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Top 10 NHL stories to watch…once the All-Star break is over

Jan 25, 2012, 11:10 PM EDT

Sidney Crosby Getty Images

The NHL All-Star break, which begins Thursday, is the last deep breath everyone gets to take before the playoff stretch drive. So with that in mind, here are 10 stories we’ll be covering closely in the coming months, once everyone’s filled up their lungs this weekend.

Will Sidney Crosby be back this season?

We’ve covered Crosby’s battle with concussions from time to time on PHT (and by “time to time,” we mean “obsessively”), and don’t expect that to change. He’s the best player in the world, and at just 24 years old, it’s not being overly dramatic to say his career is in jeopardy. Not to mention, if he can return in time for the playoffs, the Penguins go from probable Stanley Cup contenders to definite contenders.

The Feb. 27 trade deadline

This one has the potential to be epic, and we’re not just saying that because the trade deadline is great for the blogging business (though it is). Combine a ton of cap space for a number of Cup contenders (Chicago and Detroit leap to mind) with an unusually high supply of big names that have come up in trade speculation – from Bobby Ryan to Jeff Carter to Ryan Suter – and we could be in store for some blockbuster deals.

Teams that were expected to make the playoffs, but might not

The Washington Capitals, for example. Just imagine for a minute if they don’t make it. Would GM George McPhee have any hope of keeping his job? Would a new GM come in and blow things up? How would Alex Ovechkin handle it? Would Penguins fans ever stop laughing? Another team to watch is Los Angeles. The Kings still have the worst offense in the NHL, though things have gotten slightly better under new coach Darryl Sutter.

Teams that were expected to miss the playoffs, but might not

Ottawa, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas, Calgary – all remain in the mix. To address just one of those teams, nobody expected the Senators (27-19-6) to be where they are right now, and that includes their owner. But while the Sens head into the break with a five-point lead over eighth-place New Jersey, we’ve seen already how quickly surprise teams can fall in the standings. (Ahem: Wild.)

The pursuit of a top seed

A quick glance at the standings and some fairly unexceptional teams occupy the seventh and eighth spots in each conference. Unexceptional compared to last year at least, when Vancouver won the Presidents’ Trophy and was rewarded with a first-round matchup against defending champion Chicago. The Blackhawks, who were treading water for most of the regular season, kicked it into gear once they got their hate on and took the Canucks to overtime of Game 7. While still possible, a scenario like that seems less likely this time around, meaning a first or second seed could be a significant advantage. Third and fourth? Not so much.

Will the Leafs finally make the playoffs?

The richest team in the league in the capital of the hockey world (self-anointed, but probably true) hasn’t played a postseason game since 2004. Miss the playoffs again and it would make seven straight seasons. Which when you think about it, is pretty pathetic. GM Brian Burke’s job is likely safe regardless, but coach Ron Wilson, contract extension and all, would have to be out the door. (Right?) Expect Toronto to be active prior to the trade deadline to boost the top six forwards. The Leafs are one of the rare clubs with a surplus of defensemen, a commodity that’s always in heavy demand heading into the playoffs.

A new CBA needs to be negotiated

The current agreement expires in September, with talks between the league and players’ union expected to start after the All-Star break. For certain, the NHL is in better shape financially compared to the 2004-05 lockout that cost an entire season. However, if the owners try to cut the players’ share as we saw recently in the NBA, things could get…tense. New union leader Donald Fehr is no pushover, and by blocking realignment he’s already sent a message to Gary Bettman that the players won’t be bullied.

The race for the Hart Trophy

The league’s leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, is the current top candidate, having put the Penguins on his back minus Crosby and a host of other key Pittsburgh players that have suffered long-term injuries. But remember what Corey Perry did down the stretch last year. Anything can happen (including an injury to Malkin.) Claude Giroux, Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews are all in the MVP conversation. Shea Weber should be too, but the Hart rarely goes to defensemen.

Supplemental discipline as the games become more important

OK, let’s say the Capitals have five games left, they’re neck and neck with two other teams for the final playoff spot and, uh-oh, Ovechkin leaves his feet again to hit a guy. What does Brendan Shanahan do? Throw the book at Ovi? Go easy on him? Hide under some jackets? Not saying it’ll involve Ovechkin, but something like this is bound to happen in some shape or form.

The final days of the Phoenix Coyotes?

When the deal to move the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg was announced in May, the playoffs were still underway. And chances are, that deal didn’t come together overnight. So that gives you an idea of how much time is left for the league to find an owner that will keep the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. That is, assuming the NHL isn’t willing to give status quo another season in Arizona, which would likely necessitate the city of Glendale covering millions and millions more of the team’s losses. This really does seem like the last stand for the franchise in its current location. Granted, it’s felt like that before. Many times actually. But this really, really feels like it.

  1. Jeff - Jan 25, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    Hope a new CBA gets done. Hope the Yotes stay in Phoenix.

