Ted Nolan won a Jack Adams trophy for his work in Buffalo 10 years ago, and should be a candidate again this year, for no other reason than he's been able to light a fire under Alexei Yashin.
The oft-disinterested Russian hasn't been a point-a-game player, or a plus-player at season's end, since 2001 in Ottawa. So far this season he has 31 points and is plus-13 in 24 games.
"The thing with Alexei is that the last couple of years haven't been much fun for him," said Nolan. "We just wanted to bring some more fun into the game for him and surround him with good players and good people.
"Adding some veterans and character guys removed some of the burden he felt of having to lead this team all by himself. Now he's enjoying the fruits of it. He really seems to be on the top of his game this year."
THRASH AND BURN: The Atlanta Thrashers won't be on a lot of Christmas card lists. The Capitals brawled with them earlier this year, the Leafs had a decent little feud with them last season, and Craig MacTavish has a history with Ilya Kovalchuk and head coach Bob Hartley. Kovalchuk also dissed Sidney Crosby last year.
But being disliked is fine by Thrashers GM Don Waddell, who says it'll help prepare his club for its first trip to the playoffs this spring. "I think it's good for hockey," he said of the mutual dislike Atlanta shares with many of its opponents. "We haven't played a post-season game yet, but we've certainly had some playoff atmosphere games, which is going to help us when we get there."
BUDDY HAD NO SYSTEM: Things are finally looking up in Columbus, and it's been a long time coming for GM Doug MacLean, but the dark cloud to this silver lining is that success came at the expense of good friend Gerard Gallant.
"You hate it," he said of having to pull the trigger on his pal. "I was fired as a coach. I know what it's like. It's not fun. As a GM it's the worst part of my job. Gerard and I have known each other for a long time. He handled it unbelievably well. He's a quality person who will land on his feet."
JUST WALK AWAY: So who do you think is enjoying retirement most, Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux? Memo to Sidney Crosby: when your playing days are over, walk away ... Wild coach Jacques Lemaire makes no bones about treating snipers and ham and eggers differently. "The finesse guys, the good players, they can take a day off, they don't lose their hands," he said. "The plumbers, they take a day off, they lose their hands, their skates, their gloves, their sticks." ... Never mind Rory Fitzpatrick. The best reason to ditch fan balloting is that Cam Ward (2.98/.893) has more votes for Eastern goalie than Cristobal Huet (2.29/.932) ... Talk about star-studded. In a pre-game ceremony commemorating their 600th goals, Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr were presented silver sticks by Mark Messier, with special guests Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux on hand to mark the occasion. Between the five of them they have 16 rings and 8,133 points ... Something is very wrong in your market when Ovechkin vs. Crosby plays to 6,000 empty seats in Washington.
LATE HITS: In Florida, Olli Jokinen, Mike Van Ryn, Ville Peltonen, Rostislav Olesz and Alex Auld are all sporting new '80s moustaches. And, yes, they know they look ridiculous. "We just wanted to do something so we could look like idiots together around town," said Van Ryn. "My wife said I looked like Ron (Anchorman) Burgundy. I don't think that was a compliment."... From the Uncomfortable Stats Department: During Atlanta's recent 0-3-2 skid, goal scoring leader Marian Hossa has the same number of points as his goalie, Kari Lehtonen (one) ... Are you counting down the days until the epic showdown between the two best teams in hockey? Me too. The potential Stanley Cup final preview between powerhouses Anaheim and Buffalo will be the game of the year. Problem is, they don't play each other this season ... How'd you like to be the Sharks: 24-10, 14 points over .500 and 10 points out of the division lead.