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Brodeur, Gonchar figure to jolt Devils, Penguins

by Phil Coffey
Did the NHL trade deadline come early for the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils? Or was Christmas late?

With the imminent return of defenseman Sergei Gonchar to the Penguins' blue line and Martin Brodeur to the New Jersey net, you can make a strong case that GMs Ray Shero and Lou Lamoriello added some pretty impressive talent to their rosters without having to pick up the phone.

Think about if for a moment. Gonchar has missed the entire season following shoulder surgery and Brodeur has been sidelined since Nov. 1 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon. Now both players will need to shake off some rust to be sure, but for their respective teams, adding players of this caliber is a tremendous shot in the arm during the stretch drive.

"It's like making a huge trade," Penguins coach Michel Therrien told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Penguins are eager to get Gonchar rolling as his offensive acumen should help the power play and enhance their chances of moving into playoff contention. Heading into play Friday, the Pens were three points out of the eighth spot in the East.

"It's going to be day by day; it depends on how I feel," Gonchar said. "(The doctor) cleared me to play. He said my shoulder was doing well. He's happy with the progress we've made over the last month since the last time I've seen him. He checked out my shoulder from different angles and everything is working well."

For the surging Devils, 8-2-0 in their last 10 heading into weekend play, the return of Brodeur presents an embarrassment of riches as New Jersey has excelled with Scott Clemmensen carrying the bulk of the load in goal.

"This is not training camp," the pragmatic Brent Sutter said. "We're getting into the heavy part of the season. As you go along here it gets bigger and bigger and whoever is playing goal has to play well and that's the bottom line. We know Marty is going to go through a little bit of adapting back to this again as far as his timing and stuff in game situations and you have to understand that, too. Yet at the end of the night, we have to win games."

So Brodeur may not return to exclusive duty immediately. With New Jersey playing so well, he is going to have to "earn" playing time. What a bizarre concept when talking about a player on the cusp of breaking the all-time record for games and wins.

"I don't know what the plan is, but I never expected to play one game and sit one game," Brodeur said Monday. "I'm going to want to play a lot just to get back. The playoffs are coming up. They're going to be really soon when I get back, so I've got to get to the position where I'm able to play as good as I can. That's no different than training camp when I come in. I started this season with 10 games in a row. I know it's in the middle of the season and it's a different level, but right now I'm at a lot different level than when I come in for training camp also as far as conditioning."

In Pittsburgh, Gonchar knows the Pens need him to contribute, but he also knows he will not be in mid-season form to start.

"(I need to) continue my skating with the team and make sure my timing is there," Gonchar said. "You don't want to go out there and hurt it. You just have to be ready. It's a little bit of conditioning, little bit of timing, skating a little bit more -- putting all of those things together."

"Who knows what's going to happen?" said Gonchar, who is worried that his timing, obviously important for a power-play quarterback, will be off. "I hope things go well, but I can't say that for sure."

"You don't replace a Gonchar," Therrien said. "He's the quarterback of our power play. He makes it go. He gets the puck through. He knows when to shoot it and when to make a play. He has poise with that puck. It would be like Detroit losing (Nicklas) Lidstrom. Their power play would end up suffering. That's only natural."

"I hope I can make a difference," Gonchar said, "but I'm not making any promises."

In New Jersey, Brodeur is medically ready to go. No more doctor checkups or rehab. It's now a case of fine-tuning for a return to the ice.

"I don't have to go back and see him anymore," Brodeur said of Dr. Steven Beldner, the surgeon who reattached his torn distal biceps tendon Nov. 6. "That's a good thing. I'm done with having to go to therapy and done seeing the doctors. It's all about when I'm going to be ready."

According to The (Bergen) Record's Tom Gulitti, Brodeur has targeted Feb. 26 against Colorado as his return date. Of course, that is assuming everything remains on schedule.

Sutter said the chances are "probably pretty good" Brodeur will travel with the team to Florida this coming week to practice with the club.

"I just want to go and practice hard and get myself into playing shape," said Brodeur. "I would love to go on the road. It's been what, (45) games that I've been home? I would love to go on the road for a bit.

"Every day it feels better, so I'm able to push the envelope more and more and more," Brodeur said.

Well said -- Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire on the Detroit Red Wings who beat the Wild 4-2 Thursday:

"Good machine. I would love to say that we didn't play good and we could beat them. The way they were playing, they were just superior."
"It's going to be day by day; it depends on how I feel. (The doctor) cleared me to play. He said my shoulder was doing well. He's happy with the progress we've made over the last month since the last time I've seen him. He checked out my shoulder from different angles and everything is working well." -- Sergei Gonchar
Why they win -- Want to know one of the reasons why the Red Wings have been a very successful franchise? Check out this story from Ted Kulfan in The Detroit News this week.

It seems Hall of Famer Alex Delvecchio and a number of other retired Wings players got quite the nice surprise in the form of a Stanley Cup ring.

Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch sent living Red Wings who won Stanley Cups with the organization before the 1997 Wings' championship team a version of the 2008 championship ring to honor the players' contribution to the organization.

