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First half of the season has been unpredictable

Team Canada found out in the World Junior Championships how quickly hockey can turn upside down. Their third-period collapse against Russia after building a three-goal lead was a sobering warning, as the Russians would confirm, for teams that become intoxicated with their own success.

It's essentially what happened with the Sabres. They equated a division title and 100-point season with a Stanley Cup contender. Rather than address obvious flaws, they became enamored with their own team. They skated into the weekend eight points from eighth place in the conference, nine points from 14th.

Yes, things can change in a hurry.

Three months ago, most fans never heard of billionaire Terry Pegula. Last week, he was listed as No. 67 on the Hockey News' Top 100 most powerful and influential people in the game. He doesn't yet own the Sabres, but sources last week estimated his $175 million purchase could be completed in the next month or, perhaps, sooner.

Chicago won the Cup last season, but the heavy traffic in the Western Conference could cause the Blackhawks to move from fourth to 13th in a week. Dallas moved from 12th to second. Tampa Bay finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last season, entered the weekend in second. New Jersey moved from second in the conference to last in the NHL.

The regular season is approaching its halfway mark. Let's unveil the midseason awards before something changes between breakfast and brunch.

* Hart Trophy (most valuable player). Sidney Crosby, Penguins. He led the league with 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games before suffering a concussion. He had 26 goals and 50 points during a 25-game point streak, which is ridiculous. If the vote were taken today, it would be unanimous.

* Norris Trophy (top defenseman). Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings. The 40-year-old veteran has regained the form that made him the NHL's best six times in seven seasons starting in 2001. Dustin Byfuglien deserves consideration after switching from forward in Atlanta, but he's not at the top -- yet.

* Vezina Trophy (top goaltender). Tim Thomas, Bruins. He had an 18-4-5 record and led the NHL with a 1.80 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. He won eight straight to start the season had just two regulation losses in 13 games after No. 26.

* Calder Trophy (top rookie). Logan Couture, Sharks. He's still considered a rookie despite playing 25 games last season, which helps. He had 18 goals and 27 points and was plus-8 going into the weekend. Carolina's Jeff Skinner, a true rookie, makes a strong argument with 11 goals and 28 points.

* Selke Trophy (top defensive forward). Ryan Kesler, Canucks. The runner-up last season has been even better this year. He draws the toughest assignment almost every game in a difficult conference. He was plus-15, in part because he had 20 goals himself.

* Lady Byng (sportsmanship). Loui Ericksson, Stars. He was ninth in scoring going into the weekend with 44 points in 41 games while taking just two minor penalties all year. Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, who won last year, had 51 points and had taken just four penalties this season.

* Jack Adams (top coach). Guy Boucher, Lightning. GM Steve Yzerman was masterful with his personnel moves, but he also made the right call in hiring the rookie coach. He quickly earned the respect from a veteran group, woke up Vincent Lecavalier and turned a non-playoff team into a conference contender.

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>Lamoriello just starting

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello's decision to trade aging captain Jamie Langenbrunner was merely the start of him clearing the books. Langenbrunner, 35, had just four goals, 14 points and a minus-15 rating in 31 games. He's making $2.8 million and set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Lamoriello needs to create as much room as possible with his last-place team $5 million over the cap when you include players on the long-term injured list. Plus, they need to sign Zack Parise, who will be a restricted free agent. Langenbrunner also did the math before being shipped out for a conditional third-round pick.

"I understand the business of the game and what players get moved this time of year," Langenbrunner said. "I fit into that category. It's entered my mind. I don't live in a bubble."

The move was a minor risk worth taking for the Stars, who were near the top of a very competitive conference. They see Langenbrunner as a leader with big-game experience who could be rejuvenated with a move back to Dallas. He should be much better with more talent around him.

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>Commodore on the block

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson was working the phones in an effort to unload defenseman Mike Commodore while salvaging the season. Commodore took up residence in former Sabres player and assistant coach Scott Arniel's doghouse before he asked for a trade and was placed on waivers.

