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Screen Shots: Expecting the unexpected

Cam Ward had a 2-9-3 record with an .899 save percentage before being placed on the long-term injury reserve. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Cam Ward had a 2-9-3 record with an .899 save percentage before being placed on the long-term injury reserve. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

Twenty-five percent of the NHL’s 2009-10 season is just about complete – and already, we know a handful of things.

We know healthy NHLers have become an endangered species. We know the league has all but waved the white flag when it comes to battling the NFL and scheduling games on Sundays. We know Jacques Lemaire is working that old black magic in New Jersey, just like we imagined he would when he returned to the Devils.

But mostly – and as is the case with every season since the dawn of time – we know we don’t know much at all.

Forget about the shocking starts of Craig Anderson, the Colorado Avalanche and the Phoenix Coyotes. There are all sorts of predicaments that a garden-variety Kreskin couldn’t have seen on the horizon.

Who would’ve thought the Columbus Blue Jackets’ power play – worst in the league last season at just 12.7 percent efficiency – would be the third-best in the Western Conference so far this year?

Who would’ve sworn that Dustin Penner, Rich Peverley and Rene Bourque would be in the top 20 in NHL scoring? Probably not even Ma Penner, Pa Peverley or Bourque’s best buddy, I’d imagine.

Who would’ve surmised that Vinny Lecavalier would have potted fewer goals than Matt Moulson, David Clarkson and Michal Handzus?

Who would’ve thought the Pittsburgh Penguins could lose Sergei Gonchar, Jay McKee, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski off their blueline – and Evgeni Malkin off their forward unit – and still amass the second-best points total in the Eastern Conference?

After Cam Ward’s Conn Smythe Award-worthy stampede through the early rounds of last year’s playoffs, who stepped up and said his Carolina Hurricanes would have allowed the most goals in the entire league?

Who would've dreamed the NHL Players’ Association would blow up real good before the Coyotes did? Who would've suggested the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings would be in a playoff position today and the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks would not?

Who would have guessed we'd go just about two whole months of the year without an NHL coach being fired?

It only took the Hawks 12 days last year to bid Denis Savard a BugsBunnian bon voyeggie; Barry Melrose's Magical Mystery Tour (and in retrospect, it really did seem like a Beatles-esque psychotropic trip, didn’t it?) ceased rolling around Tampa Bay on Nov. 14; and Peter Laviolette experienced a non-optional, fully-paid buyout of his duties as Hurricanes bench boss on Dec. 3.
 
That's three coaches who became ex-coaches in 63 days – an average of one put on the breadlines every three weeks – and the NHL had seven fired by the end of the season. It'll take some especially curious extenuating circumstances to see the league tie or better that mark this year. Sorry if I'm jinxing anybody.
 
The point is, nobody should have expected that pattern to continue. Two years ago, only three (Ottawa's John Paddock, Washington's Glen Hanlon and Atlanta's Bob Hartley) coaches lost their jobs.
 
If we learn anything, it should be only that one man’s life lesson is another’s exception to the rule.

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After all, in a world where, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out on The Daily Show, a Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., waited 10 years to induct The Ball – I repeat in italics: The Ball – and actually inducted The Stick before The Ball, it's no wonder alien species aren’t flocking to Earth to discover our secrets to smart living.
 
Why do you think most hockey pundits hate pre-season predictions so much? Because they understand that it doesn’t matter what past performance may lead you to conclude or expect; the unforeseen circumstances of every sporting endeavor are the essence of the excitement they provide.

Didn’t see it coming? You’re not supposed to, dummy.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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