Wild Winter Wednesday at Olympics


Written on 2/25/2010 by Jim Cerny

I know Gary Bettman has more things to consider than just the games themselves when he decides his stance on whether or not there will be NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But I'd be hard-pressed to say that what we saw yesterday on the ice---four exciting and truly compelling Quarterfinal ice hockey matches---can not be anything but good for the sport of hockey, in general, and the National Hockey League, in particular.

I will leave the business side to Mr. Bettman. He prefers it that way anyway. I'll focus on what I know better, and that is the game of hockey; and yesterday was a great day for the sport on the grand stage of the Winter Games.

Following are some notes and thoughts from each of yesterday's four Quarterfinal contests, or at least as best I remember them! My head is still somewhat numb from a day that included covering the Rangers return to practice at the MSG Training Center, Tweeting and reporting on all four Olympic games, writing a Rangers' feature on the team's official site, and having spirited back-and-forth about all things Olympic hockey with you great readers and Tweeps over at Twitter.

That's pretty much starting work Wednesday morning and plowing through non-stop until Slovakia (pictured above) finally ousted defending champion Sweden at around 2:30 Thursday morning! But you know what, I have always said this beats working a real job any day!

United States 2 - Switzerland 0 :

*Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller was best player on ice for either team, and he had a remarkable tournament
*Credit U.S. goalie Ryan Miller for remaining focused even with so little work in his end; when called upon, especially early in third period of scoreless game, he came up huge for the Americans
*It flashed through my head when the U.S. lost an apparent goal with 0.0 remaining on clock in second period that Hiller and the Swiss really could steal this game, and I thought back to the 1980 upset authored by the United States over Russia; this would not have been as big an upset, but would've been close
*Often times your best player needs to step forward and win a game for you; Zach Parise did just that for the U.S., scoring twice in the third period; many would say Patrick Kane or Phil Kessel might be the best player on Team USA; in my book it's Zach Parise
*Was so impressed with the qulity chances produced by U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who worked feverishly in offensive zone all night
*Ryan Suter has really emerged into an outstanding two-way defenseman; he has elevated his game on this grand stage
*We all wondered why Chris Drury, in the midst of another down year with the Rangers, was chosen to play for Team USA; watch the tape of yesterday's game again, Drury was out there in every key situation, excelling defensively and in winning one big faceoff after another; he blocked five or six shots, plus generated some offense; he has been terrific all throughout the tournament, among the best for Team USA

Canada 7 - Russia 3 :

*Shocked; I was utterly shocked watching this game unfold, not because Canada played so well and with so much passion---I expected them to be at their best---but moreso because Russia was so far from their best and didn't adjust at all, I thought, to Canada's aggressive play; plus Russia did not meet Canada's intensity and fire on any level whatsoever
*Many people are focusing on Canada's seven goals---and rightfully so, it was an explosion of offense against an elite opponent---but what caught my attention was how well Canada played defensively; they controlled the neutral zone and manned their blueline like a fortress; it was an impressive commitment by the whole team; they generated so much offense off Russian turnovers
*Canada was a beast on the forecheck, and I loved how physical a game they played; they also sent wave after wave of forwards to the net; it had to be dizzying for the Russian defense, which certainly played as if dazed and confused
*Not a second guess, I swear: I was very surprised that Evgeni Nabokov started the second period in goal for Russia after allowing a four-spot in the first; they weren't all his fault, but it looked clear that Nabby was not on top of his game; plus it was an elimination game AND you had Ilya Bryzgalov---in the midst of a career year with Phoenix---ready to replace Nabokov; poor coaching decision
*Corey Perry sort of flys under the radar for Team Canada; nice to see him break out with two-goal game against Russia
*I know he allowed three goals, but when he had to come up big, Roberto Luongo did just that; he really took the final life out of Russians in third period when he stoned Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, and then moments later on the doorstep
*OK, the big late-game issue that Tweeps and I debated far into the night last night: I did not have a problem with Alexander Semin's crunching hit on Dan Boyle in the final minutes, but I had a huge problem with Boyle's retaliatory slew-foot; and c'mon JR on TV constantly saying "You just don't do that to Dan Boyle...he's too much a competitor"...he slew-footed him JR! That's not being a competitor, that's being downright dirty

Finland 2 Czech Republic 0 :

