KELLEY: Teams begin eyeing Dafoe

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

It's a wonderful town ...

But apparently not a great place for team chemistry. We outlined a number of problems the New York were going through in this space just a few days back. Now sources tell FOXSports.com the troubles are mounting. It now appears that not only has issues with his coach, Bryan Trottier, but issues with his linemates, and . The problem became noticeable in a game at Vancouver when Bure opted not to make a pass to a wide-open Lindros and instead took a bad-angle shot. This is said to have angered the big center and the coaching staff as well. The two men also reportedly don't communicate much. And it's not that either has a gripe with Murray, the left winger on the line, but neither expect anything more of him other than for him to give them the puck after he does most of the work in the corners. Oddly enough, the Tuesday are home against Anaheim, and unless history reverses itself in a hurry, Lindros' 15-game run without a goal could well be extended. The same could be said for Bure's nine-game pointless streak. Anaheim has not lost in its last four appearances with the in Madison Square Garden (3-0-1) since Dec. 12, 1996. Anaheim goalie J.S. Giguere has a goals-against average of 1.56 and a save percentage of .950 in his last five starts. The Ducks haven't lost in their last seven starts (5-0-0-2) and are 4-0-1-2 on the road since Oct. 29. If neither Lindros nor Bure scores, look for Trottier to devise new line combinations. In addition to the failed chemistry with Lindros, Bure is known to have problems buying into Trottier's system of defensive accountability. Insiders in New York claim he's pouting. That's not a good thing.

Now it gets interesting

Did you happen to notice that the NHL fined a couple of members of the Pittsburgh because of their voiced complaints about the state of officiating these days? The players, and (and a great many others, though a little less vocally) maintain that the league's standards on cracking down on obstruction fouls and the like isn't just starting to slip again. They maintain there's been a wholesale shift back to non-compliance and they are not happy about it. Not so says referee in chief, Andy VanHellemond who fired back with his own response, and clearly isn't going to be fined for it. "We told them at the beginning of the season: We're going to clear up through the neutral zone and into the forecheck," VanHellemond said. "When you don't have the puck you shouldn't be held up. That hasn't been a problem." VanHellemond says complaints that Penguin players were held or hooked while carrying the puck have nothing to do with the crackdown on obstruction. "They're saying the battles on the puck should be the same as when you don't have the puck," VanHellemond said. "But we can't have that. Hockey is hockey. When you get the puck you're subject to being checked. "That's where I think it's coming from," added the chief ref. " 'Why should I get tugged when I don't have the puck and get a penalty called and when I have the puck I get tugged and there's no penalty.' Well, you have to battle through that. Now if you get pulled off your feet or hooked off the puck, then that's a penalty and it always was a penalty." Frankly, we wade in on the side of the league in this matter. The rules were clearly explained at the start of the season. It's been our experience that, in order, players, broadcasters and fans are usually the last to fully understand them. That explains why the and some other players are openly grousing, why the league is under fire from many in the broadcast booth (the majority of which are paid by the clubs they "cover") and why fans are claiming there's a slippage. That said, however, look for the league to follow up with another round of serious whistle-blowing to make sure everyone gets the message that the standards are not being relaxed. And for the record, there's been some slippage in the number of power play opportunities awarded (something the have been living off so far this season), but that's because a great many players have started to adjust to the crackdown and are no longer hooking, holding, clutching and grabbing. If the broadcasters, especially the national broadcasters in Canada, really want to take up a cause, start yapping about diving. It's reached the point where one can reasonably argue that hockey has surpassed soccer for the number of un-called diving infractions. Few things cheapen the game more.

When Patrick talks

When speaks, expect that Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix will listen. The goaltender recently took his teammates to task for not playing with enough commitment to win, especially at home. He also maintained that the players in front of him were just a tad too casual about the fact that that they expect him to be the difference in every game and perhaps weren't working hard enough to limit other teams' scoring opportunities. Roy doesn't do that often, but when he does, it's a sign that he's unhappy, and when he's unhappy, Lacroix is unhappy and the team generally isn't winning. Perhaps that's why there are rumors that have Colorado talking to Boston about a deal that would bring both holdout defenseman Kyle McLaren and checking forward to Colorado. Both are gritty, defensive-minded players who take a certain pride in keeping players from even getting a shot on their goal. The deal makes perfect sense for Boston which is winning without either man (Lapointe has a broken foot). The would like to get their salary structure back in order (Lapointe is their highest-paid player, but not nearly the best performer), and get some players or prospects with potential down the road. The Avs are looking for a quality defensive center, a Guy Carbonneau-type, and may also target Edmonton's . But that's a much tougher deal to make in that both teams are in the same conference.

