KELLEY'S KNAPSACK: Former Stars GM says moves were mistakes; plus Western notes

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Jim Kelley


Western Conference Knapsack

Our midweek collection of tidbits of information for your knapsack of knowledge.
Eastern Conference Knapsack
Dallas: Hey get this, a general manager who accepts some of the blame for his team's problems. Bob Gainey, after trading Valeri Kamensky to the Devils, did it. The Stars had acquired Kamensky, Donald Audette, Jyrki Lumme, Pat Verbeek, Rob DiMaio and Pierre Turgeon over the summer. Kamensky, Audette and Lumme have already been traded, DiMaio has been a regular healthy scratch and Turgeon is struggling through the worst slump of his career (on pace for 40 points) and lately has been moved to wing from his career-long position at center. "There's no question that there's a message there," Gainey said. "The acquisitions this summer haven't worked like we thought they would. You can't just point to the players. You don't know whether we pursued the wrong players or whether we properly scouted our own team." Gainey's admirable honesty didn't prevent a front-office shakeup — Friday morning, he was reassigned as a Stars consultant and coach Ken Hitchcock was fired. Many Stars watchers believe that Hitchcock has done a poor job of bending the will of newcomers to fit his style of play while still allowing them to do what their skills allow. Says who? Well, try many-time former Star Benoit Hogue, now with Boston: "He's not a bad guy, it's just the way he handles players and the way he treats the team is totally unfair," Hogue said. "There's a lot of guys on this (Dallas) team feel like they're not part of it. There's a lot of sad people on that team." Hogue added: "I talked to a lot of guys. They probably wish what happened to me could have happened to them." FYI: Turgeon is now on the wing with center Mike Modano and Martin Rucinsky, the winger Gainey picked up from Montreal for Audette. Anaheim: Want more proof that violence is on the upswing in hockey and that running the goaltender is now as much a part of the game as stickhandling, passing and cheap shots? Look only to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Tough guy Kevin Sawyer this week was suspended for two games for running Los Angeles netminder Felix Potvin on Monday. This comes on the heels of a five-game suspension Sawyer earned earlier this season when he ran Calgary netminder Mike Vernon, inciting a brawl that produced an NHL record for penalty minutes in a period. Technically speaking, Sawyer now has been suspended one game for every two Ducks wins this season. Goalies are more than a little upset about the growing trend, but most are afraid to speak out because they are then viewed as soft. In addition, goalies feel somewhat helpless because the NHL rewrote the rule book to allow forwards to go into the crease again, a tactic forwards have taken to mean it's open season on goalies. Calgary: For the record, after posting one of the hottest starts in the NHL this season, the Calgary Flames have slipped out of playoff contention. This is not shocking, given the ever-improving play of the Los Angeles Kings and, lately, the Vancouver Canucks, but the intriguing thing is that the slide might continue. Not only are other Western teams starting to play much better, but the Flames have internal problems. Center Marc Savard and coach Greg Gilbert are at odds again and there are rumblings in the Flames locker room that the coach is pushing too hard and that the players, though game, are just too warn out and the roster is still too thin. It's a nice excuse, but the real reason the Flames are losing again is that they aren't getting the all-world goaltending they did at the start of the season and the team lacks enough of a physical presence to push back when pushed. Couple that with the lack of an effective second scoring line and the Flames are right back where they were in each of the last five years. The recent 6-1 loss to the Maple Leafs indicates a team in free fall. Look for Marc Savard to be traded at a discount price and soon. Chicago: Joe Reekie never had an overabundance of skill, but he was a big man and played with a big heart, and that's what the Blackhawks were looking for when they picked him up from Washington. Chicago's defense only runs about four players deep and Reekie will give them a bit more of a physical presence on the back end. That's the official reason. Unofficially, the Hawks are concerned some of their young players may hit a wall in the second half of the season and they want to be able to spell them at times. Reekie was a bargain in that respect. Look for general manager Mike Smith to make a few more moves along the same line. FYI: Chicago's next win will be the 30th of the season, one more than all of last season. The Blackhawks have the second-best point total in the NHL to date. Their turnaround is the most underplayed story in hockey this year. Colorado: Center Joe Sakic hit midweek with a 15-game goal-less streak, two shy of the longest of his career. The reigning league MVP has just 14 goals this season and is so far off the pace of last season, when he scored 54, that no one in Mile High City is smiling. It's not like the 14-year veteran has lost a step. He isn't complacent with a fat new contract either. The biggest problem is that with Peter Forsberg out of the lineup it's become easy to key on Sakic and shut him down. Recently the Buffalo Sabres went into Colorado and lost 3-2 but they kept Sakic off the board by shadowing him with rotating defensive centers. The thinking is that if you shut down Sakic, you shut down the Avs and with the team scoring just 125 goals on the season it appears to be fact. No top-eight team in the West has scored fewer goals than the Avs so far this season. Their total is one above Nashville, which has one of the weaker offenses in the game. Columbus: Center Espen Knutsen, asked whether there was any added satisfaction in beating the New York Rangers because the Rangers are twice the Jackets' size up front: "Yeah, if you see the salaries ..." What's he talking about? Well, the Jackets payroll is around $21.5 million and will probably wind up at $21.8M. The Rangers payroll is $55 million and if most of the Lindros clauses kick in -- a likely possibility -- it will go to about $60M. Detroit: Seems like Red Wings coach Scott Bowman isn't the only one who knows how to play mind games. Bowman recently played star forward Sergei Fedorov on defense for a few games. The move came shortly after Fedorov had made some critical comments in the media. Recently, Fedorov's father, also a hockey coach, blasted Bowman in a newspaper in Russia claiming the coach was ruining his son. When asked about his dad's remarks, Sergei said "It's not an issue for me at all. I was enjoying myself playing with Chris Chelios on the blueline ¿ I'm actually glad that I was able to play the blueline, in some way help the team win ¿ I think, in general, the way (the media reacted), looks like somebody is trying to stir things up." Hmmm, a page borrowed from the master himself. Now Bowman is likely scratching his head, an act usually reserved for his players. Edmonton: Now here is a goaltender that knows how to approach the All-Star Game. Tommy Salo, who might have begged off All-Star honors because of the upcoming Olympics, said he's looking forward to the event. "I'm making a weekend out of it," Salo said. "I'm bringing my wife. All I have to do for the weekend is play 20 minutes and dig five or six pucks out of the net." The All-Star game has become a shameless display of offensive skill with no defense and goaltenders who are hung out to dry by their All-Star "teammates." At least Salo recognizes it for what it has become. FYI: Coach Craig MacTavish benched star forward Mike Comrie for a part of a game recently. The Oilers are slumping and the coaching staff thinks a part of the reason is that Comrie, like a lot of young players who first face a long NHL season, is unable to stay focused. He's also having problems dealing with the increased attention he started drawing after a hot start. Los Angeles: The Kings are leaning toward releasing forward Ziggy Palffy to play for Slovakia in the Olympic qualifying tournament even though the Kings have three NHL games during that span. The Kings reversed themselves after other teams started springing players, a mess that has the NHL under a microscope for the way it dropped this problem into the collective laps of the general managers. Minnesota: It appears the end of a career is at hand for Wild forward Cam Stewart. He's been advised by concussion specialist Dr. James Kelly to skip the rest of the season and consider retirement. Stewart suffered a concussion in September, the sixth of his career. He has been unable to do anything athletic, including riding the stationary bike, without suffering headaches and nausea. Making matters worse for the long term, his contract expires at the end of this season. Nashville: For the record, Predators goaltender Mike Dunham is hot again and Team USA bosses are looking at him as a possible starter in the Olympics. Dunham had a tougher-than-normal start, but if you look at his numbers they are as good as Mike Richter and Tom Barrasso, both of whom cooled a bit after being named to the squad. Perhaps more importantly, Dunham excels under pressure. The Preds are an offensively challenged team and Dunham must defend every score as if the outcome of the game depends upon it (and it usually does). In addition to having 15 wins (two fewer than Richter), Dunham has played in nine games this season when he allowed one goal and his team didn't win. Had half of those games been wins he'd have a better total than Richter. He already has a better goals-against average than Richter and Barrasso. Phoenix: Goalie Sean Burke is still pointing for the All-Star game despite a groin problem that has kept him out of the Coyotes lineup in recent games. He says it's because it's such an honor, but whispers out of Phoenix indicate that Burke wants to show all of Canada that the Olympic selectors made a mistake in bypassing him for Dallas goalie Ed Belfour. Burke was a standout at the All-Star Game last winter in Denver (he came away with a car that he later gave to his mother). He also has a 2.26 goals-against average and a stunning .921 save percentage, numbers that are better than most any goalie going to Salt Lake City. Burke denies the whispers, saying its in the past, but there are people who believe that Belfour might suffer a meltdown between now and Salt Lake and Burke wants to show that he's ready to step in. St. Louis: A tip of our proverbial hat to Mike Keene. The quintessential grinder recently played in his 1,000th game. It hasn't been a good year for Keene who has been a winner everywhere he's played. And though it appears his offensive game has deserted him, he's still a premier checker and a very good faceoff man. Being able to adapt to roles in the NHL is what keeps a player around for 1,000 games. Keene has been one of the best at doing that. FYI: Scott Young is recovering nicely from his eye injury and could begin skating on his own next week. San Jose: There are growing hints out of San Jose that coach Darryl Sutter and star forward Owen Nolan do not see eye to eye about Nolan's role on the team. Nothing serious yet, but something that bears watching. Nolan is said to have back problems right now but is trying to play through them. Vancouver: And now a bit of good news. Trent Klatt, one of our favorite worker bees, appears to be making a comeback. Klatt missed 25 games and his career appeared in jeopardy when he suffered the dreaded abdominal strain, a serious injury for a hockey player. Klatt and the Canucks, however, found a physical therapist in the Vancouver area who came up with an innovative series of exercises that are built on a platform designed for women who have recently given birth. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, the so-called Keigel exercise appears to have had an impact and Klatt will be able to resume his career. The therapist, Alex McKechnie, has worked with NBA stars including Shaquille O'Neal. Jim Kelley can be reached at his email address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Stars, Canadiens, Devils, Rangers, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Capitals, Coyotes, Ducks, Predators, Blue Jackets, Wild, Marc Savard, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Mike Comrie, Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, Pierre Turgeon, Rob DiMaio, Joe Sakic, Sean Burke, Mike Dunham

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