Congratulations to the Detroit Red Wings, NHL champions for 2006.
Well, yes, the Carolina Hurricanes did skate off with the Stanley Cup for the first time in June, but the Original Six club from Hockeytown had the league's best statistical year from January to December.
The Red Wings earned 73 percent of available points this year, topping the Anaheim Ducks who surged into second on the strength of their 28-5-6 start this season. The Ducks dropped the Mighty from their name and shifted it to the ice - picking up 72 percent of possible points.
Anaheim hopes to end the season with the most points but will look for a better fate than what befell the Red Wings, who had a league-best 124. All that added up to for Detroit was a first-round playoff ouster by the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers barely qualified for the playoffs but stuck around until Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Not bad for a team that finished 15th out of 30 clubs with a point percentage of 55.2.
Carolina was eighth at 63.4.
BLUESHIRT SIT DOWN: New York Rangers coach Tom Renney has preached accountability since he took over as head coach.
And it doesn't matter if you are a rookie or a 13-season veteran. Step out of line, and there will be a price to pay. Just ask Michael Nylander.
The center, fourth on the team in scoring behind Brendan Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka, has had quite an eventful month. He left one game after the first period to be with his wife when she gave birth to the couple's daughter. A later bout with the flu sidelined him for three more contests.
Then, an elongated shift in his second game back led to an ill-advised penalty. It cost him more time on the bench as Renney yanked him right after he left the penalty box.
Nylander got tired during his long shift. He poked with his stick as Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek carried the puck, but instead of forcing a turnover, he cut Martinek on the face. Martinek left a bloody trail as he skated toward the bench, and Nylander was sent to the box for a long four minutes.
The Islanders scored 1:48 into the third period, just 11 seconds after Nylander served his penalty, and shut down the Rangers on Tuesday night during a 2-0 victory. That stretched New York's losing streak to six games.
"It looked to me like he could probably use a bit of a rest here," Renney said in explaining the benching. "I wasn't really thrilled with how he and others were playing, quite honestly. Michael is a puck-handling master, but there is a time and place for that.
"I thought the penalty was pretty tough on our team. It put our team behind the 8-ball and it came on the heels of an extended shift that wasn't necessary."
Nylander spent a total of 11 seconds on the ice in the third period and finished a minus-2 for the game. He wasn't pleased about the benching but was more understanding a day later.
"You never want to be in the position where you can't help the team, but you have to pay the price for the double minor," the 34-year-old Nylander said. "I just think that it was a message to all of us."
LINE 'EM UP: The NHL still is exploring the best way to form its schedule and give fans the matchups they most want to see.
Since the lockout, teams have been limited to 10 games per season outside their respective conferences. In any given season, clubs avoid one out-of-conference division completely, and have only one visit them.
Now, there is buzz of a total divisional shift. In a new alignment, each conference would have two divisions instead of three. Certain clubs even would have to change conferences to create divisions that are more time-zone and travel friendly, plus more conducive to television.
So far, it's all talk, and no proposal is ready to be put up to a vote. The NHL board of governors will meet in January during All-Star week in Dallas.
"I don't mind that many games against Edmonton or Vancouver," said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla about the Flames' biggest Northwest Division rivals. "But it is exciting to see the other players come through from other teams, like Washington, or (Sidney) Crosby in Pittsburgh, or go to those places, go to New York and Florida.
"I think our fans, when you talk to some of them, they do want to see it. On the other side, I guess from some of the questions - reading some of the answers from (Commissioner Gary) Bettman, you know, fans want to see the big games and the big teams and all that, but they don't necessarily come out to see the other conference teams that they don't know as well."
SAKU SCORES AND SCORES: Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu is in no hurry for 2007 to arrive.
The way December has gone for Koivu and his teammates, who could blame him?
Montreal entered the weekend with nine losses, the second fewest in the Eastern Conference, and Koivu is a big reason why.
Through 12 December games, Koivu notched nine goals - his best output in a month during an 11-season NHL career - and the Canadiens posted an 8-2-2 mark.
Koivu was tied with Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier and Washington forward Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in December goals. He had never scored more than six in any month.
The star center matched his production over the previous five months of regular-season play, a span of 56 games, dating to February.
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