There has been a temptation building inside me for months now. Every time it comes close to surfacing, I have to squelch it. No, I tell myself. America has three-and-a-half major sports; don’t talk about the half sport! Nobody cares outside of Minnesota, which might as well be a part of Canada. Yeah, well, care.
This hockey season has been nuts — I love the storylines. And I can’t be the only one. So whether you know everything I’m about to say and want to disagree with me or know nothing about hockey and need a crash course, here’s everything you need to know about the NHL this season.
Sidney Crosby won the MVP award last year as a rookie. He was only 19. But he’s proving that was not a fluke. Until his leg injury, Crosby was busy tearing up the league and had the Penguins positioned near the top of the Eastern Conference. When he gets back, expect him to contend for the MVP once again.
But while he is shelved, another player is clamoring for national attention with his superb play. Alexander Ovechkin should be the focus of the national spotlight, but is not. How can the league leader in both goals and points (goals plus assists) fly under the radar, you ask? He plays for my Washington Capitals, who suck. If he had a decent center (well, he had one for a few games, until Michael Nylander got hurt), you can bet his assist numbers would be much higher and he would be the runaway candidate for MVP. But he is the only reason the Capitals are in contention. He is the best.
There’s only one team with rookies worth mentioning: the lowly Chicago Blackhawks. Although their defense needs improvement, their offense is playoff-caliber, largely because of two rookies: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Kane is the runaway rookie of the year. He leads the league in shootout goals (could there be a more important crunch time?). Citizen Kane is also a leading playmaker, racking up 33 assists in just 52 games. Toews has battled injury this year, but without his 32 points in 36 games, the ’Hawks would still be mired in offensive trouble and Patrick Kane would be dealing with the frustrations of inept linemates.
Want defense? It’ll cost you. And you won’t even get an impact player. The top players on the market for the trading deadline are veterans, former all-stars who can provide a potent punch to an anemic offense looking to make a charge in the playoffs.
Heading the list is free agent Peter Forsberg. The Swedish star has declared that he will not return to Sweden and hopes to make a return to the NHL.
Two team captains, meanwhile, are up for grabs. There are rumors that Mats Sundin, captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and face of the franchise since 1994, could be on the move. Sundin, while obviously reluctant to leave the team that he has led for so long, clearly wants to win a championship soon, and the Leafs don’t seem able to afford him that opportunity. The Florida Panthers also seem interested in trading their 29-year-old captain, Olli Jokinen. The high-scoring forward has shown no interest in leaving the franchise that drafted him, but the Panthers seem in full-scale rebuilding mode and could pick up top-tier prospects for this former No. 3 pick.
The biggest surprises this season have been goaltenders coming seemingly out of nowhere to lead the league. The NHL save-percentage leader is Ty Conklin. Conklin was unemployed this offseason, and many questioned why Pittsburgh would take a risk signing the journeyman as its third-string goalie. Now nobody questions the move, as Conklin has compiled a 12-3-3 record this season.
Another surprise is Pascal Leclaire. The Columbus Blue Jackets had held out hope that Leclaire, drafted in 2001 at No. 8 overall, would pan out. Six years later, the pick is paying dividends, as he has posted a 2.11-goals-against average and a .925 save percentage for a franchise plagued by defensive troubles since its inception.
I did it — I talked about hockey. And if you’re still reading, you care about hockey. Now go spread the gospel.
Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.