By Allan Muir
A notated guide to this morning's must-read hockey stories:
• "We are focused on one Winter Classic and one Heritage Classic," said the impish Gary Bettman during a Wednesday conference call. Although he didn't specifically commit to Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings at the Big House on Jan. 1, the commish did call it "a good rumor."
• They can console themselves that they're falling to elite teams like the Penguins and Bruins, but with the losses mounting and points slipping away this stretch could prove deadly to Toronto's playoff hopes.
• The patience shown by Detroit with its top prospects is a reminder that time spent in the minor leagues is likely to have a positive impact on the development of other teams' recent high-profile demotees such as Chris Kreider, Mikael Granlund and Sven Baertschi.
• That failed offer sheet-attempt on Ryan O'Reilly suggested the Calgary Flames will be active ahead of the NHL trade deadline. But with just nine games left before April 3 and his team swirling the drain, GM Jay Feaster's intentions are harder to decipher.
• The Boston Bruins continue to win but they don't look particularly good doing it. Stephen Harris calls Thursday night's second period "the worst ever played in this arena." Yikes. Harris also feels it is unlikely that the Bruins will make a major deal ahead of the deadline.
• The Anaheim Ducks, not the Chicago Blackhawks, are the surprise story of the West this year. Here's a look at some of the key second-half storylines surrounding the conference that ECM bias compels me to ignore.
• It was just one loss out of many this year for the New York Rangers, but this was the one that dropped them out of the playoff picture. Is this the wake-up call they need, or evidence that this team simply isn't as good as we all thought it would be?
• The Buffalo Sabres used a rare off-day to work on a power play that's connecting at less than seven percent over its last 20 games. Meanwhile, they had scouts at recent games in St. Louis, Colorado and Los Angeles. With three massive trade chips potentially in play, Buffalo is the must-watch team ahead of the deadline.
• The young guns get all the attention in Edmonton, but veteran Sam Gagner's career year should turn him into more than an afterthought. I'm curious to see what his contract demands will be this summer when he goes RFA, and if the Oilers will be willing to pony up for a player who is finally delivering on his promise.
• Ryan Whitney has been brutal much of this season, but his game is finally coming together ahead of the trade deadline. Fortuitous timing for the Oilers, who would love to move the veteran, but buyer beware on the aging blueliner.
• Because we're fascinated (if not completely sold) on the value of advanced stats, here's a primer on Corsi, which is the cornerstone stat for modern analysts. We think.
• Despite allowing a goal to old pal Alex Semin in the opening minutes, the Caps may have salvaged their season with last night's 3-2 win over the Canes.
• Kings coach Darryl Sutter thinks the Sharks he once coached were as good as last season's champs from L.A.. A healthy Teemu Selanne would have made the difference, he said. Interesting thought to ponder as the current Sharks scored twice on the power play to beat the current Kings. It was just the second regulation win in the last 11 games for the struggling fish.
• The Stars brought the effort, but couldn't buy the results in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ducks. Nice to not hear them griping about the officiating after this one. That crew struggled all night, particularly when mistakenly ending the play on what could have been a game-winner from Derek Roy. • AHL vet Bobby Robins offers up another fine blog entry on the art of reinventing yourself. Always a worthwhile read.