NHL's Winter Classic Wonderland: The Perfect Christmas Gifts for All 30 Teams
To be quite honest, I never really got the idea behind writing a Christmas list.
Even as a kid, the process of writing down the gifts I wanted other people to buy me seemed selfish and a little narcissistic.
I'd write down all of the worthless crap my 10-year-old heart desired, and then my parents would forward the list to our relatives so they could make my dreams come true.
This always seemed strange to me.
Seriously, why not just call up my grandma and Aunt Nancy and say, "I'd like you to get me the Nerf Spiral Football and you can get me the G.I. Joe motorized tank?"
The joy that comes from gift-giving, I've always found, comes not from simply buying items off someone's shopping list, but knowing that person well enough to decide for yourself what gift would suit them best.
Sure, they may not have asked for it, but, if you're lucky, they'll not only appreciate the gift itself, but that you took the time to think about what they'd like beyond the 30 seconds it takes to read a line-item list of things the person could simply just buy for themselves.
Gift-giving should be more than gift-buying.
Each NHL team deserves something for Christmas (well, maybe not the Chicago Blackhawks—they got enough last year), and while each team surely has a list of things they'd like to have, I decided to get to know them all well enough to give them the gift I think they'd like the most.
Those who know me know I'm a practical gift-giver, so the presents I'm handing out to the NHL's 30 teams aren't going to be pie-in-the-sky things like "10 straight years of Stanley Cup Championships" or "20 50-goal scorers."
Sure, those things would be nice, but they're not very realistic and, just like the year I put "real, working lightsaber" on my Christmas list, are really nothing more than a wild-ass wish in the first place.
No, my gifts will be useful, realistic and, while some may be fanciful (for example, a quick return from injury), they will be no less helpful to the team that receives them.
Just as the man himself will do in a few days, Matt Hutter Claus is squeezing his fat ass down the chimney with a sack full of goodies for the eager little franchises nestled snugly in their locker rooms hoping for something wonderful to be left in their stockings.
I'm not sure exactly where Santa begins his journey, but, for our purposes, we'll start in the West and move to the East.
Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MAhutter12
Anaheim Ducks: 1 More Year of Teemu Selanne
Much has been made, and rightly so, of Nicklas Lidstrom's continued excellence in Detroit that seems defy his 40 years of age.
However, another 40-year-old is having an equally unbelievable season in California.
Teemu Selanne is on pace for 78 points in Anaheim and could conceivably eclipse the 30-goal mark.
For any player, that's an outstanding season. However, for a guy with four decades under his belt, that's nothing short of miraculous.
Like Lidstrom, Selanne is showing no signs of getting too old to make a difference in the NHL.
As such, there is not a teammate or fan of the Finnish Flash who wouldn't be thrilled to find a contract extension for Selanne on Christmas morning.
Calgary Flames: 1 Fewer Sutter
At this point, it doesn't even matter which one, but it seems increasingly clear that one of the Sutter brothers needs to leave Calgary.
Whether it is GM Darryl or head coach Brent, the perpetually grumpy duo seem to be doing nothing but guaranteeing the Flames will miss the playoffs for a second straight year.
From the failed (for the second time) Olli Jokinen experiment undertaken by Darryl, to the seemingly stale voice of Brent behind the bench, it doesn't appear that Calgary can endure much more of a double-dose of Sutter and still challenge for a playoff spot.
Change is desperately needed in Calgary, and eighty-sixing one of the Sutters would likely make for a decidedly merrier Christmas.
Chicago Blackhawks: Marian Hossa
As a Red Wings fan, my natural inclination is to give the 'Hawks a lump of coal in their stocking, but, in the spirit of the season, Marian Hossa is what they'll get.
Hossa has resumed skating with the team after suffering a "lower body injury" and his return is likely only days, rather than weeks, away.
Hossa exploded out of the gate this season as perhaps Chicago's most important player, and with his team still struggling with inconsistency, his presence is sorely missed.