*Hmmmm, how can I say this? OK, Miikka Kiprusoff, Miikka Kiprusoff, Miikka Kiprusoff...well, you get the idea; the Finnish goaltender was ridiculously outstanding---and had to be because his Czech counterpart, Tomas Vokoun, was simply terrifc yet again; I mean RIDICULOUSLY outstanding OK? I have said this for years, but when he is at his best, Kipper is the closest anyone comes to replicating Dominik Hasek with his Gumby-like saves
*If the Finns could just get their power play going, they'd have a much easier time of it; but even with their struggles on the PP, Finland is two wins from the Gold
*I'm sorry, facing one Ruutu is plenty, but having the snarling Jarrko and Tuomo in your face all night has got to be a bitch to play against
*Couldn't help but thinking when I saw Esa Tikkanen---an uber-pest, for sure, back in the day---on the TV screen that he must love the style his Finns play: nasty, gritty, in-your-face; trust me the Ruutus and their like only aspire to be like Tikk
*Great job by NBC getting the Canadian broadcast of this game; I just think Ray Ferraro is a great analyst, and he proved it when he immediately explained that Finland's first goal happened largely because Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina had to chase after his helmet---which had been knocked off---and put it on as per IIHF rules; Kubina thus was not in position to block the shot, whereas---as Ferraro pointed out---he would have been in an NHL game, which does not share this particular rule with the IIHF; great catch, and quick explanation
*Back when I first was covering hockey locker rooms, Ferraro was known as "Radio Ray" because he was always the go-to quote 
*Ferraro on Martin Havlat: "He's been a ghost throughout this tournament!" Great Stuff!
*Sad to see Jaromir Jagr go out there not nearly 100% healhty; he had very little to give the Czechs last night

Slovakia 4 - Sweden 3 :

*Fourth straight Olympics that defending champion has been eliminated in Quarterfinals
*Henrik Lundqvist establishes modern-day Olympic record for consecutive shutout minutes, then allows 2 goals in 37 seconds and four goals total as Sweden is sent home
*How about Sweden tying game with two goals of their own, also in 37-second span; and then in third period Slovakia scores and 38 seconds later Sweden nets one of their own?! Two goals in 37 seconds twice, and in 38 seconds once!! Odds on that were......
*Just when I thought I was going to write about the shame of Peter Forsberg being a shadow of his former self, he steps up big-time for Swedes
*Speaking of stepping up how about Marian Hossa's all-around effort for Slovakia, as well as Pavol Demitra's perfectly-placed---and incredibly timely---goal?
*Must admit, I kept thinking Swedes were going to come back, tie this one again, and somehow win it; that's not disrespecting Slovakia---who I believe has been vastly underrated---but more a credit to Sweden; but credit the Slovaks, they did not let it happen
*How about Jaroslav Halak proving himself big-time in nets for Slovakia? Carey Who in Montreal?
*Nice catch by cameras after game, Rangers' teammates Marian Gaborik of Slovakia and Sweden's Lundqvist in a sincere hug on the handshake line

Super Sunday, but No Miracle


Written on 2/22/2010 by Jim Cerny

Let's get this straight. Team USA's 5-3 victory over their Canadian counterparts last night was a hugely important victory. Huge. And the game itself was a classic, a truely epic battle. And the result most assuredly was an upset.

But this was not comparable to 1980's Miracle on Ice as some have suggested in their post-game hysteria and rush to coin the moment

For sure some of the same elements of the 1980 Olympic win over Russia were there last night for the United States. Team USA clearly was in the role of underdog in both games. Team USA was extremely opportunistic offensively, and took advantage of average goaltending by a world-class goaltender (Russia's Vladislav Tretiak in '80, Canada's Martin Brodeur last night). Team USA was tenacious, playing with high levels of grit and passion in their game. Team USA seemed on the ropes at many points during each game, being vastly outplayed, only to be saved by their own brilliant goaltending (Jim Craig in 1980 and Ryan Miller, with 42 saves, last night).

But let's not forget that in 1980 the US squad was made up of a bunch of college kids and was playing one of the truely elite teams of all-time assembled by Russia. Plus it was a medal round game, with the winner advancing to the Gold Medal Game. And add to the mix the spectre of the Cold War at its height.

There is pretty much no way any United States men's ice hockey team can ever top what was accomplished in February of 1980.

What happened last night was equal parts exhilerating and impressive. But keep in mind that it was a preliminary round contest, and that Team USA consists of 23 professional National Hockey League players---yes, younger and less experienced on the whole than many of its rivals, but still not college boys like the '80 squad.

No one was eliminated from the tournament last night. While Canada needs to regroup, find its collective game, and play an extra contest in order to reach the Quarterfinals, they are still very much alive in the Winter Games. Back in 1980, the Russians were ousted from the tourny by a group of exuberant, hard-working kids, and were sent home in utter humiliation. Team Canada, carrying the weight of its host country in Vancouver, might be somehwat embarrassed, but they are far from done.

After the game last night Miller wisely cautioned that his younger teammates needed to remain focused on the task at hand, which is medaling in these 2010 Games, and not revel too much in their exciting win over Canada.

One of those kids, winger Bobby Ryan, was on point when he said, "It's just a game, it really is. It gets us a bye. It gets us a couple days of rest...other than that, I don't think people should read too much into it."

It is that kind of mindset that wins championships, or in this case, medals---whether it be Gold, Silver, or Bronze.

