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Posted On Monday, 10.24.2011 / 10:00 AM - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: Five greatest teams ever

Former NHL head coach and player Barry Melrose starts a new gig this season: He will be blogging for throughout the 2011-2012 season.

Some great teams have played in the history of the NHL, but in the 118 years people have been battling for the Stanley Cup, these, to me, are the five greatest teams to have ever lifted it.

5. 1970 Boston Bruins

Bobby Orr led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup on 1970, scoring one of the most iconic goals in NHL history along the way. (Photo: Getty Images)
This team is on the list because Bobby Orr had to be on this list. It had the best power play I had ever seen with Orr and Phil Esposito. It was fun to watch. They scored a ton of goals, they were in a ton of fights, they had a bunch of free-spirited guys and they loved to play. You could tell just by watching. When they won the Cup in 1970 I think a lot of people thought we might have another dynasty in the making -- a team that would win five or six Stanley Cups.

I put them at five because they underachieved, but if you look at the team that beat them twice and stopped that dynasty it was the Montreal Canadiens. This was a real fun team to watch. It was Bobby Orr in his prime, it was Espo in his prime, Derek Sanderson in his prime, Johnny Bucyk in his prime -- it had everything. It was an awesome team to watch. You never missed an opportunity to watch the Boston Bruins in 1970.

4. 1982 New York Islanders

I always said about the Islanders that if you walked into the rink in the second period, you couldn't tell if they were winning or losing. That was how they played. They were just a machine. They had no weaknesses, they could score with Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, they were great defensively, great in net, and just very deep. They were tough because they had to come up during the Flyers Broad Street Bullies era, but they could also beat you with skill. They were so consistent. They never went into a slump, they never had any breakdowns.

They were just a great, great team.

3. 1987 Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers had five Cups in seven years. Can you imagine that 1987 team? Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Lowe, McSorley. It was just phenomenal how talented that team was. The '87 team won it in seven games against Philadelphia, which was just a great series, but this team changed the way the game was played. It was wide open then, it was end to end, it was fast and no one did it better than the Edmonton Oilers. It was a phenomenal group they had together for those seven or eight years when they were the dominant team by far in the NHL.

I picked the '87 team because the early teams that won the Cup were a little bit younger and by 1987 they had matured. They were winners. They expected to win and everyone was scared of them. It may be the most talented group ever assembled on one team. If that team stayed together and Pocklington didn't sell Gretzky, how many Cups could that team have won? In 1993, I had Kurri, Gretzky and McSorley in Los Angeles and they were still great players.

2. 1978 Montreal Canadiens

The 1978 Montreal Canadiens dominated the NHL, with Ken Dryden keeping the crease clear for his Habs' teammates. (Photo: Getty Images)
They had four straight Cups, and this group of guys was losing maybe seven or eight games a year in a 72-game season. It was such a dominant group of players: Lafleur, Cournoyer, Lapointe, Savard, Robinson, Kenny Dryden -- what a team. Just an awesome, awesome group of talented players. Looking over this, there are so many great Montreal teams, but this 1978 team was just an unbelievable group of players with an unbelievable coach in Scotty Bowman.

1. 1958 Montreal Canadiens

If you win five Cups in a row, you've got to be great. I picked the '58 team, coached by Toe Blake, because it's in the middle of the five straight Cups so you have the maturity, all the guys have been together for a long time. They would have been stronger than the team that won the first won in 1956. Maurice Richard, Doug Harvey, probably the best forward and defenseman in the game, and Jacques Plante in net, probably the best goalie in the game.

To win five Cups in a row, to have that hunger and be that amazing is just a phenomenal feat by that organization.
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Posted On Sunday, 10.23.2011 / 8:19 PM - Melrose Minute

Melrose Minute: 5 greatest defensemen

Former NHL head coach and player Barry Melrose starts a new gig this season: He will be blogging for throughout the 2011-2012 season.

Scorers get the glory, but defensemen are often the backbone of a team -- and some of the greatest players in the League's history have been on the blue line. Here are my five greatest defensemen of all time:

5. Paul Coffey

Maybe, if you look at the list, maybe he's not a great defensive defenseman, but his numbers are staggering. He's got 396 goals, 1,531 points and he was a plus-294 in his career. He won four Stanley Cups and played in the Final seven times. He was great on the power play. He was arguably one of the greatest skaters that ever played our game. I've looked at other guys like Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Brad Park, or Brian Leetch, but I just couldn't overlook Paul Coffey's offensive numbers and the fact that he won all those Stanley Cups.

Paul Coffey racked up four Stanley Cups to go with his 396 goals and 1,531 points over a 21-year NHL career. (Photo: Getty Images)
In Edmonton, Gretzky and all those forwards needed a defenseman like Coffey. He opened up so much room for them. For that free-wheeling offense Edmonton had, they needed that defenseman that joined the rush and was dangerous, and Coffey was the perfect defenseman for that style of play. In Pittsburgh he went to an offensive team, and the same when he went to Detroit. It's no use putting a thoroughbred with fallow horses, so he was always with wide open offensive teams. That's one of the reasons his numbers are great, but those types of teams fit his style. The coaches on those teams were smart enough to realize what they had and they didn't try to change him. They let him go and he was dangerous. On 5-on-5 he was dangerous, shorthanded, on the power play -- he was scary. With him Edmonton's power play was even scarier. Yeah, Gretzky was on it, Messier was on it, Kurri was on it, but Coffey was usually the guy bringing the puck up the ice on the power play.