Some of the best gifts I've ever received were simply replacements of things I had lost or broken before, so you can bet the 'Hawks would feel the same way about getting Hossa back in the lineup.
In fact, this is going to be a recurring theme throughout this list.
Colorado Avalanche: Chris Stewart
Once again, sometimes all you really want for Christmas is what you had before.
Out since late November with a broken hand, Chris Stewart has proven with his absence that replacing him on the Colorado roster is quite impossible.
The Avs' only bona fide power-forward has become a force to be reckoned with in the NHL, and Stewart's relentless physical play and scoring touch are an element of the Avs game that no one else can provide as well as he can.
Optimistic reports have Stewart returning just after Christmas, though he may be out until a week or two into 2011.
The Avs' Christmas present will be belated, but they're hoping the tree is still up by the time they get it.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Steve Mason, 2008-09 Version
For the second straight year, the Jackets are hoping to unwrap the gift that would make their year and their team much brighter: the 2009-09 version of goalie Steve Mason.
Mason followed up his Calder Trophy-winning, 10-shutout performance with a slightly horrendous sophomore season, and things aren't all that better for him this season in Year 3.
The 2010-11 Mason does own nine of his team's 16 wins. However, his barely respectable .901 save percentage and obese 3.29 goals-against average indicate that his rookie season may have been the peak of his career.
The Blue Jackets desperately want Mason to regain his form from two years ago as doing so will be vital to their playoff chances.
Mason still has time to get his mojo back and make his team's dreams come true, but whether he will or not remains to be seen.
Dallas Stars: Brad Richards' Contract Extension
NHL rumormongers would have you believe Brad Richards is as good as gone, and he may very well be.
However, if the Stars had the means, signing the star center to a multi-year contract extension would be the best gift of all for a suddenly resurgent Dallas squad.
Dallas' ownership situation makes signing Richards a tough proposition. However, he has fit in extremely well with the Stars over the past three seasons and, along with Loui Eriksson, has formed one of the more dangerous duos in the NHL this season.
If they were able to swing it, finding a freshly signed extension for Richards in their stocking on Christmas morning would have the Stars jumping for joy.
Detroit Red Wings: Jiri Hudler, NHL Version
Jiri Hudler's body may have returned to Detroit after a year long stint in the KHL last season, but his ability to play in the NHL seems to still be hovering somewhere over the Atlantic.
Over the summer, head coach Mike Babcock said he expected a 70-point season out of Hudler this year, and given his previous tenure in Detroit, that wasn't at all out of the question.
Nevertheless, Hudler is on pace for 16 points and figures to end the season as his team's least reliable forward at both ends of the ice.
Hudler's $2.75 million salary only makes his disastrous season to date sting even more.
Hudler once proved that he could play, even excel, in the NHL.
Getting the NHL version, as opposed to the KHL version currently playing in Detroit, of Hudler for Christmas would be a much-appreciated gift, indeed.
Edmonton Oilers: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Head coach Tom Renney believes his team can make the playoffs.
As such, some would say that he probably still believes in Santa Claus.
The Oilers making the postseason is a stretch as they currently sit dead last in the West. Still, their play of late reveals a team that is starting to believe in each other and their ability to win games.
This is good because much of the NHL seems to think they're little more than snot-nosed kids who should personally thank their opponents each night for the privilege of sharing the ice with them.
Linus Omark's shootout goal and the resulting "Spin-O-Ramma Gate" was all about his apparent disrespect for a veteran opponent.
However, respect goes both ways, and that some think he and the Oilers simply aren't allowed to be flashy reveals that the Oilers don't have any of it coming their way...yet.
Los Angeles Kings: Earplugs for Jonathan Quick
Because an unheralded third-round pick has no business being in the top five in wins, goals-against average and save percentage playing for a team few in the hockey universe care about.
If someone tells him this, Quick might start to believe it.
But, as long as he remains deaf to the incredulity, he, and the Kings, will keep winning.
