Wings need to de-crease in numbers
Posted: Thursday October 30, 2003 3:52PM; Updated: Thursday October 30, 2003 3:52PM
When the Detroit Red Wings heard of Dominik Hasek's desire to return to the NHL after a one-year retirement, they were undoubtedly elated. Following a season with the ordinary Curtis Joseph in the net, the return of the Dominator was viewed as a ticket back to the Stanley Cup finals.
But the Hasek who returned isn't the same guy who left triumphantly in June of 2002 after winning the Stanley Cup. In fact, the 2003 version of Hasek closely resembles the 2002 edition of CuJo.
In eight appearances, Hasek is just 4-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage, much worse than the 41-15-8 mark with a 2.16 GAA and a .915 save percentage he posted in 2001-02.
With Joseph slated to make his season debut tonight in Nashville, things are going to get even wackier in the crease for the Red Wings. If CuJo does well, one might think it would increase his trade value. However, it could also make him more difficult to trade, believe it or not.
The rumored destinations for Joseph have been drying up. Felix Potvin and Andrew Raycroft have both been brilliant for the Bruins; Mike Dunham has carried the Rangers; David Aebischer has been steady for the Avs; and Chris Osgood has been superb for the Blues. That doesn't leave a lot of goalie-needy teams out there.
Another complicating factor for moving CuJo is the glut of other teams carrying three goaltenders. Pasi Nurminen is firmly entrenched as the starter in Atlanta, so the Thrashers are looking to trade either Byron Dafoe or Jani Hurme. Miikka Kiprusoff is apparently the odd-man out in San Jose behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala. And Sean Burke, Brian Boucher and Zac Bierk are all battling for playing time in Phoenix.
So it's a tough market out there now for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland to make a deal. With Dafoe and Burke also possibly on the market among veteran goaltenders, teams looking to upgrade have options beyond CuJo.
If the Red Wings are able to unload Joseph in the near future, what will they do if Hasek then gets injured or continues to struggle? I believe Manny Legace has been the best backup goalie in the league over the past three seasons, but he is untested as a starter over the long haul. If Hasek gets hurt, it would be traumatic for the Wings to have to go with Legace and Marc Lamothe as their netminders after starting the season in a position of strength with three quality NHL goaltenders.
It's unlikely to see Detroit making the switch to Legace just based on poor performance by Hasek. The Dominator does have one shutout and five games of two or fewer goals allowed among his eight starts, but the four goals allowed in his other two appearances are enough to cause some concern. The consistently steady, unflappable Hasek that we used to know may be a thing of the past.
Hasek has expressed his uneasiness with the three-goalie situation since Joseph rejoined the team, but the crease craziness in Hockeytown isn't likely to end anytime soon.
If the Bruins can stay strong at goaltending, do you think they can play for the Cup this year? -- Bob Munroe, Naugatuck, Conn.
Boston's 6-2-2 start has been impressive and they are getting excellent play in net from both Raycroft and Potvin. Rayzor's 1.65 GAA and .944 save percentage are both among the league leaders, and the Cat hasn't been much worse at a 2.32 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
They have split the games evenly, both going 3-1-1 so far, showing that rookie head coach Mike Sullivan intends to treat this as a platoon until one of the two gets injured or falters and makes the decision for him on who to start.
The Bruins' one remaining weakness would seem to be on the blue line, where Jeff Jillson's surprise start has been nice, but Hal Gill, Ian Moran and Sean O'Donnell all have yet to register a point in 10 games. While none of the three are regarded as scorers, an occasional contribution from them on offense would be nice.
I would like the Bruins' Stanley Cup chances a lot better if they still had Bryan Berard on the roster, as his puck-carrying and passing ability would help generate some push from the back end. It's still possible that the Rhode Island native could end up back in Boston for another year, even though the Bruins' rejection of his arbitration award soured relations with Berard and his agent, Tom Laidlaw.
