NHL

KELLEY: Thrashers shop wholesale for Dafoe

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

Lord Byron at a bargain

Atlanta general manager Don Waddell was cracking a joke this week when he said upon signing free-agent goaltender that "Some general managers shop at Neiman Marcus in the summer. I shop at Wal-Mart after the season starts." Funny, but it also has a ring of truth. The markdown on Dafoe has a great many people in the NHL and the NHL Player's Association marveling at the discount. Over the summer Dafoe shopped himself as high as $6 million per season. He was asking for a four or five-season deal. This week he signed with the for a "mere" $1.25 million. He signed for just one season, but does have an option for next season that would pay him $3 million plus a $500,000 signing bonus. Most importantly for Dafoe, he holds the option, not the club. That's important because if he has a good remainder of the season, and the free-agent goalie market is tight in the off-season, he can perhaps get himself into the showcase at the Neiman Marcus display. Still, $1.25 mil for the remainder of this season is humbling at best. The thinking was that even if Dafoe was left out of the signing merry-go-round in the off-season he would eventually get near his price as soon as some team became desperate at the position. The fit the definition but still didn't pay the high-end price. No one wants to say it, but this is telling evidence that the cost of running an NHL franchise is now finally coming into play in the market place. New York aside, some clubs truly are watching the bottom line. Dafoe is expected to make his debut Tuesday against Montreal.

Welcome to the club

One of the reasons the wouldn't pay more is that they are already on the hook for some $6 million per season in goaltending fees. The are paying Damien Rhodes $2.75 million in the last season of a four-year pact, though he is no longer playing. They've also guaranteed $3 million to who is likely to be the backup to Dafoe unless some team claims him off waivers (not likely). Then there's who was making $630,000 in the NHL and is now headed for the minors we're he'll make about $82,500. The situation illustrates why the NHL will be after the NHLPA for major concessions in the next collective bargaining agreement. You can rest assured the league will want an end to guaranteed long-term deals. They'll want a system not unlike the National Football League, where you can sign a player long-term, but he actually signs a series of one-year deals and must make the club each year to collect. It will be a major sticking point in the negotiations.

And further up my sleeve ...

It's a different story in the nets in Buffalo but hardly a successful one. After bidding goodbye to Dominik Hasek and his option for $9 million per season (we all know where he went and what he did, don't we boys and girls and Detroit Wing Nuts?) the went with kids. They have in goal for about $1.9 million and for considerably less ($450,000). The also have just three wins on the season, a club-record tying 12-game winless streak heading into Friday's matchup with the Columbus and a goaltending dilemma in whether to go back to Biron or Noronen or play call-up from Rochester in the AHL. Miller, winner of the Hobey Baker award as the best player in U.S. college hockey last season, was the designated savior for ending the winless streak short of the record. He made his NHL debut in New Jersey, saw his teammates stake him to a 2-0 lead, looked really good protecting it and then lost the game in overtime, 4-3. Miller looked every bit the role of scared debutante in the third period and the overtime and on the final three goals. His collapse only served to further demoralize the club. The have a new owner in waiting, but are pretty much out of options in goal, in callups from the minors and in the eyes of their fans who are staying away in droves.

Tough luck numbers

Columbus goaltender is coming into his own as an NHL No. 1, but winning isn't just about numbers. He recently had a four-game run where he stopped 159 of 171 shots, a .930 save percentage, yet went 0-3-1. He lost 5-4 at Colorado where he started his NHL career. He lost 3-2 to the Ducks, tied 1-1 at Nashville and took an overtime 3-2 loss at Dallas. Denis has been solid and a big part of the reason that the are competitive this season, but learning to win the close ones is a process the goalie and his team are still struggling with.

And just when you wrote him off

Dallas' recently came up with a six-game point streak (4-4-8). It ended Wednesday against Phoenix, but during the run the former Buffalo Sabre, New York Islander, Montreal Canadian, St. Louis Blue and current Dallas Star had three-consecutive game-winning goals, tying the franchise record set by Wayne Connelly in 1968. Turgeon's streak also resurrected Newsy Lalonde's name. Lalonde had recorded a record five consecutive GWG's playing for the Montreal way back in 1921.

Don't look to the Hall but ...

Guys like Bob Probert don't normally get invited to the Hockey Hall of Fame except to view the exhibits, but the retired Chicago tough guy has his place in the game. Edmonton's , a man many think is the best fighter in the game today, thinks Probert is the toughest fighter "of all time." "He took on all comers," Laraque said, "and he fought them toe-to-toe." There are people who keep track of this sort of thing and Washington scout Archie Henderson maintains that Probert would be welcome in The Tough Scouts club. That group includes Henderson and former Philadelphia tough guy Dave Brown, former Edmonton Oiler Dave Semenko, former Washington Capital Tim Hunter and a few others.

The times, they are a-changin'

As of midweek and a 3-3 tie with the New York , the Florida have gone to overtime 11 times in 21 games (52.4 percent). They're 3-4-4 in overtime, having gained 14 of their 20 points in the extra session. "We're giving the fans their money's worth. We're super-sizing the game for them," winger joked. If you think that's an odd number, consider this scenario, which can only come in hockey. The are winless in six games (0-1-3-2), yet they've gained points in seven of their past eight.

And try this brain teaser

The odd ways of hockey, which include the infamous "overtime loss" column, can befuddle stat keepers. For example, when the New Jersey won in overtime against the Buffalo this week, the got a win and the got a point for a tie and an overtime loss. That's made explaining the losing streak very difficult. They matched a club record 12 games without a win in that outing, but they also went in with an "opportunity" to tie the club mark for consecutive losses which is seven. Since that record was set via seven regulation-time losses, and this one is an overtime loss in which the team also got a point for a tie, did they "lose" seven straight or did they lose six in a row, break the streak with a tie and then suffer an overtime loss? Only in the NHL do we get such questions. OK, we're not going to brain tease you. According to an NHL statistician, the have six consecutive regulation losses and one overtime loss in that streak. They would have had to lose to the in regulation time to have matched the club record of seven consecutive losses.

