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Sather's fate, Kovalchuk's next team, more reader questions

It's been a while since we dipped into the old mailbag, and you've sent in a batch of good questions and comments lately. So, here we go...

I couldn't agree more with what you wrote about Chris Drury (Power Rankings, Dec. 15). The guy sucks more energy out of a crowd than Carrot Top. Same with Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. Maybe Glen Sather will finally realize how much these guys are hurting the team, cut his losses and move on. -- Mike Santanelli, NYC

In a perfect world, the Rangers would take a lesson from the Capitals, who wisely dealt with a similarly difficult situation by banishing Michael Nylander into hockey limbo. Didn't matter that he was on the books for nearly $5 million. Bruce Boudreau didn't see the deliberately paced center as a viable option for his uptempo game and that was the end of it. The team not only put a premium on the success of the on-ice product, they reinforced Boudreau's control of the team. That's smart.

But this is New York and it would be one of the boldest moves of his career for Slats to walk up to Jim Dolan, tell them he screwed up, and that they need to eat the salary of one (or more) players who no longer deserve a spot on the team. That's why it's not going to happen.

Look, Sather's done a miserable job in his tenure in New York. So bad that he might actually have to pay for it after this season is over. But I don't think he'll do anything that dramatic and risk expediting his departure. He'll leave it to the coach to sort it out.

John Tortorella played his hand on Thursday night, benching Redden and Ales Kotalik, and the team responded with a win. Not exactly a turnaround -- they were carried by Henrik Lundqvist -- but they got better efforts from guys like Drury and Ryan Callahan. It was just one game, but they might be able to build a little confidence from that. If not? Well, you might see Drury and Rozsival take their turn in the press box, but they won't be asked to turn in turn in their sweaters permanently.

Seems to me that the Thrashers and Ilya Kovalchuk are getting close to the point of having to fish or cut bait. What do you think is going to happen there? If they can't sign him, I'd love to see Peter Chiarelli bring him to Boston. Could this happen? What do you think they'd have to give up? He could make the difference in the playoffs.-- Karen Singh, Mass.

I think Kovalchuk is outta there. I don't have anything inside on this, just a gut feeling that if he was inclined at all to extend with the Thrashers, he could have made it happen by now. With the B's struggling to score goals, I can definitely see them kicking the tires when Don Waddell slaps on the For Sale sign. I could even see them talking deal. But I'm doubly certain that the Bruins would be really sorry if they found a way to follow through.

Sure, Kovalchuk is a world-class sniper and a gamebreaking talent, but can anyone honestly see this guy fitting into Claude Julien's system? Remember, the Bruins made no effort to keep Phil Kessel. Kovalchuk has far more jam than the Thrill, and he'll actually battle for possession, but they share a lack of commitment to the defensive side of the game that drives Julien bonkers. And it's not like the guy has a wealth of experience that supports your belief that he'd be an impact player in the postseason. Not saying he wouldn't be, but we just don't know.

Sure, the symmetry is obvious. The Thrashers have to protect their long-term interests to avoid a Bouwmeester-like fiasco, and the Bruins have a clear need for someone whose shots don't naturally migrate to the opposing goalie's chest emblem. They have the young proven talent, picks and prospects to make a compelling offer, and might even have the stones to part with a player like Blake Wheeler or David Krejci for a couple months of Kovy. But even if they did, there are clear complications.

The B's may be willing to move a significant roster piece or two, but that would pose a challenge to their depth and hurt their competitiveness this season. And they'd be giving up too much of their future to settle for Kovalchuk as a rental. They'd be hard pressed to find the cap space to sign him to an extension (at around $9 million per) without a dramatic counterbalancing move like dishing off Tim Thomas.

If you have to rob Peter to pay Paul, there's not a good reason to make this deal. So what's the most likely landing spot if the Thrashers decide to move Kovy? Bet on Colorado.

