The NHL Closer is written by Greg Wyshynski, of FanHouse and The Fourth Period. He is also the author of Glow Pucks And 10-Cent Beer.

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Why the long face, Brind'Amour? Oh, that's right: You tore the ACL in your left knee last night, putting the Carolina Hurricanes' captain and second-leading scorer on the shelf for the rest of the season. This is seriously going to jeopardize the chances of another Stanley Cup beefcake shot somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. And despite the fact that the 'Canes moved into first place with a 4-2 win over Brooks Orpik's Penguins last night, some people believe that the Southeast Division is such a joke this season that it should cause the NHL to completely blow up its current playoff format.

If the playoffs started today, every team in the Southeast would, in theory, be on the outside looking in, based on points. But the division winner earns an automatic playoff berth and Top 3 seed, so even if Carolina has fewer points (62) than the ninth-seeded Rangers (63), they'd be in. Hell, even a team like Florida can still make the cut. (Too soon?) Hockey.com writer Marty Henwood — and that's a Grand 'Ole Opry stage name if I've ever heard one — believes the current system is "rewarding mediocrity," and needs to be changed:

Here's a novel concept when getting set to slot teams for the so-called real season. Rank the playoff seedings according to where teams actually end up in the conference. If a division winner is ranked sixth in the conference, they lose home ice advantage and take on the #3 seed. Simple mathematics.

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If that division winner would otherwise miss the playoffs - which could very well be the case come April - slot them in to the final seed. Everyone else from fourth through seventh moves up one. It's time to eliminate sneaking in the playoffs through the back door.

This is, of course, whiney baby reactionary horseshit. It's Feb. 15; I'd bet dollars to donuts (depending on the odds Tocchet can give me) that at least one of these Southeast Division teams is going to have enough points to have qualified for the postseason even without the automatic berth by season's end. If that happens, then we're simply looking at one team having an easier path to the playoffs than seven others ... which means we're looking at the Detroit Red Wings for most of the last decade.

But more that that, this notion of reformatting the playoffs does two things: Completely disregards divisional play that's already tragically undermined by the current conference format (I weep for thee, Patrick Division) and exposes the inherent elitism behind such notions. This is about a division without a Canadian or an Original Six franchise potentially "stealing" a spot from the Rangers or Boston. This is about taking a piss on franchises that many of my friends "nord of da border" don't believe belong in the League anyway. And yet the Southeast has more Stanley Cup champions in the last 15 years than Canada...which really, really, really pisses them off.

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Commit To the Ass-Kicking. Jonathan Toews returns for Chicago, and the Blackhawks have scored more in two games than Rex Grossman did last season with Bears. The 'Hawks win, 6-1, over Nashville last night, creeping to within seven points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a sold-out home game against the team they're chasing, Colorado, on Sunday. I'm telling you: This year's Blackhawks are the most exciting hockey-related happening in Illinois since Kim Basinger came to the Stan Mikita's Donuts in Aurora.

Slightly Hotter Than Perez. Sure, she left the sport years ago; but Paris Hilton's strange relationship to hockey continues. (That's her above, practicing her stick-handling with a pool skimmer.) Last night, former Paris squeeze toy Jose Theodore was yanked after allowing three goals on seven shots, as the Avalanche lost at home to the Blues, 4-1. Obviously, the pressure of being comeback player of the year is getting to him. But the big news yesterday was that Hollywood producer Oren Koules had finally closed the deal on purchasing the Tampa Bay Lightning, continued their cock-tease of a playoff push with a 5-3 win in Philly. While it still needs league approval, the slightly more stable ownership situation in Tampa could open the door to some trade deadline fun: Bye-bye, Dan Boyle.

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So who is Oren Koules? He would be the man who produced the "Saw" films and this year's "Repo! The Genetic Opera." I am now officially fully enamored with the idea of some crusty bastard like Jeremy Jacobs sitting in an NHL owner's meeting next to the guy who gave the world Cary Elwes sawing off his own foot and Paris Hilton in an opera featuring Sarah Brightman and Giles from "Buffy."

Puck Headlines

* Scotty Wazz looks at players that won't be moved at the trade deadline. I think he's full of shit on Patrick Marleau, just for the record. Last postseason, he was the biggest embarrassment by a shark since "Jaws the Revenge." [Going Five Hole]

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* It's panic time for the Flyers, which in Philadelphia sports fan terms means someone's about to get run out of town or hit with a 9-volt. [PhillyBurbs]

* If you're chaperoning a youth hockey team, probably not the best idea to get 'faced on the plane. [Globe & Mail]

* Scott Burnside writes what has to be the 75th "Should the Rangers trade Jagr?" column I've read on ESPN.com this year. [WWL

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* Wow, one win over San Jose and Oilers fans sound like they're on Ecstasy. I feel my buddy Staples typed this with a glow stick in one hand. [Cult of Hockey]

* Finally, the fight of the night. Laraque/Bookband was more of a wrestling match, but Aaron Voros and Nathan McIver brought the heat.