NHL pluses and minuses: Are the Islanders for real?

Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the past week

Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the past week:

+ Arizona State shook up college hockey last week by announcing it will upgrade its men's club hockey program to full NCAA Division I status over the next three years. That will provide a path to the NHL for many West Coast kids who now must travel far from home to experience a high-level college program. It could also start a trend among Pac-12 conference schools. The Sun Devils, boosted by $32 million from donors, are considering the US Airways Arena in Phoenix for their home.

+ Are the New York Islanders for real? Sure looks like it. They swept a home-and-home series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and extended their recent success to 8-2 and gave them a share of the Metropolitan Division lead before they faced the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.

+ Hockey legend Gordie Howe's back pain and high blood pressure are under control, but he faces a daunting road to recovery according to his son Mark. Getting his 86-year-old father anywhere near normal "is going to be like climbing Mt. Everest," Mark Howe said. Gordie Howe suffered a major stroke on Oct. 26 and another in mid-November.

- Monday was a tough day for hockey, with news of the deaths of longtime coach and executive Pat Quinn, legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov, and former Minnesota North Stars player and coach Murray Oliver. Quinn, 71, had been ill for a while; Tikhonov, 84, had been hospitalized in Moscow since late October. Oliver, 77, had a heart attack. The sport is poorer for their passing.

- The Oilers' latest losing streak hit six when they were crushed by the Blackhawks last Saturday. Their response was to fire goaltending coach Frederic Chabot on Monday, which doesn't address why they're 0-10-1 against the West and aren't competitive many nights. General Manager Craig MacTavish and club president Kevin Lowe haven't created a good environment for the prime draft picks the Oilers have collected in recent years.

- The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch published a chilling story on Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson filing for bankruptcy following his parents' alleged mishandling of his finances. The story said Johnson claimed assets of "less than $50,000" and debts of "more than $10 million." A bankruptcy hearing is scheduled for Jan. 23 in Los Angeles.

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