One final thought

Frankly, we don't care how they log it in the official record book. If you go to overtime and the other team scores a goal, you lose. To walk out of an arena with a point for a game in which the other team scored more goals than you did is ridiculous. We get four, you get three, we win. It's just another bastardization of a game that used to be easy to watch and keep track of. Blame it all on the artificial element of show business and the four-on-four freak show that changes all the rules for five minutes of artificial excitement.
Who's he?
We at FOXSports.com have spent time in the past beating up on , the former No. l pick of the Tampa Bay , who's done next to nothing with his career. We'll give a few inches here to note that things have changed. We're not the only one saying it either. Consider these remarks from Philadelphia head coach Ken Hitchcock after a recent -Lightning game: "He's the most improved player because he's doing it at both ends of the ice. He had the reputation of being a one-dimensional player. Now he's got multi-dimension in his game. He can beat you offensively, he can beat you defensively, he can beat you in skating games and gritty games. "He has an edge to his game now, so he's creating room and space for himself, backing it up. He doesn't need his teammates in there to fight his battles. You saw the same thing in (Boston), (Dallas) and (Calgary). These are elite players that learned to play in every type of game, and Lecavalier looks like he's going to be one of those players." The went south Thursday night against the , but prior to that game Lecavalier had 10 goals, 20 points in his first 19 games. He picked up an assist against the Thursday. Last season he had 20 goals and 37 points for the season. So, how did the young man feel about what a respected opposing coach had to say? "It's a great thing to hear," he said. "I think I've been playing a lot more consistently, but the whole team is playing great. It's a team thing. That's why we're winning. Everybody is producing." No one more so than Lecavalier.
Five things you should know
1. Who's the man in Ottawa? Try captain . After Thursday night's tilt with Montreal, Alfredsson had points in 16 of the last 17 games. He had a goal Thursday against the . 2. Only 211 players have ever scored 250 (or more) goals in their NHL careers. That's how many Tampa's has scored on the power play. Interestingly enough, 50 of those players are active. 3. As of Thursday, the Toronto have won three of four starts and teammates are crediting the improved play of goaltender . Belfour now has two shutouts for the Leafs and 60 for his NHL career. Worth noting is that when the Leafs went to Dallas, they played Belfour in his old haunt. When the came to Toronto, they put former Leafs goalie in the backup role. The Wings claimed they didn't want Joseph to have to deal with the added pressure, but the Leafs said Belfour welcomed the opportunity to go home again. 4. Those two points the Colorado picked up last week vs. Columbus remain the only two points earned in one night at the Pepsi Center in 10 games. Thursday night the Avs managed a 1-1 tie with Nashville and were fortunate to get the point having given the Preds 14 third-period shots. Colorado's inability to score the big goal at the right time is the major problem. 5. Phoenix Coyote forward is hoping his surgically repaired shoulder is going to heal faster because of the use of vitamin C. May has been taking occasional vitamin C intravenous drips that he thinks will speed the recovery process. We're not so sure, but it's a good bet he won't catch a cold. May hopes to be back in the lineup by Christmas.
Thug Watch
Hey, Pittsburgh , quit beating up on the refs. Since you've started carping about officiating, you've been locked in a winless streak that has reached seven games (0-3-1-3) which has pretty much flat lined your decent start. You yapped after there were only two penalties called in a game against Florida and then you yapped after the refs apparently listened and called 15 in the next game against the . It's gotten so bad that general manager Craig Patrick entered the locker room recently and told the team to knock it off. Patrick knows of what he speaks. The team has been living off its power play all season and it's not smart hockey to beat up on the refs. They have a tendency to remember the bad things said against them and when they do, sometimes the calls stop going your way every day.
In the next 48 hours
  • Keep an eye on Pittsburgh owner/forward . In recent days, Lemieux has taken off more and more morning skates (probably to avoid those pesky media types). However, he's also skipped a few practices and with back-to-back games every weekend from now until mid December, there's clearly some concern about protecting Lemieux's oft-cranky back.
  • Look for St. Louis forward to return to the lineup any day now. He's coming back from a fractured bone in his foot. Also look for injured goalie to try to return from a high ankle sprain, a situation that would give the three rostered goalies.
  • F.Y.I.
    Ottawa, a fiscally challenged operation, was one of the teams that started hiking prices for "prestige" games, such as a meeting with geographical and division rival Montreal. Thursday in Ottawa, there were 3,600 tickets available on a game day with the , a clear indication that premium pricing is not catching on. Montreal used to be an automatic sellout in Ottawa, and even the one miss in the history of the franchise prior to Thursday drew 17,994 (last April). Game-day tickets to see the Montreal in Ottawa run 10 percent higher than some "non-premium" opponents. Colorado also gets a 10 percent boost and Toronto and Detroit were hiked 20 percent. The have been hit hard by the tech sector blowout in the world economy. They only have 8,042 season tickets sold this season, down from 9,300 last season and well below the league average of 10,800.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Red Wings, Oilers, Stars, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Coyotes, Panthers, Jets, Blue Jackets, Joe Thornton, Martin Biron, Mika Noronen, Dominik Hasek, Georges Laraque, Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, Pierre Turgeon, Daniel Alfredsson, Keith Tkachuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Dave Andreychuk, Curtis Joseph, Brad May, Marc Denis, Jarome Iginla, Brent Johnson

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