Week at a Glance
Lightning losing patience with Lecavalier after latest tussle
By Jon A. Dolezar, SI.com
Players and coaches have been arguing since the beginning of organized sports. But rarely have those disagreements been as public or as heated as the ongoing feud between Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier and head coach John Tortorella.
The Lightning had a very unmerry Christmas after Tortorella benched Lecavalier for the final 15:42 of the second period of Tuesday's 1-1 tie at Boston. Lecavalier didn't hustle back to the defensive zone after a turnover on a three-on-two rush. Tortorella was unimpressed with Lecavalier's desire in the defensive zone following his surrender of the puck to the Bruins, which eventually led to a Rob Zamuner goal on the other end. After the game, the two unloaded on each other to the media at the FleetCenter in a rare and brilliant fit of honesty.
"An awful call," Lecavalier said of Tortorella's decision to bench him. "Offensively, I go with my instincts. If I think the play is to make a play, that's what I do. It didn't work out. I'm just going to keep playing hard. If I get benched for it, that's fine."
Tortorella went off when told what Lecavalier thought about getting benched.
"Interesting. It wasn't the proper call?" Tortorella said. "Let's forget about the backhand turnover that I've seen all year long, let's forget about that. What about the [expletive] effort in the end zone after watching everybody battle trying to keep the puck out of our net? Let's not even talk about instincts, let's talk about simply playing hard. I'm tired of the whining, because we've been patient. So what he says, I really don't give a [expletive]. He has got to start learning again to play with intensity and under the team concept, plain and simple. If he doesn't, he sits. I don't give a [expletive] who he is or who he thinks he is."
The two have had a strained relationship since a contract holdout caused Lecavalier to miss training camp in 2001 and the first two games of the 2001-02 regular season. Tortorella also stripped Lecavalier of the captaincy he held under previous head coach Steve Ludzik. The Lightning believe that Ludzik's laissez-faire attitude toward Lecavalier's development as a team player did a great deal of damage to him as a young, upcoming star around whom the franchise was going to build.
Prior to Tortorella's taking over in January 2001, Lecavalier had the run of the place under Ludzik, who allowed him to call his shots as to what role he played on the power play and who his linemates were. Lecavalier and Tortorella battled through some tough times but appeared to have buried the hatchet last season when Lecavalier scored a career-high 78 points and helped lead the team to its first division title.
Tortorella's spicy reply to Lecavalier's comments prove how irritated he gets when his star center continually floats backhand passes through the middle that get picked off. The Lightning also want Lecavalier to pay the price physically more than he has shown a willingness to do in the past by venturing into the slot to gain quality scoring position and by battling hard in the corners for loose pucks.
"I've been patient with Vinny," Tortorella told the Tampa Tribune on Friday after the feud had a few days to simmer over the Christmas break. "I still don't think we've reached that [point we need to]. It scares me. That's why this has come to a head. Because if you don't realize that there's a problem as a player, then you're not going to solve that problem.
"Having said that, we need this kid. We feel he is a very good player. We're trying to get him down that right road."
But old, deep wounds take a long time to heal, and it's clear from the latest flare-up that the Lecavalier-Tortorella relationship will never be as fun-loving as Jessica and Nick's. They are cut much from the Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston cloth.
Tortorella's grating, challenging coaching style doesn't sit well with all players, and it was the second time he benched Lecavalier in the past month. While the multimillion-dollar superstar normally wins a player-coach battle, the Lightning organization is supportive of Tortorella's tough-love style.
"In my mind, John Tortorella is one of the finest teachers in the game, and we have one of the finest staffs in the league, so I'm not concerned about the teachings," Feaster told the Tribune. "Sometimes it becomes the obligation of the student to apply the lessons."
After scoring a hat trick against the Penguins on Nov. 8, Lecavalier had three goals, five assists and a minus-6 rating in a 21-game stretch. Lecavalier bounced back from another middling performance in Friday's 3-1 loss to the Thrashers (minus-2 and only one shot in 14:09) to play one of his best two-way games in a long time in Saturday's 4-2 win over the Bruins.
