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Top Line: Which team has hardest road? Winter Classic's fat profit; more links

Jonas Brodin of the Minnesota Wild and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche If the going got bumpy for the Wild and Avalanche after their hot starts, just wait for the stretch drive. (AP)

By Allan Muir

An annotated guide to this morning's must-read hockey stories:

• Here's one for the #fancystats crowd: using score-adjusted Fenwick to determine which team has the toughest schedule the rest of the way. Spoiler alert: there's smooth sailing ahead for Tampa Bay.

• This year's Winter Classic set a very high financial bar for the NHL's future outdoor events to live up to. Anyone know of any other 100,000-seat venues that are available on New Year's Day?

• With debts paid and fences mended, Wayne Gretzky is finally back where he belongs.

• Ilya Kovalchuk has no regrets about running out on the Devils. He says he's loving life in Mother Russia.

• New Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice picked up a memento to go along with a win in his debut with the Jets.

• Now that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has taken care of one pressing matter, it's time for him to address Winnipeg's biggest problem.

• Elliotte Friedman looks at the challenges Maurice is facing down the stretch, the potential for trades involving Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien, and how to soothe the hurt feelings of Martin St. Louis in this week's 30 Thoughts column.

Shane Doan says the Phoenix Coyotes "haven't been very good" for some time now, which seems like a fairly generous appraisal of a season that's going horribly wrong. Although Doan doesn't mention Mike Smith by name, the goalie's sub-par play has been a big part of the problem. Could Smith's selection by Steve Yzerman come back to haunt Team Canada?

Matt Duchene will head to Sochi as Canada's 13th forward, but that doesn't mean he'll finish the tournament that way.

• Sounds like the news Avs are doing a better job of dealing with pending free agent Ryan O'Reilly than the old Avs did.

• Paul Waldie has a must-read piece on how hockey is serving as a unifying force in a city torn apart by religious strife.

• Remember how everything was supposed to get easier for the Red Wings when they moved to the Eastern Conference? Well, it hasn't happened. Ted Kulfan explains why Detroit's record playoff streak is in jeopardy.

• Reports suggest the culmination of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes will play out in South Florida with the Panthers set to host the 2015 NHL Draft. As long as Sheryl Crow isn't out in the parking lot playing "I Wanna Soak Up The Sun" on repeat for an hour like she did back at the 2001 Draft, it should be a great time.

Andrei Markov is over 35 and injury prone, but can the Canadiens afford not to re-sign the pending UFA? Considering how positively he's impacted the play of his partners over the years, including defending Norris winner P.K. Subban, the answer to this one should be obvious.

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke says the team's play in October was not a fluke and Toronto will stay the course. Is that a water fall ahead?

• The Senators expect to win a Stanley Cup during the next (and final) two years that Bryan Murray will serve as the team's GM. No, really.

• Is Buffalo set to host a major international tournament? We could find out this morning, when USA Hockey hosts a press conference that promises a "major announcement."

• Why are the Dallas Stars mired in their historic losing streak? Their best players aren't getting the job done. Honestly, if Team Canada was being selected today instead of last Tuesday, Jamie Benn might not have made the cut. He's been miserable during the past couple weeks.

• The Florida Panthers are keeping themselves amused with a crazy little bet.

• Here's another beauty of an outdoor rink. Seriously, I have a hard time working up the ambition to cut the lawn when it's 75 and sunny. I don't know how these guys do it.
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