With Wayne Gretzky out of the Edmonton lineup indefinitely because of a knee injury, the Oiler center's string of National Hockey League scoring championships could be in jeopardy.
Gretzky has won the scoring title every season since the Oilers joined the league in 1979, and no player has finished within 65 points of Gretzky since Marcel Dionne trailed by 29 in the 1980-81 season.
"This could be fun," Gretzky told USA Today. "I'll probably be 25 points behind when I get back. If I miss 10 or 12 games, we could have a heck of a race. If I miss 20, it could be tough."
In winning eight straight scoring titles, Gretzky has been remarkably durable. He sat out six games in the 1983-84 season with a slightly separated shoulder but missed only two other games in his first eight NHL seasons.
He suggested that the time off this month could prove beneficial in the playoffs, when the Oilers defend their Stanley Cup championship.
It will certainly make the scoring race more interesting.
Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux scored two goals against the New York Islanders Tuesday night and was also awarded an assist from a game on Jan. 1. Lemieux has 89 points in 41 games, including a league-leading 42 goals. Gretzky has 86 points in 38 games.
Lemieux though, said he doesn't expect to finish ahead of Gretzky.
"He'll miss only seven or eight (games), then come back and get his two or three points a game," Lemieux told USA Today. "If you want to beat him, you have to get 190 or 200 points, and there aren't many who can do that."
Gretzky, who has had four 200-point seasons, established an NHL record two seasons ago with 215 points.
The expected return to the Pittsburgh lineup this week or next of Gretzky's former teammate, Paul Coffey, could go a long way in aiding Lemieux's bid for the scoring championship.
In 10 games with Coffey in the Penguins' lineup, Lemieux had 10 goals and 16 assists, numbers that project to a 208-point season.
Coffey, though, has been out for three weeks with a knee injury.
Lately, though, that hasn't seemed to effect Lemieux. In his last five games, he has ten goals and three assists, including a hat trick last Tuesday night against the Kings and four goals Sunday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
Add Coffey: The Penguins are 7-2-1 with the all-star defenseman in the lineup but are 1-6-3 since he was injured Dec. 23. They are winless in their last nine games.
Coffey is expected to resume skating Thursday.
Harry Sinden, general manager of the Boston Bruins, suggested that Canadian-based NHL teams don't feel the same pressure to field competitive teams as do American-based teams.
"The toughest part of it is keeping the team competitive and entertaining," Sinden told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "Canadian teams don't know what competition for the sports dollar is all about.
"An example would be Toronto, where the (Maple) Leafs spent 10-12 years struggling to be competitive. If we spent 10-12 years like that, we'd be out of business."
Darren Pang of the Chicago Blackhawks established a club record for goaltenders last week when he picked up his fifth assist of the season.
"I'm not a goal-scoring goalie, I'm a playmaking goalie," Pang told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Jacques Demers, the feisty coach of the Detroit Red Wings, has been as demonstrative as ever this season.
In the same week last month, Demers threw his glasses onto the ice in protest of a call by referee Denis Morel, then intimated that he was ready to fight Minnesota Coach Herb Brooks.
Who will he take on next?
"Thomas Hearns," he said.
Double talk: Demers protested last week when a reporter suggested that the Kings were one of the NHL's patsies.
"Los Angeles has been doing very well with its new coach," he said.
However, after the Red Wings, with nine regulars out of the lineup, overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to beat the Kings, 5-3, Demers said: "I told (the players) before the game I thought they could beat this team . . .
"I told them after the second period: 'We're going to win it. They'll make mistakes.' "
The Red Wings outscored the Kings, 4-1, in the third period.
Detroit rookie Joe Murphy, the No. 1 choice in the 1986 draft, is tired of being asked about Jimmy Carson, the Michigan native who was chosen second in the same draft by the Kings.
While Murphy has been slow to develop, Carson was named to the all-rookie team last season and has big numbers again this season.
"I don't give a hoot about Jimmy Carson," Murphy told the Detroit News. "He's getting 25-30 minutes over there. I'm getting about eight. But I don't care because I'd rather be on this team than that one, that's for sure."
Midway through the season, NHL games have averaged more than 51 minutes in penalties, up about 6 minutes a game from the same point last season.