Heading into the Christmas break, the Detroit Red Wings got a lump of coal in their stockings when star centre Pavel Datsyuk broke his hand against the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night.
Datsyuk is off to a terrific start this year, tallying 12 goals and 27 assists in 33 games. His goal-scoring pace is generally consistent with his established level since 2003-2004, but his assist rate (0.82 per game) has been the highest of his career.
Admittedly, it's just barely ahead of his 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons, when he totalled 131 assists over two seasons, but Datsyuk was on pace for another 97-point season before suffering his injury.
To Datsyuk's credit, he's also done more of his damage at even strength this year. In his previous 97-point seasons (2007-2008 and 2008-2009), Datsyuk scored 39.2% of his points (76 of 194) on the power play, while he's scored ten of his 39 points (25.6%) with the man advantage this year.
So, it's not breaking news that Datsyuk is great.
The next step is to figure out what the Red Wings will do without him for the next month.
Fortunately, the Wings have the kind of depth that should allow them to weather the storm. They won't thrive without their leading scorer, who hasn't missed more than seven games in a season since 2002-2003, but they shouldn't fall off a cliff, either.
The next month is no easy stretch for the Red Wings, as 11 of the next 13 games will be on the road, so they might be vulnerable for a slight downturn even with Datsyuk; it just gets a little more challenging without him.
While Datsyuk is one of the premier two-way centres in the game, Henrik Zetterberg can capably fill that role quite well too. Zetterberg has played quite a bit of wing on Datsyuk's line this year, to the benefit of both, but has more than enough experience in the middle to take on the heavy responsibilities.
Zetterberg skated with Danny Cleary, the Wings' leading goal-scorer and Todd Bertuzzi against the Canucks; a formidable unit.
Datsyuk opened the game with Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom on his wings, a spot which Valtteri Filppula filled once Datsyuk was injured and Filppula thrived in the role, getting involved in the play and driving hard to the net, much like his linemates.
If Datsyuk's absence opens up more ice time for Filppula, it's a good opportunity for the 26-year-old to build on a decent start.
He has 18 points in 33 games and even if his 14.5% shooting percentage so far is a little higher than expected, the opportunity to play with better linemates (ie. Franzen and Holmstrom), should see to it that his production is at least solid (say, 7-8 points in 13 games) for the next month.
In the grand scheme of things, Franzen and Holmstrom will likely see their value decline, without Datsyuk's elite playmaking creating offensive opportunities for them, but that's a short-term dip.
One other issue that has me fascinated is the status of Niclas Bergfors, one of the players that the Atlanta Thrashers received in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade last year.
Bergfors was scratched for a couple of games early in the season and responded with 11 points in 11 games from October 23 through November 14.
Not surprisingly, Bergfors couldn't keep that pace, but has not gone longer than two games without a point since and has 18 points in 27 games. a 23-year-old winger who has two points for every three games played? That's a valuable asset, isn't it?
Since scoring a goal in a 4-2 loss to Colorado on December 10, Bergfors has been a healthy scratch in six of the last seven games and played less than eight minutes the one night that he was allowed to dress.
Since the Thrashers are 4-1-1 in those six games, there isn't great incentive to get Bergfors back into the lineup, but it's just shocking to see him out of the lineup night after night.
With .67 points per game, Bergfors ranks 46th among all NHL wingers (minimum 20 games played) in points per game this season; not a star, but hardly what you'd consider press box material.
Now there have been reports that Bergfors is on the trading block, as there are enough teams out there with needs for a winger to fit in their top six forwards, particularly one that has established some offensive credentials and hasn't been a terrible defensive liability.
"We have assets but we're not inclined to give people away," Thrashers GM Rick Dudley told the Sporting News. "I'm sure that if [Bergfors] doesn't get back to playing regular that he's going to get frustrated. I have to take that into account, but so far I haven't heard anything like that."
If Bergfors hasn't been frustrated by what has happened over the last couple of weeks, his patience is more virtuous than most. Certainly, Bergfors owners have probably given up, waiting for him to get back into the lineup, so now he becomes an interesting player to watch, especially if he gets a fresh start somewhere else.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.