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NHL surprises abound as break approaches

by Brian Duff
Expect the unexpected.

It sounds simple enough; but in life, sports, and in this case the NHL, it’s still amazing how many times we find ourselves completely surprised by a series of developments -- positive or negative.

A quick survey of my colleagues at the NHL Network, who have been immersed in the game in some way, shape, or form for years, finds that they are still amazed at how the storylines of a season evolve far beyond the imagination of anyone.

Former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button -- "My biggest surprise has been the Colorado Avalanche. They were a team with a promising future, but who knew that future was so soon? Joe Sacco has done an excellent job as a rookie head coach, the young players have contributed and Craig Anderson has proven to be at the top of the list of free-agent acquisitions in the League."

Mike Johnson, a veteran of 600 NHL games -- "The biggest positive of the year is that there still is a team in Phoenix, and that they are in fourth place (in the Western Conference) and on pace for the best season in franchise history. It would have been so easy for that team to pack it in and give up on this year with everything that happened off ice last summer -- Wayne Gretzky leaving his position as coach, etc."

Gary Green, a former NHL coach -- "The Phoenix Coyotes, without a doubt. I thought that they would be hurt by the lack of interest and the summer fallout of the bankruptcy. Not knowing the team's future has often hurt teams in the standings over history in the NHL."

Individuals can surprise as often as, or even more so than, teams.

Two-time Stanley Cup winner Bob Errey -- "Sidney Crosby leading the league in goals," he said.

Former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes -- "Mark Giordano, an absolute steal for the Flames with a cap hit of under $900,000! He plays all situations, has been the best defenseman on a team that featured the 'Big 3,' and has been the most consistent Flame after Miikka Kiprusoff."

Allow me to add a few more.

* Lauri Korpikoski, a former first-round pick of the Rangers, now part of the great Phoenix story, defying reason with 5 shootout goals in eight attempts, most if not all of them in classic Jussi Jokinen-type fashion, great speed, stick-side finish. And this from a player who has only four goals in 47 games and is a team worst -11.

* Brandon Yip in Colorado. Fifteen points in 19 games and a plus-7. Not bad for a late arriver to the Avalanche resurgence party.

* And of course, there's Hart Trophy candidate -- favorite even -- Henrik Sedin of Vancouver. That was widely anticipated, wasn't it?

Of course not all surprises fall into the pleasant category.

Green and Johnson -- perhaps sharing notes -- agreed again that the fall of the Hurricanes topped the list of surprising disappointments.

For Button it was the trials of Alberta's northern-most team.

"Watching Pat Quinn explain loss after loss in a miserable season in Edmonton is my biggest disappointment, because I know how much losing pains him," Button said. "It proves that sometimes, despite the best of coaching, a team is simply not good enough to win on a consistent basis."

For Errey, it was the fact that headshots are still a major issue in the game.

Meanwhile, Weekes is perplexed at the lack of a Thomas Vanek attack in Buffalo.

"He has crazy skills, and should score 40 every year!"

From my perspective, I just can't understand why so many clean hits still result in a fist fight.

Or the fact that Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec makes more highlight reel saves than most, yet finds himself on the podium when it comes to worst three in goals-against average.

(As Pavelec probably already knows, just about every netminder in the Thrashers alumni can relate to his situation.)

Or that two of the great stories in the Western Conference last season, St. Louis and Columbus, already have fired their coaches.

Expect the unexpected. Remember that when you settle in for the Olympics, and the stretch run for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that will follow.
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