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Pass The Egg Nog And Let's Talk Hockey

Monday, 23.12.2002 / 12:00 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
John Iaboni has been covering the Maple Leafs and the NHL for nearly 30 years. For the last 11 years, he has been the managing editor of the team's game day magazine and now you can share his exclusive inside access.

The National Hockey League takes a break from its regular-season schedule allowing players and staff at head office and across its 30 franchises to spend the holiday season with family and friends.

Hockey talk, however, will remain very much in action. No doubt praise, criticisms, observations and, yes, even arguments will ensue around dinner tables everywhere as the 2002-03 season to this stage is dissected. So we stoke those fires with a few observations of our own, sipping on a little egg nog to get into the Christmas spirit.

WOULD YOU STILL MAKE THAT DEAL:

A couple of seasons ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs Nation was caught in the Eric Lindros frenzy. Should the Leafs pay the price and get him or keep the young kids they dearly had to develop' Well, that axiom that some of the best trades a club makes are the ones it doesn't execute is ringing truer now.

Not many would trade Nik Antropov anymore. Dave Abel Photography
As Lindros languishes this season with the struggling New York Rangers, Nik Antropov and Tomas Kaberle continue to blossom for the Leafs. Remember, these were the guys the pro-Lindros camp were more than willing to ship to the Flyers. Leafs GM/head coach Pat Quinn never confirmed any names discussed with the Flyers but let's suppose Antropov and Kaberle were indeed the duo the Flyers sought.

Kudos then to Quinn for maintaining his Irish stubbornness. Sure, Antropov, like Lindros, has endured injury problems in his career. But the guy's 22, plays with a nasty edge and, with his three-point effort against the San Jose Sharks on December 21, he raised his total this season to 17 points in 29 games. He was also +11 to lead the Leafs.

Lindros, meanwhile, was in the minus column and produced 21 points in 35 games with the Rangers through the same period, leaving many to wonder whether he'll ever regain the status he enjoyed among the NHL's elite players.

Kaberle's two assists against the Sharks gave him 23 points for the season, moving him among the top 10 defencemen in league scoring and well within reach of the current leader Tom Poti of the Rangers. Kaberle is 24, in his fifth NHL season and a joy to watch. Okay, so by some people's standards he's soft in his own zone but that was the same complaint many had of a guy named Nicklas Lidstrom. And Lidstrom turned out fine, didn't he.

Antropov and Kaberle should head into the Christmas break feeling good about themselves and Leafs fans should be thankful Quinn, if the stories are true, resisted the temptation to deal them.

EDDIE SOARS WHILE CUJO SITS:

Where would the Leafs be this season without Eddie Belfour? His career was back on track. He'd blanked the Philadelphia Flyers (twice), the Boston Bruins, the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He'd compiled a 1.98 goals-against average and .929 save percentage through December 21. Last week, he lost 1-0 in Atlanta, won 2-1 in Tampa Bay and, despite giving up three goals ' which weren't his fault ? he made the key saves to ensure the Leafs didn't lose against the Sharks.

On the Red Wings front, Manny Legace replaced Curtis Joseph after one period in Long Island then Legace got the starts against the Dallas Stars and the Rangers. In his first 25 games with Detroit, Joseph posted a 2.65 GAA and .903 save percentage. It's not even half of the NHL season so there's plenty of games left, not to mention the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But Belfour's steadiness and the way he plays his position have won over the skeptics who thought his best days were long gone. With a little more offensive support, Belfour's wins total would have been even higher than the 15 he'd earned through December 21.

SOME GUYS JUST CAN'T WIN:

Put Darcy Tucker's image on the video-board at Air Canada Centre and the shriekers come out in full force. He's a fan favourite, despite a season where his minus-12 is a number he'd very much like to improve.

Then there's Jonas Hoglund. Even when the video-board last Saturday night listed him as the No. 2 all-time Leafs goal scorer at Air Canada Centre, a smattering of boos surfaced. It should be noted that, through December 21, Hoglund was +5 and had two fewer points than Tucker. But Hoglund, Jyrki Lumme and Robert Reichel seem to be fan targets when things aren't going right.

Quinn came to Hoglund's defence after the Sharks game noting that players do hear the boos. The head coach gave every indication he believes Hoglund is a contributor to the Leafs cause and he'll stick by him. That's a nice Christmas gift from Quinn to Hoglund who could use a little luck from Santa in converting glorious scoring opportunities into goals over the second half of the season.

Discuss these and other hockey topics among yourselves. Happy holidays to all!

Look back at other John Iaboni columns:
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