Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 NHL trade deadline day is here

The day is finally here. This is an fantasy hockey player's wet dream. It's the NHL trade deadline, 2008 style.

Today is the day hockey fans around the world watch closely to see if their favorite team makes a trade... or two... or three (okay, not necessarily that many, but you get my point)... where they are either looking to bolster their roster to make a serious run at a Stanley Cup title or simply to execute a fire sale in building for the future.

This is when NHL owners and general managers pull their hair out and have a couple of coffee pots on standby. The weight of their teams falls on their shoulders to do what is best for their employer. This is the proving ground where their salaries are deserving or not when they were hired.

How many trades will be made by
the deadline which is at 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time? No one knows for sure, but there will be some made by then. What will be funny is that if there are so few to make this day not worth getting up in the morning for to tune in to (or access their trade deadline web pages) TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, The Score or even the NHL Network and the league office running NHL.com's trade deadline page, all those employees reporting to work extra early will be just a little bit aggravated. Not to say ESPN or FOX Sports won't be paying any attention, but if you don't need the extensive marathon coverage those Canadian networks provide, you always have those two American sources to check out anytime.

While they were not trades, here are a few transactions that were finalized yesterday and during the overnight hours this morning that likely have made an impact on today's trade deadline:

The Colorado Avalanche signed forward Peter Forsberg for the remainder of this season at $5 million.

The Detroit Red Wings signed forward Darren McCarty to a one-year contract for $535,000.

The St. Louis Blues signed defenseman Barret Jackman to a four-year, $14.4 million contract extension.

The Tampa Bay Lightning traded forward Vaclav Prospal to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a 2009 second round or third round draft pick, then signed defenseman Dan Boyle to a six-year, $40 million contract extension.

The New York Islanders signed forward Mike Comrie to a one-year, $4 million contract extension.

Among the headlines in the last 24 hours that also had an impact on today's trade deadline include Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mats Sundin not waiving his no-trade clause in his contract. Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter went public yesterday to state clearly he was not going to trade forward Alex Tanguay. In each case, certainly a sought commodity was taken off the tote board in potential trades for other GMs across the league.

We'll see how things pan out between now and the end of tonight when any trades made by the deadline are announced. It should be an interesting day. If you want to follow all the developments and late breaking news, you can go over to NHL.com, TSN or Rogers Sportsnet's web sites for live internet feeds, watch NHL Network if you're in the United States or just pay attention to a few sources that I expect will be constantly bringing us up to speed as trades happen:

Spector's Hockey
The Fourth Period
Kukla's Korner
James Mirtle's hockey blog

Lyle Richardson (who is a very reputable journalist that runs the Spector's Hockey site) has listed a few more sources you can access for all your trade deadline need for juicy trade rumors and actual deals. But I highly recommend Lyle as someone that will be bringing you instant analysis on his blog that is also accessible at FOX Sports' NHL page.

I'd be shocked if more than a few big names get moved today, but again, we shall see. Enjoy your trade deadline day and may your favorite team not disappoint you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Peter Forsberg returns to Colorado Avalanche

For the best part of this season, hockey fans and teams as well as those that cover the National Hockey League on a daily basis have wondered what would happen with Peter Forsberg.

As I had mentioned recently when the Colorado Avalanche were on the verge of getting their three key players back into their lineup in Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny and Joe Sakic from injuries, word out of Denver was the debate in whether or not Forsberg was not far behind in joining them.

That was answered today as the Avalanche signed Forsberg for the remainder of this season. However it is not known when he'll play his first game. Colorado certainly is taking a gamble in bringing back a star player that has often had to battle injuries in recent years. After signing with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent on August 3, 2005 and then being traded to the Nashville Predators on February 15, 2007, the 34-year-old Forsberg became a free agent last summer and hasn't played since. With chronic foot problems that had all but led him to retire, he took time off to assess the prospects of whether or not he would ever be healthy again to play at a high level in his professional career. Less than two weeks ago, it appeared that the Flyers were poised to bring him back. Other teams remained interested in his services despite the health risk, but Forsberg's agent Don Baizley politely told general managers looking to sign him that his client wasn't ready to make a commitment.

But in a surprise turn of events today, on the eve of the 2008 NHL trade deadline, Forsberg decided to sign with the Avalanche.

"Over the last several months, I have worked extremely hard in order for this to be possible. I am looking forward to putting this jersey on again," Forsberg said in the team press release. "I have so many great memories of my playing days in Denver. I'm excited about helping my new teammates and former teammates in the coming weeks, and hopefully I am able to do that in the very near future."

With Philadelphia and mostly recently speculated that the Minnesota Wild were contenders to land Forsberg, he explain why he decided to go to Colorado. One good reason was familiarity in his surrounding with the nine seasons he spent there and built the most of his impressive career resume.

