In hockey, one man can make a difference

Is Mats Sundin the difference-maker for the Canucks?

Saturday, 20.12.2008 / 12:42 PM / Features
By Larry Wigge
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In hockey, one man can make a difference
They say one person can\'t make a difference, but Mats Sundin could prove that theory wrong this season.
There's this theory in a team sports that one trade, one draft, one free agent can't make a team.

Didn't Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the draft make the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals playoff contenders? Didn't Roberto Luongo in a trade make Vancouver a growing concern? How about Edmonton and then Anaheim becoming Stanley Cup contenders with trades for Chris Pronger?

What I'm saying is that at every trade deadline, every draft, every free-agent period, there is the sliver of hope that one piece can make a team whole.

The thought started to bounce around in Wigge's World the other day when Mats Sundin and his agent announced that they had narrowed their search for a new team to just two -- Vancouver and the New York Rangers.

You couldn't blame a lot of teams for being interested in Sundin. Didn't Pittsburgh think Marian Hossa could push them over to the Stanley Cup theater in a trade last February at the deadline? And didn't it almost work? Didn't Detroit win it all with that perfect addition of defenseman Brad Stuart being a final piece to the puzzle at the trade deadline?

Granted Mats Sundin is 37 (going on 38 in February) and he didn't come close to putting the Toronto Maple Leafs into Stanley Cup contention in recent years. But you can't blame that all on Mats.



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What I'm trying to say is that Sundin, as a point-per-game player (78 points in 74 games) and a plus-17 on a minus team, can be a difference-maker with the right team concept.

To me, you could easily flash back to 1994 and see the Canucks or Rangers adding that final piece that eventually took them to the Stanley Cup Final. In this case, the Canucks won the Sundin Sweepstakes and can now line up Henrik Sedin, Sundin, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Johnson as strength up the middle that can compete for a Cup.

It was just last week that Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis told us, "Every team wants a big, dominant center-ice man. Other than a goalie, it's probably the most coveted position in our league."

Now the Canucks have that dominant center strength and will soon have Roberto Luongo back in goal.

Chemistry 101 -- To bond or not to bond. That is the Hockey 101 question we kick around each season. Put all of those wonderful hours of scouting each team does before the draft, before trade deadline and prior to free agency and you hopefully come up with players with great character and passion to play the game and the will to win. That character was obvious to most of us last season in Chicago when we saw the way Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews helped turn around the Blackhawks franchise.

That feeling of being right that it takes to being a success on the ice was never more evident recently when the contending Blackhawks voted to a man to give a couple hours of their time to sidetrack from a six-game road swing through North America on Nov. 22 and share in the mourning with their general manager Dale Tallon for the death of his father, Stanley, in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

That's right, the whole hockey team got on buses after a game in Toronto to get to Gravenhurst.

"I'm looking at these young people walking into the funeral home and thinking, 'Hey, that looks like Pat Kane. There's Patrick Sharp. Am I back in Chicago?' " recalled Tallon. "Before I know it I see all of the guys. I couldn't believe it.

"It makes you feel good about the character of our team and the homework we've done as a staff in drafting and getting these players. We thought they were great kids when we were scouting them and ..."

A teary Tallon recalled how Stanley Tallon was 47-years-old when he was diagnosed with cancer, how doctors gave him six months to live, but his drive and courage enabled him to beat cancer and live to see Dale play 10 NHL seasons and become a general manager. Stanley was 80 when he died.

"My mother was having such a hard time with it. We all were," Dale continued. "Then I remember looking over at her and there in the funeral hall and mom's hugging and kissing Pat Kane. Dad would have loved every minute of it. It's a day I'll never forget it."

Said Sharp, "It was really something to see all of the pictures Dale's mom had of him and his dad around the funeral hall."

Added Kane, "We talk a lot about respect for the game, respect for people around you, well, this was just a small part of that."

It was hockey's version of Chemistry 101 at its best.

Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, a potential unrestricted free agent July 1 who has been the topic of plenty of trade rumors this season, has rebounded from a terrible start (0 goals, 3 assists, minus-5 in 14 games) with 6 goals and 18 points and a plus-7 rating in his next 16 games.  Said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, "He sure isn’t playing like a guy that doesn't want to be here."

