Skip to main content

When is it time to panic?

by Phil Coffey
There's nothing like an early conundrum to the hockey season.

Is it too early for teams that have gotten off to bad starts to panic? Does it really get late early in the NHL?

Or should we all take a deep breath and relax, remembering the time-honored cliché that "it's a marathon, not a sprint."

The answer, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone, falls somewhere in the middle.

Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur will not stink out the joint this season, just as Ray Emery likely won't go 82-0 and Alex Ovechkin isn't going to score a zillion goals. Well, probably not in Ovie's case.

Remember, "Rome wasn't built in a day." OK, no more clichés, I promise.

But Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock lamented to the Canadian Press: "There's no such thing as building your team or being patient anymore. That's all out the window now. Everybody thinks they have a chance to win."

For a lot of reasons, that's very true. With the salary cap causing rosters to change frequently, the window on a team winning closes quickly, so there is an urgency to get things going in the right direction quickly. Plus, no team wants to struggle early.

Still Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said he was "a long way from panic," after an 0-2 start.

"I don't get too excited about a loss like that in the first month of the season," said Rutherford. "In the spring, it might be another story."

But not everyone feels that way. Leafs coach Ron Wilson was irate after a 2-1 loss to the Senators that saw his team open 0-2-1.

"The points are just as important now as they are later in the season," Wilson said. "I'm not going to sit around and wait for some guys to really get going here."

In places like New Jersey, there is a veteran team and a veteran coach, so the Devils' 0-2-0 start isn't causing too much high blood pressure.

"There might be more panic if there was a rookie coach or somebody who hasn't been around," team captain Jamie Langenbrunner told reporters. "The last thing (Jacques Lemaire's) shown is any panic. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. It's been very positive, pushing forward, making sure we realize there's a lot of good things happening and that it's a work in progress. That's been very helpful."

But to teams serious about moving to the elite this season, cutting off the early doldrums ASAP becomes increasingly important. The points you lose in October can come back to haunt you in April.

Shameless plug -- One of's own, Bill Meltzer, who is our European hockey guru, has a book out you might find interesting.

"Pelle Lindbergh: Behind the White Mask" is a biography of Lindbergh, the great Swedish goalie who was killed in a one-car accident in the 1980s. Bill wrote the book with Swedish writer Thomas Tynander.

"Thomas wrote the original Swedish version of the book in 2006 (Pelle Lindbergh: Bakom den Vita Masken) and I translated the book to English and then adapted the manuscript to a North American audience with additional information," Meltzer said.

The book is available in bookstores and online at the various book sites.

A wanted man -- Steve Begin has played for the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars and now the Boston Bruins. Since breaking into the NHL in 1997-98, he has topped 400 games, had highs of 11 goals and 23 points with Montreal in 2005-06 and always has been a hard-working, reliable guy.

According to a story in the Boston Globe, Begin's father instilled those qualities early on.

"Maybe 12 years old, my dad told me, 'If you want to make it to the next level, you have to work hard, never give up, play hard,'" Begin told the Globe. "That’s how I've been playing since then.

"Not that I didn't want to score goals, but I was thinking about doing those little things. If you want to win, you've got to do those little things. That's what my dad was always talking about. That's how I grew up. Especially now, it's not time for me to change the way I play."

"Begin plays with his heart out," said Bruins defenseman Derek Morris, who also played with Begin in Calgary. "He comes every single night and he's going to play like that. He's basically the first guy into every single scrum and the last guy out. You know he plays with a lot of heart. He always has."

Prove it all night -- "Rebuilding" and Colorado Avalanche have been terms closely linked since Colorado finished in the Western Conference cellar last season. And without the retired Joe Sakic and with a score of young players learning the rigors of NHL life, it would appear to be logical.

But for the Avalanche veterans, last season left a bitter taste.

"I think we all just have something to prove," defenseman Scott Hannan told Adrian Dater of the Denver Post. "I think we did a good job all coming to camp in good shape, ready to work hard."

