Coyotes surprise at the half

LANCE HORNBY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

The NHL season reached Game 615, its halfway point, on the weekend, a good time to look at some of the biggest stories in hockey and how they’ll impact as 2010 unfolds:

HOWLING COYOTES

If hockey is dead in Phoenix, someone forgot to tell the Coyotes. Coach Dave Tippett’s underdog Desert Dogs were five points out of first place in the conference before last night and, much to the chagrin of their many detractors in Canada, have more wins than five of the six Northern franchises. Could Wayne Gretzky have done any better?

What the new Ice Edge Holdings bosses need to recover in the second half is better attendance. The Coyotes have inched up towards an average of 10,500 per game, still about 2,000 a night behind the NHL’s next problem child, the New York Islanders. But unless the attendance spike comes soon, a move elsewhere seems inevitable.

INJURIES

The head shots/concussion issue came to the fore again, then was pushed to the backburner after the general managers opted for more talk on the issue and Olympic hype took precedence. Before that, the stars were falling left, right and centre from a variety of injuries since the start of training camp.

Some projections have an unofficial post-lockout record of 7,000 man games lost being reached this season. Among the names who went out and came back: Ilya Kovalchuk, Marc Savard, Eric Staal, Joni Pitkanen, Milan Hejduk, Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Comrie, Tomas Vokoun, Ryan Smyth, Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta, Patrik Elias, Danny Briere, Simon Gagne, Ed Jovanovski, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Joe Pavelski, Jonas Gustavsson, Mike Komisarek, Daniel Sedin and Alexander Semin.

Out now: Teemu Selanne, Joffrey Lupul, Kari Lehtonen, Milan Lucic, Joe Corvo, Erik Cole, Rostislav Kesla, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ales Hemsky, David Booth, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Chuck Kobasew, Jordin Tootoo, Paul Martin, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Ray Emery, Pavol Demitra, Kevin Bieksa.

FIRST-HALF FAVES

NHL leading scorer Joe Thornton, Jonathan Quick, John Tavares, the Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Ryan Miller, Marian Gaborik, Tomas Plekanec, Steve Sullivan’s comeback, Steve Yzerman’s Hall of Fame induction speech.

WHAT HAPPENED TO ...

The Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Alexei Kovalev (his four goals yesterday aside), Carey Price, Olli Jokinen, Phil Kessel, the KHL and the NHLPA executive. (This just in, the P.A. has announced it has formed another four-man search committee to look for the previous four-man search committee that was looking for a new executive director).

MILESTONES

Martin Brodeur passed Terry Sawchuk in shutouts, Nicklas Lidstrom reaches 1,000 points, Ken Hitchcock and Marc Crawford 1,000 games coached, Lindy Ruff 750 games coached, all with Buffalo. Referee Don Van Massenhoeven will be honoured at Saturday’s Leafs-Penguins match for 1,000 games.

THE YEAR AHEAD

Everything is centred on the Olympic hockey tournament, possibly the last with NHLers for a while and certainly if Canada and the U.S. don’t medal. Lots to like about both countries’ selections, but everyone said the same things in 2006, too ... Clubs will whine about the salary cap hindering trades, but as was the case in 2009, swap-happy GMs likely will conduct about 20 trades at the March 3 deadline ... The schedule will get even more bizarre for many teams after the Olympics. The Maple Leafs, for example, play at least every second day from March 2-20 ... It would be great if the playoff races remained this tight through to the first week in April, but teams in the East desperate to make it include Florida, which is facing a ninth year without a post-season gate and Atlanta, yet to win a playoff game. In the West, the Coyotes and Kings need the attention, too.

TAKE IT OUTSIDE

The 2010 Winter Classic will be dwarfed by two outdoor NCAA games this year and the opening of the world championship. Michigan and Wisconsin meet at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisc., on Feb. 6 with a capacity of 80,000. That should fend off a challenge by host Germany at the world tourney when it takes on the U.S. on May 7 at Veltins-Arena at Gelsenkirchen, where 76,000 tickets already have been distributed. But the record is likely to fall on Dec. 11 of this year when Michigan and Michigan State meet at the Big House in Ann Arbor where a new capacity of 108,000 is being configured.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Tavares and Matt Duchene, the first and third picks in the draft, meet Wednesday in Denver ... Devils defenceman Paul Martin, whose fractured forearm has been slow to heal, might take himself off the U.S. Olympic team ... Rangers coach John Tortorella believes his team is getting spoiled and future travel plans to New Jersey and Long Island will be altered. “It’s not going to be 10 freakin’ limos flying in from all over the place and coming in for a morning skate,” the coach said. “We’re leaving the night before the game, on a bus, and going as a team.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos