SIX OF FRIDAY’S FANTASTIC THOUGHTS
1. The must-watch game will be Saturday when the Oilers – picked first in the Pacific – face the Rangers. Another Edmonton loss will require an SOS – as in “Save Our Season” and “Start our Shakeup.”
2. Ken Holland had better have figured out that he has less than half a hockey team after His Majesty McDavid and occasionally showing up, Leon (A Lion) Draisaitl. (See Story Below.)
3. Ilya Sorokin has moved ahead of Iggy Shesterkin in the Vezina race. Ask the Oilers and they’ll likely confirm. (Is Shesterkin even in the V Derby anymore?)
4. What a sad way to end a losing streak. Devils lose by a goal on Wednesday night after having three red lights disallowed.
5. There just isn’t a hotter hockey club in North America than Portland’s (WHL) Winterhawks, now 17-1-1 and counting.
6. My insight inspector Sean McCaffrey informs me that the Rangers moving Ryan Reaves means that Patrick Kane becomes a Blueshirt in March. Jot this down and see me at the trade deadline on March 3.
A SCATHING REVIEW OF OILERS INEPTITUDE
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector does not fool around. He keeps an Argus eye on the Oilers, and what he saw on Wednesday night at UBS Arena in Elmont, Long Island will not make Connor McDavid smile – until his next payday. Read on and wince.
“The Oilers are a team with some pretty good top forwards but a bottom six that’s irrelevant and without personality, edge or ability to affect a game. They are neither big and tough nor quick and pesky, rather blah, with a paucity of offense and even less energy provided during their time on the ice. On defense, they’re simply soft. They don’t, or can’t, defend.”
No question, the Leon and Connor act is prolific, but what have they produced? With all their glaring red lights, each one of the wonderkids is a – Yikes! – plus-one.
As for their 5-on-5 play? Better if they make it 5-on-4 or – if things really get hairy – 5-on-3. (5-On-2 not allowed. Sorry, Jay Woodcroft.)
A NON-ONTARIO VIEW OF JOHN TAVARES
John Tavares is saving his Maple Leafs these days, and that got The Maven wondering how Islanders fans feel about the captain who exited Nassau through a trap door marked “Free Agency.”
Not to brag, but I was the first guy to interview Tavares when the Isles originally drafted him in Montreal. The first thing I did was tell him a joke, to loosen him up. Didn’t work, not even close.
No sweat. It was a Brooklyn gag, and I was in Canada. Tavares and I saw plenty of each other after that since I was the MSG Networks Isles reporter. Tavares loosened up in time and took on the role of captain with appropriate seriousness. (Frankly, Johnny Boychuk would have been a better choice.)
Let’s say that the captain and I got along, and I was especially touched when John went out of his way to express condolences to me after my wife Shirley died.
But the real test would be when he was given the chance to remain on the Island, and chose Toronto instead.
We figured that he had plenty of time to think it out and to be fair to the franchise that gave him his break. He knew that the club would get nothing – at a very critical time in its growth – if he waited until the last minute to jump ship.
So, the Leafs got their man, and we got a press conference. I confronted him on how he hurt the team he once loved, and I got a nothing answer, not to mention a lot of heat for even grilling him.
But that was long ago and – as my mom would say – “time is a healer.”
Still, there are exceptions – asterisks, if you will – and a couple in my family where there remain passionate Islanders fans.
Bottom Line: Time may very well be a healer, but it appears that my younger son, Simon, and younger granddaughter, Avigail, may need another ten years of time for the wounds to heal.
WHY ALEXANDER MOGILNY BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME
Guaranteed to happen: As soon as Hall of Fame winners are announced, a torrent of names is brought up under the “He Should Have Been In” category. We have our own choices, and it starts with a Russian ace who simply has been unfairly ignored. Our Glenn Dreyfuss makes a superb case here for Alex:
Do an online search for “Alexander Mogilny not in Hall of Fame.” The number of articles bemoaning the omission could keep you reading until the snow melts in Buffalo. Suffice it to say, Mogilny checks every box a player could ever need checked for induction. (Until I looked it up, I’d forgotten he once scored 76 goals in 77 games.)
