Jamming The Crease
Alright, so as far as comebacks go, this was more Old Dogs than Pulp Fiction. Still, the return of Chris Chelios makes the struggling Atlanta Thrashers a team worth watching down the stretch...if he can keep a roster spot. Based on his debut, and the slumping fortunes of the team, that's no sure thing.
The 48-year-old Chelios played just 13:14 on Thursday, the fewest minutes of any Thrashers defender, but that was enough time for him to be actively involved in both Columbus goals. R.J. Umberger's attempted back door pass glanced off the stick of Chelios and through the wickets of Johan Hedberg to give the Jackets the early lead. Tough break, but that's probably happened to Chelios a couple dozen times during his 25 NHL seasons.
Later, though, Chelios made an ill-timed pinch at the offensive blueline that allowed Derek Dorsett to blow past him and set up Kristian Huselius' game-winner. What stings isn't so much that he was beaten by Dorsett, but that he wasn't able to track down the third or even fourth Jacket attacker as they raced into the Atlanta zone before the goal was scored. Sad to say, Chelios looked every bit his age on that shift.
His veteran experience, along with the plus-34 mark he racked up in 46 games with Chicago of the AHL, made Chelios the obvious choice to pick up the slack when Christoph Schubert was injured this week. But with the playoffs slipping away after four straight losses, there's little time for the Thrashers to turn it around. If they continue to slide, it makes more sense to give the job to a promising youngster like Arturs Kulda than to count down the clock with Father Time on their blueline.
Fresh legs for the Hawks
The Hawks may have sat on their hands at the deadline but they should get a big boost down the stretch from the return of Adam Burish. A left knee injury sidelined the 27-year-old winger for the first 65 games of the season, but he made an immediate impact when he returned to the lineup against the Kings on Wednesday with an assist and a fight in his first shift.
Burish not only adds an effective, agitating presence to the third line, he brings a fresh, motivated set of legs to a corps of forwards that boasts the best depth in the West.
Super Stamkos' secret weapon
If the breakthrough season of Tampa Bay's sensational soph Steven Stamkos is any indication, it looks as though Gary Roberts is going to have a very lucrative post-hockey career as a personal trainer.
Roberts, who retired last season from the Lightning with 438 goals on his resume, is credited with developing the program that added 20 pounds of muscle to the 20-year-old's body, giving him the strength and endurance that's made him so effective down low and added some zip to an already deadly shot. Roberts is said to be looking into expanding his practice this summer with a hand-picked clientele that will bring the same work ethic to gym as did Stamkos.
He shouldn't have any trouble lining up applicants. After Stamkos scored his 42nd goal on Thursday night -- a laser from the right dot that sizzled past J-S Giguere's shoulder -- Roberts' prized pupil is just two off the Rocket Richard Trophy pace of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The goal was wasted in a 4-3 OT loss to the Leafs, but it did extend his franchise-record scoring streak to 18 games, during which he's scored 17 goals and 33 points.
Draft gems on tap
American readers with access to the NHL Network might want to join what should be a large crowd of scouts taking in Friday night's contest between the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights. The Windsor lineup includes explosive winger Taylor Hall, the favorite to go first overall in this summer's draft, along with Cam Fowler and Justin Shugg.
Fowler, 6-2, 190 defenseman who starred for Team USA at the World Juniors, is viewed by some scouts as the premier blueliner available this summer. Other bird dogs hint that his stock has dipped slightly below that of Kingston's Erik Gudbransson, but a concentrated effort on physical play over the past couple weeks by Fowler is starting to ease their concerns. Shugg is a likely second-rounder, but the scoring touch (38 goals and 76 points) evidenced this season could convince a team to use a late first on the 5-11 winger.
The Knights' roster boasts a few notable prospects as well, including 2009 Toronto first-rounder Nazem Kadri, Blues' hopeful Phil McRae (33rd overall, 2008) and goalie Michael Hutchinson, a third-round selection of the Bruins.
If nothing else, you've got two bitter rivals lining up in the season's final weekend with a nasty playoff battle on the horizon.
Game time is 7 eastern.
Future of Phoenix is cloudy
I don't have the most sensitive nose, but I think I smell a smokescreen in the lawsuit recently filed by the MHL against former Coyotes' owner Jerry Moyes.
It may be that Ice Edge Holdings, the group that signed a letter of intent earlier this season to purchase the team, is merely holding off on finalizing the agreement in order to avoid incurring the financial hit being assumed by the league during the Coyotes' limbo season. The more likely scenario though is that IEH simply can't get the funds together and won't be able to complete the deal.
The suit, then, is not just a matter of the league trying to cover some of its own losses. It will set up what looks like the inevitable move out of Phoenix.
It's pure speculation at this point, but league officials could use the proceedings to demonstrate how they were essentially forced to buy the club in the wake of the failed Moyes/Jim Balsillie bankruptcy ploy, then spent the season searching for a local buyer while they assumed upwards of $20-$30 million worth of losses they can't possibly be expected to cover indefinitely. Whether they win the suit or not, they've at least made their case in the court of public opinion as they clear the path for a transfer of the franchise.
The timing seems unfortunate considering the success of the team on the ice and attendance figures that appear to be trending upward, but the fact that the league chose not to wait hints at a larger timetable that's been set into motion.
NHL Truth & Rumors