Comings and goings
Still wrapped in the embarrassment of losing four straight to the Red Wings, Colorado captain Joe Sakic told reporters that he'll talk to friends and family this summer about retirement.
An obvious reaction for someone of his age at a moment of such bitter disappointment. The end is something any player begins to contemplate after 35 -- if he's lucky enough to have lasted that long -- and circumstances are just as important as health and desire in determining when to bow gracefully and exit the stage. These circumstances were grim. When the shorthanded Avs went down 8-2 in the clincher, they did not go down swinging.
Sakic's pride, as much as anything, has to be stung. So give him time. Odds are that he will get over the pain and find that he still has some game left in him. This was a tough season for the veteran, who was limited to just 44 games due to a hernia, but at 38, it looks as though there's still some juice left to be squeezed. He averaged nearly a point per game in the regular season, and led the Avs with eight points in the playoffs.
While Sakic should return, odds are we've seen the last of the magnificent Peter Forsberg, whose body already has made the decision for him. After an impressive late-season return that saw him pile up 14 points while the Avs rang up an 8-1 record, Foppa was eliminated from the playoffs not by the Wings, but a balky groin that was exacerbated by a skating style he'd adapted to protect his long-suffering feet and ankles.
There's always hope for a medical miracle, some new surgery or support system that would allow the 34-year-old to return to the fold. But it's been apparent since his comeback that part of his body is not up to the rigors of the NHL, at least not long term. The eyes and the hands and the legs and the heart are still up to the challenge, but it's a package deal. Forsberg's feet are past their best-by date.
War on another front
The men skating for the Red Wings, Stars and Canadiens may be focused on the hunt for the Stanley Cup, but the front office staffs of these three clubs are locked in a fierce battle of their own this week.
All three are thought to be among the final contenders for the services of Fabian Brunnstrom, a 23-year-old Swedish free agent who has been described as a cross between Daniel Alfredsson and Tomas Holmstrom.
After sliding completely below the radar when he was draft eligible, the late-blooming 6-1, 200-pound winger has been the target of at least 12 teams since the Christmas break. This despite a stat line that, taken by itself, doesn't seem all that promising. Brunnstrom put up nine goals and 38 points in 54 games with Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League.
"You can't get too caught up in the [offensive] numbers in Sweden," one scout said Tuesday night in Dallas, where Brunnstrom was being sold on the virtues of becoming a Star. "It's a defensive league. [Washington rookie Nicklas] Backstrom put up similar numbers last year, and he tore it up once he got acclimated over here."
The scout says that Brunnstrom has world-class speed and is a dedicated two-way player. He doesn't have the offensive gifts of Alfredsson, but he approaches the game similarly, with playmaking his primary asset. He also has the tenacity and willingness to play in the trenches that Detroit's Holmstrom possesses, qualities with a value that is in ample evidence in these playoffs.
Just weeks ago, it looked as though Brunnstrom was headed to the Canucks, with the deal sealed by the promise of a spot alongside the Sedin twins on the top line. That arrangement apparently was scuttled when Vancouver axed GM Dave Nonis, who'd championed Brunnstrom's acquisition. Since then, rumors have swirled that the phenom's signing will be tied to a guarantee of ice time, that he expects to be given a top-six role with the big club, and that time in the minors is out of the question. That may have come from his agent, J.P. Barry, in an effort to separate the buyers from the tire kickers, but Brunnstrom isn't jumping to the NHL with any expectations.
"I don't know if I'm ready for the National Hockey League," he told Canada's TSN on Thursday. "But I am an offensive-type player and I try to skate a lot."
With a deal likely to be finalized within the next week to 10 days, for the max of $900,000 per season, the betting here is that he picks the Stars over the heavily favored Red Wings, and for a number of good reasons.
With three elite centers -- Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards and Mike Modano -- he'll have a chance to slide in alongside someone who can make the most of his skill set. Despite their recent success, the Stars have plenty of room on the wings, and while making a team right away may not be Brunnstrom's stated goal, it wouldn't hurt a team's chances if they had an immediate opening.
And then there are there are the fringe benefits, like a winning environment, better weather, no state income taxes, and a less pressurized atmosphere. With the Sharks to finish off and the Wings awaiting them, it's too bad the Stars can't get Brunnstrom in the lineup right now.
Bruins bruiser grows on world stage
When the Boston Bruins traded down in the 2003 Entry Draft to select Colorado College defender Mark Stuart, bypassing the chance to grab Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, and Brent Burns, the team sold the pick as someone who one day would wear the captain's C.
While Stuart's development has been slower than that of some of the players the Bruins overlooked -- he averaged just 15 minutes of ice per game on Boston's third pairing this season -- his looming presence hasn't gone unnoticed. In fact, it speaks of his vast potential that Stuart was named an alternate captain of the American side that opens play today against Latvia at the World Hockey Championship.
It's clear that the 23-year-old bruiser, who was fourth on the Bruins with 101 hits despite his limited ice, is being groomed for a leadership role with the 2010 Olympic squad. Although his development track suggests he's a few years away from wearing the C for the big squad, it might be something USA Hockey gives serious consideration. Stuart captained the 2004 US World Junior side that captured the country's first-ever gold medal at the tournament, and led the 2002 Under-18 team to the same glory.
A good fit for Jackets
If you can get a shutdown defenseman for $2 million, you've made yourself a pretty good deal. That's exactly what Columbus GM Scott Howson did this week in re-signing Jan Hejda just weeks before he could have hit the market as an unrestricted free agent.
The 29-year-old Czech was given up on by both the Sabres and Oilers before signing a one-year deal with the Blue Jackets and finding a home in Ken Hitchcock's scheme. He was the workhorse on the penalty kill, and his rating of plus-20 this season set a franchise record.
Rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen of the Dallas Stars is hoping to find a generous buyer for his old ride.
The car, a 2001 Pontiac Sunfire complete with the 90,000 miles he's put on it since he was 15, was famously "borrowed" by goalie Marty Turco before the team went on an East Coast road swing and delivered to a Dallas body shop where it received a $12,000 face lift. With a massive entertainment system, custom rims and a tricked-out paint job that obliterated any hope he had of traveling the Metroplex in anonymity, the car made it clear to Niskanen that he'd arrived as part of the team.
Now, Niskanen is offering the car for auction, with all proceeds going directly to the Matt McKee Family Trust. McKee was the director of ticket operations for the Stars when he passed away in January at the age of 34.
The winner of the auction will be presented the car by Niskanen himself, along with an autographed jersey and four tickets to a 2008-09 Stars game.
The auction, which closes on May 4, can be found online at http://auction.nhl.com.