Naslund and Forsberg Show True Colors


Written on 11/25/2009 by Jim Cerny

One of the cooler hockey stories so far this fall involves two former star players who no longer play in the National Hockey League.

Sweden's Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund (photo, right, from his last season in the NHL as a member of the Rangers in 2008-09) have decided to unretire and play for the same MoDo team in the Swedish Elite league for whom they starred some 17 years ago.

The reason for their joint return?

MoDo, once a powerhouse in Sweden, has been struggling on and off the ice. Forsberg and Naslund are hoping that their presence can lift the team out of the cellar in the standings, and, just as importantly, help improve the team's bottom line.

"The hockey team means everything to this city," Naslund recently explained. "When the team is not doing well, you can tell a lot of people are down here, too."

And the total monetary compensation the two former NHL all stars will receive?

Nothing. Zero. Nada.

That's right. Forsberg and Naslund are coming back to provide a lift to a MoDo franchise that helped launch both of their careers. And they are asking for nothing in return.

That right there is why this is my favorite hockey story this fall.

I have always had tremendous respect for Forsberg. His skill level. His battle level. His willingness to fight through, and, later in his career, fight back from debilitating injuries. He has always been a player to admire.

Naslund was someone I respected and watched from afar for most of his career. He had always struck me as a classy guy, both on and off the ice, and was a fine ambassador of the Vancouver Canucks for many years.

Last year Naslund embarked on his final season in the National Hockey League as a member of the Rangers, and I had the privilege to work with him while serving as the beat writer for the team's web site. Though he was somewhat guarded regarding himself on a personal level, Naslund was a pleasure to get to know professionally. He was honest and straightforward, both during good times and bad, and made himself available to me and other members of the media every day. When I needed the most honest assessment of whatever was going on with the Rangers last season, I always turned to Naslund for the answers, and he delivered the goods.

I know he didn't produce the numbers that both he, the organization, and the fans had hoped for when he signed as a free agent two summers ago, but no one can ever say that Naslund did not represent the Rangers with the utmost class during his one year on Broadway.

Now Naslund shows his true colors again. One more classy move, this time in his native country, as he and Forsberg refuse to forget those who helped them on their road to stardom.

Best story of the year, so far.

Gaborik Most Valuable in First Quarter


Written on 11/24/2009 by Jim Cerny

A quarter of the way through the 2009-10 NHL season is a good time to assess the good, bad, and ugly in the National Hockey League.

To me, the top story has been the plethora of injuries sweeping through the league. That, and the amount of injuries caused by blows to the head, as well as the GMs consideration of tougher penalty calls for such violent hits.

The biggest surprise, in my opinion, is the play of the Colorado Avalanche, though both the Islanders and Coyotes deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Avs. First place in the Northwest and third overall in the Western Conference, the sorry Avs of a year ago have been replaced by a plucky bunch backstopped by the somewhat-suprising, and quite dependable, Craig Anderson.

The most disappointing team has been the Carolina Hurricanes, hands down. An Eastern Conference finalist last spring, the 'Canes returned much of the same lineup this season, just with much worse results. Their 14-game winless skid (0-10-4) was as shocking as it was embarrassing.

The top rookie? Tough call because this is a really, really deep freshman class this year. Two that have really impressed me ar Philly's James Van Riemsdyk (6-12-18 in 17 games, with four game-winning goals) and Evander Kane of Atlanta (7-5-12 in 20 games, with three game-winners and, like Van Riemsdyk, a +7 plus/minus mark). John Tavares of the Islanders, Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay, Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers, and the Avs precocious duo of Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly will all continue to bear watching as the season moves along due to their strong play, too.

Now, who has been the most valuable player through one-quarter of the season? Anderson deserves consideration for what he has done in Colorado, though his numbers are not eye-popping great. Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, despite injuries that sidelined both for a spell, are averaging just about a goal-per-game and have both been phenomenal so far this season. Philly's Chris Pronger has been a beast, playing 27 minutes a night in every important game situation, averaging nearly a point-per-game as a defenseman, and carrying a +13 along the way. Anze Kopitar leads the league in scoring and has helped push the Kings into second place in the Pacific Division.