"You'd have to be a weightlifter to wear this thing," said Delvecchio, who won three Stanley Cups in the 1950s with the Wings.
General Manager Ken Holland estimated as many as 30 retired players got rings.

"In respect to the tradition of the Red Wings, and what these players contributed," Holland said. "Players in that era didn't receive rings. Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch felt this would be a way to honor these players for what the players accomplished."

The ring the retired players received has the player's name on one side, and an amount of diamonds reflecting how many Stanley Cups the player won with the Wings on an opposite side. The former Wings players received their rings last week.
"It speaks to the ownership here, and the tradition of an Original Six team," Holland said.

It sure does.

Sharks make an impression -- During their swing through the East, the San Jose Sharks have gotten the attention of foes who hope to see them again in June.

The Sharks dropped an overtime decision to Columbus, beat the Bruins and fell to the Penguins in a shootout as they head into weekend action against the Sabres and Devils.

"They've had a very, very strong team for a number of years," Sabres captain Craig Rivet told John Vogl of the Buffalo News. Of course, as a former Shark, Rivet has some inside info. "They're at a point with that organization that they're looking to win a Stanley Cup, and they're looking to win it now."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff agrees.

"If they're not the best, somebody's going to have to point to a team that's going better than they are," he said.

Hawks, Havlat looking ahead -- No one ever questioned Martin Havlat's talents. It was his ability to remain healthy that often has cast a cloud over his career.

Havlat missed 73 games with injuries during his first two seasons in Chicago. But he is enjoying a solid season with 17 goals and 25 assists in 52 games, and the Blackhawks like what they have seen of Havlat to the point where the club is talking about a new contract for Havlat, who could become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"He wants to stay, and we want him to," Chicago GM Dale Tallon told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "We just wanted to be careful and be sure (he was healthy). The only thing that has held him back is the injuries. He's getting better and better with each game. We're excited about having him, and we'd like to keep him."

Havlat said the feeling is mutual.

"Yeah," Havlat said. "The guys are great. We're one of the youngest teams in the League, and there are guys who are only going to get better and better. We still have 30 games left in the regular season. My goal is to play in the playoffs this year."

Ready to roll
-- It's good news for the Blue Jackets, as recent tests on rookie goalie Steve Mason showed no trace of mononucleosis.

"I feel great now," Mason told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. "Today is the best I've felt in a very long time. I've felt really good all week stopping pucks.

"I'm just glad the mono is gone. It's really draining. Now that it's left my body, I still have to work my energy level back up, and I think we've done that this week."
"I don't know what the plan is, but I never expected to play one game and sit one game. I'm going to want to play a lot just to get back. The playoffs are coming up. They're going to be really soon when I get back, so I've got to get to the position where I'm able to play as good as I can." -- Martin Brodeur
That's welcome news to coach Ken Hitchcock.

"If Mason can play," Hitchcock said, "we expect him to carry the load."

Lehtinen back in gear
-- To tell an Ice Age secret, Jere Lehtinen always has been a favorite player to watch. He's one of those unheralded guys who just makes teams better. So his recent strong play for the Dallas Stars requires some heralding.

Mike Heika wrote in the Dallas Morning News this week that Lehtinen, who missed 31 of the Stars' first 34 games, finally has busted through after groin and shoulder woes. For the season, Lehtinen has 20 points in 25 games heading into weekend play. In the last 17 games, he has 17 points and is a plus-6.

"When you watch as much hockey as we do, it's amazing to see how efficient he is. And that's what makes him a great player," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "His preparation, his knowledge, his work ethic, his skill; he uses all of those to the maximum. When you add all of those in, you kind of have the ultimate hockey player."

"Until you play with him, you really don't know," said center Mike Ribeiro. "I really believe he's the most underrated player in the League, and along with Brenden (Morrow), he's the best player I've ever played with."

"He's relentless," Turco said. "His picture should be beside that in the dictionary."

Turning over a new leaf? -- Media attention follows Sean Avery wherever he goes. Now, he is hoping his other constant traveling companion -- trouble -- is taking a different route.

Avery is with the American Hockey League's Hartford Wolf Pack in the next step in getting his hockey career back on track after being suspended by the NHL and the Dallas Stars earlier this season for making vulgar remarks about some former girlfriends.

In speaking with reporters, Avery seems like a different person.

"Just feeling like I'm a better person and feeling better about myself is the most important thing," Avery told a couple reporters after a Thursday practice with the Wolf Pack. "What I'm worried about right now is today and I'm concentrating on myself today, and the game of hockey. That's all I can think about at this point."

Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Avery for six games and the Stars opted to keep him away, too. He entered the NHLPA/NHL Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and now is trying to reclaim his career.

"It was just a real important time in my life," he said. "Just one of those things where I took some time to sit back and help myself become a better person. It was amazing. It was something that was important for me as a person, as a man. Actions speak louder than words."

"I've been playing hockey for a long time, and my on-ice game has never been an issue," Avery told Arthur Staple of Newsday. "It's other things I was working on. But I'm sure there's still going to be an element of Sean Avery hockey that's exciting to watch."

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