Watch: P.K. Subban's holiday surprise

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
2:44
PM ET

PK's Holiday Surprise from PK Subban on Vimeo.

Courtesy of P.K. Subban/Vimeo

Dressed in disguise, P.K. Subban brings a group of kids to the Montreal Canadiens practice facility, gives them hockey gear and then gives them the biggest surprise yet.
Philadelphia Flyers fans might think the joke is on them this year, what with the team sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference at just 14-14-6, but it was Flyers players and staffers who fell victim earlier this season to perhaps the league's best prank of the year.

Philly equipment manager Derek Settlemyre borrowed a trick from his NFL bretheren and hid a rubber cobra in a cooler, then sent various victims reaching for cold drinks. They got quite a surprise instead.

Endless Zamboni loop!

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
3:37
PM ET
Need something tranquil and serene this holiday season? You know, like a Yule log burning in the fireplace? Or the endless fishtank loop? Try this out for size. All the thrills of watching it in person, minus the noxious fumes.

RosterBot Holiday Zamboni Loop from ianb on Vimeo.

Can Tyler Seguin continue hot streak?

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
3:10
PM ET
Tyler Seguin is on a blistering offensive pace for the Dallas Stars. Through 32 games, he leads the NHL with 25 goals on 131 shots, tied for third most in the league. How is he doing it? He has a 19.1 shooting percentage, which is tops in the NHL among players with at least 100 shots.

Last season, Seguin shot 12.6 percent, which might lead some to believe that his current pace is unsustainable. However, there is evidence to show that Seguin may be able to sustain his current level of shooting.

Consider Seguin’s 2013-14 Hextally shot differential chart, which is a map of where players are taking shots relative to their peers. According to war-on-ice.com, Seguin was good at getting shots in great scoring areas.

SeguinESPN Stats & Analysis


While Seguin’s Hextally chart shows that he was taking shots from scoring areas, he was still taking many shots from beyond prime scoring real estate, such as the high slot.

As the league-wide success Hextally chart shows, the best area to score is within the slot. This season, Seguin has taken his shots closer to the net with more frequency, producing a net relative shot rate of 3.56 from the slot, meaning he’s shooting from high-scoring areas more frequently than the rest of the league.

Seguin GraphicsESPN Stats & Analysis


Moving his game closer to the net has done wonders for Seguin’s shooting percentage. In 2013-14, Seguin shot under 25 percent from everywhere on the ice, with his strongest success rate coming from the low slot. This season, Seguin is shooting upwards of 30 percent on shots from the slot area.

It is fair to believe that Seguin has had great fortune on his shots, as very few players that shoot as frequently as Seguin maintain such great shooting percentages. Among players with at least 200 shots last season, San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski led the league at 18.2 percent. Pavelski also plays Seguin’s position at center and achieved it much in the same way Seguin has, with a 2.87 relative shot differential from the slot.

As Seguin improves at finding ways to get shots in the slot, he should continue to generate great opportunities to score. Seguin is currently on pace to score 64 goals, a number that hasn’t been reached since Alex Ovechkin scored 65 for the Washington Capitals in 2007-08.
Make sure to hide all dogs before playing this video. Some sounds therein might be harmful to their health.




Oh, those San Jose Sharks.

Just when you think you’ve got a clue about them, they find a way to surprise.

A month ago -- after a Nov. 26 loss to Calgary dropped them to 10-10-4 -- it felt like this might be a crossroads season for the Sharks after a decade of being among the elite contenders in this league.

The sense was that last spring’s first-round meltdown to Los Angeles, the ensuing off-ice turmoil and the beginning of a rebuild-on-the-fly would see the Sharks take a step back this season.

[+] EnlargeLogan Couture
Don Smith/Getty ImagesSince a Nov. 26 loss to Calgary dropped them to 10-10-4, the Sharks have reeled off nine wins in 10 games.
Well, that’s how it felt around U.S. Thanksgiving, anyway.

