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Quick Strikes: The PHWA votes Lighnting’s Nikita Kucherov for mid-season Hart

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Plus: All-Star mania!

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

-The Tampa Bay Lightning might just have another season-ending award winner on their hands. The PHWA has held their mid-season vote, and although it doesn’t exactly mean anything, it is certainly a positive sign for the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov. He “won” the Hart Trophy:

-Lightning has hit San Jose! The team seems ready for the NHL All-Star game.

-Speaking of the All-Star game, uh...this is going on. I’ll just paste the first paragraph of that linked article right in, because while it’s all entirely in English, I still lack comprehension.

The NHL announced the creation of the ‘House of Chel,’ a three-day gaming experience taking place from Thursday, Jan. 24 to Saturday, Jan. 26. The event will be hosted in Palo Alto, Calif., at a mansion belonging to Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy.

-Tampa’s season continues to impress news outlets around the continent. The Detroit News named them the “dominant” force that has owned the NHL’s first half.

Some analysts felt maybe Tampa could take a small, small step backward after the disappointment of losing in the third round of the playoffs with much the same roster last season.

But, if anything, the Lightning are using that motivation to reach new heights, and possibly challenge for some of the best single-season records the NHL has ever seen.

-Are you ready for your weekly existential crisis about Brayden Point? Here it comes!

Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau even knew it just weeks into the season, calling Point the best player in the league that no one knows how great he is.

“Come contract time next year,” Boudreau said, “they’ll know.”

-Are you ready for your weekly existential crisis about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup chances?

Lightning beat reporter Diana C. Nearhos joins Rick Stroud to talk about the historic season the Bolts have put together to this point. Can the current squad buck recent trends by winning the Stanley Cup?

-The Syracuse Crunch have some community initiatives going on this weekend. First is a reminder that they are currently collecting coats and gloves.

-Next, the Crunch is hosting a Donate Life Awareness Night tonight for the CNY Eye and Tissue Bank.

As part of Donate Life Awareness Night, Central New York Eye and Tissue Bank will be distributing information and recruiting fans to join the NYS Donate Life Registry at the Crunch’s Jan. 25 game. Any fan that registers to be an organ donor, or shows proof they are a registered donor, will be entered into a drawing to receive a team-signed Crunch jersey. For more information on organ and tissue donation, or to register, look for the Central New York Eye and Tissue Bank table on the second floor of the War Memorial Arena.

-You can watch Syracuse’s game tonight for free, courtesy of AHL TV:

-Joe Smith’s article for The Athletic where he watches a Crunch game with Lightning GM Julian BriseBois is out. Sadly it’s pay walled, but it’s certainly worth your time if you have a subscription.

The steep steps up to the press box at War Memorial Arena aren’t for the faint of heart.

When you take your seat, there isn’t much wiggle room, either, not for a bigger guy like me, anyway. But as I ducked through the perch of the cozy, near 70-year-old barn Jan. 11 for the American Hockey League matchup between the Lightning’s Syracuse game with Cleveland, I found a spacious suite at mid-ice (built four years ago for Lightning management).

There sat Lightning GM Julien BriseBois, who wasn’t buying my wistful appreciation for the NHL press boxes.

“What can be better than this?” he asked.

-Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has a production company, PeeK Productions, that will be running a television special and an original digital series on NBC Sports this weekend.

“This project with NBC is going to be huge,” said Subban. “It’s the first of its kind. NBC’s never done a project like this with an active athlete.”

-What will Gritty, the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, be up to this weekend? Well...

Piece this all together: Gritty doesn’t want anyone to know his whereabouts, he’s bringing a rope, he needs to “take care of something”, and wants a room right next to the only friend in town he’ll have for a much-needed alibi.

-The AHL’s All-Star event is also this weekend. The event will be covered extensively by the NHL Network in the United States, Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet NOW across Canada, and on AHLTV (free stream!)

-The AHL annouced two roster changes for their All-Star event yesterday: Kevin Boyle of the San Diego Gulls and Michael Bunting of the Tuscon Roadrunners were added to the roster.

-There’s a couple You Can Play games coming up, one with the Florida Panthers and one with the Hartford Wolfpack (where they’ll be playing the Crunch).

-The Chicago Blackhawks have traded their 5th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft for forward Dominik Kubalik from the LA Kings.

-The St. Louis Blues shared a touching story where a bone marrow donor met the person whose life he saved at a St. Louis Blues game on Jan. 5, 2019.

-Bob McKenzie writes that despite the results of the World Junior Championship, American Jack Hughes is still predicted to be taken at #1 in the draft.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some closing of what started this season as a considerable gap between Hughes and the rest of the 2019 draft class.

“We still have Hughes at No. 1,” one NHL scout said, “but he’s No. 1 within a group of five or six. At the start of the season, Hughes was in a group by himself. He has company now.”

-The writers over at Pension Plan Puppets penned a response to McKenzie’s article, speculating what Toronto Maple Leaf’s GM Kyle Dubas might do.

For Leafs fans, we might first be wondering if the ultimate choice of player drafted with the first-round pick even matters to us. There is always a chance it will be traded. Last year a lot of Leafs fans were ready for that to happen, but now, would they want to give up Rasmus Sandin in a trade?

-Some sad news coming out of St. John’s: Ryane Clowe is stepping down as coach of ECHL Growlers.

Growlers assistant coach John Snowden assumed the head coaching role in Clowe’s absence and he will continue to operate as the team’s bench boss as the search for a new assistant begins.

“I’d like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs for the opportunity to become the first head coach in Newfoundland Growlers history,” a statement from Clowe read. “As a St. John’s native, I was extremely honoured and proud to have held this position but my health is first priority for both my family and I.”