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Bluelines: Quick! Someone Invent a New Goalie Machine; It's Needed!

NHL goalies either are going down left and right, or being sidelined by attrition, salary cap-ism or some other insane issue. Stan Fischler shares his thoughts on goaltending, Jack Hughes, Alex Ovechkin, Cale Makar and more in this week's Bluelines column.
Anton Khudobin

In Detroit – the city that invented the automobile Production Line – it's hardly surprising to know that the Red Wings once created, for want of a better expression, a "Goalie Machine."

Manager Jack Adams was at the controls and his products included such Hall of Famers as Harry Lumley, Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall as well as Cup-winner Johnny Mowers. Not to mention a good little guy named Roger Crozier.

Wouldn't it be neat if there was a high-tech, 2022 model "Goalie Machine" right now. After all, NHL goalies either are going down left and right, or being sidelined by attrition, salary cap-ism or some other insane issue.

I opened The Hockey News the other day and what did I read? Yet, another goalie is gone for the season. New Jersey's Jonathan Bernier is passe for now with hip surgery upcoming.

Over more than a half-century of hockey-watching, I've never seen so many goaltenders injured, forced into retirement nor replaced by the Young Turks.

Granted that it's much tougher to create a contemporary Jack Adams-type "Goalie Machine." Too many complications nowadays.The Wings boss operated when clubs could nab Juniors simply by having a kid sign a "C" form.

That's how the Wings captured the Sawchuks, Halls, et. al. There were no agents to worry about, nor any invention such as a players' union nor salary caps. Give 'em a C-form, a few hundred bonus bucks and have him sign.

Not that we're bereft of good, young rubber-stoppers. Still fresh, unvarnished goalies rapidly are emerging although in some cases – Toronto's Jack Campbell, for example – it takes time for them to mature.

Others, such as Florida's Spencer Knight, are elevated too soon and need more sunlight in the minors. Then there's the curious case of Matt Murray in Pittsburgh, and later, Ottawa. He easily skated into Marc-Andre Fleury's crease and won two Cups. Then, while he got very rich with a fat Ottawa contract, the quality of Murray's game faded like a stale banana.

Same for a few other guys who now look better than Murray. Check out some of these curios gathered by my super-sleuth, Alan Greenberg. (Ken Holland should be looking as well.) Aren't any of the following NHL-worthy?

1. ANTON KHUDOBIN: Remember how Dubie replaced injured Ben Bishop and helped carry Dallas to the 2020 Cup Final against the Bolts? This year he got aced out by Braden Holtby and Jake (The Kid) Oettinger. The liability: $3.33 million cap hit. Dubie cleared waivers and is awaiting a deal while working with the AHL Texas Stars.

2. DEVAN DUBNYK: Hey, there, Ken Holland, here's a three-time All-Star and onetime Vezina finalist. That's not birdfeed. Double D's last year was split between San Jose and Colorado. He recently inked a PTO with AHL Charlotte and is in position to showcase himself for a late season NHL deal. Because of new Covid rules, Charlotte's Spencer Knight (Florida) and Joey Daccord (Seattle), have spent time with the parent clubs. Dubie could get a good look-see in the pivotal weeks ahead after his expected appearance with Canada's Olympic team.

3. MATT MURRAY: Ottawa's huge goalie flop has one thing going for him on Recovery Boulevard; he's only 27.

Or, as Ye Olde Maestro, Goalie-Wise Greenberg says, "In the NHL it's all about what you did today." (Or, tonight, if you will.)

As far as Holland's Oilers go, the faster he replaces his deteriorating duet in goal, the better the McDavid-Draisaitl cartel will be.

