Habs plagued by controversy

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

Fans in Montreal are said to be the most passionate in the National Hockey League.

Now those who follow the Canadiens religiously -- and the rest of the hockey world, for that matter -- will watch keenly to see whether the latest controversy surrounding the storied club will cause it to crumble in its playoff push or bring it together.

Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey said yesterday he is "very concerned" about a report that brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and defenceman Roman Hamrlik have social ties with Pasquale Mangiola, who was arrested on Feb. 12 on drug trafficking charges.

"We know this person who became involved with these players. He is not the only person who wants to find a place to enter the inner area of the hockey team," Gainey said. "We turn people away every day. It's not very surprising if you had a sense of how many people would like to get their tentacles into not only the players individually but the organization. We field many requests. Many of them are good ones.

"(But) what I know today is not good for our team."

Sergei Kostitsyn, sent this week to Hamilton of the American Hockey League, said he had no comment. The players are not suspected of any criminal activity.

Still, what a great way to celebrate the team's 100th anniversary.

And to think the benching of Alexei Kovalev was a big story.

Gainey said he did not know whether Kovalev would play today against the Ottawa Senators, even though he practised yesterday.

The Canadiens, with 67 points, are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. But with just three wins in their past 15 games, they're in danger of sliding out of a playoff spot, and were just four points ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes.

FIGHTING WORDS

Put Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi in the same backward-thinking group, one that includes Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and CBC mouthpiece Don Cherry, that thinks fighting belongs in the NHL.

Lombardi doesn't buy the idea that the majority of fighters in the NHL are capable of nothing but dropping the gloves.

"I'm absolutely, positively against taking fighting out of the game," Lombardi said. "What's a one-dimensional player? Ivan (Raitis Ivanans) can play a little. (Derek) Boogaard can play a little. (Zach) Stortini runs around and he's physical. I don't consider him to be just an idiot. So who is it? Donald Brashear is a pretty good player. So who's the one-dimensional player? (Andre) Roy from Calgary, maybe. They dressed him the other night. He's a battleship. He played, what, two minutes? So, okay, there's one, but I'd like to know how many of those guys there really are."

Quite a few, actually. Of the 10 players who were leading the NHL in majors, only two, St. Louis Blues rookie B.J. Crombeen and the New York Islanders' Arron Asham, had cracked the elusive 10-point barrier.

With 10 goals, Crombeen was the only one with more than five.

TRADE WINDS

Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Ryan Whitney is almost certain to be traded before the March 4 deadline ... Though he has never appeared in a playoff game in an NHL career that began in 1997-98, it's expected Phoenix Coyotes centre Olli Jokinen will be dealt. And look for the Coyotes to try to peddle defenceman Derek Morris, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Morris wants a multi-year pact, but the Coyotes are offering one year ... The names of Tampa Bay forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and even rookie Steven Stamkos have been involved in trade rumours, but the player most likely to be on the move is winger Mark Recchi ... Earlier this week, Detroit GM Ken Holland said he would not be "looking outside the organization" for goaltending help. But with the struggling Chris Osgood staying home for a mental break and the recall of Jimmy Howard, stay tuned to whether Holland changes his mind ... Nashville Predators defenceman Ville Koistinen, fed up with no playing time, has requested a trade.

ICE CHIPS

There was some hand-wringing last year in Columbus prior to the trade deadline when defenceman Adam Foote made it clear he wanted out and the Blue Jackets granted his wish, trading him to the Avalanche. The swap has worked rather nicely for the Jackets -- they traded the first-round they got from the Avs to Philadelphia for R.J. Umberger, who has matched his career high with 20 goals ... Don't count the Lightning out of the John Tavares/Victor Hedman race yet. Though 10 points up on the Islanders going into last night, Tampa Bay's defence corps was light to begin with and has been decimated by injuries.

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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