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Jon Dolezar NHL Mailbag

Hate from the Heartland

St. Louis fans the latest to sing the Power Rankings blues

Posted: Thursday November 20, 2003 10:36AM; Updated: Thursday November 20, 2003 10:36AM

It may have been a bit cruel to drop the Blues two spots in the Power Rankings. After all, they were 11-4-0-1 and had won eight of their past 10.

  Doug Weight
Blues center Doug Weight has six goals and nine assists in 13 games.
Elsa/Getty Images

But they were victims of circumstance. They did nothing to merit dropping in the rankings, but the Devils and Bruins did enough (and were likely underrated the previous week) to jump St. Louis and move into the top five.

The Blues likely would've stayed put at No. 4 had they beaten the Mighty Ducks on Sunday night. And considering they lost to completely ordinary Phoenix on Wednesday, I now feel a little bit better about sliding the Blues down.

St. Louis went 3-1 during Doug Weight's four-game suspension -- who, by the way, was amazing with four assists in his first game back -- but the Blues were just 1-2 during Keith Tkachuk's three-game furlough. So they will be eager to get the league's most consistently dominant power forward back against the Stars on Saturday.

The Blues have been exceptional considering they have played 14 games without Al MacInnis (who is likely done for the season) and were without Barret Jackman for six. Then you throw the suspensions to two of their three best forwards into the mix, and what St. Louis has done is clearly impressive.

It's just that I think there are five teams better than the Blues right now, and four of them happen to be in the Eastern Conference. Later this season it's entirely possible that four of the top five will be from the West. It's all a part of the ebb and flow of the season.

So be kind St. Louis natives. Crack a Budweiser and heat up some toasted ravioli for me. Your fine city is not the victim of some Power Rankings backlash or conspiracy. Larry Pleau and Joel Quenneville have assembled a fine team that could contend for the Stanley Cup. When the Blues end their 36-year Stanley Cup hex (this year or sometime down the road), St. Loo will throw a party like few other cities have.

You wrote: "Scott Niedermayer is challenging Nicklas Lidstrom for the title of the best all-around defenseman in the NHL, and Nieds has been one of the five best players in the league this season." So where does Chris Pronger figure into all of this? The Blues are one of the best defensive teams in the league this season. This has been without Barret Jackman for a stretch and without Al MacInnis for most of the season. Pronger is carrying the Blues' defense while Niedermayer has had his supporting cast in place all season. -- Theo Hall, Arkansas Pass, Texas

Pronger would rank third on my list of all-around defenseman. If you break down Lidstrom, Niedermayer, Pronger, Rob Blake and all the other top two-way defenseman, Pronger would clearly rank ahead of the others in terms of toughness, but would lag behind slightly in terms of skating and offensive instinct. That's not to say that he's a bad skater, but Niedermayer is an excellent skating blueliner and has the best offensive instincts of the bunch. I'd still take Pronger on my team any day. It just so happens that Niedermayer appears to be capturing lightning in a bottle for what could turn out to be his career year.

With all the player contracts ending this year, and the upcoming change in the way teams spend their money following the CBA talks, when(ever) the next season begins, will we see a flurry of player movement? And will this turn the standings on its ear, meaning teams that were normally powerhouses fall in the standings while normally weaker teams come out on top? -- Scott Moran, Dartmouth


If there is a lockout, the days following the settlement will resemble the wildest game of musical chairs you've ever seen in your life. Many teams didn't sign players beyond the end of the 2003-04 season because they weren't sure what the NHL's new economic system would be beyond then.

As such, there will be an abnormally high number of free agents next summer, though the free-agent market will likely be slow, if not completely dead, depending on where negotiations stand for a new CBA. So it is entirely possible that some team who is well down in the standings could turn their team around in a hurry by being particularly aggressive in the days after the settlement of the CBA negotiations.