Do you think Ilya Kovalchuck will score 60 goals this year? -- Jacob, Montreal
The impressive thing about Kovalchuk's magical start is that with Dany Heatley out of the lineup, he has usually been seeing the opposition's top defensive pair. It would be insane to think that Kovalchuk could continue on his present scoring pace, which would net him 91 goals, just one shy of Wayne Gretzky's record of 92. And while 60 isn't out of the question, I would expect him to come up just shy of that and finish with somewhere between 55 and 58 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy.
What is Andy Murray's problem? In the past three years, his team has not been prepared to play inferior opponents. Why can't he get them motivated? A win in October and November is as important as one in March and April. -- Larry Scantland, Denver
Andy Murray's problem is that his players can't stay healthy. It has nothing to do with Murray's ability to coach or motivate. In fact, Murray is regarded as one of the best motivators in the league, and his Kings teams are always among the most hard-working bunches in the NHL. Good players make coaches look good,
The Kings could get Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom back against the Canucks on Thursday, which would be a huge boost to their struggling blue line. But possible return dates are still unknown for Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh. Once the Kings get those four back, Murray will suddenly become a much better coach to his skeptics like Larry.
Are the Capitals as bad as they have been playing so far? if they continue to play poorly, do you think Olaf Kolzig could be trade bait as well as Jaromir Jagr? -- Ashton Grewal, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Which of his investments is Ted Leonsis questioning more -- his decision to buy AOL stock or to buy the Capitals? Because both have been unmitigated disasters for him.
Leonsis lost a bundle when the tech markets crashed in the spring of 2000. AOL stock has dropped from near 80 in 2002 to the mid-teens at present time.
And the Caps have been sinking even faster than that. Yes, Ashton, Washington is as bad as it has been playing so far. Actually, the Caps have been worse then bad. Since their 6-1 win over the Islanders in the season opener, they've been expansion-team bad. Washington is on pace for 27 points this season, which would surpass the 1999-2000 Thrashers (39 points) as the worst team in the past five years, and would be the worst finish since the 1994-95 Senators had 23 points ... in 48 games! For a full season, that would be the worst point total since the Sens and Sharks each recorded just 24 points in 1992-93, Ottawa's first year in existence and San Jose's second.
Bruce Cassidy is a dead-man walking and the Caps are playing like a team that wants to get their coach fired. And management could opt to replace general manager George McPhee, too, and just start anew in the hockey operations department.
No one on the Caps' roster is untouchable at this point, save for the youngsters like Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon, Alexander Semin and Brian Sutherby around whom the rebuilding process will take place. It will be tough to unload Jagr's $11 million salary, but with their playoff hopes already in peril before Halloween, Sergei Gonchar and Kolzig could be moved for prospects before the March 9 trade deadline.
Is anyone else tired of all the tie games in the NHL? What would be the problem with solving things with a shootout, thereby adding some excitement to a game's conclusion? -- Paul Muegge, Golden, British Columbia
Having covered the All-Star Game in Florida last February, I can attest to the excitement in the building during the shootout. The players and fans were all on edge with every shot, and it did add a great deal of tension to the conclusion of the game.
But player reaction to it was only lukewarm, and the consensus among the detractors from it was that they didn't want points in the standings contested based on what they believe to be a game of chance.
So for the fans, it would be a thrilling way to solve tie games and bring a definitive conclusion to the standings. But unless player (and thereby NHLPA) support turns around and suddenly comes out strongly in favor of it, shootouts won't ever happen outside of the All-Star Game.
Can you see the NHL doing away with the red line, to increase scoring and speed? -- Robert Anderson, Garnerville, N.Y.
Fans of college and international hockey enjoy the more wide-open skating style that comes from the bigger ice surface and lack of a red line for the two-line pass. The NHL will clearly never widen its rinks, but removing the red line would seem at face value to be a quick fix to the clogged neutral zone.
But NHL head coaches are so sophisticated these days with their defensive systems that they would find a way to stop the home-run pass up the middle. And in reality, a defensive backlash could ensue, with teams forechecking less aggressively with the fear that a speedy opposing winger could take off and receive a pass in stride, leaving the defense vulnerable to more odd-man rushes.
So I don't see it happening in the NHL anytime soon, Robert, even though it does make college hockey and the major international tournaments very exciting to watch.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.