WHO'S BETTER CONNOR MCDAVID OR AUSTON MATTHEWS? MCDAVID, BY INCHES ONLY!
My always objective Canadian correspondent, Rob Del Mundo, agreed to tackle this provocative subject. Here's his result:
For starters, hockey fans should consider themselves blessed to witness these transcendent superstars in their career primes.
It's like asking, "Would you rather drive a Porsche or a Ferrari?"
Matthews is the better sniper. He has a lightning release and an innate ability to find the corners of the net. It's easy to forget that Matthews started the year with just one goal in his first six games. He also had a five-game goal drought that was snapped in the Leafs' 82nd game, yet he became Toronto's first-ever 60-goal scorer.
By contrast, McDavid is the better playmaker. He finished among the top three assists leaders in each of the past six seasons, twice finishing first in that category.
He can accelerate into -- seemingly -- another gear, possessed by no other player. As for the awards, McDavid has four Art Ross Trophies while Matthews has two Maurice Richard trophies. Also, McDavid leads the Hart Trophy race, two to one, although Matthews is the defending winner.
In the end, the edge goes to McDavid as the more complete player.
Mind you, that's no disrespect to Matthews who has plenty of time to catch up.
A DIFFERENT LOOK AT BELIVEAU AND LAFLEUR AS AMBASSADORS
We all know that the Canadiens icons, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, gave new meaning to excellence on the ice. But there was another aspect to their greatness. On the superb Paul Patskou "Hockey Time Machine," NHL.com historian Dave Stubbs rarely looked at the pair as hockey ambassadors. Here's what dauntless Dave told Paul.
"From the time that Beliveau arrived in Montreal in 1953, he answered by hand every piece of fan mail he received. He had a secretary at the Montreal Forum who forwarded the mail. He went through every single piece and would sign every single autograph.
"I once sent him a birthday card, and he sent me a thank you note for the card. Who does that? Jean had a very special way. There could be 150 people in a room, and if you had 30 seconds with Jean
Beliveau, you were the only person in the room; you had his complete, undivided attention."
Stubbs said Guy Lafleur learned well from Beliveau -- how to work a room, how to navigate a crowd.
"In 2016, Guy and I took a 24-hour round trip from Montreal to St.John's, Newfoundland. By noon, I was exhausted because everyone had a Guy Lafleur story and wanted to stop him and talk.
"We finished that night at 11 o'clock. We'd been going since 6 a.m. Guy then saw the Zamboni driver during one last surfacing of the ice.
Guy waved him over. The guy jumped off the Zamboni and over the glass. Guy posed for a couple of pictures and signed a few autographs. He told me, "My job is done when the final autograph is signed and the last picture has been taken.;"
WHO SAID IT? "If you jumped out of a plane without a parachute, would that prove you're brave?" (ANSWER BELOW)
COMEBACK KIDS FROM EACH DIVISION; TAKE YOUR PICK
Don't look now but we have a new, gung-ho reporter. Irad Chen will survey the NHL -- bottom to top -- on a regular basis. For openers, he has a compelling piece on losers-turned-winners.
Losing teams do not stay losers forever. With clever drafting and a gob of good luck, a non-playoff sextet can turn into a winner over just one season. Here are my choices:
Metro Division: New Jersey Devils. Coach Lindy Ruff will benefit from adroit moves by GM Tom Fitzgerald. Look for dividends in many sectors. For starters, I like the maturation of captain Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Add to that the leadership of newly-arrived Ondrej Palat. No question, but he'll bolster and mentor the club's still-young core.
For one who has studied the Penguins, I love the addition of John Marino. He'll add to the defense more than most critics think. I predict that within a couple of years New Jersey will have one of the best defensive units in the NHL
No team -- except perhaps the champ Avalanche -- is perfect and consequently, it bears noting that the Devs goaltending remains an issue barring a pleasant surprise. Three quick takes: 1. The most underrated move is the addition of assistant coach Andy Brunette; 2. Bold Prediction: Jesper Bratt will score 40-plus goals and 80-plus points; 3. The biggest loss: the retirement of MSG Networks' Steve Cangialosi.
Atlantic Division: Ottawa Senators. This, finally, is the Year of the Senators; an outfit a bit better than Detroit. Check the off-season deals and you'll find that GM Pierre Dorion enjoyed the best summer of any executive. He stole 40-goal man Alex DeBrincat for just Draft picks and the addition of all-purpose Claude Giroux will add vet leadership that was missing. Figure CG for 60-70 points.
