Posted on: February 21, 2008 11:27 pm

Panthers pitiful

So what does coach and GM Jacques Martin do now with his Florida Panthers?

He could try to swing a deal for a rental to help his team's playoff push generally a costly proposition or he could decide the best course of action is to sell off a coveted player like Olli Jokinen and gain some important assets for the future. Problem with that is Martin can't appear to be throwing in the towel for appearances sake because the Panthers haven't made the playoffs in seven years and their fan base has already dwindled significantly, and more important, if the team falls short again this season, chances are Martin will be gone anyway.

In other words, Martin is stuck between a rock and a hard place because the Panthers, who were hot on the heels of division-leading Carolina less than a week ago, have lost their last three games by  two-goal leads in the third period of each, effectively killing off their chances at the post-season. The latest loss, a 5-4 decision to the Boston Bruins in a shootout Wednesday, was crushing because it came at home and after Florida upped its lead by scoring with one second left in the third. Those are the kind of goals that should send opponents packing it in, but when it comes to the Panthers, they seem to have a reverse effect.

""We're fragile when it comes to finishing games," said Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun, who had a busy night facing 48, but looked less than distinguished on Phil Kessel's late goal that sent things into overtime. "No doubt about it."

There's no doubt either that this team needs a major overhaul. There are pockets of talent here, but not much depth because the farm system has not produced the kind of quality players in the last few seasons that other organizations have. Martin made note of that by saying were it not for the spate of injuries, there were a number of players he wouldn't have considered dressing.

"Sometimes we seem content keeping games close," he said.

Unfortunately, that gets them no cigar.

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 20, 2008 11:28 am

Hab-by times

Got back from the GMs meetings in Naples too late to catch the Montreal-Rangers game, which is unfortunate because from the highlights I saw, it was pretty spectacular.

By now you probably know the details of the Montreal miracle which in a nutshell had the Canadiens overcome a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5 in a shootout. It was actually the biggest comeback in Montreal's long history and it looked like both teams were just flying up and down the ice. What stood out to me most was the excitement on the faces of the Canadiens when it was over, which wasquite the opposite of course for the Rangers, who played very well over the weekend and just let a big game get away. I  just got the feeling that this was the kind of win that becomes a defining point in a season for a team of destiny.

Maybe that's stretching things a bit for the Canadiens, but  the win kept them tied for first place in the Eastern Conference with a Ottawa, a team they trailed by 10 points at Christmas. And it brought to mind something Montreal GM Bob Gainey said earlier in the day during a discussion about potential trades before next week's deadline.

The Canadiens have been rumored to be interested in pending Atlanta free agent Marian Hossa, although the price tag would probably be higher than what the team wants to pay.  Gainey wouldn't talk about anyone specficially, but he said that an impact player is always of interest, yet he also made it seem like he wouldn't be uncomfortable heading into the playoffs with what he has now.

"We like our team pretty much and we're playing good," Gainey said. "The players on our team have earned us this position we're in right now."

And maybe more.


Category: NHL
Posted on: February 18, 2008 6:26 pm

Setting the stage

There were serious issues to discuss of course, like rule changes, how to increase scoring and supplemental discipline, although you might not have guessed it from the relaxed atmosphere surrounding the NHL general managers first day of meetings here in Naples, Fla.

One GM had sneakers on, another wore cargo shorts and almost everyone else was comfortably attired in polo shirts and casual slacks/ It was appropriate considering the setting was a country club resort, though perhaps a little incongruous given that for almost everyone here, the next few days could make or break their season.

But hey, why let a little thing like that ruin the trip, right?

"This is the fun part of the job," said Atlanta GM Don Waddell.

Understand that Waddell wasn't talking about getting a few rounds in during the dead of winter. There will be some of that certainly for the general managers over the next couple of days, but for Waddell and his 29 colleagues, these meetings are about planting the seeds for what most assume will be a frenzied lead up to next week's trade deadline.

It's really all that anyone here wants to talk about, even though no one really has anything to say at this point.

"Most of the teams still have a shot at the playoffs so it's really unsettled," said Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier. "A lot of this is about setting the groundwork. It's much easier to get a sense of what people want to do when you're face to face in the same place instead of talking on the phone, but I still think that whatever is going to happen will be close to the end."

Which means there probably won't be much excitement for the small media contingent, most of whom come from Canada (funny how a trip to Florida in Februrary can attract them to what is essentially a non-event), although there was some big news on the first day because Peter Forsberg's agent disclosed his client isn't likely to sign anywhere before the deadline.