And what about Joe Thornton or Dany Heatley, both of whom have played huge roles in helping the Sharks stay ahead of the resurgent Kings? Or Ryan Miller and his sub 2.00 goals against average and 12-3-2 record for the Sabres?

There are a host of players off to great starts this season. But who is most valuable to his own team? I'd have to say Marian Gaborik of the Rangers.

Gaborik's numbers certainly back this argument. In 21 games played (he missed two because of an injury), Gaborik has 18 goals---nearly one-per-game---and 32 points. He is tied with Heatley for the league lead in goals, and is second behind Kopitar in points. He has also scored at least one point in 19 of the 21 games in which he has played, showing tremendous consistency this season.

Dig deeper and you find out that Gaborik has also been a workhorse, averaging more than 22 minutes of ice-time, among the leaders for all forwards in the NHL. He has also been an excellent penalty killer, while thriving on the power play with seven power play goals, second most in the league.

But dig some more and you find out the real reason why I think Gaborik is the MVP of the first quarter of this season.

Gaborik has put up these elite-level numbers with little-to-no help from his teammates. In fact in a stretch that spanned more than 200 minutes of hockey and ended in the first period of last night's victory over the Blue Jackets, the Rangers did not have a goal scored by a player not named Marian Gaborik or Vinny Prospal. That's a total of six goals, and Gaborik either scored or assisted on all six.

The Rangers have scored 71 goals this season, and Gaborik has a hand in 32 of them.

So even as the only legitimate offensive threat wearing a Rangers jersey every night, Gaborik has still found a way to keep scoring. With that target etched on his jersey, and every coach game-planning against him---and pretty much only worrying about him---Gaborik has delivered game-in and game-out.

Even last night when the story was about a seven-goal outburst by the Rangers, with five goals tallied by others on the Rangers' roster, it was Gaborik who scored the biggest goal of the game. The Rangers surrendered the first two goals of the contest, and trailed 2-0 just 9:31 into play. As head coach John Tortorella and goalie Henrik Lundqvist both told me after the game, had Columbus scored a third goal before the Rangers scored their first, it would likely have been lights out for the Blueshirts. But instead Gaborik scored a huge goal two minutes after the Blue Jackets went up 2-0, and the Rangers took off from there.

"Who else but number 10," Lundqvist said of Gaborik.

There's plenty of hockey left to be played yet this season. But one quarter of the way through, Marian Gaborik has been the most valuable to his team.

Strange Days Indeed


Written on 11/19/2009 by Jim Cerny

I am not sure if it's a black cloud or a full moon, but there's something wreaking havoc on the National Hockey League so far this season.

As discussed here before, the amount of injuries to star players is off the charts. Plus there have been a string of strange incidents that add to the question: what the heck is going on here?

Two more stories from today fit right in with what has been par-for-the-course over the first quarter of the NHL season.

First, the Los Angeles Kings placed winger Ryan Smyth (above photo) on Injured Reserve this morning. So down goes another star player---and another one who was off to a very strong start this year. Smyth joins the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jonathan Toews, Cam Ward, Brian Gionta, Simon Gagne, Sergei Gonchar, Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard, Joe Pavelski, and seemingly half of the entire Detroit Red Wings roster as star players forced to the sidelines for an extended period of time.

Smyth, who was thriving with 23 points (9-14-23) in 22 games during his first season out in LA, suffered an "upper body" injury during Monday night's game against Florida. The Kings announced today that he will miss at least a month of action, a severe blow to a team has thrived with Smyth skating on its top line alongside the league's top scorer Anze Kopitar.

"All these injuries that are happening to key players around the league, everyone is going through it and no one is going to feel sorry for you," Kings coach Terry Murray told's Pierre LeBrun.

Actually, I find it most interesting that Murray would even speak to anyone associated with You see, you could make the case that Smyth is on IR because put the whammy on him earlier this week.

