Friday, January 28, 2011

Ten new events to save the all-star skills competition

When it was Phaneuf's turn, the
targets were hung in the rafters.
While the NHL All-Star weekend has its share of critics, you have to give the league credit for being willing to shake things up. With a brand new fantasy team format highlighted by tonight's schoolyard draft, the league is at least trying to improve on an admittedly stale format.

But have they gone far enough? After all, while the draft may be unique that same creativity hasn't extended to the rest of the weekend. The game itself will be standard all-star fare, and even the skills competition will rely largely on old standbys like accuracy shooting and fastest skater races.

It doesn't have to be that way. The league has an opportunity to really embrace change, and they should take advantage by introducing brand new events to Saturday's skills competition that would really connect with the modern NHL audience.

It's not too late. Here are ten suggestions for new events that the league should move quickly to implement in time for tomorrow night's competition.

Respect The Game - As all the others players enthusiastically hoot, holler and high five each other in reaction to the various events, P.K. Subban curls up in the fetal position and tries desperately to avoid cracking a facial expression. Special celebrity judge: Mike Richards.

Fashion Cents - Fans from around the league will attempt to sprint to the gift shop, find their favourite team's jersey, spend their entire paycheque on it, and then actually put it on and wear it for a few seconds before the team announces that it's replacing it with yet another new design.

Lame Duck - Cory Clouston delivers a fiery motivational speech to members of the Ottawa Senators, who compete to see who can go the longest without rolling their eyes and tuning him out completely. (Note to organizers: this event will require a timer that can measure thousandths of a second.)

Staged Outrage - Two enforcers drop the gloves at center ice immediately after a faceoff, at which point every member of the assembled media scrambles to make the exact same overwrought "staged fights must go" argument. Bonus points will be awarded for volume, repetitiveness, and having your entire column filed before all four gloves have even touched the ice.

What Time Is It, Mr. Snow? - Various KHL stars attempt to sneak up and sign the NHL contract lying at center ice, until Garth Snow appears and they all scatter like rats.

Explaining the Unexplainable - Players try to determine why there should be a minor penalty for delaying the game by shooting the puck into the stands, but not for delaying the game by shooting the puck all the way down the rink for icing even though that takes longer. Anyone player who succeeds will move on to a bonus round called "And what's that trapezoid thing behind the net supposed to accomplish, anyway?"

I'm An Insider, Really! -- A selection of anonymous bloggers are given 30 seconds to randomly point to as many players as possible and claim that they're all being traded for each other according to top secret sources. In the second half of the event, exactly none of those trades happen.

Tie Game In The Third Period - Based on an exciting feature of regular season NHL games, two teams of five will work together to turn a close contest into a three-point game by ensuring that they make it to overtime without a goal being scored. Any player who crosses the opponent's blue line with control of the puck will immediately be benched and replaced with someone who'll dump it in and stay in the neutral zone.

Hey, Why Am I Bleeding? - Various finesse players who have never been in an fight before compete to see who can land the most gloved punches on Tim Gleason before having it occur to them that that's probably a really bad idea.

Head Shot Roulette - A randomly selected player is handed the full text of the NHL's rule 48.1 and is given 30 seconds to attempt to figure out which head shots are actually legal and which are not. As he's thinking, another player sneaks up behind him and hits him over the head with a shovel, at which point everyone laughs and uploads the clip the YouTube.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Looking on the bright side of the Ottawa Senators season

"Yes, we have a plan. It involves us
repeatedly assuring you we have a plan."
The Ottawa Senators may have finally hit rock bottom.

The team has fallen to 27th place, miles out of the playoff spot they'd expected to contend for. They have the worst goal-differential in the entire league. They've lost six in a row at home, most recently an embarrassing 7-1 disaster at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. The roster is old and expensive. And fans are screaming for heads on a platter.

So sure, things could be better. But is that any reason to get all negative?

Long-time readers know that I reject the online culture of cynical pessimism, and instead choose to always look at the glass as half full. So I reached out to my various contacts within the Ottawa organization, and they helped me put together a list of feel-good stories.

