Posted: Wednesday March 1, 2006 1:30PM; Updated: Wednesday March 1, 2006 3:22PM
Boston's net gain
Injured netminder Hannu Toivonen began skating this week in Boston. The impressive rookie reported that he felt well, but high ankle sprains are notoriously slow in healing. He'll likely be out for at least another two weeks, placing his return after the March 9 trade deadline.
That may turn out to be a great break for the Bruins long term. Toivonen's unstable situation means that Boston is unlikely to move the disappointing Andrew Raycroft. The impending 25-year-old RFA will get a chance to get his game back on track with the B's next season. As magnificent as 31-year-old Tim Thomas has been for the Bruins since the beginning of the New Year, he's not the future of this team. Boston needs to keep Raycroft in tow.
Someone must have bought Mike Barnett a new tackle box because it sure sounds like he's going fishing. The Phoenix GM told reporters in Arizona this week that "no player" on the team's roster was untouchable, although he later modified that by saying a core of players would likely stay intact.
Expect that group to include captain Shane Doan, sniper Ladislav Nagy and young defenders Keith Ballard (whose outstanding rookie season is flying completely under the radar), Paul Mara and Zybnek Michalek.
Like all seasoned anglers, Barnett may find the fish are biting hardest in Canada. With Dominik Hasek sidelined for an indefinite period by the groin strain he suffered in Turin, a cheap, short-term veteran stopper like Curtis Joseph makes a lot of sense. And Vancouver, missing four of its top five defenders (Ed Jovanovski, Sami Salo, Nolan Baumgartner and Mattias Ohlund), may find the depth it needs in Sean O'Donnell, Derek Morris or Denis Gauthier.
One thought for the poolies out there who are looking to close the deal on their league: just two players have scored more points in 2006 than Anaheim center Andy McDonald (26): Joe Thornton and Jaromir Jagr, 27 each.
There are two things you can take away from the recently concluded Olympic hockey tournament. First, the margin of difference between the world's top eight countries may be more slender than in any other team sport. A break here or there, and they would have been partying last Sunday night in Helsinki or Moscow or Bratislava instead of in Stockholm.
Second: the use of NHL players in the Games is a lame-duck experiment that will come to an end after Vancouver in 2010. That was all but guaranteed when we got an all-European final for the second time in three tournaments.
You can bet that attitudes would have been different had the Canadians or Americans won the gold, but that didn't happen. Say all you want about the value of growing the game internationally and exposing your stars, but you'll have a hard time convincing the NHL Board of Governors that the benefits of a Sweden vs. Finland final outweigh the risks of losing box-office steam during the prolonged break -- or worse, teams losing a key performer like Dominik Hasek just before the playoffs.
So why not recognize the NHL effort for what it was -- well-intentioned, but ultimately failed -- and start planning for a future based on true national teams?
I'm not suggesting that such a format would produce a better brand of hockey. If you managed to avoid Team Canada's games, you were treated to some passionate, spirited play in Turin. But a return to the previous system would make the tournament more compelling and, just as important, maintain the integrity of the NHL season.
This isn't good-old-days syndrome. You can't extricate professionalism from the Olympics any more than you can get Jessica Simpson off the cover of the National Enquirer. But you can ensure that the pros who are there have a legitimate opportunity to perform at their highest level. You do it by returning to a national team format.
We've seen it before. Canada has enjoyed recent success with non-NHLers, winning silver in 1992 and 1994 with teams of minor pros (and pre-NHLers such as Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros) that worked tirelessly and represented the uniform well. The U.S. had its best hockey moment with a team of amateurs.
And it wouldn't be take a miracle for North American national teams to compete against the rest of the world. After all, the best players from every nation are in the NHL and would be unavailable for the Olympics. That would save the stage for emerging stars, or players whose games are better suited for big Olympic ice than the cramped confines of NHL arenas (I'm thinking of guys like Jan Alston or Yan Stastny). If you've seen the World Championships recently, you know what I mean.
The NHL could still use the Olympic stage to boost itself through a variety of promotional efforts. It could take advantage of the national team system to develop players in a hothouse environment. But more important, the league can preserve assets for the games that matter to the bottom line.
Save the best-on-best format for the World Cup. Make it a quadrennial event and take advantage of a less compressed schedule and legitimate camp to really give the players a chance to perform at an elite level.
And give the Olympics back to the national teams that never should have been shunted to the side in the first place.