LOS ANGELES -- There really has never been a night like what we saw here Friday. A couple longtime NHL observers told me they usually see 10-12 big names at the average Hockey Hall of Fame induction. But the NHL100 ceremony to honor the league's centennial brought more than 60 greats of the game together on one stage.
It led to some remarkable scenes of greats meeting greats in the hotel lobby, backstage at Microsoft Theater and on stage when the televised show ended and reporters were allowed to chat with them.
But like any list of stars, who wasn't there is almost as interesting as who was. And even with 100 players chosen, there were some significant omissions. Sabres fans rightly wondered about the absence of Dale Hawerchuk and Phil Housley.
Hawerchuk actually has a higher points per game average than Pat LaFontaine. He had four straight 80-plus point seasons from 1990-95 but is best remembered for his 713 games in Winnipeg from 1981-1990. He finished with 518 goals, 891 assists and 1,409 points and his all-time ranks in those categories are 36th, 21st and 19th, respectively. Housley had 338 goals, 894 assists and 1,232 points. As offensive defensemen go, he had few peers.
Still, he wasn't chosen by the 58-member selection committee that was comprised from a cross section of NHL owners, executives, general managers, former coaches and players, and media. Nashville GM David Poile was on the committee and the Predators said Poile's list contained 88 of the final 100 players chosen, the most of any voter.
The biggest issue from this view was the inclusion of six current players. You could have made the case to not have them eligible but it's probably foolish to not include Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin. As for the Chicago trio, Patrick Kane was certainly worthy. But Jonathan Toews and especially Duncan Keith? Too much of a nod to NBC there.
The league opted against ranking the players from 1-100, which is a shame because that would have been very interesting. Or maybe it simply didn't want to entertain the discussion of whether Gordie Howe should be No. 1 or not just a few months after his death.
Lindy knows his seat is hot
When he got near the end of his time in Buffalo, Lindy Ruff never discussed his job status a whole lot. One reason was that it was rarely asked because most observers never felt Darcy Regier would pull the chute on Ruff that Terry Pegula instructed him to do on that February day nearly four years ago.
Things are a little different now for Ruff in the last of his four-year deal in Dallas. GM Jim Nill was negligent about the team's goaltending but Ruff knows a fall from a No. 1 seed to out of the playoffs would likely mean curtains for him in Big D.
"I think about my job everyday,” was Ruff's stark admission to Dallas reporters after his team's close shave against the Sabres on Thursday night. “I think of ways to improve. I look at the special teams. That’s on me. Improving special teams. I don’t like where our penalty killing is at. We’ve worked on trying to change that. I am not happy with the job I’ve done. I understand we’ve gone through a lot of injuries, a lot of players shuffling around, but I assess my job everyday.
"You have to produce. We can’t just talk about chances. This is a league you have to win. You have to win. There is only one thing, and you have to win. We’re sitting there close enough, but we’re coming out of the break we have to win."
Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan let his team have it with one of the season's best tirades after Monday's 5-1 loss in Montreal.
"Just got to man up," said Gulutzan. "I mean, we play well and one bad thing happens and we crumple. Everybody talks about our starts; our starts have been good but one little shot goes in, we crumple. We just crumple. We have no resolve to stay with it; we have to look internally here at ourselves, everybody in the organization – and see how we’re going to pull ourselves out because the league doesn’t feel sorry for you."
---Dan Bylsma correctly said the other day that goaltenders' numbers can really be tough to figure, whether it's matchups against teams, home and road, back to backs or anything else. But it appears that it's time for backup Anders Nilsson to not see too many games outside the 716.
After Thursday's loss in Dallas, Nilsson is just 2-6-3 on the road this season with a 3.20 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. At home in KeyBank Center, he's 6-1-1, 1.84/.946. Pretty amazing.
The differences are just as stark for his career. At home: 17-7-4, 2.57/.918. On the road: 10-22-4, 3.26/.898.
---The Sabres went 4-0 at home in January -- after going 4-12-5 in the first month of the year at home the last five seasons combined. They're 7-4-1 overall this month with one game left. The last three years, they went just 9-24-4 in January, including the 0-12 flameout two years ago at the height of Tank Nation.
---The Sabres are 1-9-1 on Thursdays this season. Fluke or not, it bears watching because they play on four of the next five starting with this Thursday's visit by the New York Rangers.
Around the boards
---Next year's schedule is frozen by the lack of a decision about whether players will go to South Korea for the Olympics in 2018. The league is drawing up two versions, one with an Olympic break and one without. Then there's the issue of the All-Star Game. There is none awarded yet for 2018; it was during last year's game in Nashville that Los Angeles was announced. Will there be a game in '18 or not? The Olympic situation will determine that.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has admitted some owners are adamant they're fatigued by all the Olympic talk. And still others may not want to essentially close shop for a meaty part of the season in February.
---A lot might be determined in the Atlantic Division by who can fortify their defense. The Canadiens got Nikita Nesterov from the Lightning and are still looking. You wonder what the Maple Leafs will do about making a move on St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk, and what the Sabres will do. Why is there a Los Angeles scout at pretty much every Buffalo game or a Sabres scout at just about every Kings game of late? As hot as he is right now, the Kings could certainly use Evander Kane in their lineup on the wing.
---What's happened to the Hurricanes? When they breezed by the Sabres, 5-2, on Jan. 13, it was the third of four straight wins that saw them collect 21 goals. Since then? They're 0-5 and have been outscored, 23-5. Of course, the schedule maker didn't help. Two of the losses are to Columbus, one was to Pittsburgh and the other was to Washington. And the other thing was the Canes stopped seeing a steady stream of backup goalies.
Once they climbed into contention, they saw two helpings of Sergei Bobrovsky, one of Matt Murray, one of Braden Holtby and were victimized Thursday by the fifth shutout of the year from Los Angeles' Peter Budaj, who will certainly be of interest to teams next season once Jonathan Quick returns to health.
---The goofy scheduling of the NHL season continued with All-Star Weekend. There were 13 games in the league Thursday, when there probably shouldn't have been any other than maybe in the Pacific Time Zone. The Kings were hosting the stars and they were in Carolina finishing up a six-game roadie Thursday night. That's crazy.
The league held a media welcome reception Thursday night in Manhattan Beach -- with just about no media in town yet. It clearly wanted the NHL 100 ceremony to get all the hype Friday so it moved the annual Media Day interviews with players to Saturday -- also because so many of them had to come from the East. So those were jammed in right before Bettman's annual chat and the skills competition. Just poor planning all the way around for a marquee event.