Cheer up, Senator fans. You have so much to be thankful for:
  • Team salespeople report that the idea of renewing their season tickets apparently makes Senator fans really happy, since whenever you call to ask them about it they just laugh hysterically into the phone for hours.

  • Making his only start of the season, third-string goalie Mike Brodeur recently gave up four goals in a half game's work and was then immediately sent down to the minors, which this season means he can be referred to as "The Good Brodeur".

  • The players should be rested and ready to go next year thanks to an extended four-month offseason, as opposed to the three-and-a-half-month offseason that they're used to.

  • The team has saved a ton of money on their office supplies budget in recent years by just giving every new coach the same generic "miscellaneous interim head coach" business cards.

  • Let's just say that the franchise-record seven-year streak of not losing to the Maple Leafs in the playoffs shows absolutely no sign of ending any time in the next decade.

  • The team is almost certain to have a top ten pick at this year's draft, so get ready to say hello to the next Brian Lee.

  • Veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar is having a career year, in the sense that at his age it's pretty much a given that every other season over the rest of his career will be even worse than this one.

  • All in all, you have to admit that the players have actually done a pretty good job of dealing with the crushing pressure of playing for the city's third most popular NHL team.

  • Anyone who's watched him play recently would agree that Alexei Kovalev is ridiculously, embarrassingly, horrifically overpaid at $5 million per year, which should make it especially entertaining when he gets $6 or $7 million as a free agent this summer from the Rangers.

  • Thanks to the purchase of an insurance policy that pays $100 for each Pascal Leclaire injury, the team will turn a profit on the season of roughly seven billion dollars.

  • The front office is unlikely to have to make any offseason choices between a future Norris winner and a future overpaid minor leaguer, which is good news since they tend to have a little bit of trouble with that one.

  • Daniel Alfredsson just guaranteed that no team would be crazy enough to give up anything decent for a struggling 38-year-old with two more years left on his contract, so, ka-ching!

  • Ownership is confident that the community will continue to support the franchise during a rebuilding phase, since other than the Rough Riders, Rebel, Loggers, Lynx, Renegades and maybe a dozen more at the most, Ottawa sports fans have never abandoned a losing team.

  • They're about to embark on a thorough rebuilding of an Ontario-based team under the leadership of a former Anaheim Ducks general manager -- how could that ever go wrong?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The signs of the hockey zodiac

Now a locker room Gemini.
If you've been around a water cooler recently, you've heard the apparently stunning news that's rocked the astrological world: thanks to a shift in the earth's axis, many of us now have new zodiac signs.

Does any of that matter to you? If you're a hockey fan, no, it doesn't. That's because diehard fans have long had their own unique set of astrological signs. Forget Scorpio and Capricorn; hockey fans have a better system that more closely aligns with the ups and downs of the NHL calendar.

On the off chance that you're a new fan or could use a quick refresher course, here's a rundown of the hockey world's zodiac signs.

Sign of the Opening Night (October) - You're an optimistic spirit who chooses to see the best in people. You're willing to let the mistakes of the past stay in the past, and you believe that everyone deserves a fresh start. You know that you'll never be perfect, but you also understand that you can't obsess over every little thing.

Sign of the Long Season (November) - You obsess over every little thing. You spend hours staring at yourself in the mirror, noting every flaw and wondering how it's possible that you didn't notice them until now. You're haunted by a nagging sense that you were a fool for thinking things might actually work out for once. You probably drink too much.

Sign of the World Juniors (December) - You're a shining example of the power of youthful exuberance. Emotional and excitable, you enjoy sprinting around and jumping into a wall whenever something goes well. You like to travel the world, even though everyone agrees that you'd probably be better off if you just stayed in Canada. You're really mean to Norwegian kids.

Sign of the All-Star (January) - You're constantly reinventing yourself in an attempt to stay cool. Rich businessmen and small children love you, although everyone else finds you sort of tedious. Every time you hold a party, everyone spends weeks arguing about one or two friends that you forgot to invite. People often fake injuries to avoid you.

