The Biggest Storylines to Watch in Week 10 of the 2014-15 NHL Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistDecember 15, 2014

The Biggest Storylines to Watch in Week 10 of the 2014-15 NHL Season

0 of 6

    Jared Silber/Getty Images

    The way things are going, the 2014-15 NHL season may go down in history as "The Year of the Mumps."

    The pesky virus continues to wreak havoc around the league. It has now knocked out one of hockey's biggest stars and, at this point, shows no sign of abating.

    While Sidney Crosby and Derick Brassard join the list of afflicted players, the action is heating up around the league. With just over a week until the Christmas break, teams are jockeying to move up the standings and general managers are making roster decisions ahead of the annual holiday freeze.

    Here are the biggest storylines to watch in the hockey world during Week 10 of the NHL schedule.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com.

Who Else Will Follow Sidney Crosby to the Infirmary with the Mumps?

1 of 6

    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    This outbreak of the mumps in the NHL is proving hard to shake.

    On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that their captain Sidney Crosby had become the 13th player to contract the disease this season, according to Sam Kasan on their website. Hours later, the New York Rangers reported that Derick Brassard has also been stricken, per Derek Van Diest of NHL.com.

    After Crosby took part in the Penguins' game-day skate on December 12 with a visibly swollen face, team doctors have gone out of their way to explain why his situation wasn't diagnosed sooner. 

    In addition to being given immunization and receiving a booster shot before traveling to Sochi for the Winter Olympics last February, Crosby was also given immunization again two weeks ago, along with the rest of the Penguins, as the outbreak continued to move through the league.

    The first cases were diagnosed early in the season, presumably beginning with Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, according to this story by Genna Buck of Maclean's. Since then, players from the Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and most likely the St. Louis Blues have been affected.

    Since symptoms don't appear until 12 to 25 days after infection and even two immunization shots are only 88 percent effective at preventing the disease, the Crosby and Brassard cases likely won't be the last we'll see this season.

    As Buck suggests, "Chances are that at least a few NHL players are in for a nasty Christmas present."

Western Conference Powerhouses Reasserting Themselves

2 of 6

    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Big winning streaks can mean big moves in the NHL standings, as four perennial Western Conference contenders are demonstrating.

    Despite some key injuries this season, including the mumps issue, the Anaheim Ducks have barely missed a step all year long. They've lost just six games outright and are currently perfect in the month of December with a 7-0 record.

    Heading into Week 10, the Ducks are perched comfortably at the top of the NHL standings with 47 points.

    We've also seen big moves this month from three other teams that finished last season just behind the Ducks in the West. Through completed games on December 13, the St. Louis Blues have ridden a four-game winning streak to second place in the conference, while the Chicago Blackhawks just ended an eight-game streak of their own to climb to third place.

    Even the San Jose Sharks are finding their form. Wallowing in mediocrity just a few weeks ago, the Sharks have won seven of their last eight and are now back in the mix—tied for second in the Pacific Division.

    Of the top four teams from the West in 2013-14, only the Colorado Avalanche continue to struggle. Patrick Roy's Avs have just one win in December.

Maple Leafs Getting Last Laugh

3 of 6

    USA TODAY Sports

    After the humiliation of their 9-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on November 18, the Toronto Maple Leafs have shown over the last four weeks that they're still capable of playing some very good hockey.

    The Leafs are 9-1-1 since the Nashville game after a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. They're sitting comfortably in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 39 points and are now just a single point behind the Montreal Canadiens.

    Toronto's goaltending always gets plenty of attention, but the team's deep offense has actually been driving the train.

    The Leafs now sit second overall behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with 103 goals for and are no longer simply a one-line team: Toronto has six players with 19 points or more and six with seven or more goals.

    Of course, the Leafs are as well-known for their epic collapses as they are for their bursts of promise. Their streak will be put to the test on Tuesday when they host the NHL's best team, the Anaheim Ducks.

Also-Rans Surging into Contention

4 of 6

    USA TODAY Sports

    Proving once again that the long NHL season provides plenty of room for twists and turns, some of the league's lesser lights are also moving up the standings after struggling in the early going.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets were ravaged by injuries at the beginning of the year, but an emotional shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday was their sixth in a row. They're tied in the Eastern Conference standings with the Buffalo Sabres, who have built a 7-3-0 record of their own in their last 10 games.

    The Jackets and Sabres remain six points out of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, which is currently held by none other than the Florida Panthers.

    Anchored by solid goaltending from Roberto Luongo and an impressive rookie campaign by 18-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the new-look Panthers have been systematically moving up the standings. They're tied with the Boston Bruins with 32 points but hold the edge thanks to two games in hand.

NHL Teams Make Decisions on World Junior Eligible Players

5 of 6

    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Aaron Ekblad's solid play with the Panthers has guaranteed that he won't be joining Team Canada for this year's World Junior Championship tournament, which gets underway on December 26.

    Other NHL teams will need to make decisions this week about whether or not to release their 18- and 19-year-olds before the NHL's holiday roster freeze goes into effect this Friday.

    The New York Rangers have already agreed to loan winger Anthony Duclair to Team Canada, according to the Canadian Press (via NHL.com), while the Tampa Bay Lightning will be keeping winger Jonathan Drouin in their lineup, according to Erik Erlendsson of The Tampa Tribune. Russian defenseman Nikita Zadorov will most likely stay with the Buffalo Sabres, according to Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News.

    The fates of Canada's two-way centers Curtis Lazar of the Ottawa Senators and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks remain uncertain, as does the status of Andre Burakovsky of the Washington Capitals (Sweden) and Mirco Mueller of the San Jose Sharks (Switzerland). 

    David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins will be suiting up for the Czech team, according to Nicholas Goss of NESN.com, while Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal says the Edmonton Oilers will almost certainly keep German center Leon Draisaitl with their team.

Which Teams Will Deal Ahead of Holiday Trade Freeze?

6 of 6

    USA TODAY Sports

    The NHL's holiday roster freeze at midnight on December 19 could also lead to some trade action this week.

    In what has been a relatively quiet season so far on the trade front, the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off a minor deal on Sunday, sending winger Jeremy Morin to Columbus in exchange for defenseman Tim Erixon, according to NHL.com.

    The Buffalo Sabres have been at the center of many a rumor this season. The latest name to come into play is tough winger Chris Stewart, who was a healthy scratch from their lineup by coach Ted Nolan on December 9.

    Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports that Stewart's poor play is impeding a potential trade. "The concern is he has really struggled ... really struggled," a league executive told Garrioch last week. "He's done it before but he's clearly not getting it done this year."

    Garrioch expects the Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes to be the most likely teams to make a deal before the holiday break.

    Our own Lyle Richardson has more on possible player movement in St. Louis, Toronto, Boston and more in his latest edition of Rumor Roundup in The Hockey News.

X