Big trouble in Big D
Tippett benches stars, but was the message heard?
Posted: Thursday October 16, 2003 12:58PM; Updated: Thursday October 16, 2003 9:18PM
It's hard to get a grasp on the new season in just eight days. But there hasn't been this much worry about Dallas since Ewing Oil was in financial trouble and Southfork got foreclosed on.
The Stars sit at .500 despite playing four games against teams that went a combined 130-130-43-25 last season. And head coach Dave Tippett benched captain Mike Modano, defenseman Sergei Zubov and goaltender Marty Turco for the third period of Monday's 4-3 loss at Buffalo.
Modano bounced back to play a season-high 26:17 in Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Boston, more than double the 11:57 he played on Monday. Zubov's pine time may even more surprising than Modano's after the offensive-minded blueliner opened with four points in the first two games. But after going plus-3 in the Stars' two wins, Zubov went minus-2 in the two defeats. But the benching of Modano and Zubov allowed the Stars a chance to look at some of their role players in different situations, including on the power play.
The Stars dominated the flow of play in the final two periods on Wednesday, but they couldn't solve Bruins netminder Andrew Raycroft. And Wednesday was also the end of Dallas' 238-game sellout streak, with the crowd of 18,289 falling about 300 shy of capacity at the American Airlines Center.
Tippett was pleased with how Modano, Zubov and Turco all responded to his message-sending action.
"He was right in what he did," Modano told the Dallas Morning News. "He got his message across. I think after five or six minutes [sitting there], you get the picture. You know the point he's trying to make."
While Modano tried to put on a happy face and tried to search for the greater eventual good of Tippett's motivations, Zubov still wasn't feeling so happy with the decision even 48 hours later.
"What's the big deal?" Zubov told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Nobody's perfect, you know? Everybody makes mistakes."
They are scratching their heads in Big D after the first four games, wondering what needs to be done to bring out the elite level of play the Stars carried through most of last regular season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have gotten off to an impressive 2-1 start including a dominant 5-0 victory against the hated New York Rangers. Are the Jackets contenders or pretenders? And what do you think of their third jersey?-- Billy H., Dublin, Ohio
Columbus' start is among the biggest surprises in the league over the first week. I don't think the Blue Jackets are contenders for the Stanley Cup, if that's what you were asking. But they could be this year's Anaheim or Minnesota and battle for one of the final few playoff berths in the West, and then hope they can go on a hot postseason run like the Mighty Ducks and Wild did.
The biggest thing Columbus has going for it is the team plays so well at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets are already 2-0 at home and went 20-14-5-2 there last season. If they can improve on their awful road play from 2002-03 (9-28-3-1), they could be a .500 team.
I have been a long-suffering Kings fan. Is the outcome of their first game of the season (a 3-2 loss at Detroit on Oct. 9) come as an omen as to the rest of the season? Is Roman Cechmanek the second coming of Roman Turek (two goalies who post excellent regular-season stats, but when the game is on the line, choke big time)? Should I be thinking about turning in my Kings gear for a new team?-- Joseph G., Los Angeles
With all of the injuries the Kings have sustained, don't you think the way they have started the season as well as they have leaves room for them to be a powerful opponent if they can get even half of their injured players back in a reasonable amount of time?-- Tim, Bakersfield, Calif.
Joseph, o ye of little faith. Joe sent this e-mail the morning after the Kings lost a heartbreaker to the Red Wings on Steve Yzerman's goal with 1.7 seconds left. Los Angeles has since rattled off three consecutive wins, including Wednesday's 4-3 comeback win over Ottawa.
Maybe we could sick Stuart Smalley on Joseph and try to boost his confidence. The Kings are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like them!
Tim hit the nail on the head. If the Kings are this good without Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom -- perhaps their four best position players -- imagine how good they'll be when they get back.
Andy Murray is among the most intense coaches in the league and he is a stickler for discipline and precision in his systems. He wants the guys that are playing to develop chemistry so badly that he won't let his injured stars take part in the regular morning skate with the rest of the team.
I figured if the Kings could play close to .500 hockey with their stars out, they'd be OK once they got back. If they continue at this pace, they could supplant Dallas and Anaheim as the top team in the Pacific Division.
I just read your Power Rankings putting the Leafs at No. 18. My question is: why were you so generous? I'm used to the local media overrating this team, but not SI.com. The Leafs have the worst defense in the league, have one of the oldest goalies playing in front of an unproven backup and are off to a horrible start. Let them win a game before they are ranked above 30!-- Bill, Toronto
No hate e-mail from Ontario here -- I'm a Leafs fan to the core, but they're playing like an 18th place team right now! But, as they (and you) say, the season has to be played and I think we'll see that position move up -- the Leafs started 3-8 last year. I still have problems with your ranking of the Bruins. They may have Samsonov back this year, but they have even less defense and goaltending that is just as suspect. What gives with your optimism? And by the way, you're forgiven for your Rangers placement -- you've got it right now!-- Peter Kissick, Kingston, Ontario
After the Leafs backlash of a week ago, it's good to know that some fans in the greater Toronto area can be objective. Once you get past Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny, Toronto has no one who truly scares opposing defenses. Yes, rookie Matt Stajan has looked mature beyond his age, but odds are he'll hit the wall at some point during the season and his play will tail off, as happens with most first-year players.
And the defense has been as advertised -- mediocre. They really miss Robert Svehla, and Ric Jackman has arguably been their best defenseman so far, playing a team-high 23:41 per game. Bryan Marchment is two steps slower than in his prime (though he still be deliver the big hit on occasion), but 20-year-old Maxim Kondratiev offers potential to build around, too. If the Leafs can get late acquisition Ken Klee feeling more comfortable in their system, this unit has the potential to be decent. But the early returns have been disappointing, which is why the Leafs fell from 16th to 18th this week.