More chemistry -- There were a lot of experts ready to say that Rob Blake was playing out the string to a fine career last season in Los Angeles. Voila! He gets traded to San Jose and he's re-made into the hitting and shooting machine that helped the Colorado Avalanche with the 2001 Stanley Cup.

"You kind of question things (if you can still play), but I talked to (GM) Doug Wilson. He told me he came here at the end of his career and kind of understood where I was coming from. He talked about me challenging myself," Blake said recently. "I look at this the same as when I went to Colorado. I'm just trying to fit in. When you're older, you're looking to be in a spot where you can win everything."

Blake has helped the Sharks to 52 points after 30 games -- the best 30-game mark by any team in NHL history.

The comeback kid -- In this, the year of the comeback in the NHL, no one has been better at chipping away at a lead when the chips are down than Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin. Three times the Penguins have bounced back to win games in which they trailed by at least two goals, and Malkin had seven points in those three games. … I'll bet you were wondering who was the last player to put up 100 or more assists in one season? Answer: Wayne Gretzky, 1990-91, when he had 122 assists for the Los Angeles Kings. ... Thomas Vanek scored 2 goals in Buffalo's win in New Jersey on Dec. 13. His 24 goals in the Sabres' first 30 games is a team record. The previous high was 23 goals for Dave Andreychuk in 1992-93. ... The record for one player having the most two-goal games without having a hat trick finally stopped, when Petr Sykora had 3 goals and 1 assist in Pittsburgh's 9-2 rout of the New York Islanders on Dec. 11. The hat trick came after 38 previous two-goal games. The previous record was 31 by Dennis Hull, who got his first hat trick with Chicago in 1972. Now, the record for most career two-goal games among players who've never had a hat trick belongs to Phoenix's Shane Doan at 30. ... If Jeff Carter can keep up his goal-scoring pace, he will become the first Philadelphia Flyer in more than three decades (or since Reggie Leach in 1974-75 with 61) to win the NHL goal-scoring crown. ... Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, never one to sweat the small stuff, isn’t worried about his sorry goals-against average (3.19) and save percentage (.876) because it hasn’t affected his winning percentage -- 12-1-4. "I’m 36, not 26," Osgood explained. "I know how this season works. When it comes down to it in April, nobody cares what happened in December."

The best present -- When Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson turned 36 the other day, he was asked about feeling young and the best presents he could get. He replied, "One of the best things about being a pro athlete is you're among young guys. So I get to jab the 19- and 20-year-olds, and they get to jab me. It keeps you young. Present? I asked my son Hugo for a drawing. Other than that, the usual. Shirt and tie, or something like that." Did you notice Daniel didn't ask for that elusive Stanley Cup ring? ... Who wouldn't think that getting Marian Gaborik back on the ice was a great present for the Minnesota Wild after missing 27 games with more injury woes? In that return, Gaborik played 20 minutes, had four shots, 1 goal, 1 assist and helped the Wild gain their first point in six games in a 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary on Dec. 17. ... Vancouver's Daniel Sedin made sure Trevor Linden Night was a memorable one for the Canucks on Dec. 17, registering 2 goals and 1 assist in a 4-2 win against Edmonton. ... Talk about equal distribution. After 31 games, New Jersey's line of Travis Zajac, Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner had 31 goals and the line of Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta had 29. ... Let's start talking about Columbus goalie Steve Mason in terms of Rookie of the Year. A 47-save, 2-1 overtime win against San Jose on Dec. 17 gave him a 9-5-1 record, with a 1.91 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Here's a great number uncovered by those stats wizards at Elias Sports Bureau: When Calgary's Jarome Iginla had 2 goals and 2 assists in the Flames' 6-3 victory at St. Louis on Dec. 16, it was his 14th career four-point game, but more remarkably, it was the third-consecutive year that he scored four points in a game on Dec. 16 and the second straight year he had done so in a game in St. Louis (Iginla had 2 goals and 2 assists on that date in 2006 at Phoenix and 2007 at St. Louis).

Author: Larry Wigge | NHL.com Columnist