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Bluelines: Three Most Interesting Teams in the NHL

Stan Fischler takes you through the three most interesting teams in the NHL, breaks down Ed Snider's genius, recaps his Yays and Boos, and so much more in this week's Bluelines.
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Mind you, we didn't say "best" nor even "worst" because what could be more interesting than 'interesting.' And if that doesn't interest you, we don't know what will. I recommend the following piece because the Guru's Guru, Al "Don't Call Me Snowbird" Greenberg has the "Interesting" answers. (See if you agree.)

Number One, Calgary: 

The team garnering the most off-season headlines is undoubtedly the Flames. Credit g.m. Brad Treliving for having the perseverance and ingenuity to take what could have been a sour lemon and making very sweet lemonade.

When the ice chips fell, the team was improved. Last year’s combined output of the newcomers Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri was 202 points. In Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, they lost 219 points. The big difference is that in MacKenzie Weegar they acquired a shutdown first-pairing defender who can log big minutes, further tightening an already stingy defense.

First-line center Elias Lindholm is coming off a career year. Both he and veteran Tyler Toffoli should work very well with a playmaker like Huberdeau. Likewise, Andrew Mangiapane had a breakout year. Goalie Jacob Markstrom was a Vezina finalist last year and is in the prime of his career.

In coach Darryl Sutter’s first full season he improved the team’s winning percentage to .677 from a dismal .491 the previous season when the Flames did not make the playoffs.The Flames made it to the second-round last year before succumbing to the Oilers.

The battle of Alberta should be much closer this year.

Number Two, Ottawa: 

The Senators haven’t made the playoffs since 2017 when they came oh so close to the Final. Since then, they’ve been mired in controversy and ineptitude.

In the off-season g.m. Pierre Dorion made bold moves, signaling that the rebuild is over and the team is in the “win now” stage. He sacrificed a little of the future by trading the No. 7 overall pick for Alex DeBrincat. He brought in aging but still very effective sharpshooter Claude Giroux for scoring and leadership.

The most significant move was the trade that brought goalie Cam Talbot to Ottawa. For the first time in several seasons, the team is solid in net with Talbot and veteran Anton Forsberg, who had his best NHL season last year.

Dorion has assured that the team will be competitive over time with his core players relatively intact. Star-worthy forwards Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Tim Stutzle are under long-term contracts. Defender Thomas Chabot is also in for the long haul. Promising rookies Jake Sanderson on defense and Shane Pinto at center may well be impact players.

Despite all of the high-dollar lengthy contracts, Dorion still has cap space for last-minute tweaking. The team finished a lowly seventh in the Atlantic Division last year. I would not be surprised if they challenge for a playoff spot this year. This is going to be a very interesting team to watch.

Number Three, Arizona: 

The Coyotes must be watched. Granted that they almost eked out Montreal for last overall in the NHL. They are not a playoff contender but the operative word here is that they are an interesting and newsworthy team.

For the first time in many seasons, the on-ice product is not overshadowed by financial woes and the threat of eviction from their home arena. The fact that they have stable ownership and a state-of-the-art arena in Tempe on the horizon is a credit to the perseverance of Gary Bettman in his unwavering support of non-traditional market teams.

The Coyotes’ temporary home, Mullett Arena at Arizona State University, may be small – only 5,000 capacity for hockey – but it is spanking brand new and promises to be full for every game, considering that it is closer to the fan base than any prior home. Playing at Mullett Arena will be a unique experience for NHL teams.

On the ice, the ‘Yotes will not be pushovers. In Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, they have proven scorers. Scoring depth is lacking. The defense is not too shabby with Jakob Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere. GM Bill Armstrong added toughness in the off-season with Josh Brown and Zack Kassian to go along with last season’s deadline acquisition, Nick Ritchie.

Arizona had three first-round and two second-round draft picks this year. It will take time, but the future is bright.

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Heads, Tails, and Six Predictions

The Jewish New Year -- Rosh Hashana -- is coming to an end but there's a hockey twist to it, as pointed out by writer Irad Chen. During the holiday ceremony, there's an expression, "May you be a head, not a tail." In other words, be a leader, not a follower. And with that in mind, Chen has selected three NHL"Heads" and three "Tails."