That's actually a good thing for Waddell, who hasn't decided what to do with pending free agent Marian Hossa, but now may be overwhelmed with offers for the biggest potential trading prize. Same goes for Toronto's Cliff Fletcher if he can convince Mats Sundin to waive his no-trade clause, and perhaps for Tampa Bay's Jay Feaster, who sources here say is busy trying to shop Brad Richards for some much-needed goaltending help.

"I don't want to talk about individual guys," said Feaster, who was seen in deep conversation with Chicago GM Dale Tallon, the current employer of former Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. "I don't want to confirm or deny and nothing should be inferred by my ability to confirm or deny." 

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 14, 2008 6:38 pm

An embarrassment of riches

The Anaheim Ducks recently brought back veteran Stars Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne to bolster a lineup that could very well win its second consecutive Stanley Cup this spring. And if things break right, the Ducks might end up with the the top overall pick in the draft to boot because they own the first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, who are floundering enough to be viable lottery candidates.

Anaheim got the choice as part of their compensation from the Oilers who signed restricted free agent Dustin Penner last summer, and it gives the Ducks a great trading asset as the Feb. 26 deadline approaches. But with more teams looking to good drafts as the foundation of potential success, Anaheim GM Brian Burke says he's in no hurry to move a pick that could turn out to be more valuable than anyone he might get in a deal.

"We're going to add if we can at the right price, so it's in play," Burke said of the Oilers slot. "But let's assume its a fourth or fifth pick overall in what we consider to be a very deep draft and  you're talking about a guy who is going to play 10 years in the league. Do you trade that for a rental?"

Not without thinking long and hard about it, which is why Burke says he'll wait until close to the Feb. 26 deadline before deciding on anything. By then he'll have a better idea of where the pick might fall and if its high enough, Anaheim will probably hang on to it.

"Edmonton has managed to put together some wins later and (the pick) may not be as attractive as it appears today," Burke said. "We think there's seven players in this draft and then there's a drop off. If it looks like it's going to be a top seven pick, it can go in a hockey deal, but not for a rental."

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 13, 2008 11:49 pm

Price is right

Carey Price is supposed to be the Canadiens goalie of the future, but his time may be here right now.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau broke into an ear-to-ear grin when asked about the rookie's 35-save performance Wednesday in the Habs 2-1 overtime win against the Florida Panthers. Price was making his first start in more than a month, a gap that included a stint in the minors, and his solid effort helped Montreal snap a three-game losing streak that saw the team miss out on a chance to take over first place in the East.

More important, it came after Carbonneau had effectively called veteran No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet, saying the team's goaltending had to be a lot better than it has been lately.

Huet is an unrestricted free agent after the season and likely won't be back with Montreal next season, but the Canadiens have been reluctant thus far to trade him and put their fortunes in the hands of a 20-year old. Price has already won an AHL title and a World Junior Championship gold medal in his career, and there were some in Montreal who thought he should have been handed the Canadiens No. 1 job this season, but the team instead decided to bring him along slowly while relying mainly on Huet.

Price did show some flashes of brilliance early in the season,  but he hit a dry spell around Christmas and was sent back to the minors in early January, gettting recalled only last week. The first round draft pick from 2005 saw some action after Huet was pulled last Saturday in Ottawa, but the Florida game was his chance to make a bit of a statement to his coach, and he came through.

"I think going down to Hamilton was a good thing for him because he got to play 10,12 games and get his confidence back," Carbonneau said. "He was a little nervous at the start, but he got better as the game progressed and he was really solid in the third period when Florida had their power plays."

Carbonneau wouldn't commit himself to the amount of playing time Price will get in the near future, but he did say his plan now is to go with the hot hand. That seems to belong to Price.

"We're all surprised the way he handles himself in tough situations," Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. "He looks very calm, very confident and it's an amazing feeling for us as players out there to know  your goalie is going to give you a chance to win."

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 12, 2008 8:28 pm

Delighted in Dallas

Mike Ribeiro has taken his game to a new level since being traded to the Dallas Stars before last season, and one of the things he credits for it is leaving his home town and its team.

Nothing personal against the city or the Canadiens you understand, but for a French Canadian kid from Montreal who was perceived as falling well short of high expectations, a change of scenery can sometimes be a welcome thing. It has been for Ribeiro, who was traded for defenseman Janne Niinimaa just before the second post-lockout season began. The 28-year-old center went on to lead the Stars in scoring last year, and this year, he is leading the team again and appeared in his first All Star Game last month.

"It's been a big change, but a really good one for me," Ribeiro said.

