Long before Scotiabank and P.K. Subban started saying "there's one season that runs all year round and that's the fifth season, the hockey season," Wayne Gretzky came up with his own unique division.
The hockey season, the Great One once said, comes in five very distinct units. First is the all-but-meaningless exhibition season. Second is the regular season, which runs through to the trading deadline. Third is the "stretch" season, where those who traded up jockey for playoff seedings and some who traded away jockey for draft positions. Fourth is the playoffs, where the opening round is usually the most exciting part of the entire hockey year. And fifth is the Stanley Cup final in which, for reasons that range from injuries to referee whistles, the games are played entirely differently from anything that came before.
This being all-star weekend, it's a perfect opportunity to take a look at what has happened – and, just as importantly, what has not happened – in this wonky, weird and a few times wonderful 2017-18 NHL season.
On the wonky side has to be the rules of the game. When is an offside an offside? If the game is played by humans for the pleasure of humans, why are humans considered incapable of making a simple call?
And as for what now constitutes goaltender interference, let analyst Ray Ferraro's tweet on Thursday's match between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers speak for itself: "This is absurd. I am totally disillusioned with what they think they're trying to accomplish. It's clear the rule is 'We don't know what the rule is, so we will throw darts on each review.' Signed NHL."
The wonky has to be the number of times cameras catch assistant coaches staring at their handy iPads. Has overcoaching made the NHL game so unbearably dull that they're all watching Netflix?
As for the wonderful and the not-so-wonderful, we turn first to the welcome surprises.
The only hockey team that has no past, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, is the top team in the Western Conference on the 25th anniversary of expansion reaching the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators, two teams so shafted in their expansion drafts that Tampa general manager Phil Esposito said the league had essentially offered them "snow in winter."
Other shining surprises would include the Winnipeg Jets (two points shy of Las Vegas), Colorado Avalanche and the Boston Bruins, three teams far exceeding anyone's expectations.
As for those surprises that are found in the other direction, look no further than Canada, where the Ottawa Senators came within an overtime goal of the Stanley Cup final last spring and the Edmonton Oilers, with the best player in hockey in Connor McDavid. Today, the sinking Senators are 17 points shy of the final playoff spot, the stumbling Oilers 10 points away.
It's no surprise that the pride of Cole Harbour, N.S., is battling for the scoring leadership, but a huge surprise that it's Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche rather than Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby is in ninth place, five points back of MacKinnon and eight behind scoring leader Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning, who is himself a bit of a surprise.
But not nearly as much as the league's No. 3 scorer, Pittsburgh's Phil Kessel, a former Maple Leaf. (Quick, name all the players Toronto got in exchange.)
No one would be surprised to hear that the top-scoring defenceman is a Swede, but they'd be astonished to hear that it's neither Ottawa's Erik Karlsson nor Tampa's Victor Hedman, but little-to-not-known Johan Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, widely considered the best goalie in the world over the past few years, is today ranked 37th on the TSN statistics page.
On Friday, the Professional Hockey Writers Association launched its first-ever mid-season awards.
Some 150 writers and broadcasters along with 2,000 fans completed ballots for the 10 awards, the results as follows:
- Hart Trophy (MVP): 1. Kucherov; 2. MacKinnon; 3. John Tavares, New York Islanders.
- Norris Trophy (top defenceman): 1. Hedman; 2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; 3. Klingberg.
- Selke Trophy (top defensive forward): 1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; 2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers; 3. Anze Kopitar, L.A. Kings.
- Calder Trophy (top rookie): 1. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders; 2. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks; 3. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins.
- Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly conduct): 1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames; 2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs; 3. Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres.
- Vézina Trophy (best goaltender): 1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning; 2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets; 3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators.
- Jack Adams Award (best coach): 1. Gerard Gallant, Las Vegas Golden Knights; 2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning; 3. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets.
- GM-of-the-year award: 1. George McPhee, Las Vegas Golden Knights; 2. Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning; 3. Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils.
- Rod Langway award (PHWA award to top defensive defenceman): 1. Doughty; 2. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins; 3. Hedman.
- PHWA comeback-player-of-the-year award: 1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; 2. Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils; 3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers.
Canadian fans will no doubt note not a single player, coach or manager from the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators or Edmonton Oilers made the cut.
This, in a country where hockey is the one season that runs all year 'round …