Overachiever/Underachiever…

With the season almost a month old and today being a rare off day for all 30 NHL teams, I figured it would be a good time to look at each team and see which players have caught my eye as under and overachievers.

Anaheim:

Over —  Teemu Selanne: at age 40 the Finnish Flash still has some gas left in the tank with 12 points (5g-7a) in 12 games. He didn’t want to retire the same summer as Scott Niedermayer, so expect this to be Team Teemu’s swan song.

Under — Jonas Hiller: Only 3 wins in 9 games played with a ghastly 3.13 GAA after the last two seasons when he posted 2.73 (2009-10) and 2.39 (2008-09).

Atlanta:

Over — Andrew Ladd: after winning the Cup with Chicago, Ladd was a salary ‘cap-rifice’ and traded to the Thrashers where he has tallied 12 points (4g-8a) in 11 games.

Under — Bryan Little: There are a few choices here (Antropov, Modin, Bogosian), but I’ll go with Little who has seen his goal production drop from 31 (2008-09)  to 13 (2009-10) to 1. More is needed out of the 12th overall pick in 2006 if Atlanta is going to make any noise this season.

Boston:

Over — Tim Thomas: Sure he won the Vezina Trophy two seasons ago, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by his success, but take a look at these numbers: 6-0-0 in six starts, 3 shutouts and a GAA of 0.50!! The Drew Carey lookalike is pain-free and found his game again.

Under — Blake Wheeler: Only two assists in eight games; he could be trade bait once Marc Savard is ready to return from post-concussion syndrome.

Buffalo:

Over — Tyler Ennis: He has seven points this season (in 12 games) and entered the season with nine career points in 10 career games, so not much was expected of the youngster.

Under — Tyler Myers: The reigning Rookie of the Year may be falling victim to the ‘sophomore jinx’ because he is an NHL-worst  minus-10 this season…yikes!!

Calgary:

Over — Brendan Morrison: The guy didn’t sign until after training camp and leads the team with 10 points (3g-7a) in 11 games; ’nuff said.

Under — Jarome Iginla: The team’s captain and heart & soul has only two goals so far, which isn’t very good for a guy with 443 career goals and nine consecutive seasons with 30-plus goals.

Carolina:

Over — Jeff Skinner: The youngest player in the league (18) is tied for the team lead with seven points (3g-4a) and the seventh overall pick in last June’s draft hasn’t looked out of place at all.

Under — Brandon Sutter: After wetting our appetites with 2 goals in the season-opener, Brent Sutter’s son has only managed one measly assist in the following nine contests.

Chicago:

Over — Patrick Sharp: Leads the NHL in goals (10) and is third in points (15); eh, what Cup hangover?

Under — Niklas Hjalmarsson: The Hawks wanted to keep him so bad they let Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi go to San Jose; now the blueliner has 0 points in 11 games & is a minus-8.

Colorado:

Over — tie, John-Michael Liles or Chris Stewart: Liles has 11 assists in 11 games (t-1st in NHL); Stewart has two hat tricks and is second in the NHL in points (16) and goals (9).

Under — Craig Anderson: The goalie’s play last season meant so much to the young Avs as they made the playoffs; this season he is 3-4-0 and hurt his right knee during warmups this week, and is out indefinitely.

Columbus:

Over — Chris Clark: He has six assists in eight games for the low-scoring Blue Jackets.

Under — Rick Nash: Only five points (3g-2a) through the first ten games and is a team-worst minus-8. Not good enough.

Dallas:

Over — James Neal: The third-year pro is off to a nice start of 10 points (5g-5a) in 10 games and could surpass hsi career-high of 55 points set last season.

Under — Jamie Benn: After 41 points in his rookie season, he has gotten off to a slow start with one goal and five points through seven games.

Detroit:

Over — Jimmy Howard: Nice record (4-0-1) in his second full season with the mighty Red Wings; he is proving that he’s the real deal and learning from vet Chris Osgood everyday.

Under — Mike Modano: He scored on his first shift as a Wing but hasn’t done squat since. Perhaps he should have just walked away after 20 years with the Stars organization.

Edmonton:

Over — Jordan Eberle: The rookie has eight points in his first nine games and two highlight-reel shorthanded goals; keep an eye on this kid.

