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LeClair could be back Friday against Lightning

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


CHICAGO -- Flyers coach Bill Barber said it's a "long, long shot," but John LeClair, sidelined by injury most of the season, may play Friday against the Lightning at the Ice Palace in Tampa.

LeClair skated with teammates Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 8, when he left the lineup with spasms in his surgically repaired back. He has played in just eight games after signing a one-year, $7-million contract.

LeClair had surgery for a herniated disc on Oct. 21 and returned Nov. 26 against the Coyotes. But instability in the repaired joint created inflammation that led to the spasms.

"The last two weeks have been probably one of the most frustrating times I've ever had playing hockey, just because I wasn't going anywhere," LeClair said. "I was kind of just stuck. You wonder what's going on. You get better and you hit a plateau like that, and you wonder if that's it. I'm really happy the way the past few days have been."

LeClair skated 40 minutes by himself Tuesday and 30 Wednesday.

"It's starting to stiffen up a little now, but I'm better than I was Tuesday, so that's a great sign," LeClair said. "The problem I have now is taking off. When I need to jump, it grabs me a little bit, but it's been less and less."

LeClair said he does not regret returning from surgery a week ahead of schedule, but admitted he ignored back stiffness in three games before leaving the lineup.

"If your back's strong, there's not going to be movement and you're not going to irritate those joints," he said. "When I came back, there was still a pocket there, some area for movement, and that's where this came about."

Said Barber: "We have to be patient. I just want John back and comfortable."

McSORLEY WANTS TO PLAY: Marty McSorley, whose yearlong suspension for clubbing Vancouver's Donald Brashear on the side of the head will expire in mid-February, has instructed agent Mike Barnett to inquire about NHL jobs.

"I had a long talk with Marty," Barnett said, "and he wants to go back to play and show why he's been a member of so many championship teams over the years. He wants to leave the game as a contributor, playing the way he has for the overwhelming majority of his career."

Barnett said he has not called any teams and, "I don't know if anyone will give him and opportunity."

MAY DAY: Brad May returned to the Coyotes lineup Thursday after serving a 20-game suspension for his slash to the face of Columbus' Steve Heinze. Before the game against the Rangers, May said, "I've served my time and I'm ready to play."

Thirty-eight seconds into his first shift, May picked up 17 penalty minutes for jumping Sandy McCarthy, who had taken liberties with rookie Ossi Vaananen.

May was whistled for instigating and fighting and was given a 10-minute misconduct. Still, the Coyotes were thrilled to have the physical veteran back.

"He has a knack for knowing when the team needs a shot in the arm," coach Bob Francis said. "When the team is flat or things aren't going your way, he has the ability to change the complexion of the game."

BY THE MONTH: With its 3-2 victory over the Red Wings on Friday, the Wild entered Saturday's game against the Blues with an eight-game unbeaten streak, one shy of the record for an expansion team set in 1993-94 by the Panthers.

"Is it seven?" Wild goaltender Jamie McLennan asked before Friday's game. "I didn't realize that. It's not something we focused on. It's just something we've stumbled on."

Coach Jacques Lemaire has stumbled upon a unique way to foster team unity -- naming a new captain every month.

"I'm quite happy with the way it's worked out," Lemaire said. "I like the impact it has on the team, especially on the guy named captain."

The Wild has improved each month with a new captain. It went 2-7-3 with Sean O'Donnell in October; 5-7-1-1 with Scott Pellerin in November; and 5-3-3-1 with Wes Walz in December.

Brad Bombardir is Mr. January.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Canucks, unhappy with Felix Potvin, may target Carolina's Arturs Irbe to share goaltending duties with Bob Essensa. ... With the restructuring of a $60-million loan from Japan's Sumimoto Bank, the sale of the Coyotes is expected to be completed this week. ... The Kings have doubled their contract offer to defenseman Rob Blake to five years, $40-million. Blake wants $45-million. ... The Oilers need a backup goaltender for Tommy Salo. Edmonton tried for Detroit's Ken Wregget, but the Red Wings wouldn't deal him to a conference rival.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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