Then add the likes of Tkachuk, Norris, Batherson and Stutzle and you have quite a gifted core. Cam Talbot is a big boost in the crease, The bottom six leaves something to be desired but there's still time for the determined Dorion to add one dauntless defenseman.
(NEXT ISSUE: CHEN HAS THE CENTRAL AND PACIFIC SLEEPERS)
I'M JUST SAYIN':
* Whether you agree with my longtime reporter-author Sean McCaffrey or not, here's what he told me: "Until Connor McDavid wins a Stanley Cup -- if ever -- Sidney Crosby remains the best center in the NHL."
* McCaffrey makes good points. Sid has multiple Cups while McDavid has multiple moves -- but no Stanleys!
* Vitali Kravtsov presents a compelling challenge to the Rangers brass.
* The controversial Russian could outplay challenger Kaapo Kakko at camp and take the second line right wing slot away from KK. Then what?
* Future Game To Watch: The first Flyers vs. Ducks contest will pit John Tortorella's club facing Trevor Zegras.
* The Z Man got torched by Torts for his too flamboyant play and crafty "Michigan."
* I can't wait to hear the uninhibited Zegras in a pre-game schmooze, zinging the former ESPN schmoozer.
* I liked our Adam Proteau commending Jonathan Huberdeau for his vow to donate his brain for CTE research.
* More and more, it's evident -- especially to my guy, Al Greenberg, in Florida -- why Huby was so well-liked in The Sunshine State.
* Finding the proper words to define Jonathan's likeability is a challenge. I like to call it The Huberdeau Effect.
* Credit Bettman, Inc. for its awareness of the Covid-19 challenge.
* I have the NHL's latest Covid-19 Protocol for the upcoming season. It is as detailed as a document can be.
* The theme clearly is safety first!
* Good Line From The Garden State: "Maybe -- in hindsight the Devils deserved to be criticized for passing on Cale Makar. But they sure won't be criticized for picking Luke Hughes." (Courtesy of George Falkowski.)
* Chicago's signing of vet D-man Jack Johnson means that management wisely will not rush any prospects into the blue line corps.
* Mark Scheifele says he's "excited to be back with the Jets"; which is nice.
* But I've got news for Off-The-Mark: Management will be even more "excited" if he decides to play the kind of hockey he's getting paid to play.
* The countdown has begun on Zdeno Chara telling us if he wants to play another NHL season.
* And, if yes, where? And if yes, who would want him? And why?
SLEEPY TIME AT NASSAU VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM
Sports business columnist Evan Weiner makes a good point: "Nassau County, New York politicians have a simple question: What shall we do with the Nassau Coliseum? The 50-year-old former home of the Islanders is pretty much a ghost town.
"For decades developers have wanted to recreate some of the 77 acres of property on the land that Nassau County owns where the Coliseum sits. But nothing has happened.'
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has no idea what to do with the mostly dark Old Barn. "Whether the Coliseum survives," Blakeman concludes, "is still a question but we're open-minded."
Adds Weiner: "There is another developer who wants the land but nothing has happened."
One captivating suggestion is for the Islanders to move their AHL team from Bridgeport to the Coliseum.
EDDIE OLCZYK BECOMES A BIG NHL STORY
Normally, the hire of a new hockey tv analyst is worthy of a sidebar, if that much but not when the guy happens to be the iconic Ed Olczyk.
We're talking about a fellow who dissected Chicago games for 16 years following a 1,031-game NHL career.
This summer Eddie O did a "Horace Greeley" and "went West," about as far West as one could go. I mean after Seattle there's the blue Pacific and you can't play NHL hockey in salt water.
Now that dear Edzo is part of the Seattle Kraken TV team, nobody in the world is happier than our erudite Northwest editor, Glenn (Just Look At Me Now) Dreyfuss. Here's what glowing Glenn has to say:
"For Eddie, it's a family reunion. 'I have blood in the game with the Kraken,' says Olczyk. 'My brother Ricky is assistant GM and VP working along with Ron Francis. And, my oldest son, Eddie, has been an amateur scout here for the last couple of years.'"