Sign of the Olympics (February) - You're a world traveller who doesn't come around very often. Everybody loves you, even though you occasionally have an annoying habit of showing up at 3:00 in the morning. Whenever you attend an event that ends up being a huge success, you like to pretend you're not going to come back even though nobody believes you.

Sign of the Trade Deadline (March) - Everybody is endlessly fascinated by you, and they love to watch and analyze your every move in excruciating detail. Friends describe getting incredibly excited at the mere thought that you're near. But when you finally arrive, everyone feels strangely underwhelmed and mutters "Wait, I faked being too sick to come in to work for that?"

Sign of the Stretch Run (April) - Forget fun and games; you believe that it's time to get serious. You can be unpleasant and even downright cruel, and you've been known to break a few hearts along the way, but nobody wants to be left off of your dance card. Deep down, though, you can't shake the feeling that everyone is just using you to get to something better.

Sign of the Playoffs (May) - You have a beard, and you enjoy shaking hands. You're intense and unpredictable, with exhilarating highs and excruciating lows. You can be almost unbearably difficult, but for those willing to persevere through the tough times you offer the possibility of unmatched happiness that makes it all worth it. You don't hang out with Maple Leaf fans.

Sign of the Draft (June) - You're a long-term thinker who likes to plant seeds for the future and watch them grow. You have pimples, a bad haircut, a cheap suit and a disturbingly gigantic neck, and you absolutely will not put on a hat without bending it for five minutes first. You also don't hang out with Maple Leaf fans.

Sign of Free Agency (July) - The good news: You're a shopaholic who loves the thrill of the hunt. The bad news: You usually make terrible financial decisions that will take you years to fix. Everyone warns you about this, of course, but you just can't seem to help yourself. You would probably be a lot better of if you avoided talking with Russian people.

Sign of the Offseason (August) - You are incredibly dull and nobody likes you.

Sign of the Preseason (September) - You are full of the inner peace that can only come with a new beginning, and you believe that a brighter future may be right around the corner. You trust in the power of youth and feel that all things are possible, even for people that you just met. You embrace hope, you dream big dreams, and you eventually make the cutest little whimpering noise when reality inevitably comes along and mercilessly stomps little holes in your soul.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tips for dominating the NHL All-Star fantasy draft

You finish the bottle, Alex.
I prefer to drink from a cup.
The NHL is gearing up for the first ever All-Star Game player draft, to be held next Friday in Carolina. The innovative format will see two captains appointed this week who will choose the teams for the skills competition and all-star game in a schoolyard style draft.

The draft concept has never been tried before, and it remains to be seen how much strategy the players will actually put into it. Still, fans are no doubt hoping that the two captains will spend hours agonizing over their cheat sheets, just like we do before our own fantasy drafts.

It probably won't happen that way, but just in case here are some tips for building a winning team.

A half dozen to target
These six players could be well-suited for the weekend's events, and should be moved up draft boards.

Phil Kessel - Will finally have a chance to shake his reputation as a lazy and one-dimensional player, thanks to casual fans who mistake him for Ryan Kesler.

Tobias Enstrom - Selecting him pretty much ensures that your squad will earn a narrow 1-0 victory in the skills competition's "Correctly pick Tobias Enstrom out of a police lineup" event.

Alexander Ovechkin - Has apparently been saving up all his "marquee event" success for this one game, based on his recent performances in the playoffs, Winter Classic and the Olympics.

Erik Karlsson - All-star games are often criticized for featuring porous goaltending, lacklustre back-checking, and players who can't even be bothered to pretend that they care about the outcome, so Karlsson's basically already played in 40 of them this year.

Matt Duchene - Was born in 1991, so he won't be weighed down by memories of when All-Star weekend didn't need a bunch of gimmicks to make it entertaining.

Gregory Campbell - No, he's not technically one of the players selected for the game. But let's just say he'd be a smart sleeper pick for any captains who were thinking that it might be nice to cross-check David Steckel in the head the next time they saw him without getting suspended, Sidney.

