Updated: January 11, 2010, 4:29 PM ET

Crease dilemmas, CuJo's last stand

Burnside By Scott Burnside

1. Long Island drama

Never mind the dilemma of Martin Biron being the odd man out on Long Island now that prodigal netminder Rick DiPietro is back. That was a given. (At some point, Biron will find a landing place, although with Michael Leighton's strong play in Philadelphia and Jimmy Howard's stellar work in Detroit, the market for Biron may not exactly be robust.)

The real story on Long Island is what happens to Dwayne Roloson. The veteran has provided the kind of consistency in goal the young Islanders lacked last season and is one of the main reasons the Isles were shockingly two points out of the final playoff spot in the East with a game in hand (through Sunday's games).

If DiPietro is handed starts because he signed the world's wackiest contract, we wonder what will happen to what appears to be good dressing-room chemistry. It is a difficult challenge for Islanders coach Scott Gordon, who must expect a certain amount of rust from DiPietro (he started his first game in more than a year last week). But at what cost? A playoff spot?

We must admit, we have never been overly impressed with DiPietro, even when healthy. Roloson, on the other hand, is doing here what he did in Edmonton before signing with the Isles as a free agent in the offseason: keep his overmatched team in most every game. Stay tuned.

2. More net dilemmas

Very interesting situation shaping up in net for the Washington Capitals, especially come playoff time.

With starter Semyon Varlamov still on the shelf with a lower-body injury at least until the end of the week, fellow rookie Michal Neuvirth is making a strong case for himself as an NHL netminder.

Neuvirth was the MVP of the AHL playoffs last season with a .932 save percentage and 1.92 goals-against average. He is 5-2-0 in his past seven appearances for the Caps and has given up more than two goals just once over that stretch.

Against Atlanta on Saturday night, an important test according to coach Bruce Boudreau, Neuvirth turned aside 18 first-period shots to help the Caps built a 3-0 lead en route to an 8-1 pounding of the Thrashers.

Let's say Varlamov (12-1-2, .924 save percentage, 2.21 GAA) recovers from his injury and returns to form, what does GM George McPhee do with veteran Jose Theodore? Theodore has endured an up-and-down season (more down than up, actually), and given the fact he was yanked after the first game of last season's first-round series against the New York Rangers, it's fair to say the confidence level is not high with Theodore between the pipes.

This is a Caps team that has all the tools to make a long playoff run, but it does not appear Theodore figures into the equation, short term or long term (he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will almost certainly not be re-signed by the Caps).

"We know [Neuvirth] can stand the pressure because he was the MVP of the playoffs in the American League last year and they won and he played in seven-game series and all, so I'm not worried about the pressure," Boudreau said. "But it's too early for me to comment on that [Neuvirth's potential playoff participation] because he's probably going to get probably another five to 10 games in, and maybe even more before that situation has to happen or before the trade deadline has to happen, where you have to make a decision -- can we use him, or is Theo back where we want him to be where we can use him? So we'll see."

Does McPhee try to trade Theodore or send him to the minors and go with two 21-year-old kids who have played a total of 13 NHL postseason games between them (all played by Varlamov)? Or does McPhee look to a veteran like Marty Turco or Martin Biron to provide some insurance in net? Interesting times ahead, to be sure.

3. "I'm not that kind of guy"

Speaking of the Caps, were you wondering if Alex Ovechkin was honing up on his "Win one for the Gipper" speeches now that he's wearing the captain's "C"? Uh, no.

Since being made captain by the Caps after Chris Clark was dealt to Columbus, Ovechkin said he hasn't been providing any emotional talks in his new role. If something happens, "You just do something," he told reporters recently.

Has he given any speeches so far?

"No, I'm not the kind of guy that gives lots of speeches or something like that," Ovechkin said.

He insisted he's not shy (you don't say?) and will speak up if the situation requires.

"If I need something to say, I'm going to say it," said Ovechkin, who was previously the captain of Team Russia at the World Junior Championship. "If something happens, if we [are] going to have a losing streak or something like that, if we're going to have a bad game, of course I'm going to say something.

"But it's not going to be like a long speech or something like a 25-minute meeting with my teammates."

Boudreau said he's seen no change in his star scorer since he was named captain.

"His personality is that nothing bothers him, nothing fazes him," Boudreau said. "This is not a situation, 'Oh my god, I've got to do a lot of things different.' I've told him I just want him to be him. He's our leader on the ice; we've got other guys to take care of stuff off the ice. Like Chris Clark, his wife was in charge of the wives and he was in charge in any gatherings. Alex is not doing that stuff, not doing it because we've appointed somebody else to do it.

"All he has to do is lead by example on the ice. We're not asking anything out of the ordinary."

4. You won't trade Carter? Really?

Fair enough for GM Paul Holmgren to tell our good friend Pierre LeBrun he will not be trading forward Jeff Carter.

But how in good conscience can he say that if he has a shot at landing Ilya Kovalchuk if the Atlanta sniper cannot come to terms on a long-term extension with the Thrashers?

Holmgren tipped his hand by selling off a significant chunk of the team's future in acquiring Chris Pronger at this past June's draft to anchor the blue line in the hopes of vanquishing the Pittsburgh Penguins at some point this spring. It is damn the torpedoes for the Flyers, even though they spun their wheels for much of the first half of the season.

Why stop halfway? The Flyers are going to be a playoff team, and if it costs Carter, a first-round pick and a prospect to acquire Kovalchuk, even as a rental, why would Holmgren hesitate? We're not saying it's a fait accompli that Holmgren could swing such a deal (Atlanta GM Don Waddell is going to ask for the moon, as he should), but Kovalchuk is a rare talent, and the Flyers have already indicated this is a go-for-broke season.

In announcing Carter will not be traded, Holmgren sets himself up to miss out on Kovalchuk or prove his word to be meaningless. Either way, it's not a great situation for the Flyers.

5. CuJo calling it quits

One of the NHL's good guys will formally hang 'em up Tuesday, as Curtis Joseph is set to announce his retirement in Toronto. We recall the first year after the lockout, when Joseph signed in Phoenix to play for Wayne Gretzky and had played well enough to earn consideration for a berth on the 2006 Canadian Olympic team.

But with all due respect to Joseph and Mr. LeBrun, who wrote that he believes Joseph is a Hall of Famer, the problem with Joseph is he teased you with long bursts of superlative play but never quite got the job done in the crunch over the course of his career.

He helped St. Louis and Edmonton win playoff series they had no business winning back in the day, but never once played in a Stanley Cup finals series. He had the starting job for Canada at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and was replaced one game in by Martin Brodeur, who led Canada to gold. Joseph was the man twice in Toronto when the Leafs advanced to Eastern Conference finals in 1999 and 2002, but couldn't lead his team over Buffalo and Carolina (two teams that were there for the taking).

One of the true gentlemen of the game, Joseph will finish with the fourth-highest wins total (454) in NHL history behind only Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Those are incredible numbers that speak to a great career, just not a Hall of Fame career.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?