And the road ahead is a difficult one, though made easier, for sure, with yesterday's victory and better seeding in the Quarters. Still, defending-champ Sweden has made a statement of its own winning all three of its preliminary round games---two by shutout, including last night's dominating 3-0 win over their arch-rival, Finland. Russia has shaken off its loss to Slovakia and made a statement, as well, yesterday with a 4-2 win over a very good Czech Republic team, with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin playing at elite levels.

And Canada will be heard from again. They nearly lost to the Swiss. They were beaten by the United States. Both on home ice in front of a rabid pro-Canada crowd. But this team has too much skill and pride to not rebound during the medal round.

Don't forget, Canada dominated---yes, dominated---large portions of yesterday's battle with the United States. They were physical in both ends and produced glorious scoring chances against Miller, who was just simply superb between the pipes for the US. Clean up their mistakes in the defensive zone, receive an uptick in goaltending---are those deafening roars or what for Roberto Luongo to replace Brodeur?---and Canada will be there battling for a medal.

To me, two plays among the many great ones in last night's truely awesome contest stand out as symbolic of the difference between winning and losing for the United States.

The first was Miller's save on Jarome Iginla during a scramble in which Miller was flat on his stomach and could only raise his glove so high and Iginla, from ten feet out, fired the puck right into the gloved hand of Miller, unable to lift it another few inches with three-quarters of the net wide open.

The other, destined to be a classic moment in US Olympic history, was when Ryan Kesler---a beast all night, by the way---just willed his way to the loose puck and scored the empty-netter setting off that incredible burst of emotion as he was buried by Zach Parise and other teammates behind Canada's goal.

Some luck. Some incredible play. And wanting it so, so badly.

The result, United States 5-Canada 3.

Now, a day to catch our collective breath, then elimination games on Tuesday and the Quarterfinals begin on Wednesday.

Enjoy the ride. But no more comparisons to the Miracle on Ice, please?!

Thinking Olympics


Written on 2/20/2010 by Jim Cerny

Sorry, didn't get my men's ice hockey Olympic predictions in before the games actually started, but let me play a little catch up here on a few fronts.

Players I am Most Excited to See Play in the Olympics:
Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, and Zigmund Palffy.

I miss all three of these former NHL stars and am enjoying seeing them play on the Olympic stage immensely. I miss Jagr's tremendous skill and oversized personality. I miss Fedorov's grace and still-breathtaking skating. And I miss Ziggy because he was a buddy of mine when I broadcasted for the Islanders, a guy with a great heart and sense of humor to go along with an underrated skill set offensively. Good to see all three of these players again.

Favorite Olympic Game, So Far: Slovakia 2, Russia 1.

I was tempted to go with Canada's 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland, a game in which Jonas Hiller nearly backstopped one of the biggest upsets in recent Olympic history. Instead I chose Slovakia's 2-1 shootout victory over Russia, a game in which the Slovaks played solid defense and received excellent goaltending from Jaroslav Halak to set the stage for the upset, which was cemented on Pavol Demitra's shootout score. Huge win for Slovakia, too, coming off tourny-opening loss to Czech Republic.

Most Anticipated Game to Come: Sweden vs. Finland (tomorrow).

Yes, of course I am looking forward to the United States-Canada matchup tomorrow night, and I fully expect it to be an intense tilt. But Sweden and Finland, great natural rivals just like USA-Canada, in a rematch of the 2006 Gold Medal Game should be the better contest. The Finns likely will bring out the best in Sweden, which looked sluggish in a 4-2 win yesterday over Belarus. Tell you what, great hockey day tomorrow all the way around: Russia-Czech Republic at 3:00, USA-Canada at 7:40, and Sweden-Finland at 12 midnight. Should be the best hockey day of the tournament.

Can the U.S. Win a Medal?

Yes, the United States can win a medal, but the better question is will they? So far I have seen a hard-working team with flashes of brilliance offensively (David Backes take a bow on both accounts) that has received tremendous goaltending so far from Ryan Miller. Sunday will be a huge test because Canada will be amped up to take out the US on home ice, and will have the extra motivation of trying to finish ahead of the United States in Group A's preliminary round. Add in to the mix that Canada feels the need to show they can play much better than they have done, so far. A US win tomorrow would go a long way to boosting the team's self confidence heading into the medal round. Still when it's said and done, I think the US is on the outside looking in at the medal ceremony. Miller is the one player who can change that, however.

Team That Could Spoil Russia-Canada Final: Finland.

OK, I am like most of you: I expect Russia and Canada---despite uneven starts to the Winter Games---to play for the Gold Medal a week from tomorrow. Sweden, the Czech Republic, the United States, even Slovakia are all capable of derailing that final depending upon equal amounts of good fortune and stellar play. But it is Finland that could be the most likely party poopers in the tourny. My reasoning--other than the Finns awesome goaltending, solid chemistry, and excellent talent level---has much to do with history. It seems each Olympics Finland is overlooked, and then when all is said and done, there they are on the medal stand. No gold just yet, but a silver and a bronze from the past three Winter Games. There's just something about the Finns.

