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Rookie talk among other topics

by Phil Coffey

One Thrashers fan who wrote in this week is quite impressed with Atlanta rookie defenseman Tobias Enstrom.

Last weekend, we asked for your opinions on this season’s rookie crop. Many thanks to those who took the time to share their opinions.

Before we talk rookies, however, we turn the mic over to longtime Ice Age supporter Dick Janes to lead off the mailbag.


Hi Phil,

I love to read your commentaries, good, solid journalism. And you are usually right on with your opinions of the players and the teams. More of the same will be appreciated.

Just thought I would toss in a few bon mots about the new season. So far, so good. Several teams came out of the gate with obviously serious intent to be a much bigger factor this year, while others didn't appear to have all their players in game condition. But that's not a complaint. I remember the old days when lots of teams weren't really in top condition until after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

I was worried that my Habitants would be down a notch or two without the big guy, Sheldon Souray, but Bob and Guy seem to have got the right message across to both the youngsters and the veterans, and, while I don't think the team is ready to challenge for the Cup just yet, they might just surprise a bunch of people, including me. Huet looks very solid and the offense seems to have come together very well. And a plus has been that the defense hasn't been doing the “el foldo” routine toward the end of the game as it often did last year.

I'm disappointed that the Rangers started out so slowly, but they will be contenders. Great to see Boston's situation looking up. Ottawa looks like a team on a mission, and hopefully it will keep up the pace.

Surprise team so far has to be Columbus. Ken Hitchcock knows hockey, and how to get his team to play it to the best of its abilities. And what's with Marty Brodeur? He has looked a bit shaky, but maybe he misses Brian Rafalski more than he may want to admit. And has the rumbling started already in Toronto? The goalies are not the problem there. It's the guys who are supposed to be playing defense. Or is that too simplistic a call?

In short, we're off to a good start. I was excited when I saw a few diving calls made in the first week, but those calls haven't been apparent since then, while the diving continues apace. I know it's a tough call, but the integrity of the game is on the line, and poor sportsmanship should not be allowed to influence the outcome of the games. C'mon Stripers, call them. The fans will back you.

Otherwise the calls have been “by the book,” which is the way it should be.

-- Dick Janes, Las Vegas

Hi Dick. Always a pleasure. Can’t say we are straying off the same page on the state of the season so far. You’re right in applauding the Sens and Blue Jackets and the Habs have been better than expected.

New Jersey is in transition from its traditional defensive roots to the more aggressive approach of Brent Sutter, so that will take some time. Ditto on the Rangers, who just seem to need some time to grow accustomed to one another. But on the whole, a pretty solid start to the season.


Dear Mr. Coffey,

I wanted to mention a rookie you didn't put up in your "Let's talk rookies" mailbag article.

Tobias Enstrom.

As a Thrashers fan, I haven't had much to be happy about so far. I suppose the fact that we're 3-2 since our "second start." One thing I expected to be very happy about were the rookies. At the start of the season, we had four rookies joining the team.

The ones I felt most happy about were Bryan Little and Brett Sterling. Sterling, of course, had an insane rookie AHL year last year, leading the league in goals, coming in at fourth in points, and winning the rookie of the year award. Little had a good year in the OHL and impressed enough at camp to stay on, and I really, really had a good feeling about him. To be fair, both of them have impressed at various points. Sterling got off to a slow start, but has finally seemed to settle in, and netted his first NHL goal doing what he did in the AHL, driving to the goal. Little got off to a fast start and has shown to be hard-working, fast, and very skilled. Early on, Little was one of the few players who actually seemed to be trying, and he's kept that up.