Under — Andrew Cogliano: Only has two points in nine games; he should be better in what is now his fourth full season with the Oilers.

Florida:

Over — Marty Reasoner: The journeyman has seven points in his first nine games for the Panthers, giving them some much-needed offense.

Under — Stephen Weiss: One of the longest tenured Cats is having a rough start with only three points through eight games and he’s a minus-6.

Los Angeles:

Over — Jaret Stoll: Just about every team would take 10 points (4g-6a) from their third-line center through 11 games.

Under — Drew Doughty: Only one point in five games, plus he suffered a concussion.

Minnesota:

Over — Matt Cullen: Ten points in ten games was probably not expected when they signed the reliable center during the summer, but the traditionally offense-starved Wild will take it.

Under — Martin Havlat: The talented, yet oft-injured winger should have more than six assists in the club’s first ten games. Chances are he will be dealt at some point this season.

Montreal:

Over — Carey Price: The young goalie looked abysmal during the preseason, but he has rebounded nicely with a 6-3-1 record putting the Habs atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Under — tie, Scott Gomez, or Brian Gionta: The two ex-Devils have one goal and two assists each in 11 games, and are no longer considered the Canadiens top line.

Nashville:

Over — Anders Lindback: Another year, the Preds produce another young goalie. The rookie is 3-0-1 in his first four NHL starts. One of these years people will realize that Barry Trotz is a great coach.

Under — Patric Hornqvist: After posting 30 goals last season, he has only potted 3 in ten games this year.

New Jersey:

Over — tie, Matt Taormina or Dainius Zubrus: Taormina, a rookie defenseman, is tied for the team-lead in goals with three; Zubrus leads the team in points (7), and assists (6).

Under — Martin Brodeur: The all-time leader in wins is off to a rocky start (3-7-1); is it his age (38) or the amount of rookie defensemen (3) in front of him on a nightly basis?

NY Islanders:

Over — James Wisniewski: The late-summer acquisition has been excellent for the Isles with a team-leading 11 points (2g-9a) in nine games; his performance has been equal to what you would expect from Mark Streit, who is out until March with a shoulder injury.

Under — Trent Hunter: Two assists in eight games;  coupled with the fact he has never come close to duplicating the 51 points he put up in 2003-04 make you wonder why he is still on the Islanders and in the NHL.

NY Rangers:

Over — Ryan Callahan: Even before Marian Gaborik went down with an injury, more was expected of Callahan this season; he has been the Rangers most consistent performer with a team-leading 11 points (4g-7a) in 10 games.

Under — tie, Gaborik or Chris Drury: They’ve played a combined four games this season, which may explain why the Blueshirts are playing like a .500 team.

Ottawa:

Over — Pascal Leclaire: Injured again and sporting an 0-2-1 record; if the Sens are smart they’ll stick with Brian Elliott or start looking to make a trade for a real no. 1 goalie: see Martin Biron, Jonathan Bernier.

Under — Milan Michalek: It’s tough when you are traded for a 50-goal scorer like Dany Heatley; it’s even tougher when you only have five points in ten games and no points on the PP.

Philadelphia:

Over — Sergei Bobrovsky: The latest in a long, long, long line of Flyers goalies has started the season strong, going 5-2-0 in his first seven NHL games.  Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

Under — James van Riemsdyk: More was expected of van Riemsdyk in his second NHL season, but so far he only has four assists in 11 games.

Phoenix:

Over — Eric Belanger: All that can be said is that Belanger leads the team in scoring with six points in ten games.

Under — Shane Doan: The Coyotes captain has only two points, both assists, in seven games; both points came in the same game.

Pittsburgh:

Over — Brent Johnson: The ‘backup’ goalie has a 5-0-1 record this season with one shutout and a 1.16 GAA.

Under — Marc-Andre Fleury: The ‘starting’ goalie has a 1-5-0 record this season with a 3.35 GAA; can you say goaltending controversy?

San Jose:

Over — Antero Niittymaki: The ex-Flyer and Lightning goalie has started the season strong with a 4-0-1 record for the hungry Sharks, and for the moment has the no. 1 job over Antti Niemi.

