For Tampa Bay's Kontos, discovery of success is definitely not tied to the stars

Imagine having played on lines with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Eric Lindros. Sound like a deal made in heaven? Sound like the childhood dream of every hockey player?

To Chris Kontos, it was a ticket to obscurity.


"I've been privileged to play with the best, but I just haven't had my chance to really prove myself at this level for a whole year. That's my goal -- I just want one full year," he said before the Tampa Bay Lightning left for Calgary yesterday.

As a wing for the Lightning, Kontos is getting his wish. And the obscurity he has lived in -- last summer he was playing in a noon pickup game with women and children in Penetanguishene, Ontario -- has become a thing of the past.


Kontos has set a personal season scoring record. His 19 goals are 11 more than his previous high. Heck, the guy has scored only 27 goals in his seven-year NHL career.

He is tied for third in goals in the league, behind Lemieux (23) and Pavel Bure of the Vancouver Canucks (22).

"I've got to maintain my concentration," said Kontos, who has scored 12 goals in the past 15 games.

For a 28-year-old who has become a star in Tampa Bay, where the Lightning is settling in among palm trees, that might not be the easiest thing he has had to do.

What's next?

Washington Capitals right wing Mark Hunter cleared waivers yesterday and will meet with Caps general manager David Poile tomorrow to determine his fate. Hunter asked the meeting be delayed until tomorrow so he can consider his options and possibly contact other teams to work out an option. Poile said if Hunter finds none, the only option the Caps have is to send the 11-year veteran to the Skipjacks.

Going down

Remember, on Oct. 20, when the Capitals lost to the New York Rangers on a wide-open shot by talented Rangers newcomer Alexei Kovalev? He and his $300,000 salary were sent down to Binghamton of the American Hockey League this week.


The goal against the Caps turned out to be one of only three he scored in 14 games. "We simply have to get him indoctrinated into the NHL style," said GM Neil Smith, who signed the former Soviet player to a $2.5 million, five-year deal at the start of the season. " . . . Sitting him is not an option. It would be a real disaster for him to sit here."

Worst trade ever?

Capitals owner Abe Pollin said he thinks the trade of Dino Ciccarelli may well rank as the rankest. "At the time it seemed like the thing to do," he said recently. "But so far, this hasn't been one of our better trades."

To add insult to injury, Ciccarelli, who plays for Detroit, said after the Red Wings' victory at the Capital Centre on Friday, "I feel a little sorry for them."

Double digits

The Pittsburgh Penguins hold a 13-point lead over their nearest Patrick Division rival, the New Jersey Devils. But Penguins coach Scotty


Bowman said that didn't mean much.

"It's early yet," Bowman said. "Last year, Washington and New York pulled ahead. It didn't last, but it was enough to allow them to finish in the playoffs. We barely made it.

"This division is pretty tight, and I'm concerned. Two teams are going to miss postseason, and I know it's going to take a lot more points to get there."

Senators rough on kids

Ottawa goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz on how the Senators' 21-game winless streak affected his daughter, Rian, 8, before Ottawa won last night: "The night we lost to Buffalo -- what was it, 12-2? -- she said, 'Oh God, Mom, I can't go to school on Monday.' "