It should be no surprise that the National Hockey League Players' Association won't have a presence Monday when the ship of fools docks at Boca Raton, Fla., and the NHL's general managers get together for three days of meetings designed to figure out how to stem the growing league-wide body count. The first step toward cleaning this mess must be taken by GMs and owners.
And those who have targeted NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr for criticism over his inaction and silence have missed the point. Fehr was hired to gird the union for its coming labour dispute, in the hope the players don't get screwed over as badly as they did in the last round of collective bargaining. He was hired to give the union professional representation, to end its plummet to lap-dog status, which is what the NBA Players Association and NFLPA have become. He was not hired to create a big picture. Given the choice of empty rhetoric or dull, focused language, Fehr showed with the Major League Baseball Players Association that he will always - always - err on the side of the latter. The time for rhetoric has long since passed, anyhow.
THE PLAYOFF CHASE
A faint whiff of playoffs for the Toronto Maple Leafs with a home-grown goaltender and now confirmation that the great bogeyman known as Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is formally accepting offers for majority share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment? Man … it really is spring in these parts, isn't it? Anyhow, with four weeks to go in the NHL regular season, these coming games caught my attention:
Monday: San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks - Blackhawks have two regulation losses in 16 games.
Tuesday: Phoenix Coyotes at Calgary Flames - Special teams alert: Going into the NHL schedule Sunday, the Flames had the fourth-best home-ice power play in the NHL and the Coyotes the third-worst road penalty-killing.
Tuesday: Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres - The Hurricanes have lost two consecutive one-goal games, including a 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last Friday that was the first loss of the season in 22 games in which they've led after two periods. They're 3-for-61 on the power play, and play the Leafs on Wednesday.
Wednesday: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings - The Caps follow up a trip to Montreal with a measuring-stick game against the Detroit Red Wings, and they're digging this new emphasis on defence, on pace to finish in the top 12 in goals against for the first time since 1999-2000.
Friday: Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers - Beware the shootout: The Rangers are 8-2 in shootouts this season and goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 6-2.
Carey Price's eight shutouts this season leave him on the verge of the 10th nine-shutout campaign by a Montreal Canadiens goalie. No Habs goalie has had 10 shutouts since Ken Dryden in 1976-77. The single-season shutout list: George Hainsworth, 22, 1928-29; Hainsworth, 14, 1926-27; Hainsworth, 13, 1927-28; Bill Durnan, 10, 1948-49; Gerry McNeil, 10, 1952-53; Dryden, 10, 1976-77; Jacques Plante, 9, 1956-57; Plante, nine 1957-58; Plante, nine, 1958-59.
Source: Montreal Canadiens
Toronto Blue Jays closer Frank Francisco is tentatively scheduled for eight appearances this spring, after being scratched with right shoulder soreness on Saturday. That's one less than originally planned, but manager John Farrell doesn't see it as an issue because he believes one-inning relievers usually need "close to 10 appearances" to be ready for the regular season. … Michael Saunders of Victoria has dramatically altered his batting stance in the past three days in an attempt to win a final roster spot with the Seattle Mariners, adopting a wider stance with the bat resting on his shoulder. … Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, an early convert to reporting on pitching workloads and mechanics, has raised eyebrows by listing Blue Jays prospect Kyle Drabek as a young pitcher whose "late load" delivery raises red flags about potential shoulder injuries.
"He glows here. This is where he's supposed to be."
- Canadian women's team fastball pitcher Danielle Lawrie talks to Rogers Sportsnet about her brother, Toronto Blue Jays third base prospect Brett Lawrie of Burnaby, B.C. With two weeks left until the team breaks camp, Lawrie is one of the stories of the spring after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade, hitting .370 and playing his position with aplomb. But it's still a stretch to see him coming north.