Season's biggest surprises...so far
Like the proverbial husband,
At the quarter pole of the 2009-10 season, there seems to have been more than the usual number of oddities -- quirks not in our purview a mere two months ago when we were busy playing the Hunchback of Nostradamus and attempting to divine what was going to occur before any games were played. Still, raise your hands if you thought the NHL's leading scorer would hail from the hockey haven of Slovenia? That
Right. Thought so.
So, in no particular order, here are our biggest surprises of the first quarter of the NHL season.
In a bit of eye-catching symmetry, the esteemed Crosby ranks 20th in NHL scoring with 20 points in 20 games. The point per game average -- all the following statistics are through Sunday -- is not exactly Armageddon, but consider some of the luminaries Crosby is trailing: Atlanta's Peverley, a center who was so disposable that Nashville, not to be confused with the 1957-58 Canadiens, waived him last January;
Crosby's production, at least on the power play, was affected by the absence of
Another thing about Crosby's "slump." He has 10 goals and is roughly on pace for 40, a plateau he has yet to reach in his career. His improved scoring, so evident in the 2009 playoffs, is the most important nugget to glean from his first quarter of the season.
NHL deputy commissioner
The "wow" moment occurred on the morning of the Hall of Fame inductions Nov. 9. At the annual sports management conference that Burke organizes on Hall of Fame weekend, Daly did not rule out a second team in or around Toronto and said the Maple Leafs don't have to give their imprimatur to any intruder. (This probably came to the shock of
First thought: a second team in Toronto makes more sense than three in greater New York. (If a team were in Hamilton, it might adversely affect the Buffalo Sabres, but the Leafs are bulletproof.)
Second thought: how much does the NHL hate Balsillie?
On the subject of plus-minus, Brind'Amour's league-worst number looks like the temperature in Edmonton on Christmas Eve. Maybe we should have seen this coming. The tipoff should have been his -23 rating last season, but we were too busy pumping the tires of the resilient Hurricanes to consider that stat as anything more than an anomaly. The 39-year-old, one of the hardest workers of his generation, finally seems past his best-before date, but even that view has to be qualified because he has been sucked into the nearly inexplicable morass that is the Canes. (Yeah, there have ben injuries to franchise players
Brind'Amour might be No. 717 out of 717 in the plus-minus department, but the big picture is far more troubling for a belly-flopping franchise that, unlike the Rangers or the Leafs, has a bottom line directly tied to results. When the Hurricanes are winning, Raleigh is one of the special places in hockey. When they struggle, fans wander away in pursuit of other amusement.
As far as our powers of prognostication,
Phoenix has won two of seven in November while Colorado, still leading the Northwest, has dropped its last three, including an 8-2 pounding in Denver by Vancouver. The guess is both teams will wind up missing the playoffs, but each has been a delightful surprise, especially the Coyotes, persevering in perhaps the worst circumstances since the 1965 Braves, who played a lame duck season in Milwaukee before scooting off to Atlanta. "The biggest difference there is coaching," says a pro scout for a Western Conference team. "Nobody wants to say it because of Wayne (Gretzky, who resigned before the start of the season), but
To borrow from Monty Python, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. And nobody expects almost every team to lose a top player, but the injuries have been staggering in quality as well as quantity. Among the marquee players who have missed significant time are Staal, Ward, Malkin, Penguins defenseman
GMs are tiptoeing towards a rule change involving headshots not out of concern for workplace safety but because of an economic imperative. When their most important assets are being decimated, it's bad for business. A rule change, at least in a few cases, might slow the exodus to Injured Reserve.
The best NHL defenseman named Greene has been New Jersey's
Greene, a Michigander, and Green, a Calgarian, should be on their nation's Olympic teams.