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Can vets put Sharks on the fast track?

by Phil Coffey /
Never overlook the value of experience when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup.

History has proven that point time and again, so it's an important element in the construction of the San Jose Sharks, who have been nearly unbeatable this season.

General Manager Doug Wilson acquired three players who have won the Stanley Cup, adding that tried-and-tested experience to a talent-laden roster.

And the fact all three are defensemen doesn't hurt either. Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich were members of the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, and Rob Blake won the 2001 Cup in Colorado. That's an awful lot of experience on the Sharks' blue line.

"More of it's going to come when we get to the playoffs," Boyle said. "You know, this has been a good team for years now during the regular season, so there's not really much to say so far because everybody's getting the job done. I think when we do get to the playoffs, maybe then we can share a little bit of our experiences and what we need to do.

"For me, I think the most important part is just to be calm out there, just to show some poise. If I can be like that out there, hopefully that will reflect on some of the other guys. I think a lot of people panic in the playoffs, and for good reason. But I think you do need to have a calming aspect out there. Hopefully myself, Blake, and Brad Lukowich can bring that in."

So how do the Sharks stack up to the '04 Lightning?

"You know what, I think this is a deeper team than we were in '04," Boyle said. "I think depth-wise, this is definitely the best team I've been on. Having said that, we're only a quarter of the way through. We have a long way to go. Playoff hockey, as we all know, is totally different. When it's all said and done, I'll be able to look back and maybe make comparisons, but we had a pretty good team in '04. We stepped it up to the next level in the playoffs. Until we get there, until we do that with the Sharks, it remains to be seen."

Spoken like a true veteran.

Spectator sport -- That was a testy game in Anaheim on Wednesday night as the Ducks beat the Blues, 4-2. There were three fights, a couple of misconducts and a very happy Teemu Selanne, who had a pair of assists, but was more impressed with the physical play.

"I love the fighting," Selanne told reporters. "I wish I could fight too. Old guys don't do that."
Read my lips -- Buffalo Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn can't make it any plainer.

"The only thing people need to know is if we ever do sell the team, we're never going to sell it to somebody moving it out of Buffalo," Quinn said, once again addressing rumors that he has continually quashed. "This is the Buffalo Sabres, not the 'Niagara Region Sabres,' and we plan to play our games here."

That was in response to a report that the Sabres would play a portion of their games in Hamilton, Ontario.

"When I walked into the Board of Governors room, everybody was laughing," Quinn told the Buffalo News. "They said, 'We know you're not selling. Who's the idiot that leaked this story?' "

Quinn was realistic -- and funny -- about the always unclear future.

"If Donald Trump walks in here tomorrow and offers us $500 million, the team is being sold," Quinn told WGR Radio. "I don't want to ever say absolutes because life is a fluid thing.

"But do we have a 'for sale' sign out? Does Tom (Golisano) want to sell? Have we hired an investment banking firm to find us a buyer? The answer to all three is no."

Read my lips ... again -- Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell has said -- forcefully -- that Ilya Kovalchuk isn't going to be traded.

"We haven't spoken to one team about trading him," Waddell told Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, despite the rumor mill turning out quite a few scenarios of late. "We don't plan on speaking to any team about trading him. He's the cornerstone of this franchise. He's not going anywhere.

"We're going to do everything in our power, when we have that opportunity to sign him (beginning July 1, 2009), we're going to try to do that. I've stated it numerous times. We're not trading Ilya Kovalchuk."

Sounds pretty definitive to me.

You can look at it that way, of course -- The Boston Bruins had just seen their five game winning streak ended by a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night when Bruins coach Claude Julien made the point that beauty -- or the outcome of a game -- is in the eye of the beholder.

"If you're Washington, you're going to talk about the unbelievable saves your goaltender made, and we're going to call it missed opportunities," Julien told The Boston Globe. "We had some real quality opportunities there to score. I thought we could have made it a different game. But I thought that was the difference right there."

