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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 8:49 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Cujo: Leafs need a superstar

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph is intrigued by the direction the Maple Leafs are taking this season, but he said he still believes they lack the superstar power that will put them among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

"It used to be that in order to be an elite team you needed superstars. Now in order to make the playoffs you have to have superstars, and you want one at every position if possible," Joseph told Thursday from Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp. "I think the Leafs have lacked superstars since Mats (Sundin) has been gone."

Joseph said a guy like Columbus captain Rick Nash is exactly the type of player the Leafs need. He used Nash as an example because of the recent trade rumors involving his name and the Maple Leafs.

"If they could do that, whatever they package up to get him, that would be huge for them because Nash is a superstar," Joseph said. "It's just like batting orders, you want your third, fourth and fifth guys to protect each other. (Phil) Kessel and (Joffrey) Lupul need a little protection."

Joseph, though, did have high praise for Phil Kessel, saying he has superstar qualities.

"That guy has got unbelievable skill and he's just starting to realize that he's in that tax bracket so to speak," Joseph said. "But, to be a superstar you have to think like a superstar, carry the weight, carry the team. Now he's got to get 40 goals and get others to hit 30."

But, even without the so-called superstar power, Joseph senses his old team is in a good spot and should only get better. He likes what he is seeing from goalies James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.

"I think Reimer is going to be a good No. 1. The Monster, it seems like he likes that No. 2 role and he's flourishing with it," Joseph said. "They may have something with 1 and 1A, which is OK. If you can have a 1 and 1A and they both play well, that's great. If you have a B and a 2B, that's not good. So, it looks good, but they have to push each other."

The key, though, is making the playoffs this season. Joseph has been in the market long enough to know patience is wearing thin among the fans.

"The fans are really hungry," he said. "If you're a playoff contender then you're a Cup contender, so they need to be that. It looks like they can be this year. I think they're getting that chemistry and winning breeds chemistry, but I think they're still missing a superstar or two."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 7:18 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Leetch praises McDonagh, Rangers consistency

LAS VEGAS -- Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch is impressed with all of the Rangers young defenseman, and he even went as far as saying that he sees some of himself when he watches Michael Del Zotto read the play and work hard to get up the ice.

However, the guy Leetch is most impressed with is Ryan McDonagh, the second-year blue-liner that the Rangers acquired from Montreal in the deal that sent Scott Gomez north of the border.

"I love him, yeah," Leetch told Thursday from the Bellagio. "I look at him as one of the best skaters that I've seen. Del Zotto and (Marc) Staal and (Dan) Girardi, they're all very good skaters, but you can tell when they're skating full speed. They're working to get there and working to get into position, but with McDonagh's pivots and those just a couple of strides -- just a tremendous, tremendous skater."

Leetch wasn't done talking about McDonagh's skating.

"The way he can move side to side, and the power in those strides, stands out to me," he said later in the interview. "It looks different than I've seen."

The Rangers are also looking different than Leetch has seen in quite a while. He credited the team's ability to win despite not always playing its best as a reason why it is first in the Eastern Conference with 71 points heading into Thursday.

"I haven't seen them play where everybody is firing on all cylinders, and yet they continue to get points," Leetch said. "They're very consistent in their work ethic. They continue to stick with it and stick with it and find ways to get points. They're able to flatline their effort at a very high mark, but they may not have reached their highest yet. I haven't seen them play a complete game with things going right for everyone, but they just keep riding and rolling along."

A big reason for that is Henrik Lundqvist, who Leetch called "the most important guy to come into that organization since Mark Messier."

"People say he's playing better than he ever has," Leetch said. "I think he's played like this from his first year after the lockout right on through.

"What I was worried about is having a great goaltender like Lundqvist burn through his prime years without being able to build around him," he added. "I was nervous that they were not going to stick with the youth, patchwork around them, and maybe hit it for one year. But, they've stuck with those guys. That's the way to do it, and I think that breeds a lot of that team mentality, when those young players are coming up together and they have those same experiences off the ice together. That works well in their favor."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 5:14 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Gretzky has some sleeper teams to watch out for

LAS VEGAS -- Wayne Gretzky has his eye on Vancouver, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis, but he doesn't think anybody that is focusing on the playoff race should skip past Nashville.