Commodore, had played in just 20 games this season, has two full seasons remaining on a five-year deal worth $18.75 million. The word from Columbus said the big redhead had fallen out of favor with Arniel, who believed the veteran contributed to a persistent culture of losing.

"I don't have him in our top six," Arniel said. "He feels he should be, which is why he's asked for the trade. I understand that. This has to do with hockey skills. How you play the game, how you are with your teammates, how you work off the ice. It's not personal."

Commodore, who won a Stanley Cup with Carolina, disagrees.

"I think it is personal," he said. "He says it isn't, but I have some serious doubts. For him to say I can't even crack the lineup on a team that it would be one thing if we were in first place. But for a team that's up and down, I just don't buy it. Sorry."

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>Three goalies are a crowd

Former Sabres backup Dwayne Roloson landed in another three-headed goalie situation when he was traded to the Lightning. He'll be the No. 1 man with Dan Ellis and Mike Smith battling for scraps behind him.

Three goalies are nothing new to the classy Roloson, who last season shared the Islanders' nets with Martin Biron and Rick DiPietro. Roloson spent two years rebuilding his career after Lindy Ruff gave up on him in 1999-00, when the Sabres had Dominik Hasek and a young Biron.

At 41, Roloson is still in demand.

"I've been in three-goalie rotations probably four or five times," Roloson said. "It's tough on everybody because there's two nets and everybody wants to get in. At the same time, you do whatever you have to to help the team win, whether its getting out early taking extra shots or cheerleading at the bench or sitting in the stands, doing stats."

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>Major fall for Leighton

Goalie Michael Leighton, who came to the rescue last season end helped the Flyers into the Stanley Cup finals, is back in the minors. The Flyers felt betrayed after signing him to a two-year deal worth $3.1 million and learning he had previous back and neck problems that required surgery.

Leighton was 8-3 with a 2.46 GAA and .916 save percentage in the postseason last year but made only one appearance, allowing four goals on 36 shots in a win over Los Angeles on Dec. 30, this season. He packed his bags for AHL Glens Falls.

"The hardest part is once you think you have security in life, you sign a two-year deal and you come into camp thinking you're a starting goalie," Leighton said before leaving. "Going from that mindset, to being injured and working to get that spot back, to going to the minors it's tough. It's going to be tough on me and my family."

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>Quotable

Brent Burns on defense partner Nick Schultz after the Wild held practice at Harvard University: "They shouldn't even let Schultz on campus. He can't even spell Harvard."

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>Around the boards

* Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was benched in back-to-back games for the first time in seven years. It came after he was pulled after eight minutes against Carolina, the shortest start of his career. "I haven't played well," he said. "I got pulled three times in the last six games. Any other goalie wouldn't be able to get back into the net."

* Atlanta hasn't looked back after dumping Ilya Kovalchuk on the Devils. Les Thrash is better balanced and more dangerous with six players who have 10 or more goals, tied with Colorado and Philly for most in the league. Their 108 points from the blue line was just behind Detroit.

* Crosby's concussion wasn't the Penguins' only concern against Montreal. Evgeni Malkin was favoring his troublesome left knee. Malkin had 15 goals and 34 points in 37 games, a down year by his standards. Many are blaming the injury for his lack of jump.

* Colorado was expected to give Craig Anderson an extension after he won 38 games last season, but management could be having second thoughts. His 3.03 GAA and .904 save percentage were more in line with a career backup than a proven No. 1. Cal Pickard, taken in the second round last June, could be next in line.

* Oilers coach Tom Renney after his team lost seven straight games: "I actually sleep better after a loss than I do a win. I'm not sure why that is. I know I have been sleeping a lot. But, this is an incredible group of people here. The give-a-crap meter on this team is as good as any I've seen."

* Brayden Schenn, named the top player in the World Juniors, will be out for another week or two with a separated shoulder. He could land on a different Western Hockey League team when he returns. The Kings were pushing behind the scenes for him to shipped from 11th-place Brandon to first-place Saskatoon.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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