Hmmm ... A little criticism, a lot of results

Just days after New York captain made some pointed remarks that appeared to be directed toward teammate , Yashin plays one of his best games of the season. Coincidence? Maybe, but for the record, the coaching staff also took Yashin behind closed doors shortly after Peca's remarks about some guys not trying hard enough. Yashin went out and played a solid two-way game and the beat Pittsburgh 3-2. "He battled in all areas of the rink," said Peca in a public butt-kissing that seemed every bit as pointed as his earlier criticism. "Not just handling the puck and making great plays, like he does, but he was fighting for pucks along the boards and coming out with it almost all the time. It's not always the big things, it's the little things we all need to do to help win a hockey game. He certainly led the way in that respect."

One final thought

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was right when he said in his interview on this site that attendance issues in the NHL are unfairly portrayed early in the season. He's also correct when he says that these things tend to work themselves out after football season ends. For better than the last half decade the NHL has ended its season claiming attendance records. Still, there are two things the league has to be concerned about. One, crowds are surprisingly low in some traditionally strong hockey markets that also happen to have very good teams this season (Chicago and Boston come immediately to mind). Two, the NHL stakes its record claims on tickets distributed, not paid fannies in the seats. The real concern for NHL franchises with attendance issues is loss of per-ticket revenue. The league knows exactly how much money comes into every building per game and throughout the season. It's a figure that is distributed among the teams, but is never revealed to the public. In his recent trip through Buffalo, the commissioner stated that nearly all the early decline in publicly stated numbers, which he said were minimal, can be attributed to the falloff in Buffalo, a franchise that doesn't have an owner at the moment and is struggling mightily on the ice and at the gate. However, other teams are having early season problems, including Chicago, Atlanta and Phoenix, teams reporting attendance averages at under 13,000 per game. Boston, New Jersey, and several others are hitting numbers barely above that figure. The commissioner is right, aside from Buffalo, all those teams are likely to improve at the gate as the season goes along. The real issue, however, is lost revenue. That's the number that impacts the bottom line and that's always the great unknown.
On the hot seat
Add Calgary coach Greg Gilbert to your coaching ghoul pool. Fans and media are all over the coach in light of the recent struggle to create offense. In a stretch of five games the scored just two goals and were shut out three times. This from a team that has the league's leading scorer of a season ago, , in its lineup. During the skid, the set a club-record for minutes without scoring, hitting the 200 mark. There are other issues, but the bottom line is that Gilbert's team is not only failing to win, but it's dull to watch and that has the normally placid fans up in arms. Look for general manager Craig Button to make at least one more deal — center is rumored to be the next man out — but if things don't come around soon, Gilbert will take the hit. A GM doesn't pay a guy like Iginla $6 million per season not to score.
Five things you should know
1. Less is more on ESPN? We don't think so. The cable network's cutbacks are a part of the reason a great many U.S. fans have no idea that Columbus forward is vying with Colorado's for the goal-scoring lead this season. Each has 12, but while Sakic is almost a household name in the U.S. almost no one outside of Buckeye Country knows of Sanderson's exploits, largely because the are almost never on ESPN or even ESPN2. 2. Sanderson also has scored goals in seven straight games. That's two fewer than Wayne Gretzky's longest consecutive goal-scoring streak, but nowhere near the NHL record of 16 established by a gentleman named Punch Broadbent, who played for the first edition of the Ottawa back in 1921-22. 3. OK, we know you're wondering. once had a streak of 12 straight games, better than Gretzky's, but no better than Gretzky's teammate, Dave Lumley who once scored in 12 straight games en route to a 15-goal season. Playing on a wing with Gretzky never hurt anyone and Lumley did for a time in 1981-82. 