Sure you do - you're loyal and I love that. So since I've got a dearth of material to work with here, and I'm not about write about Richard Zednik getting a Clint Malarchuk-redux done to him in the same city, nor am I to expound more about the failings of NHL officiating (that's done to death after all), nor do I care that much about Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves being shipped off to Carolina for Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman - I'm going to do something a little lazier and rehash an old column.
I know, I know - you're giddy about this - but there's actually a point to it all. In this age where all of our information can be had at a moment's notice and analysis from professionals and amatuers alike is made known instantaneously, it's amazing how the death knell for teams can get rung out after only a couple of months.
In that previous column, Washington, Los Angeles and Phoenix were all tied for having the least amount of points in the NHL with 26. Two of those three teams are now heavily involved in a playoff race while the Kings continue to sputter.
Meanwhile, Ottawa and Detroit continue to hang on to the top spot in their respective conferences and divisions, however Ottawa (72) now has company joining them in the form of the Montreal Canadiens (67) - who in that December 15th writing were so non-descript I didn't even bother to mention them. Clearly a faux pas on my part. Je suis désolé. The rest of the division sees the Bruins with 61 points, Sabres with 60 and the dismal Maple Leafs with 55.
The Habs are now five points behind Ottawa, good for fourth overall. Well, it would be third if it weren't for the Remedial Hockey Division, the Southeast which now sees those formerly dismal Washington Capitals on top there with 59 points. Having the should-be MVP/Richard Trophy/Art Ross Trophy winner on your team helps that out. The Hurricanes, currently not in the Top 8, sit one point back of Washington with 58 tied with Atlanta. The horriffic Panthers have 57 and the Lightning are dead last in the East with 52 points. Don't worry, they're a winning streak away from being third in the Conference. D'oh.
The most interesting division right now is the Atlantic where you'll see a new team leading the way almost daily. Today, it's the Pittsburgh Penguins (69). In a day or two it could be the Devils (66) or the Flyers (65). The Rangers sit back lurking with 60 points and the Isles are mired in the muck with 55.
What we've seen here is that there actually has been some sign of separation, but not nearly enough to say that teams are out of it. Given that the trade deadline is sneaking up and teams are already nervous about making any kind of deal, having a shred of a chance of getting in the playoffs, which has proven to be a bigger crap-shoot than even Herr Bettman would like to admit, means everything. This is why it'll be tougher for Tampa to move one of the big three or for Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren to do something colossally stupid.
Naaah, there's always time for that!
In the West, Detroit is running away and hiding (87 points) - much to the seeming chagrin of the Wings players who are currently mired in a losing skid. Sure, skids happen - but not generally when it means losing to the Kings, Leafs and Ducks at home. Bleh. Perhaps Detroit is hoping that the lack of motivation thing is hitting them now rather than during the playoffs.
The rest of the Central Division is playing....well, like they always have. Nashville, the wandering vagabonds they are, sit in second with 64 points, a mere 23 behind Detroit and good for 8th in the West. The BJs sit back with 61 points and are poised to make a move provided that Pascal Leclaire can keep pretending like he's Jacques Plante.
St. Louis seemed like they were going to be strong early on but have hit hard times and sit behind Columbus with 56 points. The Blackhawks must've somehow been cursed with Wirtz's ghost because they've fallen off the face of the earth and are parked in last in the Central with 54 points, a mere three points ahead of the lowly L.A. Kings (51) in the West. Ouch babe - Wirtz's ghost is calling for a sell-off from the grave.
Given what a stellar turd the Central is, the Northwest and Pacific make up for it in spades. Dallas leads the way in the Pacific with 73 points but are being followed closely by San Jose and Anaheim with 69. Those two teams would face off in the first round if things broke out this way and I really don't think the Sharks want to see that.
Phoenix lays in wait with 60 points which puts them in 11th overall and just four points out of eighth place - a truly remarkable story considering they too were left in the doldrums just two months ago. People were calling for Wayne Gretzky to step down as coach to save his name and all sorts of other nonsense - however - here's where I get to whip it out and show off a little. To quote myself here:
Phoenix has turned the tide of late after stealing goaltender Ilya
Bryzgalov from Anaheim but they will be eagerly awaiting the coming of the draft
lottery with L.A.
That is, unless, they get hot and their young guys like Mueller and
Hanzal take over and they storm into the 8th spot.
OHHH SNAP! See what I did there? It's a rope-a-dope and I'm fully in support of the Coyotes fulfilling my own prophecy. Never doubt Gretzky....or Bryzgalov. The Kings, as mentioned before, are sunk in last but are within striking distance of Chicago for not-last place.
In the Northwest, things are bizarre as usual now that Colorado isn't winning the division every year. As of today, Minnesota leads the way with 68 points but is followed hotly by Colorado (65), Calgary (64), and Vancouver (63). The Edmonton Oilers, masters of the skills competition, are in last with 55 points.
Things in the West are a bit more cut and dried. The weak are obvious (L.A., Chicago, Edmonton, and St. Louis) and everyone else is within whispering distance of 8th. The jumble amongst everyone else not from Detroit also will be intriguing as teams will likely be jockeying to avoid getting Anaheim and their Goon Squad of Rule Breakers in the first round - the round where the NHL Rulebook goes to die.
Just to see that Washington and Phoenix have risen from the seeming dead is enough to say that people writing off any team is probably a bad idea when there are moves to be made that can affect the situation. Phoenix made a sneaky deal with Anaheim to acquire a #1 goaltender while the Capitals fired their head coach and brought in a guy who was a minor league coaching lifer who was getting his shot at the big time on an interim basis - and then look what happened. The division stayed terrible, Tampa peed down their leg, Carolina can't stop teams from scoring and neither can Atlanta and Alexander Ovechkin emerges as the best scorer in the league.
Never say never fans...unless you're in Chicago.