The Darkhorse Sextet From Uniondale, And Rangers Who Should Be In The Hall Of Fame

 

@StanFischler

If, exactly a year ago, you ventured that the New Jersey Devils would reach the Stanley Cup Final, your best friend likely would have suggested a sedative and a long rest somewhere on the Cocos Islands.

Egad! Did Peter DeBoer’s sextet fool us or what? Hey, they made darn fools out of just about every prognosticator this side of Sunnyside’s crystal ball factory.

At the very least Martin Brodeur & Company proved that one should never take a dark horse lightly; or a light horse darkly. But you get the point; I hope!

Okay, the point is that if there’s a 2012-2013 Dark Horse candidate why not the New York Islanders? (Chorus, please: “Yeah; why not?”)

It’s been a half-dozen years since the Nassaumen squeeked into eighth-seed when Alexei Yashin still was captain and Pontiac was making cars.

Hold on to your fedoras, The Maven is hereby predicting that Jack Capuano’s crew will finally haul themselves out of No Man’s Ice and into the post-season; otherwise known as the playoffs.

My confidence is rooted in youth and maturation along with a rare break in goaltending luck; as in good luck.

But first let’s look at the Young Turks, alias Draft picks are ready to hit the heights.

Ryan Strome, the gifted center, is my fave but I expect left wing Kirill Kabanov to emerge next season the way Adam Henrique came out of nowhere to rescue the Devils. I have it on the best authority that Nino Niederreiter has been working like a power saw this Summer in Portland, Oregon with a special trainer. If nothing else it demonstrates that the Swiss potential-ace is well-motivated to prove that last year’s meager output was really not the Nino Garth Snow hoped he was securing at a top pick. Ditto for D-man Calvin de Haan who was drafted the same June as John Tavares.

Swedish goaltender Anders Nilsson could easily move in as Evgeni Nabokov’s back-up if Rick DiPietro fails to stay healthy. Then again, you never know; this finally could be DP’s great-great-come-and-get-it-year.

The Maven expects a Top Six to be difference-makers and that means Tavares, his prolific buddy Matt Moulson, one-time 40-goal man Brad Boyes, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen.

Granted that Grabner disappointed himself and followers last season but he’s got the speed and savvy; now it’s matter of converting on his surplus of breakaways. Likewise, Bailey is well aware that he’s got the goods and only requires steady linemates and a few breaks to turn his career toward the stratosphere.

Assuming — at least Snow hopes — that Lubomir Visnovsky winds up on defense, he could provide a 40-point season to match captain Mark Streit. Meanwhile, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald rank among the NHL’s most underrated defense pairings.

No question, the Isles fortunes will hinge on how the club handles its Atlantic Division rivals. But, apart from the Rangers, there are shortcomings on the Flyers, Penguins and Devils.

Minus Chris Pronger (injured perhaps indefinitely), Matt Carle (moved as free agent), Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja — both with long-term injuries — Philly’s defense makes a slice of Swiss cheese look like the China Wall.

Meanwhile the Penguins can only hope that Sidney Crosby remains concussion-free — no guarantee — and that sieve-like Marc-Andre Fleury decides not to self-destruct as he did in 2011-2012. As for the Devils, well, they still haven’t filled the gap caused by Zach Parise’s emigration to Minnesota.

Here’s the trick: Capuano must inspire his horses out of the gate as if their contracts hinged on it.

That done this club has enough talent to sustain itself down to the Finish Line.

 It happened in Newark; it could happen in Uniondale!

Every year we hear grunts, groans and grumbles when the Hockey Hall of Fame announces its nominees. But this year an Ontario writer is doing something about it; as in a book.

Kris Kullas is the author and his tome’s title says it all: ACCESS DENIED — FORGOTTEN & FUTURE HEROES OF HOCKEY’S HALL OF FAME. The book is published by Frosted Forest Northern Ontario Publishing and makes for fascinating reading.

The way Kullas sees it the Hall of Fame’s standards are skewed to the extent that heroes such as 1951 Stanley Cup-winning scorer Bill Barilko deserves to be in the Pantheon every bit as much as this year’s entrants (NAME THEM).

Nor surprisingly Kullas fingers several Rangers whose access has been denied but he manages to make a case for their being qualified. Try these aces on for size:

LORNE CHABOT: How could the goalie who spearheaded the Rangers first Stanley Cup drive in 1928 not be in the Hall of Fame? In an 11-year NHL career the French-Canadian ace played nobly for six teams. His record as you will see was more than commendable.

Chabot played in 412 NHL games and registered a record of 201-147-62. Over his 11 season career, Chabot was a Vezina Trophy Winner in 1934-35 and posted a career goals against average of 2.02. More impressive, however, may be his shut out totals.

With 71 blank sheets during his time as a tender, Chabot pitched a shutout in every sixth game in which he played. One of those shutouts occurred in the semi-finals of the 1933 Playoffs. In a six-overtime marathon, his Toronto Maple Leafs bested the Boston Bruins 1-0 through nine periods of hockey. His 71 shutouts would be good for ninth overall in career shutouts among goalies. It’s criminal to deny access with that resume.

DEAN PRENTICE: Rangers icon Andy Bathgate will be the first to tell you that he (Andy) never would be in the Pantheon of Hockey were it not for his left wing, Prentice. Dean was a workhorse in the Bob Gainey tradition. If Gainey is in the Hall, Prentice should be as well.

 Prentice re-defined consistency during his 22-season-career. His 860 points over 1,378 regular season games is good for 0.6 points per game. Beyond the numbers however, Prentice was best known for being a coach’s dream; a quintessential team guy. Plus, was a power play and penalty kill specialist, a tremendous backchecker and all-around. To define Deano with a pair of World War II words, he was gung-ho.

BOB NEVIN: Either Nevvy or Deano rank as the most underrated Ranger of all-time. Bob not only could score, check and play a clean game he’s one of the precious few players ever to decision Montreal’s heavyweight champ John Ferguson in a fight. Nevin also starred on two Toronto Stanley Cup-winners.

From the get-go, Nevin was a clear talent at the NHL level. Coming up second only to Dave Keon for the Calder Trophy in their rookie years, Nevin scored 21 goals in an era when 20 goals was a benchmark for the NHL’s elite. He continued to do just that when he was traded to the Rangers. Notching more than 20 goals a season five more times after leaving Toronto, Nevin was consistently among the league’s top talent. His 0.64 points per game in his career is more than good enough for The Hall and it doesn’t hurt that he has two Stanley Cup rings to back it up.

KEVIN LOWE: If ever there was an unsung hero of the Rangers 1994 run to the Stanley Cup it was the all-purpose — and very tough play of Lowe on the backline. Ditto for when he helped the Oilers to their Cup jubilees.

There is little doubt that Kevin Lowe was not only one of the most efficient two-way defenseman to play the game, but he was also a natural born leader. Without any fanfare or attention, Lowe was an incredibly consistent D-man and was an integral piece of the 1994 team that brought the Cup back to the Garden after a 54-year drought. Lowe appeared in seven All Star games, played in a staggering 1,254 regular season games, and despite being known for his defensive game, still registered a 0.34 point per game average. And don’t forget that Lowe was part of a total of six Stanley Cup-winning teams. Kevin should have been inducted in the Hall long ago based on his Oilers exploits alone.