"Well, obviously you know I had been there for a long time and I had such a good time there. The years I spent in Denver, we always had great teams, so I had great success there and I thought I played really well," Forsberg explained in a conference call earlier today from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. "I wanted to come to a familiar place too. Since I’ve been going through this, I wanted to come back to Denver. I know everybody from the coaching staff and the management and they’re all great people. So that’s one of the reasons. I feel comfortable going back there to help the team make the playoffs and go as far as we can go."

Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reported today that since delaying his return to the NHL just a little longer, Forsberg went to see a Swedish doctor and also had another skate fitted for his surgically repaired right ankle. After indicating he felt better, he changed his mind that he may be able to play this season after all.

Dater also mentioned that Colorado officials began serious negotiations this morning and quickly came to an agreement.

Rick Sadowski of the Rocky Mountain News reported that Forsberg's contract is a pro-rated deal and will pay him $5 million. In order to eligible to be on an NHL roster for the playoffs, he had to sign by the 3:00 PM Eastern Time trade deadline.

With the Avalanche having lost 6 of their last 7 games and finding themselves four points out of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference, it was a move that general manager Francois Giguere felt he had to make the gamble on Forsberg. Bringing in the two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2003 Hart Trophy winner to have an impact on Colorado's chances of making the playoffs was an easy decision.

"We all understand that there's still a risk factor," Giguere said to Sadowski after the signing was announced. "We are willing to take that risk, especially when you don't have to give an asset to acquire him. We all believe that Peter can still be a premier player in this league and hopefully everything will work out great. Many NHL teams were trying to sign him and we're very excited that he's decided to come back with us."

Sadowski also reports in his article that Forsberg is at the very least a week away from making his return on the ice with Colorado.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rangers' epic collapse in Montreal sums up their season so far

The headline to this blog entry may come with a little bit of bias and that's a scarcely rare instance when I'm writing on here about the National Hockey League, not solely about any one team.

While this doesn't happen with regularity, Tuesday night's game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre can sum up a lot of things.

One is very easy to conclude. Never stop playing until the final horn sounds. And I mean NEVER.

Two would be to never be overconfident. The cruel dose of reality will cause you great pain. See the New England Patriots.

And three, you will never be a championship-calibre team (how about even just a playoff team) if you suffer the kind of epic collapse the New York Rangers did in Montreal on this night, a possible season backbreaking 6-5 shootout loss.

Entering Tuesday, the Rangers were coming off two impressive home wins by defeating a surging Buffalo Sabres team whom they faced again last night and against at the time the NHL's best road team in the San Jose Sharks. It seemed that they were poised to bring that mometum north of the border and continue a climb up the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings. They were set to play a team that they had been very successful against by winning the first three meetings.

But the Canadiens seemed to have more to play for from their own perspective. On top of looking to avenge a 5-3 defeat on February 3rd in which the Rangers rallied from 3-0 down to win on that Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, Montreal wanted to fend off New York in inching closer to within four points of their fourth place seeding in the conference standings. The top four seeds get home ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and despite the postseason not set to begin until April 9th, the Canadiens are looking at the big picture.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau decided to start their prized 20-year-old future regular starting goaltender Carey Price, someone that had won his last three decisions including two of them against the slumping Philadelphia Flyers. Price had earned last week's NHL Third Star of the week honors for his brillant play by also posting one shutout among the three wins, a .963 save percentage and 1.32 goals-against-average in that span.

But New York jumped on Montreal early and often as Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery each scored a goal and netted an assist just 14 seconds apart for an early 2-0 lead. With ex-Ranger Alexei Kovalev in the penalty box for the second time just just over three minutes, Brendan Shanahan scored the first of his two power play goals on the night and that led to Carbonneau taking Price out of the game in favor of Cristobal Huet just 13:56 into the game. The Rangers were then ahead 3-0 as they chased Price out by scoring three times on just 11 shots. Late in the period, Montreal's own version to Avery as a pest in Long Island native Mike Komisarek had roughed up Dubinsky along the backboards of the Rangers' offensive zone and the two squared off in a fight.

Knowing what happened 16 days earlier in which Komisarek was excessively physical with Jaromir Jagr, Dubinsky was quoted in Tuesday's New York Daily News in which he said that he'd personally stand up to Komisarek if he tried to do it again.

"I'm definitely going to be physical on him. I'm not going to let him off the hook ever," Dubinsky said of Komisarek. "I can't say if anything's going to happen. But he's definitely going to be hearing it from me if he's taking any liberties or cheap shots. That's for sure."

It did happen and while Komisarek clearly had the upper hand in the fight, many can conclude that Dubinsky has guts, especially in not backing down against anybody that includes those that have a size advantage. It shows the kind of character any coach would want of a player like Dubinsky to be on their team.

The Rangers' chances of completing a season sweep over the Canadiens seemingly was all but completely locked up as Shanahan and Chris Drury each scored their 20th goal of the season during a key four-minute power play to make it 5-0 with 14:57 remaining in the second period. Shanahan's second goal marked the 19th straight season he has scored 20. New York was able to take full advantage of a double minor assessed to another native Long Islander in Christopher Higgins, penalized for inflicting a cut with a high stick to the nose of Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival.

Little did anyone watching this game know what was going to happen next.

Michael Ryder would score twice in 3:34 to not only get Montreal on the scoreboard, but back within striking distance to make it a 5-2 hockey game heading into the second intermission. Rangers head coach Tom Renney had called a timeout to try getting his team to regroup, but it didn't seem to work.

But before the second period ended, the over-aggressive Komisarek was called for two more penalties, a roughing penalty with exactly five minutes to go and then 2:24 later received a high sticking call for shoving Paul Mara in the head with his stick after he legally checked him into the sideboards.

After that call was made, already agitated Canadiens fans began to litter the ice with food garbage, water bottles and promotion posters. Many including myself would find their actions to be a disgraceful act on their part, another on the history list of instances where fans in Montreal overstepped the bounds of reasonable behavior. Remember when Montrealers loudly booed the American national anthem a few years ago? The Canadiens as an organization were so embarrassed by that, they issued an apology for their fans' actions. Even though the archrival Islanders were the Canadiens' opponent that night, the Rangers were no strangers to being the guest at a game in which poor fan behavior occurred. During the Quebec Nordiques' final home game ever played in Quebec City in which the Rangers ultimately prevailed in their 1995 opening playoff series, food garbage was also thrown onto the ice at Colisee Pepsi. Viewers got a nice look at the evidence as one of the FOX Sports cameras zoomed in on a spilt cup of soda on the ice.

Just as the Rangers quickly struck in the first period with a pair of goals to start the game, the Canadiens would answer in the third period in even more impressive action. In believing as an observer that even a 5-2 third period lead was still comfortable in today's NHL, one would think that with a 20-2 record this season when leading after two periods. You would think that record would be an indicator the Rangers were favored to pull this victory out. Obviously not on this night.

"We stopped playing," Shanahan told John Dellapina of the New York Daily News. "We're guilty of that. And we learned a valuable lesson that really we haven't dealt with too often this year. We've been a very good third-period team and a very good team with the lead."

Kovalev opened the third period scoring and before you can blink, right off the center ice faceoff, Ryder surprised Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a screaming shot from high between the faceoff circles for what was thought to be a natural hat trick nine seconds later, but the puck hit Mark Streit among bodies in the low slot off his right leg and into the net. New York was only up 5-4 with 13:08 left in regulation play. The passionate sellout crowd of 21,273 inside Bell Centre was really loud by this point. How could it not?

One can debate this until they're blue in the face, but Lundqvist's game was definitely thrown off as Montreal made their storied comeback.

"I just tried to battle, after the fourth one," Lundqvist said to Steve Zipay of Long Island Newsday. "There were just players and pucks everywhere."

The crowd wasn't just fired up by the penalties late in the second period, they were energized. The Rangers played right into their hands as Marek Malik took a pivotal holding penalty with 5:38 left and the Canadiens clearly outplaying them with especially their superior speed. They sensed this comeback thanks to Ryder's heroics and when Kovalev burned his old team once again with the game-tying power play goal with 4:22 to go off a one-timing pass from Andrei Kostitsyn. The crowd was deafening by this point.

"When I was laying down, I could see that there was nobody sitting," Kovalev said to Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette after the game. "It's unbelievable. The fans have always been great to me. It definitely makes you give more back and I'm trying to play as hard as I can for them. A game like this, we just had to keep playing and you never know what will happen."

New York had their five-goal lead completely wiped out and without that timeout already used, they had no choice but to at least get the game to overtime, earn at least one point and try to get the win. But it wasn't meant to be.

Huet would not allow the Rangers to score from this point forward as the biggest among his 20 saves in the game would come in a very intense overtime period. After Lundqvist made a big stop on Andrei Markov 30 seconds in, Huet stacked his pads to rob Martin Straka on a chance to win the game three minutes later. Additionally, Huet survived a scare with Scott Gomez nearly redirecting home a lead pass from Shanahan that was even closer to a winning goal from point blank range. Instead, the puck sailed just wide of the right post and two teams survived to send this memorable game to a shootout.

With Huet even more clutch here as he denied Shanahan and Drury in their shootout attempts, it was Montreal captain Saku Koivu who scored the eventual winning goal by beating Lundqvist on a nice deke and tucked the puck between the left post and Lundqvist's right skate. The Bell Centre crowd was then sent into a frenzy after Huet denied Jagr on the Rangers' final shot and the amazing comeback was complete for the Canadiens in their 6-5 victory.