The Predators are Gretzky's sleeper team in the Western Conference.

"I like how they're playing," Gretzky told Thursday from the Bellagio. "I think their goalie is playing as good as anybody in hockey right now. Hopefully the organization can keep that group together and I think they can give it a legitimate run."

As for his sleeper team in the Eastern Conference, Gretzky, who finished his career in New York, decided to cross the river for his pick.

"I like the way Marty Brodeur has bounced back," he said. "I think he's playing as well as he ever did lately. I like their team. I think New Jersey could be a tough opponent for whoever gets them in the playoffs."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 2:58 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Tocchet talks Flyers and the urge to coach again

LAS VEGAS -- Rick Tocchet, now a part-time analyst for Flyers games on Comcast SportsNet, has been impressed with how his former team has persevered despite not having Chris Pronger since mid-November. However, Tocchet also told Thursday morning that now, more than ever, the Flyers need Ilya Bryzgalov to step up and start living up to the expectations that he carried with him to Philadelphia.

"The young guys have played beyond expectations. Jagr has also played very well for them this season," Tocchet said from the Bellagio on Thursday. "They've got guys playing beyond the expectations that they thought they'd be at, but the guy that really is probably the most important guy that hasn't is Bryzgalov."

Tocchet said a big reason why the Flyers are still in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference is because of their team chemistry.

"You take (Shea) Weber, (Kris) Letang or other big-time defensemen away from their teams, it's going to be a chink in the armor," he said. "But, the (Flyers) team chemistry this year is at an all-time high, and sometimes team chemistry can overcome a big loss. But, listen, having Chris Pronger in a seven-game series is pretty special to have. It's a significant loss."

Tocchet is enjoying his job as a part-time analyst in Philadelphia because it allows him to spend more time at home in Pittsburgh with his 12-year-old son than he did when he was coaching in Tampa. However, he said Thursday that the itch is still there for him to coach in the NHL, and he'd like to scratch it soon.

"I've had a couple of calls for assistant coaching interviews, but it would have to be the right situation," Tocchet said. "You'd like to get a real solid chance with something really solid. If that happens, who knows? Listen, you get a taste for being a head coach you want to be a head coach. But, sometimes to get back in the game, you might have to be an assistant."

Tocchet admitted he still has a sour taste in his mouth from how it ended with the Lightning. He was not re-hired by GM Steve Yzerman after the team missed the playoffs in 2010 for the third straight season, and second under Tocchet.

"I could do full-time TV, but right now I do it part-time and that's really good," Tocchet said. "But, there is still that itch I'd like to scratch. You get a sour taste in your mouth from before, but part of it is a learning process, too. It's a good time to learn."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 2:37 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Hull chats about Hitchcock, Blues, Stars

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Blues great Brett Hull swells with pride when he talks about the turnaround in St. Louis this season orchestrated by his former coach, Ken Hitchcock.

Hull, who spoke to Thursday morning from the Bellagio, said it was "an absolute no-brainer" for Blues GM Doug Armstrong and President John Davidson to bring Hitchcock on board in early November because he's the exact coach the young team needed.

"They're group of young, talented kids that needed someone to give them direction and a no-nonsense approach to how we're going to play the game," Hull said. "It was just like in Dallas, if you didn't buy in and do it the right way at 100-plus percent, you weren't going to play. That's what those kids in St. Louis needed, and it's obvious that it's true because look at them now."

The Blues are fourth in the Western Conference with 69 points. They have two games in hand on fifth place Nashville and three games in hand on first place Detroit.

"It filters through the whole team," Hull added. "You're accountable to the next guy and he's accountable to the next guy. Then you're all working together, and it just breeds success."

Hull said he thinks the Blues are built to have success for many years to come with young players like T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, David Perron and Chris Stewart leading the way in front of one of the League's most formidable goalie tandems in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

"From what I understand Hitch isn't quite as dictatorial as he was, so the players aren't going, 'OK, enough, enough,' " Hull said. "I do think it's built for the long term."

He can see some similarities between the Blues and another of his former teams and employers, the Dallas Stars.

Hull, though, said the Stars right now are a "generic" team that is missing a star.