4. Nicklas Lidstrom

He might move up on this list the more he plays. He just reached 1,500 games, he's got 255 goals, 1,112 points, four Stanley Cups, he was great on the international stage at the Worlds and the Olympics, and he was a high plus-player. He always plays against the opponent's top forward and he always shuts the guy down. He's got great playoff numbers. Just a phenomenal player. He's never hurt, he's very durable, he's just so good at everything. He doesn't have a weakness.

The funny part is, apart from Bobby Orr, all the guys on this list played a long time. But Nicky, playing in this era with as many games as Detroit played -- don't forget, Detroit usually played at least 20 playoff games every year, too -- his offseason was very short. Still, the guy could do anything. He killed penalties, he could play the power play, he could play a speed game, he could play a grind and checking game. He just didn't have a weakness. You could say Coffey had a weakness -- he wasn't a great defensive defenseman. Lidstrom isn't as good as Coffey offensively, but he's still a great offensive defenseman and he's one of the greatest defensive defensemen we've ever seen.

3. Ray Bourque

The guy is phenomenal. He's got 410 goals, 1,579 points, 1,612 games, and he finally got a Stanley Cup. He's a lot like Lidstrom. He always goes on the ice against the other team's best player, he's a great defensive defenseman, and he played in that small rink in Boston, too. That didn't help a guy like Bourque. If Bourque could have gotten on a bigger ice surface he would have been a lot harder to check. I think that little rink in Boston effected him. Just like Lidstrom the guy did not have a weakness. Bourque was great offensively, great defensively, he was a great passer with the puck, he had a great shot from the point, he ran a great power play. So, so perfectly balanced offensively and defensively. Just a great, great hockey player.

As for the way he went out, the last game of his career he got to carry the Cup around. That's how stories and movies are finished. Ray Bourque was able to do that, and since it was his only Cup it meant even more to him. He knew how hard it was to win a Cup. All those years with the Bruins he couldn't do it, so knowing it was his last game, can you imagine what a moment that was for Ray Bourque? The only negative thing was that he couldn't do it in Boston.

2. Doug Harvey

Doug Harvey made 11 consecutive All-Star teams and won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo: Getty Images)
I'm a big believer in guys that changed the game and Doug Harvey changed the game. Before Doug defensemen never joined the rush, they never scored goals. Their job was strictly to get the puck to the forwards and not even cross the blue line at the far end. Doug created a little offense. He had 88 goals for the Montreal Canadiens, a number of Stanley Cups. He was Bobby Orr before there was Bobby Orr. He changed the game. The really great players changed the game, and Doug changed the game in the 50's and 60's.

Guys that know Harvey, if you talk to those guys and you ask them who was the glue of those great Canadiens teams, they all say, "Doug Harvey". Jean Beliveau was unbelievable and Maurice Richard too, but they say the real glue of that team was Doug Harvey. He was an unbelievable passer of the puck, too. One second it was on his tape and the next second it was on Beliveau's tape. It's a shame young guys don't know Doug Harvey. He played before TV was big, but this guy was just a pleasure to watch.

1. Bobby Orr

He created the offensive defenseman. There wouldn't be a Ray Bourque, there wouldn't be a Paul Coffey if there wasn't a Bobby Orr. He took what Harvey did and magnified it a million times. Not only joining the rush but leading the rush, not only joining the scoring race but leading the scoring race. He had shocking plus/minus numbers. One season he was plus-124. The Boston power play was scary with him on it. He did stuff that no one ever did. He revolutionized the way hockey was played. Anyone who changed the game like Orr is the best. There's no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest defenseman that ever played.

The only argument you could get into is "is he the greatest player that ever played? Is it Gretzky or Orr?" They both changed the game. The only knock on Bobby Orr is he only played 657 games due to injuries. Can you imagine the numbers he would have if he played as many games as Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey? In 657 games he had 915 points. He had over a point per game as a defenseman. The numbers would be shockingly similar to Gretzky's if he played the same king of time as Coffey or Bourque. Gretzky had more assists than anyone else had points. Orr's numbers would have been like that. If he played a normal career of 15 years his numbers would have been out of this world.
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 9:32 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

STL @ PHI - 13:14 of the 3rd Period

At 13:14 of the third period in the Blues/Flyers game, video review conclusively determined that Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle's shot had completely crossed the goal line. Good goal for Philadelphia.

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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 7:33 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

CAR@WPG - 6:43 of the first period

At 6:43 of the first period in the Hurricanes/Jets game, video review upheld the call on the ice that the goal awarded to Carolina forward Jeff Skinner went into the net off a Winnipeg Jets player's skate during a scrum in front of the Winnipeg net.

