Lemaire won't lose sleep over losing Mitchell

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

According to Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, Willie Mitchell is "one of the top 10 defensive defencemen in the league."

To most franchises, that would make him valuable.

And if your franchise is in Minnesota, which never has an empty seat and has a payroll almost $10 million US below the salary cap, that should make him extremely valuable.

But that's not the way the Wild sees it.

Mitchell wanted $3.5 million a year and in Dallas, his new home, he probably will get it.

The Wild shipped him out on Thursday and will spend the salary they would have given Mitchell on younger players. They probably also will miss the playoffs, so at least the faithful fans will not have to miss the Minnesota spring sitting indoors.

"I think the writing was on the wall about a week ago," said Mitchell, who was so sure he'd be traded that he took two huge suitcases on the Wild's trip to St. Louis. "The Wild really didn't want to negotiate with my agent."

Lemaire seemed to think it strange that a player, not his team, should want to make money.

"He feels he could get 3.5," he said. "Good for him. That's it. I won't lose sleep because we lose a player. He wants to go for the money, go for the money. The Earth is still going to turn. Players, they come and go."

CHANGING TIMES

A couple of familiar teams could be absent from this season's playoffs.

One certainly will. That's the St. Louis Blues, who haven't missed since 1979 but will do so this year.

The other is the Colorado Avalanche, which never has missed the playoffs in its history in Denver.

Granted, that history is relatively short. The Quebec Nordiques became the Avalanche in 1995.

But in their nine seasons since then, the Avs have been as dominant a playoff performer as any team in the league.

They won two Stanley Cups and have played in 24 playoff rounds. Even their arch-rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, can't match that latter figure.

The Wings won three Cups in that span but only participated in 23 rounds. The other dominant team in that era, the New Jersey Devils, also won three Cups, but only played 18 rounds.

However, the Devils and Wings will be around for this year's post-season festivities, whereas the Avs may not.

They're touch and go to hang on to a playoff spot, now that David Aebischer has been traded away and they have to rely on Peter Budaj to be their No. 1 goaltender.

Jose Theodore may get a week of action before the end of the regular season, but considering the way he played in Montreal this season, that may not be an improvement.

Over the years, Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix has made some great trading-deadline acquisitions -- Ray Bourque and Rob Blake for example -- but this year, he appears to have run up the white flag.

GIVE IT UP

The National Hockey League seems to be unclear on the concept.

People go to hockey games in the hope of seeing entertainment, not to see the latest manifestation of tiny minds obsessed with archaic legalities (yes, that means lawyers).

On Wednesday, the league's leading scorer was prevented from displaying his skills in a shootout because extensive measurements determined that his stick was not within lawyer-mandated parameters.

Wayne Gretzky thinks the stick-measurement rule is stupid. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman supports it. Which one, do you suppose, better understands hockey?

But in a game in Atlanta, where the league is desperately trying to make hockey popular, Jaromir Jagr, one of the league's brightest stars, was banned from shootout participation because his stick was deemed to be illegal.

Jagr says referee Don Koharski botched the process. He insists he measured his stick prior to the game to make sure it conformed to the senseless rule.

"It was not illegal," Jagr said. "I know they're going to measure. Why would I go out with an illegal stick? What do you think I am? Stupid?"

Surprisingly enough, the NHL, despite a plethora of senseless rules, doesn't have one that gives the player the right of appeal followed by a full hearing on such occasions. Jagr missed the shootout and the Thrashers won it.

But why should there be a rule limiting the curve of a stick? Let's assume a player wants a nine-inch curve and the blade becomes a hemisphere. Can he stickhandle with that? Can he shoot a backhand? Of course not. So blade curvatures are self-limiting. The rule should be dropped. Unless, of course, Bettman feels that the league should be doing everything it can to reduce scoring.

HITTING BOTTOM

The reason the Blues didn't move Keith Tkachuk at the trading deadline is that under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, he helps their cause.

On the ice? Who knows? But these days, accounting is more important than stickhandling.

Tkachuk earned $7.6 million this year but will get "only" $3.8 million next season. The average is $5.7 million and so, under the salary-cap provisions, that's the amount that will count toward the Blues' total.

But the Blues likely are to be one of those teams more concerned with qualifying for revenue sharing than for the playoffs. They'll spend as close to the league-mandated minimum as possible. So Tkachuk gives them the opportunity to spend $3.8 million but be given credit for spending $5.7 million. It's a virtual gift of nearly $2 million.

ON THE MOVE

Tyler Arnason didn't need very long to make an impact with his new team. He scored in the first period of the Ottawa Senators' victory over the Thrashers on Friday.

He probably will do well in Ottawa, and add his name to the list of players who left the dysfunctional Chicago Blackhawks to make their mark elsewhere.

Arnason comes with "lifestyle issues." In other words, he likes to have a good time, an attitude rarely exhibited by rich 27-year-olds.

He was one of the players involved in the infamous strip club visit with Phil Housley and Theoren Fleury, and he's the player who former coach Brian Sutter put up against the wall and nearly throttled.

As for the strip club incident, Arnason did nothing illegal. As for the Sutter matter, he showed his maturity by letting the issue die. Can you imagine what would happen if a player physically manhandled a coach? Can you say "Latrell Sprewell"?

The Senators' public stance is that they do not generally get involved with players who have been involved in controversy.

The fact of the matter, however, is that GM John Muckler has handled dozens of players like Arnason over the years and is a master at getting the most out of them.


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