Championships on the NHL and international stages, respect – no, make that awe – from his peers, a Russian trailblazer after defecting in 1989, 1,032 points in 990 games… Mogilny did it all. In fact, his resumé puts more than a few Hall of Famers far in the rear view. Yet, he’s failed to get the call from the Hall, despite being eligible since 2009.
Bluntly, he’s being punished. Buffalo sportswriter Mike Harrington suggests voters are worried Mogilny might snub the Hall, so they’re snubbing him first. Others have said Mogilny had trouble adjusting to North America or adjusted too well to North American wealth. Some termed him moody, aloof, even lazy – though that didn’t keep him from being named captain of the Sabres in 1993.
The criticisms, even if true, hardly seem disqualifying. Should Mogilny be dismissed because he didn’t exhibit a fourth-line grinder’s work ethic? Because he supposedly forfeited an opportunity to be even greater? Because he might not wear the blue Hall blazer with proper humility? Sports is a results-oriented business. By team and individual measures, the man nicknamed “Magic” got results. (On Monday: why Dean Prentice belongs in the Hall of Fame.)
I’M JUST SAYIN’:
* The most consistently sickening post-game alibi from the losers goes like this: We just weren’t ready to play.
* Maybe it’s just me, but I suggest there be post-game “penalties” for bad loser alibis.
* Also in the Dumb Department: Goalies who believe their job is to play defense, come out of their net and then make stupid passes. Exhibit A: Erik Kallgren versus the Isles, and exhibit B: Stu Skinner versus the Devils.
* Cam Talbot never should have walked out on the Wild.
* An undrafted goalie who some scout should check out plays for, WHL Portland Dante Gianuzzi, 20, was recently voted the league’s player of the week.
* The Caps must’ve figured that Darcy Kuemper’s a better goalie than Vitek Vanecek.
* Not anymore.
* I like Daily Faceoff’s list of “Trade Possibilities,” leading off with Bo Horvat.
* Naturally, Patrick Kane is runner-up followed by his pal, Jon Toews.
* I’d go for Kane, not Chicago’s captain.
ABOUT HAMILTON COLLEGE AND GOALIE MASKS
Several years ago, I was honored to attend Clinton, N.Y.’s nomination as Hockeytown USA. While there, I visited the legendary Hamilton College on the hill and learned something I never knew before.
That is, although Jacques Plante was the first NHL goalie to regularly wear a full mask – Nov. 1, 1955, versus the Rangers – the creator of the first mask was Hamilton’s athletic director, Gene Long.
Long’s mask, developed in 1955, was more practical than Plante’s and looked less grotesque. That was a good 63 years ago. I bring it up now to commemorate the passing of Long and suggest that his mask innovation qualifies him for the USA Hockey Hall of Fame.
A SANE LOOK AT HEALTHY BODYCHECKS
Our Gus Vic has spent a lifetime watching – and studying – the ice game. His points here are excellent. See if you agree.
Though the recent Alex Edler hit on Connor McDavid doesn’t fall into this category, consider how many terrific open-ice hits we see nowadays are deemed legal by the stripes.
Open-ice hits are an art form, and not many can pull them off. During the Original Six Era, if super (clean) hitters such as Toronto’s Bill Barilko or Bill Ezinicki cleanly belted a foe with a clean hip check, the victim went down and that was that. There was no retaliation from the victim’s team because a good bodycheck is what it is – a clean play, and no crazy hit-backs were deemed necessary. But not anymore.
In present-day hockey, next to 100 percent of those delivering the clean hits immediately have to defend themselves because the player receiving the hit has been knocked on his rear, injured or both.
At its core, players delivering solid open-ice hits are penalized for performing an act as part of their job within the rules of the game. In the long run, their teams can be hurt when the hitter gets penalized after the offended team comes after him.
