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Bluelines: Butting Heads Over NHL Olympic Participation

We all know that Connor McDavid and his Brotherhood of Stickhandlers want to play in the Olympics. Whatever the final decision, we can only hope that it results in the good of the game. Stan Fischler discusses that and much more in this week's Bluelines column.
Team Canada

We all know that Connor McDavid and his Brotherhood of Stickhandlers want to play in the Olympics.

The arguments all are in place and so many of them make sense.

Except for one thing. The pandemic is not over and if you don't believe me, ask members of the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders.

Each team's roster was virtually decimated in half by Covid-19 cases and the resultant aftereffects on and off the ice.

By now, it should be apparent that we never know from week to week what gives with the pandemic. We never know when another strain may appear whether it be in Beijing or the Bay of Biscay.

Surely, the players' union godfather, Sir Donald Fehr, and his Fehr-lings understand common sense.

What it tells me is that it would be foolhardy to dismiss the chance of another Covid outbreak at the Olympics in Beijing – or even before The Games begin.

However, while in Denver this week for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame awards ceremony, Dave Fischer took another compelling tack.

"By all means," said USA Hockey's public relations director, "the games should go on and the NHL should be in them. The players want 'The Best Against The Best' and all health precautions will be taken."

Fischer firmly believes that the public shouldn't be hiding in a proverbial cave. One should live life as "normally" as possible and Olympic participation would be part of that modus operandi.

This is a topic being acutely discussed by NHL ownership as we speak. What's more, it's a challenge to Commissioner Gary Bettman as well as union boss Don Fehr.

Whatever the final decision, we can only hope that it results in – cliche as it might be – the good of the game.

PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE PAYS OFF

Jim Rutherford seemed a forgotten man among NHL general manager candidates. After his hasty – and thoroughly unexpected – departure from Pittsburgh, Gentleman Jim disappeared from the scene. Turns out he was an Interim-Retired front office boss.

The truth is that the respected veteran was exercising patience and fortitude to the Nth degree until the real thing came along. And that it has. Rutherford moves into Jim Benning's vacated office and will be President, Hockey Operations and interim GM for the Canucks. Rest assured that the "Interim" label will be removed next spring.

THE FLEURY PHENOMENON:

Understandably, Marc-Andre – alias The Flower – was reluctant to move Chicago-way when his Windy City move originally was announced.

Then, after donning a Blackhawks jersey he looked like a padded kitchen utensil, alias a sieve.

Happily, a metamorphosis finally took place, and the Vezina Trophy-winner more recently is stopping pucks the way Boss Rocky Wirtz wanted him to in the first place.

Granted, senior citizen M-A may be a trifle slow around the edges, but you'd need an Electron Microscope to detect any significant speed loss. There's no rust in Fleury's game; nothing but an ultra-determination to win.

Watching Fleury last Sunday against the Islanders, I was impressed with his overall game. Smart, clutch-filled and inspirational, he produced two points with yet another airtight performance.

One of the ultra-pleasant guys in our business is giving us more reason to love that man!

WHO SAID THIS?

"He's so strong, he doesn't call the cattle in. He carries them in!"

(Answer below.)

COMPARING KNIVES AND WINGS

Both the Sabres and Red Wings were destined for the doldrums of 2021-22. At least that's the way it looked based on past performances.

Despite an encouraging start, the Sabres have slipped below the .500 mark while Motor City Muscle has been flexed to the amazement level.

As for the Knives from Western New York, their bubble burst with twin losses to Florida and Carolina, leaving coach Don Granato no recourse but to open the Cliche Machine.

He extracted the usual bromides – "mismanagement of pucks," and "self-inflicted errors – not to mention "You can't lose confidence."

My journalistic colleague, Alan Greenberg, had seen enough of the Sabres to add: "Goaltending is suspect but much of that has been caused by a porous defense."

Still, I agree with Pal Al; with almost three-quarters of the season to go, the Sabres are not that far out of a playoff spot. A hot streak will put them back in contention.

ON THE CONTRARY:

1. NEXT CANUCKS BOSS: I know full-well that neither will get the gig but I'd pick any one of Marc Bergevin, Mike Milbury or Neil Smith for the open B.C. job.

2. FAILING PHIL: Like You – or most of You – I figured Phil Grubauer would be the next-Marc-Andre-Fleury expansion flash. NOT!!

3. CALE VS. ADAM: Upon further review, I'm going with Makar over Fox for the next Norris.

4. TORTS FOR PHILLY? The Flyers have flitted thousands of miles from their Broad Street Bully image. They need a firebrand coach to lift their I.Q., as in intensity quotient. John Tortorella is what they need but does Torts need them? Negative.

BLUE BUT NOT BROKEN-HEARTED

While nobody's been looking very carefully, the Rangers have become the NHL's best team.

And this is not a joke.

Sure, the Blueshirts got smacked 7-3 by Colorado on Wednesday night at The Garden. But in the longer scheme of things it means absolutely nothing.

For starters, coach Gerard Gallant started fourth-string goalie Adam Huska and the Manhattanites got what they deserved. I call it an aberration with a Capital A.

Add to that a little-discussed fact that the New Yorkers have become, what I believe to be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

They've accomplished this feat with a blend of double-dip superior goaltending – Igor Shesterkin-Alex Georgiev – a balanced offense and surprisingly creative, young blue liners who'll only improve with age.

No question, these Blueshirts were overlooked last September by the "Insiders," as well as outsiders and network upside-downers.

The Rangers must have been bypassed because they had missed the 2021 playoffs – just barely – and had undergone a traumatic toppling of their general staff, from John Davidson to Jeff Gorton.

Ah, but the key replacements – Chris Drury and Gerard Gallant – have since executed nothing but deft moves which, mostly, have been ignored.

These include tangible toughness – egregiously lacking last year – and the addition of Cup-winner Barclay Goodrow.

Minus the McDavid-Matthews superstar magnificence, the Rangers are romping with a healthy spread of quite good players led by Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox who has surreptitiously become the team leader.

Then there's Artemi Panarin, Mika Zabanejad and near-captain-but-not-quite Chris Kreider who's currently enjoying a career year

Rookie g.m. Drury's most decisive move, by far, has been the signing of coach Gerard Gallant. It was no accident that Double G turned both the Panthers and Knights into winners. Now it's New York's turn.

You don't have to submerge yourself in absurd analytics to figure Gallant's genius. Simply put, The Man has the knack; the it. Or, let's just say he has the right instincts at the right time.

Figure by January 1, the "Surprise" label will be removed from his team and the club picked-to-finish-near-the-bottom-of-the-Met-Division will be recognized as a genuine Cup threat.

WHAT ARE THE HABS WAITING FOR?

You can get a migraine wondering how the Canadiens high command does things. Boss Geoff Molson imported Jeff Gorton as Surgeon General to operate on his failing Habs.

But Montreal ownership then gave Gorton some cockamamie title that has confused just about everybody. Frankly, it's hard to tell whether he's the "interim" major domo, or the CEO of Stickboys.

The fact is that this Monsieur G is the man mostly responsible for the Rangers renaissance. He's the guy who amassed the deep lineup with top draft picks Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Nils Lundqvist, among others.

Molson's next order or business should be giving Gorton total power to trade, draft and whatnot. Plus, he's proven his expertise over and over again.

What matters is that Gorton speaks Hockey and knows the managerial gig better than most. He should be the Habs all-hockey boss and that's that!

ANSWER TO 'WHO SAID THIS?' Gordie Howe on Bobby Hull.

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