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Hockey notes

Views from the observatory

Early in season, not all the stars shine brightly

Andrew Raycroft may be asked to stabilize a rocky situation in the Colorado net. Andrew Raycroft may be asked to stabilize a rocky situation in the Colorado net. (Ronald martinez/Getty Images)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / October 19, 2008
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One man's observations only a week-plus into the NHL's North American schedule (not to be confused with the now annual and anonymous European tour kickoff):

Through six games, the Rangers trio of Markus Naslund, captain Chris Drury, and Scott Gomez had only 3 goals and 10 points. Not bad for a second line, and really outstanding for a No. 3. But for a cap hit of $18.407 million? Not what the Blueshirts expect, especially with point machine Jaromir Jagr playing in Russia. Meanwhile, the best line on Broadway thus far: Aaron Voros, Brandon Dubinsky, and Nikolai Zherdev, who clicked for 8-11 -19 over the same stretch.

Three games into the season, Wild forward Marion Gaborik had to skip a start because of the dreaded "lower-body injury." Shocking. Just shocking. The fragile superstar had offseason hip surgery and missed much of training camp because of a quad injury. In the previous three seasons, he missed 57 games, all related to groin/abdomen concerns. It sure stinks to be general manager Doug Risebrough, who has been unable to work a contract extension for his No. 1 talent. It grows more evident by the hour that Risebrough will have to deal Gaborik rather than lose him to free agency after the season. But with every tweak of the groin, the Wild will get substantially less in return.

Ex-Boston goalie Andrew Raycroft moved into the Avalanche net after No. 1 Peter Budaj failed in three starts, and the Razor helped shave the free-falling Flyers, 5-2. Three of Raycroft's 16 stops were against former Bruin Mike Knuble. Avs coach Tony Granato had Raycroft pegged for a game a week, but Budaj's early woes could swing the puck pendulum to the 28-year-old Raycroft. It went bad for Raycroft, the former Calder winner, in Toronto. But a lot of things go bad in Toronto.

Hard to figure the Ducks going winless in their first four, including a loss to the up-highway Kings. They spent too much of last season trying to shake a Cup hangover, and dealing with the muddled career aspirations of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. About time for everyone in the lineup to remember the pain, sacrifice, snarl, and commitment it took to win in 2006-07. Or is the problem that they do remember it?

Lots more thud than thunder in Tampa Bay, 0-2-2 after four games. Whatever magic Barry Melrose had, if any, looks like it got lost somewhere between the Kings bench and the ESPN studio. Their big guns have done next to nothing, and ditto for prized free agent Ryan Malone, the ex-Penguin who chipped in with a lone goal in those first four games. What fixes it? Maybe nothing. But ex-Ranger defenseman Marek Malik, 33 years old and 6 feet 6 inches, 240 pounds, joined practice last week and could be in uniform Tuesday night. Is that thunder we hear in the distance, or just a John Tortorella belly laugh?

The Stars waited for a couple of games before inserting Fabian Brunnstrom in the lineup, and the talented Swede responded with a hat trick in his NHL debut. The Bruins and a handful of other NHL clubs (Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto among them) took a run at signing Brunnstrom in the spring, but he opted for Dallas, thinking the Stars gave him the best chance to play and flourish. Coach Dave Tippett loves a club that grinds its way to victory. That's not to say Brunnstrom will have a hard time fitting in, but it is to say the Bruins can breathe a humongous sigh of relief that he didn't hitch on with the Habs.

Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette, at least for the time being, has scrubbed his club's traditional day-of-game workout, which for decades has been an NHL standard. Too much energy being wasted, according to Lavvy, who grew up in Franklin and went on to captain the '94 US Olympic team. On game days, the Hurricanes will still report to the rink, but only for treatments or meetings. No more drills and "warming up the legs." Rod Brind'Amour, maniacal about his workouts and total dedication, might have to be sedated for that part of the daily ritual to be stolen from him.

OK, it's a stretch, but could you imagine a Boston power play that had both 6-5 Blake Wheeler and 6-9 Zdeno Chara parked in the general vicinity of the crease? What a nightmare for opposition goalies, trying to see their way around those twin oaks. It would take the emphasis off of point men needing to get shots on net (nearly impossible throughout the league nowadays). Instead, the strategy would be to pass or jam the puck in low, then leave it to the goliaths to get after it. Wheeler is already down there (for an average 2:45 on the power play in Games 2 and 3 this season). Drop Z beside him and let the carnage begin.

Savard's tenure had four-gone conclusion
As quick dismissals go, Denis Savard's boot from behind the Chicago bench after only four games (1-2-1) was not unprecedented. Ivan Hlinka was given the heave-ho in Pittsburgh after going 0-4-0 in October 2001, and Gentleman Jacques Demers likewise after an 0-4-0 stumble from the gate with Montreal in 1995.

The all-time record? Bill Gadsby was rendered Detroit's ex-coach after his Red Wings laid two eggs in October 1969. Tough place to work, Hockeytown, even in its dark days.

Truth is, the writing was on the United Center sideboards for Savard when Scotty Bowman moved into the front office as senior adviser of hockey operations in July. Just about everything to do with the Hawks has changed in the last 13 months, most of it attributable to the death of longtime owner Bill Wirtz, and the ongoing restructuring of what had turned into a haunted hockey house.

A curious pick from the start, Savard was one of the few remaining ties to the woeful Williams Wadsworth Wirtz era. These days, Rocky Wirtz has the sharp-eyed John McDonough, ex-of the Cubs, running the show, and in terms of how to run a hockey team, the Chicago cognoscenti believe McDonough is taking his player personnel cues from Bowman, the coaching legend, and not Dale Tallon, the last GM put in place during the woeful WWW era.

