Who needs what, and will they go for it? While it is tempting to call everyone in the west below 3rd place a bubble team, I think I’ll limit my writing time by leaving off a few teams.  In the east the bubble is a bit smaller, 10 points separate the seventh place New York Rangers and the eleventh place Florida Panthers.

The Colorado Avalanche are fifth in goals for, and yet somehow 12th in the Western Conference in the standings. That “somehow” becomes a lot easier to pin down when you notice they are 29th in goals against, and that their penalty kill almost doesn’t exist. Their penalty kill ranks 27th in the NHL, the only two other teams with a PK in the same zip code who can see the playoffs from their house are the Dallas Stars and Atlanta Thrashers. Clearly they need to scramble their resources and pick up a PK specialist or two, and certainly a defensive defenseman. If they decide to sell, Chris Stewart, and Owen Sound Attack (OHL) prospect Joey Hishon would bring a nice return.

The Phoenix Coyotes. They are eleventh in goals for, and 16th in goals against. They could really pick either position to improve at, and move forward contently. If they are going to make moves they certainly have the cap space to do it. They also have some very nice assets if they decide to become sellers, they do have plenty of assets that could bring them good picks or prospects. Jovanovski’s contract is expiring, and while he has an NTC, he might waive it if the Coyotes decide to run up the white flag.  While it don’t see it happening unless the budget in Phoenix is going to shrink next year, Yandle is a skating blank check. As a different GM, I’d cheerfully send two first round picks on a sign and trade deal and probably include a prospect or player in their.

The LA Kings are possibly the most puzzling team outside the top 8 in either conference, along with the BlackHawks they have the highest goal differential of any team not currently in their conferences top 8 at +20. While they are 17th in goals for, they are 6th in goals against. As it has since before training camp, the lack of talent on their left wing is dragging down an otherwise strong team.  As sellers, Brayden Schenn is probably the premier prospect yet to graduate, and UFA to be Justin Williams could add scoring to a team looking to make the jump into the second season.  As buyers  goal scoring couldn’t hurt, but they may just need to play consistently from here until April to make it in.

Chicago has an aggressively mediocre defense this year at 15th best. While Corey Crawford is showing he’s got some mojo and putting out a very solid 2.19 GAA and .919 Sv%, he’s started exactly half the games this season, is a rookie. While the Blackhawks won the cup last year despite Niemi, this is a notably weaker team than last years edition, and with some key players banged up right now. I don’t know if the defending champions are good enough to win because of Crawford. As little cap space as they have, I’m not sure they will be buying. As much talent as they traded away since winning the cup I don’t see what they have left to sell without spiraling into obscurity again.  Like their LA competitors, consistent play is probably what they need to make it to the playoffs. One intriguing trade piece (which management has already stepped on) might be Brent Seabrook. A team like the Carolina Hurricanes who don’t use high picks on defensemen might be willing to take a swing at him especially if they are in the mix at the deadline.

Calgary Flames, with an “interim” general manager all things are possible. They are right in the mix for a return to the playoffs, but with essentially zero cap space making moves will probably be as picturesque as making laws or sausage. They are right up against the 50 contract limit, and have several unproductive large contracts some of them attached to no trade or no movement clauses. I’d be shocked to see any large moves, and the off season doesn’t look much better. If they can somehow manage a few tweaks that will galvanize the team, either end would be good, they are 16th in goals for and 17th in goals against.

The Blue Jackets probably have to be blown up if they can’t make it out of the first round this year. They are just four points out of the playoffs right now. How this is possible while being 25th in goals against and 21st in goals for is anyone’s guess. Me personally, I’d start the fire sale now and see what draft picks can be grabbed for this years draft and what prospects can be grabbed.  They have a pretty deep system, and adding a few other good picks to it means they can probably make a good run in two years and spend about what they are now.

At each and every level of sports, from the smallest childrens league to the seniors tour on the PGA, there is no single word or concept that contributes more to the success and growth that league or the individuals within it like rivalry. About the only thing you can get the most rabid homers of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens to agree on is that either team is far better than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The “I don’t break for Yankees Fans” bumper sticker was seen more often on the cars of Red Sox fans for years than snow tires in February. In basketball the pure and undiluted hatred between fans of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics has nearly transcended the sport and elevated many of them into knowledgeable basketball fans and not merely boosters of the hometown colors. In football the rivalries are wide and varied, the Dallas Cowboys, Redskins, and 49ers were always out for blood, the Patriots and Colts have rivalries up and down their rosters starting with their franchise cornerstones Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

With rivalries comes passion, and with passion comes attention, fans and revenue. In the first season out of the lockout the Boston Bruins averaged about 3000 more fans per game than the Carolina Hurricanes, despite having a wretched season where they finished 26th in the league. The Bruins renewed their rivalries with the Leafs, and the Canadiens. The entire Southeast division was still new enough to squeak, and still has yet to develop the bone deep hatred on the part of fan-bases and the instant intensity that typifies the Battle of Alberta, or the unlove between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.

