BLACKHAWKS DID BEST THEY COULD IN BELFOUR DEAL : PENALTY BOX.
You would think acquiring a two-time Vezina Trophy winner for a backup goalie, two underachieving players and a conditional draft pick would be a steal.
But in the deal sending veteran Ed Belfour to the San Jose Sharks, give Chicago Blackhawks general manager Bob Pulford credit for getting as much as he did for the disgruntled goalie.
Pulford was dealing from a position of weakness because it had become a foregone conclusion that Belfour would be traded.
Unhappy splitting time with Jeff Hackett, Belfour became a divisive influence, reportedly telling Hackett that he was nothing more than a backup and to stay on his side of the dressing room.
Complicating matters for the Blackhawks was Belfour's uncertain contract status. An unrestricted free agent after this season, he turned down a contract extension worth $3.3 million per season because he wants to be paid in the Patrick Roy range. Roy is getting $4.5 million this season.
With those conditions, there wasn't much of a demand for Belfour, but Pulford made a deal that could work out for the Blackhawks. Emphasis on the word could.
The Sharks parted with defenseman Mychal Sykora, right wing Ulf Dahlen, goalie Chris Terreri and a conditional draft pick in 1998.
The Blackhawks know what they're getting in Terreri, a reliable No. 2 to Hackett. But Sykora and Dahlen are the question marks.
Sykora is untapped potential. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, he has the size to be a force defensively, but he was so unwilling to be physical for the Sharks that coach Al Sims made him a regular scratch from the lineup in recent weeks.
But he's only 23, meaning his best years should be ahead of him, and the Blackhawks are hoping some of Chris Chelios' meanness will rub off on Sykora.
Dahlen, meanwhile, has lost his scoring touch. A two-time 30-goal scorer, he had only eight goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season. The Blackhawks are expected to put him on their top line with center Alexei Zhamnov and left wing Tony Amonte, a move that should increase his scoring.
If Sykora approaches his vast potential, Dahlen starts scoring again and Hackett ranks among the best goalies in the NHL, Chicago fans could learn to like the trade.
Add trade: Things could get interesting in the Sharks dressing room between goalies Kelly Hrudey and Belfour.
During his seven-plus seasons with the Kings, Hrudey fiercely protected his position as No. 1 goalie. Not only was he at his best when his position was threatened, he was so competitive that he was known for his sometimes unfriendly manner toward some of the other goalies on the team.
No clear sailing: Worried about sports gambling, NHL officials are investigating Patrick Roy's investment in a casino boat, according to the Rocky Mountain News.
Roy and his father, Michel, invested $175,000 in a floating casino. The ship is being built in Texas for $50 million and is managed by La Societe des Casino de Quebec. Plans call for it to sail from Miami into international waters five times daily.
``There is no gambling on sports games,'' Roy said. ``I don't want to get involved in that. I don't want to get myself in trouble or make people think there is something illegal.``
On the mend: Buffalo captain Pat LaFontaine, sidelined since Oct. 17 because of postconcussion syndrome, is feeling so much better that he is trying to get a checkup at the Mayo Clinic scheduled for Feb. 10 moved up.
He went 10 days without experiencing a headache and hopes to resume skating, something that seemed out of the question just a couple of weeks ago.
``He has good days and bad,'' Buffalo coach Ted Nolan said. ``He went through a stretch where he didn't have any pain and I think that gave him some hope.''
Waste of time: With right wing Alexei Kovalev out after undergoing knee surgery, the Rangers are trying to talk Steve Larmer out of retirement as a replacement.
Coach Colin Campbell sent defenseman Brian Leetch to speak with Larmer, who quickly characterized his chances of coming back as ``absolutely zero.''
``How am I going to come back?'' Larmer told the New York Daily News. ``Physically, I don't think there's any way I can get into shape. And mentally, I think there's a point in everyone's life when you have to walk away.''
On his back: Ron Francis is noted as being one of the game's best playmakers, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping he's an even better nag than center.
Francis has launched a campaign to talk Mario Lemieux out of retiring after this season.
``I'm working on him every single day,'' Francis said. ``I keep reminding him how great this is, how the Olympics next year are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''
Apparently it isn't working. Lemieux keeps saying this is probably his last season, and is starting to get fed up with Francis.
``Ron is becoming a pain in the rear,'' Lemieux said.
Sean O'Donnell, Kings
He knocked out Steve Rucchin of the Mighty Ducks with an elbow Saturday. So what if he was coming to the aide of teammate Yanic Perreault? It's still a cheap shot.
Ray Bourque, Boston
The 36-year-old defenseman is one point from tying the franchise record for career points, held since December 7, 1967, by John Bucyk (1,339). But becoming the most prolific scorer in Bruins history won't allow him to escape the considerable shadow in Boston cast by Bobby Orr.
``We have to win seven of the next 10 games or we're going to be out of the playoffs,'' Boston forward Rick Tocchet. The Bruins are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 30 years.
TOP 10 AND NO. 26
1. Colorado - Beat Florida and Pittsburgh on the road last week
2. Philadelphia - Terry Murray is second most underpaid coach in the NHL
3. Dallas - Ken Hitchcock is most underpaid coach in the NHL
4. Detroit - Looked good in tying Philadelphia 3-3
5. Florida - Their lowest ranking of the season
6. Pittsburgh - Lemieux's back spasms weren't serious
7. New York Rangers - Handed Patrick Lalime first NHL loss
8. Buffalo - Shouldn't plan on getting LaFontaine back this season
9. Edmonton - Consistency remains a problem
10. St. Louis - Team thrives without Keenan
26. Ottawa - How long until Kings claim this spot again?
L.A. ON ICE
Wednesday - at Colorado
Thursday - vs. Hartford
Saturday - vs. Chicago
Monday - at Calgary
Rivalry with Blackhawks always worth watching.
Wednesday - at Dallas
Friday - vs. Hartford
Sunday - vs. Colorado
Stars and Avalanche are best in Western Conference.
Box: PENALTY BOX (see text)