A half dozen to stay away from
These players, although talented, should probably be avoided on draft night.

David Backes - Could put his team in penalty trouble, since things like "back checking" and "shot blocking" and "breaking a sweat" are all automatic five-minute majors in all-star competition.

Jarome Iginla - May have trouble adjusting, as he has almost entirely forgotten what it's like to play with halfway decent teammates.

Steven Stamkos - May help his team during the game, but could seriously hurt your chances during the skills competition's "Actually manage to stay upright during a penalty shot" event.

Brad Richards - If you draft him, you're just going to end up spending the rest of the weekend denying media reports that he's about to be traded to other team.

Mike Green - Yeah, good luck making it to the arena on a scooter in Nascar country.

Carey Price - Is unlikely to have the opportunity to do his infamous arms-crossed pose during the game, since he typically only does that after making a save.

A few final words of advice
Keep these general strategy tips in mind to ensure your draft goes smoothly.
  • If you're drafting second, do not point out that simply alternating picks is unfair and that each side should really get back-to-back picks after round one. You're right, but nobody wants to hear about it, Pythagoras.

  • Early on, loudly ask if Evgeni Malkin has been taken, wait for everyone to scratch him off their lists, then choose somebody else instead and pick Malkin 10 rounds later. This has worked in every hockey draft ever held.

  • Be aware that if they wind up on different teams, the mischievous Sedin twins might try to switch places during the game as a light-hearted practical joke. Avoid this possibility by drafting one, then immediately pinning him to the ground and scrawling "Henrik" on his forehead with a prison-style homemade tattoo gun. (Note: Bonus points if you do this after drafting Daniel.)

  • Finally, remember that the draft will be televised, so there's a good chance that Patrik Elias' family will be watching. A few times during the first 41 picks, be sure to act like you're really considering taking him before you go ahead and choose a player who's still good.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Do's and Don'ts for GMs on the hot seat

"Ooh, look at me with my paint brush helmet,
and... He's standing right behind me, isn't he?"
It's not exactly a fun time to be an NHL general manager these days. In a growing number of cities around the league, some of the game's most respected executives are facing harsh criticism, intense pressure to improve their rosters, and even outright calls for their dismissal.

Bryan Murray is watching his team implode before his eyes. Brian Burke is under constant fire in Toronto. Jay Feaster has been handed a mess to clean up in Calgary. And even previously untouchable veterans like Darcy Regier and Lou Lamoriello are seeing their reputations tarnished thanks to underperforming teams.

What's a struggling general manager to do? Well, a few things, actually. And since surveys tell me that a majority of my readership consists of current NHL front office executives, I thought I'd help them out by putting together some tips to guide struggling GMs through difficult times.

DO: Attempt to quickly improve your roster by phoning any colleagues who you think might be willing to part with star players cheaply.
DO NOT: Angrily call your service provider demanding to know why Darryl Sutter doesn't seem to be returning any of your voicemails.

DO: Arrange to deliver a motivational speech to the team before their next game.
DO NOT: Pause before you begin speaking, look slowly around the room, and then ask the head coach "What happened, did all the good players call in sick today?"

DO: Seek to create more cap room by making creative use of waivers, minor league assignments, and buyouts.
DO NOT: Seek to create more cap room by putting rocks in a sleeping Ilya Kovalchuk's pockets and rolling him into the Passaic River.

DO: Reassure the team's owner that you have everything under control.
DO NOT: Try to end the conversation prematurely by making static noises and saying "this reception is terrible, I can barely hear you", especially since he's sitting across from you in your office.

DO NOT: Make a trade just for the sake of making a trade.
DO: Be sure to remind every reporter you speak to that you don't intend to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. Several times a day, if possible. Until the end of time.

DO: Ask your assistant GM whether he has any ideas for improving the team in the short term.
DO NOT: Ask your assistant GM why he keeps pulling out a tape measure and taking measurements around your office as you're talking to him.

DO: Hang up the phone immediately if Bryan Murray calls to ask if you'd be interested in trading for Sergei Gonchar.
DO NOT: Forget to set your phone on fire and beat it with a baseball bat immediately afterwards, just in case.

