Rumblings and Grumblings From Around The League – Dec. 21

It’s been a while since there has been enough minutiae out there in hockey cyberspace for me to put an article together. So, after culling all the newspapers and dotcoms this morning, here is what I have to bring to our HTR roundtable for discussion. Proceed at your own risk.

SHARKS AT THE “BUTT” END OF THE YEAR’S FIRST BIG SPANKING (faceoff.com)

We all expected a quality hockey match on Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks came into the Corel Centre to play the Ottawa Senators, right? Well, what was supposed to be just that turned into a twelve-goal bonanza, with the majority of those goals going into the Sharks’ net. The Sens humbled the “new darlings of the Western Conference” (As Sports Illustrated’s hockey preview put it) with a 9-3 drubbing in which trade bait forward Magnus Arvedsson scored twice, captain Daniel Alfredsson registered four assists, and recent AHL call-up Steve Martins (who?) was named #1 star. Despite various trade rumors surrounding them, the Senators are playing inspired hockey, and now lead the Eastern Conference heading into today’s matinee matchup with Philadelphia. Conversely, San Jose is the prowd owner of the number 11 slot out west, after being picked by most prognosticators as the favorite to represent the West in the Stanley Cup finals.

My take: This is the kind of game that could get Ron Wilson fired already, and see Teemu Selanne dealt to the New York Rangers for a package involving Cory Cross. And the Sharks thought that Brian Sutter was the problem? Telling stat of the game for San Jose – newly acquired defender Dan McGillis, who was supposed to bring steady, defensive play and a big shot from the point, no goals, no assists, one SOG, minus-3. Question for Marion Hossa – you score a goal and your team wins by a 9-3 count, how are you minus-1 on the stat sheet? Bottom line: Watch out for the Senators, they are for real. Alexei who?

NEILSON JUST “GOING ABOUT HIS BUSINESS” (ESPN.com, Philadelphia Inquirer)

If there was ever a time to wish for a cure for cancer, it would be now. Senators assistant coach Roger Neilson, who had been battling multiple myeloma and melanoma for the past three years, is suffering another setback. Reports out of Ottawa state that the cancer that is attacking Neilson’s body has spread to his brain, and that the recent Hall of Fame inductee is in dire need of a “massive” radiation treatment. In the meantime, Neilson continues to do what he does best – work. While he no longer travels with the team due to his illness, he continues to work home games from the press box or, in the case of the aforementioned San Jose contest, from his office. The team has repeatedly told the media to back off Neilson, as they don’t want news about his illness to become a major story. Neilson, a very private man in his own right, has told news sources that he just wants to “go about his life,” and that he hopes to get back on the road soon.

My take: If you are, in any way, religious or believe in some sort of higher power, I ask to to say a prayer for Roger Neilson. There is not a more genuine human being in all of hockey that Neilson, and we would do well to wish him a speedy recovery from his illness. Hockey can ill afford to lose an innovator like Captain Video right now. Expect the Senators to continue their strong play, as they seem to want to do it all for Roger.

SAMSONOV TO MISS UP TO THREE MONTHS (Boston Globe)

Boston Bruins star winger Sergei Samsonov is expected to miss the next three months of the season due to a broken right wrist. He is scheduled to have surgery performed on Tuesday. Samsonov first injured it some 10 years ago while playing junior hockey in Russia, and it never fully healed. He re-injured it approximately two months ago, and has been playing in pain ever since. The surgery, known as a “bone graft,” will take a long time to heal, and Samsonov faces about three months of rehabilitation. It is concievable that he could miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs.

My take: Bad timing. The Bruins have lost five games in a row, and the Senators have quietly tied them for the conference lead. Now, they have to trudge on without one of their best players. It is entirely possible that this could stimulate Mike O’Connell to finally hammer out a Kyle McLaren trade, since the B’s are going to need someone to pick up the slack. Alex Tanguay, anyone?

PENGUINS FALLING BACK TO EARTH, KEHOE IN TROUBLE? (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

After being a pleasant surprise to the opening of the 2002-03 NHL season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have gone from first to worst in their division, with their recent losing streak reaching ten games on Thursday night. Team owner and star centerman Mario Lemieux has repeatedly expressed his frustration, but both he and GM Craig Patrick remain confident (publicly, at least) in head coach Rick Kehoe. The Penguins, already thinned down in recent times with the trade of Jaromir Jagr and the loss of Robert Lang to free agency, have been further weakened by a plethora of injuries. Martin Straka, Dick Tarnstrom, Aleksey Morozov, Michael Roszival, and others have all missed significant time due to various maladies.