Under — Devin Setoguchi: Only one goal and one assist through nine games is a disappointing start for the 8th overall pick in 2005.

St. Louis:

Over — Alex Pieterangelo: He is tied for the team lead in +/- with a plus-6 as the 4th overall pick in 2008 looks to stay with the Blues for a whole season finally.

Under — Brad Boyes: Only has one goal in nine games and its beginning to look like he won’t ever reach 43 goals again like he scored in 2007-08.

Tampa Bay:

Over — Steven Stamkos: Okay, I knew Stamkos was good, but he is turning into a superstar and has Hart Trophy written all over him; and turning Tampa into a force to be reckoned with in the East. 19 points, 1st in the NHL. 9 goals, 2nd in the NHL. 10 assists, tied for second in the NHL.  plus-9, 2nd in the NHL.

Under — Simon Gagne: His first season with a team other than Philly has been a disaster. No points in six games, and now is on IR with a stiff neck.

Toronto:

Over —Clarke McArthur: He had five goals in his first four games as a Leaf, and has given them the second line scoring they so desperately need to stay in contention for a playoff berth.

Under — Kris Versteeg: Aside from the goal and assist he posted in game two of the season he has done nothing else for the Leafs and is a prime candidate to be traded if Toronto continues to play well.

Vancouver:

Over — Corey Schneider: He has made two starts and gave up only one goal in each; he is sporting a sparkling 2-0-0 record with a .970 save%.

Under — Roberto Luongo: The former captain of the Canucks has stumbled out of the gates this season with a 2-3-2 record and no shutouts.

Washington:

Over — Michal Neuvirth: He has taken the no. 1 goalie job away from Semyon Varlamov and ran with it, going 7-3-0 with a 2.15 GAA for the high-flying Caps.

Under — Mike Knuble: One goal and four points in 11 games, no PP points.

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Devils-Stars line combos/postgame quotes

Here are the line combinations from Friday night:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk
Elias-Arnott-Langenbrunner
Rolston-Zubrus-Clarkson
Leblond-Pelley

Volchenkov-Fraser
Tallinder-Greene
White-Taormina
Urbom

Dallas:
Neal-B.Richards-Eriksson
Morrow-Ribiero-Burish
Benn-Wandell-Ott
Peterson-Sutherby-Segal

Grossman-Robidas
Daley-Fistric
Niskanen-Skrastins

And here are the postgame quotes I was able to record:

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the game…

“It’s been six days since we played a hockey game so, I think with the environment, we were really excited to get (the season) started; things like that happen once in a while. It’s behind us now; I thought we played well in different parts of the ice. Defensively I thought we did a good job, just little turnovers here and there that were not really necessary and they capitalized on it.”

Was it a good shot that Loui Eriksson scored on the winner?

“Yeah, it was a tough shot, a tough play for everybody. It’s pretty rare that we practice that — a 2-on-1 from there zone — the guy had lots of time. I think (Brad) Richards was well covered and it became almost like a breakaway; he was able to pick a corner.”

Was the game a little more wide open then you would have liked or is that the way this team is going to play?

“I think it’s going to be what it’s going to be. It felt wide open because of the excitement of the game, but I think guys didn’t have much room to make plays, especially in our zone.”

The crowd was loud and into it tonight…

“Yeah it was fun, it was disappointing to not get a win for them because they supported us real well. It was playoff hockey out there, it’s the first game, there’s a lot of excitement building up for the opener and it was fun to be a part of it.”

It seemed like the turning point was when (Ilya) Kovalchuk almost made it 3-0 and hit the post and then they came down and scored shortly after…

“That’s hockey; we have to capitalize — he made a great shot, it just didn’t go in. Same thing the way Richards beat me clean and hit the post there in the third. It was the first game. I think we have to be somewhat pleased with some of the things we did, but we just have to clean it up a bit.”

Big challenge coming up tomorrow night going to Washington?

“Yeah it’s always a challenge to go there. They’re a good offensive team so we’ll have to play well defensively and expose what their weakness is. I don’t know what changes they made, I don’t know what kind of team they have (yet), I haven’t really looked. I’ll look tomorrow at what they have and try to expose what they need to.”

