After The Whistle: Oh, Oh Canada
Each week, CBCSports.ca senior hockey writers Scott Morrison and Tim Wharnsby conduct (mostly) friendly banter on the latest hot-button issues in the NHL.
1. If the playoffs were to begin today, the only Canadian teams that would be in are the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks. But all three teams are barely hanging on. Which Canadian teams will be around this spring?
WHARNSBY: We can forget about the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs. I'm not sold on the Montreal Canadiens either because 11 of their 23 victories have come in either as the result of a four-on-four overtime team or a shootout. Their power play is strong, but they haven't generated enough offence to pile up victories. The Canadiens are second last in both 5-on-5 goals for and shots on goal per game. I like the Senators under Cory Clouston. The Senators have gone 44-32-8 with Clouston at the helm and they have weathered the injury bug that hit them earlier this month as well as a poor stretch of goaltending.
In the West, the Canucks are playing their best hockey right now and, with a healthy Pavol Demitra, they're only going to get better. I'm not concerned about the 14-game road trip because of the Olympics. The stint away from GM Place is broken up with eight before the Winter Games and six afterward. The Flames concern me because of their lack of offence. Captain Jarome Iginla has slumped and there hasn't been much secondary scoring. With the Detroit Red Wings about to get some more talent back from the infirmary, I don't like the Flames chances of sticking in the top eight.
MORRISON: I give the Senators credit for hanging in through those injuries, but the question is can they get consistently good goaltending over a long haul? If not, they could easily fall out of the mix because I think the Philadelphia Flyers will find their way into the top eight. So it is conceivable all three miss from the East, though I think it will be Ottawa or Montreal that gets in. It's all about goaltending.
Out west, the same dodgy scenario exists. Could be two teams, could be one, could be none. I see Detroit getting in, which means someone has to fall out. I think Vancouver will be fine. They have one of the best goaltenders in Luongo and players in Henrik Sedin. They also have a great coach. Calgary has similar features, but Iginla isn't putting up the numbers and their scoring is brutal. I think the Flames need a fix or they could be the odd team out.
2. Do the Calgary Flames need to trade for a backup goalie?
WHARNSBY: I'm not sure if the problem is Curtis McElhinney's ability or the fact that he plays so little that he's too rusty when he gets in there. Clearly, McElhinney was off his angles in the Flames 5-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday and hasn't made an impact in his limited playing time. The 26-year-old native of London, Ont., and former Colorado College netminder has started 14 games but made 28 appearances for the Flames over parts of three seasons. He has a 4-12-1 record, .892 save percentage and 3.13 goals against average. The Flames can't afford to burn out Miikka Kiprusoff. He have averaged 75 regular-season games over the past four seasons, but has failed to get out of the first round in the playoffs each spring.
MORRISON: It's interesting that, when Mike Keenan was fired, one of the criticisms was he played Kiprusoff too much and that was going to change. Well, it hasn't, so does it really matter who the backup is if he isn't going to play? If the mindset has changed, then, yes, it would seem they need to make a move. Still, the most pressing need is up front because they just can't score enough, often enough.
3. Who is at fault in Mike Richards' dispute with Philadelphia beat reporters?
WHARNSBY: Yes, I'm a reporter and a friend of the dean of the Philly beat guys, Tim Panaccio. I also don't cover the Flyers on a daily basis. But from what I know, there were concerns from former Philadelphia coach John Stevens last summer about the group of youngsters who live downtown and their night life. Stevens expressed these concerns to management. Two of those players, Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall, were shipped out in separate trades. Richards put forth a cold shoulder to reporters early on this season after a bevy of these stories were written. That has more to do about his lack of experience in dealing with reporters than anything. As a captain, he has to stand up daily and answer reporters questions. He didn't undergo the same kind of scrutiny in junior and needs to learn from a veteran like Chris Pronger or Daniel Briere about his responsibilities as captain.
MORRISON: There is a fine line when it comes to reporting what a player does off the ice if it doesn't involve the law or his performance om the team. In the case of the Flyers, GM Paul Holmgren was quoted in the media about the night life and how it could affect the performance of the team and that there were concerns last season. So the topic became fair game, especially when players returned to town with new clubs. Richards accused the media in broad strokes of making things up, but couldn't present any evidence. Sounds like a frustrated player who misspoke. As captain, he better figure out a way to co-exist with the Philly media because it is a fight he will never win.