Since that Nov. 26 loss to Calgary, the Sharks have reeled off nine wins in 10 games heading into Monday night’s big tilt at the rival Anaheim Ducks. The rest of us are left to ponder what the heck we have here with this San Jose squad sitting at 19-11-4 and very much looking playoff-bound.

"It's been nice to be under the radar a little bit, but yeah, we have been playing well," Sharks star center Logan Couture told ESPN.com on Monday morning from Anaheim.

For starters, Couture said, his team has taken advantage of some home games over the past month.

"I think the first thing was getting home. A lot of people didn’t realize that we had 16 of our first 21 games on the road," Couture said.

"But we just weren’t playing our game either. We weren’t playing up to our abilities. We got home, we got settled down, we got to practice and over a few days went over a smaller version of training camp with the coaching staff," added Couture, who is tied for the team scoring lead with Joe Thornton at 29 points. "We figured out how we needed to play. We’ve been finding ways to win games, whereas earlier in the season we were finding ways to lose games. Different night, different guy, different ways of winning, it’s been everything. We’re just finding a way [to] win."

It’s funny that Couture said that, because that’s exactly what a rival NHL head coach first said in a series of text message exchanges with ESPN.com when asked about the Sharks’ resurgence.

"They’re just finding ways to win," said the Western Conference coach.

"Not much different with them, maybe a bit more speed on third and fourth lines. But really not much different. Joe Thornton is still a really good player, and so are Couture, [Joe] Pavelski and [Patrick] Marleau."

And then in his last text message he added, "Good coach."

Todd McLellan, whose job security I questioned a month ago, continues to show why he is one of the better coaches in the NHL. Never mind that he has had the Sharks in the mix every single year since he’s been there. I would suggest that this season might be his most impressive coaching performance of all if he gets them into the playoffs.

Why? Well, let’s consider the gong show that was the offseason in terms of the raw, emotional soul searching, maybe finger pointing and ultimately leadership change with the letters being stripped off uniforms.

The team continued to get younger, with veterans such as Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart exiting and the payroll going south as younger faces took over roles.

That’s a lot to juggle for a coach.

That process of getting younger will continue. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is committed to making this roster even younger next summer, as he rebuilds on the fly after years of contending. He feels it’s time to replenish in some fashion and has been picking up draft picks in trades for almost two years.

The hope in the meantime is that the likes of Pavelski, Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, in particular, take more ownership than ever as far as being important voices in the leadership group while still having room for Thornton and Marleau to have roles.

The sense right now is that is indeed happening.

Whatever the case, last summer’s emotional events -- which included a players-only trip to Lake Tahoe before camp to clear the air -- seems to have brought the dressing room together.

"I think the team has gotten closer through it all," Couture said. "Guys have really stuck together and had each other’s backs in the room. We’ve forgotten about that [last offseason]. It’s a long time ago last summer. We’re a different team, we’ve got new players, we’ve got players that have come up from the minors and done a great job. We’re just focused on this year’s team."

The Sharks once again are a solid puck possession team when it comes to the advanced metrics, and Thornton in particular is a beast when it comes to the sexy stats.

The bottom-six forwards, meanwhile, are a younger group. Kids such as Barclay Goodrow, Chris Tierney and more recently Melker Karlsson are giving the Sharks a different feel.

Supporting cast members such as winger Tommy Wingels and defenseman Justin Braun have stepped up their games.

The goaltending has been better too. Veteran Antti Niemi, whose No. 1 job was openly questioned before the season, has rebounded after last season's subpar performance. Niemi is sporting a .917 save percentage, while backup Alex Stalock is at .926, although he has started only eight games compared to Niemi’s 24.

"Nemo is the hardest-working player on our team," Couture said. "He’s always out working hard before practice. Guys want to play for him. Both our goaltenders this year have been excellent. We have confidence in both of them."

