My Top 5 turkeys: The list isn't pretty!

November, 26, 2008
11/26/08
4:38
PM ET
It doesn't get much more traditional -- at least here in the United States -- than turkey on Thanksgiving.

The NFL will be delivering a pair of turkeys (Titans-Lions and Seahawks-Cowboys) into American homes on Thanksgiving Day. The night game, at least, between the Cards and Eagles, has the potential to be competitive.

When I was a kid, we didn't get an NFL nightcap on Thanksgiving. Instead, I remember the movie version of "Oklahoma" running every year. As a kid, I didn't get it. Years later, I paid to go see the show on Broadway. It was worth every penny. I later realized that a young Shirley Jones -- who starred in the movie version in her pre-"Partridge Family" days -- was flat-out hot!

Anyway, as I get ready for another Thanksgiving, I figured I would offer you five icy turkeys from the first quarter of the NHL season:

1. The Dallas Stars
What the heck has happened to the Stars? Just six months ago, Dave Tippett's team was battling the Red Wings in the Western Conference finals. Now, they find themselves mired in the conference basement. Last season, there were just five teams that allowed fewer goals than the defensive-minded Stars. This year, in their first 20 games, only one team (Toronto) has given up more. Yeah, the addition of super-pest Sean Avery has damaged the team chemistry, but the biggest problem has been usually reliable stopper Marty Turco, who is playing to an ugly .870 save percentage. If Turco can right his game, the Stars can survive the loss of captain Brenden Morrow (torn ACL in right knee) and make a playoff run. If not, they'll have a top-five pick in the 2009 draft.

2. Olli Jokinen
The Coyotes' top pivot has played well so far, putting up 18 points and a plus-4 in his first 20 games. Jokinen has even gotten mixed up in a few fights. However, I have to put him on my turkey list because he (again) has been just dreadful in the faceoff circle. As I type, he has won just 39.8 percent of his draws. Last season in Florida, he wasn't much better, succeeding just 43.1 percent of the time. Jokinen's poor work in the circle means his team usually doesn't start with the puck. That's not the ideal situation. Olli is too good a player to continue to be so bad in the circle. He should work on it or move to the wing.

3. Lightning management
Hey, I'll be up front; I wasn't digging Tampa Bay firing my former colleague Barry Melrose after just 16 games. I mean, if you're going to hire a guy who hasn't coached in 15 years, you should give him a little time to knock off the rust and catch up to things. But the real problem here isn't the coaching, it's the roster. Here's the bottom line about hockey -- you want to keep the puck as far away from your net as possible. To do that, you need defensemen who can move the puck. The Lightning had a guy who could really move the puck. His name was Dan Boyle. But they traded him to San Jose (they're doing OK, eh?) for next to nothing so they could create cap room to sign unneeded forwards Radim Vrbata (three years, $9 million!), Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi. I'm sorry, but Scotty Bowman would have a very tough time winning with this group.

4. Dmitri Kalinin
The former Sabres defender has gotten off to a rough start in New York City. Despite working for the fourth-best defensive team in the league, Kalinin is a team-worst minus-10. Every time he makes a mistake, the puck seems to end up in the net. You don't need me to tell you that's not good. Luckily for Kalinin, Rangers fans have been too focused on booing fellow blue-liner Michal Rozsival (minus-8). The 28-year-old Russian is playing on the one-year deal he signed in July. If he doesn't turn things around, it will be his last season as a Ranger.

5. Mats Sundin
The big Swede is/was a terrific player and I'd love to see him come back and play. But, I'm a little confused. At last season's trade deadline, he said he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause because he didn't believe in the idea of joining a team for just the stretch run. He went a step further, talking about the "entire journey" that means "October through June." I guess he's changed his mind about that. He's certainly entitled to change his mind, but I think hockey fans (and writers) are entitled to get tired of waiting for him to make a decision. Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, says there are a dozen teams interested in his client. I believe that. I also believe Sundin only wants to go to two or three cities. I figure New York and Montreal remain at the top of his list, if he ever decides to come back. I guess time will tell. I guess …

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.

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