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An Ode To Don Raleigh

 

@StanFischler

One of the outstanding Rangers playoff heroes of the post-WWII era has died at the age of 86. Don “Bones” Raleigh scored two of the most spectacular goals in Blueshirts playoff history during the 1950 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.

Raleigh’s game resembled the smarts we see now in Brad Richards. Plus, “Bones” centered one of the NHL’s best lines, doling smooth passes to left wing Ed Slowinski and Pentti Lund.

In addition, Raleigh captained the New York sextet and holds the distinction of being one of the few players who played professional hockey in Brooklyn. As a 16 year-old Rangers prospect, Raleigh skated for the Brooklyn Crescents in the old Eastern Hockey League when Brooklyn was a Rangers’ farm team.

In those days, Brooklyn actually had its own home arena. Raleigh played his home games at the Ice Palace on Atlantic Avenue between Bedford and Nostrand Avenues. Ironically, the site is a slapshot away from the new Barclays Center where an exhibition game between the Islanders and Devils has been slated for early October.

Raleigh gradually worked his way to the big club and emerged as one of New York’s most popular athletes. He was considered something of an oddball since he lived on Staten Island and commuted to The Old Garden on the Staten Island Ferry. The center was “mod” 20 years before his time. He lived alone on the remote New York borough of Staten Island; wrote poetry; grew a moustache; and always gave the impression that one more turn on the ice would be his last.

The 1950 Stanley Cup Final had been a particularly grueling series for Raleigh. In those days, the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets gave way to the circus in April. Because of that the Rangers played five games of the Final at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium and two “home” games at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Ergo: all even games on the road!

Raleigh was on the ice as the clock passed the eight-minute mark of the first sudden-death period in the fourth game of the Finals which the Rangers trailed Detroit, 2-1. He took a pass from bulky linemate Ed Slowinski and, as he was falling, swiped the puck past a beaten goalie, Harry Lumley. The Rangers had tied the series at two apiece.

Now, the Red Wings were reeling. They fell behind, 1-0, in the fifth game and appeared to be doomed to a Chuck Rayner shutout when Ted Lindsay tied the score with less than two minutes remaining in the third period.

Once again it was time for sudden death — and Bones Raleigh.

An unlikely hero if there ever was one, Raleigh wasted little time in his second dramatic sudden death effort. Only a minute and a half had elapsed when he took a pass from Slowinski and beat Lumley with a 10-foot drive. But it was all to no avail, as the Rangers lost the Final.

Raleigh got his nickname from the New York Journal-American — American hockey writer Barney Kremenko. As it happened, Kremenko won some money at Belmont race track betting on a horse named Bag of Bones. That night, Raleigh had a big game and Kremenko decided to call him after his winning horse, shortening it simply to “Bones”. And that’s how the lightweight Ranger was known until he retired in 1956.

A fan favorite throughout his all-Rangers career, Raleigh was well-remembered by those who viewed his exploits.

I knew Raleigh well and admired his skill and smarts on the ice and his warm, humorous personality away from the rink. In fact the only time he ever disappointed me was when I got us tickets for a Broadway comedy.

I thought it was a riot; Bones left after the intermission.

A sportsman, gentleman, scholar, devoted Ranger — Don Raleigh!

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The Maven Chats With Torts: Part II

 

@StanFischler

Pardon John Tortorella if he’s feeling a bit antsy these days; the onset of September means that a hockey season is just around a calendar-flip … we hope.

Whatever happens on the labor front, Torts has to plan for training camp and climb even higher than the 2011-12 Eastern Conference Championship.

Completing a respite at his Wisconsin vacation home, the coach has reason to be optimistic and it’s not only because Rick Nash will be joining the Siege Mortar Squadron.

“We’re ready,” Tortorella told me, sounding very much like he’d like to open camp in about two seconds. “Camp is set for the 21st (of September) and I’m enthused.”

He should be; with an impressive crop of maturing Whiz Kids such as Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, Torts’ challenge will be honing their respective games to sharpness. A build-up-to-a-letdown is something every bench boss fears but with the surplus of Rangers talent at hand, the sky’s the limit.

When I mentioned that Bill Torrey’s formula for Stanley Cup-winners included speed, size and special teams, the coach said that his club has the goods.

“The additions of Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider have given us a lot of speed,” he noted. “And don’t forget the importance of quickness as opposed to just speed. That’s a big part of the way National Hockey League play is going. As for size, Rick Nash can move and he’s adding to our size.

“Granted we lost some size and hardness when Duby (Brandon Dubinsky) and Prusty (Brandon Prust) left, but we’ve made up for that with our additions (Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, Micheal Haley.) With these guys we’re going to play a hard, straight-ahead game.”

As a rule, coaches avoid climbing on verbal limbs that might crack on them. But when it comes to Ryan McDonagh, Torts waxes ecstatic; or as ecstatic as an NHL mentor can get.

“Ryan’s best has yet to come, really. Basically, he’s just starting to come on because he’s got the goods. He’s mentally mature. Even when he makes a mistake, Ryan is ready for the next shift. And he’s going to get better and better offensively.”

Speaking of progressing defensemen, Michael Del Zotto’s “comeback” at the age of 22 impressed The Boss, but not to the extent that Torts believes that MDZ has fully completed his improvement cycle.

Tortorella: “After a year in the minors Michael made a great comeback; no doubt about that and he’s become more consistent. He’s one of the best at joining the rush and I love his aggressiveness that way. But he still has to improve his ‘hardness’ and mental toughness. I want him to know that he has to do what he did last season every year. That’s when you become a player.”

Much has been projected about the addition of Nash’s fire power, which can be devastating to goaltenders and a delight to The Garden Faithful who were rooting for his Rangers signing late last season. Torts knows all about that, but he insists there’s more to Rick’s game than a booming blast.

“I talked to him,” the coach went on, “and Rick’s going to fit in nicely. Among the many things I like about him is that his approach is all business.”

If anything surprised me about our chat it was what John said about Hagelin. We all know that the Swift Swede was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2011-12, but I didn’t expect such an emphatic critique as the one the coach delivered.

“Hagelin actually changed the complexion of our hockey club; actually he’s a huge piece of our puzzle because of his speed and the manner in which he uses it; the way he chases pucks down. I liked the way he worked with (Richie) Brad Richards and Gabby (Marian Gaborik,).”

Another work in progress is Stepan who the coach commended for “having a good second year,” but sees improvement ahead.

“He was less inconsistent, but I want to see more from him in the playoffs. He’s a young kid and still learning, but I’d like him to be more consistent.”

Torts allowed that he didn’t get to know Kreider who came on so strong in the playoffs after leaving Boston College.

“I’m really anxious to see how Chris does in camp,” he explained. “I’ll do a lot more coaching with him than I could do during the playoffs. He’s got to learn to be a pro and not miss any steps along the way. Plus, I want him to get to know me.”

Torts will visit The Apple on a non-sports — unless canine-watching is a sport — event on September 9. The coach will lead a mile-long walk along the Hudson in Manhattan’s Riverside Park. It’s all about raising funds for the Westchester Humane Society.