So what do we have with these Sharks? Are they back to being a contender? Or is this just a temporary mirage? This is a team that’s so hard to predict.

Nothing like a good test Monday night in Anaheim against the league-leading Ducks to find out more about where they stand.

The Sharks have already beaten the Ducks twice this season.

"Both times we played Anaheim this year we were coming off losing streaks, so it was kind of like we had something to prove," Couture said. "The roles have maybe reversed where maybe they want to avenge those two losses against us. They may have something to prove even though they’re ahead of us in the standings, and they’re a great hockey team. We’re going to have to be ready for a challenge, that’s for sure. This is a tough building here at Honda Center. Should be fun tonight."

Because suddenly hockey is fun again for the Sharks.
From the official NHL release:

KOPITAR, VORACEK AND FLEURY NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK (Dec. 22, 2014) – Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek and Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Dec. 21.

FIRST STAR – ANZE KOPITAR, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS

Kopitar led the NHL with nine points and eight assists in three games, helping the Kings (17-11-6, 40 points) win two of three starts to maintain a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. He opened the week by collecting one assist in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues Dec. 16. Kopitar then set a career high with five points and matched a career high with four assists in a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Blues in the second half of their home-and-home set Dec. 18. He capped the week by posting three helpers, his sixth multi-point performance of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes Dec. 20. The 27-year-old Jesenice, Slovenia, native has recorded consecutive three-point games for the first time since October 2009, when he had two such stretches. The 11th overall selection by the Kings in the 2005 NHL Draft, Kopitar ranks third on the club with 7-15—22 in 31 outings this season.

SECOND STAR – JAKUB VORACEK, RW, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Voracek tied for second among all players with seven points (3-4—7) in four games to power the Flyers (13-14-6, 32 points) to five out of a possible eight standings points and vault into the top spot in NHL scoring. After being held off the scoresheet in a 3-1 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning Dec. 16, Voracek potted his 12th goal of the season – and also found the back of the net in the shootout – in a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Dec. 18. He then led the Flyers to a pair of weekend wins, matching a career high with four assists/points in a 7-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Dec. 20 and recording two goals, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 triumph against the Winnipeg Jets Dec. 21. The 25-year-old Kladno, Czech Republic, native has found the scoresheet in 26 of 33 games this season, leading the NHL with 44 points and 30 assists (tied with teammate Claude Giroux).

THIRD STAR – MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, G, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Fleury went 3-0-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average, .971 save percentage and one shutout to help the Penguins (22-6-4, 48 points) record a trio of victories and maintain the top spot in the Eastern Conference. He posted 28 saves in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Dec. 15. Fleury then denied all 29 shots he faced to earn his League-leading sixth shutout of the season in a 1-0 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche Dec. 18. With his performance, Fleury established a career high for shutouts in one campaign (in 24 GP), surpassing his previous mark of five set in 2006-07 (67 GP) and equaled in 2013-14 (64 GP). He closed the week with 45 saves, his highest single-game total since Dec. 23, 2009, in a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers Dec. 20. The 30-year-old Sorel, Que., native ranks second in the NHL with 19 wins in 25 appearances this season and also places in the top five in save percentage (4th; .933) and goals-against average (5th; 1.97).
videoTrending up
  • Rob Zepp, Philadelphia Flyers: Can’t imagine how sweet it felt for the 33-year-old goaltender to step in and make 25 saves in his NHL debut, a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Zepp, called up in wake of an upper-body injury to starter Steve Mason, became the oldest goaltender to win his NHL debut since Hugh Lehman in 1926, according to NHL.com. Stick tap to Zepp for chasing the dream. Oh yeah, his teammate Jakub Voracek, who chipped in two goals Sunday, wasn’t bad either.
  • Cam Talbot, New York Rangers: Lots of love for the goaltenders over the weekend, and it was a big one for Rangers backup netminder Talbot. First, he came to terms with the team on a one-year contract extension, then he made 18 saves against the Carolina Hurricanes to record his third shutout of the season. The Rangers, who lead the NHL with eight shutouts this season, have won a season-high six straight games.
  • New York Islanders: The Isles continue to prove they belong among the top teams in the East as they rattled off their fourth straight win with a 3-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Getting back defenseman Travis Hamonic, whose shot set up the go-ahead goal in the Islanders' third-period rally against the Bolts, should be a major boost to their back end.
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  • The Detroit Red Wings' offense: The Wings took a surprising lead in the Eastern Conference earlier this month, but it was a short-lived grasp on the top spot as the team has sputtered heading into the holiday break. The Wings have dropped six straight games and have struggled mightily on offense, scoring just six goals during that span. Their shootout woes aren’t helping matters either.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: Just when you thought it was safe for Leafs fans to exhale, they go off the rails. After a six-game tear that had them pegged as probably the hottest team in the league, the Leafs drop three straight, most recently a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leafs have been outscored 15-5 during this skid.
Injury notes
  • Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets: Just in case you thought Columbus' luck was turning around, another injury report surfaced to cast a pall on the woefully unlucky Blue Jackets. The team announced that forward Boone Jenner will miss one to two months with a back injury.
  • Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins: OK, it's not technically an injury, but rather another case of the mumps. This time it's Maatta, who joins teammates Sidney Crosby and Beau Bennett as the latest Penguins to test positive for the baffling illness. Can this poor kid catch a break? Maatta already underwent surgery this season to remove a cancerous thyroid tumor and missed two weeks as a result. The Pens’ blue line is further depleted by the absence of Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, who missed Saturday’s game with injuries.
What to watch for
  • Rookie recovery: What sort of impact can rookie forward Andre Burakovsky make now that he has been recalled from the American Hockey League? A strong training camp earned him a spot on the Washington Capitals’ roster this season, but he was scratched for five of his last six games before being sent down to the minors for a pair of games with the Hershey Bears. The Caps face the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
  • Crosby snaps slump: Penguins star Crosby recorded his first goal in nine games in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Now, Crosby and the Pens face the Cats again on Monday in the first of back-to-back games, a set that wraps up with a road match against the Lightning on Tuesday. Can Crosby get back on a roll before the NHL breaks for Christmas?
videoTrending up
  • Chicago Blackhawks: It’s not just that the Hawks are winners in eight of their past 10 games, it’s more the way the organization handles itself with heart and class. What a fitting tribute to the team’s assistant equipment manager Clint Reif that the Hawks came out and delivered an emotional 4-0 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday. The team held a moment of silence for Reif, who passed away suddenly at the age of 34 this weekend, and put his initials on their helmets. After the win, they performed a stick salute at center ice as one last nod to their fallen brother, who leaves behind a wife and four children. Well done, Chicago.
  • Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche: The rookie goaltender has proved himself more than capable of taking the reins for the Avalanche while starter Semyon Varlamov has been on the shelf. On Sunday, that meant a 34-save effort against the Detroit Red Wings that allowed Pickard to pick up his fifth win of the season. The confident young netminder has made 109 saves over his past three starts and has posted a save percentage of .966 or higher in each one. Impressive.
  • Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: It was an amazing individual effort by Seguin in the Stars’ come-from-behind, 6-5 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. With his team trailing by three goals, the league’s leading goal scorer tallied twice and set up the equalizer before Dallas prevailed in the shootout. Seguin, who recorded his fifth game this season with three or more points, continues to prove he is one of the league’s most dynamic and dangerous young talents.
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  • Minnesota Wild: On any given night in the NHL, five goals should be enough to get you a win, right? Wrong, if you are the Minnesota Wild. Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators was the team’s third straight, and it left the team frustrated heading into the last few days before the holiday break. Minny sits fifth in the Central Division, but the rising Stars now trail by only two points.
  • Arizona Coyotes: The Yotes have only two wins in the month of December, and both have come against the floundering Oilers. The team’s penalty kill has been atrocious; it ranks 29th in the league with only a 75.2 percent success rate and has exposed an already-suspect goaltending duo as a serious weakness. Expect to hear Keith Yandle's and Antoine Vermette’s names a lot once the league's trade freeze is lifted.
Injury report:
  • Varlamov's return: Although Pickard has earned himself an extended stint with the big club and likely has done enough to avoid a return trip to Lake Erie of the American Hockey League, it appears that Avalanche starter Varlamov will return from a nagging groin injury Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues. Head coach Patrick Roy told The Denver Post this weekend that he was “95 percent sure” Varlamov would play.
  • Brown shelved again: An already-injury-hampered season for San Jose Sharks forward Mike Brown took a turn for the worse this weekend as it was revealed he will miss the next four to six weeks with a broken right fibula, according to CSN’s Kevin Kurz. Brown, who missed time earlier this season with a broken finger, suffered the injury in a game against the Oilers on Dec. 9.
  • Jets on the mend: The holiday break will be nice for a banged-up Winnipeg Jets blue line. Although Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart are nowhere near a return, the surprising Jets should get Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom back at some point in January.
What to watch for
  • Stop the bleeding: The Calgary Flames face a daunting test heading into the holidays as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Kings before the break. Considered one of the pleasant surprises of the first few months of the season, the Flames have come back to earth a bit. Can they hang in there to remain part of the playoff picture out West?
  • Ilya in Anaheim: Ilya Bryzgalov’s first start since signing with the Anaheim Ducks wasn’t ideal, as he gave up six goals on 31 shots faced in a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Have to wonder whether that was just the rust showing or whether his time in SoCal will be short-lived.
Christmas Vacation has never looked so good.

