Rangers' Lundqvist is my top rookie

First Period -- Start Spreading the News

Outside of shrinking to the size of a sunflower seed so I could curl up into one of the crevices of Natalie Portman's furrowed brows, I enjoy life most when I'm lost in a song. In particular, a song that has to be played every time I get in the car. Twice. Immediately when get in the car and again some time before I get to work.

Right now, that song is "Marching Bands of Manhattan" by Death Cab for Cutie.

"Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound
But while you debate half empty or half full
It slowly rises, your love is gonna drown"

Why are so many songs either written about or refer to New York City? Well, NYC is a place people either love or despise. Personally, I love it. Also, it's better business to have a New York City reference in your song than a Bascom, Ohio, reference (population 280). Eight million people live in the Big Apple. If one out of every eight New Yorkers buys your CD, you've got a platinum record, Sparky.

Death Cab for Cutie is not for everyone. They are a word-intensive band with a lead singer, Ben Gibbard, who sounds a little like Al "Year of the Cat, Time Passages" Stewart without the English accent. So, find "Time Passages" and "Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart. Then, buy Death Cab for Cutie's "Plans" CD and reread the second sentence in this paragraph.

Why am I getting into all of this? It's my way of saying that if I was a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (I'm not) and had a vote for Rookie of the Year (I don't), my vote would go New York resident Henrik Lundqvist.

When I first heard the opening line to "Marching Bands of Manhattan," my mind immediately went to the 23-year-old Swedish goaltender. As I type this, Lundqvist is 12-4. His 2.07 goals-against average is third in the NHL. His .928 save percentage is tied for fourth. Most important, he has given the Rangers competence at the back end. You don't win in the NHL with good goaltending, you win with great goaltending. And Lundy has been great. Great in regulation, great in overtime, great in shootouts. He has changed the entire feel of the Rangers. Jaromir Jagr is the league MVP right now and a big reason for the Rangers' success. Still, Lundqvist's play has changed the entire aura of the Rangers, and for that, he should be the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Besides poor personnel decisions that have included some coaching hires, a big reason why the Rangers have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons is poor goaltending. Mike Richter was physically beaten up at the end of his career and was no longer an elite goaltender. Then followed a string of average goaltenders. Lundqvist has changed that.

"If I could open my mouth
Wide enough for a marching band to march out
They would make your name sing
And bend through alleys and bounce off all the buildings."

Second Period -- Born in the USA

The deadline for teams to submit their final Olympic rosters is Dec. 22, but the United States will announce its final list of 23 players on Dec. 19. If I were Team USA GM Don Waddell, these would be my four lines:


Mike Modano-Brian Gionta-Chris Drury

Craig Conroy-Brian Rolston-Dustin Brown
Doug Weight-Keith Tkachuk-Mike Knuble
Scott Gomez-Erik Cole-Jason Blake


Brian Rafalski-Mathieu Schneider
Bret Hedican-John-Michael Liles
Jordan Leopold-Aaron Miller


Rick DiPietro
John Grahame
Robert Esche

Extra skaters

Ryan Kesler
Paul Mara

Team USA is in the middle of a transition period. It has a lot of very good, young players, but too young for these Olympics. The U.S. will be fortunate to medal in 2006. In 2010, they will be among the favorites for gold.

Third Period -- It's a Canadian Game

Team Canada is the defending Olympic gold medalist. Executive director Wayne Gretzky is again in charge and the same coaching staff is in place. It's only natural that they will bring back as many players from 2002 as talent will allow. If I was Team Canada executive director, I would immediately resign to spend more time with Janet Gretzky. If I had to pick a team …


Joe Thornton-Jarome Iginla-Simon Gagne
Vincent Lecavalier-Brad Richards-Martin St. Louis
Joe Sakic-Dany Heatley-Patrick Marleau
Sidney Crosby-Paul Kariya-Ryan Smyth


Wade Redden-Scott Niedermayer
Rob Blake-Ed Jovanovski
Dion Phaneuf-Robyn Regehr


Martin Brodeur
Marty Turco
Curtis Joseph

Extra skaters

Rick Nash
Dan Boyle

I would love to see Crosby and Kariya play on together and I would have Kariya around for shootout purposes. My top five Canadian shootout shooters: Lecavalier, Kariya, Crosby, Heatley and Gagne.

