Monday Morning Considerations
Take solace, Toronto hockey fans, in the struggles of others.
Nobody expected the Maple Leafs to be a top Eastern Conference team, or one of the better NHL clubs overall. So when you look around for underachieving clubs, there are a few that, while better in the standings than Ron Wilson's crew, are just as much or more under the microscope for their results this season.
You can certainly start with Carolina, a conference finalist last year and a loser of nine straight to begin this season. Boston and Philadelphia are two clubs many mentioned as teams capable of coming out of the east next spring, but neither has had a great start. The Bruins, at least, are dealing with multiple injuries.
Out west, the struggles of Detroit have been well-documented. St. Louis, which began the season in Europe with the Red Wings, have won only two of seven games at home. Many believed this would be an improved year for the Blues with Erik Johnson healthy and the team buoyed by a playoff appearance last spring, but not so far. Anaheim had a strong playoff last spring but can't seem to get it rolling this fall, at least partly because Ryan Getzlaf is having problems bouncing back from off-season surgery.
So while fans in this market tend to navel gaze a fair bit, there are a half-dozen or more other NHL cities in which the locals are getting restless.
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That sound you hear is Steve Yzerman shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
After all, it's going to be tough enough to choose an Olympic team from the 46 players that were in Calgary in late summer for an orientation camp. What Yzerman doesn't need is players who weren't at the camp suddenly injecting themselves into the discussion.
That, however, is exactly what Steve Stamkos is doing. With 10 goals in 11 games, the Richmond Hill product is off to a sizzling start for Tampa Bay, with the Lightning in town tomorrow to face the Leafs. Stamkos may benefit in some way from the memories of '06 when Sidney Crosby was left off the Turin team because, basically, he was young.
If Stamkos continues at this pace, or has 25 goals by Christmas, it's going to be hard to keep him off the team. And one of his Tampa teammates, Vinny Lecavalier or Marty St. Louis, might be the player who gets bumped.
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Poor Mother Russia. Its Olympic stars are falling like flies.
Malkin Markov is lost for 3-4 months with a severe tendon injury. Then Ilya Kovalchuk suffers a broken foot. Then Evgeny Malkin falls to a shoulder injury. Then last night Alex Ovechkin leaves the game against Columbus with an "upper body" injury.
There's time for most, if not all of these players, to get healthy. But that's not always easy to do amidst the grind of an NHL season.
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Awful to see Oakville's Ben Fanelli injured as he was on the weekend after a vicious hit by Erie Otters forward Mike Liambis, a native of Woodbridge. All thoughts and prayers are with the 16-year-old Fanelli as he deals with awful injuries in a Hamilton hospital.
But now OHL boss David Branch has a very difficult issue to deal with; should Liambis be suspended, and for a very long time?
All I've seen is some grainy TV replays of the incident, which occurred behind the Kitchener net. As Fanelli carried the puck in one way Liambis had the bomb doors open coming the other way.
Those hits never turn out well.
But it didn't look to be a charge or an elbow or a high stick. At the last moment, Fanelli turned to pass the puck the other way and the impact of the blow seemed to be from Liambis' right shoulder to the back of Fanelli's left shoulder. Fanelli's helmet popped off as though it was the cork from a champagne bottle, and that may have contributed to the injury.
It didn't look like a dirty play. But the injury is so severe it's hard to ignore.
This might be the most difficult such incident Branch has ever had to deal with as a junior hockey commissioner.
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Funny that the NHLPA gang that orchestrated the ouster of Paul Kelly all essentially quit in concert last week after it was announced a committee would be investigating their activities.
Scared of a few questions, gentlemen?
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It was a perfect example of Brian Burke's Joe Schwartz theory.
Partway through Saturday's Leafs-Habs game, Jaroslav Spacek delivered a perfect suicide pass to teammate Glen Metropolit, and predictably Mike Komisarek delivered a very hard but clean check.
Now Metropolit is a good guy, a great story and a hardworking veteran. But he doesn't quite qualify either as one of Montreal's top skill players or core athletes.
Yet Komisarek, after delivering the hit, was immediately confronted by Kyle Chipchura and Travis Moen of the Habs.
Once upon a time, it was just the elite players who received this kind of support from teammates. Now it's anyone, or, as Burke says, everyone including Joe Schwartz.
Those who endorse fighting often accuses opponents of pugilism of trying to take the physical element out of the game.
However, it's becoming more and more evident that fighting is being used as a tool to eliminate hitting.