DO NOT: Callously throw your underachieving franchise player under the bus.
DO: Show the proper respect for your underachieving franchise player's many years of loyal service to the team by, instead, gently and lovingly placing him under the bus.

DO: Pop your head into the owner's office and say "Hey, you're doing a TV interview with Pierre McGuire right now? That's a great way to get a positive message out to our fans!"
DO NOT: Put too much thought into why McGuire responds "Uh, yeah, TV interview…" while awkwardly sliding his resume under a file folder.

DO: Answer any questions about your coach's job security by emphatically telling reporters "I want to be absolutely clear, we are not so much as even considering a coaching change at this particular moment".
DO NOT: Follow that by pausing briefly, looking at your watch, and then saying "OK, this particular moment is over now, right?"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The NHL's standard test for diagnosing concussions

The bad news: This isn't a photo,
it's a live video feed.
Head injuries are in the spotlight again thanks to the surprising news that Sidney Crosby will miss at least a week with a concussion. While the Penguins claim otherwise, many observers suspect that Crosby may have suffered the injury during the Winter Classic and been allowed to play an additional game before sitting out.

Many reports have included speculation about whether Crosby passed concussion-related medical tests prior to playing. But fans may be surprised to learn that those "tests" aren't especially complex. They're actually just a simple one-page multiple choice quiz which has become the league's standard process for diagnosing concussions.

What does that quiz look like? Glad you asked, since I happen to have obtained a copy.

Dear NHL player,

You have recently suffered an injury, which resulted in a direct blow to the head. Congratulations! But before you can play again, you are required by league rules to pass the following in-depth test to ensure that you have not suffered a concussion.

Instructions: Answer each question and then add up your score. If you reach 100 points or more, you have a concussion and should not be playing; print out the results and show them to your coach.

What's the last thing you remember thinking before you were injured?
  • "I think I'll just cut across the blueline with my head down." (+5 points)
  • "What a nice pass I just made, I think I'll admire it." (+10 points)
  • "I'm pretty sure I can squeeze by Chara here…" (+20 points)
  • "Hey wait, why are the linesmen backing off and leaving me all alone with Colton Orr?" (+30 points)
  • "I'll just adjust my rearview mirror and… how did Chris Pronger get into my backseat?" (+100 points)

Which of the following common concussion symptoms have you been experiencing?
  • Slight headache (+5 points)
  • Short-term memory loss (+10 points)
  • Nausea or vomiting (+20 points)
  • Starting to think that the Ilya Kovalchuk signing may have been a good idea (+50 points)
  • Really enjoying those NHL Guardian super hero things (+100 points)

As a result of your injury, are you having any difficulty reading this test?
  • I am experiencing significant difficulty (+20 points)
  • I am experiencing minor difficulty (+10 points)
  • I can understand everything I'm reading (0 points)
  • I can understand everything I'm reading, which is odd since I'm a European player who didn't speak a word of English prior to getting hit (+100 points)

At any point since being injured, have you experienced any of the following symptoms of double vision?
  • There appears to be 8,000 people at tonight's Thrashers game, instead of the usual 4,000 (+10 points)
  • In the family seating area, Philadelphia Flyers fans are furiously waving two fingers at my great-grandmother. (+15 points)
  • During games in Ottawa, there are 12 Senators on the ice looking at their watches and mumbling about whether the season is over yet. (+20 points)
  • Could swear that one of the Canucks keeps passing the puck back and forth with a guy who looks exactly like him (-50 points)

How did the fans react when you were hit?
  • Stunned silence (+5 points)
  • Audible gasps of horror (+10 points)
  • Fight broke out in the upper level between fans trying to catch my mouthguard (+20 points)
  • Started throwing waffles at me, which made no sense. (0 points)
  • Started throwing waffles at me, which made perfect sense. (+100 points)