"Jamie Benn has a chance to be a really good player, but he's still a baby and he hasn't figured it all out yet," Hull said. "Kari Lehtonen is a very good goalie, but other than that it's just a very generic, workmanlike, blue-collar team."

Hull still lives in Dallas and is around the team quite a bit though he has no official title. He is happy to see that Tom Galiardi has stabilized the ownership situation there, but said the only way for the team to win back the fans is to simply win and get in the playoffs.

Dallas is currently 12th in the Western Conference, but only two points shy of eighth.

"You feel bad for the team because you've got a two-time World Series team (Texas Rangers), you've got the World Champion Dallas Mavericks, and the perennial it doesn't matter if they go 0-16 Cowboys selling out a 100,000 seat building," Hull said. "There is only so much sport dollar to go around, but the only way to get 'em back is to win. But, to win you have to have a superstar-type player. There just isn't that right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Gretzky's annual return to the ice

LAS VEGAS -- Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp, now in its 10th year of existence, still excites the Great One because it allows him to catch up with old friends and make new ones while gabbing about hockey the entire time.

Those two reasons are why he continues to hold the camp, and why it's the one time of year he laces up the skates and gets on the ice.

"One thing about being great players is sometimes I don't think people realize how much guys love the game of hockey," Gretzky told Thursday morning from the Bellagio. "We can sit around and talk the game of hockey all day. So, my enjoyment comes in watching the campers come in and get the opportunity to ask questions to guys like Bobby Hull, and listen to stories about what happened in something like Game 7 of the '87 Cup Final. That's what it is all about. Everything about the camp is surrounded by the game of hockey, and that's what makes it enjoyable for me."

But why doesn't Gretzky skate anymore?

"Hockey is the greatest game in the world and playing in the NHL was a thrill and an honor, and I always felt that once I was done playing there and couldn't play anymore, there was no other league like the NHL so it would just not be the same playing in a Sunday night men's pickup league," he said. "So, I just stand on the sidelines and watch."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 10:52 AM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Making good on dad's dying wish

LAS VEGAS -- Even in a group that includes Hall of Fame players like Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Brian Leetch and Grant Fuhr, the best stories can still sometimes come from two brothers from Linwood, Ont. named Scott and Kevin Basler.

Scott and Kevin are here at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Hockey Camp because it represents one of their father's dying wishes.

When Joe Basler got sick 16 months ago, he told his boys that if he were to die, they need to do something fun, a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing, with their inheritance money. He didn't want them to pay their taxes or pay off their cars or any debts they had; he wanted them to experience one of their dreams.

So, they each paid the $11,999 freight to come to Gretzky's camp with their wives and have the time of their lives.

"We used to joke around and kept asking to come to this camp as a Christmas present," Kevin said Wednesday night from the hospitality suite at the Bellagio, where the teams for this year's camp were revealed. "Our mom, Bernice, died in '02 and dad went and bought himself a Harley. He said you only live once. Well, this is our one-shot deal. That's why we're here."

Scott is in the furniture moving business and Kevin is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician as well as a huge New York Rangers fan. Scott is a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

They were put on a team that will be coached by Cap Raeder and Bobby Hull. Denis Savard and Guy Carbonneau are the former pros that they will be playing with, though Kevin would have fulfilled another one of his dreams to land on the same team as Brian Leetch.

The next best thing is getting to know Leetch and all the other former pros here.

Dad would be happy.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 7:47 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Keenan talks current state of the Rangers

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Rangers coach Mike Keenan envisions his old team as being a tough out come playoff time because they're built to withstand the rigors of a physical series.

"That's the way they're built," Keenan told Wednesday from the Las Vegas Ice Center, where he was scouting players he will wind up coaching at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Hockey Camp. "You can't be running out, waving a flag and declaring that this is a dynasty. But, their work ethic, goaltending and their team defensive posture has done it for them."

Keenan, who is a part-time analyst for Rangers' broadcasts on the MSG Network, isn't ready to plan the victory parade down the Canyon of Heroes just yet, but he appreciates the team philosophy and dynamic coach John Tortorella has crafted in New York.

"Early in the season, at least by November, I picked up the fact that they were one of the hardest working teams in the League and hard to play against," Keenan said. "John has them playing a defensive style and a physical style. They are a competitive group. They work well together. They have defensive posture and are willing to sacrifice for each other. And, they play a real demanding, physical style based on the players they have."