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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 5:35 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NSH@CGY - 6:20 of the 2nd period

At 6:20 of the 2nd period in the Predators/Flames game the referee blew the play dead during a scrum in the Nashville goal crease area. The issue of whether the puck crossed the line or not was not subject to video review because the referee, citing rule 69 of the rule book, deemed that Calgary Flames forward Tom Kostopoulos interfered with Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, impeding him from making a save .
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:46 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pivots take center stage in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche are similar in a lot of regards. They're both built around a young nucleus of talent and they both like to get up and down the ice at a fast pace. They also both have some serious star value at the center position.

That last one, however, is one of the most intriguing aspects whenever they play. The matchups Saturday night ought to be fun to watch. Colorado's top two centers , Paul Stastny (one goal, four points) and Matt Duchene (one goal, four points), will be measured against Chicago's Jonathan Toews three goals, five points) and Patrick Kane (two goals, six points).

Each team has impressive guys centering the third line, as well. Chicago's Dave Bolland (four goals, five points) has added offensive punch to his usual defensive ability, while Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly is doing the same with five assists and a plus-5 rating.

"It's going to be one of those games where both teams are looking for their best players to step to the forefront," Avs coach Joe Sacco said after Colorado's skate on Saturday. "If you look at it that way, just the [top] two centermen they have and with our centermen [it's ] the same thing. It's going to be a game where the best players are going to have to shine."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:46 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

No communication issues for Avs’ Varlamov

Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson was asked if there were any communication issues that needed to be worked out between the Avalanche's blueliners and Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov – who was brought in via a trade in the off-season.

The Avs don't have any other Russians on the roster, which was a big change for Varlamov – who had a couple of countrymen with him on the Washington Capitals. Still, Johnson said the communication on and off the ice is better than you might expect.

"When he first got here, I asked him if it was going to be tough for him not having any Russian guys around anymore, but he said he liked it because he could work on his English and not just speak Russian all the time," Johnson said. "I thought that was a pretty good answer. He just wants to learn and talk to his teammates and get acclimated with what we want him to do. It's worked well so far and the communication from (defensemen) to the goaltender has been pretty seamless. He understands the basic stuff we're saying to him."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:26 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hossa likely to play against Colorado

After taking another day off from practice Friday, Chicago Blackhawks star forward Marian Hossa took part in the morning skate Saturday and is set to play Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

His on-ice absence Friday was more cause for concern about an undisclosed upper-body injury that's been termed "minor" by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, but Hossa said he's simply trying to keep his body in good shape for the rest of the season.

"If there was a game (Friday), I definitely would've played," said Hossa, who has three goals and five points in five games played thus far. "Sometimes it's smarter to … instead of going 20 minutes on the ice … just go in the gym and take care of your body a different way."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 4:19 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kane staying at center for Chicago?

It sounds like Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is getting closer to removing the "experiment" tag from Patrick Kane playing center instead of right wing after seeing a lot of good things from the move in the first six games.

Kane has looked pretty good in the middle on the second line, especially when placed with star forward Marian Hossa on the right wing. Hossa and Kane are both playmakers with a knack for setting up scoring chances and they're finding plenty of room to work thanks to the gritty efforts of left winger Daniel Carcillo.

It Kane's defense that had some concerned about the move, but he's been solid and knows how to use quickness with the stick to backcheck in the defensive zone. He's also holding his own in face-offs.

"We like the way he plays," Quenneville said. "Defensively you're comfortable with him and offensively a lot of good things have been happening – especially that combo with him and (Hossa). I believed that it could very well happen (all along), that he's that type of player that could adapt to that situation – especially since he's been a center his whole life. Immediately it looked like he was comfortable down low, so we've been pleased."

If it works long-term, at least for the rest of this season, it could turn out to be a brilliant move by the Hawks -- who appeared to need a second line center via free agency or trade. Now, with Kane doing the job, it gives Hawks general manager Stan Bowman a little more flexibility with the roster.

Kane hasn't scored a point in a couple of games, however, so he's looking to break out again on Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

The Hawks are unveiling statues of team legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita before the game outside the United center, but Kane said he isn't daydreaming of having his own someday.

"Right now, I'm just trying to get back on the score sheet after two games," he said, laughing. "I'm not really worried about a statue."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 3:58 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hawks happy with third defense pairing

Sean O'Donnell and Steve Montador have provided some steady play along the blue line as the third pairing for Chicago and the Blackhawks' depth on the back end is starting to take shape because of it.

O'Donnell, who just turned 40, is still in great shape and has proven to be a steady presence at both ends of the ice, while Montador's play has picked up considerably since the preseason ended.

"He's really progressed," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's morning skate at United Center. "His training camp was ordinary and as soon as the regular season started his play picked up. Defensively, he's responsible and gives us some quickness coming out of our end. He's got a big shot off the point and looks to make plays as well. Overall that pair's been very steady for us, which is what we're looking for."

Montador has one assist and a plus-3 rating through Chicago's first six games, while O'Donnell has a pair of assists and is a plus-2.
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