As for the Bruins, maybe their 1-0 win in Dallas on Wednesday will turn some people into believers, even though the Stars are struggling a bit right now. I don't trust Felix Potvin to get the job done over the course of an entire season, but Raycroft has been so good in the AHL and deserves to get at least 30-35 starts with Boston this season, as evidenced by his first career shutout in the win over Dallas.
Will the Ducks be able to rebound from the bad start to make the playoffs?-- Omar Zaman, Irvine, Calif.
Not if Vaclav Prospal and Sergei Fedorov don't pick up their play and start earning their cash. Prospal has looked lost in Mike Babcock's rigid defensive system after playing in John Tortorella's wide-open skating system in Tampa. Fedorov has looked uninspired through three games, surprising considering the Ducks gave him $8 million per season and told him he was going to be the man. One of Fedorov's problems in Detroit was his sulking at knowing he was just one of the guys on a Hall of Famer-laden roster.
Now he's the show in Anaheim, and he's being given a chance to prove that he can carry a team. Even though his career-best season came in 1993-94 when Yzerman was injured, Fedorov has largely been a second banana, who was able to pick on favorable defensive matchups because the opponent was focusing on the top line. Maybe the spotlight doesn't suit him well, but the Ducks better hope it does before they dig too deep of a hole and risk the ridicule of being tabbed as a one-hit wonder like the Hurricanes were last year during their slide to the cellar.
Can the Devils continue to play two first-year defensemen and win?-- Sam Molinari, Summit, N.J.
Pat Burns is going to ride his big four so much that David Hale and Paul Martin won't be put in too many situations that they can screw up. Having veterans like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Colin White allows an organization to break young guys into the lineup gradually and play them in confidence-building game scenarios. It's not like the Devils will trot out their two rookies together as a defensive pairing while protecting a one-goal lead in the final minute. New Jersey will be fine on its blueline, and Hale and Martin will continue to assimilate as the season wears on.
I love the Flyers, but how does anyone expect them to win with these goalies? I am sure they are nice guys that fit into the financial structure, but what team will be worried about these two guys come playoff time?-- Marcus, Brisbane, Australia
Goaltending hasn't been Philadelphia's problem come playoff time. Jeff Hackett and Robert Esche form a pretty solid duo. The Flyers' inept scoring in the postseason has been their downfall the past two seasons. I agree that neither Hackett nor Esche is likely to dominate a series or even steal too many playoff games, but with an impressive defensive corps in front of them, as well as several defensively responsible forwards, Philadelphia will be fine with the goalie tandem they have. And besides, they can't melt down any worse than Roman Cechmanek did, right?
Has the NHL seen the last of veterans Adam Oates, Steve Thomas, Shayne Corson, Claude Lemieux, Adam Graves, Cliff Ronning, Phil Housley and Ulf Dahlen? Mike Keane barely made Vancouver's roster at a $500,000 salary. It seems like no one wants the veterans unless they play for rookie wages.-- Ron Jordan, Boston
It looks like the end of the line for most of the players you mentioned, Ron. Oates has received some offers, but none suiting his required salary, so he's happy to cavort around to golf tournaments to watch his good buddy Mike Weir play. Thomas had a great last hurrah with the Ducks in the postseason, but he struggled so badly during the regular season that many teams figure his impressive playoff run was just an aberration, one final surge of glory. The thing you fail to mention though is that Keane didn't really have a lot of offers either, and was forced to go to camp with the Canucks on a tryout basis. Only after an impressive preseason did Keane convince Vancouver to even keep him around, and at that point Keane was between a rock and a hard place and was basically forced to play for cheap or they wouldn't even bother to sign him.
If there was a year-long CBA strike, which team would come out in the best shape? Which would be worst?-- Cam Atkins, Peterborough, Ontario
If (or rather when) the lockout occurs, what do you suppose will happen to small market teams like Calgary or Edmonton? Is there a place for such teams in the new high priced NHL?-- Rob Raincock, Red Deer, Alberta
First, let's correct Cam and let him know that it would be a lockout by the owners and not a strike by the players. We need to do this so that the folks from the NHLPA office don't start reading out of the dictionary to us again.
The small-market Canadian teams are exactly the ones who would benefit most. The NHL reportedly told the NHLPA that it planned to go for a $31 million salary cap in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, which elicited quite a chuckle from the steadfastly anti-cap PA. Such a low number would most hurt teams like the Rangers, Red Wings, Stars, Avalanche and other teams who have huge payrolls.
Meanwhile, Calgary and Edmonton would benefit the most, as would small-market U.S. teams like Nashville and Carolina.
What would you do if you owned the Rangers? -- Ray Asfar, Johnstown, Pa.
I would sell the team immediately and go to Atlantic City and bet all of the money I made in profit on the Rangers not to win the Cup for another 44 seasons (another 54-year Cup drought, get it?). Either that or I'd buy the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL, make Ray the general manager and instruct him to load up on goons and lower beer prices.
Do you think that time has petered out the Wings/Avs rivalry?-- John Shaw, Killeen, Texas
After Claude Lemieux left Colorado, the rivalry lost much of its luster. Ville Nieminen looked like he was capable of being that superpest for the Avs, but he was dealt to Pittsburgh a few years back (and is now in Chicago). Dan Hinote has emerged as the most grating personality on Colorado's roster, though new additions Jim Cummins and Peter Worrell provide the real meat with their fists. On Detroit's side, the rivalry was really forced upon them by Lemieux's brutal cheapshot on Kris Draper. And the Wings are relatively devoid of pests after Sean Avery got dealt to the Kings last season at the trade deadline. Chris Chelios can still stir things up, but with so few of the players left on each team from seven years ago when the rivalry began, it really has petered out over time.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.