Drafted by Montreal in 1998 after a great junior career in the region, Ribeiro showed promise for a couple of seasons in his early 20s, but his production tailed off after the lockout while his reputation for enjoying night life grew. Ribeiro became a Lightning rod for criticism on a team that had several other issues to deal with, and suddenly being at home wasn't so good any more.

"I didn't have to read the papers or watch T.V. because people, your friends, your family they'll tell you how you're doing and what people are saying," Ribeiro said. "Everyone up there knows about hockey so you can't get away from it. It's tough sometimes."

Ribeiro admitted there was something special about the limelight for a local kid playing for the Canadiens back in the day. But now that he's older, has a family and is playing the best hockey of his career, Ribeiro says he appreciates the sedate environment of Dallas.

"It's a great place to play hockey and the fans here are awesome," Ribeiro said. "But with a family, it's nice to be somewhere where you can get away from the game a little bit. You still have the pressure of winning, but there's less press and people watching so outside the rink you can have some privacy. And that's nice now that I'm older. We can go to a restaurant or do whatever we like and then I can concentrate on hockey."

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 11, 2008 3:16 pm

'Canes are conceding

The Carolina Hurricanes are less than two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup and only a point out of first place in the Southeast Division, but they've admitted  they're not going anywhere this season.

Not officially of course - - you can't do that with two months left in the season and still hope to sell tickets -- though Carolina said as much today by trading away one of its top scorers and a physical defenseman in the most notable deal of the season so far. The Hurricanes sent left wing Cory Stillman and defenseman Mike Commodore to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves, a deal that for Carolina was more about money than upgrading the team for a playoff run.

Both Stillman and Commodore and unrestricted free agents this summer and would have been outside the Hurricanes budget parameters, so getting something for them now made sense for GM Jim Rutherford.  Especially since the Hurricanes as currently constructed do not look like a team with a long playoff run in it, if Carolina gets there at all. Corvo at least is a puck-moving defenseman who is signed for two more years, and he gives the Hurricanes something they're missing on the back end, while and Eaves can skate and makes less than a  million dollars. But neither makes the a Carolina team in a death struggle for a playoff spot better than it was before.

You can't say that about the guys going the other way. Stillman, who missed much of last season after shoulder surgery, has 21 goals so far and he's the kind of player who steps it up  in the playoffs. He played a key role for Tamp Bay when the Lightning won the 2004 Stanley and for the Hurricanes during their 2006 title march, and he's the top six forward the Senators have been looking for the help take the pressure off the top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Commodore meanwhile, is a physical presence, which never hurts to have in the playoffs.

Both Stillman and Commodore could be gone after the season, but right now they look like pretty good additions to a team that believes it can win it all.

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 9, 2008 9:49 pm

Exercising his right

It's not hard to understand why Wade Redden won't waive his no-trade clause.

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray admitted he broached the subject with him this week after getting inquiries , but Redden made it clear he wants to stick around long enough to win a Stanley Cup with the only team he has been played for in 11 NHL seasons. It was the same thing he told Ottawa last summer when the Sens tried to move him to Edmonton.

Redden is Ottawa's highest paid player at $6.5 million and unsigned beyond this season. Regardless where he ends up next year, he'll probably have to take a pay cut next  because he hasn't been quite what the Senators expected when they chose him over Zdeno Chara a couple of  years back. Still Redden is a good puck-moving defenseman, a commodity not in abundant supply and he has played decently. And Ottawa did make to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring.

If they play the way they did Saturday night against Montreal, they could easily get there again.

The Senators have one of the league's best talent collections and they had an incredible start this season, which gave them enough of a cushion to ride out several mediocre months when internal distractions and then injuries took a toll. Their Eastern Conference and Northeast Division leads, which seemed insurmountable at New Year's, were nearly gone this week when the Canadiens beat them in Montreal to pull within one point of them .

Ottawa though, had both Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley back in the lineup for Saturday's rematch at home, and along with their center Jason Spezza, they helped the Senators make a statement about how good this team can be when its healthy and at its best.

The Senators really kicked the crap out of Montreal in a 6-1 win. Spezza scored twice before the game was two minutes old, and later completed the hat trick, Alfredsson got a pair of goals and Heatley got one and the line looked every bit as good as it did last spring when it carried the team on its longest playoff run ever. Redden didn't get on the scoreboard, but he did his part by going plus-3 and pounding out Sergei Kostitsyn in a crowd-pleasing late fight.

Redden has gotten the message from Ottawa that he's expendable at the least, but in the meantime he  figures it's still not a bad place to be right now. On nights like this, it's hard to argue with him.


Category: NHL
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