- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

Welcome back, World Cup?

There could be another World Cup of Hockey in 2011, and that is a good thing for the NHL. According to an ESPN.com report last week, the financial stipulations have been agreed upon by the NHL and the players association, clearing the way for more regular-season games in Europe and, more importantly, another World Cup.

Team representatives might be hesitant about having their players in the tournament, and short-sighted members of the media might downplay the significance of this event, but the World Cup needs to happen - and consistently.

The NHL needs to capitalize on the greatness of international hockey tournaments like the Olympics, the world junior championship and the World Cup. None of the other three major sports in this country have international tournaments that can match the talent and competitiveness that hockey provides.

Basketball at the Olympics has one All-Star team and a few teams with a couple of great players. Baseball also could have something special with the World Baseball Classic, but it has been mismanaged, and too many stars don’t want to play. Meanwhile, hockey has six countries that can ice a lineup full of talented NHL players - and the guys compete with the passion of the NHL playoffs in these tournaments.

Some of the great moments in the sport have come from this tournament - Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux back when it was the Canada Cup in 1987 and the upset win for the United States in 1996 come to mind. The NHL needs marquee events like the Olympics in 2010 and a potential World Cup in 2011 to build on the momentum from positive experiences with the outdoor games and the Detroit-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Finals matchup from last season.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Columbus Blue Jackets

There are 30 teams in the NHL, and 29 of them have been to the playoffs. Columbus is the only team that hasn’t been invited to the party, but this could be the year.

After Sunday’s games, the Blue Jackets sat one point out of the final spot in the Western Conference, but considering the injuries the team has dealt with, it is an achievement for the club to be so close. Derick Brassard was a leading candidate for rookie of the year honors, but he dislocated his right shoulder trying to fight Dallas’ James Neal and is out for the season.

His teammate, goalie Steve Mason, just might win the award instead. He has been a revelation, especially because Pascal Leclaire has been hurt. The Blue Jackets went 2-1 this past week, but they also bolstered their beleaguered forwards corps with the addition of Jason Williams for cheap from Atlanta.

TOP 10 POWER RANKINGS

1. Sharks (last week: 2)

They improved to 2-1 against the Red Wings - Round 4 is Feb. 25.

2. Red Wings (1)

Losing to the Sharks at the end of a road trip is plenty excusable.

3. Bruins (3)

Their only two road losses since Nov. 26 are at Verizon Center.

4. Capitals (5)

Wins against Flyers, Bruins and Rangers - all by 2-1 scores - prove their mettle.

5. Canadiens (4)

Who had Robert Lang as the team’s leading scorer at midseason?

6. Blackhawks (8)

Cristobal Huet has allowed one goal or fewer in eight of his past 10 games.

7. Devils (9)

New Jersey is looking impressive during its wacky six-game road trip.

8. Flames (6)

Calgary is finally getting secondary scoring to augment Jarome Iginla.

9. Flyers (7)

Danny Briere is playing well… for the AHL’s Phantoms in a conditioning stint.

10. Rangers (NR)

It’s hard to look past the eight shootout wins - there’s no skills competition in the playoffs.

TROPHY TRACKER

VEZINA (GOALIE)

1. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets: He is the front-runner despite spending the first month in the minors.

2. Niklas Backstrom, Wild: He has kept the offensively deficient Wild in playoff contention.

3. Scott Clemmensen, Devils: He has drastically outperformed expectations since Martin Brodeur went down.

NORRIS (DEFENSEMAN)

1. Zdeno Chara, Bruins: He might have a bigger lead for this award than any of the others.

2. Dan Boyle, Sharks: The Sharks stole Boyle last summer from Hockey Bay.

3. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks: He is as important in the Windy City as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

CALDER (ROOKIE)

1. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets: He could be the first in 25 years to pull the Vezina-Calder double.

2. Blake Wheeler, Bruins: He will be counted on more with fellow ex-Gophers player Phil Kessel out.

3. Drew Doughty, Kings: He has gone nine straight games without a point.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Now showing: Jonathan Bernier, Kings

He was a lock to be the goaltender of the future (and nearly the present) last season in Hollywood, but now he’s got some competition from a pair of less-heralded guys in Erik Ersberg and Jon Quick who have played well at the NHL level.

Coming soon: Jacob Markstrom, Panthers

The young netminder made a fool of himself flopping around like a fish during the gold-medal game at the world junior championship, but he is dominating the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year-old. It won’t be long before he is frustrating other Southeast Division teams with his play - and his histrionics.

Show’s over: Martin Gerber, Senators

Darth Gerber might have one of the coolest masks in the league (for Star Wars fans anyway), but his play has been suspect for two years running, and now he has been sent to Binghamton of the AHL. Brian Elliott is the future in the other capital city.

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