Strachan on Hockey Column

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Top Stories in the NHL today include rumors on Kovalev to Leafs, that their fans are taking the Kovie situation too far, and the Pens need immediate help, players that can easily fit in with the Pens. Also, Don Cherry said it all last week as he was a solid boost to putting the STOP sticker on the their helmet that may prevent young hockey players from getting crippled. Bob Boughner from the Flames also had some words for Bryden. Sabres to cough up some cash and other rumors surrounding the NHL lately.KOVALEV TO LEAFS HAS SNAGS: PENS WANT IMMEDIATE HELP

In the media frenzy that is being generated by the potential availability of Alexei Kovalev, Maple Leafs fans are making a number of assumptions, not all of which are valid.

They assume that (a) Kovalev wants to come to Toronto (b) the Pittsburgh Penguins want to move him to Toronto and (c) a Kovalev move is imminent.

To put the situation in a better perspective, it might help to look at it from the Penguins’ point of view.

First of all, it’s important to note that Kovalev will become eligible for arbitration this summer. He will not become an unrestricted free agent. Therefore, if the Penguins want to keep him for another year, they can do so.

In arbitration, Kovalev is likely to be awarded something in the $7 million US range, so the dilemma the Penguins face is how to get the maximum return at the lowest cost.

If they dump Kovalev for a couple of distant draft picks, they’re telling their fans they’ve given up on a playoff spot, a move that would, in itself, be costly. Gate receipts would drop dramatically.

On the other hand, if they keep him through the playoffs, they risk getting a lot less than they could get now, because a $7-million player is hard to trade in the off-season. They have the right to walk away from the arbitration settlement to avoid the salary, but would get nothing in return.

If the Penguins were clearly out of the playoffs, their decision would be easier. Ditto if they were clearly in the playoffs.

But they continue to hang around that nether region where qualification is possible, but not assured. Therefore, the sensible move is to trade Kovalev and appease the fans at the same time.

To do that, they need a deal they can justify. They have to get at least two players who can step into their lineup and perhaps help the Penguins in a playoff run. Also, those players would have to have low salaries. That almost certainly requires them to be young.

That’s where any deal with the Leafs hits a snag. General manager Pat Quinn says he has no interest in moving players off his team — and they certainly can’t find two players in St. John’s who are ready to step into the Pittsburgh lineup.

But the Colorado Avalanche, coveting the kind of offensive punch that Kovalev can provide, would gladly offer Alex Tanguay and Martin Skoula.

The New York Islanders, looking for a partner for Alexei Yashin, another Russian, would give up roster players. After all, Mike Milbury would be involved, and the only untouchables Milbury knows are the ones who worked with Elliot Ness.

The Penguins also want cash, and in that regard, the Leafs can compete. But in other areas, unless Quinn changes his stance, Kovalev will be going elsewhere.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: The Phoenix Coyotes are getting a revamped look — three new sweaters for next season. Now if only someone would have a word with those people in Nashville … The league has issued a memo to officials telling them to enforce the rules regarding changes on the fly. Replacements were coming over the boards far too early.

MCCOWN/CHERRY GET THE JOB DONE

Talk radio is not known for its impact on sports.

But an initiative by Bob McCown of CJCL, helped by a solid boost from Don Cherry, has resulted in a program that may prevent young hockey players from being crippled.

The idea is to apply STOP stickers to the back of players’ helmets because, as Cherry pointed out, that’s where a player is looking if he’s about to check a player into the boards.

The process of the campaign was rather convoluted, but the bottom line is that McCown’s crusade has resulted in Bauer Nike providing the stickers free of charge to every young hockey player in the country.

If it prevents just one kid spending his life in a wheelchair, it’s a job well done.

THEY SAID IT: The Calgary Flames’ Bob Boughner on the owners’ complaints about hockey’s economy: “If it’s such a bad investment, why does a guy like Rod Bryden turn around and suddenly make another pitch for the Senators?” … Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella on struggling goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin: “This guy is dying because he knows how important he is to the club. The one thing about Nik is that he’s accountable and he wants to get back to this level. But we can’t survive as a hockey team with just a decent goalie. We can’t live like that as the Tampa Bay Lightning” … Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish on the fuss over his run-in with Flames mascot Harvey the Hound: “Well, these are the dog days of the schedule.”

SABRES TO COUGH UP CASH

The three Buffalo Sabres who didn’t get their deferred payments when the team declared bankruptcy will not have to wait much longer.

Jay McKee and Curtis Brown are owed $133,000 US, and Brian Campbell is owed $25,000. If they do not get paid, they could become unrestricted free agents.

But Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer, told the Buffalo News that the matter was simply one of the complications of bankruptcy and that the players will be paid.

“As far as we’re concerned, we plan to avoid any chance of a default and then letting them become free agents,” he said.

When asked about the time frame, Daly replied, “Not months. On the outside it could be weeks, but it might be days.”

THIS AND THAT: Speaking out against people who report trade rumours this week, Pat Quinn said, “As Brian Burke used to say, you’d like to get some of the stuff they’re smoking.” Really? Why? What would Quinn or Burke do with it? … One of the less-publicized bonuses in the Claude Julien promotion to Montreal was a concession the Canadiens had to make to get his rights from Edmonton. They have to play an exhibition game in Edmonton in the fall … Maybe Slava Kozlov should bump more referees. In the eight games after his three-game suspension, he had five goals and seven assists … Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said this week he expects John LeClair to be back Feb. 15. Asked about this, LeClair said, “I’m looking at the end of February.” … Wondering why the Boston Bruins finally moved Kyle McLaren? They were the best team in the NHL through the first 27 games. Through the next 20 games, they were the worst … Coming soon to pay-per-view? Nashville coach Barry Trotz, upset at the manhandling of Karlis Skrastins by the Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi, offered to settle matters man to man with Canucks coach Marc Crawford. Mark March 20 on your calendar. That’s when the two teams play again. How about a bout as part of the between-periods entertainment?

Tradedude.


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