Minnesota Wild: Goals, Any Kind
The Wild are the lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference, lighting the lamp just 72 times in 30 games.
While their scoring has been fairly balanced, it has been collectively underwhelming.
In the ultra-close, high-powered Western Conference, scoring 2.4 goals a game is a recipe for disaster.
Be they five on five, power-play, or short-handed, the Wild need goals any way they can get them.
Nashville Predators: A Multi-Year Extension for Barry Trotz
Every year, pundits look at Nashville's roster and wonder how they can possibly make the playoffs.
And every year, they either sneak into the postseason, or get damn close.
There's only one reason this happens: Barry Trotz.
The Predators currently have the option to keep Trotz on for 2011-12.
But his ability to get a largely no-name team into the hunt year after year (they're currently just three points behind Detroit in the Central Division) should not only be rewarded by the Preds picking up that option, but by extending him well beyond next season.
Phoenix Coyotes: A Double-Digit Goal Scorer
The Phoenix Coyotes have already had their lease at Jobing.com Arena extended, so they've received one Christmas gift early.
However, they sit last in the Pacific Division despite another strong season from both their defense and their goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov.
When you look at the four teams above them, you'll see they all have something the Coyotes lack: at least one (or several) double-digit goal scorers.
When you play most of your games against the likes of San Jose and Los Angeles, not having a player or two who can light the lamp consistently is going to hurt you.
San Jose Sharks: A No. 1 Goalie
Goaltending controversies may be a good way to push two goalies to beat each other out for the top job.
But, in the meantime, it means your team does not have a No. 1 goalie, and not having a No. 1 goalie is usually a problem.
The Sharks aren't as deep or as talented as they were last season, and when they decided to not re-sign long-tenured goalie Evgeni Nabokov, they replaced him with a pair of Finnish net-minders in Antero Niittymaki and Stanley Cup-winner Antti Niemi.
Nittymaki started the season very well, quickly coming out as the Sharks' top guy in net.
Niemi, on the other hand, had an abysmal start, winning just four of his first 10 games played as a Shark.
Since then, the two goalies have split the duties in net and, though Niittymaki still seems to have the inside track on the starter's job, the net is still up for grabs.
The Sharks aren't likely to enter the postseason as favorites the way they have the past few seasons, but having their goaltending duties clearly sorted will make them a better team overall.
St. Louis Blues: Injury-Bug Repellent
After coming out to their third-best start in their 44-year history, the Blues have been swarmed by injury bugs.
Roman Polak, TJ Oshie, Andy McDonald and David Perron are all out indefinitely, leaving the Blues without four of their most important players.
While there is really no way to ward off injuries altogether, the Blues cannot sustain many more and remain as competitive as they need to be in the Central Division.
Be it Santa Claus or the hockey gods, what the Blues need more than anything this Christmas is health.
Vancouver Canucks: Cap Space
With rearguard Sami Salo set to return from ankle surgery in early January, the Canucks need to clear some cap space to safely absorb his salary.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa has long been rumored to be the odd man out in Vancouver, and he may well be.
But as well as he's played spelling Salo, it may make more sense for the Canucks to look elsewhere on their roster for cap relief.
However the Canucks decide to resolve their cap issues, doing so sooner rather than later will put all the speculation about who will go and who will stay to rest and allow the team to move forward fully focused on hockey.
Atlanta Thrashers: Fans
Atlanta's hockey team is currently sixth in their conference, second in their division and have the league's fifth-best power play.
They have one of the best offensive defenseman in the league in Dustin Byfuglien and an outstanding young goalie in Ondrej Pavelec.
The Thrashers are an exciting young team, having a great year, and no one in the state of Georgia seems to care.
Talk of "alternatives" for the team, in other words, moving it, have already begun in earnest as the Thrashers have not been able to make hockey in Hotlanta work in their 10 years in the league.
Considering this, the best thing Jolly Ol' St. Nick could bring the Thrashers is more fans. A team this good deserves to have more than a few thousand people watch them play in their own barn.