“My wife and I have four dogs of our own and we love the work we do with the Society,” he concluded. “We’ve been doing it for six months and it’s been a big part of our Summer.”

That soft side of Torts’ personality has been essentially hidden from the public. As for the canines, well, they can enjoy being in the coach’s doghouse!

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One-Shot Wonders Or For Real?

 

@StanFischler

You don’t have to be a philosopher, such as Socrates, to know that a star one night could turn into a storm-cloud one evening later.

Ditto for hockey players who enjoy a “simply-mahvelous” season. Yeah, what about next year?

How many “One-Shot-Wonders” have been waxed ecstatic about one semester only to find them disappear into the ether the second time around?

Just off the top, there were Andy Raycroft, Mike Komisarek and Michael Del Zotto to name a few.

The difference here is that Del Zotto’s “Sophomore Slump” was followed in 2011-12 by a remarkably resilient rebound.

Michael DZ’s effort is our catalyst for head-scratching about a quintet — sextet if you count Del Zotto — of impressive stickhandlers who hope to build on their kudos in the season ahead. The Maven has selected the following Met Area men because their futures are so debatable. Soooooooo, let’s debate:

DAVID CLARKSON: As a younger Devil, the Toronto native was New Jersey’s version of Sluggo — neither bully nor enforcer, but with an insatiable passion for improvement. Until last season, previous coaches — whether it be Brent Sutter or Jacques Lemaire — failed to find the right buttons to extract Clarkson’s best.

Then along came Peter DeBoer, who found not only the best buttons, but a few lilting levers as well. And the results say — make that SHOUT — it all. Dauntless Dave totaled 30 goals and 46 points. That’s 13 red lights over his previous high. And despite playing injured in the postseason, he was a plus-8 over 24 playoff games with 12 points. Better still, each of his three goals was a game-winner!

DeBoer, who coached Clarkson in Junior Hockey, toned down David’s rambunctiousness just enough to make him a most effective power forward. Still, skeptics abound who wonder whether the 2011-12 season was more a mirage than the real McCoy; or in this case, the real McClarkson.

The Maven predicts that Clarkson’s best is yet to come, but this coming season for him must reproduce the last; otherwise the one-shot-wonder tag inevitably will be tagged on David The Devil.

• TRAVIS HAMONIC: With an absolute minimum of fuss and fanfare, but a surplus of emotion-commitment, the Islanders’ defenseman has emerged as a latter-day Dave Langevin, who was a balance-wheel backliner from the dynastic Al Arbour four-straight Stanley Cup Era.

With utter dedication to defending behind his blue line, Hamonic averaged 22.25 minutes per game last season, third best on the Islanders after captain Mark Streit and Travis’ standard defense partner, Andy MacDonald. Not so coincidentally, MacDonald and Hamonic have developed into a shot-blocking duet extraordinaire. In that regard, Travis has been favorably compared with overpriced Ryan Suter.

At age 22, Hamonic has yet to reach anything even close to his peak. He’s supremely motivated and totally devoted. I see him continuing his upward spiral in the manner that Marc Staal has with the Rangers.

• RYAN MCDONAGH: If there’s not a Norris Trophy in this guy’s future, I don’t know another defenseman with such potential. Then again, you never know. Perhaps the doubting side is what possessed the Canadiens to unload Ryan to the Rangers as part of the Scott Gomez deal.

Since then, the 23-year-old has re-defined “workhorse.” He played all 82 games last season, averaging almost 27 minutes per contest and appeared totally indefatigable. Better still his plus-25 over that span was better than the likes of future Hall of Famer Nick Lidstrom, along with the highly-touted, but over-hyped Kris Letang and Shea Weber.

Drafted 12th overall in 2007, McDonagh has coupled with Dan Girardi like two perfectly meshed gears. How much the latter has contributed to Ryan’s ascent is debatable. But this much is certain: If McDonagh turns out to be a flash-in-the-pan it will stun, The Maven to the very core; not to mention the critics who’ve given him raves for the past year.

• BRYCE SALVADOR: Had the NHL struck a “Comeback Of The Year” Trophy, this indomitable Devil would have been a finalist, if not the winner. Considering that Salvador had missed the ENTIRE 2010-11 season with an curious concussion injury, it would have been reasonable to expect a mediocre return to the wars in 2011-12. Quite frankly, nobody really knew precisely how much such a wound would debilitate him.

What Bryce became defied credulity. He not only played all 82 of New Jersey’s games at his fiercely competitive level, but remained the Devils best defender from start to finish. He registered 102 blocks and 106 hits, while averaging 22.24 minutes as the quintessential shutdown sizzler. His nine assists seemed to be gravy on Newark’s hot roast beef sandwich.

Then something truly weird, totally jubilant occurred. Spearheading his club’s Cinderella march to the Stanley Cup Final, Salvador became a scoring menace. With 14 points in 24 playoff games — one short-hander and one game-winner — he managed at least one point in all 16 of the Garden Staters wins.

It would be difficult for anyone — let alone defense-minded Bryce — to expect that brand of offense in either the upcoming regular season or playoffs. My forecast is that Salvador will return to his efficient ways proving that his comeback was no fluke but the offensive burst was — well — exceptional, but not repeat-able.

• MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO: The Jekyll-Hyde of the Rangers’ defensive corps, this smooth-skating, radar-accurate passing defenseman still confounds his critics. Del Zotto dazzled as a rookie, yet finished his freshman year at a minus-20. Talk about a sophomore slump; yikes!

Michael got to know Hartford a lot more than he would have liked in 2010-11. He managed a mere 47 NHL games in his second season with two goals and nine assists. Only Sean Avery held a bigger mortgage in John Tortorella’s doghouse than DZ.

But Torts’ message to his promising defenseman got through last season. Skating the straight and narrow path, he rebounded with 10 goals and 31 assists in 77 games, while adding two goals and 10 points in the playoffs.

No question, the lad’s skills are all there and that includes a solid shot from the point and the ability to quarterback the power play. But the coach still considers Michael a work in progress; as he should. Del Zotto’s defensive game still betrays holes and his physique could use a bit more muscle.

Me? I believe that Michael has learned all the mental lessons and now it’s a matter of focus and listening to the coach. If that’s accomplished, he’ll be in the upper echelon. If not, — uh-oh!

• EVGENI NABOKOV: Claimed by the Islanders in 2011, this Russian blocker hardly was rushing for Nassau. His equivocation about signing on with Jack Capuano’s club caused the Uniondale faithful to wonder why anyone would bother to persuade him to change his mind.

But this was one cerebral-reversal that benefitted everyone. During a 2011-12 season in which the Isles had the NHL’s second-worst goal-differential, Nabby played like the chap who once had three-straight 40-win seasons with San Jose. To say that he was the Islanders’ bulwark during the 42 games he played would be putting it just right.

Fronted by an undermanned, injury-riddled defense, Evgeni nevertheless compiled a 2.55 goals against average and a .914 save percentage; all commendable under difficult circumstances and in the Cam Ward-Ryan Miller class.

Trouble is — if there is any cause for concern —  his age, 37, and how much wear and tear last season had on his physique and psyche.

With what appears to be an improved Islanders defense, Nabby should be a happy camper and remain one of the club’s key cogs in a playoff bid.