So, yes, Caps goalie Brent Johnson came up with some terrific saves, most notably stops on Chuck Kobasew, P.J. Axelsson and Blake Wheeler, but from the Bruins' perspective, those save are just missed chances.

DiPietro on the mend -- You could be excused if you don't remember Rick DiPietro. After all, the hard-luck Islanders goalie has played in just three games this season because of injury.

The good news for the Islanders is DiPietro is back on ice, in full equipment and told Newsday he expects to be in the lineup by Christmas. Talk about getting a nice gift from Santa!

According to Newsday, DiPietro is now just awaiting medical clearance to begin practicing with the team. He has been sidelined since undergoing knee surgery in October.

"It is my hope and goal that it's very soon," DiPietro said. "I feel really good. We've done everything possible to make sure that when I come back this time I'm 100 percent and ready to finish the season."

Needless to say, he is counting the minutes until he can return to action.

"I'm not even sure I can put into words how hard it's been," DiPietro said. "It was a long summer, a lot of rehabbing, and a lot of things to get ready for this season, and then to have it not work out like it did in the beginning and have to go back and do all over again - it's tough."

Once in a lifetime? -- Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson is no stranger to outdoor hockey. He has a back-yard rink at his home now. So, he is interested in the upcoming Winter Classic between the Blackhawks and Red Wings, and told reporters he wouldn't mind getting the chance to compete in one.

"I think it would be a great experience," Alfredsson told reporters. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, unless you're Brian Campbell."

Campbell played in the 2008 Winter Classic too.

Not so fast -- San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan is a rookie head coach in the NHL, but that doesn't mean he is wet behind the ears.

McLellan isn't buying into any of the hype that his Sharks are running away with things in the Western Conference.

"We're 27 games into the season and there's a ton of points out there," McLellan said. "We're not fooling ourselves into thinking we're comfortably in a position where we don't have to worry about anybody else."

Growing into it -- Boris Valabik was a big prospect at the 2004 Entry Draft. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, there is no other way to describe him. Still, he hasn't been on the fast track to the NHL, but his play in recent weeks may show where the tide is turning.

In nine games with Atlanta this season, Valabik is plus-2 and fitting into the scheme of things. He says it's a matter of being comfortable.

"I'm getting to the point where I'm almost playing my game," Valabik told reporters. "I know I can play well when I get comfortable out there and when I feel confident, when I feel comfortable in the dressing room and off the ice.

"It's a little hard when you don't know what's going to happen to you, when you're up (from the minors) day to day," he said. "I have no idea what's going to happen. I might be back in Chicago tomorrow as far as I know."

Toews a realist
-- Chicago's Jonathan Toews figured his second NHL season would be much different that his rookie swing around the League.

After all, there is the dreaded sophomore jinx to battle and Toews had the added responsibility of being named Blackhawks captain at the ripe, old age of 20. Through 26 games this season, the goals haven't come as steadily for Toews, who has 8 so far. But he also has 14 assists and is a plus-4.

"I personally don't believe in the sophomore slump," he said. "I just believe it's a mental thing that a player goes through himself, and that sometimes maybe other people convince him that that's what he's going through. I had a slow start, I think. Maybe put a little too much pressure on myself and a lot of people maybe associated that with the captaincy. Obviously I denied that.

"You know, last year I got all the opportunities. This year, you just expect it to be the same thing, but really you've got to earn every little bit of success that you have. So I think that first little period was tough. So it's great to finally get through that."

Regarding the captaincy, Toews said it hasn't been a burden because his teammates haven't made it one.

"I don't think any guy in the locker room expects anything extra out of me," he said. "I think I always say that we've got every guy in our locker room is a leader in their own way. It's definitely not a task that I have to tackle by myself. I think we've got a good core group of young guys who can lead in their own way, and guys that help me out in that regard.

"I think for the most part I just had to kind of worry about myself and my own game. As long as I'm focused and doing the things that make me the player that I am, I think that's kind of what helps me be a leader as well."

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