Like the Buffalo Sabres or the Democrats in the U.S. House of Congress, the letters just keep on comin'. Let's get right to them:
Do you expect Brian Leetch or Jason Allison to be signed this year? Which scenario is more likely to happen? Are both currently working, meaning they would be in game shape immediately?
- Jay, Calgary
Allison would sign this minute, if only he could convince anyone to pay him. I spoke with his agent Matt Oates a few weeks ago and he told me the big center is home and working out to stay in shape in the hopes of finding Â“the right fitÂ”. My guess is Allison signs after the end of the calendar year, with a team that's hurting on the power play.
As for Leetch: nobody can say with confidence when or if he'll ever be back. There have been whispers he's been training for a return, but just as many rumors he's done for good. You're definitely not going to see him on a Western Conference team, but depending where the Rangers or Maple Leafs are positioned in the playoff hunt this spring, I could see him signing with either franchise.
1. Are Marty St-Louis, Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier for real or do they just score in spurts? What will their point totals be this year?
2. I have Marek Zidlicky and Sergei Zubov in my hockey pool and right now they aren't doing much. I know Zidlicky is a slow starter, but what the heck is going on with Zubov?
3. Is Anze Kopitar going to be able to keep his play at this level the entire year with such a weak team and does Lubomir Visnovsky get 50 points this year?
- Michael Thompson
As regular readers should know, I'm not big on the Bolts this year. But that doesn't mean I'm disrespectful of the scoring prowess of Tampa Bay's best three players. Lecavalier and St-Louis both are on pace for career offensive years; Richards has been the least productive of the three and could post his lowest totals since 2001-02. I'd expect his stats to improve, St-Louis' to peter out a little, and Lecavalier to continue filling the nets.
Zubov's six assists and seven total points this season have some eyebrows raised, but remember, this Stars team is far less freewheeling on offense than previous editions. And if you check Zubov's career stats, you'll see he almost inevitably follows up a solid offensive season with a dip in production. Since he had 71 points last year, history suggests he'll be somewhere in the 50s this season.
Lastly, I'm a fan of Kopitar. He'll have to fend for himself a little more once his centerman Craig Conroy is traded, but he'll stay in the Calder Trophy race all season long.
What's the deal with Kari Lehtonen? He had back-to-back shutouts at the beginning of the season, but his performance has taken a hit in recent weeks. Now there's talk of a goaltending battle with Johan Hedberg. Do you think his recent struggles are just a phase, or do you see him sharing a lot more time this season with his Swedish counterpart?
- Austin Knoblauch
I think Lehtonen will be fine. Sure, his save percentage has been steadily dropping with each game he plays, but Atlanta's potent offense has given him more than a little wiggle room in that department.
Besides, he's sure looking better than he did at the start of last season, when he came to camp looking like he had too many back-to-back cookouts. He's a year older, wiser, and better between the pipes.
I've been watching a lot of games again this year and I'm not sure I like what I see as much as last year. More and more interference is going uncalled, as well as inconsistency in calling stick fouls. It has always been my contention that the weakest part of the NHL is the refereeing. Also, I think the shootouts are losing their effect on fans because the goalies seem much stronger than the shooters. What are your thoughts?
- A.J. McIntosh
I still believe the league is on the right track. Inconsistent officiating continues to rear its head every so often, but for the most part, the zebras haven't given in to the plaintive wails of players, GMs and coaches.
Personally, I think the league's referees and linesmen are doing a damn good job. Ninety-nine per cent of them aren't out to be noticed (unlike, say, many of their colleagues from the NBA), and almost every one is man enough to admit when they've made a mistake. That's all you can ask of men doing some of the toughest work in pro sports.
And I still love shootouts, no matter how prevalent they seem to have become. The Hockey News' next cover story is an in-depth breakdown of the newest, most thrilling aspect of the game; if you pick up a copy, you'll see that shootouts have opened up a new vein of debate and discussion. Anytime you can add that to a game that historically has been as progressive as a glacier, that's got to be good news.
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