I'd love to get John Madden on this team for late game faceoffs and penalty kills. Patrick Marleau has sick talent that shouldn't be overlooked. I like Dan Boyle's right-handed shot on the power play. But there is so much talent to choose from. That's why Team Canada is the favorite to win gold again in Turin.

Mother of All Mailbags


The Pens are killing me. Honestly. Killing me. I never thought they'd be so bad. Is this season a lost cause?

Slippery Rock, Pa.

It is a lost cause in terms of the Penguins making the playoffs. As you know, I never thought they were a playoff team before the season. I thought they were too young (Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney), too old (Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Mario Lemieux) and too soft (Sergei Gonchar, Zigmund Palffy.) The best thing to happen would be to get another top three draft pick and keep stockpiling elite, young players.

Last week I mentioned how I always dreamed that former NHL defenseman Bruce Driver would wear No. 8 so his sweater would be Driver 8, after the REM song. I asked for more and you responded:


Very few things in life make me angry. One of those things is the fact that Mike Commodore does not wear No. 64. I don't know why this is. Maybe he doesn't own a computer.

Mike Ambinder
Champaign, Ill.


Milan Kraft -- Kraft 1. Cheese.
Eric Brewer -- Brewer 21. Beer.
Alex Henry -- Henry 8. The king.
Garth Snow -- Snow 32. Temperature for snowfall.
Garth Snow -- Snow 0. Same as above, but for our Canadian friends.
Jordan Tootoo -- Tootoo 22. No explanation required.

Had fun with this,
Matt, N.Y.


I know there will only be one No. 66 in NHL history, but it might be fun if Ottawa's Chris Phillips got to wear it just once. He could then be known as the Gas Man for the rest of his career.



Just realized. Scottie Upshall is No. 7 … 7-Up(shall).

Rik Wahlrab


Brenden Morrow could wear No. 2 and be 2 Morrow.

Brad Touchette,
St. Louis


I think the Wings should trade Jamie Rivers to Pittsburgh and give him No. 3. (Three Rivers? Eh?)

Bennett Campbell
Raleigh, N.C.


Finally, just found out that we have a baby on the way, due in the offseason! I have been waiting two years to send this e-mail, so any name suggestions would be gladly appreciated!

Keep up the great work, and say hi to Ken and Podes,
Mike Kuzma, Philadelphia

Kelly Lynn Kuzma
Clayton Montgomery Kuzma

Hockey fact: The first 50-goal scorer in NHL history was Maurice Richard in 1945. The next 50-goal season didn't come until 16 years later in 1961, when Boom Boom Geoffrion scored 50 for Montreal. That was the only year Geoffrion scored 50. In fact, Geoffrion never even scored 40 or more in a season other than his 50-goal year. His top five goal-scoring seasons were 50, 38, 30, 30, 29.


I am a Chicago Blackhawks fan and have been since I was a kid living in Chicago. The only information I get is from the local Chicago papers and the Web site, and every now and then a snippet on hockey Web sites. I am enthused, but not excited about their progress. Any progress is better than what we've had for a while. I would like your take on some of the young players they have. Trent Yawney has coached a lot of these guys for the last couple of years at Norfolk and now he has them at the NHL level.

Will Hornburg

I like the direction of the Blackhawks. When I've seen them play this year, they have played hard and are organized. Goal scoring is an issue and they've spent a lot of time in the penalty box. They won't make the playoffs this year, as expected, but I think for the first time in a long time, Blackhawks fans have hope that they will slowly rise into a competitive team.


I don't know if anybody told you that the Swedish Elite league is creating a new
award for the best goalscorer and they're naming it Hakan Loob Trophy!

Kristoffer Vidmo, Stockholm

Now I can die in peace.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.