Lecavalier scored one of Tampa Bay's team-record three short-handed goals and finished with a plus-1 rating and three shots in 19:03. But his forays back into the defensive zone made it his most complete, inspired game in a while. The Lightning aren't asking him to be Bob Gainey or Jere Lehtinen and compete for the Selke Trophy; they just want him not to leave men unmarked in his own end.
With two strikes against him, the organization may be running thin on patience with Lecavalier and his prima donna tendencies. It would be a shame for him to continue to play without an edge to his game and never develop into the star player that everyone knows he has the potential to be. As Eric Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail intimated on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, Lecavalier is in danger of turning into Pierre Turgeon if he doesn't start to rein in his selfish play and acquiesce to Tortorella's desire for him to get his nose dirty.
The talent is clearly there, but Lecavalier's heart and desire to play a hard-working team style remain questionable. If nothing else, the Lightning continue to live up to their team nickname by providing the greatest fireworks show in the NHL.
Unfreezing the rosters
The best little tournament in the world
"No NHL team can afford not to send people to this championship," director of NHL European scouting Goran Stubb told the IIHF Web site. "Those clubs who are the most dilligent with their European scouting are the ones with the most success. Just look at Detroit and Ottawa."
This year's tournament features future NHL stars Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby of Canada, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter of the United States, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin of Russia and Jiri Hudler and Rostislav Olesz of the Czech Republic.
Luckily for fans in the U.S., the NHL Center Ice package is picking up the TSN feed of all Team Canada games. NESN, FOX Sports Net North and CSTV will broadcast Team USA games on a tape-delayed basis in the medal round. You can follow the U.S. action via the radio broadcast at USA Hockey's Web site, while Hockey Canada's site will have the Canadian broadcasts from The Fan 590 in Toronto.
Calgary at Edmonton -- 8 p.m. EST Sunday
New Jersey at N.Y. Islanders -- 7 p.m. EST Monday
Toronto at Florida -- 7:30 p.m. EST Monday
Vancouver at Colorado -- 9 p.m. EST Monday
Montreal at Dallas -- 8:30 p.m. EST Wednesday
Los Angeles at Phoenix -- 9 p.m. EST Wednesday
Pittsburgh at Nashville -- 3 p.m. EST Thursday
Detroit at Carolina -- 7 p.m. EST Friday
Plus: Joe Sakic -- The Avs' captain has 18 points in the past 10 games and carried the team in the absence of Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya. Sakic has worked his way up to a tie for fourth in the scoring race and is clearly enjoying his best season since he won the Hart Trophy in 2000-01, when he finished with 118 points.
Minus: Sergei Fedorov -- The swift-skating Russian scored a goal in the Mighty Ducks' 3-2 loss to the Panthers on Saturday, but No. 91 has just five points in the past 12 games. Mike Babcock said in early December that Anaheim's most talented players have to be the team's best players every night, but Fedorov isn't giving a consistent effort, and it's showing in the Ducks' results.
Plus: Marty Turco -- Though he gave up three goals on Saturday, Turco had the best stretch in club history over the previous seven games, allowing one goal or less in seven straight starts. Turco became the first goalie to give up one goal or less in seven consecutive starts since the Rangers' John Vanbiesbrouck did it over the course of eight consecutive starts in 1992.
Minus: Denis Arkhipov -- The immensely talented Predators center has been demoted to the fourth line by head coach Barry Trotz. Nashville has grown tired of Arkhipov's lack of production (three goals and seven assists in 35 games), and his pointless streak hit eight games on Saturday.
Plus: Evgeni Nabokov -- After Vesa Toskala had emerged as the Sharks' best bet in the nets for a while, Nabokov seems to be wresting control of the No. 1 job back from the fabulous Finn. Nabokov is almost back to .500 for the season (7-8-7) thanks to his 3-0-1 record over the past week. Nabby had allowed just two goals in three games before giving up four on Saturday, but the Sharks hung on for a 4-4 tie with the Kings to stay even with Los Angeles atop the Pacific Division.
