other countries get a pass. The game comes at a tough point in the schedule for Carolina and so there's no guarantee that Irbe gets to go. He has the OK to play in games on Feb. 9 and Feb. 12, but Feb. 10 the 'Canes have a game at San Jose, and if Irbe isn't the starter, he would definitely be the backup. Florida: The broken hand sustained by Pavel Bure this week is the sixth major injury for the fleet winger since he joined the Panthers. He's missed 45 (and counting) of 164 games with the club, hardly a good return on a $10 million per season investment. What irks Bure is that he's not even sure how it happened. He knows he was slashed, but doesn't know who did it or when, only that his hand started to hurt. The injury puts Bure's participation for Team Russia in the Olympics in doubt. He was slated to be the team captain, and if he can't go it's a major blow to the Russian team. Montreal: Hockey fans everywhere held their breath when they wheeled out a stretcher for Patrick Traverse during a game with the New York Islanders Thursday night. Traverse appeared seriously injured when checked into the boards by Michael Peca. It was a clean hit, but Peca had tears in his eyes when Traverse was taken off the ice. He blamed the lack of give in the boards and glass for the seriousness of the injury. It appears Traverse will be OK, but it was another near-miss in hockey, a tempting of fate that can't go on without someone eventually suffering a broken neck or worse. New Jersey: Another day, another yet unfulfilled trade rumor in the New York Post involving the Devils. There will come a time this season when general manager Lou Lamoriello makes some moves to prop up his tortured and seemingly disinterested club, but it apparently won't be with the San Jose Sharks. Midweek reports that the Sharks were "on the verge" of trading Patrick Marleau for Jason Arnott were vehemently denied by the Sharks, who stopped just short of accusing the paper of malfeasance. The Post has stood by its story, although it's unclear exactly what time frame "verge of" would cover. N.Y. Islanders: Goalie Chris Osgood recently ripped into the club in a behind-closed-doors tirade about its poor play of late. The Islanders have slipped from the top of the Eastern pile to seventh place. Though injuries to the already thin defense are a big part of the slide, Osgood maintained that some team members didn't care enough about making the playoffs and that he won't accept anything less than a full effort to get there. Osgood told the team he would not stand for being outside looking in come April. He was backed by Peca, the team captain, but the Islanders don't have an easy path. Teams have been able to shut down Alexi Yashin of late and the Islanders haven't come up with enough offense off the wings to compensate. In addition, teams are running over the Islanders defense and bulling the puck to the net. N.Y. Rangers: Much to fear here, as well. After a hot start built largely around the play of Eric Lindros, Theo Fleury and goalie Mike Richter, all of whom weren't able to make contributions last season, the Rangers are starting to falter. Injuries have sidelined Mark Messier and his shoulder problems are not getting better. Lindros has people worried about the concussion problem again and Fleury has almost self destructed due to personal problems that have been detailed elsewhere on this site. Richter is still going strong, but the Rangers had one of the worst defenses in the league even before they ran into problems up front. Now that they can't outgun teams any longer, they are being beaten on a regular basis. Ottawa: The Senators are another team starting to feel a chill. The Sens reached the halfway point with a loss last Saturday to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs in a game in which they didn't compete. That left them at 21-15-4-1 for 47 points, five points fewer than they had at the same time last year (23-12-6, for 52 points). Ironically, since the Atlanta Thrashers ended their 11-game unbeaten streak on Nov. 24, the club has gone 10-9-1-2, netting just 23 of a possible 44 points. As my friend Martha Stewart often says, one point over .500 in that span is not a "good thing." Pittsburgh: Mario Lemieux comes back this weekend, but will Pens winger and good friend Kevin Stevens be on the ice to greet him? Stevens left the team Thursday in Buffalo and returned to Pittsburgh on his own. No reason was given nor did the team even acknowledge that Stevens left, but sources tell FOXSports.com that the veteran forward has been unhappy with his role under coach Rick Kehoe. The two had had a meeting on Wednesday during which Stevens reportedly was told his ice time would be reduced. Tampa Bay: In what could well be a case of hiding in plain sight, the perennially playoff-challenged Lightning may change both its uniform colors and its logo next season. This is clearly a merchandising issue, but management also guaranteed the team would make the playoffs this season, and if it doesn't a makeover and a personality transplant may well be in order. FYI: The club picked up defenseman Dan Boyle from Florida because it needed an offensive minded defenseman and because the price (a fifth round draft pick) and the salary ($575,000) were right. The Lightning actually need more help than that on the blueline, but Boyle does have offensive skills for a smallish player. And with an overall budget of $21 million, well, like we said, the price was right. FFYI: Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin's shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes was his sixth shutout of the season, a club record. Toronto: There are strong reports out of the center of the hockey universe that contract negotiations between coach and general manager Pat Quinn and team president Ken Dryden have hit a snag. The issue is said to be a clause that gives Quinn the right to name a new general manager should he relinquish that role and stay on only as coach (something he has expressed a desire to do). Dryden denies this is a sticking point, but sources tell FOXSports.com that Quinn wants protection in case Dryden picks a replacement not to his liking (which of course puts a coach in a difficult situation). We've told you in the past that Dryden would love to bring his old Montreal teammate, Bob Gainey, currently the general manager of the Dallas Stars, to Toronto. Gainey has announced he's stepping down after this season, but he does have one year left on a contract there, a contract he expects to honor as a consultant. Quinn would not question Gainey's ability, but having a new general manager who is both friends with and beholden to the team president might not fit well in Quinn's view of the political structure in Toronto. It's known that Quinn was upset when management forced Mike Smith out of the Leafs organization. Smith, now general manager in Chicago, and Quinn were friends and worked well together. According to several sources, Quinn had the replacement clause inserted in his last contract because of what happened to Smith. Washington: Capitals owner Ted Leonsis recently took to the team's website to publish an open letter to fans stating that despite injuries and a need for a defenseman, the club would likely stay the course. Leonsis, who had a huge say in the decision to acquire Jaromir Jagr, said defensemen are hard to come by in the NHL today and that the trade market was thin. Missing from the letter was support for coach Ron Wilson and general manager George McPhee. Leonsis has often cited the two men for having done a good job even though the team hasn't been at or near .500 since October. The perceived slight to the hockey heads was viewed as noteworthy by those close to the Capitals power structure. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott, Michael Peca

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