HEADS: New Jersey Devils

Sign me up for the Tom Fitzgerald Fan Club, I love his aggressive approach, adding veterans to solidify his young roster. Look for Jack Hughes to gain superstar status. Captain Nico Hischier will continue his upward trend. Add defender Dougie Hamilton along with up-and-coming Jasper Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich and there's more cause for optimism. Prospects Alexander Holtz and Luke Hughes have an outside chance to crack the lineup. Put 'em all together and you have a very exciting team in Newark.

Toronto Goaltending

It's been too easy to dump on beleaguered Matt Murray.

He suffered behind a terrible defense in Ottawa and never could find his groove. We're talking about a fella who won two Stanley Cups and neither was a fluke. What's more, he accomplished it playing behind a pretty average D yet Murray performed at an elite level. I say that he'll re-find that form. Ditto for Ilya Samsonov a former first-round pick who'll give Toronto a 1-A 1-B tandem which will be much better than Jack Campbell & Co.

Jack Eichel

At last, he's healthy. That's really all Jack needed. The talent and motivation are all there. Nor will he have to be THE guy. Not with the likes of Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo, and the newly acquired Phil Kessel around Jack. Expect Eichel to explode and justify his $10 million cap hit.

TAILS:

Boston Bruins- Injuries are on top of injuries. 

Aces Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy won't be back until December. That’s a lot of fine hockey to lose. New bench boss Jim Montgomery simply can't improve his offense without McAvoy and Marchand. Impossible! Forget about David Krejci, who is 31 and well past his prime. Montgomery never will get his team on track!

Jack Campbell

He couldn't get Toronto past a first round and he won't be the answer to the Oilers' goalie issues. We're talking about a goalkeeper who never started more than 49 games. Even worse, Edmonton's backup is inexperienced. And here's another minus for Campbell: Edmonton’s defense is much weaker than Toronto’s.

Seattle Kraken

Forget pre-season optimism. Seattle will finish at the bottom once again. No need for detail. (SEE OTHER KRAKEN STORY.)

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Canada vs U.S. -- The Summit Series Defines the Difference

New York Times hockey writer Gerald Eskenazi covered the 1972 Summit Series. In his following piece, he explains how different the American reaction was to the tournament. Our George Grimm reached Jerry and offers the following insights:

It's hard to believe in this technology-laden age of 24-Hour sports coverage, but 50 years ago when Canada faced off against Russia in the Summit Series, the games were not initially scheduled to be broadcast in the United States.

None of the major networks were interested, including NBC which was about to embark on its “Peter Puck” era of hockey coverage.

“The interest in hockey in the United States in two neutral teams was not enough to galvanize the networks or the fans," recalls Eskenazi. “The only people in the US who saw it over regular television were those living near the Canadian border, where they could pick up the Canadian station. So that gave WNET-13, the public broadcasting system in New York, a chance to show it. It also helped that the president of the network was a hockey fan. They used it as a fund-raiser and at the time it became the highest rated show in their history.”

Eskenazi, author of “A Year on Ice,” as well as many books on hockey, football, and baseball, was in Toronto covering the Summit series, when he was called back to New York to serve as an in-studio host for the broadcasts. Since 13 of the NHL’s 16 teams that season were based in the United States, Jerry thought that the league missed a chance to continue to sell the sport in America via network telecasts in America.

“It would have been a great opportunity, but again this was not something that Americans could relate to if they weren’t hockey fans. We had no concept of what the series meant to Canadians.

"By the way, I was one of the writers who predicted a Canadian sweep, and I think everyone in Canada did as well. But we had no idea that the Soviets had come of age and how good they were. The Canadians went from making fun of the Russian equipment and training methods, to being in awe of them. 'They played like automatons and didn’t budge when you hit them,' Frank Mahovlich told me. Frank said that if you gave them a football, they would win the Super Bowl in two years."

"I was shocked when the fans in the Montreal Forum began booing the Canadians. Everyone has an ego, even Canadians, and it took a hockey game for Canadians to show their emotions and their fears. When they started booing, I thought how dare they do that to these guys.

"The Canadians were very naïve as far as the Russians were concerned. They didn’t know anything about how Anatoly Tarasov had started the Soviet hockey program from scratch and took these kids away from home and trained them.

"Prior to the series, when I asked Emile Francis how the Soviets would do against Team Canada, he got angry with me and said ‘Don’t even mention them in the same breath as the Canadians.’ Now if Emile Francis, one of the great hockey minds, thought that, did they not want to believe it? Did they think Canada was invulnerable, or was it their hatred of the Soviet system in general, or were they just naïve? It was all of the above. Politics blinded them to what these guys were and that the Canadian system of democracy was superior and that extended to hockey and everything else.

"If Canada had swept the Soviets or won in a more convincing manner, the series may have gone unnoticed in the States. But the drama, the struggle, Phil Esposito’s speech and Paul Henderson’s goal made it a Good Guy vs Bad Guy scenario, with Americans becoming Canadians by extension, rooting for the Good Guys.

“When the series was over, The Times baseball writer Leonard Koppett asked me; ‘You knew all along who would win didn’t you? The emotions of the Canadians would eventually win over the non-emotion of the Soviets. The team that it meant the most to wound up winning.'"

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Recommended Reading: 'When Canada Shut Down' -- Via Paul Patskou

Just because the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series has come and gone it shouldn't diminish its relevance to today's NHL. This is beautifully examined in "When Canada Shut Down," a just-released book by Paul Patskou, Sean Mitton, and Alexander Braverman.

Team Russia '72 goalie Vladislav Tretiak, now head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, says this about European NHLers: “They had never been invited before. We opened that window. And this cascade of great players appeared on the scene because Canadians realized that, while hockey exists in Canada and North America, European hockey also counts.”

The book also provides insights into today's Russian players from the most unlikely of sources. "Alexei Kotchekov, equipment manager for Team Russia in 1972, spilled a secret about one of today’s biggest NHL stars, Andrei Vasilevskiy. In an interview, Kotchekov revealed that Tampa Bay’s 'Big Cat' catches with his weaker, non-dominant hand."

"When Canada Shut Down" dutifully covers the historical record of the eight-game series, which Canada won by taking the final three contests in Moscow. But most fun is the book's wealth of lesser-known gems. Like the Canadian fan who got into a Moscow bar fight, watched Game Seven from his jail cell, and was escorted by police to Game Eight.. And how Paul Patskou rescued lost Summit Series footage from a basement apartment - for a $3,000 payoff.

As for the book's title. It's estimated that 18 million Canadians watched the decisive Game Eight; that comes to 81% of the country's population. That's why September 28, 1972, is known as the day "When Canada Shut Down."

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I'm Just Sayin'

* Gabe Klassen is a Junior to watch. The Portland Winterhawks forward already has six goals in two games and will be Draft eligible.

* Mamas; don't let your babies grow up to be left wings. A study says right-shooting forwards score 7% more than lefties. (Thanks, Mike Rubin.)

* One Sabre I'd love on my team is Alex Tuch.

* Speaking of the Swords, Buffalo News columnist Mike Harrington offers this:

"This is an unusual Sabres training camp with a mostly set roster but an uncertain path." (Me? I'm a Kyle Okposo fan.)

* Calling all goalie coaches: Accolades await those who solve short-side goals from "impossible" angles. Sealing the near post was standard operating procedure until netminders started playing on their knees. (Thanks Mike 2X.)

* I often wonder whether diligent players overdue it with their off-season training. 

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Big Question: Does Tampa Have it In Them For Another Long Cup Run?

Big Answer: Attrition -- including their most recent run to the Final -- aging and diminished motivation will detour their hopes. Emphatic answer:

No, No, and NO!

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Behind Ed Snider's Decision to Create the Broad Street Bullies

During a one-on-one interview I had with the Flyers' boss when he still ran Philly's sextet, he pinpointed the reason why he demanded a tougher team that became notorious throughout the hockey world.

"We were getting pushed around in those first few seasons." Snider told me, "and I said, 'Enough is enough and we're gonna be the aggressors, not the other teams.'"

Author Alan Bass picked up on the theme in his new biography, "Ed Snider, The Last Sports Mogul."

And that prompted me to discuss two more Snider-related topics with Bass"

The Bullies and their Image in Philadelphia

It helped hockey’s popularity in the Philadelphia region, which is all that it needed to do. Ed did not care what others thought of his team – so long as he and the fans could be proud of them. The Broad Street Bullies to me are less about fighting and more about passion, grit, and the willingness to fight for your city and teammates. Ed understood this and perhaps personified it more than anyone else in Philadelphia history. The fact that Philadelphia still has a love affair with those Flyers teams of the 70s speaks volumes to how much Ed understood the city. And let’s not forget that the “Broad Street Bullies” had three Hall of Famers and a Hall of Fame coach on their roster! You can fight all you want, but they still had to score goals.