Who oversees NHL referees, and what action is taken if a ref has a particularly bad game with obvious bad calls? -- Darin Kleine, St. Louis

The NHL oversees all officials, with former referee Andy Van Hellemond serving as the director of officiating and David Baker serving as the technical manager. The headquarters for them is the NHL's Toronto offices on the 11th floor of the office tower connected to the Air Canada Centre. From the war room there, a crew consisting of Van Hellemond, director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, vice president Mike Murphy, video coordinator Paul Brighty and video technician Jim Fisher look in on every game around the league on television monitors.

They review close plays and make notes about the officiating throughout each game. If there is a problem with an official, they speak to them as soon as possible rather than let it linger. And the officials themselves file game reports following each game which are reviewed by Van Hellemond and his crew to look for trouble spots or calls that might need another look for future teaching purposes. Through the magic of technology, the NHL frequently sends out video e-mails to the officials on the road, so that they can download them on their laptop and view a ruling on a new point of emphasis within the rulebook or to see a recent controversial call and listen to the league's justification for it.

The NHL does a better job then any other professional sports league of managing its officials in a hands-on fashion. The accountability for the officials is evidenced by the fact that 13 officials have been fired in the two summers since Van Hellemond took office.

Despite the Flyers playing so well this early on, why does Bobby Clarke hate European players? -- Chris Dolan, Berlin

I don't know that Clarke "hates" European players, but a lot of old-school Canadians like Clarke, Don Cherry and Mike Keenan tend to be a bit -- OK, a lot -- jingoistic in extolling the virtues of tough Canadian-born players. The demographics of the league is changing and European players are here to stay. The Flyers have built a great team with mostly North American players, but Michal Handzus, Sami Kapanen, Kim Johnsson, Marcus Ragnarsson, Radovan Somik and Joni Pitkanen are all European, so Philadelphia will continue to need big contributions from Euro-born players to win the Cup.

Do you believe that the Bruins are getting the respect they deserve? -- Benji Grubel, Leominster, Mass.

Will the Bruins need to make any changes to solidify the team for a playoff run, or can they do it with the current personnel? -- Aaron, Batavia, N.Y.

The question of respect depends on who you talk to. I've been giving them respect since the beginning of the season, and actually in the first couple of weeks I got a ton of e-mails from Boston fans who thought I was crazy to have them ranked so highly. Maybe it's something about the annual September/October disappointment that the Red Sox put them through that makes them lower their expectations to prepare for the inevitable failure.

I think the Bruins can contend with New Jersey, Ottawa and Philadelphia in the East. They could probably use another offensive-minded blueliner (maybe Bryan Berard wouldn't have been such a bad guy to re-sign) and could stand to add a defensive-minded forward to help on the penalty kill. Boston has few weaknesses in its lineup -- it will just be a question of avoiding key injuries and peaking at the right time, as it is with all teams that harbor visions of Stanley.

Will the Stars fire Dave Tippet now? And what are they going to do now with this pathetic team? -- Phil Vaught, Dallas

I wouldn't call the Stars pathetic just yet, but they are far from being a special team like many had predicted them to be. The loss of Darryl Sydor has hurt the Stars' blue line, even though Sydor isn't off to a great start in Columbus. But Teppo Numminen has been only ordinary filling Sydor's old role. And while Sergei Zubov got off to a nice start with six points and a plus-2 in the Stars' first six games, he is now minus-12 over the past seven games.

I don't expect Tippett to lose his job unless the Stars just absolutely implode and quit on him if the playoffs get out of reach, but I'd preach patience to Stars fans still. Once Marty Turco settles down and begins earning his fat new contract, Dallas could still be a dangerous team and could yet contend for the Pacific Division title.

What do you think are the chances of seeing a return of Patrick Roy to hockey? We can all dream to see the likes of Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne, Rob Blake, Paul Kariya, Adam Foote, etc. all on one team, can't we? -- Ilene, Delran, N.J.

