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THN.com Blog: Three off-season questions, asked and answered

Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton skate to the bench after defeating the Anaheim Ducks. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

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Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton skate to the bench after defeating the Anaheim Ducks. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

There’s been a lot of goings on since the final buzzer sounded at the Joe and Crosby and Co., hoisted Lord Stanley’s grail. Each move, large or subtle, has questions associated with it and here are three I’ve found intriguing:

Q: Just how bizarre is Saku Koivu going to look in Ducks colors?

A: Really, really freakin’ bizarre.

After 13 seasons of bleeding bleu, blanc et rouge (sometimes literally), the longtime Habs captain wasn’t pursued when GM Bob Gainey put in place a plan to overhaul his roster; a plan that didn’t include the Finn.

Koivu is certainly a declining asset at 34, but the intangibles he brought to the table won’t be easily replaced. Montreal’s loss is Anaheim’s gain, however, and for a team that has the early look of a serious contender in the West, Koivu will be a welcome addition – especially because he doesn’t need to be the go-to guy; a role he was improperly thrust into with the Canadiens.

The colors he’s soon to adorn will take some getting used to, but it wouldn’t surprise one bit to see Koivu and countryman Teemu Selanne create some quick chemistry.

Q: How will the losses of defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi impact the defending champs from Pittsburgh?

A: More than you’d think.

Players of Gill and Scuderi’s ilk alone aren’t going to push a squad to the top of the heap, but tough-in-their-own-end blueliners are key on teams like the Penguins, which can leave defensive holes via their offensive pressure. And it’s no-name veteran guys such as Gill and Scuderi who really shine in, say, tight-checking Stanley Cup Game 7 battles on the road.

Pittsburgh has two players in Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy who will be able to step in and replace the minutes left open by the two free-agent departures, but no one’s going to confuse either youngster as a bruising blueliner and both will be susceptible to mistakes as they continue to acclimatize themselves to the speed of the bigs.

In the long run, Goligoski and Lovejoy will better serve the Black and White’s backend, but a repeat effort could easily be stalled by growing pains.

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Q: When exactly will the big changes happen in San Jose this off-season?

A: Not ever, if GM Doug Wilson is smart.

It won’t be a popular decision, but this team – one that was on pace to set all-time records for points as late as the all-star weekend – deserves another chance before being torn down.

The Sharks, which have yet to add a single piece this off-season, would be wise to tweak, but not discard key components in captain Patrick Marleau, goalie Evgeni Nabokov and once-sniper Jonathan Cheechoo, all of whom have seen their names pop up as possible trade bait.

Wilson isn’t dealing from a position of power and shaving skill simply for the sake of change isn’t progress. Lest we forget Todd McLellan was a rookie bench boss last season and will have learned from the first round failure against Anaheim. Perhaps the Jack Adams nominee has a plan in place to light a fire under perennial playoff underachiever Joe Thornton, for instance.

The Sharks may have sputtered down the stretch, but the Ducks were the worst possible team they could have faced in the first round: a streaking, physical bunch with an ultra-hot goaltender.

Had San Jose drawn the Blues or Blue Jackets, things would have been very, very different in ’09 and this franchise should see what hand it’s dealt in 2010 before drastically shuffling the deck.

Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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