Has there been any media coverage of your injury?
  • A sportstalk radio caller asked about it. (0 points)
  • A TV report mentioned that I had suffered an upper body injury (+5 points)
  • A newspaper article speculated that I may have suffered a head injury (+10 points)
  • I was featured on an episode of HBO's 24/7 last night, which was subtitled "The Ballad of Concussy McWobble'n'Fall" (+100 points)

Hey, just curious, but you do realize this is hockey and not soccer, right?
  • What? (+20 points)
  • Sigh… yes (-100 points)

Finally, which of the following best describes your current role with your team?
  • I am a role player or fourth liner (+20 points)
  • I take a regular shift (+10 points)
  • I am a star player (0 points)
  • I am a star player and it is the playoffs (Get out there, you're fine. Retake the test in the offseason if you still can't remember your name.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

So you've become a hockey fan: Gary Bettman's post-Winter Classic FAQ

If you're a terrible commissioner and you
know it, karate chop an invisible midget.
After months of anticipation, the 2011 outdoor Winter Classic has come and gone. Thanks in part to HBO's behind-the-scenes 24/7 Penguins/Capitals documentary, this year's version of the NHL's showcase event was a big win for the league -- the most watched regular season game in the United States in over 30 years.

Great. So what now? How does the NHL capitalize on that success?

It won't surprise fans to learn that Gary Bettman has a plan. While I can't reveal my sources, I've come into possession of a top secret memo that Bettman recently sent to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

Well Bill, the Winter Classic looks like it was an unqualified success. The ratings were fantastic, the fans had a great time, and the HBO 24/7 series was a huge hit. I think it's safe to assume that we'll be seeing a massive influx of new fans any day now.

To help our new fans understand the NHL, I took the liberty of putting together a list of frequently asked questions. Please give it a once over, and then have a copy mailed to every household in the United States. Overnight delivery. Thanks.

Commissioner Bettman, I really enjoyed the Winter Classic and 24/7, and am now considering becoming an NHL fan. However, I find the sport very confusing and I'm having trouble figuring out what's going on.
You and me both! But don't worry, it's easy enough to figure out if you sit through a few games, I'm told. And just to make it as simple as possible, I'll be glad to walk you through any questions you may have.

First things first: Are there other NHL teams besides the Penguins and Capitals?

Wait, really?
OK, sure, in the strictest technical sense there are other teams in the league. In addition to the Penguins and Capitals, there are also the Flyers, Rangers, Red Wings, Blackhawks and… um… the Lakers. Look, it really doesn't matter. Just pay attention to the Penguins and Capitals and everyone will be happy.

Cool, so both those teams will have long playoff runs?
You know what, maybe just focus on the Penguins.

OK, so I'm watching my first post-Classic hockey game. What are the key differences I should be looking for?
Well, for one thing the game is indoors. The coaches aren't dressed like characters from an Archie comic. And there's a good chance that there's only a few hundred people in the stands. Other than that, though, it's pretty much the same.

Wait, did you say the game is indoors? Because it looks like it's raining even harder than it was at the Classic.
You must be watching a Devils home game. Those are the fans' tears.

Why is the puck sliding all around in this game instead of bouncing around randomly like a ping pong ball?
That's what happens when the games are played on a substance called "ice", instead of a slushy mess. It can make the game pretty boring, since the puck always goes where the players are trying to make it go. But don't worry, by the time the playoffs get here everything will be back to how you're used to.

I enjoyed the Winter Classic, but why was it played at night? I much prefer watching sports in the afternoon.
I know, right? Never fear, the Winter Classic was only played at night because of last-minute weather concerns. Rest assured that every other NBC game you ever see will take place in the afternoon.

Awesome! Even when it starts getting hot and all my neighbours are outside barbecuing and having fun?
Especially when it starts getting hot and all your neighbours are outside barbecuing and having fun!

One thing I didn't appreciate about 24/7 was all the swearing. Will I have to put up with that during every NHL game?
No. HBO aired uncensored clips of players and coaches, but those are never included in typical NHL broadcasts. You won't have to worry about being assaulted by a stream of increasingly frantic f-bombs during a regular game, unless you happen to be sitting next to a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

Toronto? There are teams in Canada?
Next question!

