If you covet high draft picks, then you can argue the St. Louis Blues are getting hot at exactly the wrong time.
With a record of 8-2-1-2 in their past 13 games they are on the verge of passing the Chicago Blackhawks after a 2-12-2-1 start anchored them in the Western Conference cellar since October.
The Blues' modest streak also has put some distance between them and the Eastern albatross, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Blues coach Mike Kitchen makes no apologies for his team playing for integrity.
"People know that (tanking) is not in my personality," said the former Maple Leafs assistant coach, whose credo to push himself and others to greater heights earned him his first head coaching job with the Blues. "This has been the most challenging year I've ever had, but it's nice to see our players get some results for their effort."
Keith Tkachuk's fitness problems, Patrick Lalime's struggles in goal, the trading of Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger and seven players stuck on injured reserve means the Blues will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1979.
"It's like taking Sundin and McCabe out of the Leafs lineup for the whole year," Kitchen said.
"We were left with a lot of guys (six or seven farmhands at present) who have never been in the NHL before. It's taken awhile for them to get through their nervousness. But all we asked is that they work hard. Now we have 20 guys on the same page. It's really going to help us next year."
St. Louis gave up ancient Eric Weinrich at the deadline for young Tomas Mojzis, but their long IR list prevented general manager Larry Pleau from getting at least one more player. He had forward Dean McAmmond ticketed to the Oilers, but the Oilers wanted to send back a draft pick instead of a live body and the haggling took the clubs past the 3 p.m. deadline. McAmmond had waited patiently for a deal all year and was looking forward to a chance in the playoffs with his former team.
"To finally pull the trigger and it be a blank is, on one end, disappointing," McAmmond said. "I think I could help a team in the playoffs. I'm not getting any younger."
FORSBERG FINALLY FLEET OF FOOT
Peter Forsberg has been a delight for the Philadelphia Flyers with 66 points this season and could be poised for an even better finish.
After years of discomfort in his right foot, Forsberg is about to take delivery of a new-age brace. He has tried everything, from changing the inner boot on his skate to using entirely new blades, but a new specialist detected a slight ankle ligament distortion that the brace should address.
Forsberg will get it during the Flyers' road swing to Florida this week.
Forsberg says the problem goes all the way back to 2001, the year Colorado won its most recent Stanley Cup.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Brian Rolston of the Minnesota Wild could become the highest-scoring American in the NHL this year, entering the week with 61 points ... The death of Boom Boom Geoffrion and the retirement of his No. 5 in Montreal came on March 11, the same day that the funeral of his legendary father-in-law, Howie Morenz, was held in the Montreal Forum in 1937. March 11, 1996, is also the night of the final NHL game at the Forum. "It's the hockey gods looking down," broadcaster John Davidson said ... Expect the Vancouver Canucks to maximize their deadline deals by giving defenceman Mattias Ohlund and goalie Alex Auld plenty of rest ... Speaking of Ohlund, a special gold medal is being shipped to him by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. All 23 available medals were handed out after the win over Finland two weeks ago, but Ohlund already had gone back to Vancouver after being injured after his sixth game of the tournament ... The Swedish Elite League playoffs are underway. Ex-Leaf Mikael Renberg's Lulea team upset Linkoping in the opener.
MEMORIES OF JIM
One of my first jobs at the Toronto Sun was editing Jim Hunt's column, typed haphazardly on the old-time yellow copy paper from his radio station's newsroom and sent by taxi to the sports department. I never knew there were so many ways to misspell 'Gretzky.'
But it was an adventure to work anywhere near Jim, hear his stories and watch him in action. When Gretzky made his first trip to Maple Leaf Gardens as a Los Angeles King, Jim loudly interrupted the huge news conference, demanding to know why the table-top hockey game he had bought his grandson, the one that bore the Great One's logo, was plagued by sticky rods. Gretzky promised Jim he personally would investigate or give a refund.
The sportswriting fraternity also is mourning the passing of Reyn Davis of the Winnipeg Free Press, who covered the Jets from the day Bobby Hull signed in the WHA to their final NHL years in the early 1990s.
THE WEEK AHEAD
With Washington and Toronto on the menu, Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers could be the first player to reach 100 points this year ... After playing the beatable Bruins tomorrow, the Leafs have a tall task in winning road games in Buffalo and New York ... Nominations close for 2006 Hockey Hall of Fame induction. A push in San Jose Sharks' ownership is underway to elect general manager and ex-defenceman Doug Wilson.