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WEST KNAPSACK: Nabokov's Olympic nightmare

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

Western Conference Knapsack

Our midweek collection of tidbits of information for your knapsack of hockey knowledge. San Jose: The controversy over not allowing goalie Evgeni Nabokov an opportunity to play for Russia in the Olympics continues. It came about because he once played a part of a period for Kazakhstan when he was a teenager.
Western Conference Knapsack
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said the rule needed to be changed, but Nabokov said that's just happy talk designed to get the players to keep quiet. "They are just talking about changes so that we will shut our mouths," the goalie said. "What's the difference to make the change now or a year later? If you are planning to do it and you have a case right now, why not change it right now? It's not so hard." Good point. There have been well over a dozen cases of players having competed for two countries. Nabokov is Russian with a Russian passport and documented Russian citizenship. He was assigned to Kazakhstan when it was a part of the Soviet sphere. He is Russian now. Want a more ridiculous example of the hypocrisy here, go no further than South African Zola Budd spending two weeks in England and then getting permission to compete for England in the Summer Games. She didn't win, but did manage to trip up Mary Decker. If she can do that, why can't Nabokov play for Russia? Anaheim: So here's the plan as the Ducks go down the stretch. Sources tell FOXSports.com that management believes the core of the team is improving but likely won't add much this year. The thinking is that it's still about four years before Paul Kariya is an unrestricted free agent, and unless he makes noise about leaving, they still have time to build. From Kariya's point of view, he wants to see that the core really is good and that management has a plan to go forward. If they do, he's interested in sticking around to help. It's a sort of mating dance with each side preening a bit, but the betting is that Kariya remains patient, but only as long as he sees some sort of commitment. Calgary: Here's the deal with coach Greg Gilbert lifting the captaincy from Dave Lowry. Lowry wasn't Gilbert's captain, he was inherited from the Don Hay era. Gilbert felt his team needed a shakeup, and since it likely wasn't coming in the trade market (and as a first-year coach he wasn't about to get fired), it had to come from within. In naming Craig Conroy and Bob Boughner, Gilbert gets two gritty veterans whom he hopes will hold their youngish teammates accountable. The bet here is that he is right. In case you're wondering, they didn't give the C to Jarome Iginla because they felt it would be too much pressure on a kid gunning for the scoring championship and to carry the Flames to the playoffs. FYI: The Flames moved Marc Savard back up on the line with Iginla. It's helped Iginla's game, but the word around the league is that it's a showcase move for a deadline deal. If it's a blockbuster, expect the Flames to include one of their many young defenseman. Chicago: No knock on Eric Daze, but we told you the issue of who won the All-Star game MVP would be an issue, and it is. Look for the Professional Hockey Writers Association to tighten up on its voting procedures. The Hawks are said to be in the market for a No. 2 center behind Alexei Zhamnov. No. 2 Michael Nylander isn't doing the job and doesn't have the grit that coach Brian Sutter loves. No. 3 Igor Korolev too often also plays soft. It's not likely the Hawks will take a run at Buffalo's Chris Gratton, but there are whispers that the Hawks would take on some salary if they could get someone like Jason Wiemer or Washington's Adam Oates. Oates could be available if the Caps don't look to make the playoffs. Colorado: That post-All-Star loss to the rival Detroit Red Wings does not sit well in Av land. The game was viewed as a measuring stick against the league's best team, and not only did the Avs not win, but they couldn't keep the lead, a very disturbing sign. Colorado has now lost two of three meetings with the Red Wings, and they've been horribly outshot in the process. There's a lot of pressure on general manager Pierre Lacroix to again beef up the team, especially the defense, with a trade, but Lacroix, who was counting on the return of the still injured Peter Forsberg for a boost, does not have a great many assets left to deal. Columbus: Keep this in mind for an ultimate trivia answer. Fired Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock won his last game with that team when they beat the Blue Jackets. His replacement, Rick Wilson, won his first game with the Stars vs. the same team. No surprise there. The Bluejackets have the worst road record in the NHL, and since starting 3-4-2 on the road, they went to the All-Star break with a 1-15-1 record since. Had the schedule broken right, it would have been a win for Kevin Constantine in New Jersey as well. For the record, Espen Knutsen, the late add to the All-Star game from Columbus is the first Norwegian All-Star. In his home country, he's often referred to as the Wayne Gretzky of Norway. Dallas: General manager Bob Gainey may have retreated a bit on the Stars front, but his work is still in evidence even behind the bench. Rick Wilson, the assistant coach that replaced the fired Ken Hitchcock, was Gainey's pick as an assistant way back when the team was located in Minnesota. He was a part of the package, along with assistant Doug Jarvis, that Hitchcock was forced to take as a condition of employment. Any early success Wilson has with the Stars will come from the fact that he knows them all very well and that they like him. Given the fact they didn't like Hitchcock, it's a safe bet they will go all out for Wilson, at least for the remainder of this season. Don't ever think Gainey has lost his touch, he's one of the ultimate planers in the NHL today. Detroit: Goalie Dominik Hasek showed up at the All-Star game (OK, maybe not like Nikolai Khabibulin), but he didn't much care for the experience. He said he felt there shouldn't be an All-Star game in an Olympic year and that he didn't understand why the league carried through with it. That prompted a well-crafted response from commissioner Gary Bettman about how the All-Star game is an honor and blah, blah, blah. The NHL went to great lengths to not invite players they felt would complain, but Hasek used the stage much like Wayne Gretzky used to to tweak the NHL about fighting. He played, but he also let the media and the world know exactly how he