On Monday, mere hours before Smyth suffered his injury, Scott Burnside at included a segment in his column making the case for Smyth to be a part of the Canadian Olympic Hockey team. Citing his great play this season, and his past contributions to Canadian entries in international competition over the years, Burnside detailed why the 33 year-old Smyth deserved a call from Team Canada's Steve Yzerman.

Then WHAM! Smyth gets hurt, is out a month or more, and the Olympics---while still a possibility---become more of a long shot.

So this one may have less to do with black clouds and full moons than with's hockey analysis! Just think of it as the hockey version of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

If we argue that Smyth's injury has more to do with Burnside and a jinx, then it can be said that the clouds most certainly found their way to Minnesota, where all hell was breaking lose at Wild practice today.

To quote Michael Russo, the fine Wild beat writer for The Star Tribune, from his Twitter update (@Russostrib) this morning, "This is an angry practice."

Russo reported that head coach Todd Richards was in rare form, "plenty of lectures, smashing sticks against glass", he Tweeted. Then Russo added, "(Kyle) Brodziak chopped stick in half, (Mikko) Koivu threw stick four rows deep."

Sounds like good times in Minnesota.

But really they are just taking a page out of the Calgary Flames book. Apparently there was a shouting match in coach Brent Sutter's office following Calgary's 3-2 home-ice loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Though it can not be confirmed who was shouting at whom, it was reportedly loud and angry.

Sun Media's Randy Sportak reported that Sutter downplayed the incident afterwards, saying it was just the normal course of doing business in the NHL.

"It's a high level of competition where there's a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity involved," stated Sutter. "Those things are going to happen at different times."

Sutter made sure to add that this incident "is no one else's business...that's the way it is."

Coaches flipping out. Star players being shelved almost on a nightly basis.

Black clouds. Full moons. Sportswriter jinxes.

Can't say things are boring this year in the National Hockey League.

Fresh Start for the Wild


Written on 11/18/2009 by Jim Cerny

A quarter of the way through their "fresh start" of a season---as newly-minted captain Mikko Koivu (photo left) calls it---the Minnesota Wild are still trying to find their identity, while at the same time attempting to remain out of the basement in the Western Conference.

Within a matter of months this past spring, the Wild lost the three pillars of their organization, signaling a major change in the course the franchise would take in the following years.

Doug Risebrough, who was GM of the Wild even before there was a team on the ice, was the first to go.

He was followed by Jacques Lemaire, the only head coach in franchise history.

And then Marian Gaborik---the Wild's first-ever draft pick and the organization's all-time leading scorer---was allowed to slip away as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The three long-time faces of the organization, all gone within a matter of months.

"A fresh start is the right way to describe it," Koivu told me a couple of weeks ago. "There are a lot of new things on and off the ice. Now we are trying to build it all again. But it is strange not to see those guys around here anymore."

Strange indeed. Over the past nine years no three people were more visable representatives of the Wild than Risebrough, Lemaire, or Gaborik. It is one thing to lose one or two of those men. But all three? Almost unheard of. But that is the path ownership chose months ago.

"It's tough to not be around those guys who have always been here," stated Koivu, who has a team-best 18 points in 20 games this year. "You get used to a certain way, and certain people. But it is part of the game, and it's something that every team goes through. It's fresh, and a whole lot different."

What Koivu didn't say---and wouldn't answer---was whether fresh and different equal better. So far the Wild---under new coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fltecher---are tied for 13th place in the west with 16 points. They are 7-11-2 and have allowed the fifth most goals in the conference (63), something unheard of when the defensive-minded Lemaire was the coach.

And while Gaborik thrives in New York with the Rangers---his 15 goals are tied for the league lead, while his 27 points are second most---his replacement in Minnesota, free agent pick up Martin Havlat---has struggled mightily with just two goals and eight points in 18 games.

It was Gaborik that most Wild observers believed would have been the first to leave the State of Hockey. A world-class talent---albeit one limited by injury for much of his career---Gaborik had been through several contract battles and stalemates with the Wild. And he was no fan of Lemaire's stifling system either.