Anyone who’s has ever been to a game where two rivals are playing knows the difference in the stands, on the ice and even in the press box between that just another game.  We’ve just seen some of the first Californian players brought into the NHL, and other southern markets are making their attack. But in order for the sport to not just survive but flourish I think it’s time for the NHL to move away from the current balanced schedule to something that places a higher emphasis on divisional and conference play.  I eat, drink and sleep hockey and could watch six or seven games a day without getting tired of it, but lets face it, the games between two teams who only see each other once or twice a year and have never met in the playoffs are a bit less interesting.

Despite the excitement and drama of last nights Bruins vs Stars game or the Stanley Cup rematches with the Flyers and BlackHawks, inter-division games are generally low spirited games with little to recommend them. Watching the Islanders and Coyotes square off even if you can name twelve members of each roster without slowing down is nowhere near as entertaining as a Devils – Islanders or Coyotes – Kings tilt would be. Part of that rivalry is familiarity, and knowing the skills and skulduggery you’ll see on the ice. Devils fans look forward to games against the Rangers in part because they know Sean Avery will be in the lineup and up to his usual antics. A decade ago Bruins fans were continually frustrated by games against Hasek and the Sabres, but couldn’t not tune in because they knew the game would be intense and no matter how many times the good guys were stymied, the level of skill on display would be awesome.

Need further proof? Take a walk outside the Boston Garden on a Bruins game day, go look at the vendors on the street.  You’ll find all sorts of gear lauding Bruins past and present. Everything you can imagine from PJ Stock, Rick Middleton and Bobby Orr to Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic. The things touting the local boys are only half the story. You’ll also find scores of masterpieces and lesser works that target the oppositions fans and players. A favorite of fans across the region last year was the Bruins own sign outside the Boston Garden that said “Never date a Flyers Fan, even if she shaves her mustache.” a t-shirt that reads “Habs suck and Carey swallows.” was so popular the vendor selling them blew through his entire inventory before well before the game started. I doubt its much different in any major market with a true rival. What you won’t find outside the Garden is single item that makes any reference to even despised players like Steve Ott from other conferences, nor will you find anything about superstars Lidstorm, Thornton or Sedin(s) because in the end unless it is a playoff meeting those teams and players just don’t matter.

For it’s long term growth the best thing the NHL could do would be to ditch the current schedule format. I love good hockey, but I don’t need to see the Bruins faceoff with the Kings in January or October. Seeing Vancouver and Florida cross swords is even less of a priority. Would I tune into a Calgary vs Edmonton game? Absolutely, even as rarely seen as those two teams are if there’s no short of passion in that rivalry, and if I can’t watch my home team, like any other sports fan I wanna know both teams are going to go after it with a will and a passion.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League

Teams:

  • If I told you in September that if the season ended at the quarter poll, that the Atlanta Thrashers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Dallas Stars would all be in the playoffs….
  • If I told you in September that the bottom five New York Islanders would have an extended losing streak, fire their head coach with wide internal criticism, and then get worse…
  • If I told you in September that the Bruins would be without their top center, and one of their top goal scorers of the past three years and still be in 11th in goals for…
  • If I told you in September that the New Jersey Devils, would have less points than the Edmonton Oilers…
  • If I told you in September the New Jersey Devils, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, and Colorado Avalanche would all be on the outside looking into the playoff race…

…would you have asked me where you could get some of the fun drugs too?

Players:

  • If I told you in September that Ilya Kovalchuk would have less goals than Milan Lucic at any point this season…
  • If I told you in September Patrick Sharp would lead not just his team, but the entire Western Conference in goals, and be fourth in goals…
  • If I told you in September Steve Montador , and Rostislav Kleska (career -43) would be second and first in +/- for the league…
  • If I told you in September that between them Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundquist, Roberto Loungo, Jaroslav Halak, and Thomas Vokoun would not own a single top five goalie stat between them…
  • If I told you in September Jeff Skinner, this years seventh overall draft pick would lead all rookies in scoring…
  • If I told you in September that Peter Schaefer would play more games in the NHL this year than Bill Guerin, Miroslav Satan, and Evgani Nabokov…

…would you ask me how many times I was dropped on my head as a child?