Washington tomorrow, Pittsburgh on Monday so things don’t get easier…

“Hopefully it will get easier later (laughs), that’s the way it goes usually. But it’s pretty rare that we start (the season) with so many games, like six games in ten days. Usually we trail teams by three games after the first week in games played, so this will be a little different look; we just have to get going quicker.”

Will you be starting tomorrow?

“I’ll be on the ice somehow.”

Zach Parise:

On your goal did the puck bounce a little bit on you?

“No, I was originally going to try and pass it back to Kovy, I kind of picked my head up and saw that (Kari) Lehtonen was down and out so I had some net to shoot at.”

How was Dallas different after they called their timeout?

“I don’t think they really did anything differently, I think we kind of did a lot of things to ourselves by turning pucks over.”

Travis Zajac:

Obviously a disappointing result, but how do you feel you guys played out there tonight?

“I think we had some good spurts during the game. During the first and third I thought we played well, in the second period was when we turned the puck over a little too much and gave them some life; that’s where they got some scoring chances and goals from. We just have to be better in that aspect of the game — and we will be. It’s the first game, we did some good things and hopefully we can continue to build.”

Can you talk about the play where you scored on?

“We came up the ice on a 3-on-2 and Kovy made a good pass to me in the middle. I kind of fanned on the shot or it got tipped or something and I got lucky and the puck got through the goalie.”

It was kind of a soft shot, was that your changeup?

“Yeah, exactly a little changeup. We’ll get better as the games go on here.”

How was John MacLean behind the bench in his first NHL regular season game as a head coach?

“He was good, he was vocal, he was encouraging us positively the entire game. That’s what you expect from a coach. It was his first game and I’m sure he was excited to be there. He’s a good fit for us.”

I heard your former teammate Bobby Holik say on the radio the other day that you will be one of the most improved players in the league this year, your response?

“(laughs) I guess I owe him a diet coke or something. I’ve been working on my game and trying to get better; I’m playing on a line with two great players so I’m sure they’ll make me look good a lot of the time.”

 

Waiting For Kovalchuk…

A lot has happened since Ilya Kovalchuk (642 points in 621 NHL games) became the most talented free-agent in NHL history to hit the open market on July 1, but here we sit on July 18 and the Russian sniper (338 career goals) still hasn’t found a new home. New Jersey, which acquired him in a trade last season is still in the mix, and so are the in, out, in, out, in the Kovy-sweepstakes LA Kings. A third option could be the Russian KHL League, but a talented player in his prime like Kovalchuk needs to play in the league with the most talent and best competition — the NHL.

There are still very valuable players on the market besides Kovalchuk and it seems that the are all waiting for him to sign, before they decide where to go or maybe the other GMs are waiting to see where he lands — making for a very boring two weeks in July devoid of any substantial hockey news.  So, here’s what I am thinking about as we wait for Kovalchuk’s ‘decision’ to be made:

-The NY Islanders have made some solid, off the radar moves to shore up their blue line (Mark Eaton & Milan Jurcina), but more work needs to be done if they are to contend for a playoff spot out of the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division. They should look to sign Alexei Ponikarovsky to play in the top-six and bring back two former Islanders to add more grit to their game — Andy Sutton & Raffi Torres. Sutton has said he would welcome a return to the Island and Torres would be a perfect fit on the third line alongside either Frans Nielsen or Doug Weight.

-What in the freaking world is going on in Calgary?!? They signed two ex-Flames, who both had less than stellar tenures the first time around. Alex Tanguay is a shell of the player he was in 2001 with Colorado and Olli Jokinen was traded away for Ales Kotalik and his ridiculous contract and then they re-sign Jokinen who never looked comfortable in Calgary alongside Jarome Iginla. A few days later ex-Tampa GM Jay Feaster as assistant to the GM who will be probably soon be fired in Darryl Sutter.

-There are still two solid goalies available — one via free agency (Marty Turco) and one via trade (Tim Thomas). It’s not every day you have these types of quality goalies available, so stop being cheap and give your team a decent chance to succeed next year (this means you Columbus, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa, Montreal, Minnesota, LA, San Jose, Dallas).

-There are two enigmatic, but talented wingers available in Max Afinogenov and Alex Frolov and i haven’t heard peep about either yet. It’s possible that one of these two could wind up in the KHL, but in the right situation they can still be solid NHLers.