It doesn't hurt to dream, Ilene, but this one won't come true no matter how hard you hope for it. Roy formally filed his retirement papers with the league this summer, meaning that he can't return until the 2003-04 season is complete. Roy seems to be having enough fun with the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL that he won't consider a return in the future. If you want to see Roy on the ice, your best best is to head to the Le Colisee in Quebec City to watch him helping out with his junior club.

Do you think there is a possibility that this season will see all six Canadian teams make the playoffs together? -- JR, Montreal

Of course there is that possibility, but I don't think the Canadiens or Flames have enough scoring to make it at this point. I believe the same four Canadian teams that made it to the postseason last spring will be back again, and perhaps either Montreal or Calgary will sneak into one of the final two spots in their respective conference. But having the entire sextet in the playoffs might be too good to be true for Canadian hockey fans, as incredible as it would be for the NHL from a marketing standpoint. Getting six in the postseason would certainly increase the chances of having an all-Canadian Stanley Cup finals, but I don't see it happening this season.

I've heard many rumors going around that Jaromir Jagr will be dumped to the Rangers sometime soon. I can see New York doing this to fill the gap left by Pavel Bure and to take the load off of Alexei Kovalev, but is this just fact or fiction? Secondly, do you think it's right that New York can buy whomever they want? And do you think there should be a salary cap? Because I know if New York was winning Cups the last couple years, there would be more people complaining. -- Frank. O, Ottawa, Ontario

I don't really have a problem with the Rangers spending tons of money. All it means is that they will be among the teams we get to laugh at most if the league's proposal for a salary cap (which I am strongly in favor of in the hopes of bringing NFL-like parity to the NHL) goes into effect. New York has apparently expressed an interest in acquiring Jagr, dating back to last summer. But how would he fit in with the Blueshirts?

Their team chemistry has always been a weakness because they continually bring in new, high-priced players and just assume that they will play well together because they are talented. I don't think adding the moody, brooding Jagr would do anything to help their locker room.

Are Pat Quinn's days numbered as the coach of the Toronto Maple Leaf's? -- Al Walsh, Port Hope, Ontario

Quinn has been getting the business on a regular basis from the Toronto media, but his team is 7-5-5-2, which is by no means worthy of a pink slip. There just really isn't any reason for the Leafs to make a coaching change at this point. If they hit a rough patch and drop five in a row at some point, that may provide general manager John Ferguson Jr. the motive to make a change behind the bench and bring in his own guy. But Quinn is safe with the Leafs for the timebeing and likely for the remainder of this season at the very least.

What do you think has been the biggest surprise and disappointment so far this year? -- Jeff Turco, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Jeff, any relation to Marty? As far as the most disappointing teams, I would say it's a tie between the Senators and Stars. Now I'm hoping that you aren't related to Marty, because it's been a tough year for he and his Dallas teammates so far. Both Ottawa and Dallas were expected to contend for the Cup, but neither has lived up to the lofty expectations. The biggest surprise team to me has been Buffalo. Many people might think Boston, but I expected the Bruins to be pretty good, so I'm more surprised by the Sabres' 8-8-2-1 record and the fact they look like they could contend for the seventh or eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Ladislav Nagy (10 goals and 10 assists) would be my biggest surprise player, though many felt he had underachieved the past few seasons and was due for a big breakout campaign. For disappointing player, I'd say Mike Modano. He was hyped as a possible Hart Trophy candidate before the season, so his five goals, five assists and minus-14 can be seen as nothing short of disastrous. Throw in this ill-advised shirtless cover shot for Men's Fitness and it's been a tough year for Modano.

The Oilers just spent a wad of cash ($2 million) on an aged Adam Oates. Good buy or not? -- Matthew Smith, Edmonton, Alberta

I wouldn't have paid $2 million for 57 games worth of Oates, which is what Edmonton will get if reports that he is about 10 days away from being in playing shape are true. But Kevin Lowe's hand was forced by Marty Reasoner's knee injury, necessitating that the Oilers do something to add another pivot. With Ryan Smyth already playing out of position in the middle (even though he's looking comfortable there now) and Mike Comrie still unsigned, Edmonton became perilously thin once Reasoner went down. Oates will definitely help the Oilers' sluggish power play, which is converting just 12.0 percent of the time, the sixth worst in the league.