Character Traits that Made Snider so Successful

Ed’s passion has to be number one. One of his mantras was that money is the reward, not the reason. No matter how much money you’re making, you have to love what you do and, if you do it correctly, the money will follow. Up until the day he died, Ed woke up every day fiery and passionate about his Flyers and the entire company he ran. It energized him. When he was in his late 70s, a Flyers beat writer asked him when he would retire. He narrowed his eyes and said, “What else would you like me to do, grow flowers?” 

Snider's Super Intelligence

His wisdom with numbers (he was a CPA) allowed him to really view complex business scenarios very easily. He could take a stack of papers and peruse them in just a few minutes, understanding every piece of it. It would be impossible to grow the businesses he did without that level of intelligence. 

The Importance of Loyalty

Ed's loyalty to those who worked for him is something that some can point to as a weakness, and there certainly were times when his loyalty blinded him to some major issues within his company, both with the Flyers and in Spectacor/Comcast-Spectacor as a whole. But he would give everything to those that gave to him. He understood that those Flyers players of the 70s were the reason he saw any success at all with the team. Because of that, he was always and forever willing to do anything for them, most of which was never reported. If you gave everything to Ed and his companies, he would give everything in return.

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Who Said It? 

"When everybody skates, everything comes easier." 

(ANSWER BELOW.)

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This is Worth Rooting For

*Alex Stalock, who successfully battled myocarditis. Now he's battling pucks as the Blackhawks' backup goaltender. "What I learned in hockey," says Stalock, "is that anything can change in a day?"

* Jack Eichel has been microscoped enough. Let's hope he plays to his potential in Vegas.

* David Quinn: If you believe he got the short end of the stick from the Rangers, root for the good guy to succeed in San Jose.

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Let's Not Forget the Late Jim Johannson

For nearly two decades, the Rochester, Minnesota native graced USA Hockey's hierarchy. His visionary efforts led to both record-breaking success on the international stage for Uncle Sam at all levels, not to mention throughout America.

A recent USA Hockey posthumous Hall of Famer, Jim played collegiate hockey at the University of Wisconsin.

Before joining USA Hockey he played professionally in Europe, not to mention seven years in the IHL that included stops in Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee. (119-160-279 over 374 games played).

He eventually joined USA Hockey as manager of international activities and U.S. Olympic Committee Relations and moved up the ladder to Assistant Director Of Hockey Operations.

A beloved figure in the hockey community and beyond, Johnson died unexpectedly in 2018 at the age of 53 just weeks before the 2018 Winter Olympics where he was slated to lead the U.S. Olympic Men's ice hockey team as g.m. 

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Yays and Boos

Yay to Mason Marchment for a super two-goal exhibition start to the Stars' preseason in a win. I like Double M to carry a lot of Dallas' offense.

Boo to Tory Krug's critics who keep having him "traded." Leave the guy alone and let him lead the Blues.

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Help is On the Way for Ailing Kraken Offense:

Our ace in Seattle, Glenn (Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella) Dreyfuss refuses to be daunted by negativism re his colorful Kraken. Here's his latest X-Ray from

Pike's Place (fish) Market:

GM Ron Francis said his prime offseason job was addressing a lack of offense. "There were a lot of nights we outworked the other team, we outshot the other team, we just couldn't outscore the other team," The Boss observed.

Francis is expecting reinforcements from many sources. He signed free agent winger Andre Burakovsky from Colorado, and traded picks to Columbus for winger Oliver Bjorkstrand. "And having Matty (Berniers) in for the full season, he's the real deal. Having (Jaden) Schwartz and (Brandon) Tanev back healthy. It adds a lot of different names to our forward group."

They may be fortified by rookie Shane Wright, selected fourth overall in the 2022 draft. 

"It's funny, because I said to my staff about three days before the draft, I think we can get Shane Wright. And they said, no, I don't think so." Francis figured the Canadiens and Devils would draft for need, which wasn't at center. "And then the question was, which (center) does Arizona pick? When they picked Logan Cooley, there was Shane Wright, so we were pretty excited to add him to our mix."

Francis may not be finished."We have $1.86 million left under the cap, without even putting (injured goalie) Chris Driedger on LTI. So we could actually pick up an extra $3.5 million if we need it. If something comes available, we're certainly not afraid to act on it." (Nor wll Gorgeous Glenn be afraid to write about it!

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? 

Hall of Famer Henri Richard, discussing the value of speed in terms of winning.

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