LAS VEGAS -- The Hall of Famers have spoken and they believe that Sidney Crosby is by far and away the best player in the world right now even though he isn't playing due to a concussion.
Wayne Gretzky referred to Crosby as the League's "best player" and Brett Hull told NHL.com that it's not even close.
"As an overall player there is no question," Hull said. "Last year I would have said Ovechkin a little bit over Sid because I'm a goal scorers' guy, but Sid just picked it up and said, 'I'm going to do it all.' His ability to lead, his skating is so phenomenal and his playmaking -- there is no question that Sid is the guy."
"He's the next Gretzky," Nicholls told NHL.com. "To me, Gretz was amazing, but to see the way Sid handles himself, how good he is for the game, he's just a tremendous talent and he is fun to watch. I don't even think it's close. He's won a Stanley cup, won a gold medal -- he's the man. He's head and shoulders above them all. Sid is just a winner."
LAS VEGAS -- Dellapina has a point. I shouldn't expound on another man's strengths and weaknesses when I don't even have my skates with me. Then again, isn't that my job? Am I not paid to analyze and write what experts like Walter Gretzky tell me.
My job isn't to pretend I'm a hockey player.
Anyhow, in other news from my conversation earlier today with Mike Keenan, the ex-coach of eight NHL franchises told me he'd like to see the NHL bring the red line back.
What's that you say about the red line?
Yeah, I said it, too. I am perfectly fond of the game as it is today with how fast guys go through the neutral zone, but Iron Mike said that he'd prefer seeing guys have to think their way into the offensive zone rather than whip the puck in over two lines and immediately go on the forecheck.
I would think it's safe to say that Keenan is in the minority in this debate and the NHL doesn't have any plans to reinstitute the red line, but when a guy with a Stanley Cup ring who has coached in the League for three decades talks about the game as it's played today you tend to listen.
Here's what Keenan had to say:
"You don't have to be a skilled thinker to bring the puck out of your own zone. You don't have to be a skilled thinker in the neutral," Keenan said. "It's because of the red line. When they took the red line out, and Chicago did this last year and won the Cup, they whip the puck as hard as you can to a post-up man at the far blue line, he tips it in and now you're on the forecheck. See, I played Division I hockey and Cornell was winning the championships because they played like that. I absolutely hated the game because I played defense and you were backpedaling already to retrieve the puck. There was no thinking. The game was perceived to be faster because the puck went from end to end faster, but the thinking was not as acute as it had to be when there was a red line.
"I want thinkers. I think the game is a lot more fascinating to watch with the red line. They say the coaches devised all these systems to clog the neutral zone up, but you watch now, they play a 1-2-2 and the defensemen have to play from the far blue line to that end as opposed to the red line to that end.
"I like the athleticism of the people participating. I like the skill set. I've coached in the league for three decades and there is a lot of perspective. Some people are saying the game is a lot faster. In some ways it is, but in the design of the rules in a lot of ways you don't have to think as much."
Disagree if you want, but he's not changing his opinion.
NHL Live! will be broadcasting from Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp on Thursday and Friday from noon-2 p.m. ET. Follow on NHL.com, NHL Network and Sirius/XM radio.
LAS VEGAS -- Canadian actor Alan Thicke of "Growing Pains" fame and Albertan-born rocker Chad Kroeger from the band Nickelback are two of the more than 60 "campers" in Sin City this week. So are NHL PR guru and chief Brian Leetch expert (though he clearly hasn't learned a thing from years of covering him) John Dellapina and "NHL Live" host and plodding winger E.J. Hradek, but that's another story altogether.
It costs $11,000 to participate in Wayne Gretzky's annual fantasy camp, but for these people it was like giving to a charity that benefits themselves. The idea that for four days they can act like pros and play with and against Hall of Famers is priceless to these dreamers. It is absolutely worth the price of admission.
For example, here you have a natural gas tycoon and a wildly successful dentist out of Ottawa skating in practice while Walter Gretzky sits in the stands and jots down some scouting notes about them, grading them with an A, B, C or D.
He loves it. So do the players. How could they not? They are paying to be a pro, and they would probably pay double.
Cap Raeder, Marty McSorley and ex-Coyotes GM and Gretzky agent Mike Barnett were running practices Wednesday at the Las Vegas Ice Center. Mike Keenan was sitting in the bleachers, where he was joined for a short while by Glenn Anderson.
They traded stories and ripped on Barnett for wearing white warm-up pants on the ice.
"He can't be on my coaching staff," screamed Keenan, who will be manning one of the benches opposite Raeder when the games get under way Thursday.