-Two talented centers are available for trade, but both have almost unmovable  contracts — Boston’s Marc Savard and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza. Hey, maybe they should just be traded for each other?

-It seemed odd to me that: Pittsburgh signed defenseman Paul Martin from New Jersey, New Jersey signed Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa and Ottawa signed Sergei Gonchar from Pittsburgh. This is just my opinion but, a three-way trade during the season would have been soooooo much cooler!

-If the Devils don’t sign Kovalchuk, they should take a hard look at Miroslav Satan, and not just because of the name. Miro proved in the playoffs that he can still produce and help a winning team go deep into the spring.

-Four solid long-time NHL vets are still on the market. Would Mike Modano, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne & Bill Guerin have lasted this long on the open market ten summers ago in 2000? I think not. Modano may go to Detroit, which makes sense in a lot of ways. What if Kariya and Selanne sign one-year deals in Pittsburgh like they did in Colorado? Apparently Sidney Crosby felt he didn’t need Guerin’s leadership, so maybe Guerin could ride shotgun with AO in DC?

-Finally where in the world is Petr Sykora? The rest of your buddies from 2000 are in NJ…..A-LINE, ASSEMBLE!!!!

MacLean + Arnott = Devilicious

First off congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks and captain Jonathan Toews for winning the 2010 Stanley Cup; it looks like Toews and Patrick Kane are the next faces of the NHL — sorry Sidney Crosby, your time is up!

Earlier this week the Devils announced that the franchise leader in goals (347) John MacLean was named New Jersey’s new head coach. Johnny Mac was an assistant for several years until last season when he coached their AHL team (Lowell Devils) to their first playoff appearance in eons. Apparently that was enough seasoning for GM Lou Lamoriello, who was satisfied that MacLean is ready to take over the head coaching vacancy for the recently retired Jacques Lemaire. As far as I see it this is a safe move, but if the Devils struggle out of the gate I wouldn’t put it past Lamoriello that MacLean could get the axe by Thanksgiving. I doubt that will happen (you never know), but hopefully he can at least get the Devils out of the 1st round of the East in 2010-11. Also a nice touch that one of his assistants will be one of the classiest guys in the game, another old friend/coach, Larry Robinson.

Earlier this afternoon the Devils acquired an old friend in Jason Arnott from Nashville for young Matt Halischuk and a second round draft pick in 2011. Arnott is a hero in Devil-land, thanks in part to his double-overtime Cup-clinching goal in the 2000 Finals against Dallas. His presence gives New Jersey a bonafide no. 2 center behind Travis Zajac and should help to re-ignite Patrik Elias, who hasn’t been the same player he was before the lockout; it will also allow Elias to move back to his natural left wing position.

Could the other member of the high-scoring  ‘A-line’ (Petr Sykora) rejoin the Devils too? Highly unlikely, but again with Lamoriello, one never knows. Arnott is in the last year of a deal that will pay him $4.5 million this season, so if I had to guess I would say this could take the Devils out of the running to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. However, if Trader Lou can move around a few more bodies (i.e. Brian Rolston), maybe Kovalchuk could still stay in NJ and give the Devils the best trio of left wingers (Zach Parise, Elias, Kovalchuk) in the NHL.

Next up: the NHL schedule is released on Tuesday, the NHL awards are on Wednesday and the 2010 NHL Draft is on Friday and Saturday. On July 1 free agency begins!!

Stay tuned, it’s sure to be a busy summer!

IRON MEN

In honor of the kick-ass IronMan 2 movie, here are the 88 NHL players that played in all 82 of their teams games this past season.
Quick Hits: Calgary had 7 players appear in every game, including defenseman Ian White (traded midseason from Toronto) who played in a league-high 83 games. Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin led all Iron Men in points with 112 and Toronto’s Colton Orr had the fewest points (six) among those who played in every game. Colorado was the only team that didn’t have at least one player suit up for all 82 games. Only three rookies survived to play in every game — NY Isles’ center John Tavares, Dallas winger Jamie Benn and Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers.