Boston Bruins: A Shootout Win
As ridiculously solid as Tim Thomas has been in net, and as exciting as Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton have been on the offensive side of the game, it's shocking that the Bruins haven't been able to secure a shootout win yet this season.
Though hockey purists such as yours truly think the NHL should go back to the good ol' days of tie games and OT losses that yield zero points, the shootout appears to be here to stay.
As good as the Bruins are, there's no doubt that some critical points will need to be earned via a shootout win or two.
If their game against Atlanta on Dec. 23rd ends up in a shootout, the Spirit of Christmas should bring the B's an early Christmas present in the form of their first shootout win of the season.
Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers, Rookie Version
The Sophomore Slump. The Second-Season Slide. The Second-Year Slip.
Whatever combination of S-words you use to describe it (or, if you prefer to sum it up in just one S-word), many phenom first-year players find themselves far removed from glory in their follow-up season.
Such is the case with Buffalo's Tyler Myers.
Considered perhaps his team's second-most important player, after goalie Ryan Miller, at the beginning of the season, the 20-year-old blueliner has struggled mightily for much of this season.
Having accumulated just eight points and a minus-nine rating through his first 25 games this season, the young defender who played his first year like an old pro appears to be all but gone.
Myers has begun to look better of late, however, and the Sabres would love the kid who meant so much to them last season to show up once again (and stay awhile) in time for Christmas.
Carolina Hurricanes: A Decent Backup Goalie
As important as having a solid starting goalie is for any NHL team, and as solid as Cam Ward has been for the Hurricanes, having a goalie who can spell the top guy for 20 or so games is a valuable, if not indispensable, asset.
As of now, Cam Ward is on pace to play 72 games this season.
Even for a starter with a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe on his resume, those are too many games in today's NHL.
Ward's current backup, Justin Peters, is almost surely going to guarantee that Ward is in net for nearly every game this season, as he hasn't come close to looking like a stable No. 2 for the 'Canes.
Be it via trade or a free-agent signing (Evgeni Nabokov is looking for a new NHL home), the 'Canes could use an able backup to keep Ward fresh for the playoffs.
If they stick with who they've got, they may not make it to the postseason at all.
Florida Panthers: The Second-Worst Power Play in the NHL
How in the world could the second-worst power play in the NHL be a good gift?
Well, for Florida, it would be an improvement over their current power play, which ranks dead last overall.
The Panthers connect with the man-advantage 9.6 percent of the time and have scored just five, yes, five, power-play goals in 30 games played.
Sixteen players in the league have scored more than five power-play goals this season.
Second-worst is hardly ever a good thing to hand anyone. But for the Panthers and their power play, it would be a welcome sign of improvement.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price, 2010 Version
When the Canadiens traded their 2009-10 playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak, to St. Louis over the summer, many couldn't believe they were actually giving him up in favor of Carey Price.
Price had shown some flashes of brilliance in previous seasons, but his ability to sustain stellar play the way Halak had, for an extended period of time, had yet to reveal itself.
I guess Montreal knew what they had before the rest of the league did.
Price is the league leader in wins this season with 18, and sports a stellar 2.10 GAA and a gawdy .930 save-percentage.
The Price we've seen in the last months of 2010 has been nothing short of spectacular.
Montreal would love nothing more for Christmas than for that same Price to appear nightly in 2011.
New Jersey Devils: Hmm, How About Some Offense?
There are many (too many, in my estimation) families in this country that will have to rely on the kindness of others to provide a Christmas for their children.
Families with little to eat, no money for presents, little more than the clothes on their back to their name and no hope of a bright New Year on the horizon.
If the New Jersey Devils were a family, this would be them.
Destitute and mired in offensive poverty, the Devils have all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention, and we're not even into 2011 yet.
Like many needy families, they could use some of everything, but that their 56 goals rank dead last in the league seems to suggest that they need offense more than anything else.