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BACKE MAKES CHANGE FOR THE BETTER VS. TIMBERS

The situation was bleak Sunday night: The Red Bulls were in a two-goal hole to the Portland Timbers — one of the worst teams in MLS — in the first half and looked as if they would drop points ahead of their huge clash next week vs. East-leading Sporting Kansas City.

The team was unable to string the simplest of passes and were getting cut open time and time again by the Timbers’ counter-attack. A spark was needed. It was time for Hans Backe to unveil his trump card.

Enter super sub Kenny Cooper for Roy Miller in the 36th minute.

For those that have followed Backe’s tenure as Red Bulls coach, most know that the Swede is loathed to make any subs until late in the game, let alone in the first half. But with Miller getting torched by Timbers winger Sal Zizzo – he set up both of Portland’s first-half goals with lovely assists – Backe pulled the plug on the Costa Rican. On came Cooper and the comeback was on.

In one of the most exciting games of the season, New York overcame a sluggish first 42 minutes to rally past Portland, 3-2, and stay two points behind Kansas City. Late first-half goals from Cooper (42nd minute) and Tim Cahill (45th minute) ignited a rally that Heath Pearce finished off with his game-winning header. Still, Backe was less than impressed with a win that featured a below-par performance from his team.

“The way we performed after 45 minutes, it’s a gift to have two [goals] at halftime,” the coach said in his postgame press conference. “But after the first 45, going two-down, normally you lose a game like that.”

There’s a case to be made that Backe picked the wrong starting XI for this one. Miller started at left back, while Connor Lade started at right back – an unfamiliar position for the left-footed rookie – and Sebsatien Le Toux started up front with Thierry Henry as the two strikers. Lacking fluidity, Backe switched things around with Cooper. The insertion of big striker set off a flurry of position changes: Lade moved back to left back, Le Toux went to right-sided midfield and Jan Gunnar Solli moved to right back.

The result? Solli provided two key assists from right back. His inch-perfect crosses to Cooper and Pearce were vital in the victory. While the effort picked up as soon as Cooper hit the field, it still was considered underwhelming by most of the Red Bulls after the game.

“We’re not happy with the way we performed [Sunday],” Solli said. “We were lucky to be 2-2 at halftime. In the second half, maybe we could have been able to create a few more chances.

“We obviously finished the game with three points [Sunday] which is the most important thing, but as individuals and as a group, we didn’t perform up to the standards that we set,” added Pearce.

Gaudette Fitting the Bill

The Red Bulls wouldn’t have earned all three points without Bill Gaudette’s big saves in the second half. On three separate occasions, New York’s stand-in goalie stopped one-on-one chances by Portland.

Gaudette’s stellar play in recent weeks has opened this question: If and when Ryan Meara returns to full health, who will be the Red Bulls’ starting goalie?

“We don’t know really with Ryan, if and when he will be back,” Backe said. I think it will be discussion this week with the doctors to see how bad it is or if he can still keep training. “[Gaudette’s] games he’s been playing, I don’t think he’s made a mistake so far … he’s been great.”

Gaudette downplayed his exploits after the game.

“They were just saves, that’s what you’re job is, to keep the team in the game,” he said.

His teammates were much more effusive about his play. While Cooper made a huge contribution off the bench, it was Gaudette’s saves that were just as responsible for the win.

“Kenny came on and sparked us, but I think the real hero [Sunday] was probably Billy, who did exceptional,” Cahill said.

Backe has an interesting decision to make when Meara returns to full fitness. Does he ride the hot hands of Gaudette or hope that Meara can recapture his promising form before the injury? The next few games will be huge in deciding who enters the postseason as the Red Bulls’ No. 1 goalie.

Aussie-some

It might not have been picture perfect, but Cahill will certainly enjoy his first goal as a New York Red Bull.

The former Everton midfielder equalized the match under controversial circumstances, striking a left-footed volley into an empty net after referee Jason Anno nearly blew the whistle for a handball in the box. The goal counted, despite the protests of the Timbers’ players and coaching staff.

While Cahill was glad to get on the scoresheet, he says he’s still coming to grips with the style and play of MLS, and came away disappointed with his own play. The frenetic pace and energy of Sunday’s match took its toll on the Australian international.

“For me, [Sunday] wasn’t the greatest night,” he said. “I probably come away from here a bit down. I know we can play a lot better football. It’s difficult because my first game would probably have been [with Everton Monday against Manchester United] … the pitch was heavy on the legs and it was just like a basketball match … not overly excited with the way we played, but happy with the result.”

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Is There Another Sean Avery In The NHL?

The thrill is gone; or maybe The Maven should say that the “chill” is gone.

Any way you look at it, the 2012-13 National Hockey League season won’t be the same without Sean Avery.

Call him Puck’s Bad Boy, call him The Great Gabbo; call him anything you want, but Avery appears to be sincere about retirement from The Game that has made him rich beyond reason and foes such as Martin Brodeur furious beyond all manner of stress tests.

Ah, but that means a void must be filled; The Avery Void.

Bettman, Inc. cannot function without ultimate bad guys. That’s why Ken Linseman was called “The Rat” and that’s why every Darius Kasparaitis hip check was called — by foes only — “an attempt to injure”.

What separated Avery from his Filthy McNasty colleagues was the indisputable fact that an addition to the NHL No-No Book was dubbed “The Avery Rule” and it followed Sean’s tete-a-tete during a playoff game against the New Jersey Devils.

Avery’s “Rain Dance” just outside Brodeur’s crease included some tomahawk-waving and a few other distractions that forever banned Sean from any invitations to Marty’s charity golf tournaments. Hence, “The Avery Rule.”

 

Can any other NHLer make a Sean Statement? Is there another Avery in the NHL?

Check out The Maven’s list and give me your feedback:

1. MATT COOKE: The league now has a rule against “blindside hits to the head.” Hence, The Matt Cooke Rule. Granted, he’ll never be another Avery since the Penguins marauder has no intentions of interning for Vogue Magazine, but there’s a lot of Sean in The Pain From Pittsburgh.

For one thing, his torpedoing of Marc Savard on March 7, 2010 not only concussed the Bruins’ ace right out of hockey, but simultaneously aroused the NHL militia into action. Remarkably, Cooke disdained the straight-and-narrow path and has five different suspensions on his resume to underline the point.

A hit from behind against Fedor Tyutin and a pile-driver elbow to Ryan McDonagh’s head eventually moved Cooke in the direction of reform. After some severe — as in “Cut That Out!” — counseling from the Penguins high command, Matty mellowed a bit in 2011-12. But, mind you, just a bit.

Can we expect Cooke to stay composed? Do leopards change their spots?

2. DANIEL CARCILLO: Who but this wild man from the Pampas deserves the handle “Dangerous” Dan? We know that mosquito-repellent works but, so far, NHL clubs have not devised an effective Carcillo-repellent. Now a veteran of no less than the Coyotes, Flyers and Blackhawks, Carcillo owns one of the best under-your-skin techniques and — like Avery — has a reasonable scoring touch.

This prototypical pest led the NHL in penalty minutes with 324 in 2008 and further emphasized why foes have to watch their back after he hit Tom Gilbert from behind in Jan. 2012 and was suitably suspended.

