October 17, 2003

"But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well. ou see, you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." - Ricky Nelson, Garden Party

Just when I was dusting off my hands to pat myself on the back for a job well done on the season's first edition of the Power Rankings, the e-mails began arriving from angry fans in Toronto and Long Island.

It seems that placing the Maple Leafs at No. 16 and the Islanders at No. 19 rankled a few folks. Nevermind that fans of the other 28 teams felt good about where I placed their teams.

For those of you who get your blood pressure into the danger zone over preseason Power Rankings, I offer these words of encouragement: The season will still be played!

Of course, the beauty of this whole thing is that I will update these on a weekly basis and reserve the right to change my mind at any time. Or, if my predictions are as embarrassingly bad as you are all hoping that they are, I can delete that link from existence.

So print out your copy now and be sure to send it to me if the Leafs and Isles finish significantly better than I guessed.

I'm not saying the Leafs and Isles are both going to stink all season long -- heck, the could surprise us all and make an Anaheim-like run to the finals -- but in breaking down the teams, I found 15 teams that I liked better than the Leafs and 18 that I liked better than the Isles. Simply put.

Why would you put the New York Islanders at 19th? That is a very bold prediction in having the Isles miss the playoffs and having the Rangers ahead of them. What is this based on? That they went unbeaten in the preseason? That they have a new coach?-- Marcos, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Are you nuts? You have to be to think the Rangers are better than the Islanders.-- Bryan Redmond, Long Beach, N.Y.

How will the Islanders play this year? - GmenIslandersmets, Massapequa, N.Y.

Well, G, that depends on who you ask. I think they'll be about .500 and just miss the playoffs. But Marcos, Bryan and several other e-mailers from the Island all apparently think they are going to win the Stanley Cup.

I like Steve Stirling a lot. After speaking with him before the start of training camp, he had me so fired up that I almost strapped on my Bauers to join him. Stirling is a great motivator and he has already succeeded in changing a lot of the negative vibes that surrounded the team with Peter Laviolette.

Having said that, I just don't think the Islanders have enough scoring or goaltending to make the playoffs. I don't see Rick DiPietro and Garth Snow getting the job done over the course of the full season.

I'm trying to be as polite as possible, but did you watch any of the preseason? Posting the Maple Leafs behind Los Angeles, Boston and especially New York? Defense is a problem, but seeing them in the final preseason game against Detroit made it sure look like they have something going for them.-- Trevor Line, Toronto

You are are arguably the worst hockey writer in the world. The Leafs in eighth? Give me a break. I'll give you everything that I own if they finish in eighth or lower! Vancouver a Cup contender? Please. Cloutier and Hedberg combined are not even a good goalie. If they make the Stanley cup finals, I'll give you every single IOU I can possibly make out. The Bruins? They're the same as last year, but with an even worse defense corps. - Dolezariscrazy, Montreal

I'm trying to be as polite as possible, too, Trevor. There's something called preseason hockey, which mean about as much as those post-table-dance kisses that your favorite dancer gives you. It's an empty, meaningless tease, and it always leaves you wanting more.

And as for you, Mr. Dolezariscrazy, what kind of a name is Dolezariscrazy anyway? Comanche Indian?

At least he was nice enough to say that I'm "arguably" the worst hockey writer in the world and not make it a definitive statement.

I'm hoping that you readers will help me hold this guy to his promise to give me every single thing he owns if Toronto finishes in eighth place or lower. I've always wanted an AMC Pacer, so that would be really cool to get Mr. Dolezariscrazy's sweet ride.

You are allowed to have a difference in opinion from me, so if you feel so strongly about it, I suggest you publish the Mr. Dolezariscrazy Power Rankings on a weekly basis and always put the Leafs at the top, no matter what they did during the course of the week.

I find the bottom of this article very disturbing. Why shouldn't we "make a waste" of Heatley's career. If we don't, how can it serve as any kind of lesson? Young punk kills his friend but goes on to superstardom?-- Amanda Brown, Raleigh, N.C.

"It would be a shame to make a waste of a second one as well."?!? You gotta be kidding me. Let's stop feeling sorry for Heatley -- he just killed somebody. You seem to be implying we should let him slide because he is a good player -- that is insulting. He should receive the justice he deserves for killing someone. - Paul, Warrington, Pa.

Do you think that when it comes to the trial, that Dany Heatley being an NHL superstar will have any effect on the outcome? - Michael, Toronto

I was not intending that to be a statement that I believe Heatley should get off without serving any time. I intended it to convey the notion that his role in this accident should not go unnoticed, and that I hope that other athletes learn from his mistake and don't put themselves in a similar situation.

Amanda, I take umbrage with your line about Heatley being a "young punk" who killed his friend. Though his judgment was obviously poor, he never intended to kill Dan Snyder. It was clearly an accident, and one that he will regret every day for the rest of his life.

There is no doubt that his decision-making left a lot to be desired in this instance, but he is a decent human being who made a terrible mistake for which he is going to pay dearly.

Considering that Heatley is already out for this season with the injuries suffered in the wreck, he could end up missing a minimum of two full seasons if he and his attorneys plea bargain the case from a first-degree charge of vehicular homicide (a felony with three to 15 year in prison possible as punishment) to a second-degree charge, with a maximum of 12 months in jail.