The moment the outcome was decided, you cannot begin to fathom the complete opposite feelings each team and the fans had on this game. But it was even polar opposites as team records were set for each side. As it turned out, with the franchise celebrating its centennial next season, never before had the Montreal Canadiens (33-28) rallied from a five goals behind to win a regular season game. Remember, in the 99 years of their existence even dating back to their pre-NHL days, that was true. It made it genuinely historic for long-time Canadiens fans and had the country of Canada buzzing over this successful comeback. It derailed New York's attempt at their first season sweep over Montreal in six years.

Can you imagine that if you took away their 1994 Stanley Cup championship, the Rangers would be one of the most snakebitten franchises in professional sports with a 67-year drought and counting. The 1940 chants inside rival rinks would be louder today. But as that one fan sign read at Madison Square Garden on that memorable June 14, 1994 night, "I can die in peace".

For the first 28:27 of the game, the Rangers played a complete game on both ends of the ice. But over the last 31:32 of regulation play, it was the Canadiens that overwhelmed them at every facet of the game, especially their speed. Certainly as Rangers television color analyst Joe Micheletti described it during the postgame show on FSN New York, he said it was like a tale of two different games.

"In what's surprising is that the Rangers came into this game as the third-best defensive team in the National Hockey League," Micheletti told play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen. "They've been so good defensively and it got away."

Being responsible for scoring the winning goal, Koivu said afterwards that he was impressed how the fans at the Bell Centre stayed behind their team even after falling behind 5-0.

"I haven't been part of a game like this," Koivu said. "It was a pretty incredible atmosphere in the last 10, 15 minutes. It just shows how quickly things can turn around. They came back last game and tonight it was our turn."

On one hand, you have what to some outside observers may see in the Canadian media and the fans celebrating Montreal's win as if it's some playoff win for their country. Just listen to the tone of voice in sportscasters providing overviews of the game such as on TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. Yes, undoubtedly it was a remarkable comeback. But on the other hand, Rangers fans in New York City and across the United States were completely heartbroken to downright angry.

To those that have followed the New York Rangers for many years, it is nothing more than absolute frustration to watch a promising team where for some seasons than others just fail to meet expectations based on the makeup of the roster and the coaching staff. New York has two future Hall of Fame players in Jagr and Shanahan, a budding superstar goaltender in Lundqvist, an impact player in Avery, two prized free agent forwards in Drury and Gomez the team signed to big contracts last summer, a rookie who is rapidly becoming a star player in Dubinsky, a very promising future in rookie defenseman Marc Staal, two other young defensemen have played their way into prominent roles on the team in Daniel Girardi and Fedor Tyutin (who each signed contract extensions last weekend, by the way) as has forwards Nigel Dawes and Ryan Callahan. Then I hadn't even mentioned the important roles of Straka and Blair Betts. Yet as this team stands just three days before the trade deadline, the Rangers (30-32) are the most inconsistent team one can find in the NHL today. You honestly never know what you're going to get from them from one game to the next.

Think about this. You're 5-0 against your archrival from New Jersey. You've won seven straight in Philadelphia overall, plus have blanked the Flyers three times this season alone. You had won five straight and 10 of 12 during a stretch in November to recover from a poor start to the season. You had taken out Atlanta in back-to-back January home games plus got that impressive Super Bowl Sunday victory in Montreal. Lundqvist had seven shutouts on the season entering the rematch on Tuesday night. Yet, you can't beat Boston in getting swept in a home-and-home weekend set last month, lose to the worst road team in the league on home ice to Tampa Bay on January 8th, cannot buy a win in Raleigh in all but one of their last seven visits, lose both games in Washington thanks to Mike Green scoring both overtime goals, plus lose to both southern California teams on Madison Square Garden ice two weeks ago. Did I mention that the Los Angeles Kings owned the worst record in hockey entering that February 5th game? The ultimate letdown for the Rangers who had beaten Philadelphia, New Jersey and Montreal all on the road beforehand.

Let the inconsistency label be trademarked for the New York Rangers.

How bad was this defeat for the Rangers? Abysmal, absolutely. But just as Montreal made history on this night, New York did the same. But it was of course on the opposite side of the record book. Never before since the Rangers took to the ice in 1926 had they EVER lost a game when leading by five goals. Yup, you guessed it, the worst such regular season loss in franchise history. Their previously largest blown lead in which the Rangers ended up failing to win was also in Montreal where they were up by four goals before suffering a 6-4 setback on February 9, 1991.

Renney certainly was not at a loss for words in describing how he felt after the game.

"We're gonna have to throw this away, we allowed them back into the hockey game," Renney said. "I'm not going to suggest for a minute that we're okay with this. We're not, we're mad. We needed a little bit more from everybody in terms of composure."

And we know once the Canadiens comeback snowballed into a Rangers defeat, you knew that's exactly what Renney didn't get from his team in the second half of the game.

How did the New York media and other journalists covering the Rangers side of this debacle see it?