WHAT A REMARKABLE RACE FOR THE NORRIS: It's never too soon to discuss the Norris Trophy race. Current champ, Adam Fox, not only has grown into the Rangers leader – and should be captain – but this defenseman happens to be the Blueshirts second leading scorer. After 34 games, he was 5-30-35

Trouble – for Foxy, that is – Colorado's Cale Makar hit the 14 goal mark in only his 25th game. And the blueliner has 14 helpers to go with it. That's 28 points in 25 games and if you count super-duper goals like the miraculous one he scored against Chi earlier this week, this 23-year-old defies credulity.

Talk about breathtaking goal maneuvers, in the left corner King Cale spun Kirby Drach out of his trousers, then did so many backhands, forehands and backhands that the dizzied Marc-Andre Fleury went down and Makar thank-you-very-muched a top-shelfer.

After the game, the Avs ace was asked about his gem and had the absolutely most modest temerity to say – I kid you not – "It was a little bit lucky."

(Yeah, so was Michaelangelo, Edison, Marconi, and the guy who invented Amazon.)

I'M JUST SAYIN' :

1. JUMPIN' JACK: Devils prize center Jack Hughes has upped his game a notch. One scout tells me, "He's changing his approach and seems to be producing less display and razzle-dazzle and more basic 'take what the defense is giving him.'"

2. OVIE-ROCKET RESEARCH: Apart from the obvious language difference, the Alex Ovechkin-Maurice Richard comparison is arresting. Ovie and Rocket have played the game tough. They loved to hit and fight their own battles. Each featured a patented shot – Rocket backhand, Ovie, left circle laser – and both unstoppable.

3. WHEN COLD TURNS HOT: Little Jack Frost refused to get lost in the latest Winter Classic hosted by the Wild. Credit to the players, management, owners and NHL personnel for their ability to stage the event despite extreme conditions. And that included the continent-wide Pandemic.

4. UNSUNG HEROES DESERVE A SONG OF PRAISE: Putting on an extravaganza like the Winter Classic is roughly equivalent to producing a Broadway show, times 100. The difference is that when it comes to the Winter Classic – apart from the Wild and Blues players – the heroes remain unknown. (But not in this Pillar of Piffle.) For starters the mastermind behind such major league events is the conductor-of-all-conductors, Steve Mayer. Working so well with the maestro was Dean Matsuzaki (Events), Mike "Dan's Son" Craig (Rink Building), Brian Jennings (Corporate, Activations and Uniforms), Jamey Horan (Event Communications) and Steve Walkom (Officials.) Hail to Ye All!

5. OILING THE SKIDS: The Edmonton fans with their "Dump Dave Tippett" tweets have caught the attention of reputable writers such as Jim (Edmonton Journal) Matheson. According to Matty, Tippett has not lost the room "or faith in his core." But what about boss Ken Holland? The Good Ship Oilers is taking on water; fast! The loss in Toronto could – at least in part – be blamed on goaltending. Down to his knee goes Mike Smith – unnecessarily, I might add – when he should have been stand-up to block the wnning high shot. (Goalie Wanted: Line forms at the left.)

6. ALBERTA VS. ALBERTA: A big difference between the Flames and Oilers is the easiest thing in the world to find. Goaltending. Calgary's Jacob Markstrom is the real deal. Meanwhile, the Smith-Koskinen pair down the provincial road is either too old or to hole-y.

7. P.S. FROM ABOVE: Eric Francis of Sportsnet adds this on Flames superiority: "Their true calling card is a tenacious forecheck when fully engaged keeps the foe on its heels in its own zone." By contrast, the Oilers Connor-Leon outfit lacks that luster.

8. BIG, BAD B'S: They don't have Bobby Orr, but the Bruins still are big and bad. After the Beantowners trashed Detroit last Sunday, Wings coach Jeff Blashill said: "They want to bully you; that's how they are." (Memo to Steve Yzerman: Find a bully, fast!)

9. THE CUTTING EDGE: Remember when The Incredible (6-3, 217) Hulk from Massachusetts – Chris Kreider, who else? – couldn't cut it on Seventh Avenue with John (Is There An Emmy In My Future?) Tortorella as his nattering coach? With 20 red lights and this season not even half over, King Chris is slicing nicely under Gerard Gallant. Ergo: Coaches do make a difference.

