Brian Burke calls them the "custodians of the game," and the NHL's 30 general managers are at it again this week, discussing everything related to the on-ice product in Boca Raton, Fla. In each of the past two years the GMs' annual March meetings have resulted in tangible changes to the game, including Rule 48 (illegal checks to the head), modifications to Rule 41 (boarding) and the concussion treatment and protocol.
There is no clear-cut front runner on the agenda this year, but after the first day it would appear hybrid icing is gaining steam and could find its way into the Competition Committee's hands in June. It is still not known if the managers will make a rule change proposal in favor of hybrid icing, but there are at least eight managers on board with it and probably more lurking in the weeds.
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Beyond hybrid icing, the GMs have already heard a thorough, in-depth report on the Department of Player Safety from NHL Senior V.P. Brendan Shanahan. The doctors in the NHL's concussion working group have delivered an address on the state of concussions in the NHL. Concussions have stabilized after the League experienced a dramatic increase from 2009-11.
There is still plenty for the managers to discuss, including the potential of re-inserting the red line and removing the trapezoid.
The majority of GMs that spoke Monday didn't make it sound that there is enough support for reintroduction of the red line to move beyond the discussion phases. There appears to be a similar feeling about removing the trapezoid, but there likely will be more discussions and information to come on both topics before the meetings break Wednesday.
The Sidney Crosby watch has turned into a stalking event at every Penguins practice. How does he look? What is he doing? Did you see that? How fast is he going? Who is going to hit him? Will he be able to handle the force?
And, of course, when will he play?
The answer to that last question was revealed Tuesday when the Penguins announced Crosby will be in the lineup Thursday night when they face the New Yrok Rangers in a key Atlantic Division matchup at Madison Square Garden..
Crosby announced he was cleared for contact this past Tuesday. He has been beaten around in practice, but it wasn't enough to warrant playing in this past Sunday's game against Boston.
Thursday's game is a desirable game for Crosby to return because a) the Penguins are inching closer to the Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference; b) returning Thursday gives Crosby all day Friday to recover before the Penguins play Saturday in Newark and Sunday in Philadelphia; c) Crosby wants to play.
SOG: 277 | +/-: 12
The Rangers had a nine-point lead on the Bruins and Penguins two weeks ago, but New York has gone 3-3-1 since. The Penguins have won nine in a row; including the past four without getting a goal from Evgeni Malkin, who did have 3 assists in Sunday's win against Boston. Jordan Staal has points in eight straight games (3 goals, 8 assists) and 17 points in the 14 games he's played since returning from his knee injury Feb. 11.
Pittsburgh has won the past two meetings against the Rangers by a combined 6-1 after losing the first two meetings by a combined 7-4. Malkin has 3 goals and 1 assist in the past two meetings, while Marc-Andre Fleury has stopped 57 of 58 shots. Brad Richards had 4 points and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 61 of 65 shots to lift the Rangers to wins in the first two games.
First place will not be up for grabs because the Penguins won't play between now and Thursday's game. The Rangers, in fact, could increase their lead to six points with a win Tuesday against Carolina, the second of seven straight home games for New York. They also hold a significant lead in the main tiebreaker, non-shootout wins, with a 40-33 edge.
Scream out loud if you predicted the St. Louis Blues would be leading the Presidents' Trophy race on March 13.
Silence. Silence. Silence.
That's about right.
Anybody who suggests that back in October they had the Blues as being the NHL's best team this late in the season, or at any point during this season, is flat out lying. Even the guys that wear the blue notes on their chests can't say that with a straight face.
It's ridiculous what the Blues have done under Ken Hitchcock since he took over in early November. They have a total of 97 points now, including the 12 they earned under Davis Payne before he was replaced by Hitchcock. They are four points clear of the New York Rangers and five ahead of the Vancouver Canucks, though the Blues have played in more games than both.
They're doing this with one 20-goal scorer. David Backes has 21. They're doing this without any 50-point guys. Backes and T.J. Oshie have 48 apiece.
The Blues are No. 20 in goals per game and No. 16 in power-play efficiency, but they are 36-0-0 when they score three or more goals because Hitchcock's system is predicated on keeping the puck out of the net. They don't have to score a lot when they are yielding fewer than two goals per game and have a penalty kill that has killed off 47 straight power plays.
The next question, naturally, is can the Blues do this in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, too? The answer is another question:
SOG: 261 | +/-: -3
Kovalchuk, who used to be regarded as a one-way, me-first player in Atlanta, has adapted to the Devils' ways and to the responsibilities demanded by coach Pete DeBoer.
Kovalchuk is back to scoring at an elite level as he was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday for posting 5 goals and 4 assists in four straight New Jersey wins. He has 30 goals for a ninth straight season and his 71 points tie him with Phil Kessel for No. 5 in the League.
Kovalchuk's impact, though, goes beyond stats.
He is involved in all phases of the game, including more than a minute per game on the penalty kill, something he has done only once in his NHL career. He routinely gets double-shifted or stays on for a double-shift on his own, but he's rarely caught winded or too far out of position to where he becomes a liability. He leads all forwards in the NHL with 24:40 of ice time per game.
Kovalchuk recently went nine straight games without scoring a goal, but it was barely noticeable on the ice because he was effective in so many other areas. The Devils even went 5-3-1 in those games.
Three head-scratching items from the Western Conference:
1. Flames forward Curtis Glencross has goals in seven straight games, one short of the team record set by both Gary Roberts and Kent Nilsson. Nobody else has scored in more than six straight games this season. Glencross has scored 7 goals in his streak, needing only 17 shots to do it. That's 41 percent. He now has 25 goals this season, good for a tie for No. 30 in the League.
2. Henrik and Daniel Sedin have only 1 point between them in the past eight games. It belongs to Daniel and it was an assist against Phoenix six games ago. Henrik hasn't gone eight games without a point in a decade. This is Daniel's second eight-game goalless streak of the season, but at least he had 7 assists during his previous drought (Nov. 10-26). The Canucks are, not surprisingly, just 3-3-2 in their past eight games.
3. San Jose sits outside the top eight in the Western Conference. It's been five years since the Sharks didn't finish first or second and nine years since they last missed the playoffs, finishing No. 14 in 2002-03. It could happen this season. They're No. 9 with 77 points after their Monday win against Edmonton. The Avs' overtime win against Anaheim kept them one point ahead of the Sharks.
GAA: 2.41 | SVP: 0.920
While Washington's run has made things even more interesting in the division, on paper it still appears that Florida has the edge in the race.
The Panthers not only have one more point and a game in hand, but they also play at home seven more times while the Capitals have just five home dates remaining. Four of Florida's remaining seven road games will be against teams that are considered out of the playoff race or on the bubble; Washington plays only three of its remaining nine road games against such teams.
Overall, the Panthers play 10 of their final 14 games against teams that currently do not occupy a playoff position, including two against the Hurricanes and one each against the Canadiens and Blue Jackets. Montreal is last in the East; Columbus is last in the NHL.
The Capitals only have the so-called luxury of playing seven more games against teams that are not currently in the top eight. But two of those are against the Jets, who are four points back in ninth place and still fancy themselves as a playoff contender.
Of note is the fact that Washington has 34 non-shootout wins versus Florida's 28. If these teams are tied at the end of the season, the Capitals will likely have the edge to win the tiebreaker.
It's also very possible that the Southeast Division comes down to the game April 5 at Verizon Center between the Caps and Panthers, but Washington will to have to play just a little bit better with a slightly tougher schedule to make it happen.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl