© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada's captain Sidney Crosby watches a drill from the bench during a drill at hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. Canada's captain for the last gold-medal winning squad, Crosby is a lock to return again at the World Cup.
During the opening weeks of this season, the surprisingly poor performance of Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby garnered considerable attention.
By early December, he didn't even rank among the league's top-100 scorers. The Penguins, meanwhile, were in danger of tumbling completely out of playoff contention. For the first time in Crosby's career, some pundits suggested his best days were behind him.
The talk, however, proved premature.
Following a coaching change in mid-December, Crosby and his teammates quickly rallied. Since then, the 28-year-old Cole Harbour, N.S., native has been on a torrid offensive pace. Entering this week, he has 76 points in 71 games.
While Crosby won't catch Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane for the league scoring title, he's only four points behind Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn for second place. The surge in Crosby's stats also propelled the Penguins up the standings, overtaking the New York Rangers on Sunday for second in the Metropolitan Division.
The Dallas Stars began this week atop the Western Conference standings, but poor goaltending and a serious injury to one of their top scorers could knock them from their lofty perch.
Goalies Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are splitting their duties almost evenly this season, but the veteran tandem has been struggling in recent weeks. While the Stars have one of the league's best records, their goaltending ranks among the worst.
Top-line centre Tyler Seguin, meanwhile, will miss the rest of the regular season after suffering a partial cut to his right Achilles tendon. Seguin is among their leading scorers. Losing him is a serious blow to the Stars' offence.
Given their place in the standings, the Stars aren't in danger of falling out of playoff contention. How they cope with their current problems, however, will determine how long they remain atop the Western Conference.
After nearly a year of speculation over expansion, the NHL is close to reaching a decision.
An announcement is expected this June, likely following the Stanley Cup Final and before the first round of the NHL Draft on June 25.
Las Vegas and Quebec City entered expansion bids. If the league expands by one team, each of the 30 established club would lose one player. If both cities are awarded teams, the others will each lose two players. Should the league add one or two teams for the 2017-18 season, general managers of the existing franchises will have a year to determine which players to protect in an expansion draft.
A framework of rules for that draft was tabled during the recent NHL GM meetings. Teams will be allowed to protect only one goaltender and either three defencemen and seven forwards or eight skaters at any position. Players with less than two years of professional experience will be exempt from the draft.
One sticking point could be determining if the 66 players currently carrying no-movement clauses in their contracts through next season will be exempt from the draft. That will be decided when the league makes its formal draft announcement in June.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.