One I didn't expect to be so excited about was Tobias Enstrom, the other regularly playing rookie. I knew he'd played the past five seasons on MODO in the Swedish Elite League, putting up about a point-per-two-games average last season. But, if you listen to pretty much any Thrashers fan right now, you'll generally hear that he's been our best defenseman so far. While that is an indictment on our other defensemen, it's also a testament to how Enstrom's played. On a losing team that has had a mostly inconsistent offense with some of the bigger offensive names not putting up the points, he's got 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 11 games. His first assist was an absolutely great, spinning, no-look pass to Kozlov that was just brilliantly done and right on target. His goal was scored when he came in behind Kovalchuk and drove the net, scoring off a backhanded pass. Offensively, he's just been great. His passes are on target, his shots are on target, he knows when to jump into a play, and he's done a great job on a team that can't seem to get some of it's big offensive players scoring.

Of course, he's an O D. Even as a rookie, that's his job. While he's been great to watch there, though, he's also done two other things. He's played solid defense. At 5-foot-10, he obviously isn't exactly the average size for a defenseman, but he's made some good defensive plays through stick work and just not making mistakes, which is something few on our defense can say. Second thing is that he hasn't been forced to take bad hooking penalties to do it. He's only had two minutes in the box. He's plus-1 on a team that's allowed a good many goals. And he's earned that plus-1. It hasn't been a fluke. You don't play an average of 20-plus minutes a game on a team that has struggled on all aspects at one point or another (and often at many, many points) and end up plus-1 by a fluke.

If the Thrashers, as a whole team, start really getting their heads together and playing the hockey they're capable of, people aren't going to be able to leave him out of rookie discussions. In a season where I'm still very, very blah about the Thrashers' season so far, he's one of the handful of Thrashers players that has made me nearly giddy about the future, and, even, the present. Every time I see a play by him, I'm forced to message a friend of mine also into hockey saying, "I really like this kid. He's good."

-- James Robertson

James, you are my kind of fan. Nice analysis and we’ll watch him more closely now that you have brought him to our attention. Thanks for a great note.


I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed that Pat Kane and Sam Gagner will be staying with the NHL only because that means we won't be having them back with our beloved London Knights!

Seriously though, they have both been very impressive and they deserve the recognition they have been getting, although we are not surprised that they have made such an impact in the NHL as they are extremely talented players, the Blackhawks and Oilers are very lucky to have them. We wish them all the best!

-- K. Porter, London, ON


All NHL fans are finding out what London
Knights' fans already knew - rookies Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane are amazing.

Hi Phil,

Enjoy Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner in the NHL. We had the pleasure of seeing both of them together here in London last year.

These two are the latest of players from the London Knights organization. This franchise has been very successful since the Hunter brothers took over. They are a threat to win the championship every year. This team even shut down Sidney Crosby in his final CHL game and won the Memorial Cup.

Maybe when an NHL team is looking for executives both Mark (General Manager) and Dale (Coach) should be considered.

-- Mike C.

Since you guys are both London Knights fans, I’ll answer as one. Cripes that must have been fun to watch last season! Both guys have been bright lights for their NHL teams to be sure, but both together must have been a treat and a half.

Having talked to both players at the draft and the surrounding events, it was pretty clear that both have good heads on their shoulders, which seems pretty apparent from the way they have handled life in the NHL.


Hey Phil,

For rookies so far, the only ones I’ve seen play a lot are Backstrom (WSH) and Johnson (LA). Both seem to be doing well. Backstrom can stickhandle like no other, but I rarely get to see him shoot. Johnson is getting better in his own end, but I haven’t seen him really get into anyone’s face. Last season, he was out throwing hits and got into a fight in his first couple games, but nothing around that this year, but there is a lot left to go. My favorite so far would be Torry Mitchell from San Jose just because being in San Jose I see Sharks games all the times, but he’s got some moves and he is very quick. He is probably the only one on the team that can skate.

Which brings me to a question about the Sharks, they were picked to be one of the best, but they haven’t shown anything yet. I think its still having to do with there lack of a defenseman who can provide a clean, solid pass out of the defensive zone and who can shoot. Look at there top-four D-Lineup.

