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Mr. Softie (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday November 14, 2007 1:38PM; Updated: Wednesday November 14, 2007 1:57PM
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Historic summit

Knuckleheads: Silvertongued Sean Avery and Darcy
Knuckleheads: Silvertongued Sean Avery and Darcy "Sideshow Bob" Tucker had a frank, and costly, exchange of views.
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Maybe it isn't quite Nixon in China, but last Monday morning NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman visited the NHL Players Association offices in Toronto at the invitation of new PA executive director Paul Kelly. Bettman made the rounds, shook hands, chatted with some employees. Kelly was surprised when Bettman said this was the first time he's been to the offices. Said the commissioner, "I'd never been invited before."

Kelly is making a tour of all 30 teams, getting to know his constituents and their concerns. And at some point he will let the players know his concerns, including safety issues. Kelly favors visors for all players. He suggested that they should be grandfathered in, just as helmets were.

A union boss who cares about workplace safety and not merely the last buck ... could be a keeper.

Lonesome Dany

Jason Spezza should return to Ottawa's lineup Thursday against Buffalo following a lingering groin injury, and it's not a moment too soon for his left winger, Dany Heatley. In this era of line pairs, Heatley has been Sun Dance to Spezza's Butch since the Senators acquired Heatley from Atlanta. Right winger Daniel Alfredsson -- is anyone playing better right now? -- flourishes on any line, but Heatley, with one goal in his past eight games, needs a passing center to get him the puck at the right time and in the proper place. Coach John Paddock flip-flopped last weekend against Montreal, starting Mike Fisher on the line with his star wingers, changing to journeyman Randy Robitaille, and then returning to Fisher late in the game. Heatley took three shots and failed to score, but assisted on a pair of goals by Alfredsson.

Winded Blues

The scuffling St. Louis Blues are going to reevaluate their conditioning program in the coming days. The problem: the Blues might be too fit. The program, designed by strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte, is so demanding that team executives think it might be draining the players. "We're looking at it all," St. Louis president John Davidson said. "Not what we're actually doing as much as the volume of it. Paul Kariya's said he just doesn't feel like he's got his legs." If Kariya, assiduous in his conditioning, has been worn to a nub, then it surely is time to pull back on the throttle.

Campbell's conference

Late last month, NHL head of hockey operations Colin Campbell was in Montreal to present awards to Alexei Kovalev, Roman Hamrlik and Brian Smolinski for having reached the 1,000-game plateau in their careers. "First time I ever received a three-minute standing ovation in Montreal," Campbell said. "Might have had something to do with this guy I was with, Richard."

Henri Richard won a record 11 Stanley Cups with the Canadiens. Among the players being honored, Campbell has had the most contact with Kovalev, who baffled him in Binghamton when he coached the embryonic star in the minors and then in New York when Campbell was an assistant and later head coach of the Rangers. Kovalev never met a shift he didn't have the urge to overstay, which has caused him to butt heads with coaching staffs throughout his career. "So we're on the ice (that night)," Campbell related, "and Alex turns and says, 'Me, again.'"

Campbell, incidentally, meted out fines to the Rangers' Sean Avery ($2,500) and the Maple Leafs' Darcy Tucker ($1,000) for their junior hockey-style contretemps last Saturday before the Hall of Fame game in Toronto. Avery, a player who is not immoral but amoral, will say absolutely anything to rile an opponent because there is no governor on his tongue. This time, according to sources, his trash talk touched off a physical confrontation when it hit a little too close to home to Tucker's liking. Tucker was once called Sideshow Bob because of his antics, but Avery is in danger of being the whole carnival. As occurred in Los Angeles, the undersized forward runs the risk of being a bigger burr in the saddle of his own team than their opponent.

Avery can be quieted, however. The best verbal comeuppance was delivered by his current teammate Brendan Shanahan, who also played with Avery in Detroit. Shanahan skated by the Kings bench one time and instructed Avery to "lose my number, don't ever phone me again, because I'm tired of listening to you criticize your teammates all the time."

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