A look at the top stories in the National Hockey League
22: Suspensions issued by Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice-president of hockey and business development and director of player safety, through Christmas, totalling 90 games. In addition, Shanahan also issued seven suspensions during the exhibition season, including three that spilled into the regular season, adding another 18 games on the sidelines for the likes of David Clarkson (10), Zack Kassian (5) and Paul Bissonnette (3). Shanahan has the longest title in the history of professional sport, but the department is called player safety for a reason. The goal is to try and eliminate as much as possible the dirty, cheap shots that are concussing players and otherwise leading to lengthy stays on the injury list, and it is a slow go. The message: What was once permissible, such as lowering the boom on an unsuspecting opponent with a hit to the head, isn’t anymore.
(DARREN CALABRESE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
54: Points by Sidney Crosby in 39 games, five more than runner-up Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Crosby was running away with the NHL scoring race until the final month of last season too, when he broke his jaw stopping a shot with his face and ended up losing the title in the final week to Martin St. Louis and the Hart Trophy race to Alex Ovechkin. The Penguins are 16-0 this season when Crosby records two or more points in a game, and entered the Christmas break with the best record in the East, despite missing key personnel Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang for long stretches of the season. Injuries are a factor, but it’s hard to believe that Crosby has won just one Hart Memorial Trophy since coming into the league in the 2005-06 season.
(GENE J. PUSKAR/AP)
30: Goals by Ovechkin, six more than the runner-up, Alex Steen of the St. Louis Blues. Ovechkin’s 29th of the season was also the 400th goal of his NHL career in 634 games played, which made him the sixth-fastest player to reach 400, and the seventh-youngest to do so. After a slow start last season, Ovechkin has been on fire ever since. He is the only NHL player to score at least 30 goals in every season since 2005-06 and one of only six players ever to record 30 or more goals in each of his first nine NHL seasons, after Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Bryan Trottier, all Hall Of Famers. The Sid vs. Ovie rivalry was the best thing about the NHL coming out of the 2005-06 lockout and it seems to have gotten some bite back into it once again.
23: Points by Steven Stamkos in the first 17 games before breaking his leg. Stamkos was leading the league in scoring, one point ahead of Crosby, when he suffered the first major injury of his career. Tampa has managed to stay competitive during his absence and had won five in a row going into the break. Only the Anaheim Ducks, with a season-high nine wins in a row, were hotter.
1: Player with multiple sclerosis, who is also leading the NHL goaltending ranks in goals-against average. That would be the Minnesota Wild’s indomitable Josh Harding, who took a week off before Christmas to adjust the medication that keeps his disease under control. Harding’s perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship won him the 2013 Masterton and that was after playing only seven games in the lockout-shortened season, five in the NHL and two in the AHL. If this keeps up, he’s the early season favourite for the Vezina.
5.2: In billions of dollars, the value of the new Canadian television package negotiated between the NHL and Rogers Communications. Under terms of the 12-year deal, Rogers gets all national rights to NHL games on all platforms in all languages. The agreement, the largest media rights deal in league history, begins with the 2014-15 season and runs through 2025-26. For better or worse, it marks the first time a major North American pro sports league has granted all of its national (Canadian) rights to a single company on a long-term basis. The CBC retains the right to broadcast Hockey Night In Canada on Saturdays for the next four years as a sub-licensee, but the production will be done by Rogers, which has a huge new inventory of games – and may have trouble landing all that available on-air talent that was supposed to spill on the market from TSN. Instead, TSN seems to be locking up all its key on-air personnel to long-term deals, in a sign that they’re not prepared to give up the fight on the news front – and perhaps in regional television rights packages as well.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/CBC)
3: Coaches fired in the first half: Peter Laviolette (replaced by Craig Berube with the Philadelphia Flyers); Ron Rolston (replaced by Ted Nolan with the Buffalo Sabres) and Kevin Dineen (replaced by Peter Horachek with the Florida Panthers). All three have shown modest signs of life since their respective coaching changes, but even in the inferior Eastern Conference, none of the three are showing any signs of being anywhere close to contending. Maybe coaching wasn’t the problem after all?
2: General managers fired in the first half; Darcy Regier by the Buffalo Sabres and Jay Feaster by the Calgary Flames. The search to replace either/both could hardly be called feverish, since both jobs are still open long after the fact. In the meantime, Pat LaFontaine is minding the store in Buffalo, Brian Burke in Calgary.
3: California teams in the top 7 of the NHL standings. Traditionally, Minnesota is known as the state of hockey in the U.S., but that’s changed the last few years, with both the Kings and the Ducks winning Stanley Cup championships since 2007 and the San Jose Sharks putting together one of the best regular season records in the league during the past decade. The only problem with all this concentrated talent in the West – it makes Vancouver’s path to the final that much more difficult.
(ROBERT STANTON/USA TODAY SPORTS)
0: In the past 14 years, the number of teams able to defend the Stanley Cup. The last back-to-back winners were the Detroit Red Wings back in 1997 and 1998. This history – the inability to defend – seems to be about the only strike against the Chicago Blackhawks, who have had an excellent first half, despite a woefully short summer (they clinched the Cup on June 24). Question: With up to a third of the team playing overseas in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics, will they run out of gas before they get to the finish line, or defy the odds and win again? In 2006, or the last time NHL players went to Europe for the Olympics, it produced one of the wackiest playoffs ever, the top four teams in the West all losing in the opening round and the Carolina Hurricanes ultimately defeating the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the championship final. So stay tuned. It promises to be another wild ride to the end.