When I think of Billy Guerin and how he's managing Minnesota's Wild, a four-letter word comes to mind G-U-T-S.
That's what was required from the top sergeant of St.Paul's favorite hockey team when he decided to bid au revoir to a couple of erstwhile favorites -- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter -- who figured to spend a lifetime in the Land of a Thousand Lakes.
But Bill G took the gamble and if a franchise could sing a song it would be "Just Look At Me Now." Entering the All-Star Break, the Wild is riding a six-game winning streak.
As Wild things should be, Guerin's team is exciting and legitimately could adopt that old saying, "Why not us?" when it comes to Cup aspirations.
Cornered for a few exclusive words, Bill addressed the following issues head on:
HIS CLUB EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS: "I'm happy the way the team has performed. Our players and coaches have done a great job. It's all about the team and winning. I believe in this group and I have high expectations for them."
A BIG SURPRISE AT FORWARD AND DEFENSE: "Up front, center Ryan Hartman's scoring has been a pleasant surprise. His game has matured and he's gaining a lot of confidence. He's been a good fit with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. On defense, Jon Merrill has been playing very well for us. His overall play has been great and his offensive contributions have been more than we anticipated."
WHAT MAKES DEAN EVASON A GOOD COACH: "There are a lot of things, but I happen to like the way he communicates his message to the players. He knows that every player needs something different. Dean has a lot of unique qualities that make him good at what he does."
GETTING ALONG WITH CRAIG LEIPOLD: "He's a great owner. To me, it's incredible how humble he is and that trait runs through the organization. He allows me to make the decisions that I feel are right. But he also challenges me and supports me in what I'm trying to do. Of course, he gives financial support but his guidance and leadership are more important than that."
AS PLAYER, GUERIN'S ALL-TIME FAVE COACH: "Jacques Lemaire with the Devils when we won The Cup in '95. Actually, I had a lot of good coaches but Jacques was the best. He had a great knowledge of the game and he would hold all of us accountable. Plus, he taught us how to win. It wasn't always easy for me with Lemaire but things I learned from him early in my playing career I carried with me my whole time. I even use some of those lessons in Minnesota today."
BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON: "It will be for the hockey club to stay consistent and stay healthy. We're in a very good division with some great teams to face. As a result we have to be ready to go every night. In this league now, you can beat anyone and anyone can beat you on any given night."
WHY CHRIS KREIDER IS SO GOOD:
Every season the Rangers hulking wing looks like he's going to deliver a career year and every campaign he does well. But now in 2021-22, the big guy is absolutely ridiculous. No question, he could win the goal-scoring title with a league-leading 33 red lights right now.
Keen Blueshirts-watcher Sean McCaffrey and author of "The New York Rangers Rink Of Honor," has the answers to the Kreider puzzle. Here's how:
1. "Coaching. Gerard Gallant put Kreider on the penalty kill the way Alain Vigneault once did with Rick Nash. This keeps Chris more involved, and when he's on the PK it also helps him on the power play.
2. "Adam Fox. The defenseman has the knack for finding Kreider for deflections and tips. At least half of Chris' goals are a result of a Fox primary assist.
3. "Adapting a Phil Esposito style: Chris camps in the crease and waits for tips, deflections and rebounds. His screen game has been incredible as well. Kreider's screens are more valuable than some assists."
Other contributing factors leading to Kreider's rise include his maturity and natural team leadership. Finally, the success of other forwards have distracted the enemy from concentrating on Chris. And the reason he's ascended to star status.
I'M JUST SAYIN':
* I'd take Kreider over Draisaitl in a New York minute.
* From the first time I met Pat Verbeen as a player in New Jersey, I liked him. Now I like him as rookie g.m. in Anaheim. He's tough and smart like his ex-Devil buddy, Guerin.
* Freddie Andersen either is the most underrated goalie on a good team or just plain the most underrated goalie in the league, give or take John Gibson. Take your pick.
* As for most underrated defenseman? Has t be Tony DeAngelo. Want another forward? Anthony Duclair.
* The Rangers are a vastly different team when Adam Fox is out with an injury. But they still know how to win and are being taken more seriously by the week.
* In the Toronto Globe and Mail, Marty Klinkenberg wrote a story about Florida's gifted Jon Huberdeau. The header had Hubie as the NHL's "Most Underrated Player." But not a word about it in the story. Do you think the Cat's ace is underrated? I don't.
* I get a kick out of Helene St.James writing about the Red Wings. She has a good piece about the "Future of Jeff Blashill." Point is Steve Yzerman will make the Jeff rehire decision after the season. Gotta give Blash credit for the upstart Wings so far this year. No? Yes!!
* Also underrated: Brady Tkachuk in Ottawa and Jesper Bratt in New Jersey.
* Didja Know Department: How many Garden Staters realize that there once was a New Jersey Devils before the NHL New Jersey Devils? 'Tis true and they played one season (1966-67) in the old Eastern Hockey League before the EHL folded at the end of that campaign. The name? Simply Jersey Devils.
* Carey Price is talking comeback with the Habs this season and, for that, I commend him. However, with the Montreal mess being what it is; maybe -- just maybe -- the price is wrong and Carey should wait until next fall.
* As NHL goalies go down like tenpins in a bowling alley, at least three forgotten stoppers have stepped in the breaches: Louis Domingue, Michael Hauser and Spencer Martin.
* I'm not convinced that the Capitals can be playoff successful with their current goalies, whether it's Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vaneced or Phoenix Copley.
* Good idea from Gorgeous George Falkowski: Devils should have a banner-raising for legendary hero John MacLean.
* After watching Florida put Columbus through the roller, my guy in BJ Land, Coby Maeir, offers, "If Huberdeau and Barkov played in Toronto they'd be discussed in the same breath as McDavid."
* Kudos to the Islanders for unveiling a plaque honoring former owner Charles Wang. A true Long Islander, Wang resisted attempts to move his club out of the Met Area. He saved the franchise; eventually enabling Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky to purchase the club.
* Sad to hear about the loss of Robin Herman, first woman to enter an NHL dressing room as a legit journalist.
* As Sid Crosby approaches another milestone, can anything original be said about Superman? Try Mike Sullivan: "Sidney is the most driven athlete I've ever seen."
FINDING A DEFECT IN PITTSBURGH: I asked my Penguins' beat man Vince Comunale to identify a weak spot in the Pens line up. His reply momentarily surprised me: "Injuries," was his answer. "They can't seem to go more than a game without someone going down." Louis Domingue, Teddy Bleuger and Danton Heinen are a few names Vince reeled off. "If the team ever gets 100% healthy they're a top five team."
A ROB RAY OF HOPE:
After 14 loyal years skating for the Sabres, Rob Ray wound up in Buffalo's broadcast booth and has been doing hockey tv there for the past 19 years. All of that tells me that Double R qualifies to say a few learned words about his favorite team. To wit:
"This is the first time the Sabres actually have done it (the team rebuild) right. They got rid of all the high-priced help and brought in young kids while surrounding them with good veteran players. I mean not only good on the ice but good guys off the ice to teach the kids how to prepare and how to practice."
The progress may not be obvious in Buffalo but Ray insists that it's happening. "They're competing every night. They may lose but you know that they're going to work from start to finish. We haven't seen that for a long time. The future looks bright."
Specifically, Ray likes center Peyton Krebs, right wing Jack Quinn, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and right wing Tage Thompson,(Thanks to ever-insightful Glenn Dreyfuss, co-producer of "Squid and the Ultimate Leaf Fan" podcast.)
WHO SAID IT? "It may sound strange, but the sign of a good hockey club is garbage goals." (Answer below.)
A CHIP OFF THE OLD SUTTER:
A hidden branch on the extensive Sutter Family Tree happens to be coach Darryl's son, Brett Sutter. Thanks to the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson we must afford Brett a standing ovation. He gets it for two very good reasons:
1. He recently recorded his 1,000th game at the pro level (currently with the AHL Ontario Reign). 2. He delivered a nifty commentary about his future: "If my body allows it, I'll play until I have four flat tires and somebody steals the spare!"
TEN SECOND TRIVIA: Who was the first winner of the Masterton Trophy and in what year did he win it?
Claude Provost of the Canadiens captured the award in its initial year, 1968.
ON MISSING MIKE NYKOLUK
Seasoned observers of the hockey season would talk of Mike Nykoluk with reverence. An American League Hall of Famer -- two Calder Cups and a Les Cunningham MVP award -- Mike broke in with Rochester but spent more than a dozen seasons in Hershey. Nykoluk, who recently passed away at age 87, also was admired for his NHL work in Philly.
In the early 1970's Flyers savvy head coach Fred Shero was smart enough to realize he needed a sidekick and that's how Nykoluk became the first assistant coach in hockey. If Mike was watching an NHL game tonight you could be sure he'd have a wisecrack over the many assistant coaches who crowd the benches. What can one say after another pal dies other than this Mike guy was one awfully good fellow -- and smart hockey man.
IS THE 'MICHIGAN' GOOD OR BAD: After watching Trevor Zegras score that fabulous "Michigan" all by his lonesome, it set me wondering whether the NHL should abolish it as "Not A Hockey Play," or let it be. My sage pal in Nashville, David Poile, likes the "Michigan."
Poile: "It's a legitimate play. I'm always for allowing players to be creative and showcase their skills. It makes our game better and should be celebrated. With time and space so limited, only a very special few players can pull off this move with regularity. I don't think any sort of rule change is necessary."
REMEMBERING THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY: It's 64 years this week that the NHL Heavyweight Championship hockey fight took place at Madison Square Garden. The then titleholder, Lou Fontinato of the Rangers, against Detroit's Gordiie Howe late in the 1958-59 season.
I was there watching it from the press box which overhung the mezzanine. We could see it clearly. Actually, the fight began behind the Detroit net with New York's Eddie Shack scrumming with Howe. Watching from the left blue line, Fontinato rushed in, pushed Shack aside and started swinging at Howe.
Gordie looked through the first fe punches and then began a pummeling job that rearranged Louie's nose. To his credit, Fontinato never went down but it was Howe with a stand-up TKO.
P.S. Louie never was the same brawler after that nor were the Rangers the same team. They faded in the homestretch and missed a playoff berth on the final night of the season.
P.S.S. Pal Al Greenberg was there too and adds: "When I met up with Howe about ten years ago in Florida and told him I was at the game his eyes lit up. He said Louie never hit him once and I agree. Gordie also said that he and Fontinato became pals after they retired and even went fishing together.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Brian Burke.