videoFORWARDS

  • Trending up: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings -- I mean, how can we overlook his most recent performance? Kopitar put up a whopping five points in the Kings’ 6-4 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, marking a career-high for the Slovenian center. With six points in the last two games, Kopitar’s production is on the uptick after what has otherwise been a rather slow start to the season.
  • Trending down: James Neal, Nashville Predators -- Yup, I’m calling him out for being the first player to be publicly shamed for his repeated diving. The NHL revealed this week that Neal has been fined $2,000 for his embellishment, after receiving a first citation and a warning. Neal can’t be pleased with that, but we like the idea of using this technique to rid the game of this stuff.
  • Surprise of the week: Rick Nash, New York Rangers -- His skill and scoring ability are hardly a surprise, but this sort of steadiness from Nash has been a pleasant surprise for the New York Rangers. Though traditionally he has been a very streaky player, Nash has been almost mind-numbingly consistent in the midst of putting together one heck of a season for the Blueshirts. The star winger, who has 20 goals and 33 points, is riding an 11-game point streak, with 14 points during that span. He hasn’t been held off the score sheet in over a month, and he’s registered points in all but four games this season. Impressive.
DEFENSEMEN

  • Trending up: Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes -- You have to figure that Justin Faulk is one of the cornerstone pieces the Hurricanes want to build around for the future, despite a dreadful start to the 2014-15 season. And though the 22-year-old blueliner has seen his share of struggles this year, he recorded a goal and an assist in the Canes’ 4-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night to help halt a six-game skid for Carolina.
  • Trending down: T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames -- When the Flames were riding high, their blue line was chipping in on the offensive end and giving them balanced production. That type of contribution has slipped of late, coinciding with the team’s nosedive. Brodie, who has six goals and 23 points on the season, has gone eight straight games without a goal and has registered just two assists during that span. The Flames need more from him in order to make up some ground surrendered during their recent slump.
  • Surprise of the week: Mike Green, Washington Capitals -- It’s been hard to know what to make of Green (not to mention his trade value) after injuries have hampered him in recent years, but Thursday night he provided some reminders of his offensive abilities, figuring in two important goals en route to the Capitals' 5-4 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
GOALTENDERS