Hannan, 30, said having all the young guys around has given the team a lift.

"I think there's a pretty good ratio on the team," he said. "Some of our guys have been around a while, so you want to pass things on to the young guys. And from what I've seen, our real young guys are pretty smart hockey players. They're good in their own end and responsible out there, and it's exciting.

"We've got to just stick to hard work. We're going to have our ups and downs in the season, but if we stay the course for most of the game, I think we'll be all right. The young guys are bringing a lot of energy, and as long as we're there to support each other all the time, I think that's going to be a big key."

It's only a flesh wound -- You have to be continually amazed by the ability of NHL players to withstand injuries that would immobilize the rest of us.

Dallas' Mike Modano is out of the lineup after an MRI showed a rib injury is worse than first thought.

"They found a little crack in it last night late after I got here, so there's not much movement I can do," Modano told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

I love that. It showed "a little crack." If that happened at my place they would be passing the morphine, but in the NHL, hey, it's just a crack. Modano didn't even head home from the Stars' road trip.

"He can do his rehab with us, and we can monitor him here," GM Joe Nieuwendyk told Heika. "Honestly, I don't know how long it will be. We have to keep an eye on it and see how it responds."

Little guy, tough guy -- Back in the day, I hadn't seen Brian Gionta play at Boston College and was curious if he would be an NHL player. So I asked college hockey guru Bob Snow about him.

"He thinks he's John LeClair," Snow told me.

I laughed when I noted his 5-foot-7 frame and quickly was corrected by Snow.

"No, he thinks he's John LeClair and he plays that way."

Prophetic words. Gionta has gone on to enjoy a very solid NHL career and now he is embracing being part of a new cast of Montreal Canadiens after spending seven seasons in New Jersey.

"There were other serious offers," Gionta told George Johnson of the Calgary Herald of his decision to sign with the Canadiens, "but I knew Montreal would be a fun place to play. A good place for my family. The idea of coming here, to a team with such a rich history, with fans so passionate, who live and die with their team, was too much to pass up.

"It's exciting to be in on the ground floor of a new era for such a great franchise."

And with playing in Montreal comes more than a fair bit of scrutiny, especially for a player who once scored 48 goals in a season.

"There's no such thing as building your team or being patient anymore. That's all out the window now. Everybody thinks they have a chance to win."
-- Ken Hitchcock

But listening to his former coach, Brent Sutter, you get the impression Gionta will do just fine.

"I had the pleasure of coaching Gio for two years in New Jersey," Sutter said. "First of all, he's a great person. Secondly, he's a real competitive player. A hard worker. He might be small in stature, but he has a big heart. A great guy. I never had one run-in with Gio."

Beating the odds -- Nashville's Patric Hornqvist was selected with the final pick (No. 230) of the 2005 Entry Draft. In the NFL, that earns you the title of "Mr. Irrelevant," because the odds of the last player selected in a draft making it to the big leagues are pretty slim. Then consider that only nine players taken with the last pick of an NHL draft got a sniff of life in the bigs.

But here is Hornqvist with the Preds after spending 28 games in Nashville last season. But even that was disappointing, as he made the team in camp, but then was sent to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals.

"It was a tough time getting sent down," he told Bryan Mullen of The Tennessean. "I knew I needed to show the guys I wanted to be back. I worked through it all last year. It was big for me to learn how everything works.”

Hornqvist went on to total 17 goals and 18 assists in Milwaukee, and a strong training camp has returned him to the Predators and caught the eye of coach Barry Trotz.

"Patric has been one of the most consistent forwards right through training camp," Trotz said. "He goes to those hard areas and does the hard work that you need to do. And he has his scoring touch back a little bit, too. All those things combined, I think he's playing well."

"It was pretty intense, but I feel like a stronger and better skater," Hornqvist said of the difference a year makes. "Maybe that's not the main reason I'm more confident, but I do feel better."

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.