December 23 — The NHL on Christmas & Early Calder Favorites

NHL Standings

Last Night’s News 📰

GREAT ONE AND THE GREAT EIGHT: In a New York Times article that came out on Wednesday, Wayne Gretzky stated that he has “no doubt” Alex Ovechkin will break his goal-scoring record. Ovechkin has 752 goals and is only 142 tallies away from tying the Great One.

NEXT MAN UP: For the second Olympiad in a row, the NHL will not be participating in the Winter Games. This begs the question, who will make their team’s 2022 Olympic rosters? Yesterday, ESPN released an early look at potential staff and players for the countries most affected by the lack of NHL talent on its bench.

SADDLEDOME STANDOFF: On Wednesday, the Calgary Flames pulled out of a deal with the city of Calgary to build the Flames a new arena due to rising costs. After 38 years in the Saddledome, the Flames agreed with the city to construct a new 19,000-seat Event Centre. However, when the estimate of the project increased $84 million, the two sides were unable to compromise on how to pay for the additional costs. 

Top-Shelf Thursday – Top Christmas Games

Just as Santa was recovering from his busiest night of the year, NHL players were lacing up their skates for a festive face-off on the ice. Once upon a time, the NHL gave fans the gift of holiday hockey. The tradition of playing on the merriest day of the year came to an end on Dec. 25, 1971. Let’s grab our hot chocolate and hop on our sleigh to take a trip down memory lane and appreciate some Christmas highlights.

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. Brooklyn Americans

What makes this game special is it’s the only Christmas Day game to be decided in overtime, resulting in a 3-2 win for Detroit. It was a 23-year-old Sid Abel who scored on Brooklyn’s goaltender Chuck Rayner at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium to win the game for the home team. Syd Howe and Ken Kilrea were the two other goal-scorers for the Red Wings.

#2 St. Louis Blues Played Two

St. Louis was one of six teams to join the league during the 1967 NHL expansion, and the NHL granted its newest team appearances in back-to-back Christmas games—both against another expansion team, the Minnesota North Stars. In 1967, the teams took to the ice at the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington with goaltender Seth Martin earning the 1-0 shutout victory for the Blues. Glenn Hall equaled the feat one year later, shutting out the North Stars in the very same arena, 2-0.

#1 Rangers Wintery Winning Streak

From 1928 to 1949, the New York Rangers were unbeatable during the Christmas holiday. Their festive winning streak of 15-0-1 came to an end at the hands of the Red Wings on Dec. 25, 1950. New York suffered a 4-1 loss in Detroit as the Wings scored three unanswered goals with Gordie Howe earning himself a three-point night.

Where We Stand – Central Division

The Central Division has had a little bit of everything thus far this season—coaching changes, a surprise battle for the division lead, an under-performing favorite, and the league’s resident bottom feeder. Time to take a closer look at how things are going:

The Contenders

We all know that Kirill Kaprizov is the real deal, but are the Minnesota Wild? Their eight-game win streak initially indicated as much, but the four-game losing skid that followed suggested otherwise. Nonetheless, Minnesota’s 19-9-2 record represents a pretty solid step forward following last season’s return to the playoff picture, and the post-holiday stretch will go a long way in determining whether they can keep it up.

As the Wild faltered as Christmas neared, the Nashville Predators embarked on a surprise tear, winning seven straight on the strength of a blazing stretch of play from goaltender Juuse Saros (before being shut down, anyway). The Preds might be an intriguing trade deadline team to watch with nearly $10 million in cap space at the moment.

Did the St. Louis Blues and GM Doug Armstrong ace the offseason? Trading for Pavel Buchnevich and declining to trade a disgruntled Vladimir Tarasenko secured the club’s two leading scorers. Meanwhile, Niko Mikkola has capably filled the departed Vince Dunn’s minutes at a fraction of the price.

The Middle Class

It’s strange to have the Colorado Avalanche, the owner of the best point percentage and goal differential in the Central, and likely still the de facto favorite to win the division, in the middle class. But even having played fewer games than their division rivals, Colorado still lags a half step behind Minnesota, Nashville, and St. Louis. Concerning? Nah, but their slower-than-expected start doesn’t inspire me to label them as a contender for now.

Dave Lowry barely had a chance to begin getting used to life as interim head coach of the Winnipeg Jets in the aftermath of Paul Maurice’s resignation when the NHL schedule got waylaid by Omicron. And he certainly has work to do. Inconsistent effort and offensive struggles have plagued a talented Jets team, so much so that Maurice even admitted that the players “need a new voice.”

Lose four straight, win seven in a row, lose five, win two—seriously, does anyone know what the Dallas Stars are at this point?? Apart from wildly streaky and probably mediocre? At least youth is being served, with Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Miro Heiskanen leading the charge along with good ol’ Joe Pavelski.

The Chicago Blackhawks went all-in on an expensive, veteran-laden roster this season in a clear win-now move that has, to date, failed spectacularly. Although the Hawks have improved since replacing Jeremy Colliton with Derek King, they still haven’t been able to string two wins together over their past 14 games. And the less said about the club off the ice, the better.

The Basement

As disastrous as the season has been for the Blackhawks’ organization, there’s only one deserving resident of the Central Division basement: the 6-21-2 Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes are 12 points behind the rest of the division, and supposed stud defenseman Jakob Chychrun owns a league-worst minus-29 (second worst is minus-16). It wasn’t expected for Arizona to contend this year, and a run at Shane Wright isn’t the worst plan, but yikes!

Early Favorites – Calder Trophy

The Calder Trophy race has been a fascinating one so far this season. By the conclusion of the playoffs, most fans all but guaranteed that Cole Caufield would be walking away with the honors. However, that doesn’t seem likely with the way things are going in Montreal. So far, three other names have popped up, and the best part of the rookie race is they are all players making a difference on non-contending teams. Let’s look in on this season’s early contenders.

Lucas Raymond

Lucas Raymond of the Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Forward Lucas Raymond has been at the top of the rookie race since the beginning of the season. Raymond is off to an impressive inaugural campaign, with 28 points in 31 games and one of three players on the team with double-digit goals. His 18 assists have him tied for the lead on the team, and he is a big reason why the Red Wings are currently in a wild card spot.

Trevor Zegras

Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Trevor Zegras is quite possibly the most entertaining rookie on this list. His alley-oop pass to Sonny Milano has entertained the masses, with more than 300,000 views on social media. The 20-year-old has singlehandedly made the Anaheim Ducks relevant this season, and it’s hard to root against him. If you need a laugh, check out the video of him being scared by Kevin Shattenkirk.

Dawson Mercer

Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Dawson Mercer is an interesting case. The other two on this list have had highlight-reel moments and are now household names around the league. New Jersey’s rookie mostly flies under the radar until you see him play firsthand. He seems to do everything right and is currently the heart and soul of the Devils. Mercer plays well beyond his years and deserves recognition for what’s he’s done for his team.