The last part is important to note because with the trade deadline quickly approaching (3 p.m. ET on Feb. 27), Keenan is wondering what, if anything, the Rangers will do? He noted that they're not among the top teams in scoring this season (13th entering play Wednesday) and that both Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle are having down years offensively based on what they did a season ago.

Dubinsky had 24 goals last season, but only six so far this season. Boyle had 21 goals last season, but only four so far this season.

Keenan said the key is for teams such as the Rangers, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference, to not be afraid to pull the trigger on a deal.

"The New York Rangers were in first place at the trading deadline in 1994 and we made very significant trades to improve the team," Keenan said. "People said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Well, through my experience, I have already been to the Cup Final three times and have a pretty good handle on what the ingredients are for success in the playoffs.' There is an ingredient that you know and understand that you need. John Tortorella and Glen Sather both won the Cup so they know what the ingredients are. If they can find that ingredient that they don't have, then they should do that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 4:27 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Roenick ready for first crack at Gretzky camp

LAS VEGAS -- The always gregarious Jeremy Roenick will arrive here Thursday morning to take part in his first Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp, and he told on Wednesday that he can't wait for it.

"Just to be invited by Gretz was awesome," Roenick said. "I love that."

But, more to the point, Roenick is looking forward to getting on the ice and getting to hang out with the guys who will be known as campers this week.

"To be around other people, all these fans, that get to pay and hang out with us, get on the ice with us -- I love fan interaction," he said. "It's one of my favorite things about being a professional hockey player, so I'm looking forward to meeting some of the guys, the people that supported me for so long, getting on the ice with them and maybe getting to teach them a couple of things."

He's also interested in getting a chance to catch up with some of his old colleagues and teammates that will join him as the former players in camp.

"There will be some storytelling," Roenick said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 3:21 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Back in Vegas with No. 99

LAS VEGAS -- We're back in the glitziest town in the U.S.A. for the Great One's Fantasy Camp.

Wayne Gretzky has again allowed to go behind the scenes at his annual camp that gives regular house league heroes the opportunity to skate and play both with and against No. 99 and some of his buddies on the ice at a rink a short distance away from the famous Las Vegas Boulevard.

Talk about a welcome break from trade rumors.

The list of former players that are scheduled to attend is a who's who, including Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Grant Fuhr, Guy Carbonneau, Marty McSorley, Jeremy Roenick, Curtis Joseph, Rick Tocchet, Russ Courtnall and Geoff Courtnall. Bobby Hull and Mike Keenan are also on the list, though Keenan is scheduled to be a coach along with Cap Roeder.

The international group of "campers" here are from all walks of life. They're doctors, dentists, attorneys, businessmen, whatever -- but for a few brief days they pay to play against and party with some of their hockey heroes, including Gretzky himself.

Our own E.J. Hradek, who will be shooting segments for NHL Live from the Bellagio, is one of the guys that will get on the ice and test his skills against some of the best to ever lace 'em up in the NHL. I'll promise not to rip on E.J. too much in this blog before I depart Vegas on a red-eye flight late Friday night, but promises can be broken.

It's all on you to perform, E.J.

Really, though, this blog is here to serve you, the reader that is not here in Vegas.

What does Leetch think of the Rangers' chances to do what the New York Giants just did and what he did back in 1994, parade down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan?

What does Brett Hull think of the job his old coach, Ken Hitchcock, is doing with the Blues this season?

Does Fuhr have some opinions on the game's best goaltenders?

What does Keenan have to say about the job John Tortorella is doing with the Rangers?

Does McSorley have an opinion on the best fighters and antagonists in the NHL today?

Do Tocchet and Carbonneau want to coach again?

And, most important of all, what does Gretzky think of all of the above and more?

The goal from now until that red-eye takes off is to have answers to all of those questions and more right here in this blog.

Stay tuned.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Yeah, it was a pretty special moment for me. Today was my Dad's [55th] birthday. I have a lot of family in town, so it was a special moment for me to score my first one today. A win definitely would have capped it off, but you can't have everything.

— Sabres rookie Jack Eichel after scoring a goal in his National Hockey League debut
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