If only they had been able to secure a bona fide sniper in the offseason...wait...
New York Islanders: 1 Plus Player
So, about that poverty-stricken family that is the New Jersey Devils I just talked about—they've got neighbors in the same situation.
Like the Devils, the New York Islanders will not be making the playoffs and have so many problems ranging from injuries to special teams to lack of talent, there's no one Christmas gift that will help them improve their fate.
However, they do have the distinction of being the only team in the NHL without a single player in positive plus/minus territory.
So, their gift is at least one player at plus-one by Christmas.
Sure, it isn't going to make their holidays that much brighter, but nothing short of a genuine miracle is going to give these guys a Merry Christmas.
New York Rangers: A New GM
Yeah, this one may come a bit out of left field, but, until the Rangers ownership wises up and fires Glen Sather, a new GM is going to remain the best gift the Blue Shirts could receive.
Easily the most overrated GM in hockey, if not all of sports, Sather throws good money after bad year after year, trying to find a quick fix that will get the Rangers back into Stanley Cup contention.
The Rangers are a good team with some very good players. They deserve a better manager than the fool that is Sather.
Merry Christmas, New York!
Ottawa Senators: A Trade Partner for Alexei Kovalev
We all know what Kovalev wants: He said it himself.
His Christmas wish is to stop being picked on and singled out by that big 'ol meanie head coach Corey Clouston.
It's been happening his whole career, you know. He's always the one who gets blamed when things go bad. It's not fair, and it really hurts his feelings.
So, we'll kill two birds with one stone and give the Sens a trade partner who is willing to take on Crybaby Kovalev and get his bad attitude out of Ottawa.
Yes, Alexei, there is a Santa Claus.
Philadelphia Flyers: 4 Weeks Without Chris Pronger (Instead of 6)
What do you get the team that has everything?
They lead the entire league in points with 49, have the best goal differential at plus-35, a Calder-worthy rookie in net and the goalie who took them to the Stanley Cup Finals has yet to play a game this year.
The Philadelphia Flyers don't need anything.
However, they will be without No. 1 defender Chris Pronger for a little while.
His time frame for a return is four to six weeks, so we'll go ahead and give them the four weeks for Christmas.
Pittsburgh Penguins: A Win on January 1
There are some people, and maybe you're one of them, who will wake up Christmas morning and find that their biggest gift comes in a small envelope and won't actually get to them until New Year's Day.
If you're lucky enough to get tickets to the Winter Classic for Christmas, congratulations.
Two teams already have theirs punched, and their preparation for what has quickly become one of the greatest sporting events of the year is being documented daily by HBO.
As such, the best gift the Penguins can receive is a "W" on January 1.
Best of luck, Sid.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Goaltending
This is kind of like getting a new jacket for Christmas, and getting really excited about it.
Not because it's really cool and will get you chicks, but because the one you have is so ratty and full of holes, your family can't bear to see you suffer the rest of the winter and has taken pity on you.
Tampa's goaltending sucks.
So, for Christmas, they should either get Dan Ellis or Mike Smith to play as if they belong in the NHL, or GM Steve Yzerman should work the phones to find out if a trade or signing (cough, Nabokov) could be made to upgrade their talent between the pipes.
Toronto Maple Leafs: A New Coach
Merry Christmas, Leaf Land, this is your only hope.
Washington Capitals: A Win on January 1
And we wrap up our gift-giving by getting two teams on our list the exact same thing.
Now, this is what we were planning to get the Capitals all year; however, their recent eight-game slide almost made us change our minds and give them a win, on any date, sometime before 2011.
However, what better way to redeem your team and your season by beating one of your biggest rivals in full view of millions of people across the world?
Some are suggesting that the constant media coverage the past few weeks has distracted the Capitals and is at the root of their uncharacteristically bad beat of late.
If that's the case, coming out and turning in a dominating winning effort on January 1st would make for awesome TV (or, HBO as the case may be).
Best of luck, Ovi.