The former NHL great, in the hall of fame, is on the long-distance line from his home, and because he was, and still is, one of the brightest and astute analysts of team fortunes and misfortunes, I ask him for his objective insight on what's wrong with the Ottawa Senasnores and whether the team can capture some of its past glory through new coach, Inspector Clouseau -- sorry, Inspector Clouston.
"The problem with that team," says the ex-superstar, who's still involved in the NHL, "is a lot more than just a coach. Bryan Murray was no dummy as a coach, but when he went behind the bench last year after he fired (John) Paddock, it didn't make a damn bit of difference.
"You can certainly put blame on his trades, or lack of trades, but when you're struggling there's not a lot of teams who want to help you, or even want anybody you got. They're not gonna give up what Murray might need for what he'd probably be offering which, let's face it, isn't all that appealing.
"Even if he did dangle (Jason) Spezza or (Dany) Heatley or (Daniel) Alfredsson, what he'd want back, the way they're playing, he's not gonna get unless he decides to lower his expectations. A player or two that isn't as spectactular as they've been, but is a real good, solid player with proven work ethic that, chemistry-wise, would be a team plus to what you're seeing now.
"The magic wand isn't always a bunch of individual stars, it's a bunch of guys with the right amount of talent and the right attitude. They don't have to be stars, just guys who bust their asses every shift and mesh together in a team concept. A lot of the time these are guys not making the big salaries.
"That's not the case with Ottawa. They don't have that team chemistry. Maybe a few years ago, sure as hell not now. You can talk about a system, but if you don't have the right players in place -- and they don't -- it's not gonna work. His (Murray's) other problem of course, if he wanted to trade one of those guys, is the salary cap. The crazy money they're making."
Snores fans keep pointing out the pedigrees of Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza.
"The game is played on ice, not paper. Some guys can get the new, big, money and it never diminishes their work ethic. Steve Yzerman. Mario Lemieux. Lots more. But there are others who when they get it think they're now secure, they lose the drive. Unfortunately, it's human nature. I think it's part of Ottawa's problem."
Alfredsson? "Not the player he once was. He's what, 36, 37?" (36) That's up there in hockey, that's pretty old. I also don't think he's 100% healthy."
Heatley? "He's not a good skater, and for a big, strong guy he doesn't use his size to make things happen. He's a one-trick pony. He'll still get goals, but teams are catching on how to play him. Take away his sniping ability, he's a third- or fourth-line player."
Spezza? "He has an aversion to working consistently. He lacks concentration and the necessary attitude."
Despite the Snores being tied with Atlanta for 29th spot, and only four points up on the last-place Islanders, Ottawa, he says, is a worse team than they are, worst in the NHL, and he mentions a number of vital statistical categories, referring me to them to prove his point.
Combined total points by Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza: 128.
Atlanta's top points trio, Ilya Kovalchuk, Todd White, Slava Kozlov: 137.
Islanders' top trio, Mark Streit, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin: 105.
Ottawa has 12 players with double-digit points for a combined total of 263.
Atlanta, 15, for 342.
New York, 13, for 277.
In the plus/minus category, 11 of Ottawa's double-digit 12 players are minus.
Of the 15 Atlanta players, 11.
Of the 13 New York players, 11.
Of Ottawa's 12, three are defencemen, highest points among them Filip Kuba, 25.
Of Atlanta's 15, four are defenceman, highest points among them Ron Hainsey, 25.
Of New York's 13, three are defencemen, one being the club's leading scorer Mark Streit, 38 -- only one point behind Ottawa "superstar" forward Spezza's 39, only six back of Ottawa "superstar" forward Alfredsson's 44, only seven back of Ottawa "superstar" forward Heatley's 45.
Ottawa's highest single-digit goal scorer is Mike Fisher, 7.
Atlanta's is Marty Reasoner, 8. Unlike Mike Fisher, Marty Reasoner does not earn $6 million (all terms US) a season.
New York's is Mark Streit, 9. Unlike Mike Fisher, Mark Streit does not earn $6 million a season.
Paging Inspector Clouston. Paging Inspector Clouston. Please pick up the emergency hotline phone. Paging Inpector Clouston.