Strachan on hockey

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

For years now, there have been two dysfunctional franchises in the National Hockey League -- the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Year after year, they bumble along in their own inimitable fashion, progressively ruining what were once great hockey markets, dating back to the six-team era.

It was in Chicago that Theoren Fleury made his last NHL stand. The best trivia question regarding the Hawks is this: Name six general managers of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The answer is Bob Pulford.

In Chicago, home games never are shown on local television. What a wonderful way to build interest.

Over in Boston, they had to ship out their greatest star in the past two decades, Raymond Bourque, to give him a chance to win the Stanley Cup. They were the ones who blew up what effectively was a rookie salary cap by finding ways to circumvent it when Joe Thornton came into the league. Not long afterward, they complained about the high costs of player salaries.

And now they've moved Thornton, the only genuine star the team has had since losing the aforementioned Bourque.

As Thornton's former teammate Brian Rolston said, "Joe's a top-five player in the league. There is no question he has everything. I don't know what they were thinking."

At the top of these two organizations are Bill Wirtz and Jeremy Jacobs respectively, two of the most influential people in the league and members of commissioner Gary Bettman's inner circle.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

The New Jersey Devils have to try and create some cap room to facilitate the return of Patrik Elias within the next month or so. There has been speculation they'll try to do it by shipping out former Leaf Alexander Mogilny, who earns $3.5 million US. But insiders say the Devils would prefer to keep Mogilny and unload defenceman Dan McGillis. That would free only $2.2 million, but it would serve the purpose ... The Edmonton Oilers would like to move Jani Rita, a former first-round pick. He's not a great player, but he is capable and could help some offensively challenged teams ... After a stretch in which he scored six goals in five games, Pittsburgh Penguins phenom Sidney Crosby had gone without a point for three games in a row going into last night's action. And you may find it interesting to note the Leafs' much-maligned Jason Allison went into last night's game with 26 points. Crosby has 28.

KEEP FIDDLING

As the NHL continues to tinker with the rules, here's a suggestion from a coach.

On an icing call, allow a player returning from a penalty to be replaced.

There have been a couple of instances this season where a team has had a defenceman in the box and been called for icing as the penalty ended. The rule requires that the defenceman then stay on the ice, thereby giving the team two forwards and three defencemen for what may be a crucial face-off in its own zone.

It's not unreasonable that a coach should be allowed to change the player coming out of the box.

After all, the intent of the rule was to punish a team by making its tired players stay on the ice after the icing infraction. But the defenceman coming out of the box is going to be well-rested, so why not allow him to be replaced by a forward?

It may not matter much during the regular season, but it could change the result of a game in the playoffs. And the way they're calling penalties this season, it could even happen in overtime.

SAY WHAT?

Don't you sometimes wonder if the people who report on hockey have been watching the same game as you?

One account from the Maple Leafs' game against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday referred to Andy Sutton's thundering check on Kyle Wellwood and said: "Sutton demolished Wellwood ... with a vicious blind-sided elbow and was sent off for two minutes."

In fact, the check was solid but hardly vicious. It was simply good hockey and an example of the fate that befalls any NHL player who skates with his head down.

Even Leafs coach Pat Quinn, always quick to protect his players, joked about it after the game.

Quinn said the players on the bench told him, 'Nice hit' Kyle.' "They figured he should get credit for the hit, even though he took the worst of it."

In Phoenix last Saturday, Keith Ballard of the Coyotes applied an almost identical hit to Richard Park of the Vancouver Canucks and gained nothing but praise for it.

As for the other allegations, Sutton's hit was neither blind-sided nor an elbow. Sutton was in front of Wellwood and kept his elbow down. He was not penalized on the play, nor should he have been.

Other than that, the observation was fairly accurate.

RETURN VISIT

The return of Jacques Lemaire to New Jersey for his Wild's game against the Devils yesterday afternoon was an opportunity for Lemaire to swap stories with some of his old acquaintances.

When Lemaire was coach of the Devils, one of his forwards was Valeri Zelepukin, a Russian who spoke and understood very little English.

On one occasion, when the team was struggling, Lemaire held a team meeting and was laying down the law and making some thinly veiled threats.

"If it keeps going like this, do you know what happens to a team when things aren't going well?" Lemaire asked.

Lemaire continued his story: "I'm looking at the guys and there's silence. Zellie's sitting there, raises his hand and goes: 'Coach get fired?' "

On the rebound

Back on Nov. 24, Darcy Hordichuk of the Nashville Predators became one of the many players who have tried to get a piece of Los Angeles Kings forward Sean Avery this season.

Avery turtled and afterward said Hordichuk is "the worst player in the NHL," and "an embarrassment."

When asked about Avery's assessment, Hordichuk said he had support from both benches for his actions.

"It's pretty bad when guys on his own team were telling me that I ought to kick his butt," Hordichuk said. "Guys on his own team don't even like him. I just think people get tired of his act."

As for Avery's views of his skills, Hordichuk said: "The way he chirps about my game, you'd think he was about to break all of Wayne Gretzky's records. But I guess that's how some people get their attention."


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