McLaren -- Can hit, but has no shooting ability.

Ehrhoff -- Can shoot, but always seems to lose the puck a lot, never very responsible.

Vlasic -- Same as McLaren, has absolutely no shot, but is great positional player.

Carle -- Can shoot, but always gets caught pinching at wrong time which makes him always back checking.

Craig Rivet has to be the only one I don’t have to complain about. I’m sure you don’t like hearing fans always hate on certain players, yet they themselves have no room to talk. I’m mainly angry at the coach for not allowing the players to play to their potential.

Watching the game on Oct. 26 vs. Detroit was pathetic. Does Ron Wilson even make them skate in practice, because I heard they were one of the fastest teams, yet I watched every team at least twice now and the Sharks are one of the slowest, by far.

Granted Detroit is extremely good at what it does, but it’s not that great. The Wings just always provide the player carrying the puck with at least two options with the puck, and whoever gets that puck has another two options because the whole line is actually skating. Your thoughts on the Sharks play so far?

And Brodeur will be back. I’m a Devils fan and if I took the summer off, I’d be a little rusty to start to but he is bouncing back. Just give it some time.

-- Robert, San Jose CA

Hi Robert. As I write this Thursday morning, Nov. 1, the Sharks are 6-5-1 with 29 goals for and 29 goals against. I think it’s safe to say the team would have like a better start to the season.

While I really believe that points not earned in October can come back to haunt you in big way come April, the Sharks still have time to get rolling. As for the defense, I think there will be an adjustment period after Scott Hannan’s departure. He was an integral part of the defense for a long time, so the other d-men are still getting acclimated to life without him. If the Sharks are still hovering around .500 near the end of November, then we will need to revisit this conversation.

As for Brodeur, there is a big change under way in New Jersey with Sutter changing a lot of the roles players have become used to and also changing the club philosophy. Getting all those details sorted out takes time and during that adjustment period, the goalie is usually the one who suffers. Again, let’s revisit this in a couple, three weeks and things will be clearer on what we can and cannot expect from both clubs.


Hi Phil!

Thanks to your answer concerning the Center ICE Online Package! The System seems to be accepting a billing address in Germany, so I assume that I can subscribe. I haven´t done it yet because I am just waiting until to the end of my trip to Canada next week.

I am more than thrilled to jump on a Canadian airplane next Friday to fly into Montreal to attend the Canadiens and Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada on Nov. 3. I have tickets as well for the Sens-Leafs game Nov. 6 in Ottawa and for the Hockey Hall of Fame Game in Toronto between the Leafs and my favorite team, the New York Rangers.

I hope the Rangers will end the scoring drought by then to enjoy a successful night at Air Canada Centre. I feel that Tom Renney has juggled his lines too much in order to spark the Rangers. Do you think that Scott Gomez and Chris Drury put too much pressure on themselves to validate their big contracts?

What do you think about that?L

-- Matthias of Eidengesäß/Germany

First of all, Matthias, have a safe trip. Sound like you have picked some fun games to watch during your visit. On Nov. 11, you might want to check out the Legends Game at the ACC that is part of Hall of Fame weekend. Some big-time Hall of Famers will be lacing ‘em up for that one. You can get all the details at


I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Welsch’s email in the last issue of the Mail Bag. I wonder which struggling team he used to root for? I enjoy a huge body check that’s so clean you could eat off it, just as any other hockey fan; but who could be against finesse plays? Someone who’s flat on their feet and can’t skate? Sorry Georges Laraque. I think an excellent example of how the game is better, would be Jonathan Toews’ goal the other day. In the 90s style of clutch-and-grab hockey, Toews wouldn’t have gotten five feet through that sequence. Instead, Toews is the newly anointed Mayor of Toe Drag City. In fact, I’m going to say that the enforcement of penalties that we saw in the early throes of the 2005-06 campaign has relaxed quite significantly. There are plenty of stick fouls that go uncalled. At any rate, I’m enjoying watching players make incredible finesse plays.