  • Trending up: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Fleury not only evaded the mumps virus that has been wreaking havoc in the Penguins’ dressing room but also recorded his league-leading sixth shutout of the season Thursday night in a game that not many people expected him to start. After testing negative for the mumps, Fleury made 29 saves to blank the Colorado Avalanche, despite a good performance from Avs rookie Calvin Pickard, who made 47 saves yet was saddled with the loss.
  • Trending down: Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings -- Let us first offer a disclaimer: Howard has been terrific this season in regulation and in overtime. It's his shootout struggles that earn him this dubious honor. The Red Wings are an abysmal 1-6 in the shootout this season. Granted, their shooters need to pull their weight, as well, but we’d like to see Howard pull one out in the skills competition sometime soon.
  • Surprise of the week: Niklas Svedberg, Boston Bruins -- The Bruins’ 25-year-old backup goalie was sensational in helping them edge the Minnesota Wild in a 3-2 overtime win Wednesday night. Svedberg made 35 of 37 saves to post a dazzling .946 save percentage, and he has a .925 save percentage overall on the season. Last season, Chad Johnson proved to be an incredibly effective backup to starter Tuukka Rask. Svedberg has shown he can fill that role nicely, as well.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that pending unrestricted free agent center Antoine Vermette will be dealt by the Arizona Coyotes, perhaps as early as the new year, and the club will listen on a number of other players over the next few months, potentially including star blueliner Keith Yandle.

They have to. They’re near the bottom of the standings, they’re almost surely going to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, and it’s time to bring in some assets to rebuild.

Which brings us to captain Shane Doan, the face of the franchise since the team moved south from Winnipeg.

[+] EnlargeShane Doan, Pekka Rinne
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesThe Coyotes (formerly in Winnipeg) are the only franchise Shane Doan has played for.
He’s got another year left on his contract after this season, so there’s certainly no urgency to the situation. But I was curious this week and asked the 38-year-old winger about his future with the only club he's ever played for.

Not surprisingly, Doan doesn’t see himself wearing another uniform.

"It hasn’t crossed my mind, I’m not thinking about it, it’s not an issue," Doan told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I still believe that our team is capable of crawling back into this."

Well, that’s the leader talking, he doesn’t want his teammates to be giving up on things. Deep down, I can’t imagine Doan doesn’t know like the rest of us that his team is toast.

But I think it’s absolutely how he feels when he says he hasn’t envisioned himself in another uniform.

"When I made the decision a few years ago to stay with the team at 36, I said: 'You know what? This is the bed I’m sleeping in. This is what I want,'" said Doan.

In the summer of 2012, just before the lockout, Doan signed a four-year, $21.2-million deal with the Coyotes, spurning serious interest from other clubs around the league. He was courted at the time by the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers most notably, and also somewhat by the Los Angeles Kings.

He chose to stay put.

Now, Doan may want retire a Coyote; his wife and kids love the Phoenix area and it’s where their going to continue to make their life after hockey.

But not everything is in his control. Let’s say, for example, that general manager Don Maloney comes to him at some point and respectfully paints a picture of a rebuild or re-tooling that doesn’t look great for Doan's final playing days. Perhaps Maloney explains the Coyotes could really use the assets they could get from a contender who would value Doan’s leadership and presence in their lineup.

I think it’s doubtful Maloney would ever do that given everything that Doan has done for the franchise and the area, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

I think that’s where it gets interesting. Even though Doan says he has not given the possibility of leaving a single thought (and if he’s being honest about it), you still can never say never in this business.

Who knows for sure how things will play out with Arizona over the next year and a half?

One of the reasons I suspect Doan isn’t knocking on Maloney’s door to go join a contender before his career ends is that he has seen that chasing a Cup can be a fleeting experience. He can simply look at his pal Jarome Iginla, who exited rebuilding Calgary after all those years and hand-picked Pittsburgh, then Boston and now Colorado (the Avs are currently below the Flames in the standings).