It was not a huge surprise that Minnesota let Gaborik walk without even a token contract offer.

Well, at least it was not a big surprise to most observers. Long-time Wild forward Andrew Brunette told me that he thought up until the final days that his good friend was going to return to Minnesota.

"I thought something would get done the whole time," said Brunette, a 22-goal scorer a year ago who has seven so far this season. "I called him the night before free agency started and he said 'I'm going to go', which was a little disappointing. I know how it was with the old regime and (Gaborik) with the contracts, but I really thought with the change (in management), and with how well he played at the end of last year, that he would stay."

Brunette added, "I mean, you move on. It's part of the business. But maybe I am partial. I just know how good he is. I really thought something would get done."

Though the results aren't there just yet---and it must be difficult for the Wild faithful to see Gaborik's success on Broadway and Lemaire's so-far triumphant return to New Jersey---the Wild organization did the right thing. Nine years is a long-time for the same voice as head coach. And Brunette feels maybe Gaborik needed the change as much as the organization did.

"As hard as it is for me to say this, for his career and for him, he might have been a little stagnant here at times, he might have needed a change," stated Brunette.

Speaking of change, the new regime in Minnesota is going to have to change the recent trend of draft-day failures from that of the old guard. After selecting Gaborik, Koivu, center Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and defenseman Brent Burns with their first picks from 2000-2003, the Wild have not chosen one stud in the first round since. And forget studs. Right now the word is "duds", as in 2005 first rounder Benoit Pouliot (2-2-4 in 14 games, five goals a year ago) and 2006 first-round selection James Sheppard (0-1-1 in 18 games, five goals last season).

And other than the rugged Cal Clutterbuck in 2006, the Wild have not drafted a regular contributor in the later rounds since early in franchise history.

Add to the mix the disappointing play of veterans Petr Sykora (2-1-3 in 10 games) and Havlat, and, well, you can understand the problems that face Fletcher and Richards.

"It will get better," predicted Koivu.

The question, though, is when?

Kovalchuk is Back to Thrash


Written on 11/13/2009 by Jim Cerny

The Atlanta Thrashers did a commendable job holding down the fort while their captain, Ilya Kovalchuk, missed six games due to a broken foot.

Atlanta posted a 3-3-0 mark without Kovalchuk, and continued their season-long run as one of the better road teams in the Eastern Conference---now an impressive 6-2-1.

But you could just sense the lift this team received last night when Kovalchuk returned to the lineup earlier than expected, and helped the Thrashers grab another road win---this time a 5-3 decision over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Though he is wearing a removable cast on his foot, Kovalchuk was not held back by his coach John Anderson. Kovie logged more than eight minutes of ice-time in the first period, and finished with 22:22 worth. He seemed to skate well, and was his usual sniper self in firing six shots on goal.

And not missing a beat from how his season started before the injury, Kovalchuk recorded his second three-point game, posting a goal and two assists. The Russian superstar---who is in his walk year, and has thrived amidst the rumors that he may receive a huge offer from the KHL next season---has now notched ten goals in only nine games played this season, placing him among the league leaders despite 16 days on the shelf with the foot injury.

What he did best last night, though, was make others around him better. The enigma known as Maxim Afinogenov was absolutely flying, skating on a line with fellow Russians Nik Antropov and Kovalchuk. Afinogenov was a part of at least four odd-man rushes that I could count, and had at least three outstanding point-blank scoring chances, using his speed and feeding off the scintillating play of Kovalchuk. That Afinogenov's only goal came into the empty net had more to do with Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist than anything else.

If Kovalchuk's return can spur his two Russian sidekicks to a higher level, and Rich Peverley (three points last night, team-best 8-12-20), exciting 18 year-old Evander Kane (two points last night includuing an assist where he blew past defenseman Michal Rozsival as if he were a pylon 19 seconds into the match, 4-4-8 on the season), and a talented young high-scoring defense corps led by Zach Bogosion and Tobias Enstrom can continue their strong play, these Thrashers might actually be able to stay in contention in the east.