If the NHL wants to keep these hits in the game and remove the nonsense that follows, let’s adjust the penalty for instances such as this:
If a solid hit is deemed legal by the referees – i.e. no penalty called – and a team immediately retaliates, the only penalties meted out (roughing/fighting) are to the retaliating team, regardless of the level of pugilistic engagement by the player who made the original hit. That’ll fix this really quickly.
YAY AND BOOS
YAY TO EVGENI MALKIN for reaching the 1,000-game milestone and proving that the Pitt high command was wise to re-sign ‘Gorgeous Geno.’
BOO TO THE WRITERS who – decades later – still malign ex-Devils Cup-winning coach Jacques Lemaire. The Jacques rip usually happens when these critics commend the current high-scoring Jersey-ites. Reality – for those of us who covered the team – is that Lemaire’s game was the same as Scotty Bowman’s Habs. And, yes, Jacques’ Devils remained among the highest-scoring clubs in the league and most entertaining as well.
YAY TO CAL CLUTTERBUCK for setting a record for hits. The veteran Islander has survived and thrived despite the amount of energy consumed with such vigorous play. Plus, he’s made the long-forgotten deal for Nino Niederreiter a draw when all the hitting is said and done.
AN UPDATE ON THE SENATORS’ SALE PROSPECTS
What will happen with the Sens? That’s the question sparking much talk in Canada’s capital. A sale won’t happen until some time next year, but our sports business seer, Evan Weiner, offers this:
For those who would like to see the NHL establish a franchise in Houston or Quebec City, they are going to have to wait. A sale of the Senators to investors in one of those two cities could occur, but the investors more than likely would not be able to move the team out of the Ottawa area in the short term.
The Melnyk sisters, who are both under the age of 25, have decided to sell the team, and there is a condition. The franchise cannot leave the Ottawa area. The Melnyk sisters inherited the business after their father Eugene passed away earlier this year.
In addition to the hockey business, whoever becomes the new owner of the franchise might be able to build an arena in the LeBreton Flats area of the city as the Melnyk franchise stakeholders were able to convince Ottawa planners that it could deliver an arena village on that land. It is also very hard to imagine that the NHL would want to leave Canada’s capital, particularly after the league worked hard to find a buyer for the team after the franchise declared bankruptcy in 2003.
The league originally awarded Bruce Firestone and his partners a team in 1990. Firestone had difficulties coming up with the $50-million expansion fee, but the team did get on the ice in 1992. Firestone sold the team to Rod Bryden in 1993 after Anaheim interests offered him $20 million to move to Southern California. The Senators’ business filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 8, 2003.
Eugene Melnyk purchased the business on Aug. 26, 2003. Melnyk began looking for a new arena about five years ago. In March, Quebec City politicians offered to host five Senators games in the 2022-23 season. That idea was tabled.
WHO SAID IT? “I’ve talked about that feeling you have when you win it. It’s the best feeling you can have.” (ANSWER BELOW)
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT OUR PAL, PETER MCNAB
Admired as a high-scoring forward and all-team guy, Peter also had a ton of admirers off-ice for a lot of good reasons, including his affability, wisdom and caring for others. His buddy dating back to childhood, Alex Shibicky, takes us on this sentimental journey:
Peter took to the southern Californian lifestyle like a “fish to water”. His traditional garb while at Denver University, and even after, consisted of open collared Hawaiian shirts, a beaded necklace, blue jeans and barefooted with flip-flops. He was almost totally irreverent to most dress codes, but most particularly at Denver Pioneer reunions that he did his best to attend.
Don’t forget the shaggy head of hair that made him look like the consummate “surfer dude.” His mode of transportation was always a van. The only thing that was missing was a surfboard.
As far as Peter’s arrival in Denver to audition for the Avalanche’s brand-new position of color commentator is concerned, he told me he arrived in town with his audition tapes and set up a meeting with a member of the Avs’ administrative staff.