A couple times in the last two or three weeks I’ve heard people say that teams take on the personality of their head coach. Specifically they were saying this in an effort to criticize Claude Julien. I just don’t think I can agree. The coach is on a day to day basis the most influential member of club management, but that’s about where it ends.

The general manager on the other hand not only selects the coaches, and the players, but selects the scouts, the assistant general managers, and trainers. They also set the priorities of personality, and physical attributes they value. It is also the GM who (in most organizations) has the final call on trades, draft choices, and what players are assigned to and recalled from a minor league affiliate. On top of that, they have the final say what free agents are pursued or resigned.

Bearing those things in mind, let’s look at two general managers that have been appointed recently, and the types of players they have brought in, made captain, and attempted to move.

First Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs:

  • Dion Phanuef, aggressive, hard skating defenseman who has drafted high and has a reputation for playing on or over the edge. Has not had his defensive game flattered much in the last couple seasons. Also has a reputation for not having his head in the game for long stretches of time. He was brought into the Maple Leafs via a trade with the Calgary Flames. After twenty six games of tepid play last season, he was named captain in the off season, a position that had been vacant since the departure in 2008 of Leafs icon Mats Sundin.
  • Phil Kessel, was acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for two first round draft picks  and a second round pick (Tyler Seguin 1st 2010, Jared Knight 2nd 2010, and upcoming 1st 2011). Kessel was and remains widely praised for exceptional speed, and a shot release that puts him in the top ten or fifteen players in the league in both. He’s also got a well documented history of failure to perform against top teams, isn’t gifted with an impressive work ethic, and probably accumulates almost as many hits her year as Tim Thomas. He’s not shown a willingness to play through pain for the good of the team.
  • Mike Komisarek, picked up after he earned himself a one way ticket to anywhere but the Bell Centre. He’s a defensive defenseman, who plays with an edge, engaged in a very one-sided feud with Bruins winger Milan Lucic where he lost a couple fights, including one where he spent months on the shelf as a result of an injury sustained during the fight. He gouged the eye of the much smaller Matt Hunwick and hasn’t covered himself in glory as a Leaf.

Now a look at some of the key free players Peter Chiarelli has brought to the Boston Bruins.

  • Zdeno Chara. Has responded well to both coaches he’s played for a Bruin, his former Islanders General Manager’s lone complaint of him is that he wanted to much money. He came into a town with a history of elite defensemen and earned himself a Norris trophy. Has, been a fixture of the team, played the 2009-10 season with a dislocated finger. Soft spoken off the ice and willing to give time to fans.
  • Marc Savard. Came in a point per game player with a reputation for soft play, and defensive nonexistence. In the time he’s been in Boston, his points total has dipped slightly, but he has also been a large contributor to the penalty kill, and has led the team in scoring three of the four plus seasons here. By nearly any conceivable measure, he signed a contract extension well under his fair market value to remain a member of the Boston Bruins.
  • Mark Recchi. As the NHL’s elder statesman by more than two years, on the surface it’s an interesting question as to why he’s on the roster at all. That is until you remember he’s one of the handful of players to hit over 1000 games, 1000 points, and 1000 penalty minutes. Also, certain minor stars of the NHL like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos credit him with helping them hugely. Add that to the Bruins pretty young roster, and the upcoming talents and he’s a very, subtle element in the developmental progression of several players.

When you look at the rosters of both teams, see interviews with the core players, and look at who’s wearing the letters on the front of their jerseys you’ll notice that for the most part the Bruin’s players are soft spoken, introverted, and even if they play a very physical game, lean towards the cerebral thinking mans player. If you look at the Maple Leafs roster, you get one dimensional, high risk high reward style players who are more emotionally driven. I don’t think you could watch five minutes of footage of both GM’s and come away with any impression other than that these are the men who have crafted their teams.

Two men are standing head and shoulders above the competition this year in the NHL. No, I’m not talking about Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers who can probably shake hands from opposing bluelines. I’m talking about two players simply dominating their positions and contributing to a revitalization of their team, and division. Both are chasing records, both have had their names on the tips of peoples tongues for the last year or so. I’m talking of course about budding hockey icon Steven Stamkos and the sixth oldest goalie in the NHL this season, Tim Thomas.

