NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shining stars, FLYING FISTS

A year after the lockout, a look at the state of the NHL

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The NHL has been back in business for a year since its most-recent lockout.

With two-plus weeks left before the league's next break, a 16-day hiatus for the Winter Olympics, here's a look at five things on and off the ice over the past year.

SHOOTING STARS

The NHL has eight players who have scored 100 points in the regular season since it resumed play last year, led by Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby with 124 points in just 84 games from Jan. 19, 2013 to Jan. 19, 2014. Chicago's Patrick Kane is second on the list with 111 points in 98 games, a few spots ahead of Washington's Alex Ovechkin. The league wants stars to market to give non-traditional fans a reason to tune in and show up for games and it has plenty. Sid the Kid, clearly, is doing his part. Crosby has an NHL-high 68 points -- the most he's had in a season since his career was effected by concussions three years ago. He's on pace to pass his career-high total of 120 points from the 2006-07 season.

FISTS OVER FACTS

Fights are an ugly, or entertaining, part of hockey, depending on your perspective. When the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames dropped gloves and started throwing fists seconds into Saturday night's game, the fight looked as staged as something you would see in professional wrestling. While fighting usually gets attention in stories, sports-talk radio and on TV, the NHL has had its fewest fights in several years. There have been an average of .880 fights per game through Sunday's games, the lowest since there were slightly less during the 2006-07 season, according to STATS. Suspensions and physical-foul penalties through the first half of the season also are down this season compared to the first halves of some recent years. There were 1.09 physical-foul penalties, such as boarding and roughing, called per team through 41 games this season, the lowest average in at least six years. And there were 31 suspensions announced within team's first 41 games, the second-lowest total in six seasons.

WILD RACE, WILD CARDS

The reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins are among the NHL's top teams with 30-plus games left in the regular season. While both franchises are likely playing just for post-season positioning, some teams might get squeezed out of the new-look playoff race. The NHL's realignment included going from six divisions to four and changing how teams qualify for the playoffs. Teams that finish among the top three in each division are in along with the next two teams in points, in each conference, as wild cards. Unless the banged-up Detroit Red Wings start playing better soon, they might not extend their post-season streak to 23 consecutive trips.

BUMP, PASS, SPIKE?

The NHL is testing the popularity of playing outdoors, hoping to build off the success of its Winter Classic. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks will match up in Dodger Stadium and the New York Rangers will play the Islanders and New Jersey Devils in Yankee Stadium later this week. After the Sochi Games, Chicago will play Pittsburgh at Soldier Field and Vancouver will host the Ottawa Senators outdoors. The setup at the home of the Dodgers has raised some eyebrows because the field will include a beach volleyball court, a fact Kings coach Darryl Sutter said was "embarrassing."

COURT CASE

When former NFL players filed and settled a lawsuit related to concussions, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said he expected former NHL players to follow suit. And, they did. Ten former NHL players, including all-star forward Gary Leeman, claimed in a class-action lawsuit two months ago the league hasn't done enough to protect players from concussions.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2014 ??65533

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