Shameless Rangers Radio Plug: Interview with Craig Patrick.

If you remember exactly where you were when The Miracle on Ice happened---as I do---or you were not born yet and want to learn more about the amazing journey of the 1980 Gold Medal-winning US Olympic Hockey Team, then check out the fascinating interview Steve Gelbs and I did with one of the architects of that team ---assistant coach Craig Patrick--- on Rangers Radio this week.

Patrick---who went on to become the GM and Coach of two NHL clubs, the Rangers and Penguins, as well as a two-time Stanley Cup winner--- provides so much background insight and information into what is, arguably, the greatest sports story ever in the United States. Perhaps most interesting, Patrick tells us that there was no miracle involved, he believed this team would medal in Lake Placid.

"Don't forget that even though we didn't have NHL or professional players on that team at that time, we had a team full of players who would go on to play big roles in the National Hockey League after the Olympics," stated Patrick. "The talent was there, and we knew it."

Tune in. Patrick provides some really good stuff on this, the 30th, anniversary of The Miracle on Ice.  

An Evening at the Round Table


Written on 2/16/2010 by Jim Cerny

Just wanted to put up a quick note thanking Daniel Akeson and Greg Donahue of The Blueshirt Bulletin for asking me to take part in a Writers Roundtable (well actually the table was rectangular, but you get the gist...) and Q&A with Rangers' fans last night in Midtown.

It was a pleasure chatting with the fans, answering their questions, and sharing stories from my current work and past. And I appreciate that they didn't stone me---or at the very least boo me---when I recounted my days as the play-by-play voice of the hated Islanders! Much appreciated everyone!

I should have known it was going to be a good night when I walked into the room where the meeting was being held by The Rangers Fan Club and someone shouted from across the room "Hey Jim! It's me, Sal! I used to call you all the time on Rink Rap!"

Well, shoot, of course I remembered Sal! He was one of the awesome regulars who phoned in on my hockey talk show in the '90's. People like Sal made that show a popular hit, and really helped launch my career in the NHL. So, hell yeah, I remember Sal; and it was a pleasure to be able to thank him in person for his long-time support.

And making the night the more fun was to be able to share the roundtable with Andrew Gross, my friend and fellow Rangers' beat writer for The Record in New Jersey. Needless to say we had a few laughs, and even shared some of them with the fans!

Like the time Gross and I drove to Montreal in October to cover Rangers-Canadiens. At the border the patrolman spoke in rapid-fire French then English, and a befuddled Gross replied in Spanish!!! What the hell was he thinking? Needless to say the patrol guard was not amused, spitting out, "I ask you a question in English and in French, and you answer me in Spanish!!!" That we ever were allowed to pass through and into Canada is only by the grace of hockey. Explaining that we were hockey writers helped smooth over the situation! Great job Gross, as I have kept reminding him for months since!

In any case, off topic for a bit, but thanks to all the fans who showed up last night, including a fellow Franklin and Marshall alum! Small world that I run into a fellow F&M classmate at a Rangers Writers Roundtable!! Crazy!

And keep up the good work, Dan and  Greg. Blueshirt Bulletin has a neat history, beginning with my friend Rick Resnick's orginal monthly Rangers newspaper in the '90's to the current edition and web site produced by Dan and Greg now.

Finally, here's a plug for two hard-working guys: for further info on Blueshirt Bulletin, check out their web site today!

NHL Thoughts on a Snowy Day


Written on 2/10/2010 by Jim Cerny

So as the snow descends here in New York, and I try to figure out how I am getting to The Garden to work tonight's Rangers-Predators game (yes, by the way, officials have confirmed the game is on and will start at 7:05 PM as scehduled), let me share a few random NHL thoughts.

Lehtonen In; Turco Out?

The Dallas Stars made an interesting trade yesterday, picking up injury-prone goaltender Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta for defense prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th round draft pick.

My immediate reactions were: Marty Turco (above photo) is playing his final days in Dallas, and Don Waddell better have a game plan for all the young defensemen he is stockpiling in Atlanta because he sure isn't filling the club's biggest need, offensively-capabale forwards.

Turco, at age 34 and with a salary of just under $6 million, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. His play has declined the past few seasons, though it should be noted he was tremendous in the playoffs just two years ago leading the Stars to the Western Conference Finals. Once a Vezina Trophy-candidate, now Turco is a good goalie who is not considered good enough for a legit contender.

I think Turco will go, but will it be now---prior to the trade deadline---or as a free agent this summer? Not sure the market is hot for Turco right now, especially with cheaper options like Martin Biron available.