Anaheim: Jason Blake, Corey Perry
Atlanta: Maxim Afinogenov, Tobias Enstrom, Rich Peverley
Boston: Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler
Buffalo: Tyler Myers, Jason Pominville, Henrik Tallinder
Calgary: Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Niklas Hagman, Jarome Iginla, Eric Nystrom, Matt Stajan, Ian White
Carolina: Tom Kostopoulos
Chicago: Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Andrew Ladd, Patrick Sharp
Colorado: none
Columbus: RJ Umberger, Antoine Vermette
Dallas: Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Stephane Robidas
Detroit: Todd Bertuzzi, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart
Edmonton: Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, Dustin Penner
Florida: Keith Ballard, Michael Frolik, Bryan McCabe, Steven Reinprecht
Los Angeles: Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar
Minnesota: Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Brunette
Montreal: Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec
Nashville: David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Ryan Suter
New Jersey: Travis Zajac
NY Islanders: Matt Moulson, Mark Streit, John Tavares
NY Rangers: Artem Anisimov, Dan Girardi, Olli Jokinen, Michal Rozsival, Marc Staal
Ottawa: Chris Phillips, Jarko Ruutu
Philadelphia: Claude Giroux, Ian Laperierre, Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Kimmo Timonen
Phoenix: Adrian Aucoin, Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Keith Yandle
Pittsburgh: Craig Adams, Jordan Staal
San Jose: Ryane Clowe, Dany Heatley, Kent Huskins, Patrick Marleau
St. Louis: Brad Boyes, Jay McClement, David Perron
Tampa: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos
Toronto: Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle, Colton Orr
Vancouver: Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Henrik Sedin
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

My Top 10…

Everyone these days is doing some sort of top ten, and recently I read a blogger who listed their top ten favorite players and the idea intrigued me. If you have a top ten (or five) player list, let me know & here is my submission:

10: Zach Parise (New Jersey) — This kid has done nothing but score since making his debut after the lockout and he never seems to take a shift off. Other coaches visiting New Jersey have instructed their healthy scratches to watch Parise shift after shift and pattern their games after him. The best part is that Zach is only 25 and still has room to get even better (if that’s possible); oh and he is as nice a person as he is as good a hockey player — one of the few players that says thank you after being interviewed.

9: Patrik Elias (New Jersey) — My buddies & I nicknamed Elias ‘The Finisher’ back in the 2000 season because of the Czech star’s penchant for scoring big goals (See Philly, Game 7 2000 East Finals) as a member of the A-line (Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora). There have been times when I doubted that he would stay in New Jersey his whole career, but the franchise’s all-time leading point-getter has been a treat to watch and still has some gas left in his tank.

8. Saku Koivu (Montreal-Anaheim) — I instantly became a Saku fan when I first started participating in fantasy hockey and Montreal’s top line was the lethal trio of Koivu-Mark Recchi & Martin Rucinsky. After I read the detailed stories of his battle with stomach cancer, a battle he would survive, how could you not pull for the little guy? One of the most memorable games I ever attended was when he played his first game (after going through treatments for almost a year) at the end of the 2001-02 season in New Jersey. It’s sad that he couldn’t finish his career as a Hab, but I’ll always be a fan.

7. Kirk Muller (NJ) — Captain Kirk spent the first seven years of his career in New Jersey and was my first favorite player when I began watching/listening to games in 1988. I don’t remember many specifics from back then, as I was still learning the game, but I do remember that he seemed to get a point, or do something to help the team win every night. Meeting him a few years ago in New Jersey (he’s now an assistant coach with Montreal) is one of the highlights of my career so far.

6. Jeremy Roenick (Chicago-Phoenix-Philly-LA-San Jose) — I remember JR’s back-to-back 50-goal seasons and his three consecutive 100-point campaigns, but what everyone remembers most is his outspokenness and willingness to say what was on his mind. The Rooming with Roenick spots that ran on Center Ice were hilarious. He’s probably the one player that I ever liked that played for the Flyers (his OT goal in Game 7 against Toronto was a classic) and one of the few great players of my era that never won the Stanley Cup. He did some great TV work during these past Olympics — and hopefully we see more of him doing stuff like that in the future.