"Sixteen days after mounting their most stirring rally of the season, the Rangers committed the greatest collapse in their franchise's eight-decade history on the very same sheet of ice." - John Dellapina of the New York Daily News.

"The Rangers now must confront the ghost of this colossal failure..." - Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

"It was a monumental collapse, salvaged only by the fact that the Rangers came away with a point." - Steve Zipay of Long Island Newsday.

"Right now, this feels like the worst loss ever. But the goofy NHL system of handing out points to teams that lose makes it appear like less of a disaster in the standings." - Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin.

If you ask me, the Rangers didn't deserve that point for just getting to overtime.

Lost in the devastating defeat was Jagr's four assist effort where he was named the game's second star, Dubinsky had a "Gordie Howe hat trick" with a goal, an assist and a fight. Komisarek was able to get under the skin of Dubinsky and the Rangers, but he got what he wanted and didn't seem to mind either as he said to TSN's John Lu after the game.

"That's great. They're coming after me. They're attention is on me, that's awesome," Komisarek said.

If the Rangers meet the Canadiens again in the playoffs as they did in 1996 where New York prevailed in six games, including three big road wins during the Bell Centre's first season of operation, they better not focus much of their attention on Komisarek. At the same time, if they want to erase the lingering nightmare of this gut-wrenching loss, it would likely take another playoff series victory against Montreal.

But for now, the big question that will be answered in the remaining weeks ahead before the regular season comes to a close. Will the Rangers shake it off and answer the bell in making a run at the playoffs and still giving themselves any chance to win the Stanley Cup championship this season? Or will they simply go into a runaway tailspin and their season full of promise just collapse as they did on Tuesday night?

Either way, this is about as much of a gut check as you can get. The true character of any team will emerge in how they respond from a nightmare loss as this one was.

"We had total control of this game," Shanahan concluded in his postgame interview with Dellapina.

Your team sure did Shanny, but when all was said and done, your team lost.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rangers lock up Henrik Lundqvist for next six years

One of the most key ingredients to ultimate success for any hockey team is undoubtedly an elite goaltender. It is a man (or woman) that has the gifted ability to keep the puck at least 90% of the time out of the net they defend. Don't hold that statistic to my word, it's just a general bar in my mind to reach if you want to consider yourself an above average netminder at the NHL level.

The very best goaltenders only appear to come once or twice every 20 years. Within the last two decades, we've seen what Patrick Roy accomplished in his Hall of Fame career. Martin Brodeur certainly is well on his way to matching the kind of resume Roy has.

The New York Rangers have two of their five retired numbers in honor of goaltenders, namely Ed Giacomin and of course Mike Richter. Many old timers remember the days of #1 in Broadway Blue, but also recall one of the most emotional nights ever at Madison Square Garden. That would be the night Giacomin returned to New York to face his former team by wearing a Detroit Red Wings uniform and hearing the "Ed-die! Ed-die!" chants all night long. Then Richter emerged out of the shadows of teammate John Vanbiesbrouck in 1992 and the rest of his career was history. He backstopped the Rangers to the historic Stanley Cup championship in 1994 that ended the longest title drought in NHL history at 54 years.

Since Richter's retirement on September 4, 2003, the Rangers hadn't found a man to carry on the torch #35 had for 15 years. Trying to fill the shoes of someone that won at both the NHL level and on the international stage would not be easy. That's just on the ice. Both at the arena and outside it, someone had to emerge that would win over the fans of this great city of over 8.2 million people, the largest metropolis in the United States.

Enter Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers had already paid a price just to acquire the sixth overall draft pick to enable them to select a Chicago kid in Al Montoya in 2004. He was the talk of the town that he'd be Richter's successor.

Not to say that team brass doesn't hold Montoya in a high regard now, but what could be a turning point in terms of whether or not he will see significant playing time in the future with the organization was when Montoya and Lundqvist were two of four goaltenders in camp for a wide open competition to make the 2005-2006 opening night roster.

Drafted the following year after Montoya, it would be Lundqvist as the 2005 205th overall draft pick that would win a spot with the Rangers. Kevin Weekes was previously signed at the time to be the starting goaltender entering that season after the departure of Mike Dunham. But Lundqvist later emerged as the undisputed starter with his exceptional play and hasn't looked back ever since.

Lundqvist set a Rangers record for most wins in a rookie season with 30. In each of his first two NHL seasons, he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. Quite a good start for someone that was drafted in the 7th round. The Rangers scouts saw something really special from this kid from Are, Sweden. Oh, and before I forget, did I tell you that he helped backstop the Swedish Olympic hockey team to a Gold Medal in 2006? Lundqvist has already gotten a taste of NHL playoff action by helping a Rangers team that entered the 2007 postseason as the Eastern Conference's sixth seed to reach the second round. But he has some motivation to overcome adversity such as a 2006 first round sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils and then was victimized by current teammate Chris Drury's clutch goal with 7.7 seconds left in a devastating Game 5 second round loss in Buffalo last year. New York would end up losing to the Sabres in a very competitive six-game series.

