I'm not sure which of the following groups of hockey people are feeling the most stress at this time of year: the players, the coaches, the general managers or the full spectrum of media-types that make up the entity we call the National Hockey League. Add in the fans who ultimately pay all the salaries and we are all in this together.
Suffice it to say, there is a definite up-tick in anxiety about making a mistake from which there will be no time to recover, as each club jockeys for the best position coming down the home stretch of the 2010-11 season.
Everyone but the New Jersey Devils - though there are hints they are beginning to believe they may have something to lose too. Bad news for them when they reach that point.
With less than one hundred hours till Monday's 3pm (EST) trade deadline, and twenty games, more or less, left in the NHL's regular season schedule, I suspect it's going to get worse before it gets better.
Proceed at your own risk. In hopes of both distracting you or stoking the fires, depending on your relationship with your team, I've assembled the usual assortment of stories, videos and updates from across the hockey blogosphere - after the jump.
Your Carolina Hurricanes had a solid hard-working practice at the RBC Center today. I made some notes as I watched and listened:
- Ryan Carter did not skate, and there is no timetable on his return from his back issue. He is still listed as day-to-day, and Jerome Samson is seemingly set to remain here till Carter is ready to return.
- All seven defensemen on the roster participated equally. Derek Joslin was actively involved in every drill and spent some one-on-one time with Defensive coach Tom Rowe and Eric Staal as well as remaining out on the ice till the very end.
- I would describe the practice as the most intense I've seen in a while. Very vocal, players were working hard and winded after every set. Nobody was simply going through the motions.
- Paul Maurice was heard to shout emphatically and often to get the puck to the net. There was more urgency and, I thought, accompanying excitement from everyone. They were "up".
- After the main group completed their full ice patterns, Troy Bodie was drilled mercilessly by Tom Rowe - which I think they both appreciated. At least 30 minutes of power skating moves and quick releases of the puck in both corners of the offensive zone.
- Patrick Dwyer and Brandon Sutter worked a long time individually on face-offs with Ron Francis.
- Jiri Tlusty may have earned himself a spot in the top three the next time the Canes go to a shoot out.
- And Cam Ward seemed very relaxed and having fun. After shutting down all four of the remaining shooters (Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, Jamie McBain and Tim Gleason) he seemed particularly pleased with his efforts.
(For the full series of tweets from this morning, you can check the timeline from my twitter account, HMof2. )
Of course, I wasn't the only one there.
Here's the audio with Maurice following practice talking about Carter, Jay Harrison, the dirty areas, and other updates on the team (about 5 minutes) .
Chip Alexander had this report: Canes Now - Canes to face newlook Penguins Regardless of their lineup or absences, the Pens have not lost to the Canes this season. Pittsburgh shut out the Canes 3-0 on Oct. 30, took a 5-4 shootout win on Nov. 19 and then beat the Canes 3-2 on Jan. 22 at the Consol Energy Center with both Crosby and Malkin out.
Javier Serna had a story about the home stretch of the season in this morning's N&O: Canes face tough stretch of games - NewsObserver.com Battling for a playoff spot, the Carolina Hurricanes face one of the toughest stretches of their schedule in the final 21 games.
As always, the Carolina Hurricanes Official Podcast 02/23/2011 from Paul Branecky and Kyle Hanlin is essential listening that will answer many of your questions from those insiders with the best access to the team's front office workings.
And finally, this was a great profile of the old timers of the team that ran a couple days ago: Hurricanes' unlikely duo of Corvo, Cole emerge as team leaders - NewsObserver.com. Excerpt:
At the Jimmy V Celebrity golf tournament last summer, [Erik Cole and Joe Corvo] showed up wearing the most garish golf shorts imaginable. They also dress alike on the road, where stylish suits and ties are the norm. "Once he started hanging around me, he asked where I got stuff," Cole said with another smile. "Then he'd go get the same stuff so he'd look as sharp as I do.
Just a few stories on the trade deadline
Yikes! Brad Richards offer to Rangers of Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan - NYPOST.com That Joe Nieuwendyk, GM of the Stars, who knew he had such a sense of humor? GM Glen Sather on Tuesday that it would cost the Blueshirts three young studs off the roster, believed to be Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan, for the privilege of renting Brad Richards.
Upcoming opponents tweaking their rosters
An exhaustive resource from TSN's Scott Cullen: Updated NHL Trade Deadline Playbook: East The Eastern Conference playoff picture is relatively clear, making it easier to determine which teams will be buyers and sellers as the February 28th trade deadline approaches.
If playing GM at the deadline is not your thing, then you might prefer looking at what happens between now and April 9th
NHL Strength of Schedule could influence which teams make the playoffs - On the Forecheck In those tight battles for playoff spots, the strength of a team's schedule could play a large role in determining whether they make it or not.