Teammates such as Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews are aware that off-the-wall characters like Carcillo also can be an effective distraction. That’s precisely why Tom Renney loved Avery when Sean played under the former Rangers coach in New York.

“Dan is physical,” says captain Toews deftly overlooking Carcillo’s less-bright side, “and creates energy for our team.”

In other words, there’s no Lady Byng Trophy in Dangerous Dan’s future; just a BANG — maybe in the head.

3. PATRICK KALETA: If anyone has proven that you can make mighty big bucks as a rambunctious, run-all-over-the-place kind of guy, this Buffalo boy has mastered the art. That explains why Sabres GM Darcy Regier “rewarded” Kaleta with a three-year deal and Buffalonians are waxing ecstatic that their boy still will be around — as he has been for six years.

Any doubts about Patrick’s sin-bin-ability are erased with the arithmetic. Over a span of 267 NHL games, he’s spent 434 minutes in hockey’s hoosegow. On top of that, he was suspended four games last season for head-butting Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek. Nether Zach Parise nor Tobias Enstrom are crazy about Kaleta either for similar bits of un-sociability.

The NHL’s warden, Brendan Shanahan, offered this appraisal of the occasionally sinister-Sabre: “This recent history of running his head into the face of opponents regardless of whether he is trying to free the puck leads us to believe that this act is intentional.”

Funny, a lot of others who play against Killer Kaleta second the motion. The Patrick, himself, reacts with the innocence of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Newman’s deathless comment, “What? Me worry?”

On the other hand, the witness for the defense — Kaleta, himself — must be heard. “I try to play a clean, hard-nosed game. A lot of people don’t like that.”

Sean Avery couldn’t have said it better.

4. ZAC RINALDO: Were it possible for any team to replace Carcillo with an even bigger pain in the you-know-what, you could be sure that the Flyers would do so; and they did. Just a flashback to Zac Rinaldo’s pedigree in Major Junior Hockey says it all. As a matter of fact, it says too much.

During a four-season run — 185 games — in the Ontario Hockey League, Rinaldo totaled 649 penalty minutes. But that’s just the tip of the ice-brawler. Promoted to Adirondack of the AHL, Zac had more suspensions (4) than goals (3) which hardly perturbed the Flyers’ general staff.

The prototypical Broad Street Bully has played 73 games for Philly which has been good — or bad, if you will — for 15 fighting majors and 90 minutes in misconducts.

Not surprisingly, Rinaldo already has made an impression on Shanahan’s staff which had the Flyer down for a two-game suspension as a result of a February head hit against Jonathan Ericsson of Detroit. Clearly, the 22-year-old has a future in Philly.

5. JORDIN TOOTOO: After eight seasons of being Nashville’s human bazooka, Tootoo got himself a deal in Detroit when Red Wings major domo Ken Holland realized that his Winged Wheelers had become too nicey-nice in a not-so-nice NHL world. After signing Tootoo, Holland made it clear that discomfort is what he wants Joltin’ Jordin to bring to his club’s 29 enemies.

“We’re stepping out of our comfort zone,” says Holland, who is completely aware that his new menacing man has already acquired 725 penalty minutes over 486 big-league games.

But unlike most of the above; Tootoo brings a reasonably effective offense along with his anger-inspiring play. During last season, he reached the 30-point mark for the first time in his career.

Avery would like this guy as well.

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Lin, Novak Await Bird Rights Fate

On his 29th birthday, Steve Novak was back in New York on Wednesday to attend the Bird Rights arbitration hearing between the NBA and the NBA Players Association. Novak will be directly impacted by the decision, as will the Knicks, who would love to have the ability to re-sign the NBA’s three-point shooting champ — not to mention young star Jeremy Lin — via Bird Rights.

After over three hours of arguments, the fate of Novak, Lin and the Knicks collective futures hangs on the decision that awaits from the arbitrator, Kenneth W. Dam. Consider this the first domino in what will be a very busy, very challenging offseason for general manager Glen Grunwald and company.

Novak, an active member of the NBPA, attended the meeting, but did not give testimony.

The players believe Bird Rights — which allow teams over the cap to re-sign their own players without the use of exceptions — should transfer with a player claimed on waivers just like they do in a trade. The language in the collective bargaining agreement suggests otherwise, but the union contends that there is enough ambiguity to challenge the rule.

The union, which was led by outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, the notoriously contentious negotiator for the NBPA during the recent NBA lockout, asked Dam to consider the difference between waivers and a trade. In both instances, a contract is transferred, so, the union says, the Bird Rights should go with both, as well.

The union official told us while the general belief is that the union’s chances at success in this argument are slim, he emerged from the hearing modestly optimistic. “I went from feeling like we had a 30 percent chance to now at least 50 percent,” the person said.

This is indeed a rare case, as generally most players claimed on waivers do not have the kind of value that would promote market competition as free agents.

Novak and Lin both had breakout seasons after the Knicks claimed each off waivers in December. Novak became the NBA’s leading three-point shooter and a key contributor off the bench for the Knicks, while Lin only turned into an international sensation and an incredible box office draw.

While questions abounded during Linsanity as to how the Knicks could retain the 23-year-old point guard, it was Novak’s agent, Mark Bartlestein, who got right to work about how his client’s value to the Knicks could be maximized. Bartlestein contacted the union and said Novak should be allowed to maintain his Bird Rights, because his contract was picked up on waivers by the Knicks.

Had he cleared waivers, his contract would have been bought out by the San Antonio Spurs, his former team, and then he would have had to sign a new deal to join the Knicks. But that didn’t happen, so, Bartlestein says, why would his Bird Rights’ clock restart when the contract continued?

This is the point the union believes gives them a compelling argument.

“Really,” the union official said, “I think we caught [Dam’s] attention.”

The NBA, led by general counsel Rich Buchanan, is strictly holding to the letter-of-the-law in regards to this situation and as evidenced during the CBA negotiations, they prefer to limit Bird Rights to strictly trades and not waivers, too.

Commissioner David Stern said in his pre-Finals address on Tuesday that he expects the ruling will be “in favor of the view espoused not just by the league, but the clear language in the agreement.”

Stern also said he expected the decision to come “relatively fast,” but Dam did not make any promises. Both sides made him aware that free agency is looming July 1 and it was important for the players and their teams, especially, in this case, the Knicks, to have a result before then.

If Dam rules in favor of the spirit of the Bird Rights rule regarding trades, it would be a major win for not just Lin and Novak, but also for the Knicks. In this specific case, a ruling in favor of the union would give Novak and Lin “Early Bird Rights,” which come after two years under contract. Early Bird Rights allow a team to pay its own player as much as the league average in the first year.

That would also allow the Knicks to re-sign both players and still have the use of their Mid-Level Exception ($5M) and Bi-Annual Exception ($1.9M) to improve the roster in other areas.

If not, Novak could be lost to a higher bidder and most or all of the MLE would have to be used to match any offer sheets that Lin, a restricted free agent, signs with another team. Other teams can offer Lin as much as the league average in the first season.