I'd love to see my Thrashers hand over the reins to Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg and put an end to the failed Kari Lehtonen experiment once and for all. The question is, what's he really worth on the trade market?-- Kevin Finney, Atlanta

I think Atlanta would like a proven player who can step in now and help them, but why would anyone pony up more than a draft pick? The talent is there, but Lehtonen is frah-gee-lay. Maybe a team looking to hit a home run would offer a second-rounder, but at this point, the Thrashers might have to settle for a third.

Who do you like in the World Juniors? You ready to dismiss Team Canada again this year?-- Tyson Carpenter, Kitchener, Ont.

Come on, Tyson, I've never dismissed them. I've simply expressed reservations. Certainly could do the same this year, but I've learned my lesson. I'm going to pick the Canadians simply because it's a bad bet to go against them, especially on home ice. I have questions about their lack of center depth (man, they could use Stamkos, Tavares, Duchene, O'Reilly and Bailey), but they'll attack with a well-rounded group up front and should get better goaltending from Jake Allen than they got last year from Dustin Tokarski (although, to his credit, Tokarski came through when it mattered).

Look for Sweden to oppose them in a rematch of last year's gold medal game. The Swedes are far more experienced, have the tournament's best goaltender (Jacob Markstrom) and a big, talented defense. Based strictly on talent, they appear to have the best team in the tournament. The thing with the Swedes, though, is they tend to look better on paper than on the ice. They'll be there, but they have a lot to prove.

After that, I've got Nikita Filatov's Russians in third with the Americans in fourth on the strength of Mike Lee's goaltending. My pre-tournament All-Star Team? Filatov, Jordan Eberle of Canada and Finland's Toni Rajala up front, with Ryan Ellis of Canada and Adam Larsson of Sweden on the blueline, and Markstrom in goal.

In considering the Team Canada rosters proposed by yourself and others, a player I hardly ever see even mentioned is Travis Zajac. Surely not a mega-watt name like the others that will wear the maple leaf, but he's performing at a comparable level to any forward in the league regardless of nationality, and doing so against every team's top players. Do you think living in Zach Parise's corona overshadows a decent bid to make the team, or is he a product of a superior linemate?-- Michael Sung, Los Angeles

Excellent use of an astronomical term, Mike! But let's face it: if your name's not Martin Brodeur, you're probably not getting your full due as a Devil. Even the sublimely talented Parise doesn't get the love he deserves, so it's no surprise that Zajac doesn't generate a lot of buzz.

It's probably a reflection of the media more than Zajac's play that his name hasn't been in the mix, because he could assay a fourth-line role nearly as well as the more highly touted Patrice Bergeron or Mike Fisher. If he's not the best defensive forward in the league, he's certainly in the conversation, and he's got some offensive skill. After playing for Team Canada at the Worlds last spring, you can bet he wasn't overlooked by Steve Yzerman and Co.

But it's the same problem for Zajac as it is for so many other Canadians -- the talent pool is too deep and he's in over his head at that level. And if he was on the radar, he hasn't done his candidacy any favors over the past couple weeks. Zajac has just one goal in his last seven games and really looked like he was fighting it in recent outings against the Habs and Panthers. If his game continues to develop, say, to the 30-goal, 80-point range, he'll be in the mix for 2014. But now isn't his time.

Play George McPhee for me and tell me what you'd do with Alexander Semin. Do you sign him or trade him before the deadline? Who might be a buyer?-- Ethan Unger

He's still a restricted free agent when his contract expires this summer, so no need to rush into any Kovalchuk-style pre-deadline decision. That said, I'm sure McPhee has run the numbers and knows he's going to have to make the tough call this summer.

No doubt, Semin's a special talent, and when he's on his game his impact is on a plane just below that of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The kid has magic in his mitts, but he has a few scratches and dents, too. He's something less than durable, having played more than 63 games just once in his career. He doesn't take many penalties, but he has a propensity for taking them at the worst possible time. And though he's capable of making an impact away from the puck, he often appears less than motivated to do so.

