Forget the stocking stuffers, I’ve come up with what each NHL team could use the most this holiday season.
So let’s start the unwrapping:
ISLANDERS: No more political red tape for owner Charles Wang’s proposed Lighthouse at Long Island project, which has as part of it renovating the nearly 40-year-old Nassau Coliseum. In their old rink the Islanders are losing $25 million a year. A refurbished arena set in what Wang envisions as an entertainment wonderland will make the Islanders attractive to free agents and will produce more revenue to spend on better players.
RANGERS: Another trip to the Czech Republic, where they began the season with two wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers were in complete unison through a 10-2-1 month of October. They’re not playing that way anymore so maybe a quick getaway to Prague will round them back into top form.
FLYERS: Two inches in height and three inches in sleeve length for Riley Cote so his physical stature will match the size of his heart in the heavyweight ring where NHL enforcers mix it up. Cote could use some more size but he’s got all the toughness he needs as he finished second in the league in fighting majors as a rookie last season.
PENGUINS: A healthy Sergei Gonchar, who is out until March with a left shoulder injury. He’s one of the top-power-play quarterbacks in the league and the Penguins are feeling his absence. What team wouldn’t miss a player who has had eight-straight 50-point seasons and who finished second in scoring among NHL defensemen last season.
DEVILS: More sellouts so more fans can experience the terrific Prudential Center in Newark, which became home to the team last season. And the rail service offered can certainly be a money saver in these tough economic times.
CANADIENS: A return of Mark Streit, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Islanders in July. Montreal’s power play was No. 1 in the league last year and now it’s near rock bottom. Streit is a powerplay specialist, who picked up 34 points on the man advantage last season. He’s poised in his playmaking and has a terrific one-timer.
SABRES: Thomas Vanek dishing out more assists. His goals-to-assists ratio is real lopsided, it’s like 5-to-1. This is a first in his career as he has always come up with his share of assists. Last summer he signed a seven-year, $50 million contract so five assists over the first third of the season is not money well spent.
MAPLE LEAFS: Patience. As good as Brian Burke is he is not a miracle worker. Hired by Toronto on Nov. 29, Burke assumed the roles of president and general manager. He’s a highly regarded hockey executive who built a Stanley Cup winner in Anaheim but it will take a few years to turn things around with the Maple Leafs.
SENATORS: A second stint with Zdeno Chara, who left Ottawa in July of 2006 to sign as an unrestricted free agent with the Bruins. The core of defensemen for the Senators is a shell of what it once was and it could sure use the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder on the blue line. Last season for Boston Chara was a top-three Norris Trophy finalist.
BRUINS: The Adams Award for best coach should go right now to Claude Julien. No need to wait for the season to end to extend him this reward. Aside from all the success the Bruins have had this season, with their fresh, aggressive approach to scoring goals they are a team that is one of the best watches in the NHL after being the ultimate sedative last season.
HURRICANES: A clean bill of health. Again this season no team is more banged up than Carolina. Last season the Hurricanes, who won the first postlockout Stanley Cup, became the first NHL team to miss the playoffs twice in a row following a championship. And it was obvious why they earned that dubious distinction: 333 man games lost due to injury.
LIGHTNING: Instant experience for center Steven Stamkos, who was the top overall pick in last summer’s draft. Experience is really all he needs as he’s athletic, smart, possesses outstanding skills and is an explosively smooth skater. The 18-year-old’s ice time and responsibilities have increased under interim coach Rick Tocchet and not coincidentally his production has as well.
CAPITIALS: A bona fide No. 1 goalie since they have all the other pieces to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. Neither Brent Johnson nor Jose Theodore is the answer between the pipes. Gone are Olaf Kolzig, who was a franchise cornerstone, and Cristobal Huet, who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline but left through free agency in the summer.
PANTHERS: Getting Jay Bouwmeester’s signature on a long-term contract. He’s Florida’s big man on the blue line as last season he logged a NHL-high 2,252 minutes of ice time while scoring a career high 15 goals. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer and with all the upside he has, the Panthers don’t want him to hit the open market in fear they will lose him.
THRASHERS: A commitment from Ilya Kovalchuk to remain in Atlanta. He’s under contract for this season and next but the Thrashers have to get him locked into a new deal before he even comes close to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2010. He’s matured as a leader and a scorer of his ability is just too tough to replace.
FLAMES: A scoring title for Jarome Iginla as nice guys deserve quality gifts. He’s posted back-to-back 90-point seasons and he’s on pace to record another one. Sure he’s got tons of talent but he also has a big heart and plays intelligently and rugged as a power winger.
OILERS: A sophomore jinx cure for Sam Gagner, who was the youngest player in the NHL last season. He’s projecting to half of his rookie season point total (49). This is puzzling because he seemed to improve with each shift last season and had a breakout second half to finish fifth in scoring among rookies.
CSN: The Blackhawks' Stanley Cup hopes will soon be extinguished if they can't fix their struggling power play.
CSN: The Blackhawks have a plethora of dangerous attacking options -- all of whom have been shut down by the harrassing Bruins defense.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
Rask credits a team effort on defense
Without the need for an overtime period, the Bruins won Game 3 over the Blackhawks, 2-0. Bruins coach Claude Julien credits Tuukka Rask for his preparation and extreme focus, while Rask appreciates the guys in front of him covering their ice and blocking shots.
Check out photos from the Kings' Stanley Cup victory parade in LA.
Stanley Cup playoffs
Check out photos from the NHL postseason action.
Stanley Cup winners
A look at the teams that have earned the right to hoist Lord Stanley's prize since 1965.
Some of Hollywood's hottest celebrities take in NHL games.
Check out the ice girls from around the National Hockey League.
Ask the NHL Expert: Kevin Dupont