The Stars continued to see their bench as half full rather than half empty even after their two best defensemen—captain Derian Hatcher and alternate captain Sergei Zubov—went on injured reserve last week. Hatcher had arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee and will miss two to three weeks. Zubov, who suffered a sprained neck, was unsure about when he would return.
"This is our biggest challenge yet," says coach Ken Hitchcock. "But we're resilient. You know, the injuries will let us use some defensemen in different roles. That could actually help us."
The Invisible Immortal
Last Friday night in Phoenix, less than three months after scoring his 700th career goal, Mike Gartner was dressed in a charcoal suit, sitting in a skybox with his feet up, as he watched his Coyotes teammates sputter to their fifth straight loss, 5-4 to the Hurricanes. Gartner was a healthy scratch from all those defeats. "This is the hardest thing I've had to handle in hockey," said Gartner, who through Sunday had scored 10 goals in 42 games this season and had increased his career total to 706. "I've been playing on top lines for 18 years."
Seven hundred goals. That breathtaking milestone is the preserve of four hockey immortals who need no introduction- Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Marcel Dionne and Phil Esposito—and 38-year-old Gartner, a finesse player and swift-skating right wing who can't crack the lineup of an underachieving sub-.500 club. Coyotes coach Jim Schoenfeld, who took over in Phoenix this season, prefers more physical players.
That Gartner's benching has generated little attention outside Phoenix reflects the understated quality of Gartner's career. After he scored number 700 against the Red Wings on Dec. 14, Detroit captain Steve Yzerman said with surprise, "We didn't know he was that close." When The Hockey News published its list of the top 50 players in NHL history in January, Gartner wasn't on it.
Gartner's obscurity comes in part because he has never played in a Stanley Cup finals. Though he hasn't been a postseason force (his game is ill-suited to the playoff grind), Gartner has netted more than 30 goals in 17 seasons—the only player in NHL history to accomplish that feat. For such unparalleled consistency he deserves greater accolades and respect than he's getting now.
Gartner, a born-again Christian long before he joined the 700 club, may soon be traded for the fifth time in his career. Last Friday, though, he was sitting in that luxury suite when a group of Boy Scouts were escorted in. They were pleased to meet Gartner but just as thrilled to be in the company of two marginal players—third-string goalie Jimmy Waite and seventh defenseman Deron Quint. Gartner signed autographs, smiled, shook hands. One of the Scouts was told that Gartner had scored more than 700 NHL goals. "Really?" he said. "Wow! That's a lot."