felt. You can do that when you're one of the league's best players. Edmonton: If you heard that trade rumor, Edmonton's Todd Marchant for Ottawa's Radek Bonk, forget it, it will never happen. The coaching staff may have had a few issues with Marchant of late, but they know he's a gamer and just needed to get put back on course. Sources tell FOXSports.com they don't feel that way at all about Bonk and general manger Kevin Lowe will back them on that. Los Angeles: For a town that's not supposed to be a hockey hotbed, the City of Angels did a pretty good job of hosting the All-Star affair. That's pretty much the same thing the Kings have done the last two months, a pretty good job of moving from six games under .500 to six games over and past Dallas for seventh in the Western Conference standings. The 2-0 victory over Minnesota just before the break was the 11th in 14 games in January for the Kings. The Kings are again getting good goaltending from Felix Potvin and the forwards are strong and deep, but the most impressive thing is that the defense leads the league in offense and that's without Rob Blake, the All-Star defenseman who went to Colorado near the deadline last season. For the record, Blake was booed every time he touched the puck in the Staples Center in L.A. FYI: The announcement that the Kings will honor Wayne Gretzky in a number retirement ceremony next season soothes some hard feelings between the superstar player and the club. Gretzky did not want to leave L.A. in his declining years, but demanded a trade after the Kings seemed determined not to rebuild around him (a wise decision on behalf of ownership and management). All that's healed over now, and the only sticking point is how the Kings will handle an expected invite of former owner Bruce McNall. McNall, the former owner of the Kings, did time in prison for fraud. He's out now, and he's still friends with Gretzky and Gretzky remains loyal to him. It will be worked out, but it will also be a tad on the delicate side. Minnesota: The Wild have an issue on their hands with their refusal to release forward Sergei Zholtok to play for Latvia in the qualifying round of the pre-Olympic tourney. The team is not likely to make the playoffs this season, but general manager Doug Risebrough said he had an obligation to his team and to the ticket holders and club sponsors to put the best team on the ice that he could. He also told the Latvian general manager that letting Zholtok go would "make the other players' lives more complicated." What remains to be seen is whether or not Zholtok will make his teammates' lives more complicated. Nashville: Though David Legwand gets a lot of pub in Nashville and around the league, do not count out the contributions to his YoungStars teammate, Scott Hartnell. Hartnell went to the YoungStars game at All-Star weekend with Legwand, and he didn't disappoint with a goal and an assist. He also had two goals in a recent win at Colorado, a significant victory for Nashville. Hartnell is just 19 and is already in his second NHL season. The two goals against the Avs came against Patrick Roy. In addition to his scoring, he hits. He led the club with 100 hits last season, the single-most important factor in his staying with the club instead of returning to junior hockey. He's for real. Phoenix: Wayne Gretzky continues to throw bones goaltender Sean Burke's way. At the All-Star gathering, Gretzky was emphatic that Burke would be the replacement goaltender should someone get injured or withdraw. Gretzky then almost laid out a red carpet for Dallas netminder Ed Belfour to walk away gracefully. When he didn't, Gretzky named him the No. 3 on the team and said he likely wouldn't play. It was more than a fence-mending gesture for Gretzky toward Burke. Sources told FOXSports.com Gretzky regrets the handling of the goaltending situation, especially since Burke is playing better than Belfour. If the opening arises, rest assured Gretzky will make good on his word, and although Burke has made vacation plans, it would be impossible for him to turn down a call from his country. St. Louis: Scott Young, the winger who suffered a serious eye injury earlier in the season, has returned to the team and has the good sense to wear a visor. Young, who will also play for Team USA in the Olympics, said getting used to the visor has been difficult and that he's been trying different brands and styles, but that he's committed. FYI: Young joined teammate Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight on a Super Bowl trip. Tkachuk and Young are both from the Boston area and wanted to see the Patriots win. They were not disappointed. That doesn't sit well in St. Louis, but hey, to the victors go the spoils. Vancouver: The Canucks are no fluke. General manager Brian Burke had faith in his team and his coach, and it's starting to pay off with a late run at a playoff berth. The Canucks have been on an offensive tear of late and it was sparked by the improved play of captain Markus Naslund, who appears to have finally put the pain and fear of his broken right leg behind him. Through Tuesday night's games, the Canucks were 7-0-1 since losing 5-4 to St. Louis. They are also 13-3-1-1 since Christmas. Naslund, who had two goals and an assist in the All-Star game and was a candidate for MVP honors, has picked up at least one point in all eight games. A goal Tuesday vs. Phoenix tied him with Joe Thornton of the Bruins for the NHL points lead. Behind Naslund, the improved play of Todd Bertuzzi and Trevor Linden is the reason there is trade talk involving Andrew Cassels. Linden has scored six goals in his last nine games and is now within six of matching the franchise record of 262 goals held by Stan Smyl. Another surprising contributor is backup goaltender Peter Skudra, who has quickly become a No. 1 while Dan Cloutier recovers from an ankle problem. FYI: There's talk about Cassels because he's destined to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Ottawa is said to be interested, but the Canucks might have a difficult time letting him go without getting a playmaker in return. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Stars, Senators, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Lightning, Canucks, Capitals, Coyotes, Ducks, Panthers, Predators, Blue Jackets, Wild, Joe Thornton, Craig Conroy, Marc Savard, Michael Nylander, Dominik Hasek, Todd Marchant, Ed Belfour, Radek Bonk, Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Nikolai Khabibulin, Markus Naslund, Dan Cloutier, Trevor Linden, Sean Burke, Paul Kariya, Jason Wiemer, David Legwand, Scott Hartnell

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