It struck me as one of those throw-away comments that could be purely anecdotal in nature.
When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was giving his "rats are taking over the ship" speech Thursday, he mentioned that a linesman told Leafs coach Ron Wilson players were becoming reluctant to hit.
"I had a linesman tell our coach last week, he has had players say that to him, 'I'm not hitting anybody, I'm not getting suspended.' That's what I'm worried about."
So, do the numbers bear that out?
Through 1,230 games last season, the NHL's 30 teams combined for 55,911 hits, according to research on NHL.com.
Through 583 games this season, the players had pounded each other to the tune of 25,347 hits, which, when projected over an entire season, works out to 53,477.
That's a projected decline in hits this season of 2,364.
Maybe the number of hits will go up as the battle for playoff spots raises the intensity during the second half.
Whoever that player was who spoke to the linesman, he isn't alone.
For those wondering if Brendan Shanahan's run of suspensions is discouraging hitting, the numbers would say yes.
HEAR AND THERE: So, it turns out, Sidney Crosby had a concussion when he was 11 or 12 years old, which adds another layer of intrigue to his situation. NHL Home Ice producer Josh Rimer (@JoshRimerHockey) received a news item from a Twitter follower that quoted Crosby in October 2007 telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "I was playing wall ball and I was running away from the wall and fell backward." He said the effects, which including vomiting and headaches, lasted a couple of weeks. Interesting ... The NHL terminated the deal that would have seen Matthew Hulsizer buy the St. Louis Blues, opening the door for part-owner Tom Stillman to take a run at buying the club. He has a 75-day window. In Phoenix, there are rumours former San Jose Sharks exec Greg Jamison could be out of the running to buy the club. Talk had been that the Jamison group and one led by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf were still negotiating with the league and Glendale. Not a good sign for Glendale, maybe a good one for Quebec.
THE BUZZ: The team that might have a say in who wins the Stanley Cup this season is the Carolina Hurricanes. Everybody wants defencemen and they have Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen and Jarolsav Spacek who could go, although Allen has a no-trade clause ... The Vancouver Canucks are having a great season but are overshadowed by the Boston Bruins, whom they meet in a Cup rematch Saturday afternoon. One of the good stories on the Canucks is Dane Jannik Hansen, who is having a breakthrough year with 12 goals already. At $1.3 million a year, he's a great bargain. Not bad for a ninth-round draft pick in 2004 ... With the NHL talking to the University of Michigan about holding the 2013 Winter Classic, the theme for next year could be breaking the record of 113,411 for an outdoor game (Michigan vs. Michigan State). The Toronto Maple Leafs, with their huge following not too far away, would be a natural to pack the place against the Detroit Red Wings. The challenge will be finding the right price points to get the fans in and make sure everybody makes a decent cut.
JUST SAYING: It's hard to believe engineers couldn't find a way to open the roof of Rogers Centre for a one-off event like the Winter Classic. Maybe Toronto could call in the Army to help them with another winter issue. Maybe a really big can of WD-40? ... Interesting that in both Montreal and Toronto, the two stadia that were designed to have retractable coverings (the Big Owe's roof is permanent), they apparently can't open in winter. Downsview Park could be an option for the Leafs, but that doesn't have much sizzle as a venue ... I don't know exactly who the comeback player in the NHL is this season, but defenceman Filip Kuba has resurrected his career in Ottawa. He might have been trade bait, but if the Senators stay in the playoff hunt, maybe they'll be buyers and not sellers ... Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman made a deal about this time last year for a goalie (Dwayne Roloson) that keyed the Bolts' surge to the Eastern Conference final. Looks like he needs to do it again (Josh Harding of Minnesota?)
