AND THEN THERE WAS ONE ...

 

Congratulations to the 2002 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. As I predicted, they beat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games to clinch what is regarded as the hardest trophy in sports to win. But give Carolina a lot of credit for getting this far. This is only the beginning for this team, believe me. They will be back. But this year belongs to Detroit

Was that a gasp or a moment of silence we heard when they announced the Conn Smythe trophy winner was Nicklas Lidstrom? I think, like me, everybody was expecting Steve Yzerman to be the winner, but after looking at the whole picture, Lidstrom was a good choice. He did score some timely goals to help get the Wings in a position to win. I think back to the goal from center ice in the Vancouver series that many claim was the turning point in that series and gave the Wings something to rally with, and rally they did! He also scored a goal or two in the Colorado series that put games out of reach. Anytime the Wings faced adversity, it seemed that Lidstrom was there. Keep in mind, when they vote on this, itís for the entire playoffs. No question Yzerman was effective, but with that bad knee, not nearly as effective as I know he can be. However, he still would have got my vote, but thatís just me.

THE POSTSEASON

The Cup had not even been hoisted yet and already there had been plenty of notable transactions. There are already five new head coaches to talk about, and there will be at least one more named before training camp opens. As soon as the cup was won, Scotty Bowman announced he is hanging them up, so when the celebrating is over there will be a new coach in Detroit.

Three time Jack Adams award winner Pat Burns will now take the helm of the New Jersey Devils. Burns has made an impact on every team he has coached, and itís obvious that the Devils want him for his playoff experience to help get them back to the Finals. His track record speaks for itself.

Ken Hitchcock will now coach the Philadelphia Flyers, and I say good luck! The problem in Philly is not coaching, itís management. Yes Bob Clarke, I mean you. Do you really think that Hitch will turn this team around? You could probably put Scotty Bowman behind the bench and it still wonít make any difference. Until the Flyers get rid of crybabies like Jeremy Roenick, they have no hope of ever winning the Stanley Cup again in this lifetime. So far though they seem to be seeing this, as they say they have no plans to resign Oates. Perhaps itís time to rebuild and a coaching change is just what the doctor ordered. Time will tell.

Bryan Trottier needs no introduction. He won six Stanley Cups, four with the New York Islanders, and two with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He won another Stanley Cup in 2001 as assistant coach of the Colorado Avalanche. The New York Rangers are banking on his ability to do it again as a head coach. This will be a great fit. If you thought the Rangers showed promise last year, you havenít seen anything yet. If it wasnít for a player named Wayne, Trottier would arguably have been the most dominant player in the 1980s next to Mario Lemieux. The Rangers will finally make the playoffs next season, you can bet on it.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim will also have a new head coach. Mike Babcock coached the farm team in Cincinnati for the past two years. With Pierre Gauthier leaving, former head coach Bryan Murray will assume the position of general manager. With Babcock behind the bench the Ducks are hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. If his record with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and the Spokane Chiefs are any indication, it should be a very interesting Pacific Division next season.

The Washington Capitals have made Bruce Cassidy the second youngest coach in NHL history. He has no NHL experience, but if his track record in Grand Rapids is any indication, the Capitals should do well to get back in the playoffs. This man is probably the most optimistic coach I have seen in some time and that should help Jaromir and the boys get it done. Washington should have another fine season with him behind the bench.

THE NHL DRAFT

This year the NHL Draft was held at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. While all eyes were on Jay Bouwmeester, defenseman for Medicine Hat in the WHL, a last minute draft pick trade between number one Florida and number three Columbus bumped him down to the third pick overall. He had held down the top ranking all season long and had been compared to the likes of Paul Coffey. Time will tell if he becomes as dominant. He had sixty two points in sixty one games with the Tigers, and is one the fastest skaters in junior hockey. His speed along with his puck handling skills show that he is ready to make the transition into the NHL, so donít be surprised to see him swap his Tigers jersey for a Panthers one.

The honor of first overall pick in the draft went to Rick Nash, left winger for the OHLís London Knights. Nash, from Brampton Ontario, racked up thirty two goals and a total of seventy two points for the Knights last season in only fifty four games. He was also a teammate of Bouwmeesterís at the World Junior Championship this past winter. Not too shabby indeed. The Blue Jackets need his scoring prowess. No team scored fewer goals last season.