Rangers fans have fallen in love with Lundqvist with the kind of play that has had the hockey world talking. Observers wonder how far his potential could go and what he can accomplish. Others are even including him in conversation already as one of the elite goaltenders in the game alongside those such as Brodeur. While Lundqvist has shown the ability to be a gamebreaker that can rival Brodeur, he hasn't even come close to matching what Brodeur has done. At least not yet, he hasn't.

Despite a rollercoaster ride 2007-2008 campaign in which he got off to an amazingly insane start where he had a 1.82 goals against average and four shutouts in his first 24 games, then struggled in recent weeks, the Rangers signed Lundqvist to a six-year, $41.25 million contract extension on Thursday. Faced with their emerging star goaltender being eligible for restricted free agency, this season's $4.25 million deal he signed last summer was set to expire on June 30th. So Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather and Lundqvist's agent Don Meehan were able to hammer out the lucrative contract many observers expected was coming. With the new deal done, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Lundqvist couldn't be happier to remain in New York for years to come.

"I have loved it here since day one, and (Rangers management) knows that," Lundqvist said to New York Rangers official web site reporter Jim Cerny. "There was no reason to wait for the summer. I wanted to get this done as quickly as possible."

At the same time, Lundqvist knows there is more pressure to live up to the expectations of that contract and perform at a high level night in and night out, but at the same time will do everything possible to achieve the ultimate goal. That would be a Stanley Cup championship in New York.

"It's definitely a dream come true to sign a long-term deal in New York. I feel really excited about it," Lundqvist said with a big smile. "I will work as hard as I can here. My goal is to be here when the Rangers win the Cup. That will be my focus and my goal. It's my dream as well."

With those words, it will be music to Rangers fans' ears. Now that his contract is out of the way, he can just concentrate on making that dream become a reality. And if it does, he may join the likes of Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves and Mike Richter as those in the recent past to become legends in the city that never sleeps.

As New Yorkers commonly say, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere". Eli Manning certainly can reinforce that belief with his MVP performance earlier this month that delivered New York City's latest championship, a Super Bowl victory for the New York Giants.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

With Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic soon to return, is Peter Forsberg not far behind?

After learning of the increasingly good news on the condition of Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik, I turn my attention to what is being described as the Peter Forsberg sweepstakes.

But what's interesting about it is the fact we as hockey fans and observers have no real idea what to expect as we approach the National Hockey League's trade deadline. Buyers and sellers are already plotting and planning their strategies on what their team will do. Will they bolster up their roster for a run at the Stanley Cup championship or undergo a fire sale? Those are the questions all 30 NHL general managers have to answer.

In the case of the Colorado Avalanche, they're in a dilemma. A real good one, I might add.

The prospects of a Northwest Division title or even a ticket to the playoffs was expected to take a serious hit when star forwards Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth were each sidelined by injuries in December. But to the surprise of some, Colorado has gone 9-9 since New Year's Day and without both players in the lineup. Also keep in mind that the Avalanche have also had two other important forwards not playing at some point during this 18-game span in Tyler Arnason and Paul Stastny. So, what makes this remarkable is how this team has responded while undermanned.

Arnason played in last night's Colorado's 2-1 home loss to the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, but Stastny was unable to play due to nagging groin discomfort despite having fully recovered from an appendectomy done on January 17th. While Stastny is basically at day-to-day status and according to the yesterday's addition of the Denver Post, he could play as early as Thursday's game against the visiting St. Louis Blues. Sakic and Smyth began practicing with the team. This is especially ahead of schedule for Sakic because he was expected to be out for at least another month following hernia surgery.

Now that the Avalanche have to this point kept themselves among the top eight teams in the Western Conference, are they buyers at the trade deadline? As of now, you would have to think so. But the rumor mill has begun to heat up and Forsberg's name has been in the minds of a number of NHL general managers in recent weeks.

The first time that Forsberg publicly stated he was going to attempt a comeback to play in the NHL was on January 14th when he told a Swedish television station that he was going to begin skating in two to three weeks. The 34-year-old Forsberg has been marred by an array of injuries in recent years then stated he'd like to either try playing for Modo of the Swedish Elite League or sign with an NHL team this season. He has not played since finishing last season with the Nashville Predators.

But it hasn't been a smooth ride for Forsberg since he made those intentions known about a month ago. After pulling out of competing in the LG Hockey Games in Stockholm and telling the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet on January 30th he made up his mind it was the NHL or bust, the Philadelphia Flyers were the clear frontrunner for his future services. Remember that he played for them prior to being traded to the Predators nearly a full year ago. Back on Friday, Flyers owner Ed Snider told Chuck Gormley of the Courier-Post that he had faith in Forsberg making the right call on his comeback attempt and if he wanted to return to the Flyers.