This is the ninth year Gretzky has held his fantasy camp. House-league dreamers pay to play with and against some of the best to ever lace 'em up in the NHL, and we have the honor of being there to cover it all.
I'll be bringing my Flip Cam, so be sure to look out for some video from the ice and inside the dressing rooms. This blog will be populated at various times Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the red-eye brings me back home to New Jersey, or rather, back to reality.
NHL Live will be broadcasting live from the Bellagio on Thursday and Friday and the shows will be chock full of noteworthy guests, including Gretzky himself. A full schedule of who will be on and when will be released Wednesday. E.J. Hradek and Dave Strader will be your hosts.
I'm told E.J. will also be on the ice Thursday and Friday after he finishes his hosting duties, so we will absolutely be sure to give some instant analysis of that. We just hope he doesn't sully the reputations of all of you hard-working house leaguers out there.
If you want to know where the Great One falls in the Crosby-Ovechkin-Stamkos debate, stay tuned. If you want to hear from Chelios about rigors young defensemen have to go through in this League, keep hitting refresh. We'll ask Brian Leetch about the '94 Rangers, why it never worked again for them and if he feels the Hurricanes, Ducks and Blackhawks could be succumbing to a similar fate. We'll talk to Brett Hull about Steven Stamkos' one-timer and John MacLean about his future.
There will be plenty to write and discuss. It all gets under way Wednesday from America's playground.
NHL Live! will be broadcasting from Las Vegas from noon-2 p.m. ET Thursday and Friday. The show is available on NHL Network, NHL.com and Sirius/XM Radio.
The injury situation is pretty grim in the Steel City, but trader Ray is on the case and we can only assume that by 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 28 the Penguins' GM will have acquired either a scoring winger or a big center to counter the loss of Evgeni Malkin for the season and the unknown of Sidney Crosby's return.
Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote Monday that multiple sources are telling him that Crosby won't be back until at least March. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma nodded in his approval Sunday when asked if he doesn't expect to have Malkin (knee) back until next fall.
Kovalev would certainly be an interesting acquisition considering he had some of his best years in Pittsburgh and he's having some of his worst in Ottawa. There's no reason why the Senators wouldn't look to unload him either. He hasn't meshed with coach Cory Clouston and the team is not winning or going anywhere this season.
He comes with a $5 million cap hit, but the Penguins have the relief created by putting Malkin on long-term injured reserve and Kovalev would only be a rental since his contract is up at the end of the season.
Parenteau, currently with the Islanders, is having a breakout season with 32 points in 51 games. There is less concern with his contract since he's making only $600,000 this season and is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
TSN's Darren Dreger on Tuesday wrote about San Jose's Devin Setoguchi and Florida's Stephen Weiss as potential candidates to join the Penguins by the deadline. Dreger speculates that to acquire a player like Setoguchi or Weiss the Penguins would likely have to part with a package of prospects and/or draft picks and perhaps even a current roster player.
Defenseman Alex Goligoski is the name Dreger mentioned and it's also the name we've heard on many accounts regarding potential trade bait for the Penguins. Goligoski is seen as expendable since he doesn't play in the Penguins' top four (Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek). He's a power play specialist, but Letang and Martin are more than capable of playing the point.
Goligoski has another year on his contract at a reasonable $1.83 million cap hit, so any team that acquires him can look at him as a longer term investment that will help their power play.
Devils center Jason Arnott's name has also come up in rumors involving the Penguins. He's a big center that would likely be looking to make a run at winning another Stanley Cup to match the one he won with the Devils in 2000.
With Marc Savard now officially sidelined until the fall at the earliest, the Bruins have the necessary cap relief to go searching for another a forward to replace him. Savard was making about $4 million.
Dreger, though, is reporting Tuesday that the Bruins have a strong interest in Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle. It makes sense only if, as Dreger writes, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli really does firmly believes that Blake Wheeler can take on Savard's role in the middle.
The Bruins could use a puck rushing blue-liner like Kaberle, but more than anything they need to bolster their blue-line depth as a whole as they head into the stretch run.
Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe writes Tuesday that Chiarelli should reach for the stars, or rather call the Stars, to find out the availability of Brad Richards, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Richards would be the Ilya Kovalchuk or Marian Hossa of this year's trade class, but it's hard to see Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk looking to deal him now.
The Stars are still first in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference. They've been able to stay in those positions despite losing three in a row and five of their last six.
Thashers GM Rick Dudley told Ben Wright of the team's website that he is actively seeking a top-six forward. Dudley appears willing to deal with anybody right now because he knows how important it is for his team to make the playoffs.
