* My buddy Paul Stewart has been sounding off these days and that's wonderful news because Pal Paulie never beat around any bush, not even Flatbush.

* Stewie and Kerry Fraser were the last of the referees as "characters." That is, characters in the King Clancy, Georges Gravel and Bill (Big Whistle) Chadwick mode.

* I'm glad that Andy Greene got himself a neat deal in New Jersey. He's been the most underrated Devil for the past four years.

* First time I ever saw Greene play, I liked him because his point shots invariably were on goal; that's a novelty these days.

* A season without Jeff Halpern in the NHL won't be right in my book. So I'm hoping that the Maryland product gets signed by someone by opening night.

* There's another going-to-court about a concussion story making the rounds. For all I know it's legit.

* But because a player suffers a concussion in NHL play it does not mean he automatically is right in trying to sue. Point is that no outfit is doing more to limit concussions than Bettman, Inc.

* I regret not having written here earlier about the death of my old pal, Larry (The Rock) Zeidel, one of the roughest, toughest players ever to come down the pike.

* The Rock must have suffered a dozen concussions, minimum, over the years but chalked them up to "getting my bell rung." His stick fight with Jack Evans when Rock was with Edmonton and Tex with Saskatoon is at the top of the Stick Fight Parade.

* I'm totally baffled by the Canucks; aren't you? Or, to put it another way, how can anyone root for Vancouver without Roberto Luongo between the pipes?

* Here's the toughest question of the day: Name the best linesman in the NHL. Whoever he is, the man should get the Ray Scapinello Award. Or should I have named it after George Hayes?

* Well, I guess we can safely say that the annual fuss over eliminating the Shootout is over.

* And Gary Bettman wins the Shootout again.