And Dallas also has veteran Alex Auld in the mix, too. So Stars coach Marc Crawford will have to find playing time for three NHL goalies, unless someone is moved.

As for Lehtonen, the 26 year-old has missed the entire season following a pair of back surgeries, just the latest in a long line of ailments he has suffered. The second overall pick in 2002---behind Rick Nash---Lehtonen never stayed healthy enough long enough to make an impact in Atlanta. The one year he was healthy, though---in 2006-07---he played a career-high 64 games and led the Thrashers to the playoffs. Of course he was atrocious in that four-round sweep at the hands of the Rangers, and his regular season numbers since have not been good.

Interestingly, I was chatting with Olli Jokinen after Rangers' practice yesterday and Lehtonen's name came up---even though he had not been traded yet, just a coincidence. Jokinen said Lehtonen is "a really good goalie, really good. I enjoyed playing with him (for Finland in international competition)."

Lehtonen will benefit from being on a better defensive team, though. He is a RFA at the end of the season, and the Stars will likely qualify him and begin to build around him moving forward, a somewhat risky proposition considering the myriad of health issues he has had.

As for Waddell, make it two cornerstones traded in the past week, though this one doesn't sting nearly as much as dealing Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils. Still, another young defenseman? Hmmm. He added Johnny Oduya already to the mix that includes Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, and Pavel Kubina. That clearly is a strength moving forward. But this club needs offensive help up front to join Evander Kane and Rich Peverley in the years to come. Let's see if Waddell delves into that depth on the back end to help up front.

Gaborik Suffers Cut in Practice

This is why, as a reporter, you go to practice every day. You just never know when a big story could happen.

I'm standing with the other reporters yesterday at Rangers practice, keeping an eye on the rink while also engaging in the banter that is part of our daily routine. Marian Gaborik and other players were finishing practice with some breakaway drills against goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Just part of the daily norm.

That is until Gaborik leaped over Lundqvist who had come out of his crease and slid to knock the puck away. When Gaborik did not immediately get up, I figured he was playing around. Lundqvist told me later on that he thought the same thing.

"But then I went from thinking he was joking to hoping that he was," Lundqvist told me.

No such luck. Lundqvist's skate lifted in the air and Gaborik did not clear it. As he hobbled off the ice, dropped on the bench, and then eventually limped to the locker room, we all feared the worst. Groin, again. Maybe a knee sprain. Ankle perhaps.

Fortunately for the Rangers and their leading scorer (35 goals, 69 points), none of the above. But frightening nonetheless.

"It's not like a twist to the groin or a knee or anything like that," explained Jim Schoenfeld, the Rangers assistant coach and assistant general manager after practice. "It's a laceration."

Lundqvist's skate blade had cut Gaborik's thigh---though originally thought to be his knee. Gaborik was stitched up, sent home, and we'll see if he can play tonight, blizzard be damned.

Scary moment for the team and the players involved. But as Andrew Gross, Rangers' beat reporter for The Record in New Jersey, pointed out, could have been just as scary for the reporters. In this world of Twitter and blogs and instant access, not being at practice yesterday, and missing this potentially big story, would not have been looked kindly upon by those who employ us reporters.

Happily, though, it looks like disaster averted in all areas.

Good for Marty Biron

It has not been a good year for Martin Biron. A No. 1 goalie for the Sabres and Flyers the past decade, he found out no one really wanted him as a UFA this past summer. So he signed with the Islanders, figured to split time with fellow free-agent signee Dwayne Roloson until Rick DiPietro returned from knee surgery. That plan blew up when Roloson outplayed him and his 3.20 goals against and sub .900 save percentage.

He hadn't been in the Islanders' net since December 27---when he played quite well actually in a loss to his old club in Philly---and had not won a game for the Isles since November 13 in Raleigh, NC.

That is until last night. Brought back from purgatory, what with DiPietro and Roloson unable to get the Isles a win in their previous seven games, the 32 year-old Biron turned aside 24 shots as the Islanders snapped their skid with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Predators.

And I say Good For Him. Biron has been as good soldier this season, despite difficult and disappointing times. And though this is only one game, one moment, for him, he deserved last night, deserved that victory.

Where does it go from here? We'll see. A UFA again this summer, he would seem to be a solid pickup for a contender looking for an experienced No. 2 goalie before the deadline. Would make no sense for the Islanders to carry three NHL goaltenders, though they may have competition in dealing Biron now that the Stars could consider trading either Turco or Auld. Perhaps GM Garth Snow held on to Biron a touch too long? Maybe last night was an audition for possible suitors.

No matter. It was a good night for a deserving Marty Biron.

Kovie Upstages Ovie


Written on 2/05/2010 by Jim Cerny

Usually when Alex Ovechkin comes to town---any hockey town really, but in particular New York City, where he just loves to play and torment the Rangers and their fans---he seizes all of the attention and focus.

