It's the all-star break, time for an alphabetical look at the NHL. Let's start with, you guessed it, A.
A is for All-Star festivities, including the game, which need some serious Adjusting. Or maybe they simply need to be Abolished.
B is for Briere, as in Daniel. He was the MVP in the All-Star Game, is the Buffalo Sabres' MVP and may just wind up as the NHL's MVP for 2006-07. In the new NHL, which encourages offensive creativity, Briere is dazzling. Not bad at all for a guy who was deemed to be less-than-adequate in the old NHL.
C is for Crosby, as in Sid the Kid. He's the new face of the NHL, regardless of his unimpressive performance in the All-Star Game.
D is for Disappointments, which in the first half included the woebegone Philadelphia Flyers, the Florida Panthers, Andrew Raycroft, Martin Gerber and Sergei Samsonov.
E is for Emery, as in Ray, who has supplanted Gerber as Ottawa's first-string goaltender and who probably will be the key to Senators' second-half success. What the Sens ought to do, quickly, is Encourage Emery and offer him a new contract. Quickly. At this point, he's restless because he's making only $975,000 US this season—and that's a pittance by NHL standards and in comparison to what Gerber is collecting as a backup. Emery is eligible to become a restricted free agent after the season.
F is for Forsberg, as in Peter, the superstar who will waive his no-trade clause soon and get dealt to a lucky contender by the Flyers.
G is for goons, who are not nearly as visible as they were in the old NHL, and thank the heavens for that.
H is for Heatley, as in Dany, and Hossa, as in Marian. They were the key figures in that blockbuster deal between the Sens and the Atlanta Thrashers last season and they fittingly share the league lead in goals (30), along with a couple of Tampa Bay gunners, at the all-star break.
I is for Iginla, as in Jerome, who turned in a quietly respectable first half (23 goals and 30 assists), but will clearly need to be more conspicuous after he returns from the injury list in the second half if the Calgary Flames are to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
J is for Joseph, as in Curtis, who's made a nifty comeback in the twilight of his career as the Phoenix Coyotes' first-string netminder.
K is for Keon, as in Dave, who will finally return to Toronto on Feb. 17 and will allow himself to be honored as part of the Maple Leafs' most recent Stanley Cup championship team — 40 years ago — and, honestly, I can't wait for that. I grew up with that team and, even though I had trouble with Keon and his irascible personality when I became a journalist years later, there's still something about Keon and that 1967 team that conjures up fond memories for me.
L is for Lamoriello, as in Lou, who in essence runs the NHL from his executive position with the New Jersey Devils. L also is for Ludzik, as in Steve, who has become the most entertaining hockey analyst in Canada.
M is for Montreal, where hockey rules and where the Canadiens, despite a bit of a slump before the all-star break, are very much for real.
N is for Nonis, as in Dave, the Canucks' general manager, who pulled off one of the finest trade in years by unloading Todd Bertuzzi to the Panthers for Roberto Luongo, arguably the best goaltender in the NHL.
O is for Ovechkin, as in Alexander, who's great.
P is for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who may be on the verge of greatness, even if it will be exhibited in another city.
Q is for Quenneville, as in Joel, who coaches the Colorado Avalanche and who Qualifies for this letter.
R is for Roy, as in Patrick, an NHL Hall of Famer who may need anger-management classes.
S is for Selanne, Shanahan, Sundin, St. Louis and Sakic — aging but classy veterans who continue to distinguish themselves with excellence on and off the ice.
T is for Trotz, as in Barry, coach of the league-leading Nashville Predators. Trotz, simply, is Terrific but, for some reason, doesn't draw nearly the type of respect and recognition he deserves.
U is for unbalanced, which the NHL's schedule is and will continue to be next season, after an absurd vote by the league's powers-that-be this week. Listen, fans deserve to see more teams. The fact that the Leafs and Senators won't play the Canucks, Flames or Edmonton Oilers at all next season is downright criminal and seriously shortchanges the loyal hockey fans of Canada.
V is for victories, which I suspect the Thrashers will be amassing plenty of in the second half, especially if they can find a decent centre to stick between Slava Kozlov and Marian Hossa.
W is for Wellwood, as in Kyle, possibly the most enigmatic player in the NHL. The guy doesn't have a single penalty all season. And he doesn't own a television set. And he's injury-prone. And the thing is, the Leafs have no chance of making the playoffs without significant contributions from him.
X is X-Zone hats, available at www.nhl.com. I'm a cap collector and these are terrific. And I'll bet you didn't think I could come up with a decent X, eh?
Y is for Yashin, as in Alexei, who still hasn't fulfilled his potential and, at 34, might be running out of time.
Z is for Zetterbeg, as in Henrik, who is the Detroit Red Wings' leading scorer but who still needs to take it to the next level if his team is to advance in the post-season.