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.

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