My guess is what’s transpired with Iginla has impacted Doan greatly, just as remembering how Marian Hossa left Pittsburgh to chase a Cup with Detroit only to see those Penguins beat Hossa’s Red Wings the following season.

Just because it worked for Ray Bourque years ago, doesn’t mean it’s that easy to hand-pick a Cup winner.

I also think that Doan feels like the fortunes of a team can change in a hurry. The Islanders were nowhere a year ago, now they’re chasing first place. The Predators were a patsy a year ago and now are vying for the Central Division title. There are many other examples in a salary-cap era where the fine line between winning and losing has never been more thin.

Who’s to say once ownership is finally solidified in Arizona (Andrew Barroway’s majority purchase is expected to go through over the next month or so) that the Coyotes can’t make some offseason moves that will improve the team.

I think that’s firmly in Doan’s mind.

Either way, I would imagine that Doan’s future will be figured out this offseason as he enters the final year of his contract.
James Neal has the unfortunate, dubious honor of being the first NHL player singled out by the new rule designed to punish repeat divers.

The league announced Wednesday that Neal received his second citation for diving and thus a $2,000 fine, which automatically triggers an official announcement. The first citation nets only a warning and stays under wraps.

[+] EnlargeJames Neal
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyA source said James Neal was not happy to be the first player publicly singled out under the new diving rule.
A source told ESPN.com that Neal was none too pleased about being the first guy singled out publicly, and you obviously can’t blame him.

But this is what the league and NHL Players’ Association agreed upon last summer in order to crack down on diving.

Of note, Neal’s first diving citation actually wasn’t a penalty on the ice but was flagged by hockey operations in Toronto. And that’s the interesting twist in all of this -- the diving infractions could come from calls on the ice, or from Big Brother watching.

The reason the league waited until now to finally have its first public announcement is that it gave its system a dry run early in the season. The league gave players free passes, or mulligans if you will, but also were informing teams and players of how this was going to work once it became public. The other reason for the dry run in October and part of November was for the league to get right how it wanted to handle this.

The real deal began in the fifth week of the season, and every player started with a clean slate.

The league has a "tagging system" in place:

• Any dive called on the ice is clipped and cataloged
• Any potential dive that isn’t called on the ice but seen by the war room is also cataloged
• All of these dive clips are distributed to nine individuals in hockey operations and NHL player safety and critiqued. Each of the nine members vote as to whether the tagged play was worthy of a dive/embellishment call. At least six votes are needed to qualify the play as being a dive/embellishment.

Neal was the first second-level offender, but he won’t be the last. This is just the beginning.

It’s not the fine that hurts -- $5,000 is the maximum; that’s like taking out lint from a player’s pocket. It’s obviously the public embarrassment of it all that hopefully will act as the deterrent.
It dawned on me as Bob Hartley signed a much-deserved contract extension with the Calgary Flames on Wednesday that his success in returning to the NHL after spending time coaching in the Swiss League could certainly be duplicated by another veteran coach.

Marc Crawford has had a successful time with the Zurich Lions and has enjoyed every bit of it, but there’s no question he’s eager to return to the NHL. He’s got a window after each season in his contract with Zurich that allows him to exit for an NHL job.

The success of Hartley in Calgary and Paul Maurice with the Winnipeg Jets, after the latter coached in the KHL, suggests that these so-called "retreads" return from these experiences with fresh ideas and a new approach.

Both Maurice and Hartley have said how their time overseas refreshed them and made them better coaches ahead of their next NHL opportunity.

I think the same is absolutely true for Crawford, a Stanley Cup-winning coach in Colorado in 1996.

What has hurt Crawford is that his past two NHL stints with the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars were disappointing. It damaged his rep, fairly or not.

But I have that feeling that just like with Maurice and Hartley, there’s something still there with Crawford.
Watch all the fun and games as the Winter Classic rink is constructed at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

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