The second pick went to the Atlanta Thrashers. They picked European goaltender Kari Lehtonen. At age eighteen, he is already a superstar in Helsinki, Finland. His style is mostly standup style, but he can play a combination butterfly when needed. If Atlanta is looking to make the playoffs anytime soon they are certainly headed in the right direction. Just for the record, the highest a European goalie has ever been drafted was twenty-first.

Philadelphia made a small trade, sending Ruslan Fedotenko to Tampa Bay for the fourth overall pick. With it they chose defenseman Joni Pitkanen. While Lehtonen was ranked the top European player in any position, Pitkanen was ranked the best skater. Clearly Bobby Clarke is looking to the future here. This is the second year in a row that he has made a defenseman his top pick at the draft. With five of his defensemen over 30, itís probably a good thing.

Pittsburgh had the fifth overall pick and chose Ryan Whitney, a six foot three Boston University defenseman. Like Bouwmeester, Whitney is a strong skater with excellent puck handling skills.

Of course there were several other picks that deserve mentioning, but space just doesn't allow for it.  Check out www.nhl.com for lots more information than I can give you in three articles.

ÖAND THE AWARD GOES TOÖ

Well we already know that the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup and Lidstrom won the Conn Smythe. Lidstrom also took the Norris trophy, awarded to the leagueís best defenseman. Runner up was Chris Chelios, who I thought would get it. Ironically both were on the same defensive line.

Jose Theodore took the Hart trophy, awarded to the leagueís most valuable player, along with the Vezina trophy as top goaltender. Clearly this was well deserved as he was most responsible for getting Montreal in the playoffs. Voting was very close on this one. Theodore and Jarome Iginla were tied in total voting points, but Theodore won as he had more first place votes than Iginla. However, Iginla didnít leave empty handed.

Iginla was presented with the Art Ross trophy, awarded to the NHL scoring champion, the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy, awarded to the player with the most goals, and the Lester B. Pearson trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players Association.

Ron Francis won the Lady Byng trophy as leagueís most gentlemanly player and the King Clancy trophy, for the player who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice. This is Francisí third Lady Byng award. On the ice, you wonít find a better leader. We all know about the Hurricanesí run to the finals. Francis, who grew up with a brother with a learning disability, is involved in a program at Duke Childrenís Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, to help patients and their families. Lucky patients selected by Francis and his wife receive a night out at the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena to catch the Hurricanes play.

The Calder trophy, awarded to the leagueís top rookie, went to Atlantaís Dany Heatley. Runner up was teammate Ilya Kovalchuk. Heatley becomes to first Canadian to win the Calder since Martin Brodeur in 1994.

The Adams trophy, awarded to the coach of the year, went to Bob Francis of the Phoenix Coyotes. Just watch your back, Bob. It seems every time a coach wins coach of the year, the very next year he is fired. For our intents and purposes, we wonít do any speculating.

The Selke trophy, awarded to the leagueís best defensive forward, went to Mike Peca. He wins the award for the second time in his career. He also won in 1997 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. Their loss is clearly the Islandersí gain.

And finally, it should come as no surprise that Saku Koivu was presented with the Bill Masterton trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer last September, the big question was will he ever come back? Well not only did he come back, he helped the Habs make it into the second round of the playoffs as they knocked off the heavily favored Boston Bruins. One only needs to look back to the game on April 9th to see what he means to his team and the fans in Montreal. Even if you arenít a Montreal fan, Iím sure you were watching that game with interest. "Now that I'm back playing, I can honestly say that I enjoy playing a lot more and this trophy symbolizes my joy," he said in a statement. Well done Saku, welcome back.

Congratulations to all of the winners and the runners-up.

And thatís it for me folks. As the NHL goes on vacation, so do I! Iíll check in next month with a look at the imminent free agent frenzy. Itís way too early to tell at this point who is going where. A big salute, however, goes out to Dominik Hasek, who recently announced his retirement from the NHL. Detroit will have their pick of goaltenders as there will be plenty to choose from. Rumors are that either Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour will pick up where Hasek left off. Weíll talk about it next time. Have a great summer everyone and as always your questions and comments are welcome.

Send comments good or bad to puckin45@puckinaround.net

 

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