The holidays are right around the corner with both Hanukkah and Christmas coming this week. In the spirit of the season, I'm putting on my Santa costume on and telling different teams and players in the NHL that have been nice this year what they can expect to find under their trees on Sunday morning.
Toronto Maple Leafs: I dug in my archives and I found the parade route that the Leafs used in 1967 when they won their last title. Everyone in Toronto thinks the Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup this year, so I want to do my part and make sure they're ready to march down Young Street like they did in '67. The people in Toronto have been long suffering, and it's not right that the last parade in Toronto was for a baseball team. I think that's got to change, so I'm going to do all I can for the people of Toronto and help out the Leafs and their fans with the actual parade route, so they'll be ready if it ever happens.
Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks: I'm going to give these teams three free sessions with self-help guru Tony Robbins, because right now they are both screwed up mentally. Neither team has any confidence and both lose games when they have the lead going into the third period. So these teams just need mental makeovers. I know Tony and I know in three sessions, he'll be able to change both of those teams. Books will be given out and available at each session signed outside the door.
Nashville Predators: Carrie Underwood is going to write a new song for the Predators and it's going to be called "Love and Pekka Rinne will keep us playing into May." Mike Fisher will be the tall, dark handsome guy in the video who says nothing and just smiles the whole time.
Philadelphia Flyers: I'm going to bring back Ed Van Impe to make a comeback in place of Chris Pronger. He's going to supply that nasty defenseman that slashes everything that moves around the front of the net. With Pronger out for the rest of the year, I had to do something for the Flyers because we saw last year in the playoffs that it's not the same defense without Pronger. Without Pronger I put the Flyers down in that second tier of teams. I'd put the Bruins, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Vancouver in that upper tier. The Flyers are now in that level beneath them with teams like the Rangers. The Pronger injury is catastrophic.
Evgeni Malkin: I'm going to continue to give Malkin superpowers until Sidney Crosby comes back. Malkin's been just great every game since Sidney's been gone. He had a hat trick Saturday night, Wednesday night he was fantastic in a losing effort. He's just playing awesome hockey right now. Pittsburgh is certainly a playoff team, but to be a Stanley Cup team, Malkin's going to have to be the guy that leads them. Arguably Pittsburgh's got its two best players out right now in Crosby and Kris Letang, but they're still scoring in bunches every night, and to keep doing it Malkin will have to keep playing at a high level.
Boston Bruins: I'm giving these guys nothing. I gave them the Stanley Cup last year and I also gave them Tyler Seguin, so I think that's enough to hold them over for another Christmas.
St. Louis Blues: I'm giving the Blues the exact same thing. I already gave them Ken Hitchcock and Brian Elliott, which has completely turned the team around. They have been overserved already. Right now, Brian is the most confident he's ever been and he's played well for stretches before with Ottawa. With a guy with his history, you're certainly taking a sigh of relief after each good game, but St. Louis is playing a good style of hockey right now and Elliott and Hitchcock are big reasons why.
Teemu Selanne and the Winnipeg fans: These two got their Christmas present this weekend when I gave them Teemu's emotional return to Winnipeg Saturday night. It was a magical night, the city came out and responded, a lot of great memories were rekindled and Teemu was cheered every time he touched the puck. The Winnipeg fans certainly loved the win, but I think they would almost have loved to see Teemu score a hat trick in a win for Anaheim just as much. It was a great night for Winnipeg, a great night for Teemu and a great night for the NHL.
New Jersey Devils: I'm going to give this team a return to their previous glory for Ilya Kovalchuk and Marty Brodeur. I think Kovalchuk is starting to come out of it, but for New Jersey to make the playoffs, these two guys will have to be the players of old, so that's the Christmas present I'm going to give the fans and players in New Jersey. If you really sit back and look at the play of Marty and Johan Hedberg, Hedberg should be playing more. You want to play Marty, but when he struggles you feel bad when you pull him. As a coach you don't want to put him in that situation, but hopefully with Santa's help, Marty will regain his greatness for the last 50 games of the season.
Detroit Red Wings: I'm going to give them access to the Fountain of Youth for one more year. They had that six-game losing streak at the beginning of the year, and boy did it wake them up. They look like the old Detroit Red Wings. Jimmy Howard has been good all year long -- probably their most consistent player -- but not Datsyuk's back, Zetterberg is flying, Franzen is scoring and Lidstrom and Kronwall and Stuart are giving them good play and the team looks great.
Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders: I know it's been a tough year for them, but I'm going to give them a great Christmas present: a lottery pick. Those will be the three teams that have the best opportunity to get a lottery pick come next June. I think the Islanders are a team that isn't ready to compete for a playoff spot just yet, Columbus is just in too big of a hole and Carolina is just a mess right now, particularly with Skinner and Pitkanen out. But if you're looking for a silver lining, these three teams are all going to get very good players next June -- and in the case of New York and Columbus, it might be the piece that finally pushes them into the top eight consistently.
New York Rangers: I'm going to give them the return of Marc Staal. I really like the Rangers. I think they're really close to being a really good team. Richards is becoming a bigger factor every game, Girardi is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL, they play with some grit and some character and they've always had the goaltender. If you put Staal back in that lineup, I think this will be a team that can do some damage come playoff time.
All in all though, this has been a great season so far for the NHL and only people like Jacques Martin or Randy Carlyle have gotten any coal. Bruce Boudreau got an exception. With a glance into Santa's crystal ball, the gifts I'm giving this holiday season will make sure the rest of the season is even better than what we've had so far.
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I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year. I think we started seeing that at the end of the year, and he could be a replacement for Jarome as a possibility.