Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby is back on track but all is not well in Pittsburgh, while three great coaches -- Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneult, and Michel Therrien -- were shut out of World Cup jobs.
WHATS WITH SIDNEY?
No matter how you shake it Sidney Crosby has become a curious subject for study in Pittsburgh. His slow scoring start was enough to raise eyebrows through the season's first quarter although Sid seems to be back on track. What's troublesome are reports of a feud with his former landlord and boss Mario Lemieux. That has created more negative vibes than the Penguins need.
The captain remains an untouchable, but it seems more and more likely that Evgeni Malkin will be GM Jim Rutherford's best chip to play in the trading sweepstakes. The deal I can see -- Malkin to Carolina for Eric Staal.
WHATS GOING ON HERE?
Judging by their team's lofty place in the standings, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien are three of the best coaches in the NHL. With that in mind, you would think that at least two out of the three would be named bench boss for any of the World Cup teams.
Nothing against head coach Todd McLellan and his World Cup aides, Jon Cooper, Peter DeBoer and Dave Tippett, but something seems fishy to me. Logic would dictate that either Therrien, Vigneault or Ruff are more qualified than McLellan, who, by the way, has hardly been a wonder coach in Edmonton. My read is that the NHL and the NHLPA egregiously blew it by not urging the top trio be included in the coaching group.
THE ODDEST COUPLE
Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin don't speak the same language, at least not off the ice. But the Russian-speaking Panarin has been a pivotal piece on the remarkable Kane scoring machine. Matter of fact if Connor McDavid remains sidelined long enough, Panarin has an even money shot at the Calder Trophy. His offensive assets are many, including the rookie's puck handling, quick shot, radar passes and enthusiasm to work in the corners. The kid and Kane have developed a potent on-ice relationship, either Kane sets up Panarin or the vice is versa.
TORTS THE INTIMIDATOR
As leopards never change their spots, so John Tortorella remains Torts the Terrible. That's simply because John is John and the fire inside his stomach is more like molten lava. Which is not to say he will revert to any of the emotional suspension-worthy eruptions of the past. The Blue Jackets mentor is too smart for that. But if anybody thinks Tort's has become a Little Lord Fauntleroy, he is sadly mistaken. Those who observe Torts in a post-game press conference will understand what I mean. It doesn't matter whether his Columbus sextet wins or loses, Tortorella's intensity remains.
For example after beating the Devils recently in Newark, Torts had a few of the attending media back on their heels. Asked by one newsman about shot blocking, John betrayed his intensity and firmly responded, "Trying to play the right type of defense, that's all. Blocking shots is part of it." Good old Torts was abrupt, firm and stern with his responses. More important he has stabilized the ship, Sergei Bobrovsky no longer has a confidence problem and the team is close enough to a playoff spot to make the post-season.
VERY HARD TO REPLACE DEPARTMENT
The announcement that John Collins was exiting the high command of Bettman, Inc. as COO is a blow to the league's general staff. Collins brought much of his NFL wisdom to Sixth Avenue and helped make a lot of money for the NHL. Collins wanted something in the NHL approximating football's Super Bowl and was heavily instrumental in the creation of hockey's enormously successful Winter Classic. The Commissioner will have a challenge finding another creative genius like Collins. Then again if Bettman was able to find a Collins, he should be able to find another.
DON'T LOOK NOW BUT...
* When I asked Michel Therrien how come he's fifty percent more calm now than he was during his rookie year behind the bench, he chuckled, "I'm a lot older."
* When I asked Marc Bergevin if he still is funny as a GM as he was a defenseman he shot back, "Yea -- except to my players."
* Recently inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, 19-year NHLer John Vanbiesbrouck revealed how he and teammates such as Brian Skrudland sold Floridians on NHL hockey. "We were going door to door at that time -- actually mall to mall. Educating them was one thing, then keeping them enthusiastic was another."