Wednesday November 7th, 2007

It looks like the Bruins are going to be without the services of Patrice Bergeron for a while. Word is that Peter Chiarelli is under the gun and has to make the playoffs this season. If that's the case, he'll have to make a move soon to replace Bergeron's scoring, don't you think? -- Don, Providence, RI

No way to tell how long it's going to take Bergeron to recover from his injuries. Although it's possible he could be back on skates by Christmas, the Bruins probably aren't expecting him back this season. That leaves an empty locker that's impossible to fill. Bergeron isn't just a key offensive weapon in a limited arsenal, he's a solid, two-way player who sets a tone with his work ethis.

A trade sounds great, but they're not likely to pick up a suitable replacement in a deal any time soon because players with Bergeron's game simply aren't being offered. The grim reality is that this team likely will ride it out with what they have ... and that means reaching the playoffs will be a struggle.

There's certainly pressure on Chiarelli, but if ownership really expects the playoffs to happen this year, their expectations are unreasonable. Despite a few boneheaded moves (that Brad Boyes' deal has to sting), Chiarelli appears to be doing a decent job building a solid foundation for the future ... emphasis there being on future. Better to stay the course and keep an eye on that goal rather than mortgage that future for what would, at best, be a one-and-done trip to the postseason.

You didn't mention John Tortorella in your recent column about coaches on the hot seat. I think he has to be the favorite to get dumped, especially given the way the Lightning are playing lately. -- Ted Carlsson, Florida

Well, Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster has come out and stated that Tortorella's not going anywhere. And while a similar vote of confidence might be the kiss of death elsewhere, I think Feaster can be taken at his word. I also think he's going to do what he can to get his coach some help. After all, it's hard to win with the kind of goaltending they're getting from Johan Holmqvist, whose .874 save percentage ranks dead last in the league. And the loss of All-Star Dan Boyle -- now extended indefinitely due to continued problems with the severed tendons in his wrist -- suggests their funk is more a matter of personnel than leadership.

So the onus is on Feaster. Not sure Lightning fans should expect much the cavalry any time soon, though. The options out there, like Anaheim's Ilya Bryzgalov, are unproven ones that would offer a change of pace, but not necessarily a real answer.

And if you want an update on coaches in trouble, look no further than Washington. With owner Ted Leonsis promising the playoffs, their recent slide (2-7-1) could see Glen Hanlon handed a blindfold and cigarette before much longer.

So maybe you can settle a debate my friends and I were having last night. Eric Lindros is done. Is he a Hall of Famer? -- Glenn Rovnianek, Ontario

I've been surprised by some of the selections made by the Hall committee in the past, so anything's possible, but to my mind, the answer is no.

Lindros will be remembered as one of the most complex characters in NHL history, and certainly one of its greatest villains. I can't think of another player in my time covering the game who has been the target of as much enmity as Eric, a man who was hated as much for his abundance of natural talent and rambunctious physical style as for his often questionable decision making.

Until the arrival of Sidney Crosby, no one rode into the league on a greater wave of hype.

He had the hands of a safe-cracker and the body of Bluto and he was going to change the way the game was played. Along the way, he tacked a few skins on the wall, including a Hart Trophy in 1994-95 (and recognition as a finalist the following year), and a career average of 1.14 points per game, a stat that ranks him 14th all-time.

Ultimately, though, he'll be remembered as perhaps the game's greatest disappointment, a player who never lived up to his massive potential. Fair? Probably not. He certainly ranks as one of the greatest players of his era, much the same way recent Hall inductee Cam Neely did for the Bruins a decade earlier, so he'll certainly have his supporters. In the end, though, I think he'll have to buy a ticket like the rest of us.

As a Blue Jackets fan, I really appreciated seeing them get praise on But I really think the article gave short shrift to the contributions of Nikolai Zherdev. He's been key to the turnaround. -- Ron McAslan, Ohio

Don't know if I'd say "key" -- the bulk of the praise should be heaped on coach Ken Hitchcock, Rick Nash and Pascal Leclaire -- but the 180 that Zherdev's pulled is noteworthy. Prior to the season, there wasn't a GM in the league who would have taken him off the Jackets' hands -- and they certainly tried to find a taker. Something, maturity maybe, flipped the switch in his head, and he's approached the game with an entirely new attitude this season. He's bought into Hitchcock's system -- which says a lot in and of itself -- and looks like he actually enjoys playing the game again. That's a trait that's been missing from his game since his rookie season. As a result, he's become an indispensable part of the mix, Hey, good for him. Shows the value in not being too quick to write a player off.

I'm interested to see what new NHLPA boss Paul Kelly will do now that he's in charge. What do you expect? -- Kris, Detroit

I haven't had a chance to talk to Kelly yet, so I'm going strictly on second-hand information, but the general consensus is that the PA did an excellent job in picking a successor to Ted Saskin. First thing that impressed me: he's not coming in with an agenda. Instead, he's going to listen, let the players tell him what they want him to do. My instinct is that they're not in a sabre-rattling mode, and that his initial efforts to try to work with Gary Bettman are an indication of things to come, at least over the short term.

I think when he's finished with his 30-city tour, he'll likely embark on a very important mission: improving the marketing of the game and its stars. The league has talked about making that a priority since the end of the lockout, and has made some significant strides. Ultimately though, the players are the best selling tools the game has, and given the power to market themselves, and improve their lot, we should see some revolutionary activity on that front under Kelly's leadership.

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