The Holiday season is in full swing, and with Christmas quickly approaching, the big guy in the red suit is sure to be sorting out his list of naughty and nice. In the NHL there is certainly no shortage of either and with six days to go until the big day here are those who have been good and those who have been bad through the season’s first two months:
The Concussion Reaper: Unfortunately the biggest story of the season thus far, concussions continue to plague NHL players at an alarming rate.
While the injury has been felt throughout the league, it has hit star players particularly hard. In little more than a week, several of the league’s top players have been diagnosed with concussions including the likes of the world’s best player in Sidney Crosby, the league’s leading scorer Claude Giroux, and it’s leading goal-scorer Milan Michalek. Add in one of the game’s most exciting young players Jeff Skinner and one of the most accomplished in Chris Pronger and you have an epidemic that is as problematic as any the game has ever seen.
Pierre Gauthier: Nothing earns the label of a scrooge or a grinch more then a boss firing his employees and that is what the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens has done on two different occassions already this year. Early in the season assistant coach Perry Pearn was relieved of his duties and then Gauthier layed an even bigger axe down yesterday when he fired head coach Jacques Martin.
At 13-13-7 the Habs sit in a tie for 11th in the Eastern Conference but are only two points back of the 8th and final playoff spot. A quick look at the roster and the injuries it has dealt with and that record isn’t all that bad, but once again the enormous pressure and outlandish expectations by fans and media alike have caused for an outroar of changes. Unless trades are made the players can’t go anywhere, and the general manager certainly isn’t going to fire himself, so Gauthier has done the only thing he really can do and that is to change coaches.
Last time I checked the coaches do not pick the players and while Martin and Pearn have been the scapegoats; one needs only to look at things such as the 7 million dollars that Scott Gomez is eating and a overall lack of talent both up front and on defense as to where the real problem lies in Montreal.
Zenon Konopka and Zac Rinaldo: The NHL has its share of pugilists but two players in particular have shone above the rest. Ottawa forward Zenon Konopka leads the league with 108 penalty minutes with Flyers rookie Zac Rinado not far behind with 107. Their totals are made interesting by the margin in which they lead their closest competition as the third highest penalty total comes from Steve Downie who is 32 minutes off the pace.
David Bolland: One thing no one likes is a bully who uses the airwaves as a platform to belittle his targets and that is exactly what Hawks forward David Bolland did when he referred to the Sedin’s as “the sisters” on a local radio station.
The comments showed a total lack of disrespect by Bolland who more or less accused Henrik and Daniel of being soft simply because they play hockey in a clean manner as opposed to the “slash your own grandmother to win” style that he is accustomed to playing.
Winnipeg Jets Fans: If you haven’t watched the Winnipeg Jets play a game in front of the home fans then I highly recommend that you make it one of your new years resolutions. Every game that has been played at the MTS Centre has been absolutely electric as Jets fans continue to show their passion for NHL hockey that was taken away from them 15 years ago.
Wtih a home record of 11-5, the fans have practically willed a non-playoff team from a year ago into playoff contention this year.
Panthers Trio: The line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann has statistically been the league’s best line and has been one of the biggest reasons for the Panthers incredible transformation to division leaders and contenders in the East.
All three players rank among the top 25 NHL scorers which is surprising in its own right but is made even more unlikely by the struggles that all three players endured last season. Versteeg and Fleischmann both bounced around from team to team a year ago while Weiss had to have felt stuck on an island as the longest serving member of a Florida team that hasn’t seen playoff hockey since the year 2000.
Assist Men Sedin and Karlsson: Christmas is a time of giving and no players have gotten into that spirit more than Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Henrik currently leads the way with 28 assists while the defenseman Karlsson is one behind at 27.
The Art Ross Trophy winner in 09-10, Sedin is in the hunt for the award again while the 21-year-old Karlsson is having a phenomenal season as the NHL’s leading scorer among defensemen.
Ottawa Senators: The Senators have been giving but it hasn’t been in a good way. While the club’s offensive output has been a pleasant surprise; defensively they have struggled.
With a league worst 116 goals against, the Sens will have to find a way to tighten up defensively if they hope to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race.