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Teeing Up The Game And Much More

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Fresh from frittering away a three-goal advantage against the Florida Panthers, the Maple Leafs hope for better fortune tonight in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are one of four teams with fewer points than the Leafs but they have a 9-10-7 record at home and a better than average skill level thanks to the superb Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

The Lightning are once again poster boys for the conundrum facing NHL teams with big-ticket stars. The Lightning are investing $18.1 million on three players, Lecavalier ($7.1 million), Ryan Malone ($6 million) and Martin St. Louis ($5 million). They are getting fair value for the money. Lecavalier has scored 24 times, St. Louis 19 and Malone 16, but the Lightning are frightfully thin. Their top five players have scored more than half the team’s 135 goals and while rookie goalie Mike McKenna has played well, Mike Smith, has been knocked out of the lineup due to post-concussion syndrome.

Steve Stamkos, last year’s first overall pick, has scored just six times.

It should be an interesting matchup. The Leafs have 50 points, better only than the Lightning, 47, Senators, 46, Thrashers, 43, and Islanders who are all but cooling out with a measly 38.

Can’t for the life of me understand what would possess the New York Rangers to take a chance on Sean Avery.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I know why. Desperation. Last night’s win over the Caps was the Rangers’ first win in six games.

Everyone says that Sean Avery can play. It’s just that no one has ever seen it.

Instead we have been treated to the Martin Brodeur screen job, the jawing with female fans and, of course, his remarks about certain Canadian women.

The Dallas Stars are playoff-bound and hot as pistols because they had the good sense to jettison Avery, who they signed away from the Rangers don’t you know, this summer. Avery’s behaviour was so grievous, he destroyed the team from within. His antics were so distracting, the Stars continually lost focus when they were forced, against their better judgment, to defend him. It remains to be seen whether Brett Hull’s insistence on signing his old Detroit roommate will cost him his job.

And yet the Rangers are ready to put him back into the hottest American sports market.

Two things can happen for the Rangers and neither is good.

He can shut-up in which case he becomes just another low-skill hockey player.

He can go off again, which makes him an upper-case liability and league embarrassment.

I say pay the guy his money, wish him well and look for him in highlights from the Continental League.

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