JUST WONDERING: If you trade Ryan Getzlaf, isn't your next move to try to find a guy like him? Big, talented centres with a bit of jam aren't easy to come by. I know, the Philadelphia Flyers traded Mike Richards. But they had Claude Giroux ready to take over his role and so far, so good. You see anybody as good as Giroux on the Anaheim Ducks roster? ... I can't remember, was there a similar amount of outrage over all-star voting when Habs fans stuffed the boxes and got Alex Kovalev and Mike Komisarek into the 2009 all-star game? ... The only untouchables on the Ducks are Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne? Really?
THE LAST WORD: "You know what I'm pretty tired of that question," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said when asked about the B's pushing them around in the final. "We won the Presidents' Trophy last year and went to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. We didn't lose the final series because we were pushed around; we lost because we couldn't score. We are as tough as anyone else. We are taking hits, giving out hits and that's the bottom line. That's my answer to that one."
THE GROCERY STICK
Who is -- literally or figuratively -- heading for, or in, that comfortable spot on the bench that separates the forwards and the defencemen?
Can we bench a coach? Why not? Columbus Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel didn't know his stats after his club gave up two goals playing 4-on-4 recently against Washington.
"Have YOU noticed that we've been beaten up 4-on-4, goals against? I don't think so," Arniel said in response to a question from a reporter. "I'll go and show you the stats on that. That hasn't been a problem for us. Tonight it was."
"Scott," he was told, "you've been outscored 8 to 1."
Arniel indignantly cut off the press conference. A coach should know that kind of stuff. Not good for Arniel considering his team is already under fire for being in last place.
Injuries that are having, or could have, a big impact
The Flyers were one of the unknowns coming into this season given the stunning changes they made during the summer, parting with nucleus players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. They got off to a solid start but lost captain Chris Pronger off the blue line for the rest of the season because of a concussion.
Now, Kimmo Timonen, another key veteran and arguably the Flyers' second-best defender, was wearing a brace on his left wrist after Thursday's game against Chicago. The Flyers already had to be in the market for a defenceman after losing Pronger. If Timonen's injury turns out to be serious -- Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren doesn't think it is -- there will be even more urgency for Holmgren to make a deal. The struggling Carolina Hurricanes are a potential trading partner.
The number of teams that were out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 7, 2011 and managed to get into the top eight by the end of the season. That would be the Buffalo Sabres, who were 10th with 39 points -- eight points out of eighth spot. The Atlanta Thrashers (in seventh at this time last year) lost their playoff spot.3
The number of teams that were out of the playoffs in the Western Conference on Jan. 7, 2011 and got into the top eight by the end of the season. Anaheim (ninth), Los Angeles (11th) and Chicago (12th, but just one point out of eighth) were out at the halfway point last year and managed to supplant Dallas (third after 41 games), Colorado and St. Louis.
The number of goals the Boston Bruins scored against the Vancouver Canucks in the three games of the 2011 Stanley Cup final that were played in Beantown. The two teams meet up again Saturday in Boston. After dropping the first two games of the final in Vancouver, the Bruins won Game 3 8-1 and Game 4 4-0 in Boston. They won Game 6 in Boston 5-2.
The number of spots in the standings the Chicago Blackhawks have jumped compared with last year at this time, the biggest improvement in the league. The Blackhawks were in 12th place in the West last year; this year they are second. The biggest drop is by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts were second in the East at this point last year; this year they are 12th.
Power-play situations: 159
I guess this item should be "Not So Special" this week. It is stunning that the Montreal Canadiens power play, which has been among the best in the league since the 2004-05 lockout, could have fallen on such hard times. The lack of production is a big reason the Habs find themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
The common explanation is the absence of wheelman Andrei Markov, who has been out with a recurring right knee injury. But he missed a lot of time over the previous two seasons and the power play still performed.
No, this is a deeper issue: The Habs have been hurt by Mike Cammalleri's early slump and teams keying on P.K. Subban. Subban led the Habs with nine power-play goals last season, but the defenceman has just one this season. Cammalleri had seven in 2010-11, only one so far in 2011-12. Brian Gionta, who has been injured, has two power-play goals this season, after getting seven in 2010-11. Another threat from the point would help.