KELLEY: Why do some teams stink?

Share This Story

Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

The man with the answers

"Hey, Kelley!" the kinder e-mails usually read. "You're so smart. What's wrong with the (fill in your favorite team here), you *#$%^&*!" Given that we here at FOXSports.com actually have had so many of those warm and cordial e-mails, and given the fact that we actually know something about this topic, we've bought in or resident expert in this matter, Mr. Knowsall. Mr. Knowsall explained it via a three-step program that is so easy to follow even a Democratic Party boss could get it right: Look at the team, look at the goaltending, look at last season. Simple huh? Seriously, take last season's equation first. Last season the NHL's final four was made up of Detroit and Colorado in the West and Carolina and Toronto in the East. Anyone happen to notice that those are four teams that have struggled mightily so far this season? Detroit hasn't fallen off the planet, but the defending Stanley Cup champions are struggling to stay above .500 so far this early season. Thursday they had to call on backup goalie — the same Legace who has his name spelled wrong on the Stanley Cup — to eke out a 2-1 win over Boston after the lost 2-0 in an uninspired effort against Chicago. It's worse in Colorado, where the Avs have yet to win at home. It's even worse in Carolina, where the offensively challenged 'Canes have already gone to the "shake'em up with a trade" action. And it's worst of all in Toronto, where the 4-7-2-0 Leafs appear to have the wheels off. So what's the story? Well, the and 'Canes are suffering from a simple case of Stanley Cup effort (not hangover, that's different). It takes an amazing amount of effort to play hockey at a very high level every other night until the end of June. The and the 'Canes did that, and the short off-season exacted its toll. Players work so hard and for so long en route to a Cup run that they become physically and mentally exhausted (studies show that many players lose muscle mass and the bone-headed ones can't even think about putting their skates on again so soon after they took them off). Simply put, their seasons are so long and their off-seasons so short that there simply isn't enough time to recover. There are other factors involved in Detroit (the retirement of coach Scott Bowman and star goalie Dominik Hasek come immediately to mind) and in Carolina (a perennially weak offense and a goaltending controversy), but that, in a nutshell, is the problem. It's pretty similar in Colorado and Toronto. Both teams paid a heavy price to get to their respective conference finals (the Avs went to seven games in every series, the Leafs lost bodies to injury seemingly every other night). Recovering physically and mentally is difficult for them, too. Mentally, it can actually be a tad more difficult because they carry the additional mental burden of working so hard and not realizing the goal (of playing for the Cup). The start of the regular season often seems meaningless to teams in this situation. They haven't fully focused on the new season because they haven't gotten past the disappointment of the previous one. Trust me, I'm not making this up. NHL history is littered with teams that, in recent seasons, played in the Cup or Conference final and then struggled just to be respectable the following season. The New Jersey won a Cup one season recently and failed to even qualify for the playoffs in the next go-around. The Buffalo made an appearance in the Cup finals and the next season had to go to overtime of the final game of the regular season just to get back in. Fan: OK, Mr. Smart Guy, what's the excuse of the New York ? They're having a dismal start after being the best team out of the gate last season. Mr. Knowsall: Uh, that's Mr. "Knowsall." Mr. "Smart Guy" is the fellow paying Tampa's just over $1 million per season to challenge for the league scoring crown, but to answer your question in a word: Goaltending. Look, all of New York's problems can't be put on goalie 's shoulders, but most of them can. Osgood is a goalie who has always run in long streaks of hot and cold. Right now he's exploring new territories South of the Artic Circle. It was goaltending that lifted the Montreal into the playoffs last spring and it's the poor follow-up play of league MVP that is killing that team now. It's goaltending (and commitment to team defense) that makes the New Jersey look like world-beaters despite the fact they have fewer goals than an unemployed pot-smoker. Goaltending is a world in and of itself. The Washington are playing better this season, in large part, because netminder is showing an ability to rebound from a poor season. Tampa Bay and Minnesota are off to hot starts largely because of the play their getting in the net (and the fact some of their young players are starting to produce). San Jose stumbled badly out of the gate because they didn't have their No. 1 netminder under contract or even in training camp. Part of the reason Carolina hasn't lost every game this season is because backup netminder stepped in front of last spring's playoff miracle, , and has been playing like the second coming of Terry Sawchuk. Fan: If that's the case, how do you explain St. Louis, the hottest team in the league, having gone through a peck of goaltenders already and Boston, which chose not to re-sign it's starter of a season ago, Byron Dafoe? Mr. Knowsall: Ah, that's the third part of the equation: Team. Mr. Knowsall knows that Mr. Kelley, the regular contributor to this space, grossly underestimated the in his pre-season preview, but that was because the otherwise respected procrastinator, er prognosticator, didn't adhere to the third element of the program: Team. There is no motivation quite like the motivation of a team having to overcome embarrassment. The were first in the East in the regular season last season but were embarrassed in their first-round loss to the Montreal in the playoffs. They were so embarrassed and came back so focused that coach Robbie Ftorek could have started backups and/or a career journeyman in net and still would have won games. What's that? He did? Well, we rest or case. Want more proof? Look at Philadelphia this season. It's a little dicer with the , but for the record, they've been predicted to be one of the league's best for several seasons now and — in the postseason at least — haven't lived up to expectations. We told you at the end of last season that there were leadership issues in the locker room last spring. So isn't it odd that with the team captain out of the lineup due to injury the team responds with some of the best hockey it's played since, well, since before captain arrived on the scene? Fan: Come on, it can't be that simple. Mr. Knowsall: Says you. New leadership has emerged in St. Louis largely in the form of a healthy (and a few others). The fact that the team has a goaltending problem has also been turned into a positive. Long a team that could score goals, but one refusing to make a defensive commitment to winning the grind-it-out kind of game, the have rallied around their misfortunes and are playing like a team that takes every shot at one of their goalie-of-the-week candidates as a personal affront. In having their nine-game winning streak come to an end against Columbus Thursday, the gave up more goals (five) in that game than they had in the previous four games combined. Fan: OK, we'll buy most of it. Anything else? Mr. Knowsall: No. We now return you to your regular columnist.

One final thought

Wow, that guy really knows his stuff.
The Heat is On
It's on Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier. Already unpopular after several deals that have allowed name talent to leave only to be replaced by unprovens, Regier finds his team at a standstill. Through Thursday's 2-0 loss at Carolina, the are 1-7-3 in their last 11 games (they opened 2-0) and recently completed a six-game road trip — Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Columbus and Carolina — with just two points and without a single win. No team in franchise history has ever gone on a six-game road trip and not recorded at least one win. Regier's team can't score. The have scored two goals or fewer in nine straight games and were blanked in Carolina and Calgary on the trip and earlier this season in Chicago. They played to one-goal ties in Vancouver and Edmonton and blew a 2-1 lead in Columbus, losing 3-2. Buffalo's offense is the least productive in the NHL and its power play is challenging for worst in the league. The forwards don't score and the defensemen can't score. The team's usual leading scorer (it's a relative term), , is out with a hip injury and the winger that was supposed to challenge him, , has yet to play because of a concussion problem said to have come about in an off-season training accident. All this comes when the team is without an owner, the franchise appears en route to draw a record low number of fans and the competition for the early-season dollar, the Buffalo Bills, are doing well in the NFL, making fan and media interest in the virtually nonexistent. "I haven't given up on this club," head coach Lindy Ruff said this week. "I haven't come to the point where I want to pull the pin and say, 'Listen, we have to trade half these guys.' It's the furthest thing from my mind." If that's true, he's pretty much the only one in Western New York who hasn't demanded that Regier make some sort of trade.
Five things you should know
1. Atlanta general manger Don Waddell is talking regularly with the agent for unsigned goaltender Byron Dafoe. They haven't come to terms yet, but as the pressure builds for wins in Atlanta, Dafoe's hand strengthens. 2. Carolina goalie has lost his starting gig to and is demanding to be traded. The last straw was when Weekes got the start against the offensively challenged Thursday and Irbe had to sit again. If there was ever a time to put Irbe back in the lineup after a rough start to the season, that was it. Don't look for a trade anytime soon, however. The goalie market is stalled until Dafoe comes off the open market. 3. Oddly enough, it's been a month now since Theo Fleury went back into rehab. All that talk about an early return appears to be exactly what we told you it would be: Talk. On the plus side for Chicago, look for winger to return from his back surgery perhaps as early as Monday at Florida. 4. Colorado has recalled Philippe Sauve from the minors now that goalie is hurt, but he won't play unless gets hurt or stinks up the Avs' goal crease so bad coach Bob Hartley has no choice. Hartley wants to reward Aebischer for being a loyal backup to Roy who usually plays 65 games a season. There are people in Denver who think Sauve is actually a better prospect than Aebischer, but Sauve will just have to wait his turn. That could come sooner than Hartley would like, as goaltending has been the reason for several Avs losses of late. 5. The Edmonton have 11 forwards with one or fewer goals through the first 12 games of the season. The biggest disappointment, however, is . He came over last season in a swap with the New York late last season and has just three goals in 24 games since leaving Broadway. Insiders say he's playing like he wants to be moved. General Manager Kevin Lowe may be forced to oblige.
Net Watch
There have been numerous complaints throughout the league from fans who don't like the new netting hanging in arenas throughout the NHL. One of the particular complaints is that black netting against a white background (the ice) is too jarring on the eyes. The Philadelphia have opted to do something about that, re-hanging nets in the First Union Center that are a light-colored monofilament not unlike fishing line. What's interesting about this? Well, for one, the clearly have money to spend, but more importantly, they seemed to side with the fans in the building rather than the television producers. The black netting is said to be a favored by television producers because it casts less glare and makes it easier to shoot through. That may be, but much of the camera work in an NHL game comes from center ice, low through the glass, or even out of the goalie cage. The apparently felt the fans in the building should get more of a break than the ones watching at home. That's why they went light.
Florida general manger Rick Dudley is downplaying reports that the team has to move at least one player to get below a owner-imposed $30 million salary cap, but sources tell FOXSports.com that the are actively shopping all veteran players. We told you earlier in the week they were shopping , but some teams, including the New York , are sniffing around for . Insiders tell FOXSports.com that the rumors have actually inspired Bure to pick up his game. He wants to escape from coach Mike Keenan and had long hoped to rejoin brother Val in New York with either the , the or New Jersey. On the night Bure scored the game-winning goal to beat Pittsburgh in overtime, Keenan had nailed him to the bench for the better parts of the second and third period. Bure's goal was his 21st career game-winner. One third of those have come in overtime making him something of a four-on-four specialist. Other trade rumors of note: The Philadelphia may be ready to give up on , which would make the trade that sent to New York a near-complete bust. Given the way Lindros is playing (no goals in 11 games and a benching) it's been a bust for both sides. Phoenix is looking for a center and is said to be sniffing around the for perhaps . Not likely, however. With Messier aging fast and Lindros almost non-productive, Nedved is looking like a quality player in the New York scheme of things.
Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Avalanche, Blues, Lightning, Capitals, Panthers, Miroslav Satan, Maxim Afinogenov, Dominik Hasek, Jose Theodore, Petr Nedved, Mike York, Chris Pronger, Doug Weight, Kevin Weekes, Martin St. Louis, Olaf Kolzig, David Aebischer, Manny Legace

More Stories From Jim Kelley

Play Hockey Simulation Game on WhatIfSports

More Than Sports on MSN

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Reebok Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Premier Hockey Jersey - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Pittsburgh_Penguins/browse/featuredproduct/175178/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_175000/FF_175178_xl.jpg&w=100 159.95 Reebok Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Premier Hockey Jersey - Black
    Reebok Dallas Stars White Premier Hockey Jersey http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Dallas_Stars/browse/featuredproduct/243363/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_243000/FF_243363_xl.jpg&w=100 124.95 Reebok Dallas Stars White Premier Hockey Jersey
    Reebok Tampa Bay Lightning Primary Logo T-Shirt - Royal Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Tampa_Bay_Lightning/browse/featuredproduct/301017/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_301000/ff_301017_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Reebok Tampa Bay Lightning Primary Logo T-Shirt - Royal Blue
    Majestic Anaheim Ducks Black Official Logo Full Zip Hoodie Sweatshirt http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Anaheim_Ducks/browse/featuredproduct/398322/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_398000/FF_398322_xl.jpg&w=100 43.99 Majestic Anaheim Ducks Black Official Logo Full Zip Hoodie Sweatshirt
    Detroit Red Wings Youth Black Southpaw Backpack http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Detroit_Red_Wings/browse/featuredproduct/403205/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_403000/FF_403205_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Detroit Red Wings Youth Black Southpaw Backpack
    Reebok Chicago Blackhawks #88 Patrick Kane Red Premier Hockey Jersey http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Chicago_Blackhawks/browse/featuredproduct/408123/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_408000/FF_408123_xl.jpg&w=100 159.95 Reebok Chicago Blackhawks #88 Patrick Kane Red Premier Hockey Jersey
    Majestic New Jersey Devils Red Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_Jersey_Devils/browse/featuredproduct/456774/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_456000/ff_456774_xl.jpg&w=100 47.99 Majestic New Jersey Devils Red Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt
    Vancouver Canucks 2011 NHL Western Conference Champions Hockey Stick http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Vancouver_Canucks/browse/featuredproduct/665779/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_665000/ff_665779_xl.jpg&w=100 11.95 Vancouver Canucks 2011 NHL Western Conference Champions Hockey Stick
    Majestic New York Islanders Royal Blue Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_York_Islanders/browse/featuredproduct/752594/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_752000/ff_752594_xl.jpg&w=100 47.99 Majestic New York Islanders Royal Blue Felt Tek Patch Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt