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Bluelines: Six Super Thoughts on Six Sextets

Stan Fischler looks at the first games of the season, shares an important conversation about Glenn Healy and the NHLAA, the pressure on Matt Murray, and more.
Matt Murray

SIX SUPER THOUGHTS ON SIX SEXTETS

1. The Rangers' 7-3 conking of Minny last night makes it two straight for the Blueshirts who look unconquerable. (And my new Cup favorite right off the bat.)

2. Ilya Samsonov is now the Leafs' starting goalie. Period! And he should remain the starter. Period! Matt Murray will be the $$$ backup – and the less, the better.

3. No question, Buffalo's Craig Anderson, 41, is the best old goaltender in the league. Exhibit A: he stopped 36 Ottawa shots last night and was the first star.

4. If John Tortorella keeps it up – 5-2 over Devils last night – Broad Street will be renamed Torts Boulevard Of Sweet Dreams.

5. Undefeated so far, Marty St.Louis wins my Coach Of The Week Award. Who knows? Maybe eventually Coach of the Year.

6. Let's face it, from game to game, the unstoppable Connor McDavid goes from the sublime to the ridiculous – or is it from the ridiculous to the sublime? Answer: Both!

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RETIRED HOCKEY PLAYERS NEED HELP: GLENN HEALY'S GROUP DELIVERS IT

So, a hockey career is over – now what?

It's an annual question confronting retired players who suddenly find themselves jobless and facing the real world for the first time in their lives.

"What do I do now?"

The big names still have the big dough and a pair of rose-colored glasses. They're set.

But, pity the poor guys who don't.

For too many years, the Down-And-Outers got pity, and not much else.

And that's where Glenn Healy and the National Hockey League Alumni Association came to the fore. In just four years, the former underrated and undersized goalie has turned the NHLAA into a force for the good and welfare of retired stickhandlers.

Among those who've helped the NHLAA grow into a formidable group happens to be Paul Kelly, a former leader of the NHL Players' Association. We'll get to Healy later, but for now, the insightful Kelly addresses key retirement issues as well as the association's latest contributors.

Cross-section Of Stars And Spars On the NHLAA Board:

"We have names you'll know and others you may not remember as well. Mark Messier, Guy Carbonneau, Paul Coffey, Adam Graves and Chris Pronger all are on the Board of Directors. We also have Kelly Chase – the current chair – Jamal Mayers, Adam Burish, Ryan Malone, Brad Marsh, Alex Steen and Paul Cavallini."

Why The NHLAA Exists:

"Our primary mission is to help players transition into life after hockey. Some guys have real difficulty after the NHL. Unless you're a Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier, when hockey ends, it really 'ends.' A former player no longer is recognized as a public figure with adoring fans asking for an autograph. Some guys struggle in their marriage, leading to an unreasonably high post-hockey divorce rate. Some guys have difficulty pursuing professional and occupational opportunities or know how and where to start."

How The Association Helps

"The NHLAA works in areas including mental health as well as drug and alcohol challenges. We offer educational and professional training programs, medical and mental health resources and the support of a network of over 2,000 former players as well as a roster of physicians, social workers, mental health counselors and job training experts."

Glenn Healy's Contribution As Executive Director

"Since taking over four years ago Glenn has done a great job. For starters, he dramatically increased the marketing and revenue-generating activities of NHLAA. This enables the organization to provide more services and resources to the membership. He's also reached out to retired players from Europe and Russia to extend the association's reach and provide services abroad. Prior to Glenn's tenure, these overseas players didn't have the opportunity to be active members of the NHLAA."

Local Branches of the NHLAA:

"Every NHL city has a branch of our association. We make sure that the local offices feel part of the larger organization and benefit from the new programs and resources offered from the main office in Toronto."

Not Just For Oldtimers:

"The NHLAA no longer is viewed as an organization only for guys who retired 20, 30, 40 years ago. I've been particularly impressed with the younger, more recently retired players. We're working hard to reach and welcome every NHL player who announces his retirement within days of becoming aware of the same. If you look at our Facebook page, you'll see announcements about such guys as Zdeno Chara and Keith Yandle, just to name a couple." (COMING SOON: GLENN HEALY AND THE HEALING PROCESS.)

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BEST ANGRY QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Everybody hates us and that's just fine." (Thank you Vegas captain Mark Stone.)

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NIX AGAIN ON QUEBEC CITY AND HERE'S WHY

Respected sports business columnist Evan Weiner says forget about it.

Quebec City remains OUT of the running for an NHL franchise. Read on:

The NHL does not see Quebec City as a financially viable market.

There is fan interest, but fan interest can only take you so far. You need real loonies, and Quebec City is a government town with limited corporate support. It is also a small market. The NHL is not going to be expanding in the foreseeable future, and even if the league wanted to add a team or two, Quebec City is not on anybody’s list in the NHL as a place that is essential to league business. 

The Quebec Nordiques business was sold to Denver interests in 1995 and moved operations to Colorado. The problem in 1995 was simple, Quebec City didn’t have an NHL state-of-the-art arena. Granted that there's a building now in the ville, but limited corporate and TV loonies hurt the chances of the NHL ever returning to Québec City.

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A DEFINITIVE LOOK AT THE PRESSURIZED MATT MURRAY

Let's face it, Toronto's goalkeeper is under more pressure than any single player in the NHL. Some critics believe he'll be about as successful as the post-wall Humpty Dumpty. Others say that Double M still has the goods. Listen up to the Magnificent Michael Augello's X-Ray of the latest Leafs "savior."

Toronto has entered the 2022-23 season with anticipation if nothing else. After all, last season, Auston Matthews scored 60 goals, won the Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy and the club reached a franchise-record 115 points.

But let's not kid ourselves – whether the club is successful depends on its ability to advance in the post-season and not just a first-round win either. In plain English, Murray has to produce big-time because he's in the biggest of the big-time markets in Canada. 

GM Kyle Dubas miserably failed in securing a sound replacement for Jack Campbell who was no better than substandard last season. His backup, Petr Mrazek, was no bargain either. Humpty Campbell failed in Game 7 of the opening round, adding ignominy and embarrassment to the Dubas "dynasty."

Can the GM save his team and his job with a dubious Dubas' goalkeeping tandem of Murray and Ilya Samsonov? The good news is that Murray had a .969 save percentage (allowing two goals on 65 shots) in three wins during the pre-season, while Samsonov was just as impressive with a 2.25 GAA in three games.

But none of the aforementioned were two-point games. Now the Leafs are playing for real. In his debut on Wednesday night, Murray – as one observer put it – "Looked shakier than a Slinky in a wind tunnel."

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* Mike Johnston's Portland Winterhawks won their first six games of the WHL season. Translated: S.O.S. to the rest of the league.

* Player to watch: Portland's Kyle Chyzowski, a relative of onetime Isles high draft pick Dave Chyzowski. Undrafted, Kyle knows where the net is.

* Picking an all-time "Best American Hockey Player" is challenging because of the different eras.

* Of this there's no doubt, Uncle Sam's first outstanding stickhandler never made it to the NHL. That was Hobey Baker who starred at Princeton and later in the semi-pro games at New York's St. Nicholas Arena. Baker might have scored in the NHL but he died in a plane crash in France, just days after the end of the First World War.

* If Auston Matthews continues to short-circuit goalkeepers as he has until now, the 'Prince of Arizona' will move to the top of the top Americans list. My choice now is Pat LaFontaine.

* But, that's for forwards. On the blue line, Chris Chelios and Brian Leetch tie for the top and Frankie (Mister Zero) Brimsek holds the goalie prize.

* There's talk about the Kraken getting NBA competition in Seattle. Some sports analysts believe that big-time baskets can work in Krakentown. But it has to start with a franchise.

* Euphoria over first-week victories is understandable – but a bit unrealistic, wouldn't you say, Leafs fans?

* I was hoping the Isles' young Finnish center Aatu Raty would make the big club but – in his situation – a season at Bridgeport can only help.

* The Panthers' major domo Bill Zito is a smart cookie. But is he smart enough to conquer the cap that could manacle his club for years?

* I happen to think so but I have pals in Sunrise who believe the sun is setting on the Cats empire.

* The "What's Better For Your Starry Kid – Major Junior or College?" question will endure until T-Rex returns to our planet.

* As of today, 244 former NCAA standouts have graced this week's opening night NHL rosters.