And if they stay in contention, there is a better chance that Kovalchuk---who has stated repeatedly his fondness for the organization and city of Atlanta---will re-sign with the Thrashers either before or after free agency arrives on July 1.

There are certainly some red flags for the Thrashers to be aware of. They have not been good on home ice (2-4-0); they rely on some very young players to play very important minutes; they have two of hockey's most enigmatic talents in Afinogenov and Antropov; and they are piecing together their goaltending between the unproven Ondrej Pavelec and the useful backup Joahn Hedberg while Kari Lehtonen recovers from back surgery.

But Kovalchuk is an X factor here. Despite the injury, he is off to a start that is rivaled only by his fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin---who has 14 goals in 14 games, though hampered by an injury, as well. A 300+ goal scorer already in his underrated career, Kovalchuk now is playing for the right to earn top dollar next year.

That extra motivation makes him a frightening man to play against this season.

A Hall of a Class


Written on 11/11/2009 by Jim Cerny

The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed, perhaps, its greatest class ever this past Monday night in Toronto. Between Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman, you are talking about three of the Top Ten all-time leaders in goals, three of the 21 most prolific point-producers, and the 7th-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history.

Put them together and this fantastic foursome scored 2,348 goals, notched 3,220 assists, and recorded 5,568 points over their NHL careers that collectively spanned 5,419 games in 79 seasons in total.

Add Devils executive Lou Lamoriello---who was also inducted into the HHOF on Monday---to the mix and this group has totaled 10 Stanley Cup championships, as well.

Eye-popping numbers, for sure.

But it's not just the numbers that makes this group so special. Yzerman is regarded as one of the game's greatest captains ever. Hull was one of the sport's most colorful and outspoken ambassadors. Leetch and Lamoriello helped cement USA Hockey as a true force on the international scene. Robitaille---and Hull, too, for that matter---proved that through tremendous dedication and hard work, a player does not have to be a highly-regarded prospect or first-round pick to become a star, setting an outstanding example for youth players everywhere.

Their individual speeches all found a way to touch me during Monday's ceremony. Hull describing not what he brought to the game, but what the game of hockey gave to him, and explaining that he represented all of the beer-league players out there. Yzerman humbly explaining how he became the sport's pre-eminent leader by the good fortune of those great players and coaches he worked alongside for 22 years in Detroit. Lamoriello remembering to mention that we all should keep cancer-stricken former Devils coach Pat Burns in our prayers. Robitaille providing inspiration to those players who are not considered fast enough, strong enough, or talented enough to play the game of hockey. And Leetch pointing out that he played hockey because he loved the sport, not because he planned to be an NHLer one day, and then encouraging today's youth coaches to always remember to keep the game fun for the kids.

I have had the good fortune to work in the National Hockey League as a broadcaster and reporter while these five greats were in the primes of their careers. I remember Robitaille as one who was always quick with a genuine smile and a twinkle in his eye, just a really good guy. Hull's hearty laugh and sarcasm in locker-room conversations we had over the years stands out to me, too. Yzerman's grace, on and off the ice. That's what always struck me about him. Grace and class all the way. Lamoriello? Loyalty and intensity. Those are the two words that come to mind when I think of him.

As for Leetch, well, he is the one of this group I know the best. I was fortunate enough to cover his career, pretty much right from the start. It's funny, I remember a fellow reporter and good friend Bob Grochowski---Bobby G to you that remember SportsPhone---sitting next to me in the press box at Madison Square Garden during Leetch's early days, saying, "They have never drafted a player like this before. He is going to be the greatest Ranger ever."

You could argue that Bobby G was right on the mark, once Leetch's career was done.

There are so many memories I have of Leetch---end-to-end rushes, his amazing stamina and recuperative powers where he could play in every key situation, 35 minutes or so a night during the playoffs, his ability to play through brutal injuries, his elite-level skating and on-ice vision that were second to none---and I feel extremely fortunate to have covered his career so closely.

Of course, the spring of 1994 was his crowning achievement. Mark Messier was the Rangers captain. Adam Graves was the team's heartbeat. Mike Richter the impenatrable force in goal.

