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Hockey Notes

Possible candidates for Plan B

KEITH TKACHUKBlues will make him available KEITH TKACHUKBlues will make him available (file/Harry How/Getty Images)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
January 11, 2009
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Patrice Bergeron surfaced Friday, talking to the media for the first time since getting his bell rung Dec. 20, and the 23-year-old Bruins center sounded clear-headed and determined to return to the lineup this season. As expected, he did not offer a target date.

All appears to be OK for the Quebec kid - as OK as things can be for anyone who has had his brain rattled twice in 14 months. All concussions, especially follow-up knocks, carry that explicit caveat.

Lest anyone forget, Bergeron must still withstand the rigors of building back his cardiovascular level, endure contact practices, get fully fit, ripped, and game-ready. As we witnessed with him last winter and spring, it's a process, one that can be arduous and maddeningly frustrating, especially for athletes who make their living by testing, retesting, and testing again their physical limits.

Brains don't think the way muscles think (spare yourself a search through "Gray's Anatomy" for that bit of clinical wisdom). When the brain is ready, it's ready, and we don't need a better example of that in this town than Ted Johnson.

Meanwhile, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has the unenviable task of trying to project when/if Bergeron and/or Marco Sturm will be able to suit up. Tea leaves, a Ouija board, and a coin flip might be his best prognostic tools.

The players are critical pieces of the offense, which somehow got glossed over while the Bruins rattled off 10 straight victories. True, before getting hurt, Bergeron was not his best, but he had just begun to show flashes of his old self. Sturm, who will undergo surgery Tuesday to clean up his left knee, was sidelined by neck and headache woes prior to wrenching the leg. For the time being, he is on the books for $3.5 million, and he makes that money because of his penchant for getting pucks into the net.

Chiarelli has slightly more than seven weeks (52 days) before the March 4 trade deadline to figure out some contingencies if neither Bergeron nor Sturm can make it back before the playoffs.

Five names to consider:

  • Keith Tkachuk - The former Malden Catholic star, who will turn 37 March 28, still has a little bit of touch (14 goals and 27 points) in those meaty hands (now 514 career goals and counting). He is finishing up a two-year deal with the Blues, with a cap hit of $4 million, and certainly will be moved at the deadline with the Blues able to trim some $800,000 in cap exposure. Easy financial fit for the Bruins if both Bergeron and Sturm are off the books. Tkachuk can play both wing and center, and would offer great depth on the power play. The Blues dished him to the Thrashers at the '07 deadline, and he was a decent fit (15 points in 18 games). Imagine the sight of Marc Savard pivoting the 6-foot-4-inch Blake Wheeler and the 6-2 Tkachuk on the PP. The former first-round pick (No. 19, Winnipeg, 1990) becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
  • Jason Williams - A season lost in the ongoing train wreck in Atlanta. Not big (5-11/195), but can play both center and wing and is only 28 years old. Cap hit is $2.2 million. Unrestricted free agent July 1, along with fellow Thrasher Mathieu Schneider, the slick defenseman who drew some attention from Chiarelli over the summer while he was still a Duck.
  • Erik Cole - The big, slick Yank was dished from Carolina to Edmonton over the summer and just lately is looking again like a real first- or second-line winger. Great skater with good size (6-2/205), on the books for $4 million and an unrestricted free agent July 1.
  • Steve Reinprecht - Former Wisconsin standout, 32 years old, finishing up his deal (cap hit: $2 million) with the Coyotes. Won a Cup in '01 with Ray Bourque's Avalanche. Not a prolific producer, but is smart and plays pivot.
  • Nik Antropov - The huge (6-6/230) Russian pivot will turn 29 next month and is on target to be a UFA July 1. With Brian Burke now calling the shots in Toronto, anyone whose last name ends in "ov" - like, say, Sergei Fedorov - must be considered on the endangered species list. Cap figure: $2.05 million. Maybe ex-Crimson forward Dominic Moore would consider changing his name to "Moronov"?
  • Ballot-box blitz wasn't the stuff of champions

    Less than a week after pulling off a great show with its outdoor game in Chicago, the NHL was made to look lame at the hands of Canadiens fans. Legions of Les Glorieux followers stuffed the ballot box with their "texting" votes, and ended up landing four Habs in the starting lineup for the Jan. 25 All-Star Game in Montreal.

    Talk about stealing from the spirit of the show. What, were Habs fans trying to get even for Colorado's theft of Patrick Roy in "Le Trade" of 1995?

    The CH starters are Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek on defense, along with Alexei Kovalev at forward (running with Penguins Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) and Carey Price in goal. Fine picks, each and every one of them - for second-line forward, No. 2 defensemen pairing, and backup goaltender.

    All of which again proves the old adage repeated by GMs through the ages: Listen to the fans, and you'll end up sitting with them.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing, encouraging, and engaging fan participation. But it only takes a cursory look at "Dancing With the Stars" to figure out that vox populi should be given only so much of a vox.

    Let the people vote. Let them jam the Internet the way Jacques Lemaire bottles up the ice. But don't let their votes (read: fanaticism) take away from the good work of guys who truly deserve to be named starters.

