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Campbell's Cuts: Giving thanks

I've been told on a number of occasions that I hate hockey. And that's by people who actually like me. Even one of my colleagues, Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun, refers to me as, "the little ball of hate."

In part because I've been known to rail against every level of the hockey establishment, in part because I've joined the ranks of the anti-fighting movement, in part because I'm pretty cynical, there are a good number of people out there who are of the opinion that I can't stand the greatest sport in the world.

As a result, particularly recently, it has been suggested that I go and cover women's figure skating or synchronized swimming. I've had my manhood questioned and been told to perform acts on myself that are anatomically impossible.

Some of them were even witty. After one anti-fighting column, a reader wrote:

"You realize you write for a hockey website, right?

"If you would like, I'd be happy to submit your resume to any of the following magazines: Sassy, Bridal Guide, The Oprah Magazine, Cat Fancy or perhaps Teddy Bear and Friends Magazine.

"There is very little fighting in Cat Fancy. I can't say the same for Oprah – be forewarned."
Now that was funny. I wrote back to that guy.

In any event, I was thinking perhaps I should write about some things I actually have found encouraging this season. So, in the spirit of Canadian Thanksgiving, here goes:

• Loved the sparring match between Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe last week. In an interview for TSN's Season Preview show, Burke once again eviscerated Lowe for signing Dustin Penner to an offer sheet, saying Lowe had driven his team "down the sewer" and that he still has no intention of talking to Lowe, even if he sees a potential trade with the Oilers.

Oilers coach Craig McTavish referred to Burke as "the Wizard of Oz," and Lowe basically portrayed Burke as a blowhard.

Burke is a blowhard, albeit a very intelligent one. He knows the value of a good quote and realizes the importance of keeping the NHL in people's consciousness. My bet is that Burke got over his indignation a long time ago, but knows that by keeping the feud going, he's doing his part to keep his team and the NHL in the spotlight, a place it has managed to avoid far too often lately.

• Loved how Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey asserted himself by insisting that Carey Price be his team's backup and how he called out Alexei Kovalev in the space of a couple of minutes.

When asked whether rookie Mikhail Grabovski might be able to help get Kovalev going this season, Gainey responded by saying: "What about asking what Kovalev can do for Grabovski? Let's not put the cart before the horse. The only person who can get Kovalev going is Kovalev."

Granted, Gainey isn't the one who has to walk into the dressing room and look Kovalev in the eye every day, but it took major kahunas to do what Gainey did. Too often, underachieving star players such as Kovalev are treated too softly for fear of further alienating them. But Gainey had seen enough and had the courage to publicly challenge his player.

• Was very encouraged to hear New Jersey Devils coach Brent Sutter talk about his approach to the game, which just happens to fly in the face of the foundation the Devils have employed for well over a decade.

"The checking line, to me, is way overrated," Sutter said. "Your best defense is still always to have the puck. Defensive hockey doesn't mean just sitting on your heels and playing well in your own zoneÂ…You don't want to be on your heels. You want the puck. You want to make plays. You want to be able to create opportunities."

Give GM Lou Lamoriello credit. He had to see this coming, but still aggressively pursued Sutter and appears to be willing to allow him to coach the team as he sees fit.

• Absolutely giddy over the Ottawa Senators and their decision to sign Dany Heatley to a six-year contract extension prior to the start of the season.

It was a great signing for the Senators, seeing as Heatley is probably the best left winger in the game right now. Not only did they manage to get Heatley to commit long-term, but they were able to keep it from being a distraction all season long.

The Heatley signing now means the Senators have seven core players – along with Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, Joe Corvo, Anton Volchenkov and Ray Emery – under contract for at least two more seasons after this one, basically cementing them as a serious Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.

Next up is Jason Spezza, who, given his arbitration rights and pending unrestricted free agency two years from now, will likely command a contract similar to Heatley's.

Watch for the Sens to start discussions with Spezza's agent Rick Curran very soon and get a deal done sometime during this season.

Ken Campbell's Cuts appears Mondays on The Hockey News.com. Want to get the inside edge from Ken himself? You can reach him at kcampbell@thehockeynews.com.

One of THN's senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken's expertise delivered to you every issue.

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