Perhaps the Puck Geeks favorite stop from here til April: Eastern Conference Playoff Chances - Sports Club Stats What are the chances each team in the Eastern Conference will make the playoffs, and which games matter.
Or perhaps you take a much longer term perspective - not as thrilling, but that might be a good thing.
Charlotte Checkers and other prospects
In the System: Checkers Preparing for Playoffs - Tracking the Storm Blog and also looks at 19-year-old Finnish defenseman Rasmus Rissanen who is in his second year of play for the WHL's Everett Silvertips.
Update on this great story from Albany and Charlotte: Facebook Fandemonium for Zach Bennett
I mentioned this name last week for his contributions to Harvard's win over Boston University at the Beanpot. Here's more on this 2010 3rd-round pick: Danny Biega is INCH's Player of the Week. Inside College Hockey (Week 20)
Danny Biega has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Crimson, whose back-to-back wins this week—the first last Monday against Boston University in the Beanpot third-place game and the second Friday at archrival Cornell—were the team’s first consecutive victories since beating Rensselaer on Nov. 6 and St. Lawrence six days later.
Really great series of anecdotes and perspective from rookie forward Mike McKenzie last week, telling his readers what is New as of Feb 21: Watertown Daily Times | Minor Updates with Mike McKenzie. He's still playing for the Charlotte Checkers recalled from the ECHL's Florida Everblades.
Carolina Hockey having success beyond the professional ranks
When Toronto's old guard Globe and Mail publishes this headline, you know progress has been made: Hockey in the sunbelt: a success! - The Globe and Mail While attendance might be lagging, grassroots participation is up
The Toronto story is based on a report last week from the New York Times looking at recent numbers from USA Hockey: Where Hockey Is Growing, State by State - NYTimes.com USA Hockey's player registration figures show that hockey is growing by big leaps in the Sun Belt. NC leads among the 50 states with more than 116% growth per capita in 11 years.
This has been a great story to follow from Quebec the last couple weeks: Jr. Canes Take Big Step - Paul Branecky at Tracking the Storm Blog The Jr. Hurricanes’ capture of the Quebec pee-wee championship shows that, when it comes to hockey, North Carolinians have become more than just fans
All demographic groups are on board: This hockeymom carries a stick - NewsObserver.com When she skates, Donna Tomkinson forgets that she's the only woman playing hockey for the Storm and that she shares a locker room with a dozen sweaty men with hairy shoulders.
Looking ahead to Friday's game vs the Penguins
Bruce Arthur looks at the broader consequences of the Crosby situation: NHL should be terrified of threat to Crosby | Bruce Arthur, National Post It has been eight weeks now. Eight weeks since Victor Hedman smashed Sidney Crosby’s head into the glass in Tampa Bay, which was four days after David Steckel ran his shoulder into Crosby’s temple in Pittsburgh. Which means that it has been eight weeks since Sidney Crosby played an NHL game.
Report: Orpik to miss time with hand injury - NHL.com Erik Cole's nemesis Brooks Orpik used his hand to block a shot by Sharks forward Patrick Marleau last night. He is projected to be out 3 to 4 weeks.
Loose Change and Keepsakes
They're still scratching their heads up in Washington trying to identify the situation: Capitals Insider - Brooks Laich: 'This isn't last year's team'
Quoting Brooks Laich: "Rightfully or wrongfully, this all falls on Bruce, [people say] he's not motivating the guys, well we're professionals, paid a lot of money to play hockey. If you can't motivate yourself, you're in the wrong business. You don't need somebody telling you , 'Oh, you need to be up for this game.' We're professionals that love to do what we do. There's no problem with motivation."
Inspirational video from NCAA.com that presents the Harvard University mens ice hockey team's relationship with a young kid dealing with some tough health issues (yeah, bring a tissue) :
More on hockey players reaching out to kids struggling with illness, this one today and in our own backyard. Canes Partner with Make-A-Wish for Special Day - Raleigh DownTown (sticktap to @lgc_com and @leeniefrancis)
Michael’s time with the team will span from Thursday morning through Friday’s night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the RBC Center. At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, he will meet with Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford to sign a one-day-contract with the team. Accompanied by Director of Forwards Development Rod Brind’Amour, a longtime supporter of groups fighting Cystic Fibrosis, Michael will watch the Hurricanes practice and visit the locker room to meet the team. After a locker room tour, he will take to the RBC Center ice with Eric Staal, and then enjoy lunch with his teammates.
Mike Sundheim tweeted this pdf yesterday afternoon as a sneak preview from ESPN the magazine's "Next" page for Jeff Skinner. The issue will be in your mailbox soon if you are a subscriber, and out on newsstands next week.
Finally, this is likely another piece you might want to hold on to for posterity's sake: Rod Brind`Amour's speech at Jersey retirement: Video - Fox Sports Carolinas - the whole speech from last Friday's memorable ceremony.