Gretzky and Co. have some agonizing decisions to make

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:40 PM ET

Joe Sakic is glad he's not Wayne Gretzky.

At least when it comes to picking the Olympic team. With so many dynamic youngsters making incredible cases for themselves, and so many proven veterans on the bubble, there are going to be some agonizing choices.

"Those are decisions I don't have to make and I'm glad because they have a lot of tough ones,'' said Sakic. "I'm sure they're going to be pulling their hair out over some of them.''

Defenceman Rob Blake, a 2002 gold medallist, shakes his head at the up and coming talent.

"These guys have played unbelievably,'' he said. "Jason Spezza, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Eric Staal, all those guys are playing great. It's a great problem. Whoever you take is going to be dominant.''

How much does experience count in an Olympic environment, which is entirely different from the NHL?

"Experience is big, but the players they're choosing from, almost all of them have played in the World Junior Championships and all had experience playing for their country,'' said Sakic.

"I don't think they could make a wrong pick. Whichever way they go is the right way because they have so many great players to choose from.

"I mean, it's always going to be debated. You can make an argument for a lot of different guys who aren't going to be on the team, but I don't think you'll be able to look at anyone who is on the team and say they shouldn't be there.''

He's been everywhere, man

Josh Green, the most well-travelled player in the NHL, laughs out loud at his own crazy situation.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense,'' said the former Oiler, who was sent to AHL Manitoba and promptly recalled four times in November so his salary on off-days wouldn't count against Vancouver's cap (a saving of $2,500 a day).

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just a paper shuffle, but he has to physically report to the Moose each time.

"Either in Manitoba or wherever they're playing on the road,'' said Green, who has two goals in his last two games. "It's crazy. I'm not too tired right now. I'm sure if I had to do this all year it would take its toll but right now I feel pretty good. I'm concentrating on trying to take care of my body and eat well, get a lot of fluids.''

We weren't paying attention

The Chicago Blackhawks aren't much for listening. While the rest of the NHL prepared itself for the obstruction crackdown, they struggled as the most penalized team in the league. So they scheduled a meeting with NHL officials to re-explain the guidelines. The next day they took 10 minors, a major and a misconduct.

Semmy finally debuts

Alex Semenov finally debuted for the Florida Panthers, after missing five games while stuck in Toronto waiting for his work visa.

He was minus-1 with a hooking penalty in a 3-2 win over the Caps. It was in front of the smallest crowd in Panthers history, 10,092 (and witnesses say there was really only 6,000 or 7,000). This, even though the club is selling some tickets for as little as 75 cents.

Hooked on Phoenix

Note to self: Never underestimate Gretzky when it comes to hockey. Many of us looked at the Coyotes' pale lineup and predicted Gretzky would fall on his face as a coach.

But 27 games into the season they're right in the playoff mix, just three points behind the Oil. They've only lost one game this season by more than two goals.

This and that

Markus Naslund leads the NHL in points scored over the last three seasons with 220, while former Bruin Joe Thornton is second with 207. Peter Forsberg is third on the list with 200 ... Anybody seen Radek Bonk? After four straight 20-goal seasons he's in a 39-game scoring drought (17 with the Habs and his last 22 with the Sens before the lockout) ... Meanwhile, potential Olympians are already being given random drug tests in preparation for the Olympics. The pee cups made their way through Ottawa's dressing room this week..

Weekend warrior

Saturday night's all right for fighting, but Ottawa ruffian Chris Neil has discovered it's all right for scoring, too. He's scored in six straight Saturday night games, not bad considering he only has eight all year. The only Saturdays he hasn't scored were Oct. 22, when the Sens didn't play and Nov. 26, when he missed the game after the loss of his mother.

Sabre has teeth

The trade speculation cooled in a hurry when Martin Biron looked abysmal in his first few games as a Buffalo starter after Ryan Miller broke his thumb. But it's going to heat up again in a hurry when Miller comes back later this month. Biron has won five in a row and suddenly Buffalo has what a lot of teams are looking for: an expendable starter.

Bits and hits

Steve Konowalchuk's season-ending wrist injury is a tough one for Colorado, but on the bright side, it frees up $1.4 million in pro-rated salary to find someone else.

Under the new CBA, a player who's out with a long-term injury has his salary removed from the cap ... Sixteen players this season are on pace for 100 points, including a defenceman, Toronto's Bryan McCabe.

Who was the last point man to register 100 points in a season? Answer later.

Nice trip

Nobody likes excuses, but the Tampa Bay Lightning might just have one for their lukewarm start. Since Oct. 15, the defending champs have played 13 of 19 games on the road. The other six were one-game homestands, so it was pretty much like a 41-day road trip.

"It's been crazy,'' said coach John Tortorella. "We come home, and it's only for one game. Then we get right back out on the road again. It's been tough.''

Eleven of their next 15 are at home.

Goaltender controversy

Apparently Jacques Martin has never heard of the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'' So he replaced Roberto Luongo's goaltending coach and close friend, Clint Malarchuk, with Phil Myre, who worked with Patrick Lalime in Ottawa.

"Clint is my very good friend, and he knew me and knew how to handle me,'' said Luongo, who's having a tough season. "It was disappointing to see him go because we had such a good relationship. Jacques came in, and he kind of brought his own people in. They didn't ask me, but that was Jacques' decision.''

And ...

The last point man to record 100 points in a season was Brian Leetch, who had 102 points for the Rangers in 1992-93.

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BIG GAMES THIS WEEK

TODAY

San Jose at Toronto: Newly acquired Joe Thornton and the Sharks step onto the big stage against the Maple Leafs.

TODAY

Los Angeles at Montreal: Sean Avery's first visit to Quebec since mouthing off about French players.

THURSDAY, DEC. 8

Edmonton at Philadelphia: A good measuring stick when Oil makes first trip to Broad Street in two years.

FRIDAY DEC. 9

Ottawa at Vancouver: The top team in Eastern Canada against one of the top teams in Western Canada.


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