Dam has handled arbitration before between the NBA and the union, with several CBA-related matters from 1996-2001. Coincidentally, Dam had a decision that impacted the Knicks in 1997, when he ruled that a trade between the Knicks and Trail Blazers for center Chris Dudley was not an attempt to circumvent the salary cap. The NBA initially voided a trade that sent John Wallace to Toronto for a first-round pick that was then flipped to Portland for Dudley. The union brought the matter to arbitration and Dam said the deal was valid.

The union — and, privately, the Knicks — would love to see a similar result.

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U.S. Maintains Gold Standard

Mike Krzyzewski’s pregame speech didn’t need to echo the heart-pumping intensity of Herb Brooks from 1980’s Miracle on Ice. The shower of motivation didn’t have to come from words, but from the completion of a mission that he and the core group of USA Basketball, which included architect Jerry Colangelo, the world’s most complete player in LeBron James and an elite unit of snipers led by Carmelo Anthony, who came together after the embarrassment in Athens and set forth to not only put this country back on the pedestal as the greatest basketball nation in the world, but also establish the U.S. again as the game’s standard-setter.

This was no longer about competing with the 1992 Dream Team in the hypothetical debate for greatest team of all time, but more about getting back to maintaining the job that team started 20 years ago. Fittingly, their second gold medal, the fifth in six Olympics since Michael, Magic and Larry ascended from the medal stand in Barcelona, came against Spain in a 107-100 win in London.

There was Coach K, with no need to remind anyone of the enormity of the task at hand, instead instilling the confidence in achieving what the world expected.

“You are going to hear the National Anthem twice,” he told them. “Once before the game and once after.

“And I guarantee,” he then added, “you are going to feel chills the second time.”

Tyson Chandler stood on the podium and felt Krzyzewski’s prophetic words come to life.

 “As I was standing up there, it literally felt as if somebody was pouring a warm glass of water from the top of my head to my feet,” Chandler said. “I just got chills and goose bumps.”

Carmelo hooted into the air and grabbed an American flag, which he draped around his back and displayed to the world. It was his 67th game playing for USA Basketball on the international level. Though he didn’t have a big scoring performance in the gold medal game (eight points, five rebounds and three assists in 21 foul-plagued minutes), he had another strong Olympic tournament, as he finished second on the team with 16.3 points per game.

He returns to New York with six weeks to go before training camp opens with Knicks fans hoping to see more of the player he was for USA Basketball – accepting a role within the system rather than relying on isolation, playing hard on both ends of the floor and, of course, explosive scoring – when the 2012-13 Knicks take the court. There were reports he was dealing with a sore hamstring late in Olympic play and in the latter stages of the gold medal game, he grabbed his leg and limped a bit, which set off some alarms. But asked afterward how he felt, Melo, with his second gold medal around his neck, was feeling no pain at all.

“I’m in a great place,” he said.

PROUD OR UNIMPRESSED?

Chris Paul described a bittersweetness that set in after winning the gold, because the same guys he played with now go back to being opponents in the NBA. And one issue that came up during these Games, especially after the record-setting 83-point win over Nigeria, was how some U.S.-based fans were turned off by this star-laden team.

Some found it difficult to root for players who were otherwise despised as rivals. Were Cavaliers fans cheering for LeBron? Were Nuggets fans happy for Melo? How did Lakers fans feel about Kobe and Kevin Durant being so chummy? Or Clippers fans feel about Chris Paul and Kobe working so well together? Nets fans had Deron Williams and Melo high-fiving. And Knicks fans had to be so conflicted about respecting just how important LeBron James was to this team’s success and bringing it all together.

But others just can’t accept the idea of professional athletes competing in the Olympics. Nigeria didn’t have a single NBA player and there is a sanctimonious side in some fans who after that game wanted to see the U.S. lose. Imagine that: Rooting against your own country.

That emotion could be understandable in 2004, when that team was so very difficult to like, let alone root for with national pride. There was a reason why Colangelo stepped in and USA Basketball overhauled everything about the program.

But the group that went to Beijing to make it all right again earned the title of Redeem Team because that’s what it did. This group in London earned its own title and it’s much simpler: Team. Considering the bouquet of superstars on this roster, the larger-than-life egos that exist for players of this magnitude, their accomplishments and, not to mention their massive bank accounts, the greatest example this team set was how a team of great individual talent can come together and have success. Let’s hope that comes back with them from London and becomes the new standard on the AAU Basketball circuit.

“I think we proved to the world that we are not just a bunch of individuals, we are a basketball team,” Chandler said. “We fought; we fought hard, and we were able to get the gold.”

Melo added, “For us to persevere the way we did, it’s just a special moment for myself, for the guys that were on this team, for all the work that we put in and the commitment that we made to get where we are right now.”

And for anyone who wants to promote the idea that these players didn’t care about representing their country or being part of the Olympic spirit, you must have missed how often the players, LeBron, Kobe, Melo and all, attended other events at the Games. It was something they started in Beijing and followed up on in London. Were there a host of swimmers and track stars at the gold medal game to cheer on the U.S.?

“There’s nothing like playing in the Olympics,” Paul said. “There’s nothing like representing your country. I’ve played a lot of basketball, just like these other guys, we’ve played a lot of basketball over our careers, but nothing compares to this for this level and for these stakes.”

Ultimately, yes, the allure of playing in the Olympics includes the lust for competition that exists in these players. You don’t get the status of being the world’s best without having an intense competitive gene. It also exists in Spain – how about the game Pau Gasol had? – and Argentina and Lithuania and it’s growing quickly in Russia, where David Blatt has helped resurrect basketball in that country.

In 2004, those other countries did not have more individual talent, but they had a much greater will, a much greater competitive spirit and a much greater respect and understanding of the importance for team play and accepting roles. LeBron and Melo had a front seat to it as young players on that team in Athens. Years later, there’s LeBron, who statistically was nowhere on the Olympic leaderboard in most categories as he is in the NBA, but who proved to be the most important player the team had. There was Melo, who accepted a move to the bench to give way to a younger scorer, Kevin Durant, who played a role Melo might have argued he could have filled. Instead, he became a lethal Sixth Man.

“Everybody on this team is a star on their own team, a star in the league,” said Chandler, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year who was the starting center and yet played less than 12 minutes a game despite the U.S. having issues with interior defense. “But to come here and everybody buying into the team and accepting their roles has been the most amazing thing to watch.”

These are the examples that had to be set and the attitude permeated within the organization. This is the standard of play that must have have the great Red Holzman giddy in basketball heaven. This had to be what Colangelo and Krzyzewski envisioned when they rebuilt USA Basketball from the ground up on a foundation of this generation’s top players.

“I think between me, Coach K, CP and Melo, we’ve been through it all,” LeBron said. “We were part of the whole rebuilding of the USA team trying to get back to where it was before. I was a part of it in ’04 with me and Melo and that was the lowest point for the USA team. Then Coach K and Jerry took over and then we lost the World Championship in ’06.

“But we made that three-year commitment in ’05 and we just tried to keep getting better each and every summer,” LeBron continued. “We were able to win the Worlds in Las Vegas. We were able to win gold in ’08 and that was a big step for us and four years later, being put in this position once again, we kind of all share the same traits. It’s been a long road for USA Basketball and like I said, I am happy to be in a position where I can say I had something to do with us being back on top.”

RIO REDUX?

