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Devils may get their due

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Posted: Thursday March 22, 2001 12:02 PM
Updated: Thursday March 22, 2001 12:04 PM


Click here to send an NHL question to Kostya Kennedy.

Hello puckfreaks. Three weeks left in this long, long season and some nice playoff races are brewing both East and West. How do you all think they're going to pan out? We've touched on the Hart Trophy, the Jack Adams and now the Vezina in the past couple of weeks. Do you all have any other awards-related ideas or thoughts or issues you want to discuss? Send 'em in. I'm looking forward to another rich batch of letters next week. Until then, folks, your very own mailbag ...

Now that the Devils have smoked Colorado twice this year, how about jumping them above the Avalanche in your Power Rankings? It seems to me that head-to-head record is the best criteria by which to determine the better team. New Jersey is 2-0 vs. Colorado and 1-0 vs. Detroit, the teams you have above the Devils. And may I remind you that they ARE the Stanley Cup Champions.
—Tom D., River Vale, N.J.

Thank you very much for reminding me about the Stanley Cup champion thing. It had completely slipped my mind. A few other people, including your fellow New Jerseyian John Worobetz in Summit, wrote in requesting that the Devils get bumped up in the World-Famous Power Rankings. I love New Jersey's chances this year, and I put them right on par with the Avalanche and the Red Wings. I give those Western Conference clubs the very slight edge because they face tougher competition for much of the season and have nonetheless put together better records than the Devils have. But the difference among those three top contenders is miniscule and the Devils would have a great shot to beat either the Avalanche or Red Wings in a playoff series -- particularly in light of the recent injuries to Colorado's Rob Blake and Detroit's Darren McCarty and Chris Chelios.

So far this season, the Kings have traded Rob Blake, possibly their most popular and most solid player over the last five seasons, and picked up Felix Potvin, who was merely .500 with the Canucks this year. All of a sudden, the Kings are creeping up on that last spot in the West! What gives? Were the Blake trade rumors distracting the team?
—Michael Segal, Carlsbad, Calif.

The Blake situation was a distraction, but his play more than compensated for it. Even though the Kings are winning, they still miss him. The reemergence of Potvin as a solid keeper has been the key to the team's recent surge. The Kings hadn't been getting decent goaltending all year. If they had, they would have been in playoff position long ago.

Wondering what you thought about Thrashers GM Don Waddell? Where did he come from, what is his past experience in hockey? He has quickly become a very unpopular guy here since he traded Donald Audette to Buffalo. As a fan of the Thrashers, I was a little upset about it because I'm not sure it was the right thing to do.
—Michael Workman, Atlanta

Waddell's been in the game a long, long time (about 20 years) and was GM of a couple of pretty successful IHL teams, including the Orlando Solar Bears. Before he was hired in Atlanta, I knew him mostly from his 1997-98 stint as the Red Wings' assistant GM. He's knowledgeable, he's a hard worker and he's personable. Waddell is pretty direct in his evaluations and opinions, which is always good for the people who work with and around him. Whether Waddell is on the right track in Atlanta or is in over his head remains to be seen. The Patrik Stefan experiment needs to pan out for him.

It would have been nice to keep Audette; he was obviously Atlanta's best player. I'm not ready to term the deal a failure yet. Once the Thrashers decided they weren't going to build around him -- and for all Audette's ability he's not quite a centerpiece player -- they had to get something of value in return for him before became a free agent this summer. On the face of it, Atlanta could have gotten more than it received from Buffalo, namely the middling prospect Kamil Piros (a 22-year-old center from the Czech Republic) and a fourth-round draft pick. Maybe Waddell's staff sees something in Piros that others don't. Waddell has made some clear errors -- his failure to get a solid backup goalie behind Damian Rhodes in the Thrashers' inaugural season was a glaring one -- but he has also done some things well, such as tap into some veteran European talent to solidify his club. He has another season of honeymoon in my book.

I know that Joe Sakic is your pick for the Hart, but who is your pick for goalie of the year? I think it should be the Flyers' Roman Cechmanek. He's tied with Dominik Hasek for the most shutouts in the league, has the best GAA among goaltenders with at least 30 games and has a very good save percentage.
—Dan, Bewyn, Pa.

A month ago I would have handed this award to the Coyotes' Sean Burke without thinking twice. But Burke has slumped some since then (and been bothered by injury) while Cechmanek has maintained his high level of play. He was superb in a game against the Rangers last Saturday. Cechmanek could well win the Vezina. As of now it's between him and Burke. The season's final weeks will determine the winner.

What do you think about the noise emanating from the Molson Centre with regard to the Canadiens making a play for Vincent Lecavalier this offseason? I appreciate that it would cost Montreal dearly on two fronts (cash and draft picks), but despite claims by Andre Savard that they will be players in the free agent market this summer, I can't see the Canadiens being truly competitive next season. A native Quebec star sporting La Tricolore would give the Montreal fans a reason to care again.
—Paul Attfield, London, England

Well, this would be quite a marriage -- a young, still-affordable potential superstar returning to his hometown. He could be a perfect player for the Canadiens to build around, but I'd be very surprised if the Lightning were willing to deal him. They consider him the foundation of the club. Lecavalier and his family could consider putting pressure on the Lightning to move Vinny back home, but I don't think that will happen -- not yet anyway. Vincent and his family like Rick Dudley and the Tampa Bay ownership and Vincent's relatives love staying in Tampa, where they can go golfing while the snow piles up back home in Montreal. It could also be too much of a burden for Lecavalier to play in Montreal at this point. He's 21, and has needed time to adjust into his role as captain of a lousy team. To be viewed as the savior of the Canadiens could be too much for him. He still needs to concentrate on just getting better, developing his phenomenal skills and producing more consistently in the league. Lecavalier in Montreal is a nice thought, but it is better suited for some day down the road.

Without making any significant trades, what do you think of the Maple Leafs' chances in the playoffs? After Curtis Joseph and Gary Roberts, they have a bunch of average players except for Tomas Kaberle. More than likely Toronto is going to meet the Senators again, and this is probably the year Alexei Yashin finally performs in the playoffs.
—Silvano, Mississauga, Ontario

The Maple Leafs are far more vulnerable now than it appeared they would be at the start of the season. They don't score consistently enough and they aren't putting forth the night-after-night effort they need to. Maybe that consistency, which they had for a brief stretch in the fall and early winter, comes back in the playoffs, but as of now, Ottawa would look fondly on such a matchup. The big X-factor, of course, is CuJo. If he wins an early playoff game or two with one of his acrobatic, 40-save nights, that could get the Leafs on a roll.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Kostya Kennedy covers the NHL and is a regular contributor to To send a question to his mailbag, click here.

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