Minus: Michael Peca -- The Islanders' captain has just two goals in his past 23 games and one of those was an empty-netter. The team is winning again after hitting a nasty dip around Thanksgiving, but New York really needs Peca to step up his offensive production now that Alexei Yashin is going to be out for up to three months.
"I was awful. The first two periods, it was an uphill battle. I was just trying to play smart, not to do too many stupid things and just play defense. I was bad." -- Avs center Peter Forsberg, after returning to the lineup Saturday following 19 games on injured reserve with a groin strain.
"We've had a lot of pressure on us. We've not met expectations. But now we're getting some effort back. We weren't getting any breaks, but now we are." -- Stars left winger Brenden Morrow, after the Stars improved to 17-16-4-0 with a 4-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
"I try not to think about how many games it's been or how many days it's been since I played. It doesn't help your mind to focus in on that. I will accept whatever role they have for me: one game every 10 or one game every 20. These guys obviously knew I wasn't feeling as comfortable as if I was playing all the time, and they did a good job of carrying the play and not allowing many shots." -- Devils backup goalie Corey Schwab, who earned a shutout Saturday in only his second start of the season.
"Snydes was a great guy. He meant a lot to me and he was a great teammate and a great person. I'm going to miss him forever. I just want to thank the Snyder family for their support. It's been unbelievable. Graham, LuAnn, Jake and Erica have given me so much strength and they are an amazing family." -- Thrashers right winger Dany Heatley, speaking to the media on Friday for the first time since his Sept. 29 car accident, which killed his teammate and friend Dan Snyder.
Canadiens RW Michael Ryder -- The Habs have been a bit starved for scoring this season, but the 6-foot, 196-pound Ryder has been a pleasant surprise offensively. Ryder has seven goals and 14 assists in 36 games, and his 21 points rank him third behind Mike Ribeiro and Sheldon Souray for scoring. Ryder is tied with Islanders right wing Trent Hunter for the rookie scoring lead, and the Newfoundland native tops the assists ledger for first-year players with 14.
The Canadiens grew increasingly excited about Ryder's potential when he scored 34 goals and 33 assists in 69 games for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs last season, before adding 11 goals and six assists in the postseason to help Hamilton reach Game 7 of the Calder Cup finals. Ryder scored 108 points in 63 games with the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL in 1999-00, so his reputation was built on being a scorer in juniors. Habs head coach Claude Julien coached Ryder with both Hull and Hamilton, so Julien's presence behind the bench in Montreal certainly helped Ryder's chances of becoming a regular.
But Ryder has made the most of the opportunity presented to him, and the 23-year-old has been playing frequently with Canadiens captain Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik on one of the Canadiens' top two lines. Ryder looks like he should have a regular place among the Habs' forwards for a long time to come.
Though he's not a gifted skater, Ryder has a hard, accurate shot and possesses tremendous hockey sense. His positioning allows him to get excellent scoring chances and the puck seems to find him around the net. On a team that is struggling to score goals, Ryder is a valuable commodity who is playing well beyond his years.
.292 -- Boston Bruins' winning percentage (1-6-4-1) over the past 12 games.
14 -- Consecutive games in which the Philadelphia Flyers allowed the first goal of the game, a streak they broke by scoring first against the Avalanche on Saturday.
38 -- Consecutive penalties killed by the Dallas Stars.
19,052 -- Standing-room-only crowd in attendance at the Phoenix Coyotes' first game at the new Glendale Arena, 1,253 more than the building's listed capacity and 2,852 more than the maximum at their former home of America West Arena.
24,444 -- Amount of salary forfeited by Kings left wing Kip Brennan, who began serving a 10-game suspension Saturday for returning to the ice on Friday after being ordered to the dressing room following a scuffle with less than two minutes left.
Our best guess at what the playoff seedings will look like.
This list will be updated each Sunday during the season.
Each week during the season, this space will be devoted to your comments on a particular issue.
Last week's topic: Which team will win the World Junior Championships?