Kobe Bryant was visibly emotional – a rarity for him – in the closing moments of the gold medal win as he knew it marked the end of his international career. Melo, as we outlined in the previous Fix, entered the game considering the potential that he, too, may be playing in his final game for USA Basketball. But afterward, the 28-year-old sounded like he wanted in on playing in Rio in 2016.

“I’m still young,” he said.

Though there was some talk about the NBA pushing FIBA to make a 23-and-under rule similar to soccer for the Olympics, it’s at this point only an idea and nothing that would be implemented in time for 2016. So at 32, Melo certainly could make it a fourth Olympic appearance, which is unprecedented in U.S. men’s basketball.

But aside from the younger players, such as rookie Anthony Davis, no one else was ready to talk about making that kind of commitment again.

“I have no idea,” LeBron said of playing in Rio and joining Melo as the only four-time Olympians in U.S. men’s basketball history. “I’m not even thinking about that right now.”

ENRAGED PRIGIONI MISSES MEDAL

Argentina lost a hotly contested battle with an up-and-coming Russian team, 81-77, in the bronze medal game. Knicks guard Pablo Prigioni had three points, seven assists and three steals and chased down a loose ball on the sidelines after a miss by Andres Nocioni in the closing seconds with Argentina trailing 79-77 with nine seconds left.

Typical of international play, there was a lot of contact as players scrambled for the ball and it was knocked away from Prigioni, who temporarily had possession, and went to Russia’s Alexei Shved, who fed Vitaliy Fridzon for a layup to seal Russia’s first Olympic medal in men’s basketball since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Prigioni was incensed with the officials, which included NBA referee Bill Kennedy, for not calling a foul on the play. The generally mild-mannered veteran roared at the referees and kicked a clock off the scorer’s table as the game ended. Prigioni won the bronze medal with his close friend Manu Ginobili and Argentina in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but this time the Argentines left medal-less, which was difficult for this proud group to accept.

“The pain and sadness I feel I don’t wish on anyone!” Prigioni wrote on his Twitter account (in Spanish). “I’d prefer 10 kidney stones!”

Prigioni missed two games in pool play because of kidney stones. For anyone who has ever experienced it, you can understand the level of Prigioni’s emotions.

Prigioni, 35, a former Spanish Supercup MVP, gave us a glimpse of what he can bring to the Knicks this season, as he led Olympic play with 6.5 assists per game and was fourth in steals at 1.8 per game. Though Ginobili mostly dominated the ball on offense, Prigioni, in 27:57 minutes per game, kept his turnovers to a minimum at 2.16 per game.

He held his own in one-on-one defense, but struggled getting through screens and often went under, which allowed players such as Shved the room to shoot from the outside.

Speaking of shooting, Prigioni is a pass-first point guard for a reason. He made just 34.7 percent of his field goals in the tournament, including a frigid 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) from that short three-point line. With Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd on the roster, Prigioni’s role remains to be seen inMike Woodson’s rotation. But for insurance at the point guard spot, he appears to be a good piece at a minimum cost.

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One Step Closer to Gold

Carmelo Anthony has worn a USA Basketball uniform seven times in the last 11 years and when he takes the court Sunday at North Greenwich Arena in London in the gold-medal game against Spain, his 67th in red, white and blue, he faces a reality that it could be his last.

“This experience has been great,” Melo said after the 109-83 win over Argentina in the semifinal on Friday. “You never know what could happen after this. It might be our last one, for some of us, you don’t know. We just wanted to enjoy this experience and anytime you can win and enjoy it at the same time it is double the pleasure.”

NBA commissioner David Stern has been championing the idea of an age limit for NBA players in the Olympic Games. When the next Games come around in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Anthony will be 32 years old.

According to a report by SI.com’s Ian Thomsen, Stern’s plan won’t likely be in place by 2016 because there isn’t enough time to implement such a dramatic regulation, which the sport’s international governing body, FIBA, would also have to agree to, along with, of course, the International Olympic Committee.

So technically, Melo and his fellow stars, such as LeBron JamesChris Paul and Kevin Durant, will be eligible to play in Rio. For Melo and LeBron, it would be a chance for an unprecedented fourth medal.

International basketball genuinely appeals to Anthony, who has had yet another successful experience at the Olympics, where his versatility at both forward positions (and occasionally at center) allows him to thrive as a scorer. He had 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting, along with six rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes of the win over Argentina. He drilled 4 of 8 from that international three-point line, which is more like a mid-range jumper in NBA standards to add to his U.S. record with 37 career three-pointers.

With a 17.4 points per game average, Anthony enters the gold-medal game 23 points from setting a new U.S. men’s basketball mark for points in a single Olympic Games, which is currently owned by Spencer Haywood (145 in the ’68 Games in Mexico City).

Considering the scoring talent on this team, Melo’s offense has been ridiculously efficient. He’s averaging 17.4 points in 17:22 minutes per game. According to ESPN Stats, he is scoring an amazing 48.2 points per 48 minutes (an NBA regulation game) in Olympic play. His highest average per 48 minutes over his NBA career is 36.3.

Durant leads the team with 18 points per game and he’s doing that at a torrid pace as well in 24:23 minutes per game.

“We’ve got guys on this team that can get blistering hot,” said Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 11.4 points in 16 minutes per game. “They get hot quick. Me, KD and Melo knocked down two shots each and all of a sudden the floodgates opened. It feels like we can’t miss and it just seems like it happens instantaneously.”

With so much firepower, there is less pressure on an individual to carry the scoring load like you will see during the NBA season. But there is also far more trust on a star-laden team and that promotes unselfish play and a willingness to make an extra pass rather than force up a shot. It promotes accountability to move the ball, play off the ball and play within a system rather than focus on isolation and taking on the responsibility to carry the scoring load.

That, more than the red-hot shooting from downtown, has been the most prominent element of Melo’s game in the Olympics. Ironically, he has still been an incredibly volatile scorer while willingly maintaining a role player’s mentality.

“Anybody on this team can get going at any point and that is the fun and dangerous part of this team,” Anthony said. “You never know who is going to get it going. Kobe started it, then Durant played extremely well and I got hot out there, too. You never know what is going to happen with the scoring.”

But this is Team Utopia. There are no salaries listed here and players aren’t compared by statistics. LeBron has been the most dominant player in these Games and yet his numbers (12.4 points, 5.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds) don’t leap off the page. But that’s exactly what is so appealing about this team: it’s been about the game, not the player. It’s been about individual moments, but not individuals.

Will this experience be exactly what Melo needed to understand how he can make it work withAmar’e Stoudemire in New York? Can he carry the same mindset into training camp?

REDEEM TEAM REMATCH

The U.S.-Spain finale, a rematch of the 2008 gold medal game, a 118-107 win for the U.S., was expected.

“Everyone has said that this is the game they want to see,” LeBron said. “So we look forward to it.”

The U.S. is looking to clinch a second straight gold and push the disdainful bronze medal effort in the ’04 Games in Athens further into the past.

“Anything less than this would not have been satisfying,” Melo said of winning gold. “We believed that we can get there and we are here now and we have one game left.”

LeBron and Melo are looking to join David Robinson as the only men’s players in U.S. Olympic history to win three medals. But neither one of them give that bronze a single thought.

