Five Hart Trophy Candidates
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh: Some impostor wore No. 87 for the Penguins’ first 30 games last year, recording just six goals and 13 assists. The real Sid showed up in mid-December and rattled off 30 goals and 66 points in 50 games, then won the Stanley Cup. If healthy, he should skate toward his third MVP award right from the start this year.
2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary: Flashy young players are exciting to watch, and they also catch the attention of voters. The 23-year-old Gaudreau is a superstar in the making. He put up 30 goals and nearly a point per game last year. More eyes will be on him this season, and he has already made a habit of shining in the spotlight.
3. Carey Price, Montreal: The goaltender won the Hart two seasons ago, establishing himself as the premier netminder in the league. He didn’t get a chance for an encore, suffering a knee injury and playing just 12 games (while winning 10). The Canadiens fell apart without him, and he’ll get votes by putting the team back together.
4. Patrick Kane, Chicago: It’s impossible to ignore the reigning Hart winner. He dominated the stat sheets last year, putting up 106 points – 17 more than second-place Jamie Benn of Dallas. Kane was invisible during the World Cup. He’s bounced back from poor headlines before, and there’s little reason to expect a change.
5. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa: A defenseman hasn’t won the Hart since Chris Pronger in 2000, mainly because they get their own award (Norris Trophy). Karlsson has the game to end the drought. He tied for fourth overall with 82 points last year, and the 26-year-old is still getting better. If he can lift the Senators to the playoffs, he may lift the Hart.
In the Rinks
* Buffalo fans who finally got used to saying First Niagara Center instead of HSBC Arena (or Marine Midland Arena for the real holdouts) are going to have to catch themselves again. It’s now KeyBank Center, at least until the next financial merger.
* Connor McDavid is ready to usher in a new era in Edmonton, and he’ll do it in the NHL’s newest building. Rogers Place is part of a $2.5 billion complex that will combine the arena with residential and business districts, including a 69-story tower that, once completed, will be the tallest building in Canada outside of Toronto. The arena has 1,200 televisions spread throughout the suites and concourses, plus the largest high-definition scoreboard in the NHL.
* The Penguins brought the electricity to Consol Energy Center with their Stanley Cup win. Now they’ll try to color their fans happy in PPG Paints Arena. Same building, new name.
* Detroit fans will spend their season saying farewell to Joe Louis Arena. The 20,058-seat arena opened in 1979 and has hosted Red Wings playoff games for 25 straight seasons. The Wings added four Stanley Cup banners during their time in the building, and they’ll move them to Little Caesars Arena in 2017-18.
Hello bye, Goodbye Buffalo
The NHL is introducing a bye week this season, negotiated by the players’ association in exchange for turning the All-Star Game into a three-on-three affair. The Sabres will be off Feb. 20-24, and here are some possible destinations for players eager to bolt Buffalo during the winter.
* Las Vegas – The NHL is expanding to Sin City for the 2017-18 season, so players could probably write off this journey as a business trip. Since the new team will select one Sabre in the expansion draft, visitors can check out residences as well as the Strip.
* New Orleans – The Crescent City is hosting the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 19 and Fat Tuesday on Feb. 28. The Sabres could find room to stroll down Bourbon Street by hitting up the city during the week between events.
* The beach – Pick a beach, any beach. From Miami to Monaco to Mexico, miles of warm sand and bottles of cold beverages await young, wealthy bachelors eager to unwind from the grind.
* Milan – One of the global capitals of style is celebrating Fashion Week while the Sabres are off. Italy sounds like a fine place for players to buy a flashy suit and feast their eyes on “The Last Supper” before chowing down on the last six weeks of the regular season.