What does this portend for Tallon? Not hard to connect the dots. The bet here is that Bowman, even though he turned 75 last month, soon is placed in charge of the Indian Head, officially. Much like his latter coaching days, he'll leave the daily grind to someone else - perhaps an ex-agent well-versed in contract talks and CBA matters.

All in all, a great time for someone to come aboard under Bowman's tutelage. Had the Hawks come racing out of the gate under Savard, it only would have delayed the inevitable. Now it's Joel Quenneville's bench to run, while McDonough and Bowman figure out the rest of the line changes in the front office.

"It's about moving forward," said Tallon, explaining the Savard failing.

Question is, where will the next move leave the GM?

The list
Dallas forward Fabian Brunnstrom clicked for three goals in his NHL debut last week, connecting for his hat trick in a span of 24:50 across the second and third periods of a 6-4 win over Nashville. Brunnstrom became only the third player in NHL history to pot three in his first game. The others:

Alex Smart, Montreal, 1943.

Real Cloutier, Quebec, 1979.

Smart scored only twice more in a career that consisted of only eight NHL games. Cloutier, a prolific scorer, connected for 146 goals in 317 NHL games.

Speak up
"If this is what it takes, that's what it takes."
Denis Savard, reflecting on his dismissal as Blackhawks coach last week.

The number
$47.6 million

The total value of center Anze Kopitar's new seven-year deal, beginning next season, with the Los Angeles Kings.

The annual salaries: $6.0 million, $6.0 million, $6.4 million, $6.5 million, $7.5 million, $7.5 million, $7.7 million.

Kopitar played in 154 NHL games prior to this season.

Etc.
Noah's spark: Ex-Harvard defenseman Noah Welch is the only active NHLer who has agreed to donate his brain to the Waltham-based Sports Legacy Institute, which is studying the long-term impact of concussions. Last week, the 6-foot-4-inch blue liner told the Palm Beach Post about the varied reaction in his family. "My brother thought it was cool," said Welch, back in action this season after a shoulder injury ended his 2007-08 campaign after only two games. "He understands it. He played high school hockey. My uncle cracked a couple of jokes, just typical of him. My mom cried, which is typical of her. My dad read it in the paper and he was laughing, and thought it was cool, too."

Squeeze play: Once he signs his new deal in Tampa, Marek Malik will go on the books for around $1.2 million. Unless they dump some money, that will leave the Bolts with only some $800,000 in cap space. Not only are they flat, but they are also tight to the "number" of $56.7 million.

Paul maul: Re-energized Ranger Paul Mara, the former Bruins defenseman, got his fill of Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta and put a beating on the right winger, one that had the Sabre going full turtle. Payback for Mara, who needed facial surgery, and missed 12 games, following a similar Kaleta hit last season. "Enough's enough," said Mara. "If he was a man, he'd have dropped the gloves." Mara, after signing a one-year budget-friendly contract of $1.95 million, has been inspired from the start this season. Teammate Scott Gomez: "He's a whole different player."

Stress test: Goalie Roberto Luongo is the captain in Vancouver this season. On the "best player" standard, it makes perfect sense. But practically? It has to be one of the alternate captains who talks with game officials, whenever that becomes necessary. But overall, the stresses of night-to-night goaltending are enough, and layering on captain duties could be more than any sane individual can handle. Then again, what's sane about goaltending?

On the statuesque side: The concourse at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena now has three statues, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, and Ted Lindsay, greeting people as they come through the doors. Lindsay: "Maybe in a simple way, this says I left something important to hockey." Howe's image went up last year, followed by his linemates' in just the last three days. If the empty building lots around TD Banknorth Garden ever get developed (a running joke in commercial real estate offices across the city), what a sensational touch it would be to have bronze statues of Garden heroes lined up along Causeway Street.

Going somewhere?: A couple of ex-regulars who barely see the light of day now in Toronto: forward Matt Stajan and defenseman Ian White. They both have two years left on their deals, for a total cost of $5.55 million. Given the scarcity of blue liners around the league, look for White to go first, if new coach Ron Wilson has no use for him.

Loose pucks: Ex-Bruin Yan Stastny picked up a goal Thursday night for the Blues. Good wheels, attitude, and inherited hockey sense, but he never seems to get over the hump for full-time NHL work. The goal came in only his 14th game since getting traded to the Blues in January 2006 . . . Rangers coach Tom Renney on the slow start of Chris Drury's line: "You don't want to wave the white flag." Especially with that much green involved . . . Lucetta Knox, widow of Northrup Knox, founder of the Sabres, died last Sunday in East Aurora, N.Y., the idyllic Buffalo suburb that is also home to Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. She was 80 . . . Through his first four games for the Lightning, Steve Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, was still without a point. All he had to show, in fact, were four shots and an average of just under 10 minutes of ice time. It's reminiscent of Joe Thornton's slow rollout in 1997-98 when Jumbo Joe went 3-4 -7 in 55 games under Pat Burns's guidance . . . At last look, Chris Simon, playing for Chekov Vityaz, the Russian club under the watch of GM Alexei Zhamnov, had 109 PIMs in 14 games. Looks like nothing has been lost in translation . . . The Capitals have been pairing ex-Bruin Milan Jurcina at the point with star Russian Sergei Fedorov. They want Jurcina, the Scoring Machina, to shoot more than last year, when he landed only 58 attempts on net in 75 games. "He's got such a hard shot," said coach Bruce Boudreau, "why waste that ability?" Dazzling pack of high-end forwards in D.C., but the soft spot could be Jose Theodore in net.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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