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Chicago Blackhawks' Dave Bolland celebrates scoring on the Calgary Flames during the second period of the NHL hockey game in Chicago October 12, 2009. REUTERS/John Gress

JOHN GRESS

As if the Chicago Blackhawks needed any more help, centre Dave Bolland - sidelined since a Nov. 10 surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back - skated for the first time this past week, and is on schedule to return to the lineup before the Olympic break. Bolland figures to practise full-time with the NHL team during a season-high eight-game road trip, which begins today in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. Upon Bolland's return, the versatile Patrick Sharp figures to shift back to the wing. The news is not nearly as promising for Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall , out since a Nov. 21 knee-on-knee collision with Montreal Canadiens winger Georges Laraque , which earned the latter a five-game suspension. Kronwall was originally expected to miss about six weeks with a medial collateral ligament sprain, but is still feeling pain and thus had to stop skating. Kronwall is one of two top-four blueliners ( Jonathan Ericsson is the other) still missing from the Red Wings lineup. The Anaheim Ducks were just about to bump winger Teemu Selanne up the depth chart after he had recovered from a fractured left hand, when there was more bad news for the Finnish Flash. Selanne fractured his jaw in last Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins and is out two-to-six weeks. He underwent surgery and is currently on injured reserve. There was no word if his latest injury would affect his Olympic participation next month. The Edmonton Oilers can comfortably turn the page on this season, now that goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has undergone surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Without its No.1 goalie - general manager Steve Tambellini called Khabibulin "our MVP" - as well as perennial scoring leader Ales Hemsky , Edmonton has zero chance of making up the necessary ground in the Western Conference. Accordingly, the goal in the second half will be for head coach Pat Quinn and staff to get a read on which players they believe they can win with down the road - and which are expendable at the NHL trade deadline. The news is not as grim in Ottawa, where winger Daniel Alfredsson 's imminent return may help dig the Senators out of their recent funk. With Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek all out for extended periods, the Senators slipped back to the edge of playoff contention, but haven't fallen completely out of the mix. Latest Ilya Kovalchuk news: The Atlanta Thrashers captain is still unsigned; still poised to become an unrestricted free agent; still unsure if $9-million (U.S.) a season in a life-time contract is enough to stay in the NHL; and still the object of the Russia-based Continental Hockey League's burning desire. In short, nothing's changed. The New York Islanders' surge to respectability has been largely framed as a John Tavares/Dwayne Roloson production, but the play of second-year forward Josh Bailey has been integral, as well. Bailey has 15 points in his last 11 games, and in the month of January, had 10 points through last Thursday, or one more than Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.New York Rangers winger Marian Gaborik has cooled off slightly, even if his team hasn't. Gaborik has just three points in January; the Rangers are winning largely because of goalie Henrik Lundqvist 's strong work.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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