There’s only one super team in the NHL right now and, ironically, barring the goaltender, that club doesn’t boast a single superstar.
* There’s only one super team in the NHL right now and, ironically, barring the goaltender, that club doesn’t boast a single superstar. It happens to be the New York Rangers who are destined for the 2016 Stanley Cup. The reasons are simple: 1. New York features more good — not great — players at more positions than any other squad. 2. Henrik Lundqvist is at least as good as — I say better than — Vezina-winner Carey Price. 3. The Blueshirts collective defense beats those of any other NHL club. 4. Too-often-overlooked Alain Vigneault is at the top of his coaching game and certainly an Adams Award favorite.
These Rangers remind me of the 1946-47 Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs who failed to place a single player on either the First or Second All-Star Teams. A season later — when Toronto won its second of three straight titles — the only Leaf to place either on the First or Second All-Star Team was goalie Turk Broda. Leafs boss Conn Smythe called that club the best Toronto team he ever managed. Next June, I predict, we’ll be saying that this is the best Rangers team ever, and with only one All-Star, Lundqvist.
BIGGEST NHL PROBLEMS
* Gary Bettman is a smart cookie and his ever-rising paycheck is proof positive. But the Eternal Commissioner has to turn super-genius to solve his league’s so far insoluble issues. And it all starts with speed. Current players are moving at so rapid a rate that the game has become too fast for its own good. What’s more, skate manufacturers — and this goes for goalies as well — continue to design lighter, high-tech models that will enable even greater speeds in years to come. That will insure more injuries to players including marquee types such as Connor McDavid.
Slowing down the game to a more rational pace is an issue that must be confronted but how does one do that? Likewise, the growing number of oversized players has created such ice gridlock that the three-on-three open ice overtime invariably becomes the most refreshing period of hockey. By now it should be obvious that four-on-four over a regulation three periods is the way to go. Bettman should know this but never will be able to sell it to Donald (Jobs For Everyone) Fehr.
THE MARVELOUS LITTLE MEN
* One of the delicious ironies of contemporary hockey is the fact that, despite Goliaths over-populating the NHL, a number of little men continue to not only survive but star amid the bulls. Easily the best example is Mats Zuccarello. Not only has the Rangers minuscule ace survived serious injury but has returned as the Blueshirts inspiration and invariable offensive hero. Apart from natural skill, Mats has the same fearlessly aggressive instincts that enabled tiny Hall of Famer Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard to win a record 11 Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.
Zuccarello will fight anyone — Zdeno Chara included — in the manner that Richard once fist-fought tough Bruins Jack Bionda and Fern Flaman in a row. Furthermore, Mats shows no signs of timidity because of his devastating spring playoff head injuries that rendered him unable to speak for a few days. “Everyone has to come back from injuries,” he modestly says. “I’m back to where I want to be.”
DENY THIS IF YOU CAN:
1. The Hockey News pre-season annual listed Carey Price, Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Duncan Keith as its best five NHLers. My update is: Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, P.K. Subban and Lundqvist.
2. The biggest individual disappointment in the West has to be Carl Hagelin who has done minus-the-radical-50 for Anaheim compared to the buck he’s making. Runner-up is Cam Talbot, latest in the long line of flub Oilers goalies.
3. Enough already, with the Hall of Fame Selection Committee keeping Eric Lindros in limbo instead of in Hockey’s Pantheon. As a former HOF Selection Committee member, I know a bit about inside politicking. Lindros belongs. Period!
4. There are no big-leaguers I respect more than the Islanders’ Travis Hamonic. So, when the defender says he wants to leave the Isles for “personal reasons” I believe him. But, GM Garth Snow should wait until he gets full return value in any deal.
5. Should the NHL decide to trim the size of goalie pads no one will be more challenged than Ben Bishop who depends more on his size than any top puck-stopper. His mobility is questionable and his level of athleticism would be tested more than most.