5. Sergei Fedorov (Detroit-Anaheim-Columbus-Washington) — He just about all you could do in an NHL career: won three Cups, league MVP, two Selke Trophys and now plays in the Russian league (KHL) after a great 19-years here in the US. Sadly, when I interviewed him I never got the chance to tell him about the ‘White Russian’ Nike poster I had hanging in my basement for 10 years; but he was one of the best players I’ve ever met and had the honor of interviewing. It also annoys to me no end when media outlets like MSG (gag!) spell his name wrong on their bottom line: IT’S FEDOROV NOT FEDEROV!!

4. Brett Hull (St. Louis-Dallas-Detroit) — Hull, like Roenick was never shy when it came to saying what was on his mind, but on the ice he was lethal. His 741 career goals are an amazing number and he’ll probably always be remembered for his Cup-clinching, foot in the crease goal for Dallas in Buffalo in the 1999 Finals, but I also remember the seasons when he tallied 72, 86 & 70 (in consecutive years) while skating in St. Louis. Hull clinched his spot on this list when he decided to suit up for the US team rather than Canada in the 1996 World Cup, prompting boos from the Montreal crowd every time his face was on the jumbotron during the Final series (I was at Game 2 of 3).

3. Scott Stevens (Washington-St. Louis-New Jersey) — When Stevens came to New Jersey, he immediately impacted the franchise and became one of the fiercest open-ice hitters the NHL has ever seen. There were so many memorable hits (See: Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov, Ron Francis) but one of the things I think of when I think about  Stevens is he was the guy who led New Jersey to three Stanley Cups — turning the Devils from a “Mickey Mouse organization” into a team that the NHL has twice adjusted it’s rules for. The only other franchise I can think of that has that distinction was Montreal.

2. Dominik Hasek (Chicago-Buffalo-Detroit-Ottawa) — Ten years ago, I would’ve never picked Hasek for my list, but times change. He was always Martin Brodeur’s biggest rival during his Buffalo days, and Hasek’s unorthodox, yet successful style led him to six Vezina Trophies and two league MVP’s. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he and Brett Hull became teammates in Detroit, and I’m sure Hasek’s pain was eased a bit when the two Hall-of-Famers became champions together in Detroit. The Dominator had some strange moments throughout his career, and he suffered too many injuries to contend for some of the NHL’s goaltending records. Talking to him late in his career after a game in NJ, still feels very surreal, but he was willing to talk until all of my questions were answered, something I’ll never forget.

1. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) — He’s been my absolute favorite player since 1994 and when he retires, I may actually shed a tear. Brodeur owns just about every major NHL goaltending record and still has some good years left so who knows what those numbers will be when he does hang up his skates. It’s still a little intimidating to interview my favorite player, but his easy-going personality makes my job a lot easier; and the fact that I can tell that he recognizes me (he should after five seasons!) is pretty neat. He became the ultimate comeback when being taunted by dopey, Rangers’ fans: ‘Devils suck! Yeah but we have Brodeur and you don’t! Whatever, you guys suck!’ I’ll never forget where I was when he scored a goal in the playoffs vs. Montreal or when he broke Patrick Roy’s wins record vs. Chicago, or when he was the backbone of three Stanley Cup championship teams, and one of these days, I will make sure to thank him for all of those memories…and hopefully a few more!

Merry X-Mas Devils Fans

The hockey world was stunned last night when the Atlanta Thrashers traded superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils for rookie Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier & NJ’s first round pick in the 2010 NHL draft.

The deal immediately reminded me of one that GM Lou Lamoriello pulled off almost ten years to the day when he swapped Denis Pederson & a young Brendan Morrison to Vancouver for another Russian sniper — Alexander Mogilny — on March 14, 2000.

The Mogilny deal was very successful as the Devils made two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, beating Dallas in 2000 and losing to Colorado in 2001. Can this deal work the same magic? Given the fact that the Lamoriello didn’t have to gut the team to acquire Kovalchuk and the fact that he can still make another move or two before the trading deadline, I would say this puts New Jersey as strong contender to represent the East in the Finals (along with Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Washington).

Besides the question of is Lamoriello done dealing, another big question will be is Kovalchuk a rental? The 26-year-old turned down an offer of over $100 million over 10 years  from Atlanta, but would he take less to stay with an established Cup-contending team? Time will tell, but I’m glad that Kovalchuk is on our side now.