"I'd like to think Peter Forsberg has gone through hell and would never come back if he thought he had to go through that again," Snider said.

A slight bit of uncertainty has set in at this point because Gormley pointed out in his article that Forsberg has been having trouble finding the most comfortable pair of skates to use with his surgerically repaired right foot. As a result, it is not a 100% certainty that he'll play this season.

Despite that bit of news, while Philadelphia remains interested, Forsberg trimmed the list of teams in contention for his services after turning down the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and even the Predators. The New York Rangers were rumored to be interested, yet there has been no mention of them being turned away by Forsberg. But they have not been named in recent days as a possible suitor either.

The remaining teams that are left have been speculated to be the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks besides the Flyers, but there is one team that has emerged as a real possibility. If you guessed the Avalanche, you are right. Why wouldn't he consider returning to a franchise where he won both of his Stanley Cup titles with and had spent most of his career?

On the same day that Snider expressed his thoughts to the Philadelphia area media, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post published an extensive article that discusses the idea of Forsberg returning to Colorado. Dater appropriately sites one of the only main obstacles that can derail a Rocky Mountain reunion and that of course is the health of Forsberg's foot that has kept him away from the rink so far this season.

"The number one thing is Peter being physically ready to play," Forsberg's agent Don Baizley said. "That's the thing Peter is still trying to determine."

However, while Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News feels that Forsberg's best fit would be to go back to Colorado, the Flyers remain on the radar of the former Avalanche superstar regardless of how much sense it may or may not be. One thing is for certain. Playoff contending teams trying to get their rosters ready for a postseason push aren't going to wait too much longer for Forsberg to make a decision. The trade deadline is on February 26th at 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, so it will arrive a lot faster than many think.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Richard Zednik recovering from life-threatening neck laceration

History repeated itself last night in the very same city where one of the most feared injuries in hockey happened.

With 10:05 left in the third period of the Florida Panthers' 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena, everyone watching saw Panthers forward Olli Jokinen check his counterpart Clarke MacArthur into the boards. A routine occurance, right? Not even close. As Jokinen fell to the ice off the collision, his right leg kicked upwards and struck teammate Richard Zednik behind him in the neck.

As a result, the 32-year-old Zednik suffered a laceration of the internal carotid artery and was immediately rushed off the ice by Panthers assistant athletic trainer Dave Zenobi and Zednik's teammate Jassen Cullimore. If you missed the game on FSN Florida, you can hear the absolute horror in the voices of Panthers announcers Steve Goldstein and Denis Potvin when it happened, as shown on WPLG-TV's web site. Zenobi had applied constant pressure on the neck with a towel to minimize the bleeding. After getting initial medical attention from doctors in the Panthers' locker room, WIVB-TV's Jericka Duncan reported that Zednik was taken to Buffalo General Hospital where he underwent successful emergency surgery to close the laceration. WGRZ-TV's Thea Tio stated last night that the operation took two hours to complete.

Had Zednik not this done as quickly as humanly possible, he would've lost so much blood that his life would've been lost. When such a major artery is severed in an area where it is one of the highest blood pressure points of the body, blood escapes at a high rate and vital body functions are threatened with excessive blood loss.

The crowd at HSBC Arena was stunned at the turn of events and the game was delayed about 15 minutes before the public address announcer provided an update that Zednik was in stable condition. Only after that point, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell and both teams decided to finish the game. This is despite Jokinen stating to WFOR-TV reporter Sharrie Williams and other members of the media afterwards that hockey was secondary in the minds of the players and coaching staff.

"I don't think anyone on our team was thinking hockey out there after an injury like that," Jokinen said.

Jokinen was even supportive of not playing the rest of the game as noted by WSVN-TV sportscaster Mike DiPasquale in his report.

Zednik's injury was only a chilling reminder for hockey fans of what occurred at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo on March 22, 1989. Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk was also accidentally slashed in the neck by the skate of St. Louis Blues forward Steve Tuttle as a result of a collision. Back then, television cameras captured the horrifying scene of that night when you can see Malarchuk bleeding profusely and leaving a pool of blood on the ice. Thankfully, Malarchuk fully recovered from his life-threatening injury.

"The worst that went through my mind is, 'Somebody better get him help, or else...' I don't even want to say it," Zednik's teammate Stephen Weiss told Buffalo News Sabres beat writer John Vogl. "Just his face coming off was something you don't want to see. I don't know how to explain it, but it was a scary look. It looked like he was very scared."

Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun had a close view from the team bench of Zednik being led to their locker room since he did not play in last night's game.

"I walked in and saw him on the stretcher," Vokoun said to Miami Herald sports writer George Richards. "I was very concerned when he came off. He was obviously very scared. He was conscious, I guess, that's what the trainer said. His eyes were closed, but he was moving and moaning.''

