* Punch Imlach liked to say that the "Real NHL Season" begins now. Since Punch won four Stanley Cups in Toronto, I take his advice literally.

* If there can be a genuine second-half Surprise Team" I pick the Islanders. Of course, that's predicated on Evgeni Nabokov staying healthy and Lubomir Visnovsky returning to a defense corps that dearly misses The Man.

* I like watching the guy in action but there's no doubt in my mind that Brad Marchand is the most hated ace in the National Hockey League.

* Mind you, half the Penguins team is right up there with Marchand, led by James Neal. And, let's be honest, Kid Sid is no angel either.

*You wish you had a dollar for every rumor about Peter Laviolette getting a new head coaching job.

* There are plenty of good rookies out there but couple of dark horses sure are impressive; namely Eric Gelinas and Cam Talbot.

* Mike Babcock's toughest coaching challenge is facing him now; simply getting his roughed-up Red Wings into the playoffs.

* Bruce Boudreau sure has fooled a lot of people, hasn't he? Ditto for Craig Berube who was slammed by the smart set as not smart enough to be an NHL head coach.

* If the NHL Players' Association gets a collective case of lockjaw every time one of its members gets concussed, you have to wonder whether the union cares about anything more than inspiring wok stoppages.

* In its season preview, The Hockey News picked Erik Karlsson as the fourth best player in the worth. I'd say 40th right now is a better place.

* The Rodney Dangerfield, "Gets No Respect" award goes to Corey Crawford. All he does is keep Chicago in first place yet the Blackhawks goalie hardly gets Olympic consideration for Team Canada.

* Team USA is listed as a huge underdog and that's why I like Uncle Sam's chances to win the Gold at Sochi. (And not necessarily with Ryan Miller between the pipes.)

* Friendships are the problem in Edmonton. Isn't this virtually the same high command as was in place seven years ago? Sure is; seven blundering seasons.

* To my surprise the Hybrid Icing idea is working with little to no fuss or fanfare.

* My, my. But hasn't Mike Ribiero made Don Maloney look like a very smart general manager?

* Yes, the West is best; for now. Come playoff time, think Boston Bruins.