SUN Hockey Pool

The Last Word

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

After trading Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, Zdeno Chara, Bryan McCabe and Wade Redden while gifting Alexei Yashin with an $87-million US, 10-year contract, New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury is ready to call it a day.

A decade into his reign as GM, Milbury is leaving this off-season to take over some of Islanders owner Charles Wang's other sports properties, which should chill Wang to the marrow had he any idea whatsoever about anything at all.

But clearly, he doesn't.

Wang plans on keeping Milbury, who fired eight coaches in his tenure including Peter Laviolette, the current coach-of-the-year candidate in Carolina with the Hurricanes.

To be fair, Milbury actually volunteered to step aside. It's a bit like Nero calling someone over and saying 'here kid, hold my fiddle,' before trudging home through the smoke.

Milbury's freakishly-long tenure with the Isles can be attributed to:

1. His spectacular capacity to endure failure.

2. The presence of pornographic pictures involving the uppermost strata of Islanders' management.

3. Just one of those things.

When organizations are starved for wins, they will listen to anyone with an idea for getting them.

Why do you think psychics keep eating?

These things aren't unique to Long Island -- except for the pornographic pictures -- but there is a correction about to happen across the National Hockey League.

It's an even-money bet the lack of an extension tendered to Pittsburgh Penguins GM Craig Patrick, for example, means his 17-season tenure in Pittsburgh is coming to an end.

Patrick's future, of course, is coloured by Mario Lemieux's ongoing effort to sell the team and an announcement next December on a slots gambling license that would pay for a new arena.

But despite Stanley Cups won in 1991 and 1992, Patrick's team has missed the playoffs four times, and counting.

His current coach is Michel Therrien, who is winning at about the same clip as Ed Olczyk. Olczyk was the only person Patrick interviewed for the job and someone with zero experience other than a practiced ease in saying "and now a word from our sponsors."

Before that came Rick Kehoe, a guy not often compared to Scott Bowman, and the late Ivan Hlinka, who was a gifted communicator ... so long as it was in Czech.

In Boston, Mike O'Connell's six-year-tenure as GM, characterized by plummeting attendance and the end of hockey's longest streak of playoff appearances, looks ready to kack.

His zeal in protecting every one of owner Jeremy Jacobs many, many dollars has estranged goalie Andrew Raycroft and defenceman Nick Boynton, the latest in a long line of players who felt nickel and dimed by their boss.

Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm, the players who came back in the Joe Thornton deal, have played well, but it was the embittering of Thornton, not his trade, that O'Connell should and seemingly will answer for.

Signing Alexei Zhamnov, an urbane well-rounded person whose interests do not include hockey, didn't help the team's cause.

In St. Louis, local businessman Tony Sansone soon will be unveiled as a local partner in Dave Checketts' purchase of the Blues. When that happens, Larry Pleau probably will be bumped as the Blues GM. Current assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen would probably be tapped for the job.

Pleau is light years removed from Milbury. This is his first year outside the post-season. Pleau had to trade Chris Pronger and Doug Weight to lighten payroll so the Blues could be sold.

It's tough to make him accountable for the team's failings, especially since he has done what so few others have done and groomed a successor in Kekalainen.

INCOMPETENT

And that's what makes the dealings of hockey GMs so true to life.

Just like the guy a few cubicles down who gets his budget cut when the district manager overspends, some people suffer while absolute incompetents skate.

Hardworking coaches get gassed.

Worthy players once discarded thrive in new venues.

The GMs, architects of so much folly, get to stay.

At least they used to.


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