The Florida Panthers issued an update this afternoon stating Zednik remains in stable condition at Buffalo General Hospital and will remain in the intensive care unit while being regularly evaluated. Team owner Alan Cohen had Jessica Zednik flown in on a charter flight so she could be at her husband's side. Cohen's wife Karen accompanied her on the trip while assistant general manager Randy Sexton remained behind in Buffalo. Support for Zednik has been pouring in from countless fans and those around the NHL family since last night's incident.

"The entire Panthers organization wish to extend their sincere gratitude and appreciation to the medical staff at Buffalo General Hospital, the Buffalo Sabres organization, the HSBC Arena staff and to the Panthers and Sabres fans who have expressed their thoughts and concerns," Sexton said.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wild honor Mike Modano at February 7th game

It hasn't come a full 360° circle, but it's close enough at this stage of Mike Modano's Hall of Fame-calibre career.

We take a quick trip down memory lane to December 17, 2000. It was not a night Modano enjoyed if you were just talking about that game played between the State of Hockey's original team and the new one. When the Dallas Stars arrived in St. Paul to play the Minnesota Wild, there was plenty of local media buildup and a ton of emotion from the fans leading up to the opening faceoff. Rightfully so. We were talking about the visitors as the former Minnesota North Stars playing their first meaningful National Hockey League game in the Twin Cities since bolting for northern Texas seven years earlier. Even though there were numerous North Stars jerseys to be found inside Xcel Energy Center that night, plenty of diehard Minnesota hockey fans were quite bitter with the departure of their former team.

Modano and the rest of the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Stars were blanked 6-0 in one of the most memorable games in Minnesota Wild history with ex-Star Manny Fernandez giving his opponent no life on the scoreboard. Former Wild television play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg stated it was the rudest of welcome backs can give, at least from a game standpoint. However, Modano was happy to be back playing NHL hockey even as a visiting player in Minnesota.

As one of the rare instances these days where players are lifers with a single franchise, Modano was drafted by the North Stars in 1988 as just a 17-year-old Livonia, Michigan boy looking to take his game to the next level (see archive video below). He would play five years in Minnesota, including a very memorable 1991 Stanley Cup playoff run all the way to the Finals, but fell two victories short of a championship. But some adversity off the ice regarding the franchise was not overcome and the controversial relocation of the team by former owner Norm Green to Dallas ended one chapter of his hockey life.

video courtesy: Dallas Stars and NHL Productions

Just like many of his teammates did in 1993, Modano didn't know what to expect. How would the Stars fare in a brand new non-traditional hockey market? At first, there were expected growing pains, but with the team quickly becoming competitive with Modano as their star player, Dallas embraced the game. Sure, you have the high-profile Dallas Cowboys to compete with, but the Stars were able to establish a winning tradition. Modano won his only Stanley Cup title in 1999 and a year later were unable to repeat the feat in a six-game series loss to the New Jersey Devils. One memorable time for Modano when he won that coveted championship was his determination to play through a serious wrist injury.

Even though the Stars haven't won another Stanley Cup title since, he progressed his way up the all-time scoring list, but earlier this season, he made history. In a 3-1 victory in San Jose, Modano scored two goals to help defeat the Sharks. But what was the significance of this particular game? Modano passed St. Paul native Phil Housley to become the all-time points leader for an American-born NHL player.

With 1,263 career points (plus another 133 in the playoffs) entering tonight, Modano returns to St. Paul where he'll be honored by the Wild for his contributions to hockey in the United States. More notably, the foundation of his career took shape in nearby Bloomington, Minnesota where the North Stars called the since-demolished Metropolitan Sports Center home, it is only fitting that he is honored for his American hockey accomplishments in one of the most traditional places in this country the sport is celebrated and is part of its way of life.

Even though he will not be playing for the home team and it has been 15 years since he has, Modano still holds a special place for Minnesota in his heart as he explained to Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo.

"It's a big honor. The five years I spent in Minnesota was an important part of my career and my life," Modano said. "It was fun to be in a place where hockey meant so much to people, not just the North Stars, but the way high school and college hockey was treated. The fans were really special."

Modano feels this way despite having to repair his damaged relationship with Minnesota hockey fans. As he made the career transition to playing in Dallas, Modano had criticized Minnesota's lack of fan support during the North Stars' final years. Before the Wild played their inaugural season, he expressed skepticism in the November 1999 issue of Sport magazine that an expansion NHL team in St. Paul by comparison to neighboring Minneapolis could succeed. But what likely upset many fans in the Twin Cities more than anything else he said was that he felt the Stars wouldn't have won their Stanley Cup nine years ago had the franchise remained in Minnesota.

Despite the ups and downs, Modano deserves to be honored for what he's done as one of the most accomplished American players in the game. And as Richard Durrett of The Dallas Morning News reports tonight on the Stars blog, fans are showing their support by wearing those North Stars jerseys with Modano's familiar #9.