With a very hush-hush hip injury, and a broken hand that received better press, it’s safe to say Tim Thomas’s year last season might not have been very pleasant. Add to it the fact that everyone expected him to be the undisputed starter working fifty five to sixty games, and being in the hunt for a Vezina for a second straight year and you might get the idea that in the season he did have unpleasant moments were the highlights. Losing his confidence, his starting role and his dream of winning Gold at the Olympics there wasn’t much that didn’t go wrong for Thomas. Capping it off glued to the bench while his team crashed and burned in the playoffs probably means that despite stomping through the early goings of the season, he still hasn’t gotten the bad taste out of his mouth.

Knowing now how unhealthy Thomas was all last year, its hard to remember the form that took him to the Vezina trophy the season before. Well, hard unless you’ve seen him play this season. In that 2008-2009 season where he not only lead the league in goals against and save percentage, but improved both numbers through two playoff series he had just five shutouts.  In fifty four appearances he had a shutout about every ten games. He finished the regular season with a .933 Sv%, and a 2.10 GAA. He went eleven games in the postseason with .935GAA and 1.85 GAA. All impressive numbers. This seasons through 16 starts, he’s averaging a shutout about every three games. After stonewalling the highest scoring team in the eastern conference, the Philadelphia Flyers, he’s once again in the familiar position of being on top of the league in Sv%, with a .955, and GAA with a tiny 1.46.

If Tim Thomas were to keep at his pace, and play the same number of games as his Vezina season he’d have a staggering 16.875 shutouts. That number would be neat, and put him second on the single season NHL shutout chart.  A mere 13 shutouts would make him the most prolific producer of this stat since well before Jacobs bought the team, in fact you would have to go all the way back to the 1927-28 season to find a Bruins goaltender better when Hal Winkler was Boston’s backstop. If Thomas plays to his 66 game career high, at the current shutout pace he’d land at 20.625 shutouts, or 1.375 shutouts short of the all time NHL record held since1928-29 by George Hainsworth.

The hype and drama that has surrounded this Markham Ontario native is unrivaled by anyone since the lockout ended. Ovechkin, Malkin, and Crosby made huge waves as the NHL’s marketing department tried to wash away the stain of the lockout. No one since has had half as much attention. If Steven Stamkos manages to chase down the elusive 70 goal plateau, he’ll join the rarefied heights that only a handful of NHL players have ever reached. Steven Stamkos is chasing the opposite dream of Thomas. He’s chasing 70. The list of players to reach that level isn’t long; Gretzky (4 times), Lemieux (2 times), Hull (3 times), Kurri, Nichols, Esposito (the first to do it), and the last active player to do so, Teemu Selanne who scored 76 back in the 92-93 season. Selanne’s 76 goal season. 1993 is the year Stamkos turned three.  Some of the names not on the list of the 70 goal club are rather surprising: Iginla, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Heatley, Nash, St Louis, all of whom are known for putting up league leading goal totals.

Right now Stamkos is on pace for 68.88 goals. This would incidentally top Ovechkins gaudy goal scoring best. With so many of his games in the Southeast division which doesn’t boast a single top ten defenseman, Stamkos has a damn good shot at seventy. When you factor in the supporting cast of Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St Louis, Ryan Malone, Victor Hedman and the occasionally healthy Simon Gagne, that’s a lot of talent (when present) to defend against, and even elite defenses can only be in so many lanes at once.

So, will either record happen? 23 or 70? If they both happen do these become the most sought after jersey’s in youth and beer leagues across North America? Or would it be 35 and 91? Can the NHL build up a useful marketing campaign on either of these chases? Probably not, they’ve been force feeding two men to the entire continent since before the lockout ended. This despite the fact that the jersey sales success of Milan Lucic, the still lingering PJ Stock tshirts, and the instant recognition Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Miller and others get even in places where hockey is just a rumor. Of the two, I have more hope for Stamkos’s chase, it won’t really require the NHL to change templates, just the name on it.

I think having both of these records broken in once season could be the best thing to happen to the NHL in a very long time. With a whole boatload of weak number two goalies holding down number one slots, and less than five fifty goal scorers in each of the last several season it’s time to revitalize both positions. For “the Bettman Ideal” of 80’s style OK Corral style games more snipers are needed. For teams in small markets, or places where high end talent is hard to retain, having a top  notch goalie is a powerful building block.  When it comes right down to it, both are in the NHL’s best interested if they want to remain the premier hockey league not just in North America, but the world.