But not yesterday, however.

Oh, Ovechkin was on Broadway alright last night, but the spotlight instead was on his fellow countryman, Ilya Kovalchuk, who was nowhere near Madison Square Garden.

Let's just say it's the night Kovie upstaged Ovie.

Even before the game between the Rangers and Capitals started, members of the media---and there were more than the norm at last night's game what with Ovechkin and the Caps looking for a 12th straight win and Olli Jokinen set to make his home-ice debut for the Rangers---huddled in groups to discuss rumors that Kovalchuk was soon to be traded.

Just 24 hours prior Thrashers GM Don Waddell had released information that Kovie rejected a pair of mega-deals---$101 million over 12 years, $70 mill over seven years---and was opting to head to UFA status this summer. As a result, Waddell announced that Kovie would be traded.

But to whom? And how soon?

Speculation flew around the press room at The Garden as reporters checked in with sources, shared what they had heard, and probably made up a few rumors, as well. I made a note to myself that it just seemed funny there was little to no chatter about the upcoming game at MSG, and Kovie's name was mentioned a heckuva' lot more than Ovie's.

What followed was one wild night, just a great fun night to be a hockey reporter. The Rangers and Caps played an exciting seesaw contest where goals and the power play ruled the day in a 6-5 Washington victory.

Ovechkin's brilliance was on full display as he notched two goals---including the hugely important one with 8.5 seconds to go in the second period that cut the Caps' deficit to one---and an assist. Nicklas Backstrom put forth a five-point effort. Vinny Prospal tied a career high with four points. Jokinen scored his first goal as a Ranger in a two-point effort. Four power play goals for the Rangers, three for Washington. Great stuff.

But as Ovechkin was throwing himself into a wild celebration over his team's third-period comeback and 12th consecutive victory, reporters were busy verifying web reports and rumors that Kovalchuk had been traded to the New Jersey Devils.

Ovie on the grand New York stage---even scoring his 500th career point (in only his 373rd game, I might add) turning in another virtuoso performance, and upstaged by Kovie.

"I wish him good luck," Ovechkin said to nhl.com's Dan Rosen after the game. "He's a good friend of mine and a great player. It was a big trade."

OK, Ovechkin lost the spotlight last night. And as far as big trades go, this one is the biggest of the season, certainly trumping the recent ones that saw the Rangers land Jokinen and the Maple Leafs acquire Dion Phaneuf and J-S Giguere.

It is the biggest deal of the season because it involves a mega-superstar player going to a legit Stanley Cup contender. Plus it may also be a fatal blow to the Thrashers franchise in Atlanta, where Waddell noted yesterday, "we're struggling with attendence as it is."

I understand Waddell had to trade Kovalchuk. Waddell tried his damndest to ink Kovie with UFA status looming over the contract talks. When Kovie rejected Atlanta's latest offers, he had to be dealt. The Thrashers had to receive something for him as opposed to just letting him walk on July 1.

But did Waddell have to rush into making this trade as he did yesterday? I understand, as Bob McKenzie says over at TSN, that Waddell has studied the market and knows it much better than I. But what did he have to lose by seeing teams react to the news from Wednesday that Kovie indeed was going to be traded?

So the Thrashers get Johnny Oduya---a solid defenseman, but no star, who will be tested as to how good he really is now that he is out of New Jersey's defensemen-friendly system. And they get winger Niclas Bergfors, perhaps a top-six forward, a player who started very strong in this, his rookie, season, but who fell out of favor with Jacques Lemaire. And they get prospect Patrice Cormier, suspended the rest of the year by the QMJHL, but considered a future third liner in the NHL one day. And the Thrashers land New Jersey's late first round pick, while also swapping second rounders and sending Anssi Salmela to the Devils, as well.

That is not an overwhelming package. I know Waddell was not going to win this trade no matter whom he acquired. You never do when you are forced to deal a superstar, especially one whom the receiving team does not know if they can sign to a long-term deal. But there was not a better offer out there, or wouldn't have been in the coming days?

As for the Devils, solid smart move by the master, Lou Lamoriello. I personally do not believe that Kovalchuk will sign with New Jersey after July 1---that is just speculative on my part---but for the here and now Lamoriello did not give up assets he can not replace from within anyway, and he received a superstar player to jolt his team's offense for the stretch run and post-season. Not too dissimilar to his acquisition of Alexander Mogilny in 2000, a move that helped spark another Stanley Cup run in New Jersey.

"What he brings, he can do things a lot of people can’t do," Lamoriello said of Kovalchuk in typical understated manner.

Kovie is sitting at 31 goals and 58 points in 49 games this season. He has 328 career goals already, and has strung together seven straight seasons of 30 or more goals. Twice he has scored 52 goals.

