* Martin Brodeur is playing as if he's going to return next season; yet he's hinting -- that is hinting -- that it might be a team other than the Devils. With Devils "third" goalie, Keith Kinkaid starring for Albany, Brodeur playing elsewhere might serve everybody's interests, especially the ready-for-the-NHL Kinkaid.

* Just when you think Anaheim has the absolutely-best team in the NHL, the Ducks visit the Windy City and get blown down by the defending Champs.

* Which only goes to prove that anyone who believes that his or her favorite team is a favorite to win The Cup -- well, better think again.

* Is there a better coach in the league right now than Bruce Boudreau? Okay, maybe Joel Quenneville for one night.

* Combined with the five-star success at Ann Arbor, the upcoming Stadium Series in The Bronx -- Rangers-Devils, Rangers-Islanders within four days -- and the bold contest at Dodger Stadium is yet another feather in Gary Bettman's hat.

* You'd need a team of shrinks to figure out why there remain hockey journalists in Canada who still resent Bettman. Then again, I'm not a shrink and I know why although Gary is head and shoulders the best leader the NHL ever had.

* And if you don't believe me, check out David Clarkson's contract and compare it to his production.

* The sleeper forward who could push Columbus into the playoffs is Cam Atkinson. Hey, former Portland Winterhawk Ryan Johansen ain't bad either.

* You can sense movements in The Game. 1. Get rid of staged fighters such as Colton Orr. Even Dave Hunter says they have to go. 2. Get rid of the Shootout and replace it with a three-on-three for five more minutes.

* It's abundantly clear that Alain Vigneault's early-season critics are scattering to the winds.

* We all -- especially A.V. -- should be thankful that little guys such as Mats Zuccarello -- are thriving in the NHL. Ditto the Gionta Brothers, Brian and Stephen.

* I'm a big Adam Oates fan -- ditto for George McPhee -- but there's something about their Caps that worries me; and it happens to be defense. (I'm not so sure about the goaltending either.)

* If there's one American Hockey League franchise operated as if it's an NHL team that happens to be the Chicago Wolves.

* Imagine this feat, the Wolves compete and succeed in the same market as the wildly successful Blackhawks.

* There's a lot to learn from the annual NHL Disaster Area known as Edmonton. Lesson Number One is that no matter how many flashy top draft picks a team has, it guarantees them nothing. And nothing is what Oilers fans have been receiving in return for their congenital loyalty.

* These days you never can rule out the Red Wings as they strive for a playoff berth but this year? I don't know. If ever there'll be a test for the Mike Babcock-Tom Renney coaching staff it will be getting the Motor City skaters into the playoffs this Spring.

* And, finally, this should be the absolutely last time NHL players compete in the Olympics. 1. The NHL has no control over the entire Olympic system; 2. The three-week break in the season is absolutely absurd. 3. It was more fun with the amateurs as in Uncle Sam's Gold Medal teams of 1960 and 1980.