Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Stop The Groin Jokes: Hasek Playing At Playoff Level

Terry Sawchuk, perhaps the greatest goaltender in NHL history, was actually, believe it or not, somewhat of a journeyman. Besides the Red Wings, Sawchuk played for Toronto, Los Angeles, and the New York Rangers. He did three different stints in Detroit.

Dominik Hasek is on stint #3 with the Red Wings, tying the famed Sawchuk and little Jimmy Rutherford for most different appearances on a Detroit roster by a goaltender. It can also be said that Hasek, lately, has been a journeyman, but in a different way. A retirement and a lockout separated him from the Red Wings, and in the middle of all that there was some time as an Ottawa Senator.

Some chuckled when Red Wings GM Ken Holland signed Hasek, who'll turn 42 before the end of this month, to a contract last summer. It was after the team's courtship of Eddie Belfour fell through.

And thank goodness for that.

Hasek is in postseason form; is he peaking too early?

Hasek, who just recorded his sixth shutout of the season Monday night against Montreal, is playing at a level that is playoff-ready. Until a hiccup against San Jose recently, his GAA was well under 2.00. Even now, it still leads the league at just a tad over that mark. He was a blatant All-Star snub.

The Wings, when they signed him, gave Hasek an incentive-laden contract. The salary was obscenely low, and the team protected itself, mindful of The Dominator's funny groin, which has gone "pop" at the most inopportune of times in the past.

Now Hasek plays at the highest level, and the Red Wings have the best bargain in the league tending goal for them.

The night the Red Wings retired Steve Yzerman's #19, I spent some time in the alumni suite. I asked Steve Duchesne, who won a Cup with Hasek in 2002 in Detroit as a defenseman, what he thought of Hasek's play.

"Is he playing as well," I asked, as when you guys won the Cup in 2002?"

Duchesne looked at the action on the ice below and paused for a moment.

"He could be," he finally said, before adding, "but he tends to break down."

The label, once applied, is almost impossible to remove. Sort of like a tattoo. And Dom Hasek wears the label/tattoo of "injury-prone", like it or not, as sure as the back of a t-shirt.

The groin went pop in 2003, when Hasek came back to the Red Wings after a one year's retirement. He was finished, around the new year. It went pop again last winter, after the Olympics. It finished his Senators career on a sour note.

So when the Red Wings inked Hasek after failing to sign the far less worthy Belfour, the groin jokesters were out in full force. They've been quieted now, but probably only temporarily. They won't truly be silenced until Hasek makes it through a full NHL schedule, plus playoffs.

For what it's worth, Hasek told the Versus Network after Monday's win that he feels great, and that the care he took for his body in the summertime is paying off.

"I know I can play at the highest level if I stay healthy," Hasek said.

Cue the jokes about the word "if."

But stop with the groin cracks -- at least for the moment.

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