Out of the shadows

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

Mike Vernon's vocabulary does not feature the cache of eight-syllable words like that of former Montreal Canadien Ken Dryden.

Then again, whose does? Nor is Vernon such a universally recognized and adored hockey commodity as ex-Detroit Red Wing Steve Yzerman.

Few ex-players are.

Yet in a year in which both Dryden and Yzerman have watched their numbers be retired by their respective former teams, Vernon certainly is worthy of the same honour.

Because he toiled in the Patrick Roy era, Vernon often performed in the shadow of the NHL's career winningest goaltender, especially when it came to publicity.

But both the management and fans of the Calgary Flames are well aware of the huge contributions Vernon made to the city and the franchise and will let their appreciation be known when his No. 30 is hoisted to the rafters of the Pengrowth Saddledome prior to the game against the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night.

Vernon was between the pipes when the star-studded Flames, featuring offensive studs like Lanny McDonald, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Doug Gilmour, won their only Stanley Cup in franchise history back in 1989.

It was a huge boost to the psyche of a Calgary community that often found itself feeling inferior -- at least in hockey terms -- to the juggernaut Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oiler teams that played three hours to the north.

"Vernie is the biggest reason we are wearing Stanley Cup rings," McDonald said. "A good friend, a great teammate and a fierce competitor.

"Calgary can be proud of its hometown boy."

Vernon, a Calgary native, spent 13 of his 20 years with the Flames. He then moved on to Detroit, where his Conn Smythe Trophy performance helped Yzerman capture his first Stanley Cup in 1997.

Vernon, 44, is 10th in victories with 385, some 127 more than Dryden.

Florida follies

Somewhere, Mike Keenan must be laughing his skates off.

Having parted ways with the Florida Panthers five months ago, Keenan has watched his former club digress into Team Turmoil.

The low point came Saturday in a 7-0 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. It was the worst home loss in team history, eclipsing the 6-0 thrashing absorbed to the Maple Leafs in 2003.

"There weren't too many guys willing to play hard," frustrated captain Olli Jokinen told reporters.

Director of hockey operations Jack Birch is one of the best in the business, but even he is helpless to stomp out all the various distractions swirling around the Panthers.

Forward Nathan Horton wants out; hardly a day goes by without Gary Roberts' name coming up in trade rumours; and TSN suggested late last week that even Jokinen could be moved by the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

Most importantly, the Panthers slowly are sliding out of playoff contention, a disastrous recipe for a franchise in dire need of wooing fans.

How Swede it is

The arrival of February marks the one-year anniversary of Sweden's glorious run to the Olympic gold medal in Turin.

Yet life has been anything but rosey in the subsequent months for the likes of Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson, three of the key ingredients in the success of the Tre Kroners in Italy.

All three players have been mentioned in trade scuttlebutt since the season started.

Ottawa fans thought Alfredsson might be moved when the Senators got off to a sluggish start.

Sundin has been fielding questions all season about potentially waiving his notrade clause and going to a contender if the Leafs are out of the mix at the deadline.

But it is Forsberg, the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, who is most likely to change addresses. Reports out of New York suggest the Rangers already are attempting to clear cap space in order to accommodate his salary.

In Sundin's case, he does not want to leave Toronto. And as long as the Leafs are in the post-season hunt, it will be difficult for GM John Ferguson to justify moving Sundin to the team's legion of impatient, playoff-hungry supporters.

The week ahead

Brendan Shanahan faces his former team for the first time since leaving Hockeytow n when his New York Rangers host the Detroit Red Wings tonight ... The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks lock horns in a homeand home series tomorrow and Wednesday in what many consider to be a potential preview of the Western Conference final ... Certified NHL agents will gather in Toronto this week for meetings ... The Pittsburgh Crosbys make their first visit of the season to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

TOP SHELF

THE HOTTEST PLAYER IN THE NHL

Kristian Huselius

Team G A PTS

Calgary 23 25 48

While the reunion of Craig Conroy and Jarome Iginla got all the ink in Calgary last week, Huselius quietly was running his points streak to 12 consecutive games. He had eight goals and 10 assists in that span.

TELLING STAT

NUMBERS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE

In a pre-game ceremony at the Pengrowth Saddledome tomorrow, Mike Vernon's No. 30 will become the second number retired by the Calgary Flames, joining Lanny McDonald's No. 9.

Here's a look at how many retired numbers each franchise has:

12 -- Montreal Canadiens

10 -- Boston Bruins

6 -- Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues

5 -- Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders

4 -- New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Quebec Nordiques

3 -- Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars, Washington Capitals

2 -- Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche,Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets

1 -- Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks

Note: Above figures do not include Wayne Gretzky, whose No. 99 has been retired leaguewide.

WHO IS THAT?

UNHEARD OF PLAYER MAKING NOISE

Alexandre Picard

Team G A PTS

Philadelphia 2 11 13

First-year blue liner set a Flyers rookie record with five assists during a 6-5 overtime loss to the rival New Jersey Devils Thursday at the Wachovia Center. Picard, a native of Gatineau, Que., had been scoreless in his previous 19 games.


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