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Round the first turn, heading for the back stretch...

As we've hit the quarter pole of the NHL regular season, it's time to reflect on how the "new NHL" is doing, as well as some of the major developments so far. In a nutshell, the game's great, the refs and players are still trying to find balance in terms of penalty calls, and the NHL made a huge mistake in going with OLN for their US television coverage.

Alright, alright - there's more detail than that:

The biggest news lately is the blockbuster deal that sent Joe Thornton on his way to San Jose for a trio of capable players. There's an interesting pair of articles over at NHL.com summarizing the deal. In short, Phil Coffey plays the idiotic "he who gets the best player wins the trade" card, and John McGourty makes the more salient observation that Boston management clearly favors speed over size, given the possibility of trading Sergei Samsonov instead.

The Ottawa Senators are off to an amazing start, but they'll still have plenty to prove come playoff time. Think 1996 Detroit Red Wings, at this point (62-win regular season, playoff loss to Colorado). Another similarity between the two teams is that currently, the Senators boast 5 of the top 6 spots in the Plus/Minus standings. Care to guess who accomplished that same feat for the '96 Wings? (answer below)

Next to death and taxes, one of the certainties of life was seeing the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs. Even if you're not a Blues fan, it's sad to see how far that franchise has fallen, and how quickly.

Before the start of the season, the common wisdom was that previous big-spending teams would be constrained by the salary cap and it was time for the meek to inherit the NHL. Tell that the Rangers and Red Wings, who both lead their respective divisions.

For all the hype that surrounds top draft picks, it's good to know that sometimes things actually work out. So far, Sid Crosby looks like the real deal, and the previous #1, Alex Ovechkin, looks as good if not better (given his supporting cast). Toss in the likes of Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, and Dany Heatley and it looks like we might well be entering a new era of NHL stars.

Following up on that point, Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press wonders if the Steve Yzerman era might end soon for the Red Wings. Let's hope at least that Yzerman contributes strongly in Turino before he calls it a career.

But at least the Sergei Fedorov "era" has begun in Columbus, right? Right? How long does anyone think this will last? I'm guessing that Fedorov will be traded later this season to a contender that needs help at center. He won't be motivated to play for a bottom-feeding expansion club (that isn't in California), and could fetch the Blue Jackets some value in a trade.

TRIVIA ANSWER: It was the Russian Five (Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov) who took 5 out of the top 6 spots in the 1995-96 Plus/Minus rankings. While I know this to be true, I haven't been able to find a link to post to substantiate it. Anyone care to verify? At Slam! Sports you can pull up final stats for that year, but they don't have the +/- leaders broken out.

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