Thornton detaches himself from Bruins' sinking ship

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Even Joe Thornton couldn't help but have a chuckle at the expense of his former team.

The Boston Bruins, coming off a pair of horrible losses, continue their slide down the NHL drain and it's a credit to general manager Mike O'Connell and coach Mike Sullivan they have been able to keep their jobs.

Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks in late November, but it has become clear he was not the problem in Beantown. After the Sharks beat the Senators 2-0 in Ottawa on Thursday, Thornton was asked if he had heard that the Bruins had fallen 6-0 to the Los Angeles Kings at home the same night.

"I'm not there anymore," Thornton reportedly said with a grin. "It's not my team. I don't care anymore."

The majority of the Bruins may wish they could be like Thornton and make tracks out of town. Before they were hammered by the Kings, they lost 6-2 to the visiting Sharks on Tuesday.

"We thought the bottom was hit two nights ago and tonight we found a way to go lower," goalie Andrew Raycroft said on Thursday. "We've seen China."

Compounding the Bruins' woes is that earlier this week, owner Jeremy Jacobs told the Boston Globe he and president Harry Sinden have to find the solution to the team's play, and that each aspect of the organization would be scrutinized. Instead of using Jacobs' thoughts as motivation, the Bruins were crunched by the Sharks and Kings.

Said Sullivan, when asked after the loss to the Kings whether there were any positives in the game: "No, we sucked."

Kessel falls

Phil Kessel's hold on being the No. 1 pick in the NHL entry draft in June was tenuous after the world junior ended last week

And now NHL Central Scouting has become a player in the Kessel story.

The dynamic little University of Minnesota centre, for months thought to be the obvious first pick at the draft in Vancouver, now is ranked second among North American skaters behind fellow American, defenceman Erik Johnson, in the Central Scouting mid-term rankings released yesterday. Johnson was excellent at the world junior. Kessel had a pile of points, but otherwise was average.

"If anything, Johnson opened the door that might have been locked if Kessel would have had an outstanding (world junior) tournament," NHL director of central scouting E.J. McGuire said. "There might be a lot of players who can walk through that door now."

Where any team would have picked Sidney Crosby first overall a year ago, it's becoming clearer now that what a team actually needs will determine who goes first this spring. Want a flashy forward? Take Kessel. Need a smart, mobile defenceman? It's Johnson. Or, an all-around solid forward? Try Jonathan Toews or Jordan Staal.

If McGuire were to speak directly to Kessel, he knows what he would say.

"Think of it as playing golf, having completed nine holes in an 18-hole round," McGuire said. "There is a lot of time left. It's not like (Kessel) dropped 13 spots."

And expect a race regarding the first European to be selected. Czech winger Michael Frolik is ranked No. 1, but Swedish centre Niklas Backstrom is not far off in many scouts' minds.

Happily off the Island

New York Islanders ownership finally is getting around to cleaning up the mess that is known in its human form as Mike Milbury, but defenceman Janne Niinimaa is glad he won't be around to see what rises from the ashes.

Niinimaa was traded to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday for defenceman John Erskine.

"It's not a secret things weren't working out in New York," Niinimaa said. "I wasn't comfortable there. I wasn't happy with the role I was given from the start. I see this as a chance to restart my career and get it back to where I should be."

Speaking of Milbury, much has been written about the long list of bad trades while he was the Isles' general manager. The list of good ones --acquiring Jason Blake for a fifth-round pick, getting Adrian Aucoin for Mathieu Biron, trading Kevin Weekes for the fifth pick in 2000 (Raffi Torres, who was later traded) -- is tiny by comparison.

Reports out of New York say among those who might be considered for Milbury's replacement -- if Brent Sutter does not take both the coaching and general manager duties -- are Steve Tambellini, Jim Nill, Peter Chiarelli and John Weisbrod.

No, really, he's a jerk

It's not often players on opposing teams will openly talk about their dislike for each other, but Lyle Odelein and Matthew Barnaby don't have a problem with it.

"He's just one of those guys you don't like," Odelein told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's mutual, and always will be that way. It will probably go to the grave that way."

Barnaby, whose Chicago Blackhawks played host to Odelein's Pittsburgh Penguins last night, concurred.

"With all the things that have happened over the years, we can't like each other," Barnaby said. "It's physically impossible."

Not surprisingly, the two got into a second-period fight last night.

Barnaby and former teammate Rob Ray apparently are the ones who came up with the nickname of "Cornelius" for Odelein, based on his alleged resemblance to the character of the same name in the Planet of the Apes.

Cross checks

Calgary Flames GM/coach Darryl Sutter was rather succinct when discussing rookie defenceman Dion Phaneuf this week: "Dion has been our best player. All year. Period. It isn't even close."... With Mark Messier's retirement party out of the way in New York, up next is Ron Francis Retirement Night before and during the Carolina Hurricanes' home game against Atlanta on Jan. 28 ... Rumours around the Colorado Avalanche regarding the possible acquisition of Jose Theodore or Roberto Luongo have not died ... Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall, the brother of the Maple Leafs' Staffan Kronwall, expects to be back by the first week of February. A big part of Detroit's future, Niklas tore ligaments in his left knee in the pre-season.


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