A year ago Igor Larionov ended up the odd man out when the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee had to consider a once-in-a-generation class of candidates.
With only four spots for five superstars, Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens each got the nod over the Russian great, whose accomplishments off the ice in breaking the barriers Soviet Union players faced in going to the NHL were just as significant as his artistry on the ice.
On Tuesday, the hall will unveil its class of 2008 and Larionov should be at the top of the list. Often described as the Wayne Gretzky of Russia, it would be a fitting honour for one of the game's trailblazers, and ease the sting he felt at being left out last year.
"Obviously it's a big disappointment but when you're looking at the class of the players, there's no doubt (about) everybody who's been inducted last year, really true superstars," he told The Canadian Press on Monday.
"You know what happened last year to me, this time I'm just taking it easy because whatever happens, happens. If it happens I'll be thrilled and privileged and honoured to be included. If not, there's nothing I can do."
To that end Larionov spent the day watching Germany beat Austria 1-0 at Euro 2008, oblivious to the hall's deliberations. In fact, the laid-back former centre said he wasn't even aware that the hall would name its inductees Tuesday.
"Well, I had no idea it's going to happen (Tuesday) or next week or in 10 days," he said. "I'm just watching the soccer game, enjoying life. That's all I can tell you."
Other players eligible for induction include: Pavel Bure, Glenn Anderson; Dino Ciccarelli; Vincent Damphousse; Doug Gilmour; Phil Housley; Steve Larmer; Rick Middleton; Adam Oates; and Pat Verbeek.
Goalies eligible include: Tom Barrasso; Ron Hextall; Mike Liut; Andy Moog; Mike Richter; Rogie Vachon; John Vanbiesbrouck; and Mike Vernon.
Bure is an interesting case.
He scored 437 goals and 779 points in an electrifying career limited to 702 games because of injuries. He has better numbers in fewer games played than Cam Neely, who was inducted in 2005.
"For me he was a great hockey player," Larionov said of Bure. "I played with Pavel for a couple of seasons, he was one of the true superstars in the league and he accomplished lots in hockey."
So did Larionov.
He scored 169 goals and 644 points in 921 games over 14 NHL seasons and added another 30 goals and 97 points in 150 playoff games, winning the Stanley Cup three times.
That came after an exemplary Soviet and international career in which he won two Olympic gold medals, the 1981 Canada Cup and four world championship titles.
But some of his best work was in fighting against the draconian measures of former Soviet national team and Red Army coach Viktor Tikhonov. He clashed with Tikhonov over his policies forcing players to spend up to 11 months a year in barracks rather than at home, and over other stern policies restricting players' freedom.
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 1985, it wasn't until 1989 that he managed to make his NHL debut, after finally breaking through Tikhonov's attempts to stop him.
Along the way he's inspired countless Russian players, serving as an idol, mentor and friend.
"I thank Igor Larionov a lot," Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk said during the NHL awards last week. "My first year here, he helped me so much. He showed me how to practise and everything. He was such a great player. He was the Professor. He just deserves to be in (the Hall)."
Some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. These are our picks for teams that will rebound in the second half.
With the all-star break this weekend, we're officially at the mid-way point of the season. Every NHL team has played between 44 and 50 games, and it's certainly time to start scoreboard and standings watching. Thanks to the NHL's artificial parity there are a lot of teams right on the playoff bubble.