* You have to like the first hat trick of choices for Carolina's new Hall of Fame. Ron Francis, Rod Brind'Amour and Glen Wesley.

* If you had a dollar for every Jakob Chychrun trade rumor, chances are you could retire along with Jaromir (Where's The Beer?) Jagr.

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DIDJA KNOW? Maple Leafs forward Ace Bailey was the first NHL player to have his (No. 6) sweater retired. The jersey was set aside on Feb. 14, 1934. But Boston-based historian Kevin Vautour points out that it was taken out of retirement and given to Ron Ellis who wore it until he retired in 1960.

"On Feb. 22, 1934, the Bruins retired defenseman Lionel Hitchman's No. 3," adds Vautour. "No other Bruin has worn No. 3, and it's the longest continually retired number in sports."

By the way, Hitch and Vautour have something in common. Both live – lived in – Melrose, Mass., which happens to be one of the best hockey towns in America.

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THE EXHIBITION GAMEPLAY THAT WON MAT BARZAL A VARSITY JOB

At the Islanders' training camp in 2017, it was a tossup over which newcomers would make the big club. One of the most impressive skaters was Mat Barzal, a freewheeling center from British Columbia, On Sept. 25, 2017, in a game against New Jersey, Barzal secured his future on a power play. Here's how:

It began with a backhand pass from John Tavares in New York's defensive zone. From there, Mat transitioned to his backhand and skated through the neutral zone – and three Devils players with ease.

He then passed the fourth and final New Jersey defender and began to accelerate. He moved the puck from his backhand to his forehand as he cut from the boards toward the goalie crease. Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid tried to stop Barzal with a diving pokecheck, but the young Islander roofed the puck, finishing a fine play. As author Zack Weinstock puts it, "From this moment forward, Barzal would make a difference in the Islanders lineup."

It also helps explain why Mat now has an eight-year contract with the Elmonters.

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WHO SAID IT? "Any player, whether he trains with Pittsburgh or Tulsa, will be moved up to the Leafs if he convinces us he is doing a better job than his same number on the varsity squad." (ANSWER BELOW.)

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THE CALGARY FLAME-THROWER DOUSES ANY ANALYTICS ADMIRAL

When Darryl Sutter talks, he needs no graphs or geometry. All he requires are boxes. Or, as the 'Smiling Cowboy' puts it, "Check the boxes and you're doing the right things. Then, you always can be chest out and chin up."

The "boxes" to be checked include good people, good teammates and good competitors. As it happens, Sutter's Flames features each one of them. 

The 5-3 win over Champ Colorado last night proves the point.

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BIG QUESTION: Sportsnet's Jeff Marek asks: "Did Flames GM Brad Treliving build his team to beat the Oilers in the playoffs?"

BIG ANSWER: No, no, and NO! He built his team to beat everyone and win the Stanley Cup. (But thanks for asking.)

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Yay Boo

YAYS AND BOOS:

YAY TO KYLE OKPOSO for winning the Sabres captaincy. They couldn't have picked a better guy.

BOO TO THE ATHLETIC'S EVER ASTUTE PIERRE LEBRUN for rapidly naming Johnny Gaudreau as the possible "Big Disappointment" of this season. Give Johnny Hockey a month, pal, just a month, then that might be the time to put the rap on him.

YAY TO THE DEVILS FOR SIGNING ANDY GREENE to a one-day contract so that he could retire as a Devil. (More on Greene, the mensch, below.)

BOO TO THE MEDIA SEERS who have nothing better to do but start in with the Connor Bedard "tanking" talk. (Can't you skeptics at least wait until January?)

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AU REVOIR, ANDY GREENE:

You just had to like Andy Greene as a hockey player and as a human being. He played the game the right way, and that meant solid, hard-trying with no fuss or fanfare but with efficiency over 16 seasons – 14 years with New Jersey – and more than 1,000 games. He deserves the honor to be bestowed upon him tomorrow night at Prudential Center.

Greene is living proof that longshots do come in. After all, Andy graduated Miami University in 2006 as an undrafted free agent and – after being signed by Lou Lamoriello – wound up being everything the Devils organization wanted as a player, leader and someone to represent the team.

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Leafs coach Hap Day before the opening of the 1946-47 training camp. With no less than four, starting rookie defensemen, Day's Leafs won their first of three straight Stanley Cups.

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