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Monday, March 30, 2009

Head May Roll in Alberta, Lecavalier Rumours and more

Some quick hits today as the NHL regular season winds down:

I can't be the only one thinking that if the struggles of both of the NHL's Alberta teams continue that heads will roll. In Edmonton, the Oilers front office put the sights squarely on head coach Craig MacTavish by adding two scorers at the deadline. The message was this: if you can't get this team into the playoffs after we've added just the thing you've been complaining you needed all season, you're gone. Whether the old-boys-from-the-glory-days network in charge of the Oilers will follow through if the Oilers don't make the playoffs is another question.

Conversely, I can't help but think that Calgary GM Darryl Sutter put the sights not on his head coach, but squarely on himself with his deadline moves. Dealing as many draft picks and younger assets as Sutter did to get Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold badly depletes an already thin Flames system. Not only that, but Sutter is the one who committed nearly $6 million a season for six years to goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who's struggled badly down the stretch run. He also inexplicably handed journeyman defenseman Jim Vandermeer, who's played only 37 games, a three year deal worth $2.3 million a season, and committed big money to defenseman Cory Sarich, who's not one of Calgary's top four defensemen, and centre Daymond Langkow, who's now making $4.5 million a season to play on the second line behind Jokinen. These are all deals that run past next season, when the league's salary cap is expected to go down for the first time. If the Flames fail to make it past at least the first round of the playoffs, Sutter will have quite a mess on his hands here, and may well pay the price for it. And he does have a coach in Mike Keenan who has on more than one occasion gone from behind the bench to the GM's job when his boss couldn't cut it...

Is there anyone out there willing to bet against New Jersey coming out of the East in this year's playoffs? Anyone? Anyone? No, I didn't think so.

Somebody suggested to me the other day that with Zach Parise emerging as a new American-born star in the league that the NHL should be making an effort to market him to help sell the game in the United States. But if the NHL could never follow through with that line of thinking when Mike Modano was in his prime, an American-born player who was not only talented and fun to watch, but was (and still is) one of the most handsome guys you're ever likely to see, why would they get it through their heads to do it with Parise? With all the league's somewhat meagre player marketing push behind poster boy Sidney Crosby, we've already seen what can happen when an equally talented player such as, oh, Alex Ovechkin tries to hog some of the spotlight (see above). A better question is this: why can't the NHL seem to market more than one player as it's poster-boy at a time? Other sports manage it.

What happened to Florida's playoff chances? Not so very long ago it looked like they were a lock, and that they might finish as high as 5th in the East. Now they're floundering in 9th and might not be able to catch New York or Montreal. I don't see a lot of Panthers games here in Toronto, but I understand that Jay Bouwmeester's play since the trade deadline, when he figured into a lot of rumours but wasn't moved, has just gotten worse and worse. It must be driving his agent nuts. He used to have the hottest commodity going heading into this season's free agent period. At this point, though, how can a team not look at Bouwmeester's play in the latter quarter of the season and wonder if he just can't handle the pressure when the games get tough?

Finally, I understand that the Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal rumours just won't die, with yet another story in the Montreal Gazette today about them. But here's something for Montreal fans to ponder: there's a pretty credible line of thinking that says that Lecavalier hasn't put up great numbers this season and has struggled the last quarter of the season or so because his shoulder and wrist are hurting. Lecavalier had surgery on his right shoulder last summer, and because of it a scheduled surgery on his right wrist had to be cancelled. If Lecavalier's shoulder and wrist are both bothering him this season, well, those are problem that are over a year old, and thus are starting to look like chronic injuries, and quite possibly things he'll have to deal with the rest of his career. Lecavalier's 28 years old, and his 11 year contract extension with the Lightning begins this summer. Leaving aside just how asinine it was to sign him to that extension in the first place, we can now see several reasons why Tampa Bay might want to deal him, the first two being those injuries and their need to surround star in the making Steven Stamkos with talent closer to his age. But should Montreal really be anxious to add Lecavalier, especially if it costs them a couple of first round draft picks and either prospect PK Subban (who skates as well at age 18 as almost any player I've seen) or Max Pacioretty, plus a player or two off their roster? That's the kind of package Montreal media people were suggesting in January, and it's an awful lot. Especially for a guy with a guaranteed 11 year contract worth some $78 million and a growing history of shoulder and wrist problems. Even if he is French Canadian.

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