That means some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. With that in mind, here are our picks for teams currently on the outside that will sneak in come April.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa simply has too much talent not to pick things up in the second half and sneak back in (its possession numbers put them in the top half of the league). Steven Stamkos has the league’s second-best points-per-game average, and he’ll be a huge boost when he returns from injury. They also have a nice trade chip in Ben Bishop that they can use to shore up the blueline (Kevin Shattenkirk, anyone?). This team very much reminds me of the Kings, one that knows there’s no need to blow it out in the regular season when playoff seeding is meaningless. Not only will the Lightning make the playoffs, they’ll make a strong push for the Cup. (Edward Fraser)
Los Angeles Kings
About this time five years ago, the Los Angeles Kings were mucking around the Western Conference, losing almost as many games as they were winning and flirting with both a playoff spot and disaster. And we all know how that turned out. After 46 games this season, the Kings are once again mucking around the west, winning a couple more games than they’ve lost, not able to score much and not looking like much of a contender. That will change. First of all, Jonathan Quick has to come back at some point and March seems to be the target date. So the Kings will win the trade deadline when a rested and motivated Quick gets back into the net. Second, the Kings are too good, too experienced and too pedigreed for this to continue. Look for the Kings to make a second-half surge, aided by a healthy Quick in the last quarter, and squeak into the playoffs. Just like they did five years ago. (Ken Campbell)
The Dallas Stars will have to pass four teams if they expect to make the post-season, but they have two of the best offensive horses in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to lead the charge. I expect the Stars to do something about their goaltending before the trade deadline and when they do squeak in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them favored if they matched up against Minnesota in the first round. (Brian Costello)
One could have been predicted the Lighting would take a step back this season, but not even the most bold prognosticator would have picked the Bolts to be last in the Eastern Conference with the all-star break in the offing. The injury to Steven Stamkos has hurt in a big way, but Tampa Bay still has an incredibly talented roster that is simply underperforming right now. That hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency from either of their goaltenders. The good news is that with 34 games remaining, the Lightning are only five points out of the final Atlantic Division playoff berth and five points back of the final wild-card spot. That is far from insurmountable for a team that boasts Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman. Stringing together a couple wins could have Tampa Bay right back in the mix. (Jared Clinton)
The Kings are hovering around a playoff spot right now and have been doing it without star goalie Jonathan Quick. Once he returns (a timeline would be nice, but what can you do?), Los Angeles gets a huge boost. Even though Peter Budaj has pretty good stats, I think the Kings will just play bigger with Quick back, because he can be that security blanket. Also, Anze Kopitar has four goals right now and there’s no way his pace stays that low. The big man is shooting at five percent right now, down from 14 percent the year prior. If he even moderately gets on track, the Kings will be back in the post-season, no problem. (Ryan Kennedy)
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
A look at the latest speculation surrounding Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, and which teams might be a fit.
The Colorado Avalanche may be struggling at the bottom of the NHL standings, but they continue to dominate the NHL rumor mill. As usual, center Matt Duchene and left winger Gabriel Landeskog are the focus of trade speculation. On Tuesday, TSN unveiled their trade board for the March 1 deadline, with the 26-year-old Duchene topping the list and Landeskog, 24, coming in at No. 5.
Appearing on Edmonton's 630 CHED last Thursday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the asking price for Duchene, a 30-goal scorer last season, is higher than for Landeskog. However, he can see a team that thinks it can win this season pursuing Duchene.
Friedman also said he hasn't heard many rumors involving Colorado's puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie. As the Avs need to bolster their blueline, he feels it doesn't make sense to trade the 25-year-old.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reportedly seeks a good young defenseman as part of the return for Duchene or Landeskog. That type of deal won't be easy to find this season. NBC Sports' Jason Brough observes a high number of teams are also in the market for young blueliners. There aren't many available and teams carrying those assets will set high prices for them.
Recent trade chatter links Landeskog to the Boston Burins. It was thought the Bruins were unwilling to part with rookie rearguard Brandon Carlo, but Bleacher Report's Adrian Dater claims the 20-year-old could be available after all. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty thinks it would be a big mistake by the Bruins to swap Carlo for less than a genuine superstar.
Last weekend, the New York Post's Larry Brooks suggested New York Islanders GM Garth Snow should offer up blueliner Nick Leddy as part of a deal for Duchene or Landeskog, Brooks felt that move could provide the Isles with a significant boost.
Leddy, 25, is under contract through 2021-22 with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.5 million. Sakic, however, could have his eye on younger options.
The Montreal Canadiens need depth at center. TSN's Frank Seravalli thinks Habs GM Marc Bergevin could be interested in Duchene, though a deal of that nature probably wouldn't happen until the off-season. However, the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey questions if Bergevin can afford the high asking price for either Avs star.
Are the Canadiens willing to sacrifice promising 18-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in a package deal for Duchene? With 38-year-old blueliner Andrei Markov's career winding down, moving his possible replacement is a risky notion.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion is shopping around for a forward. Seravalli's colleague Bob McKenzie believes Dorion could have interest in Duchene or Landeskog. Given the Sens need for scoring depth at left wing, McKenzie speculates Landeskog could be Dorion's preference. However, he guesses the asking price for either player is too high.
Dorion could be asked to part with 23-year-old Cody Ceci as part of the return for Landeskog. That would be a deal breaker for the Sens GM.
The Carolina Hurricanes could be the best fit as a trade partner for the Avalanche. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson notes they have plenty of depth in good young defenseman, are in need of scoring punch and possess the salary-cap room to take on Duchene or Landeskog.
If Sakic is talking with Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, they're keeping those discussions well below the radar. With the Hurricanes jockeying for playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, Francis could be unwilling to engage in a major roster shakeup.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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