I will be honest and say that with the way the Tampa Bay Lightning had been going for the last two months, I thought coach Guy Boucher's days might be numbered, but I actually didn't think he would get fired until this summer. I thought Tampa Bay wouldn't do it during the regular season because the team is just six points out of a playoff spot right now but general manager Steve Yzerman must have felt Boucher had lost the team, because making a move like this with 18 games left in the season is somewhat unusual.
The reason I think this happened now is that Yzerman is trying to get a bump from his team. The Lightning have lost three games in a row, they gave up four goals in the first period Saturday night in Ottawa and they just haven't been playing well for a while. But they're also just six points out, and that's not a margin that's insurmountable. Sometimes when you fire a coach the players respond and rattle off five or six wins in a row. With the shortened season, we're basically in the middle of the playoffs anyway. Making this move allows Yzerman to appease the fans by doing something, it could potentially give the Lightning that bump they need to make the playoffs and perhaps most importantly, it makes Yzerman a proactive general manager. He's making it clear that losing and the potential of missing the playoffs for a second straight season is not acceptable.
I'm a lucky man because of when my playing career took place. I was in the NHL from 1979 until 1986, which meant I got to see all those new buildings, but I also got to play in some of the classic older buildings right as the architecture of arenas was changing.
The new arenas are gorgeous. They're much more luxurious. But they're all the same. They all hold 20,000 people, they all have private boxes, the ice is exactly the same, the lighting is exactly the same, the concourses are exactly the same. There's no uniqueness -- Philly is L.A. is Chicago is Pittsburgh. They're all beautiful buildings, but they don't have the character and the uniqueness of the old ones.
That's why the old ones are the ones that really have a place in my heart. These are my five favorite legendary arenas of all time.
As the NHL season chugs along, all but one team has reached the halfway point in its season, and the one team that hasn't, the Los Angeles Kings, will get there Monday when they play the Calgary Flames. With the abbreviated 2012-13 season moving so quickly, it's amazing that we're already halfway through the schedule, but it doesn't mean we can't see which players are having tremendous seasons and who has the leg up for this season's major honors.
Here are my picks for some of the NHL's major awards at the midway point:
One of the most important things to me is that I just don't think an MVP can be on a team that doesn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Plenty of players are having great seasons, but players like Steven Stamkos or John Tavares probably are not going to be in the postseason mix at the end. I've got to look at a team that's going to the playoffs and right now Pittsburgh is winning even if they really aren't playing that well, and Sidney Crosby is the reason. Sid is leading the NHL in scoring and assists. On Saturday night he scored a goal against Toronto and then got the winner in the shootout, and with Evgeni Malkin missing chunks of time, Sid is regularly seeing the other team's best players every night and he's still producing. He's very quietly had a great year, and it looks like he's playing hard as if his injury worries are a thing of the past. He's flying around and playing with reckless abandon because he's confident that his injury won't come back every time he gets nailed. He's past that mentally and all the good things in Pittsburgh this season -- the Pens' record, Chris Kunitz's 17 goals, Pascal Dupuis' 11 goals -- those just don't happen without Sid.
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I look forward to the process, the battle, the pain, the fun, the journey. It's going to be a long one but it's going to be a lot of fun. If you think there is no pain coming, there is pain coming.