Blues Raise The Banner
Well it is the second game of the season, but it is the first home game of the new season. This is the opportunity for the RHS Champions, St. Louis Blues, to raise their championship banner to the rafters. This they did without a hitch. A large box was put on the ice and at the proper time, and with pyrotechnics, it slowly began raising to the rafters. As it was being raised, the Queen song, We are the Champions, was playing. But alas, some players were missing from the ceremony. Bernie Federko and Mats Naslund signed with other teams. Others were let go and a couple retired.
But the season has not been kind to the Blues so far. With the loss of some key players and with the Championship hangover, the Blues are not doing well. They are now 0-2, losing to Detroit, in Detroit and to Vegas at home. But the panic button is not being pressed just yet. It is early in the season and the Blues are notoriously slow starters. But will their poor play end the team as we know it? We asked GM Olsen that very question after the game.
"That is a good question. I will be candid with you. Yes. Let me explain. Last playoffs we were in the first round. The Flames were winning 3 games to 1. At that point we had decided to blow up the team, just like the Oilers had done the previous year. We had it all planned out, who we were keeping and who was staying. But then they went on a 13 game winning streak. Then in the off season, we decided that if Federko and Naslund did not resign with us, we would look hard at blowing up the team. They did not sign with us. Now we are 0-2, the pressure is on. Time for sitting on the fence is over. We have to decide one way or another what we are going to do. But I think we will see if anything can be done, after the 10 game mark."
The Blues have 8 games left to prove that they should stay together, or, be blown up. If so, probably Langenbrunner, Richardson and Sundin will remain as the core players. But that is to be seen. Right now we are happy to be celebrating the RHS Champions, St. Louis Blues.
Jock Strapp, TSN, St. Louis.
SABRES ADDRESS NEEDS
After staying pat for the entire ’96-’97 season the Sabres came out flying during the off-season. The team needed to address some needs and they may have done that during the Free Agent period. Last year’s team was proficient enough scoring goals, however, the problem was keeping the other team from putting the puck in the net. GM Reste went out and signed two stout defencemen. He gave Doug Bodger a 3 year contract worth $3 million a year making him the second highest paid blueliner to Jamie Macoun. While Bodger is strong on the back end he also can move the puck and has a nice scoring touch. Reste then went and got stay-at-home D-man Joe Reekie. Reekie is strong on his skates and should help out in front of the Sabres net.
Reste then surprised the Buffalo faithful by pulling off a trade with the Maple Leafs which might pay huge dividends down the road. The Sabres moved goalie Marty Turco to the Leafs for prospect center, Olli Jokinen. A speedy and rugged Fin, Jokinen was taken with the 3rd pick in the ’97 draft. At 6’3 and 210 pounds Jokinen, only 18, should advance quickly through the minors. Turco was selected by the Sabres in the ’94 draft and projected to be the future goalie for the Sabres. However, a year later the team was able to snag Mikka Kiprusoff, who now projects to be that guy. So Turco was deemed expendable and was able to bring back Jokinen.
Buffalo was also very active in this year’s draft focusing a good deal on the defence. In all they took four defencemen with their six picks. Andrew Ference was selected with their 1st pick. At 5”11, 185 lb from Edmonton, Ference was plucked from the Portland Winter Hawks and projects to be a stay-at-home type. Nick Boyton another defenceman was taken with the 2nd pick. From the Ottawa 67’s Boyton has good size at 6’2 and 218 pounds and should help out in front of the net. The Sabres then went for four guys who were a little older. Two more defencemen were added with Thom Cullen (21 yo) and D.J.Smith (22 yo) being taken in the 3rd round. Craig Mills, a 21 year old right winger was selected in the 4th round and was the only forward selected by the team. Another Goalie, John Grahame was the team’s last pick continuing a trend of the team selecting at least one goalie every year since 1992.
Leafs trade Fuhr to Calgary for prospects
In a rather quick move since announcing an updated trade block, GM Frank Salemi pulled the trigger on a deal to clear cap space, as per ownership.
"Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs would like to announce a trade with the Calgary Flames. Going to Calgary will be goalie Grant Fuhr in exchange for top goalie prospect Manny Legace, D Dmitri Mirinov and the Calgary 1st in the 2000 RHS draft.", Salemi told reporters at the press conference. "This deal is strictly a move that is BEST FOR BUSINESS, not a reflection of Grant's performance with us. We want to wish Grant Fuhr all the best in his future endeavors in Calgary".
With Fuhr off the books, that feels up some much needed payroll space on the roster. Whether the Leafs make a splash in Free Agency is still up in the air, as round one of UFA signings ends on Wednesday.
Also, this move should indicate that the Leafs are going with Bob Essensa in between the pipes this year as their #1 goalie. Now the question will be asked, just who will be the backup with a 3 man battle shaping up between Domenic Roussel, Kay Whitmore and the prospect Legace.
Sources close to Salemi have indicated that the Leafs might not be settled with the backup situation just yet, with some interesting names still on the UFA market. "There could be a name or 2 that might just surprise Leafs nation if the cards are played right", the unanimous source told the Toronto Sun.