Looking over some of the big headlines from this last weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder: are we hitting the “dog days” of hockey season? Maybe we haven’t hit that precise point – February is likely a strong candidate in its own right – but certain events make mid-December seem like a legitimate contender.
Perhaps this thought needs a little elaboration. We’re at a point in the season where teams have played between 27 and 30 games. Hot starters like the Colorado Avalanche are turning into sinking ships. Sleeping giants such as the Vancouver Canucks have awakened and seem primed to reclaim their thrones (or at least knock on the doors of the elite). Perhaps most interestingly, some surprise successes are sustaining to the point that it might be time to take them seriously (see: the Minnesota Wild, who keep defying reason with a seven-game winning streak).
First-year coaches and their new systems or unique voices are losing that new car smell. The two extremes of triumphs and disasters are blending into a soupy middle. Opening night is no longer in the rear view mirror yet the playoffs are too far away to seem like a tangible reality.
Most disturbingly, star players are dropping like flies, although the good news is that it doesn’t seem like their injuries are going to be major disturbances. (Of course, it’s rarely comfortable to believe anything – good or bad –about Sidney Crosby’s noggin and really most NHL noggins, to be honest.)
I already discussed Crosby’s renewed murky situation last week and touched on Mike Richards’ concussion concerns as well, but some additional problems arose over the weekend. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest ones.
HEADACHES IN PHILLY
Only two Daily Doses ago, I was discussing how claiming the NHL’s point scoring lead and Crosby’s injury (at least partially) justified Maxime Talbot’s claims that Claude Giroux is in the same class. As if on cue, Giroux had the misfortune of taking an accidental hit to the head from his teammate Wayne Simmonds. Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said it is not a concussion, but it’s my nature to be a bit skeptical about these types of comments. It could be a smoke screen, a statement made based on a lack of available information or – most ideally – the truth.
Either way, it’s an intense bummer because Giroux is one of the most dazzling performers in the NHL – one who was finally making a mainstream breakthrough after dominating on national TV, by the way. Hopefully the Flyers aren’t just putting up a smoke screen (Chris Pronger’s mysterious illness turned out to be a concussion, after all) because it would be an enormous shame to see Crosby, Pronger, Richards and Giroux sidelined because of head injuries.
(Oh yeah, and in other Flyers concussions news, Brayden Schenn might have a mild concussion too.)
BIG Z ABSENT
Giroux wasn’t the only big star who got injured this weekend. Zdeno Chara will miss at least three games with a knee injury. To be honest, it sounds like Dec. 19 is a pretty optimistic return time, with a post-Christmas target of Dec. 28 seeming a bit more realistic.
The saddest part is that Chara was on pace to set career-best offensive numbers. With 19 points in 28 games, he projected to notch 55 or 56 points during an 82-game campaign. He still looks to be a great combination of PIM and points (and a downright fantastic option in deeper leagues with time on ice involved, although I will say that his hits numbers weren’t as staggering as one might expect), but he might not establish a new figurative ceiling for a man who requires very high literal ceilings.
This could be a notable indirect loss for Tim Thomas owners too. As strong as Claude Julien’s system might be, there’s a pretty steep drop-off from Chara + lucky top pairing partner to the Bruins other duos (at least in my opinion). It could be a nice opportunity for the unorthodox goalie to prove one of the last remaining groups of doubters wrong: the people who say Thomas wouldn’t be a star without Chara.
(Seriously, the ranks of Thomas doubters must be smaller than the amount of people who buy audio cassettes without trying to be ironic.)
SKINNER NOT CONCUSSED?
So Jeff Skinner is dealing with some kind of “illness,” but the Carolina Hurricanes essentially claimed it is not in the Chris Pronger realm of illnesses (translation: it’s allegedly not a concussion). Canes fans and Skinner owners certainly hope it’s not, as the sophomore is leapfrogging Eric Staal as the No. 1 fantasy option on an extremely top-heavy team.
Brian Gionta is day-to-day with a lower-body problem … Anton Volchenkov won’t travel with the Devils this week thanks to his hand injury … Ilya Bryzgalov re-injured a previous “boo boo” (I’m using some of his words), but he’s expected to play Tuesday … Kari Lehtonen skated, but isn’t slated to return until after Christmas … Cody Hodgson is out with a concussion (tired of that word yet?) … Jordan Staal is a little banged up. Either that or he just wants to fit in with Pittsburgh’s other wounded players. (Click here for the full injury list.)
RESURGENCE FOR KABERLE?
In a real shocker, the Hurricanes unloaded Tomas Kaberle’s bloated contract to a growing dump for unwanted deals called the Montreal Canadiens. To be fair to the Habs, Kaberle recorded two assists in his debut. I’ll say this: Montreal traditionally deploys one of the most efficient power play units, so Kaberle doesn’t have much of an excuse if he fails. You might want to wait and see if he can produce regularly before adding him on, though.
Richard Bachman looked good in a win for the Dallas Stars, which makes me ponder the possibility that Andrew Raycroft won’t even have short-term filler value … Sam Gagner went from no production to three points in spot duty with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (not a coincidence). He might be worth a brief look while Taylor Hall is out, but don’t get too attached or excited … In the off chance that frustrated owners dropped Brenden Morrow while he was on the mend, scoop him up. His 2011-12 numbers have likely been marred by the various ailments he’s been dealing with, so expect him to return to his previous form of being a great PIM-point combo guy. (Matching last year’s totals might be a bit much, though.) … If you asked me to name two more teams who might fire their coaches soon, I’d tab the Kings and Avalanche. Those teams obviously carry different expectations, but it seems like Terry Murray and Joe Sacco are running out of tricks. Pink slips could light a fire for both teams, although fantasy owners might hope for opposite results (more offense from Los Angeles and more D from porous Colorado).