Hockey Night in suburban Chicago

WORTH THE WAIT: Regardless of the sport, it's often believed you cannot judge which team got the better of a trade immediately. Sometimes, it can take a couple seasons to see how things pan out.

So, ask the Atlanta Thrashers how they feel about Marian Hossa right about now. Better still, ask those he plays against.

"He's a fantastic player. He's awesome," Jeff O'Neill of the Toronto Maple Leafs said Thursday after Hossa recorded a hat trick -- his first with Atlanta -- and added an assist in the Thrashers' 5-0 win. "Give him time and space and he will hurt you."
When he was acquired last season from the Ottawa Senators for Dany Heatley, the Thrashers envisioned Hossa as a complementary player to Ilya Kovalchuk. And while Kovalchuk has overcome a slow start, Hossa is establishing himself as a star.

Now in his ninth season and just 27 years old, Hossa leads the league with 20 goals and appears well on his way to breaking his career-high of 45 set in 2002-03 with Ottawa. On the power play, Hossa is more dangerous as he's already got 11 man-advantage goals this season; he's had a career-high 14 each of the last three seasons.

On Nov. 13, Hossa said he started feeling comfortable in his new surroundings and with his teammates starting around last Christmas.

"It was kind of first time to change for me from one team to the other," Hossa explained. "New city, new teammates, everything was new to me, so it took a while to get comfortable again."

It was on Jan. 1 that Hossa started a six-game points streak, recording five goals and eight assists. Since then, he's had 26 multipoint games, and the Thrashers have become a trendy pick to win the Southeast Division.

Considering the last two Stanley Cup champions have come out of the Southeast, it's not that far-fetched to think Hossa could help lead this team to a title.

"It's much more fun right now," he said. "It's always fun winning."

WAIVING GOODBYE: With youth both prevalent and successful on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team cut ties with 37-year-old John LeClair.

LeClair was a three-time 50-goal scorer, racking up 152 goals with Philadelphia from 1996-99. He lost most of the 2000-01 season to back injuries and a staph infection. A dislocated right shoulder and torn labrum in 2002 limited him to only 35 games.

He was fourth on the team in scoring with 22 goals and 51 points last season, but his ice time dipped this season after the Penguins added rookies Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

LeClair, who's making $1.5 million this season, is 33 games short 1,000 for his NHL career, something he easily would have eclipsed had it not been for the lockout. He has 406 goals and 413 assists, which begs the big question -- Hall of Fame ... yes or no?

I would have to say no on this one. For three seasons, LeClair was one of the best at his position, but he's never had a 100-point campaign. In two of his three 50-goal seasons, LeClair finished with a career-best 97 points.


STONE COLD: Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins is showing first-year general manager Peter Chiarelli there's no need to make a deal for a more established goaltender. After a 31-save effort, Thomas stopped all seven attempts he faced in a shootout to lift Boston to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Thomas has given up only five goals in regulation while winning his last three starts.

A FIRST FOR OLIE THE GOALIE: Olaf Kolzig, in his 15th season all with the Washington Capitals, defeated the Dallas Stars for the first time in his career after stopping 35 shots in a 4-3 win. Entering the game, the 37-year-old South African had nine losses and a tie in 11 career games, including 10 starts, against them.

KLEE CLUB: Defenseman Ken Klee of the Colorado Avalanche tied a career best with three assists -- all in the first period -- of a 7-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Klee had only three assists and four points coming in before registering his first three-assist game since November 1998.


WHAT TO LEAVE IN, WHAT TO LEAVE OUT: Alex Auld and Ed Belfour of the Florida Panthers combined to give up six goals in a shutout loss to the Ottawa Senators. Auld gave up five goals on 22 shots on just over 26 minutes.

JUST CALL THE GAME ALREADY: An early winter storm in the Midwest meant an announced crowd of 5,410 -- the fifth-lowest in Blues history -- watched St. Louis fall to the Nashville Predators 5-4. According to The Associated Press, there appeared to be several thousand fewer than that in the stands at Scottrade Center.

TOUGH SLEDDING ON LAWN GUYLAND: The New York Islanders fall to the Flyers 3-2 for their second straight defeat after losing leading scorer Alexei Yashin to a knee injury that could keep him sidelined between two weeks and a month.


"Embarrassing. We didn't play like a team. We were running around; we were lucky it was only 6-0." -- Panthers captain Olli Jokinen after the team was shut out for a franchise-record third straight game.

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