Survivor man

ROB TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Expansion team coaches usually have shorter shelf lives than donairs in a glove box - especially when the coach in question is a raw rookie - so credit Barry Trotz for turning a suicide mission into the second-longest tenure in the NHL.

He'll reach his 10th anniverary in August, two months after Buffalo's Lindy Ruff, but there were times along the way when he thought his goose was cooked.

"A few times," said Trotz, who weathered several storms en route to reaching the all-star break first overall. "Four years ago we got off to a horrible start, everything seemed to be going against us. It was Game 20 in Minnesota, we outshot them 45-17 and ended up losing 5-2. I said to my assistants after the game, 'I have a bad feeling, so I just want to thank you for everything you've done.' "

He shook hands and looked around for a last cigarette, but GM David Poile didn't pull the trigger.

"The next 40 games we were the best team in the league," said Trotz. "A lot of it is timing."

WORST GAME EVER: Clearly, the people in Dallas know more about hockey than we give them credit for, judging from all those empty lower bowl seats at the YoungStars fiasco. A bunch of guys coasting around at half speed, expending less effort than you'd find in most pre-game warm-ups? If we wanted to watch a beer league game we'd ask ... Somebody should ask the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens what happened to all that post-lockout talk about giving back to the fans and growing the game. Cutting off starving markets, including major centres Los Angeles and Chicago, from the league's brightest young stars is as selfish and short-sighted as it gets.

MOST VALUABLE PRONGER: With Chris Pronger, the Edmonton Oilers go to the Cup final. Without him, they might not make the playoffs. With him, Anaheim rockets to first overall. Without him they win two of 11 games. That's a pretty good case for the Hart Trophy ... Speaking of Oilers, add Mark Messier to the list of people who see a lot of pre-dynasty Edmonton in the 2007 Penguins. "I see the exact same thing happening," Messier said at the all-star game.

FLAT BROKEN: In the pre-salary cap days, big market teams had the luxury of depth to help navigate injury trouble. Now, everybody is paper thin somewhere. Buffalo last year and Anaheim, Toronto and Dallas this season discovered that a couple of injuries in the wrong places can submarine a season. Adding depth at the deadline will be priority one for the contenders.

"Staying healthy down the stretch is huge," said Detroit GM Ken Holland. "Teams just don't have the depth anymore. And it's hard to bring up kids and win. It used to be (in the pre-cap days) that only 20 teams had to operate like this because they didn't have the money, now it's everyone."

MAJOR DUD: With too many major markets (Boston, Chicago, L.A. and Jersey) already hurting for fans, the last thing the NHL needs is trouble in Philly, but it's coming. Massive blocks of season tickets aren't being used, and if renewal rates match current attendance, they'll be in the 13,000 range next year. Injuries have killed them, but Philly didn't take the NHL's standard of enforcement pledge seriously and got left behind.

"There's probably a little bit to that," said GM Paul Holmgren. "It's probably easier for the smaller, quicker players to adjust than it is for the lumbering guys like Derian (Hatcher), but I think he's adapted."

FANS PLUGGED IN: Not all U.S. cities are anti-hockey. When the NHL arrived in 1993 there were only five rinks and zero high school hockey teams in Dallas. There are now 25 rinks and 70 high school teams. In Denver, Avs fans were lucky, given a gift-wrapped champion that went through all of its growing pains in Quebec, but, still, 500 sellouts in their first 515 games is pretty impressive.

DIVER DOWN: All those years of dropping like he's been shot whenever someone puts a stick on him could be coming back to haunt Peter Forsberg, who was flagged for diving recently.

"I think you've got to be really sure if you're calling diving on a player," said Forsberg.

Not when it's you, Floppa. The Philadelphia Inquirer, hilariously enough, wrote that Forsberg "isn't known for diving."

SLACK CHECKING: Stat of the all-star game: Brian Rolston wasn't on the ice for one goal against in the fireworks display, finishing plus-5. He admits his defensive strategy was a little unorthodox.

"Me and Billy (Guerin) said 'Let's get in on the forecheck. This way we don't have to go back to our own end.' "


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