While in the middle of reviewing the Bruins cap crunch, I took a minute or four off to look at the All-Star Vote totals. Sure, the school yard format threatens to make a game that’s as real as Pam Anderson’s chest even worse, but that’s not the point. The point is there are players in non-hockey markets ahead of the Boston Bruin’s players.

While it makes me want to vomit to know that Carey Price is ahead of Tim Thomas in goalie voting, I can accept that. I mean seriously, it keeps the Montreal fans from flipping cars and burning cruisers so it’s a good thing for the environment, the court systems and law and order in Quebec. True Price has done little but watch better goalies get traded away in his career, but with all the work he put in helping the Smurfs on his team reach things on the top shelf I can live with this one, I guess. Besides Montreal doesn’t have anything to do with any real sports other than hockey so… But, that’s not the point.

And given that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been force fed to anyone who hears anything about the NHL since before the lockout was over, it’s not a shock that they are top five vote getters, hell they might even deserve it. Chicago is one of the largest cities in North America, so last seasons Norris Trophy Winner Duncan Keith is a natural as well, and he does deserve it. Nicklas Lidstrom is pushing triple digits in age, and as the hockey fans have more sense and class than the hacks who vote people into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s not surprising Lidstrom is on near the top given that this is probably his last hurrah. But alas, that’s not the point.

Even that whiny, one zone, overpaid git Phil Kessel is high on the list. Given that Toronto fans are delusional enough to believe they got the better of that trade, and thought they’d be in the playoffs this season, I’m kinda surprised he’s not even higher. I’m going to have to guess that his failure to top the list is due to the passionate love Leaf Lovers have for the Raptor’s who are just as dynamic as the Maple Leafs. I wonder if Brian Burke is GM of them too?

The point is there are players in non-hockey markets ahead of the Boston Bruin’s players. Here’s some of the various players from redneck crossroads, hick towns, and places where belt buckles and NASCAR are more popular than hockey, high school diplomas and hygiene that somehow have players ahead of the Bruins players on the All Star ballot count. Also included are things that just plain baffle me.

  • Michael Cammilleri (@MCammalleri13), in more games has the exact same number of goals as Michael Ryder. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is there ergot in every dish of poutine in Quebec?
  • Alex Semin aka “Little Drummer Boy”

has more votes than Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci combined.

  • Ilya Kovalchuk who has four goals and $100 million contract has almost twice as many votes at Milan Lucic who has about three times as many points and more than twice as many goals.
  • Mike “What’s Defense?” Green has more votes than someone who actually has won a Norris Trophy. Honestly, can the Washington Capitals just reassign him to wing where he belongs? I’ll even cheer for him playing there since his complete lack of defensive play will be less noticeable there.
  • Ok, let’s leave aside the fact that he’s the captain of Toronto, and that as their continued cheering of Kessel proves they have no taste there, how is former Calgary Flames “stud” first among the Maple Leaf’s blueliners in votes? He’ll get confused, at this point he’s used to coming in second.  How in the hell is this head case ahead of Johnny Boychuck?
  • Max Talbot of Pittsburgh, Jason Spezza of Ottawa, and Jussi Jokienen of wherever, are all ahead of Milan Lucic in ballot count? I didn’t even know any of the three were actually playing in the NHL this year. Sure, the Senators play in a building that’s quieter than a library, but they are at least a hockey market (sorta). I do have to admit I am impressed that the Sidney Crosby fans in powder blue knew the name of another player on their roster. Very impressed, Kudos.
  • As far as pure shock value goes, near the top has to be Zach Parise getting more votes than Shawn Thornton. Leaving aside any other year of their careers, Shawn Thornton is far more deserving of being there this year, and would be the only player at the All Star game who’s interviews didn’t threaten Ambien’s market share.
  • Brandy Brandon “The Slasher” Dubinsky is somehow getting more votes than any Bruins forward.
  • I do think it’s really amazing that everyone who’s ever been to a Carolina Hurricanes game sent in a vote for their favorite figure skater Jeff Skinner.

But, I have no problems with Sean Avery getting votes, I think it’d be good for coverage for someone who might play with an edge, say something interesting, and has the skill to pot a goal or two to be there.

Today’s game is the second of back to back games for both teams. The Bruins downed the Rangers in New York, the Panthers went into the ATL and stole the Thrashers cookies. Former Bruin’s Denis Wideman and Marty Reasoner (part of the trade that shipped out Samsanov, and brought in Lucic) will no doubt get a warm reception, or at least Wideman will.  The Panthers are having a surprisingly good season so far and have an even record 8-8-0, but still rest securely at the bottom of the Southeast division. A closer look at their schedule reveals wins over the nearly simmering Flames,  the Minnesota Wild, Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders for half their win total.  The Flyers, Stars, and Senators were a different story.  For the Bruins, Adam McQuaid must again be nervous of his roster spot with Boychuck staring hungrily over his shoulder.