FIXINS

• Pablo Prigioni went scoreless in the game for Argentina as he did not attempt a single shot in 20 minutes. He did record six assists and two turnovers with a rebound and a steal and came away with an appreciation for Melo’s ability to heat up quickly. “I hope he shoots like this during the whole season,” Prigioni said.

• Tyson Chandler once again played a limited role as the starting center, with four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.

• The Dwight Howard-to-Lakers deal went down before the game and in many ways it overshadowed the semifinal. Afterward, several players talked about the blockbuster deal and its impact on the NBA this coming season. Durant, whose Thunder team now has a serious contender to deal with, wasn’t interested. LeBron also passed. But Melo, who may be relieved Howard didn’t land in Brooklyn, seemed happy. “It makes the NBA that much more fun, that much more exciting,” he said. “I can’t wait to see them on Christmas.” The Knicks play at L.A. on Christmas Day, but Howard, who is still recovering from back surgery, may not be in the lineup by then.

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P.A. Who? And Six Locals To Keep An Eye On In 2012-13

@StanFischler

WHY P.A. PARENTEAU WILL BE QUICKLY FORGOTTEN IN NASSAU

As a player and as a person, P.A. Parenteau was a delight to be around.

Ever-smiling, he made himself available to the media, win or lose. On the ice, he proved to be one of those out-of-nowhere success stories; literally rags to riches; the recent riches — alias moolah — being provided by Colorado.

But there should be no mourning among Islanders fans about P.A. skipping Uniondale for Denver. Brad Boyes may not look like Parenteau, nor skate like P.A. but this much is certain; the newly-acquired Islander owns plenty of talent. This has been amply demonstrated by his excellent set of hands. With John Tavares ladling the passes, Boyes will surpass the 30-goal mark this season and by Christmas should be ahead of Parenteau in the goal-scoring department.

Then again, Michael Grabner could work on the first (Tavares) line with Boyes lighting the lamp on the second unit. The Maven was a big Parenteau fan but, as they say, Boyes will be Boyes!

FROM BACK-UPS TO FRONT-AND-CENTER; CAN THEY DO IT?

Now that Tim Thomas is AWOL from the Bruins net and Roberto Luongo wants to become a Canucks expatriate, we have to wonder how well their respective back-ups will perform once Tuukka Rask and Cory Schneider move front and center between the pipes for Boston and Vancouver.

While you’re at it, throw Braden Holtby into the “Can They” mix because Washington’s back-up-to-the-back-up performed so well under playoff pressure that he’s now Top Banana with the Capitals. On the one hand, it would seem that Rask, Schneider and Holtby have it made but hold up a minute, Charlie. None of the trio has proven that they can avoid being vulcanized over the long haul.

Rask’s middle name is “Potential.” Trouble is, it never has been realized and may never be. Apart from playing the Invisible Man at the White House, Thomas remains beloved to Beantowners because his feisty, blue-collar kind of goaltending is a turn-on. Until the Finicky Finn proves otherwise, Rask will remain a turn-off on Causeway Street.

If anyone of the trio has the goods it’s Schneider. Vancouver fans have had it up to HERE with Luongo’s mastery of non-clutch netminding. By contrast, they believe that Schneider from the shores of Marblehead, Mass. has the goods. Wishing won’t make it so; which means that Cory has to show us before we’ll be convinced that he’s THE MAN.

Watching Holtby against the Rangers during the second playoff round, The Maven has doubts that The Kid From Saskatchewan is anything more than a one-hit wonder. He looked mediocre in Games Five and Seven when it counted most and, ultimately, went out more a neat Springtime in D.C. story than a nifty stopper.

LETTERS

Nestled comfortably behind his computer in Long Island, reader Daniel Friedman tells me that he’s already lined up what he labels “Four Breakout Candidates for 2012-2013.”

They are (alphabetically) Sven Baertschi of Calgary, Mikkel Boedker of Phoenix, Kyle Turris of Ottawa and Colin Wilson of Nashville.

The Maven saw Baertschi in person when Sven was skating for the Portland Winterhawks last Winter. On the night I was there he scored four goals and looked every bit like an NHLer. I predict that Baertschi will win the Calder Trophy as finest freshman next season.

Boedker, who had a super playoff run with the Coyotes, strikes me as a flash in the pan. By contrast, I was impressed with Turris in the opening Rangers-Senators playoff round. I agree with Friedman who writes, “Turris was rejuvenated by the trade to Ottawa. All he needed was a fresh start.”

We’re also on the same page regarding Wilson who looms as the next Nashville star-in-the-making. “He has the talent to emerge as an impact player for the Preds,” says Friedman. Certainly Barry Trotz’s sextet could use all the scoring it can get to supplement the likes of Mike Fisher and David Legwand.

NHL VS. NHLPA

The real meat of negotiations led by Gary Bettman on the NHL side and Donald Fehr repping the union is just now getting serious. Economic issues will be the order of the day as talks alternate weekly between the league office on Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue and the Players’ Association headquarters in Toronto.

With training camps slated to open on September 16 and the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring a day earlier, it’s baffling that the union failed to communicate its financial needs to the league so long after the playoffs.

In fact, the union very well could have begun requesting material from Bettman, Inc. as early as the conclusion of the All-Star Week, which originally seemed the plan.

Was this delay necessary? Or, was it a strategic negotiating maneuver?

Another question: when will superstars such as Sidney Crosby, Steve Stamkos, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick, et. al.  be represented among players who regularly attend the CBA meetings? At a recent union-owners conference, the likes of Kevin Westgarth (Kings), George Parros (Panthers) and Craig Adams (Penguins) were among the NHLPA card-holders repping for the union. No doubt they’re all worthy but it would be heartening to see some marquee names there as well.

SIX LOCALS WHO’LL BE UNDER MY MICROSCOPE

The 2011-2012 NHL season was invigorating for a sextet of locals who now have something more to prove; that last year was no fluke.

In each case David Clarkson, Ryan McDonagh, Travis Hamonic, Bryce Salvador, Evgeni Nabokov and Michael Del Zotto elevated their games at least a notch or three. Ah, but the question; can they do it again. The Maven offers these views:

• CLARKSON: With Zach Parise now somewhere in the Wild, Dauntless Dave must come up with another 30-goal year. Since he loves his coach and Peter DeBoer is fond of Clarkson; 30- plus red lights will happen.

• MCDONAGH: This Over-The-Rainbow story is not fiction. I expect Ryan to seriously compete for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best backliner.

• HAMONIC: He’s not the Islanders captain but the kid-who’s-no-kid-anymore is one of several leaders among the Nassaumen. Travis will ripen a la McDonagh.

• SALVADOR: The prototype “warrior,” Bryce is a top candidate to fill Parise’s captaincy. He’s super-motivated and has gained even more confidence after a super playoff run.

• NABOKOV: At first hesitant about coming to the Island, Nabby was an MVP for Jack Capuano. Question will be how many games in which he can star; also who’ll be backup?

• DEL ZOTTO: After an impressive rookie year, handsome Michael egregiously slipped. Paying attention to John Tortorella turned DZ into a 2011-2012 asset. If he keeps listening to Torts, the sky is the limit.

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