Periodic musings from the desk of...
Panthers have very little to show for Luongo debacle
Posted: Thursday October 18, 2007 2:22PM; Updated: Friday October 19, 2007 4:15PM
When asked recently during a radio interview if the Roberto Luongo trade to Vancouver prior to the 2006-07 season was the worst in the history of the sport, Panthers coach and general manager Jacques Martin answered "True."
Maybe this is a stretch. After all, the Canadiens handed Colorado what amounted to three Stanley Cups when they traded goalie Patrick Roy to the Avalanche in December 1995. (Luongo, although the best puck-stopper in hockey at the moment, has won just one playoff round.) And if you are feeling particularly pugnacious today, you might even argue that the Luongo deal wasn't even the worst trade that involved Todd Bertuzzi, who was the key piece that Vancouver shipped to Florida to secure the goalie from Martin's predecessor with the Panthers: current Calgary coach Mike Keenan.
In 1998 Islanders general manager Mike Milbury traded Bertuzzi, who was about to blossom as a rampaging power forward, defenseman Bryan McCabe and a draft pick that would turn into Jarkko Ruutu, to the Canucks for Trevor Linden, whose career already was in decline. (In June 2000, Milbury also would trade Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha, which is why he now is doing a splendid job as an analyst for NESN and working the Wednesday games in studio for TSN in Canada. What goes around doesn't come around in sports; it ends up wearing a suit and addressing Camera 2.)
Anyway, Bertuzzi is now in Anaheim, currently concussed, and goalie Alex Auld, another part of the Luongo package, is doing a creditable job for Phoenix. All of which leaves one remaining Panther from the Luongo deal -- the only one Martin has to look in the face -- defenseman Bryan Allen.
Allen is easy to recognize. He is 6' 4" and can also be detected by the skid marks from the bus his coach threw him under during the interview. Way to stick up for your guy. Still, Martin can make a pretty good case for Keenan's Folly based on Allen, who is a reminder that small things sometimes come in big packages.
Allen, the fourth pick in the 1998 draft, looms a little like Anaheim's tower Chris Pronger -- only with none of the menace. Allen had a miserable game on Tuesday in Montreal alongside Jay Bouwmeester on the Panthers' No. 1 defense pairing, a one-man turnover festival. But hey, stuff happens. Players always make physical mistakes, even the ultra-efficient Nicklas Lidstrom, who has yet to play a perfect game for Detroit despite the hosannas. This could have been just one of those nights for Allen.
But more worrisome for the Panthers was Allen's reluctance to step in when one of the pot-stirring Montreal forwards, Tom Kostopoulous, took a good, legal run at the Panthers' best player -- Jokinen -- wallpapering him in front of Florida's net. This might not be the most logical part of the hockey culture -- imagine how weird it would be if every time a receiver was legally crunched after catching a pass over the middle one of his lineman was expected to come over and menace the safety -- but it is ingrained.
Allen, close to the hit on Jokinen, had to do something a little stronger than the talking-to he appeared to give Kostopoulous as they skated up ice. In fact, the emboldened Canadiens forward kept running around until defenseman Noah Welch, who had just taken a heavy hit, felt obliged to drop his gloves a few shifts later. Maybe he fought one of his Harvard professors over an anthropology grade or whatever, but clearly this is not Welch's strong suit. In his first NHL fight, Welch injured his shoulder. Of course, this should have been Allen's battle - not his.
If the Panthers are ever going to reemerge as an NHL force, they are going to have to be more accountable to each other.
Right man for the job
Paul Kelly, nominated by the NHLPA to be the next executive director of this troubled players union, should have no trouble negotiating the middle ground between Ted Saskin, who was too chummy with NHL executives -- notably No. 2 man Bill Daly -- and Saskin's predecessor, Bob Goodenow, who could be too stiff-necked and adversarial with the league. At the very least, Kelly knows the background of the organization. He was the Massachusetts district attorney who managed to convict Alan Eagleson, the notorious MHLPA boss, of mail fraud.
Kelly, now a partner in a Boston law firm, made his bones in the Eagleson case, at least within the hockey community. He also represented Marty McSorley after the Bruins enforcer went all stalker on Vancouver's Donald Brashear in 2000. If you have forgotten Kelly's role in that case, well, SI hasn't.
I flew from Montreal, and SI hockey columnist Kostya Kennedy flew from New York, to meet with Kelly and McSorley in Boston in order to arrange an interview with the player. After the requisite back-and-forth, McSorley agreed to cooperate with the story on one condition: That I don't write it. McSorley, it seems, hadn't been a big fan of mine since 1991 when, at Team Canada's training camp for the Canada Cup, I asked him if he thought he had been invited because he was close with Wayne Gretzky. The sensitive McSorley, I discovered in Boston, had found the question embarrassing and insulting.
Live and learn.