OK Gary, bottom line: I'm a busy sports fan and I have to be pretty selective with what I watch. Why should I become an NHL fan? What can your league offer me that other sports can't?
We play the most beautiful game ever created. No sport has ever combined speed, strength, grace and brutality the way hockey does. Our players are the toughest in the world, we have a rich history, and we compete for the greatest trophy in all of sports.

Um… Did I mention we got Stan Lee to draw a bunch of ridiculous superhero characters for all the teams?

I'm in!
Welcome aboard!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A mid-season evaluation of the Canadian teams

How southern US teams make payroll
Now that the new year has arrived and the season's 40-game mark is quickly approaching, it's a good time for an in-depth examination of teams' chances of success in the second half.

For some teams, the future is bright. For others, it seems bleak. So let's take an honest look at each of Canada's six teams, and how they stack up for the rest of the 2010-11 season and beyond.

Calgary Flames
The good news: Experts say the worst part of a losing season is the devastating effect is can have on the development of young players, which is great news for the Flames since they don't have any.
The bad news: Are currently on pace for an 82-point season, which would see them miss the playoffs in the Western Conference by over 50 points.
Worth mentioning: Coach Brent Sutter can't help but notice that team mascot Harvey The Hound now stands directly behind the bench at all times, takes detailed notes, and looks a lot like Bob Hartley wearing cheap novelty wolf ears.
The road ahead: New general manager Jay Feaster has been given a mandate to deal anyone the roster, which is bad news for the two or three guys who have any trade value.

Vancouver Canucks
The good news: Appear to have been inspired by the Markus Naslund retirement ceremony, which has been continuing in the background during all home games since early December.
The bad news: Daniel and Henrik Sedin continue to frustrate observers by refusing to reveal which one is the evil one.
Worth mentioning: Recently set a new franchise record by going three months without completely redesigning their jerseys.
The road ahead: May avoid the Blackhawks in the playoffs this year, which will be great news unless they happen to run into some other team that can exploit bad goaltending.

Montreal Canadiens
The good news: Carey Price has established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the league, so they should be able to get a couple of average prospects for him in the offseason.
The bad news: Sources say that recently acquired defenceman James Wisniewski has made the team's traditional off day games of charades increasingly awkward.
Worth mentioning: Are still trying to figure out how they can raise somebody's number to the rafters during the Heritage Classic game.
The road ahead: The trade deadline acquisition of Alexei Kovalev for a fifth round pick will probably seem like a good idea until they realize he now plays all his shifts wearing skate guards.

Toronto Maple Leafs
The good news: Looked absolutely dominant against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
The bad news: Have had substantially less success against teams that are still trying.
Worth mentioning: The traditional modest late season win streak that somehow convinces management that the team is on the verge of long-term success is currently scheduled for late March.
The road ahead: Brian Burke continues to insist that he won't ask Tomas Kaberle to waive his no-trade clause, although the baseball bat he's quietly tapping in the palm of his hand hasn't made any similar promises.

Ottawa Senators
The good news: Have avoided becoming national laughingstock, as nobody outside Ottawa is aware the team still exists.
The bad news: Owner Eugene Melnyk has gone on record saying the team was "going all the way this year", rudely spoiling the ending for the rest of us who wanted to be surprised.
Worth mentioning: Dynamic young defenceman Erik Karlsson leads the league in assists, or would, if not for that pesky "it only counts when it's to your own team" technicality.
The road ahead: Face a long, difficult, and frustrating road, and that's just to get back to downtown Ottawa after home games.

Edmonton Oilers
The good news: Have been decent against non-playoff teams, which bodes really well for future intrasquad games.
The bad news: Rookie Linus Omark has been sent back to the minors to work on his latest shootout move in hopes that he can more consistently land that quad toe loop.
Worth mentioning: Shawn Horcoff's six-year contract really isn't as horrendous as it seems, assuming the Mayans are right about this whole 2012 thing.
The road ahead: Look like they'll be absolutely stacked for the future thanks to Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and a top three pick in every draft for the next decade or so.