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Campbell's Cuts: Pronger's historic Norris bid and Niemi vs. Huet

Chris Pronger has emerged as an early candidate for the Norris Trophy. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Chris Pronger has emerged as an early candidate for the Norris Trophy. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some Monday afternoon musings for your dining and dancing pleasure:

• If Chris Pronger keeps playing the way he has through the first quarter of the season and remains injury free, he could be on the verge of doing something truly remarkable.

In what has been a rather wide-open race for the Norris Trophy, Pronger has installed himself as the favorite so far. Should he win the Norris, he will have gone eight full seasons (nine years if you include the lockout) between being named the league’s top defenseman, something no other player has ever done before.

Pronger currently leads all players in ice time at 26:47 per game, is on pace for a career-high 73 points and is second on his team – third in the league – to Matt Carle in plus-minus at plus-13.

Anyone who saw this coming, you might want to apply for a job with the Anaheim Ducks, who saw fit to keep Scott Niedermayer instead of extending Pronger’s contract.

• If you’re under the impression you’re seeing more shootouts this season than ever before, you should trust your instincts.

Through the first 327 games this season there have been a total of 58 shootouts which, projected over a full 82-game schedule, would give the league 218 shootouts at season’s end, which is more than 50 in excess of the high-water mark of 164 set two seasons ago.

And as far as games that go into extra time are concerned, they’re way up, too. So far this season, a total of 88 games have gone into overtime, which projects out to a total of 331 over the entire season. The highest number of extra-time games since the lockout was posted last season at 282.

Of course the NHL will tout this as another example of how great the parity is and how exciting the games are, but close games usually mean lower-scoring games and that’s no exception this season. Not including the (bogus) goal awarded for winning a shootout, teams are averaging 5.62 goals a game this season, which is the second-lowest total since the lockout.

• Antti Niemi has played six games for the Chicago Blackhawks this season and has two shutouts in four wins, including stopping 30 Vancouver Canucks shots Sunday night for a 1-0 victory.

If the Blackhawks are looking to free up cap space, they should be considering a very, very difficult move. As well as Cristobal Huet has played lately, they could bury his $5.625 million cap hit in the minors and replace him with either Joe Fallon or Corey Crawford, who are putting up very respectable numbers for a weak Rockford IceHogs team in the American League.

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It would leave the Blackhawks with an inexperienced No. 1 goalie and an unproven backup, but they don’t have the luxury of being selective here, either in the long or short term. Huet’s career pattern is that he runs hot and cold and there’s no guarantee he won’t implode in the playoffs the way he has before.

It would be an awful thing to do to a veteran you signed to a long-term deal and it might turn off other unrestricted free agents from coming to Chicago, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Except for a couple of notable exceptions, teams have not used that loophole in the collective bargaining agreement to their advantage and they should do it while they have the opportunity because there’s a good chance it will be closed next time around.

• Took Joe Thornton first overall in a hockey pool this fall on the assumption that, playing full-time with Dany Heatley, Thornton would get at least 100 assists and win the scoring championship this season. Well, Thornton is on pace for 82 assists, based largely on his great on-ice chemistry with Heatley, and sits second in NHL scoring behind Anze Kopitar. Please excuse me while I pat myself on the back.

Now all the San Jose Sharks have to do is keep playing them together full-time. And if Steve Yzerman isn’t looking at these two guys as his potential game-breaking forwards for the Olympic team…what am I saying? Of course he is.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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

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