Brian Leetch was the soul of that Stanley Cup championship team that ended 54 years of misery on Broadway.

One other thing I'll always remember about Leetch. Though very soft-spoken, Leetch was a very intelligent and articulate athlete, and very respectful of me, the media, the fans, and the organization, no matter the circumstances---good or bad.

I thought Leetch really summed it up best on Monday night.

"If you look at the Hockey Hall of Fame as one big team, and everybody in one big locker room, even if I never get on the ice for one shift it's still the best team in the world to be on."

Monday Musings on Rangers' Injuries, 'Canes Woes, and HHOF


Written on 11/09/2009 by Jim Cerny

Up at Rangers practice today John Tortorella gazed across the ice and saw a group of players that did not include his No. 1 goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, his top two centers, Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky, his top offensive threat and sniper, Marian Gaborik, and another regular role player, Enver Lisin.

Could make the head coach long for a return to Tampa, eh?

Panic, though, is not really a word found in Tortorella's vocabulary. As such, he expects his club to forge ahead, with or without the availability of the aforementioned players.

"No one wants to have injuries, but they are a part of the game," Torts said. "There are no excuses here."

Lundqvist, who has missed the past two games with an unspecified injury thought to be a groin or thigh issue, echoed the coach's feelings this afternoon.

"When you go through a year you have to expect that guys will get hurt," Lundqvist said this afternoon after riding the stationary bike and receiving some treatment. "The thing is to never have an excuse to not be ready to be out there. There's never an excuse for not playing your best. You don't start thinking about who's not on the ice or who's feeling sore because it only hurts your game."

For the record, Lundqvist stated that his plan is to play on Thursday in the Rangers next game against the Atlanta Thrashers. He feels another complete day off---which Tortorella is giving the entire team on Tuesday---will have him ready to go.

Torts confirmed that Dubinsky has a broken hand. "I'm not sure how long he's out, but I guess he'll be out for an extended period of time".

The coach also said that Drury was "feeling better" today after suffereing a concussion on a blindside hit thrown by Calgary's Curtis Glencross on Saturday night. Drury rode the bike and will be monitored by the Rangers training staff. Tortorella would not rule him out of Thursday's contest.

Lisin is a question mark right now. He blocked a shot with the inside of his foot eight days ago and is still limping badly, though he did play in each of the Rangers last two games.

And the best news is that Gaborik, who missed two games a couple of weeks ago with a right leg injury, was given the day off to rest.

This club's depth and mettle is about to be tested like it never had to be a year ago when the Rangers had a ridiculously lucky season as far as injuries were concerned.

To that end, Torts says that we shouldn't be so quick to assume there will be a call-up or two from Hartford. With Vinny Prospal moving to center the Rangers could make do with their current roster.

"You don't need four centers anyway," explained Torts.

That would put a lot more responsibility on the shoulders of young pivots Brian Boyle, 23, and Artem Anisimov, 21.

Torts seems eager to see if they---especially Anisimov, whom the coach is becoming fond of---can handle it.

We shall see what the coming days bring.


The Carolina Hurricanes are in a shocking freefall. And now their No. 1 goaltender Cam Ward will miss 3-4 weeks after being cut on his leg Saturday night against Columbus.

Today the 'Canes inked veteran Manny Legace for some goaltending insurance. He will team with Michael Leighton in goal, and try to help Carolina, months removed from an impressive playoff run, turn its season around.

The Hurricanes are amazingly winless in their last 12 games (0-9-3), and have scored more than two goals only twice in that span. Right now they sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference---yes, below Toronto which has now won two in a row---with seven points (2-11-3).

The 'Canes have been outscored by a whopping 59-32 margin. They have not scored. They have been brutal defensively. And, even with Ward in the lineup, have received sketchy goaltending.

Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has never been afraid to change coaches midstream, so Paul Maurice can not be feeling too comfortable right about now.

And the dim prospects in Carolina have turned more dark now with Ward's injury.