What he didn’t know was one of the senior team administrators, and one of the first team hires, was a woman by the name of Charlotte Grahame who saw that Peter was coming in for a meeting and decided to take the meeting herself, personally. You may recognize the last name if only by its unique spelling, as Charlotte was (and is) the wife of Ron Grahame, a teammate of Peter’s and mine at DU. Ron also had a stellar NHL career.
Peter went on to say that he was totally surprised to see that Charlotte was conducting the meeting but didn’t let it interfere with his businessman’s approach and didn’t want to take anything for granted. He said that Charlotte couldn’t resist the opportunity to “bust his chops” and, for her part, was very tight-lipped, as well.
She said that she would review his possibilities with her superiors and compare them to the multitude of other candidates that applied for the same position for the brand-new Denver franchise.
As the meeting was winding up and folks were making their way to the door, Charlotte turned to Peter and told him that she was just having some fun and that, of course, there was no need to even see the audition tapes and that he was considered head and shoulders above any other candidates. She gave him the job there on the spot, and they shared a good laugh. Again, the rest is history.
Over the years, Peter made numerous trips to Chicago, maybe twice a year due to the fact they were playing in different divisions. However, we did our best to co-ordinate our respective schedules and usually managed to get together for a bite to lunch, dinner or some kind of conversation.
Peter was the consummate professional, and his preparation regiment was unequalled in the sport as he made a point of getting to know players on both teams, but, more importantly, the broadcast crew from the team in the city where the Avs would be playing.
Peter usually offered me tickets to the game, and on occasion, he brought me up as a guest in the broadcast booth to watch him and his team at work. Prior to the puck drop and between periods, Peter would huddle up with Chicago’s Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk and exchange personal insights into their respective teams and players.
He said that was a common practice around the league, allowing for a more intimate discussion with his own audience. And it worked, as he has always been known for being a great communicator and storyteller bringing even the occasional dull game to life.
One time, he even put me to work in tracking shots on goal. It would seem to be an easy task, but I was very distracted with the game itself and out of the corner of my eye (and ear) taking in the off-the-charts professional job that Peter was doing. I was never asked to keep that stat again.
The hockey community is large and small at the same time, but very close-knit, and, again, one of the great ones is taken from us way too soon.
BIG QUESTION: What’s wrong with the Ottawa Senators?
BIG ANSWER: They were picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division but are playing like they’re going to finish eighth. (Hey! Isn’t it always the coach?)
A MILESTONE FOR AN OUTSTANDING HOCKEY LEADER
Mike Johnston has continued to orchestrate Portland’s Winterhawks as one of the best hockey organizations on any level, any time. Here’s proof positive.
With a win last Saturday night against the Kamloops Blazers, Winterhawks coach, GM and senior vice president Johnston has surpassed 1,000 total points in his WHL and Winterhawks career.
Now in his 13th season as coach of the Winterhawks, Johnston owns a career record of 475-216-25-28 to put him at 1,002 points. Next up, Johnston is looking to become the 11th coach in WHL history to surpass 500 career coaching victories.
He has 40-plus wins during nine separate seasons in the Rose City and has helped lead this year’s team to its best 20-game start in franchise history with a record of 16-1-1-1.
During Mike Johnston’s tenure, the Winterhawks have advanced to the WHL championship series four times and have qualified for the post-season every year since the 2009-10 season.
Johnston, a native of Dartmouth, N.S., has also helped 37 Winterhawks get selected in the NHL draft, including 13 players who were selected in the top 50 overall picks. Johnston and his Winterhawks are currently first in the Western Conference.
On Wednesday night, Mike’s Hawks beat Everett 5-2 for their ninth straight win. Portland has points in 12 straight contests (10-0-1-1).
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Steven Stamkos talking about winning the Stanley Cup.
- Bluelines: Why Alexander Mogilny Belongs in the Hall of Fame
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