My take: It’s difficult to say whether or not Kehoe could get the axe. The team has shown what it can do when healthy, it’s just that the team can’t seem to stay healthy. A coaching change won’t mend broken bones. Patrick remains under the gun, as the Alexei Kovalev situation looms ever larger as the season progresses. My guess is that the team stays the course for now, until the lineup is healthy again. If, by that time, the season could be salvaged and they can squeeze into the playoffs, then I don’t see any major deal coming. My guess is that Kehoe would be kept around, since he is essentially second-fiddle to Lemieux at gametime, and Mario doesn’t want anyone in the organization to second-guess him.

MODANO PLACED ON INJURED RESERVE WITH POST-CONCUSSION SYNDROME (Dallas Morning News)

Rather than rush their star player back into the lineup before he’s ready, the Dallas Stars put center Mike Modano on IR retroactive to Wednesday, 18 December because of concussion-like symptoms. Modano was checked from behind by Philadelphia’s Jeremy Roenick in the Stars’ 2-2 tie with the Flyers, and had to be helped from the ice by his teammates. Modano says that he is still suffering from headaches, and the team did not want to take any chances. He missed Thursday’s game against Detroit, and will be held out of the Stars’ next two contests, at New Jersey today and at Carolina on Sunday. He will be re-evaluated before the Nashville game on 26 December in Dallas.

My take: Didn’t the Dallas doctors initally rule out a concussion when he was first hurt? And now he’s got all the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome? We are seeing this all too often nowadays. I expect Modano will be fine after his noodle stops ringing. In the meantime, players like Jason Arnott and Pierre Turgeon need to step up their play, unless Dave Tippett wants to give more playing time to Manny Malhotra or Rob DiMaio.

THE NEW HEAD COACH OF THE COLORADO AVALANCHE IS….TONY GRANATO???? (The Sporting News, FOXsports.com)

It’s bad enough that coaches lose their jobs because the players don’t do theirs. We’ve become all too familiar with that. Bill Barber, Ron Low, Ron Wilson, Brian Sutter, Greg Gilbert, all of these men were head coaches on talented teams where the talent often didn’t show up. Bob Hartley recently joined that group. We can harp on how it sucks that a coach with such impressive credentials as Hartley’s can get fired, but what’s even more strange is his replacement. Pierre Lacroix ignored conventional wisdom, along with a long list of potential (and qualified) replacements (Ted Nolan, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Sutter, Terry Murray, etc.) to name someone with less than six months of TOTAL coaching experience as his “permanent” head coach. Many heads were being scratched at this move, and just as many were left to wonder if Lacroix had lost it.

My take: Let’s face the facts, shall we? Granato wasn’t exactly a superstar player in the league, but he was a serviceable forward with respectable numbers. He just retired as a player at the end of the 2000-01 campaign, immediately after which he took a seat in the broadcast booth, offering color commentary on the Sharks for the 2001-02 season. He joined Hartley’s staff in Denver this past July, when Brian Trottier left to coach the Rangers. Now, a mere five months later, he is the head coach of a franchise that is expected to win another Stanley Cup? Is there a more meteoric rise to power in the NHL than that of Tony Granato? This guy is more remembered right now as having a sister who won a gold medal than as being an NHLer for 13 seasons. Personally, I think it’s a bad move by Lacroix, as he doesn’t want to get blamed for the wrongs of the players. Jim Kelley of Fox Sports put it best: “This situation is like asking the trainee on the fry vat at McDonald’s to take over as Chief Operating Officer AND run the Burger King into exile in the process.”

Interesting little factoids of the week:

Carolina LW Jan Hlavac has six goals for the ‘Canes, all coming on the power play. (ESPN.com)

New Jersey forward Joe Nieuwendyk scored his first goal in 20 games Thursday night. (Bergen County Record)

Philadelphia goaltender Robert Esche is now 6-1-2, and has not allowed more than two goals in any of his starts. (Philadelphia Daily News)

Since the return of Jason Allison, Ziggy Palffy has five goals and seven assists for 12 points in the last seven games, and the Kings are 5-2-0 in that stretch. (ESPN.com)

That’s it for now, y’all. Happy Holidays, and release the hounds!


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