For a team that is in the bottom third of scoring in the league, this is an insane offensive boost for the Devils. How about a power play in a tight playoff game that can feature both Kovalchuk and fellow sniper Zach Parise? And if Patrick Elias can get healthy, add him to the mix, too. Not too shabby.

“We felt Kovalchuk was a player who could come and fill the need that we felt we had for an explosive scorer and someone who could add a different dimension to our power play with the type of shot,” Lamoriello said. “Then it was just the case of trying to make it work somehow where we could not sacrifice tomorrow.”

Will Kovalchuk chafe under Lemaire's preferred style of play as Marian Gaborik often did in Minnesota under Lemaire's watch? Will Lemaire allow Kovalchuk the freedom he so craves in the offensive end? Will we find out how badly Kovalchuk really wants to win now that he finally is on a team with legit aspirations to do so?

"[New Jersey] is a good team and it's a great chance to play in the playoffs and go far in the playoffs," Kovalchuk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It's sad at the same time because now -- I can say it -- I've been a Thrasher for eight years. I'm appreciative of everything, the organization and the fans."

Sad day for the Thrashers and their fans. Exhilerating deal for the Devils and theirs. And just plain fun from an NHL reporter's---or fan's---perspective.

Rangers Land Olli Jokinen


Written on 2/02/2010 by Jim Cerny

Now that the Olli Jokinen-to-Broadway trade has been completed one big question remains: will it be worth the wait for both the Rangers and the Flames?

Seemingly done on Sunday, only to be held up then nearly dead late Sunday/early Monday, the anticipated trade of Jokinen and rugged Brandon Prust to the Rangers for forwards Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik finally was consummated in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

What held the trade up and nearly sent it sprialing to its death even after all four players had heard their names mentioned in various media reports about the deal?

Some reports claim it was Kotalik's fault, that he couldn't decide whether or not to waive his limited no-trade clause. Other reports state that fault lies with the Sutter brothers who insisted that Jokinen be in the lineup for last night's tilt against the Flyers at the Saddledome.

Either way it was a confusing, bizarre, somewhat embarrassing, and potentially damaging (if the potential trade had completely blown up) situation.

Prust said that he was up and pacing all of Sunday night/Monday morning waiting to hear official word from the Flames. When the call didn't come, he and Jokinen---fatigued both mentally and physically---dressed and played in the eventual 3-0 loss to the Flyers. As soon as the game was over the two learned of their fate.

"You play hard every time you go on the ice no matter the distractions," Jokinen said after the game. "You play for that sweater and the logo on the front."

The 31 year-old Jokinen, a former 3rd overall pick of the LA Kings and a six-time 20-goal scorer, did not seem happy at all about the trade. He said, "It's a real slap in the face to be traded."

He has now been traded five times in his 11-year career. This is the first time Jokinen has responded to being traded in this angry of a fashion. Perhaps he feels that the Sutters are making him---along with Dion Phaneuf---the scapegoat for Calgary's brutal play through January.

"I was hoping to stay here the rest of my career," said Jokinen. "It's a brutal business. But it comes with the salary we make. $5 million, 11 goals, that's not going to cut it."

Of course had Jokinen been more on a pace for, say, the 29 goals he scored a year ago, he wouldn't have been traded. But he hits the nail on the head by pointing out that a salary in excess of five mill, coupled with a scant 11 goals, just doesn't cut it.

I got to know Olli a bit when we were both with the Islanders back in 1999-2000, his only year on the Island after being acquired from LA in the Ziggy Palffy trade and before being shipped to Florida along with Roberto Luongo for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha---quite possibly one of the worst trades in NHL history. Of course he was just a kid, 21, back then, but his commitment to the game did not seem great. He wasn't in the best of shape, hadn't learned to compete and battle every night just yet. But Olli was a good guy, quick with a smile and a joke.

Jokinen matured greatly down in Florida, eventually becoming the captain, an All- Star, and 39-goal scorer and 91 point-producer. He most definitely has shown the ability to be a star, a big physical presence with a sweet skill set to boot. But he is dogged by claims that he is not a team-first player. And last spring was his first go-round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Winning is not in his genes yet.

But all that said, Rangers GM Glen Sather made a good deal here. First he received the best player, by far, involved in the trade. Second Sather acquired a true heavyweight in the 25 year-old Prust, a role that has been passed back and forth this season between the game-but-overmatched Aaron Voros and 37 year-old Donald Brashear. Third Sather rid his club of Kotalik's inflated contract, which called for two more years at $3 million per for the underperforming winger. Fourth he included Higgins, an UFA this coming July who had struggled mightily on the offensive side of the puck in his first year on Broadway. And finally Sather can clear Jokinen's $5 million plus off the books next summer because he, too, is an UFA. So whether or not Jokinen lights it up or not, the Rangers have freed up money next summer, which they wouldn't have done if they were still tied to Kotalik's contract.