    The "election" process should be handed over to a select group of GMs and coaches, and they should in turn be handed the tally of the fan votes for consideration in making their selections. Perhaps that will dampen, shall we say, the enthusiasm of the public electorate, but it will go a long way in naming the 12 players who most deserve to be identified as the best at their positions over the first half of the season.

    Montreal fashions itself as the center of the hockey universe. It has the Stanley Cup flags to back up the claim that the game is at the center of its culture. If class and culture speak for themselves, too bad the lack of it found a voice via text messaging and the Internet. There were no paper ballots. Good news for Habs fans: no fingerprints.

    Etc.

    Indefensible performance
    Watching the Senators disintegrate Thursday night at the Garden, couldn't help but think of how they resembled the disheveled Bruins of 2006-07 during Dave Lewis's brief turn at the wheel. The fix? The best attempt might be to swing a deal for Panthers blue liner Jay Bouwmeester in hopes that he could stabilize the back end and allow some of the skilled forwards to settle down and put the puck in the net. The Ottawa coverage around the defensive net was laughable, especially in one sequence when Phil Kessel got three cracks near the right post, even getting the time to swing in front for the third attempt.

    Changing on the fly
    A new dimension to the bizarre world of Russian hockey: Wayne Fleming, coach of Jaromir Jagr's club (Avangard Omsk), was fired during the second intermission of a game against Vityaz Podolsk. Igor Nikitin took over the bench and Avangard pulled out a 2-1 victory with a pair of third-period goals. Meanwhile, according to espn.com's Scott Burnside, ex-Boston goaltender John Grahame will be in Moscow Wednesday, appealing his dismissal by Omsk earlier this season. According to reports, Grahame was given the heave-ho after being detained by police for disorderly conduct at a nightclub. The Russian paper Sport Express reported the dismissal as due to "repeated occasions of regime breach by Grahame that was expressed in common alcoholism." A source told espn.com that Grahame, while in custody, was told he could get out of jail by signing a document that voided his playing contact. The 33-year-old did not sign, was released, and then was cut by Avangard.

    A new Leaf
    Brad May, a Toronto kid, had his dream fulfilled with GM Brian Burke's move to bring him to the Leafs (for a sixth-round pick in 2010, only if May signs with the Leafs this offseason). May scored the crushing "May Day" goal against the Bruins in the '93 playoffs, but perhaps more memorable was the slash he put across the face of Steve Heinze, then with Columbus, that resulted in a 20-game suspension.

    Good things come in threes
    Habs forward Robert Lang, 38, potted a hat trick Wednesday in a 6-3 win over the Rangers (incredibly, he did not make it as an All-Star starter). It was only the second hat trick of Lang's career, the other coming Nov. 12, 2003. "If I keep on this pace," he said, "I probably won't score another one." Gordie Howe holds the record for oldest player to score three times (age 41). The youngest: Jordan Staal, at 18 years and 153 days when he connected for the Penguins.

    Kessel makes fast progress
    Staal's new deal in Pittsburgh - $16 million for the next four years - will be the starting point for Kessel's talks with the Bruins. Selected second overall in the '06 draft, just three slots ahead of Kessel, Staal, on the day he agreed to the deal, had career numbers of 52-39 -91 in 204 games. Kessel's numbers the same day: 54-52 -106 in 192 games, and Kessel this season has made his mark as a bona fide game-breaker. The bet here is that Kessel gets a two-year pact that averages upward of $5 million, or gets pushed out to five years/$30 million. Quite a turnaround for a kid who suited up for only four of seven playoff games last spring.

    Loose pucks
    Look for New England native son Max Pacioretty when the Habs come to town Tuesday. Pacioretty, picked 22d overall in the '07 draft, grew up in New Canaan, Conn., and went to the Taft School, followed by a year each at Sioux City (USHL) and then the University of Michigan . . . The New England Hockey Journal, in its January edition, slotted your faithful puck chronicler No. 8 among New England's most influential people in hockey. Jeremy and Charlie Jacobs combined for No. 1, followed by Paul Kelly, Burke, Lou Lamoriello, Jerry York, Jack Parker, Bobby Orr, and then, trailing way behind the play, yours truly . . . Sundin made his Canucks debut in a 4-2 win at Edmonton, where he was booed every time he touched the ice. Going by what Scott Niedermayer told him, Sundin figures he will need nearly five weeks to get his conditioning and timing up to standard. Might be wishful thinking. Niedermayer was only 34 when he rejoined the Ducks from his sabbatical. Sundin will be 38 next month . . . One rumor, stemming from a report by Le Journal de Montreal, had it that Bryan Murray (GM) and Craig Hartsburg (coach) would be dumped in Ottawa and replaced by Bob Nicholson (GM) and Pat Quinn (coach). Nicholson is head of Hockey Canada, and oversees the country's Olympic mission. "I can't see him leaving that job until after 2010," said one of his longtime pals . . . Yeah, 30 years since Orr's No. 4 went to the Garden rafters. Not sure which is harder to believe, the 30 years gone by, or the fact that he was only 30 when it went up there.

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

    Finishing schools
    It's been a solid season for netminders who starred collegiately in New England.
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