  1. Will the Garden faithful come up with a cheer just for Wideman as they did for the equally missed Phil Kessel?
  2. Can Patrice Bergeron pierce the strippers veil the Panthers insist is a defense to light the lamp?
  3. Can a Bruins forward not named Patrice Bergeron finish the night at over 50% in the faceoff dot?
  4. Can the officiating possibly be as bad as last nights?
  5. Will anyone finally recognize Blake Wheeler or Matt Hunwick for the hard work and solid play they have exhibited this season. Both have played well in the last two weeks or so.

I’ll be at the Garden tonight for the game, probably won’t have time for a pregame meeting, but tweet me @pucksage and say hi.

Can anyone sound more out of touch than Wilson? Clearly this one was an empty net tap in from a foot inside the bluepaint. The answer is no. Wilson has the most hysterical (in all senses of the word) meltdown of a coach in this yet young season.

Can one goalie solidify their position? Well, Thomas allowed just one goal, again. This time to the Washington Capitals who are on pace to be held to two or less goals far more times than last year. The Capitals goal-tending duo was affected by “the flu” (The Black & Gold Flu?) and so it’s probably inconclusive so far.

Well, Bergeron not only failed to gain the score sheet, he had one of the worst faceoff nights of his career with just a 22% win percentage. Blake Wheeler snagged and assist and Matt Hunwick stuck the dagger deep into the chest of the Capitals for his first goal of the season.  Pialle is leading all returning Bruins forwards in time on pine, Stuart and Ference have continued to perform at their normal offensive rate.

Caps defense? Um… not really.  Horton may not have gotten a shot on goal, but he was still +2 with an assist. Sorry GM GM, you still have work to do. So sorry.

Egg would be a gift… the Canucks got tripled up by the Wild with no less than six of the boys from The State of Hockey lighting the lamp. Midway through the game the Sharks are halfway to a loss to a probable lottery team on the tail end of a long, grueling road trip that started about 11 time zones away. The Sharks might pull it out but there’s no reason a roster with Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Pavelski should ever trail a roster with Eric Staal, and 19 other guys.

With the start of each and every NHL season, several races start. The flashiest of the races is for the Rocket Richard, as the gaudiest goal scoring numbers drive sales and highlight reels. The races for the Hart and Ross trophies might as well be the very same as it seems that they are awarded to the same person on a highly regular basis. On the flipside, the race for the more ignoble awards begin about the same time and are often holdovers from previous years.

The question of which major name, or which rising star will have a substandard start is always among the most discussed. Jarome Iginla going a whole three games without lighting the lamps probably had half the Calgary media contingents stories half written for a week. When he ‘finally’ did score, it probably got each two more columns. Without looking It’s a safe bet that the keyboard strokes being devoted to the Greater Glory of the Toronto Maple Leafs is probably enough to ensure that two more wins will see enough verbiage written to have at least a one to one ratio to every book in the Library of Congress.

Of all the races both good and bad in the NHL, the one that will probably have its answer first is who will not be getting a nomination for the Jack Ross. In fact, the first panic response coach firing of the NHL season is usually a sign that the games have started to matter, and that organizations expect players to have settled into the quality that can be expected from the current coaching staff and team matrix. The first two weeks or so of the NHL season are pretty well acknowledged as being an extension of training camp. With the number of free agents brought into camp to supplement draft picks, off season acquisitions, and veterans many of the lines that take the ice in the first game or two of the season may not have even spent a full hour on the ice as a unit.

Even though there are injuries galore, and enough turnover to make settling in an extended process, I suspect the first man to go is currently behind the New Jersey Devils bench. John MacLean has the unenviable task of integrating free agent superstar Ilya Kovalchuk into the roster on a long term basis, and turning a team know for defense first, second, third and fourth into a more balanced tool. Essentially he’s been given the job of reshaping his buckler into at least a cudgel while juggling injuries, ego’s and healthy competition in a cap situation so tight you could bounce a quarter off it. With all the turnover, injuries, and the change in philosophy it’s possible that MacLean has been given all the ingredients he needs to fail. Add to those problems the fact that only the Grey Red Wings dress an older roster and it’s possible that even barring the other stumbling blocks it’s just not possible to teach that many old Devils new tricks.