The fact Heatley is an NHL player will have very little effect on the case, especially in a new hockey market like Atlanta.

Do you think that Jiggy can repeat or improve on his performance from the 2002-03 season? Some call it a fluke. What do you think? - Matt C, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

I think Jean-Sebastien Giguere has very little chance of ever approaching his incredible postseason level of play again. He would admit that, and his teammates even tried to temper the inevitably heightened expectations that come from stopping 94.5 percent of shots over a two-month run where he was just plain nasty.

But Giguere could definitely approach or surpass his level from the regular season, where he went 34-22-6 with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. Jiggy is still one of the five best goalies in the NHL today and will have a spectacular season. I would expect that Giguere will win between 32-37 games with about a 2.26 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage this season.

My question concerns the Buffalo Sabres. Do you think that if they get the offense production that they are expecting from the added players that they could make a Cup run this year?-- Ken Dykstra, Jamestown, N.Y.

Hey Lenny Dykstra, calm down with the Cup run stuff. You must've bumped your head a few too many times on the outfield wall there, Nails. Or maybe the buzz from all of that chewing tobacco during your career is still in effect.

Ken, I think the Sabres are an underrated team going into the season and that they have a chance to contend for the seventh or the eighth spot in the East. Anything more than that and Lindy Ruff will be sainted in Buffalo.

The one thing that worries me about the Sabres is their defense. Andy Delmore is going to help the power play, but he's definitely a liability in his own end. If the Sabres are able to trade one of the three goalies at some point this season to acquire some additional help on the blueline, I think they could push for one of the two last playoff spots. So let's start with the babysteps of contending for a playoff spot before we talk about the Stanley Cup for Buffalo.

Like the Black Eyed Peas said, "Where is the love?" Last year the Wild played as a great TEAM. They knocked off the Avs, and the much-hated Canucks. Are you doubting Lemaire's genius? Not even going to make the playoffs? C'mon man. You of all people should know a good hockey team isn't who you signed in the offseason or how much money you pay certain players. It's how well you skate, play defense, capitalize on power plays, and take advantage of opportunities. The Wild WILL be in the playoffs. -- Zach, Kansas City, Mo.

You would have to be crazy to count out a Jacques Lemaire-coached team. He is far and away the best teacher in the game and he gets his players to buy into a system that not all of them are crazy about playing. But even defensive hockey is fun to play when you are winning, and the Wild played Lemaire's system to perfection last postseason.

Defense won't be a problem for Minnesota again this year. It's the Wild's offense that terrifies me.

Minnesota got 33 shots off on Jocelyn Thibault on Wednesday, but Andrei Zyuzin, Travis Roche, Willie Mitchell, Filip Kuba and Brad Brown had 14 of those attempts, and Minnesota's forwards combined for just 19 shots. Gaborik is the team's one true finisher, and one of few players on their team who can create his own scoring chances. Andrew Brunette does a great job scoring ugly goals, but those tend to be set up by guys who can carry the puck and draw defenders like Gaborik and Dupuis.

Your article on Mike Richter was probably the nicest and most accurate article I have ever read. Thank you for finally putting a great American-born player like Richter in the spotlight he really deserves. It almost brought a tear to my eye. Bravo. Now my question... Do you think Richter will pull a Dominik Hasek in a year once he starts to miss going to the rink everyday?-- Chris Malec, Chicago

Chris -- or was that Mom writing in under a pseudonym? -- I don't think there's any chance that Richter makes a return next season or in the future. If he was healthy enough to play, he would've done so. Hasek was the classic case of the superstar who left the game too soon but didn't realize that until he was beating up unsuspecting fools in pickup games in his native country.

If the "lockout" really happens, do you really think star players would shop around in Europe or the rejuvenated WHA? Why do so when they play in the most famous hockey league in the world (and the wealthiest)?-- Ramzy Zeidan, Houston

The WHA is hoping -- praying, even -- that the NHL locks out its players next September. The entire concept behind bringing back the WHA is predicated on a lockout happening so that they can snag a few big-name players to attempt to again make a go of it.

The lure of Europe is much different from the WHA. So many teams drew up their contracts to expire in 2004 due to the labor uncertainty that there is going to be a huge number of free agents heading into the 2004-05 season. If that season doesn't take place, many of the players who are free agents aren't going to sit around on their duffs doing nothing, they are going to pack their bags and sign temporary contracts with Europeans teams which contain stipulations allowing them to return to North American immediately when the lockout ends.

In regards to the new crackdown on goalie equipment regulation, doesn't it seem unfair that a goalie with illegal pads is suspended for one game and his team fined $25,000 for a first offense, and a second offense brings a two game suspension and $50,000 fine, while a skater with an illegal stick is given a two-minute minor and nothing else? In both cases the player is looking for an illegal edge, whether it be scoring a goal or stopping one, so why the drastic difference in the punishment?-- Grant, Pittsburgh, Pa.

I hadn't thought about it, but that does seem rather inequitable. I think if a goaltender is caught cheating with longer pads, he should be forced to stand in front of Al MacInnis' slapshots on national television. Talk about discouraging netminders from cheating.

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