Of course the Canadians will win the World Junior Championship. Starting with our goaltending and our size and, of course, the huge Canadian heart, the gold is in the bag again. This tourney is almost as big as the Olympics in Canada. -- Brian Runciman, Oakvile, Ontario
Since I'm from Canada, I would have to say Team Canada, of course. However, it is going to be a close call -- it will either be Russia or Canada. They have always duked it out in the past, and I hope that it is our turn to win sometime. -- Nick Kelly, Toronto
Only Canada cares about stuff like that, so Canada will win. -- Matt Gypin, Denver
Every year I say Canada, and it seems like every year the Russians beat us. But honestly, on paper, who doesn't like the talent Canada has on that roster? If they put it all together, they should walk away with it. -- Kyle Stinn, Calgary
I think it will be a great tournament, but in the end, the Canadians will take it. The main reason being that Marc-Andre Fleury is the goalie -- that guy is amazing. With him the Canadians almost won it last year, and with him this year and the young Wayne Gretzky in the making, Sidney Crosby, the Canadians should take it over the Russians. -- Marc Oliver, Grahamstown, South Africa
Anyone who tries to pick a winner in this tournament is just guessing. I've watched this tournament every year since I can remember, and one thing is for sure -- it is unpredictable. The best you can do is pick who you think is going to be in the gold-medal game, and I think it's going to be Canada and Russia. Who will win between those two? We will just have to wait and see. -- Josh Lowney, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Come on. Who's going to win the World Juniors? Do you really have to ask? I think a more interesting battle will be for the silver medal behind Canada. -- Jason Lainchbury, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Canada. With Sidney Crosby, how can they be stopped? This is the kid that Gretzky says has the best chance to break all of his records. Not to mention they always have a bunch of blue chippers. -- Tyler McCoy, St. Charles, Mo.
Canada will win, without a doubt. They will have last year's MVP back (Marc-Andre Fleury) and are always a threat going into a tournament. They also have 16-year-old phenom Sidney Crosby. -- Neil Bartlett, Orlando
Being from Finland, I'll naturally be rooting for my home country. But here are five other teams that can easily whoop Finland's ass, while Finland can do the same to those teams as well. Junior Championships have always been more tightly contested than, say, the yearly World Championships. This is because scouts are out there checking for more potential superstars of the future, and it's usually the very first time these kids are representing their country. So, realistically, it could any of the top six nations. -- Will Pullinen, Helsinki
Team Canada has all the tools to win this year's tournament. With Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury leading this team, there shouldn't be any team from around the world to stop these guys. But we've heard that for the past five years and the best Canada has seen is silver. -- Sheldon Walker, Leduc, Alberta
If it wasn't for some guy name Fleury, I would definitely say watch out for the U.S. and Russia. Both have solid teams, but with Fleury in net and a solid defense, as well as the top young prospect the NHL has seen for years (Crosby), I have to be a homer and go with Canada. -- Eric, Toronto
Do you even have to ask this question? We were all born with skates on our feet and toothless grins on our faces. Canada. -- Jason Streefkerk, Vancouver
Gotta go with Canada here. Defense wins championships, and the Canadians are as strong, if not stronger, than any other nation here. It starts in net with Marc-Andre Fleury and builds out with a big, punishing D. They may be lacking a dominant scorer, but they have four lines that are responsible defensively and can contribute offensively. With their depth at every position, their seven-year drought should end this year. The USA is also going to be tough, returning 10 or 12 players. Don't count out Finland -- the host country will be stubborn. A total underdog to make some noise this year could be Switzerland -- they are quickly working their way up the ladder of world hockey powers. -- Josh Aldrich, St. Paul, Alberta
Canada, for sure. They've got Sidney Crosby, plus Fleury in net. No one else has a starting goalie in the NHL manning their crease. -- Nick Koshiw, Detroit
This week's topic: What is your New Year's resolution for your favorite NHL team?
Send your opinion in the form at the right.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com. The Week at a Glance will appear each Sunday during the regular season.