I've been watching Alex Tanguay and he's been doing really great for the past two years. He's mature and seems like he has a lot of confidence. What's going on with Tanguay? Who's been giving him confidence? I mean the past few years, he's been on the trading block. -- Melissa Grissom, Dallas

Tanguay has been amazing this season. It's not a mystery why he's performing so well. He's an elite-level player who struggled to find consistency over his first four NHL seasons. People forgot that Tanguay is only 23 (he turns 24 on Friday), perhaps largely because he was just 21 when he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

The Avs have always put Tanguay is great positions to succeed by pairing him with impressive linemates like Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk initially, and Hejduk and Peter Forsberg more recently. His name was often floated in trade rumors, but it was always from the end of teams who were interested in acquiring him, not from the sense that the Avs were looking to dump him. Pierre Lacroix knows what a special player he has in Tanger, which is why he rebuffed all of those advances by teams who were interested in buying low when Tanguay was struggling.

What do you think of Sidney Crosby? As a Montreal Canadiens fan, I think the only way for the Canadiens to improve is to trade Jose Theodore. He is the only player who has value on the trade market. But my question is: Should Bob Gainey trade to have a big-time player with a immediate impact on the team or trade to get the 2005 first pick overall and then draft Sidney Crosby? -- Marlon, Montreal, Quebec

I think an awful lot of Crosby actually. In addition to being a good player, Crosby is a really nice kid. I got to know him fairly well through a series of interviews I did with him last season while he was at Shattuck St. Mary's in Fairbault, Minn. He parents are very down-to-Earth and have instilled some great values in him for someone who has the world at his fingertips. Unless he gets injured, Crosby is considered a lock to be the top pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and he appears to be the type of franchise player that a team can build around for a good 15 years.

Having said that, it's a bit early to talk about teams tanking next season to get into a position to select Crosby. At this point we don't even know if there will be a 2004-05 season, and if the lockout is still ongoing there won't be a 2005 draft. So unless (and until) the '04-05 season is completed and the draft lottery takes place, it's silly to speculate if the team that holds the No. 1 pick would be willing to deal it for a small fortune to a team that is desperate to grab Crosby.

It would be foolish for the Habs to trade Theodore just because he has the most value. Gainey is committed to building the Canadiens back to glory over the long haul through the draft, much as he built the Stars into a Stanley Cup winner via a similar philosophy.

On the topic of World Cup teams, do you agree that Canada should be able to enter two teams? Their depth is so great that a third team from Canada would be a medal possibility. I personally would love to see an over-28 team and a 27-and-under team from Canada square off for the gold. If this sounds ridiculous, write down the rosters, and you'll be amazed at the number of great players who are left off two team Canadas. -- Trev Ulmer, Brandon, Manitoba

There is no doubt that Canada could put together three contending teams for the World Cup, Olympics or any international competition. But it would be unfair for any nation to enter more than one team. This isn't bobsledding, where Germany 1 and Germany 2 are always the medal favorite. I have received enough inquiries about this possibility of multiple Canadian teams that I will try to put together some alternate rosters for a Team Canada 2 and perhaps a Team Canada 3 in the coming weeks and give my best guess as to how they might fare at the World Cup. It's intriguing to think about, especially considering that it will never happen.

I think fighting is an integral part of the game. There has been a lot of attention paid to the increase of fighting in the NHL this season. I say that it is about time this aspect of the game has got some attention. Why do a lot of sports writers find this a bad thing? -- Erik Michelin, Negaunee, Mich.

I love a good fight. As long as Tie Domi isn't beating the crap out of me, I'm all for fighting. I don't know where you got your generalization that sportswriters don't like fighting, because I think they percentage of writers who like or dislike fisticuffs probably runs along very similar percentages to the general population.

Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for

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