As for Sather's counterpart, Darryl Sutter, he completed a true housecleaning this weekend, moving two big names in Phaneuf and Jokinen, along with their big contracts. But did he get enough in return for either player? Time will tell.

So Jokinen and Prust are in Los Angeles, and both will be in the lineup tonight for the Rangers. Jokinen will even center red-hot Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal on the club's top line. Whether he remains there or shifts to a second line to, in theory, spread out the offense, well, only time will tell again.

Rangers' coach John Tortorella knows Olli really well. As coach of the Lightning, Torts saw Olli at his best with the Panthers on a regular basis. Their relationship will be an interesting one to watch develop, or erupt depending upon how you think things will go.

"I'm excited to head back to the Eastern Conference and play for an Original Six team," Jokinen said last night. "And it's a chance to play with one of the better players in the league right now in Gaborik."

A quick final word on Kotalik and Higgins as they leave New York. These are two good men, who both worked hard, but just did not get the job done offensively. Projected as two of the team's top six forwards, neither fit that bill this year. Higgins was a force on the forecheck and was a huge part of the team's excellent penalty killing unit. But he just could not score. And Kotalik quickly fell out of favor with Torts because of his middling play at even strength. He found his way to the press box when he could not even help out the team on the power play, which is his specialty.

To Kotalik's credit, he was a true professional even as things spiraled downwards for him. He was always available for interviews, and was polite, funny, and gracious. Most importantly he was good supportive teammate.

Higgins grew more and more withdrawn as the season progressed. The sarcasticly funny Long Islander replaced by a much more quiet player who never said so, but sure seemed to want out of New York. But he, too, remained a good, hard-working teammate right up until the end, and should be commended for that. Higgins never stopped working as hard as he could to turn things around.

Hockey Day Helps Change Course of Several Teams


Written on 2/01/2010 by Jim Cerny

Canada's Hockey Day on Saturday was its usual great spectacle, and made for great viewing on The NHL Network for this particular US scribe.

But intriguingly each NHL contest played in Canada that day set forth a chain of events that rocked individual teams and the entire league the folllowing day.

First Ottawa continued its impressive climb up the Eastern Conference standings with a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against the Canadiens. Things are going so well for the Sens, whose win was their ninth in a row, that even Alex Kovalev dented the back of the net against his old club.

The bigger news, though, was Montreal losing its top goal scorer, Mike Cammalleri, to a knee injury. For a team that can be hot-and-cold offensively, seeing their 26-goal scorer go down was a huge blow for the Habs. On Sunday the other shoe dropped, as the Canadiens found out Cammalleri will miss 6-8 weeks of action, a devestating blow for a team battling for a playoff spot.

Next up was Vancouver and Toronto at Air Canada Centre, and Brian Burke's boys must have thought they were dreaming, racing out to a 3-0 lead and chasing Roberto Luongo to the bench in the first period. Dream turned into nightmare, however, as the Canucks scored once in the second and then erupted for four goals in the third to defeat the Leafs 5-3, with Alex Burrows and the Sedin twins taking starring turns.

That collapse was the final straw for Burke who went out and engineered two major trades less than 24 hours later, picking up Dion Phaneuf from Calgary and J-S Giguere from Anaheim in a pair of deals that saw ten players switch jerseys.

Of course Calgary GM Darryl Sutter (above photo) was front and center alongside Burke because it was he---mere hours after his club thrashed Edmonton 6-1 to stem their recent losing ways in the finale of Hockey Day in Canada---who took the leap and traded away the 24 year-old Phaneuf, a First Team NHL All-Star just two years ago.

That pleasing victory over the Oilers did not slow down Sutter's plan to shake up his club. Not only did he ship Phaneuf and two others to Toronto for Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers, Sutter was right on the verge of casting Olli Jokinen away to New York for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins, but something---rumored to be either Sutter's asking for Ryan Callahan instead of Higgins or Kotalik's refusal to waive his partial no-trade clause---upended the deal.

As of today the Flames and Rangers still have been unable to pull off the trade, or some variation thereof, leaving Sutter with an underperforming star who now quite likely will be a pouting, underperforming star when Jokinen is forced to dress for Calagary at home against the Flyers tonight.

What a mess.

And speaking of blown trades, how about the Oilers, Calgary's victim in the last game Saturday night? They've been looking to move defenseman Sheldon Souray now that he is healthy again. Then Souray goes out and seeks to exact revenge against Jarome Iginla on Saturday for the Calgary captain's injury-inducing hit on the Edmonton defenseman earlier in the season. Souray and Iginla drop the gloves, settle their score in a fairly impressive bout, and in the process Souray breaks his hand.

Cancel those trade discussions!

The Oilers can't catch a break, though in this case, I guess they did, only literally.

One very memorable day on Saturday that bled over into Sunday, with ramifications running for the remainder of the season.