I’ve got to throw my rookie vote behind Patrick Kane. But, from reading Ice Age, I don’t think I’ll have to convince you of his qualifications.

-- Matt, Raleigh

It’s always nice to visit an island of logic in the often turbulent seas of the mail bag. Thanks Matt.


Dear Phil,

The hit Flyers' defenseman Randy Jones put on Boston's Patrice Bergeron has raised red flags
regarding malicious intent to injure another player.

Something more needs to be done to prevent unnecessary and dangerous hits, which unfortunately continue to happen. I was reminded of this today when Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins was brutally hit from behind by Randy Jones. Sure, Jones issued a statement during the game, and I'd like to believe he didn't expect to inflict that much damage. But he did it and must take responsibility for what he knew could be the consequences. This kind of playing ruins a hockey game. Olympic hockey is a pleasure. It's great skating and playing, minus the menace. Why can't professional hockey be like that? I hope the NHLPA will do something about this issue now that they have a new executive director.

-- Bonnie

Hi Bonnie. Can’t disagree with you. I’m sure if we did a frame-by-frame analysis on the Jones hit on Bergeron we might notice Bergeron turning a bit toward the boards as Jones hit him, but that’s all beside the point. In looking at the play, I don’t believe Jones had malicious intent, he was going to make a hit. But today’s players, bigger and stronger than in the past, have to take their game to another level in situational awareness. Meaning? When you’re in that area of the ice you have to be aware of your surroundings and who’s closing in. And the checker needs to realize the same thing and be aware of the potential to injure a player. No one wants to take the hitting out of hockey, it is one of the best aspects of the game, but that kind of hit doesn’t do the sport justice.



I know you might disagree, but I think it's selfish that Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne are sitting out the season while deciding on their future. If they do choose to come back, in say December or January, they take a spot away from someone else who has worked all year for their place on the roster. On top of that, I just think it's unfair to the team and the fans. They only come back when they're ready, if they feel like playing? What is this, Major League Baseball?

I know hockey in California takes a back page to five MLB teams, the NFL, and four NBA teams, but if this were a major hockey market, and Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, or Mats Sundin sat out until they decided if they wanted to come back, the media would cause an uproar.

-- Zach, NY

Hi Zach. This a tough call for me. I have to admit that Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne have been two of my favorite players over the years. Having spoken to them at various points, I came away with the feeling that both are genuine people, not pretentious, not given to “star” status.

Having not been in their shoes and known first-hand the wear and tear that a season takes on them, I find it hard to be critical of them wanting to really come to grips with what has to be a very difficult decision.

But, that being said, I see the logic in your argument. You raise a lot of valid points. In the final analysis, I hope both return to the ice, but I see the need to for them to make a decision sooner rather than later.


Hey Phil,

Just wondering if you can offer any insight into some of the contracts NHL clubs have been handing out recently. Considering that a team’s cap-hit is based on the average salary during the entire term of a player’s contract, why then are we seeing many teams (Rangers with Drury and Gomez, Philly with Briere, Kipper's new deal with Calgary, etc.) front-loading contracts? What is the benefit of paying a player $10 million in the first year of a deal and three million in the last year when the cap hit will be the same regardless? Is there something I'm missing here? Does it then become easier to trade or buy-out a player in the later years of such contracts?

Thanks for your help and keep up the good work. Great reading!

-- Taylor in B.C.

Oh geez Taylor, you’re not going to make me do math are you? This never turns out well.

In terms of frontloading a deal, I would imagine the conventional logic is the team expects to get the most bang for its buck in the early portion of the contract with decreasing payments as a player gets older. It also would seem logical that it’s easier to make a trade for a player making less than more in the salary cap world and with frontloading of contracts that becomes more possible as the contracts move on.

I hope that makes sense.

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