The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomes a truely elite class this evening as Brett Hull, Lou Lamoriello, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman (pictured above) are officially enshrined in Toronto.

I will share my thoughts on all of these hockey greats tomorrow, in particular Leetch, who I covered as a reporter for much of his career in New York.

But for now, congrats boys! Very well deserved in all cases!

Tuesday Tidbits on Komisarek, HNIC, the Isles, Rangers, and More


Written on 11/03/2009 by Jim Cerny

There are so many things I want to get to, and each one could fill a blog entry by itself, but instead I will provide a bunch of NHL quick hits, with a longer column on a singular topic---the Minnesota Wild---tomorrow.

First off, after a long, long day of travel, and travel delays, returning from Minnesota on Saturday, my Halloween night could not have been spent in any better fashion than watching the Canadiens and Maple Leafs duke it out at the Bell Centre on Hockey Night in Canada.

The game had everything you could want. Great rivalry. Back and forth action. Plenty of scoring. Mike Komisarek's first return to Montreal since departing as a free agent on July 1, with the home-town fans spewing their anger at him at every turn. Beleagured Leafs show no quit by scoring twice late in third to force OT. Numerous scrums, much vitriol, and 36 combined penalty minutes.

And finally a shootout victory for Les Habitants.

Great Stuff. Great Theater.

And great throwback candycane-striped jerseys by the Canadiens.

This was not an artistic gem, but it would be awesome if this type of battle was the norm as far as the NHL regular season goes.


By the way, great work by the HNIC studio crew disecting the issues surrounding the NHLPA. There was good substantive debate, with Glenn Healy's passion for the topic at hand really standing out. I know most fans would rather tune in to Don Cherry's weekly segment, but this was HNIC at its absolute best and most compelling.


Speaking of the NHLPA, I had a chat with Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and he had nothing but contempt for how the current players ousted Paul Kelly as Executive Director.

"I bet you these players don't even realize the role Paul Kelly had in improving this player's association by prosecuting (former union head) Alan Eagleson years ago," Bathgate told me. "They have no sense of what has happened before. Just as long as they can count all their money at the end of the day."

Pretty strong stuff, though to be fair, many of the players from the '50's, '60's, and '70's are somewhat bitter that the current crop of NHLers is so much better compensated than the oldtimers ever were.

By the way, Bathgate will be joining me and Steven Gelbs on Rangers Radio over at the Rangers official web site,, this Friday afternoon. Don't forget to check it out.


As for the Rangers, don't expect winger Enver Lisin to play tonight in Vancouver. His foot is still sore after blocking a shot Sunday against the Bruins. Christopher Higgins, reported to be on the trade block according to the Ottawa Sun, might get a crack to play on the top line with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal tonight.

Prospal, by the way, has been named as an alternate captain, and very deservedly so, by John Tortorella. Prospal has emerged as a true leader and powerful voice in the Rangers dressing room, not to mention a strong presence on the ice. He joins Ryan Callahan as an "A" serving under team captain Chris Drury.

One other quick Rangers nugget: 19 year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto today was named as the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October. Though scoreless in three straight games, Del Zotto closed out his first initial month in the NHL with four goals, eight assists, and 12 points in 14 games.


And how about those Islanders? Winners of four in a row, after last night's 3-1 home-ice win against the Oilers, the plucky Isles find themselves tied with the Flyers at 15 points for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

In 14 games so far this season, the Islanders have won only five, true, but they have lost only four in regulation. This is a gritty, hard-nosed team, one that was decidedly tougher than the Rangers in a 3-1 win last Wednesday and the Sabres in a 5-0 shutout victory last Saturday.

Seeing Kyle Okposo---no heavyweight---fling Sam Gagner to the ice after a whistle in the final minute last night was awesome because it showed the fire, passion, and desperate nature of this young team. Seeing unheralded Jeff Tambellini notch a hat trick on Saturday, and veteran defensive-minded defenseman Brendan Witt pot a pair last night, makes you think that the Hockey Gods are finally smiling down on Long Island's team.