10. DON'T TRADE ME DEPARTMENT: Once upon a time there were lots of Johnny Gaudreau trade rumors, not anymore. It so happens that some of the best "trades" are not made and aren't the Flames laughing. Even the ever-almost-smiling Daryll Sutter calls Goodie Gaudreau "One of the best 200-foot players in the league."

11. REGARDING ON-THE-FENCE PLAYOFF TEAMS: Time to take the Detroit Red Wings seriously. After all, they are serious.

12. ALL-RASK-ALREADY: I'd love to see a Lottery with the winner guessing: Name the day Tuukka Rask returns to the Boston net. Could be any minute – any day now, don't ya think?

13. ODDS ON FLEURY TO OILERS: The Rue de Rumeur is filled with Marc-Andre to Edmonton fibs; that is, until it happens. Whadya think Chi would want from the leaky Oil? (And don't tell me Dave Tippett.)

EAGERLY AWAITING J-DAY: Now that the Jack Eichel Out Of Buffalo soap opera is ancient history, the next big event for the J-Man will be his Vegas debut. Granted, it won't be hailed as much as a Justin Bieber concert although hockey nut J.B. just might be there. But Eichel – being Eichel – this could be the Knights hit of the century or a night to forget. With Jumpin' Jack you never know. Well, I dunno about you but I can't wait.

We all know that there's an E for Excellence. What we'll find out is whether there'll be an E for Excellence as in Eichel. And that, dear readers, is what melodrama is all about.

THE PERFECT SQUELCH: Asked to describe the difference between playing in below-zero Winter Classic weather as opposed to stickhandling in an indoor arena, the Wild's wild man, Mats Zuccarello, said: "You just have to skate harder!"

THE PERFECT PROMO: As I recently wrote in this spot the NHL's marathon season gets much too little attention because the Stanley Cup action annually overshadows it. Credit the NHL with recognizing this imbalance and doing something about it.

Bettman, Inc. and Chicago-based Highdive Advertising are partnered with the league's new ad campaign "Nothing Regular." Or, to put it in my language, Maven-ese, the regular season is HUGELY important

The "Nothing Regular" campaign began last November and is what it says it is, there's nothing regular about the regular season. Sensational things happen nightly. Exhibits A, B, C and D are spelled McDavid, Matthews, McAvoy and Ovechkin.

Casey Hall, the NHL's SVP of Marketing & Consumer, points out that the campaign will be produced throughout the year to showcase the excitement and unpredictability that comes with every NHL game.

"The 'play of the year' is made and remade each week," says Hall. "Fans don't have to wait until the playoffs to see incredible moments. Many of the stars and young stars are redefining how to play the game and it's thrilling to watch."

The "Nothing Regular" theme underlines what I've been saying for years; that the game is the fastest and most skilled it's ever been. A bonus for the campaign comes directly from the ad agency, Highdive, its passion.

Highive's Co-Founder and CCO Chad Broude is from a hockey family and has been NHL-oriented since age three. His staff shares that gung-ho feeling that there's nothing regular about the regular season. (Nice to know we agree!)

WHO SAID IT? "If I wasn't talking, I wouldn't know what to say?" (Answer below.)

QUOTES OF THE WEEK: San Diego's gift to Vancouver, the estimable orator-goaltender, Thatcher Demko, has been hotter than an Amazon lily. He told Canucks beat man Ben (The Province) Kuzma, "We have a ceiling on playing capabilities. but no ceiling with the capacity to keep building."

Or, how about Dave Tippett upon learning that his version of Superman, Connor McDavid, tested positive on the virus protocol. "That's when a 'positive' is not positive."

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Glenn (Chico) Resch, the former very talkative NHL goalie now Devils' radio analyst. 

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