4. The Buffalo have called up college sensation Ryan Miller from their AHL farm club in Rochester for Tuesday's meeting with the in New Jersey. No pressure, the kid is just being asked to avert matching franchise records for consecutive games without a win (the record is 12, the current are at 11) and for consecutive losses (the record is seven, the club is at six). Goalies and have both struggled, but the team's offense has been worse. Buffalo is 3-11-3 on the season, a number in line with its expansion start in 1970-71 when it opened at 3-11-2. Miller won the Hobey Baker award as the best college player in the U.S. in 2001. 5. San Jose center has scored points in five straight games entering Tuesday's meeting with the Washington . If he scores against the Caps he will equal a club record he shares with teammate . Marleau has also scored in six of the team's last seven games and has a goal in each of his last four games. All this from a player who went goalless in the first 12 games of the season.
Thug Watch
  • Buffalo's continues to lead the NHL in fighting majors. Boulton has 10, but Phoenix's and Columbus' are keeping pace with eight each and Anaheim's has seven. Nazarov, continues to impress, in that six of his eight fights have been on the road this season. The same can be said of Sawyer, but Shelley is credited with just one on the road and a league high seven at the Pond in Anaheim.
  • An award of dubious distinction this week goes out to Buffalo's , who Saturday pummeled Ottawa's with a variety of punches, two of which were thrown with Neil's helmet in Mair's hand. The league fined him $1,000 for that, but Mair got away easy. He's on the NHL watch list after leaving the bench to engage in an altercation while with the Los Angeles last season. Mair got 10 games for that and, ironically, or perhaps intentionally, his dance partner that night was Neil. The two have a head-to-head rivalry that dates back to their days in junior hockey.
  • F.Y.I.
    Wondering what gives when the Calgary shop , a regular in their lineup for the better part of a year, and get little more than a prospect for him? What about when the Buffalo call waivers on veteran defenseman and then end up getting nothing more than a conditional sixth-round draft pick in return? You might argue that the general managers of such teams are not doing their jobs, but the reality is that once a journeyman player hits a sour patch in his career, his value takes a tremendous nosedive. Woolley is a clear case in point, something of a power-play specialist and perhaps the best offensive defenseman in their run to the Stanley Cup final in 1999. Woolley slipped a bit at about the same time he fell out of favor with head coach Lindy Ruff. That's the double whammy in hockey and his value on the open market plummeted, even though fans still thought of him as a "name" player. It was a similar situation for Savard. He had a great junior career, but quickly fell out of favor with head coach Greg Gilbert for his defensive lapses. Once it became apparent to GM Craig Button that Savard wasn't going to improve (at least not under Gilbert) and that he wasn't of the mindset to change his game and become somewhat a checking center, his value became greatly diminished. To be fair, the player must take some responsibility for this, but don't discount the role that comes from the media and the way clubs sometimes use it. Woolley got a huge buildup in Buffalo when he came over from Florida and by his reputation as a power-play guy with Pittsburgh. In hindsight, the buildup might have been overdone, but then that's often the case when a club starts crowing about an acquisition. The same thing happened in Savard's case. He was often portrayed as a star in the making, even though he seldom got top billing in terms of ice time and quality wingers. Over the years I've found that a player's build-up is often about the exact size of his downfall once a club finds it has to move him. In too many cases, that accounts for lesser value in return even if the player still has solid upside potential or still has an ability to compete. It also comes about when a team is dealing from weakness and given both Calgary and Buffalo's position in the standings, it's easy to see why other GMs weren't about to overpay.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Coyotes, Ducks, Jets, Blue Jackets, Wild, Kyle McLaren, Martin Lapointe, Andrei Nazarov, Jason Woolley, Martin Biron, Eric Boulton, Mika Noronen, Rob Niedermayer, Marc Savard, Dominik Hasek, Todd Marchant, Adam Mair, Alexei Yashin, Ian Moran, Joe Sakic, Patrick Marleau, Curtis Joseph, Geoff Sanderson, Jarome Iginla, Michael Peca, Jody Shelley, Manny Legace

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