  2. bcisleman - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Hmmm….President’s Trophy. That and a couple of bucks will get you a ride on the subway.

    • Jason Brough - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:08 AM

      Technically though, so would the Stanley Cup and a couple of bucks. Unless subways take Stanley Cups as payment now, which I believe they do not.

      • napoleonblownapart6887 - Jan 26, 2012 at 2:21 PM

        I just imagined Tim Thomas standing at the turnstiles at the T with a puzzled look on his face banging the cup against the slot where the card goes in… (not from Boston so any of the specifcs on the logisitics of riding the T could be wrong).

  3. bostonsfullofrats - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    hope boston doesnt dive and cry and win the cup again. the cup probably needs repairs from the rat feces and paws on it.

    FUCK BOSTON

  4. pavelfitzgerald - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:37 AM

    It’d be a pretty limited deomgraphic if the Subway only took Stanley Cup’s for payment

  5. tn16 - Jan 26, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    Where would the Yotes go ?
    Canada or US

    • t16rich - Jan 26, 2012 at 10:35 AM

      I am from Canada, and my guess would be the USA. I dont think Quebec City is ready with an Arena and Bettman dosnt want to go to Hamilton. I personally hope USA, and keep it in the west so we dont have to keep jam packing teams to the east.

      • mikebel11 - Jan 26, 2012 at 3:38 PM

        In the (failed) realignment proposal, the two western divisions would have 8 teams and the eastern divisions would have 7, which turned out to be a major problem for the PA and one of the reasons they rejected it so teams are not quite jammed into the East enough. One more would split it up evenly to 15 a side. However I agree, it won’t move to Quebec because Bettman would rather expand to Quebec than relocate because he can get more money that way. Likely candidates would be Kansas City or Seattle.

  6. fthepens - Jan 26, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    The best player in the world…give me a break. He is out west building sandcastles. Because he hangs in front of the net tapping in rebounds and has Betman up his ass protecting him makes him the best player in the world, that makes me laugh.

    • t16rich - Jan 26, 2012 at 10:41 AM

      Well then big man. Tell us who is best. Dont come running your mouth and dont back it up. Crosby isnt even close to being one of my favorite players, but when healthy, he was the best player in the world. His half season last year proved that.

    • jpelle82 - Jan 26, 2012 at 10:47 AM

      your jealousy makes me laugh

      • fthepens - Jan 26, 2012 at 11:32 AM

        Chew on this: 2010-11 Daniel Sedin 104pts
        2009-10 Henrik Sedin 112pts Cindy and Ovie tied at 109pts
        2008-09 Malkin 113pts Ovie 110pts Cindy103pts
        2007-08 Ovie 112pts
        2006-07 Cindy 120pts

        Wow, such a bold statement to claim greatest player in the world, but has not lead the league in points once since 2006-07.

      • t16rich - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:28 PM

        So then fthepens. Who is the best? I get that you dont like sid and the Pens, so lets hear who you like as best player. Only one on your list with 120 is who? Who had 1.6 points per game last year and led his team in points with just 41 games? Sidney. 07/08 he missed games and still had alot of points and every other year you mention he is top 5 except last. And if you go back, I said when healthy he is the best player. He obviously has issues from here on out and it’s hard to give him that recognition right now. But when he was healthy, Sidney worked harder whistle to whistle then anybody on your list.

  7. fthepens - Jan 26, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    As I said, the best player in the world is a stretch. He is good, does he play both ways hard?…hit hard?…that is up for discussion. There are too many great players out there to say that one is the best. I hope that he can return, because I don’t want to see any players career end that way. Saying that he worked harder than anyone on my list is clearly a biased statement. I tend to enjoy watching both of the Sedin’s, and Nicklas Backstrom stick handle and pass. I could go on, but only need to say that there are a lot of very talented players that get overlooked when “the greatest player” ever is on the ice.

    • blacksabbathrulesall - Jan 26, 2012 at 9:24 PM

      The Sedin girls and Backstrom don’t play a 2 way game either.
      When Sid is healthy he is ONE of the best in the league.
      Funny that he has already won a Stanley Cup being the youngest captain.
      I love how people talk so much crap on Sid but they would be swinging off his yambag if he pulled on their favorite team sweater and there is no denying that but since he plays in Pittsburgh they have to talk shit with no facts to back it up.

      • fthepens - Jan 27, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        I am glad she plays in S***sburgh, with all the rest of Betmans girls. I would be embarrased to have her on my team. Look at when she is not playing, the rest of the team plays well. If Ovie gets in a scrum, he fights his way out, if your girl Cindy gets in a scrum she holds on for dear life waiting for the cheap shot artists to back her up. Oh yea, I guess she was the only reason the Pens won the cup…think what you want. You probably got just as giddy as Betman when he got to hand the cup to his little sweetheart. Junp on the bandwagon and keep praising Cindy.

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