Semin is imperfect, but he's a package that most teams would be happy to live with if they could afford it. And the Caps might not be able to. McPhee already has more than $32 million committed to just 12 players for 2010-11 and he has one must-sign: center Nicklas Backstrom, who deserves a healthy chunk of the space McPhee has available. After that, he has to deal with the improving Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr, heart and soul guys like David Steckel and Boyd Gordon, and key defenders Shaone Morrisonn and Brian Pothier. That group won't leave McPhee with a lot of jingle in his pockets.

Semin will be looking for a significant raise over his current $5 million. At this point, I'm not sure McPhee can justify it in terms of his contribution, let alone find space for him under the cap. At least if he's forced to trade him, McPhee can expect a package that matches or exceeds what Boston got for Kessel.

What are the odds that we will see at least one team either fold or relocate within the next five years?-- Michael Koltuniak, Plymouth, Mich.

I think you'd get better odds betting on Gary Bettman making an unannounced appearance during the pre-game ceremonies at the Winter Classic to sing "All The Single Ladies." Seriously. If that sucking money pit in Phoenix wasn't abandoned for sunnier economic climes, it's pretty clear that a town would have to be sealed off from the rest of the world by the EPA for the league to consider it unviable.

Expansion, though? I pretty much guarantee that's going to happen and probably within your five-year frame. The money is too significant and it bypasses the players and goes directly to the owners (at least under the current CBA). Best bets? Toronto/Southwestern Ontario and Kansas City, with Quebec City and Las Vegas in the mix.

I was watching the Flyers-Penguins game [on Thursday night] and the Flyers pulled their goalie with the face-off in the Pittsburgh zone and two seconds left in OT. The announcer said that if the Pens scored, the Flyers would lose the point from regulation. That can't be right, can it? Why would they take away a point from a team trying to win a game? -- Ellen Romy, Scranton, PA

It's not so much about penalizing an effort to win as it is a competitive integrity thing. You don't want to see a team "accidentally" losing a game that might impact the standings in a way that benefits that team.

Rule 84.2 lays it out. In part: A team shall be allowed to pull its goalkeeper in favor of an additional skater in the overtime period. However, should that team lose the game during the time in which the goalkeeper has been removed, it would forfeit the automatic point gained in the tie at the end of regulation play, except if the goalkeeper has been removed at the call of a delayed penalty against the other team.

The rule's been invoked a couple of times in the past. For example, there was one game late in the 1999-2000 season when Rem Murray of the Oilers scored into the empty net to take the point away from a Canucks team that had to have a win to stay in playoff contention. Probably won't see it much in the future, though. It's become a less viable tactic since the shootout was added because a team can grab the point it needs there.

Of course, you'll still see the occasional case like this one when a short clock and an offensive zone face-off make it worth the risk.

Things are getting ugly here in Tampa. I think the Bolts are in desperate need of a shakeup. What do you think about trading Alex Tanguay? -- Glenn Watson, Madeira Beach, Fla.

I think the line of takers will be as long as the one clamoring for a sequel to GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. There's always someone willing to take a chance on veteran whose game has hit the skids, but what exactly would the Bolts get in return for a guy carrying a $2.5 million cap hit who hasn't scored in 14 games? Whatever it is, it probably won't offer much help to a team that's won just one of its last 11. Remember, Tanguay wasn't exactly a caliente commodity when he was free over the summer, and he hasn't done anything to improve his stock since then. I think they're stuck with him.

Andy Murray: fire him or stick him in a gorilla suit and shove him in a cage with a real gorilla that's being shipped back to Africa?-- Mr. Beeks

Interesting suggestion, Mr. B, but I'll say Murray is fine where he is. I certainly understand why Blues fans are frustrated with the team's consistent inconsistency, but that's the hallmark of a young team, isn't it? Expectations, both internally and externally, were grossly inflated by that hot finish last season, but the Blues were running before they knew how to walk. This team is talented, but it needs time to work through its growing pains. Murray's done enough to deserve the chance to work through those pains with them.

Oh, and say hi to Mortimer and Randolph for me.

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