Ok, enough for now, though I could go on and on....

On Wednesday I'll have a piece for you on the new-look Wild, featuring interviews with freshly-minted captain Mikko Koivu and long-time favorite Andrew Brunette.

Monday Musings on Road Warrior Devils and Superstar Injuries


Written on 11/02/2009 by Jim Cerny

Off to a perfect 7-0-0 start on the road following Saturday's 2-1 shootout win in Tampa, the Devils are proving to be real Road Warriors, playing intelligent, gritty, resilient hockey.

Take Saturday for example. No Paul Martin. No Johnny Oduya. No Jay Pandolfo. (Still) no Patrick Elias.

No Problem.

Hold the Lightning to 9 shots on goal through 40 minutes of play, but allow them to tie it up on a fluky bounce in the third period.

No problem.

Pummel Antero Nittymaki with wave after wave of shots, but score only once through 65 minutes of play.

No problem.

Top forwards Zach Parise and Travis Zajac get stoned in the shootout, and head coach Jacques Lemaire plays assistant coach Tommy Albelin's hunch and gives David Clarkson his first-ever shootout attempt.

No problem.

Just put it in the books as a "W" because the Devils can seemingly do no wrong on the road. Clarkson scores, Devils remain perfect on the road, and now have the second best road start in the history of the NHL.

The good news: the Devils face the Senators up in Ottawa on Saturday night.

The bad news: the Devils have to play two games on home ice before then.

Oh yeah, forgot to tell you. Amidst the joy of this great road run, the Devils have played downright ugly at the Prudential Center, losing four of their first five home contests.

It's kind of like a reverse Jekyll and Hyde for the Devils. Their games are fairly similar at home and on the road, usually very close affairs decided by one team's mistake here or there. Of their 12 games, nine have been decided by two goals or fewer. They are 6-0-0 in such contests on the road, and 0-3-0 on home ice.

The difference has been that on the road the Devils have not made the killer mistake. At home, they have been the team to blink first.

As Martin Brodeur told The Star Ledger's Rich Chere, "We're not getting outplayed. It's maybe the little things we do on the road. We have to incorporate them into our home game, also."

If I am Lemaire or Lou Lamoriello, one month into the season I would think that what the Devils have accomplished on the road as far character and resiliency far outweighs a slow start at The Rock. Those two traits are vital components of a contender, and they will help turn things around on home ice sooner rather than later.


The spate of injuries that has claimed some of the biggest names in the National Hockey League already this season found another superstar yesterday.

Alex Ovechkin suffered an "upper-body" injury in yesterday's 5-4 loss to the Blue Jackets and is listed as day-to-day. Caps beat writer Tarik El Bashir is speculating that Ovechkin suffered a left shoulder injury follwing a collision with Raffi Torres.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that many of the league's top stars have been KO'd from their respective lineups at a fairly alarming rate to start the season. Ilya Kovalchuk. Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik. Marc Savard. Sergei Gonchar. Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Toews. Johan Franzen. Valtteri Filppula. The list goes on and on, with Ovechkin and Carolina's Eric Staal joining the injured list yesterday.

And this list doesn't even include Phil Kessel, Patrick Elias, or Marian Hossa, all of whom have not played yet this year following off-season sugeries.

So why so many injuries?

Caps owner Ted Leonsis shared a theory with the guys on Hockey This Morning over at XM Home Ice earlier today.

"The schedule is responsible for these injuries," stated Leonsis. "We just played four games in less than six days. We had two sets of three games in four nights one right after the other. It's too much. We have to take a really hard look at this. We are talking about very big men, and a very violent, fast game. Too many games in too few days is a problem."

Good points. But what is the alternative? Play fewer games? Expand the season to include more days off, and, as a result, play the Stanley Cup Finals closer to the month of July? Do not participate in the Olympics?

The answer is that there is no real clear answer. But what is obvious is that the league needs to take a close look at the injury issue. It's not good when any group of players is getting hurt on a regular basis, no matter the sport.

But when it's your top players---the faces of your league---going down one after another, answers must be forthcoming.