Atlanta has only gotten in one time (2007) and it hasn't won a playoff game in franchise history. The Rangers swept the Thrashers that season and since then the team has had to trade away stars Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk.
We haven't seen any names associated with the Thrashers as of yet, but Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted earlier Tuesday that he was told the team had two scouts at Monday's game between the Oilers and Predators.
Terry Jones of the Edmonton Journal wrote last week that basically several players off the Oilers' current roster could be had, including Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky. They're both top-six forward material.
Ray Shero told NHL.com on Tuesday that he'll meet with his pro scouts in Pittsburgh this week to go over information that could prove useful before the trade deadline later this month. Shero said talks amongst all the general managers traditionally pick up steam coming out of the All-Star break, so he's getting himself prepared for some moving and shaking.
"I can only speak for myself and I've talked to a few (GMs)," Shero said. "I haven't talked to all the teams, but I have kept in touch with a few guys. With our team I have a pretty good idea of what we want to do so I'm not contacting every team. You do that a week or two before the deadline to make sure you're covering everything off, doing your due diligence, but it hasn't been that active now. As you get through the All-Star break it tends to pick up and we'll see that over the next few weeks of course."
This deadline could be an interesting one for Shero because he's not 100 percent certain what area might need to be addressed.
Pittsburgh entered Tuesday sixth in the NHL in goals scored per game (3.02) and second in the League in goals allowed per game (2.24) despite playing only one complete game (the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) with star centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal at full speed.
Crosby will miss his 10th straight game Tuesday with a concussion and Malkin will miss his fourth in a row with a sinus infection. Staal sat out the first 39 games of the season with foot and hand injuries.
The injuries have given guys like Mark Letestu, Chris Conner and Dustin Jeffrey opportunities in the top-six and on the power play that they otherwise would not have been afforded. The Penguins' depth has been tested, which is good for Shero because that's given him an opportunity to see what kind of role players he's got heading into the trade deadline.
Shero hasn't been afraid to go after the big splash (Hossa), but he's also found out that the smaller moves (Gill, Guerin) or throw-in players (Dupuis in the Hossa deal) have the ability to change the look of the team enough.
History suggests Shero will do something before Feb. 28, but he'll probably have a better idea of what that is after he meets with his scouts this week.
"We're built down the middle with our goaltending, defense and center iceman and we've played only two games with our three centers, so once we get them all back and healthy I think we'll have a pretty good hockey team," Shero said. "Having said that we're looking to improve, but it's the salary cap era and that might limit your player pool."
As if he hasn't already gained it with his stellar and somewhat surprising play through xx games, Anaheim rookie defenseman Cam Fowler, who is all of 19 years old, is hoping to use the Honda SuperSkills competition as an opportunity to earn some more stripes for himself around the NHL.
"The experience and being with these guys, the stars of the game, I'll hopefully gain their respect," Fowler told NHL.com. "The skills is just for fun, but it would be cool if you do accuracy shooting and go 4 for 4 and have the guys ooh and ahh. That would be pretty cool, but I don't have high expectations."
Fowler admitted being here is strange for him because every other time he's been to an NHL-sponsored event -- the Scouting Combine in Toronto, the Entry Draft in Los Angeles -- he's been one of the most sought after guys by the media.
Here in Raleigh, he's hardly even recognized.
"It's a little different dynamic, but it's awesome to be around the superstars of the League and they're the ones that keep the show running," Fowler said. "It's cool to see how the guys are off the ice. They're superstars of the League but they're still laid back guys and they don't treat us any different. It's a great experience.
"You might get a chance to sit next to anybody in the locker room, guys you grew up watching, and that's pretty cool."
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom signed a one-year contract this past summer because he wasn't sure how much longer he wanted to play beyond 2011. He's still wishy-washy even though he's having yet another phenomenal season and could be in line for his seventh Norris Trophy.
"You know what, I haven't thought about it yet," Lidstrom said. "That's why I signed a one-year deal last summer because I wanted to see how I feel health-wise and if I'm still motivated to play. That I'll take into account when I sit down and make my decision in the summertime again."
Lidstrom admitted he didn't think he would be playing at the age of 40, but he's not only playing; he's having a huge season.
He has 42 points, just 2 behind Phoenix All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle, who leads all NHL defensemen in scoring.
"I'm honored when people mention me for that award," Lidstrom said of the Norris. "Going into this year I wanted to have a better season than I did last year. Having a few extra weeks off in the summer time helped me get my offseason conditioning going. Just having a few more weeks of workouts helped me have a good year."