The eminent John Forslund will be Edzo's play-by-play man along with fellow analyst J.T. Brown, a seven-year NHL vet.
The Eddie-John tandem had been a regular team on national broadcasts. And there's still another coupling:
Olczyk: "I saw Brownie when he was aspiring to be a college hockey player. He played with my son Eddie in the USHL."
A FUNNY TALE AND A NOT-SO-FUNNY COACH
Listen to the "Squid And The ULF" podcast if you can. Chances are you'll hear a good tale or two. The following yarn comes via former Maple Leaf speedster John Anderson. (Actually it's all about his former teammate defenseman Jim McKenny when they were in the minors under coach Gerry McNamara.)
Sometimes a bit lazy, McKenny showed one day late for practice which was a major no-no with Mac. Gerry suitably chewed out Jim and the reprimand really stung. Here's how Andy finishes the story:
"Next day I see Jimmy and he's hustling to get on the ice. He was one of the few guys back then who'd put his skates on first,then his pants. So, he puts his pants on, and his skate goes clean through his pants. He rips such a hole, he couldn't put his pants on. He also was afraid that Gerry would give him crap for being late.
"So, he goes out there on the ice -- Jim never wore underwear -- and all he's got on is a garter belt, jock and his bare ass. He's skating around saying to Gerry, 'I'm on time. I'm on time!' And Gerry just busted out laughing."
BIG QUESTION: WHICH 3 PLAYERS FROM THE WORLD JUNIOR TOURNEY HAVE THE BEST CHANCE FOR THE NHL?
My avid and studious grandson, Ariel Fischler, examined the field and offers these Big Three:
1. Jasper Wallstedt: Sweden, goaltender; (Minnesota Wild.)
2. Connor Bedard, Canada., center; (2023)
3. Aatu Raty, Finland, center (New York Islanders.)
WHEN TOUGH HOCKEY WAS TOUGHER
The meanest run of hockey during the post-Expansion era took place during the 1970s when Boston's Big, Bad Bruins and Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies roamed the rinks.
But if you think that was sinister shinny, you haven't read Owen Sound historian Eric Zweig's new book.
"Engraved In History -- The Story Of The Stanley Cup Champion Kenora Thistles" is a compelling read for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Zweig's meticulous research.
Eric tells a marvelous tale of the ultimate underdog team -- Kenora -- winning the 1907 Stanley Cup. Zweig also reveals tales about games played in the bad, old days and a Montreal Wanderers team that would make the Bullies and Bruins look like Lady Byng winners. Listen up to Zweig's description of the Wanderers taking it to an Ottawa sextet:
"Baldy Spittal either brought down a two-handed stick swing or initiated a quick, short, jab of his stick, to the head of Cecil Blatchford, who was carried off the ice with blood pouring from a cut in his forehead.
"A second incident saw Alf Smith rush full speed from center ice into his own end to hit Hod Stuart in the temple with his stick. Finally Harry Smith broke the nose of Moose Johnson with a stick to the face."
The hometown Montreal Star said it all in one sentence: "They should get six months in jail is the opinion as to hockey brutalities."
And you think today's game is tough!
INTERESTING HOCKEY PEOPLE -- THE 'HIGHEST' HOCKEY FAN
At any given time, there are three things you might find 40-year-old Sean McCaffrey doing: 1. Rooting for the Rangers; 2. Writing another amazingly detailed book about the Blueshirts; or 3. Working in mid-air over Manhattan at heights that might even scare eagles.
I met McCaffrey after reading his first book, "The New York Rangers Rink Of Honor," a must for any follower of the Blueshirts. He's now finishing up another meticulously researched gem, "Tricks Of The Trade -- A Century Long Journey Through Every Trade Made In Rangers History."
But --apart from thinking about his beloved Blueshirts 26 hours a day -- that's not his real job. To earn an honest buck, he works on and with the biggest construction rigs from here to Tonkaville. It's scary work to us but not Sean who'll think nothing of fixing a crane while 14 stories up. And even then he never stops thinking about hockey.
"After I got my crane license in 2015," he recalls, "I wound up working on a rig and being 300 feet in the air. And what do you think was on my mind? Hockey! And I was wondering why (Rangers then GM Jeff Gorton allowed Marty St.Louis to retire.)"
Sean's Rangers mania began when he began breathing. His parents were MSG season ticketholders and let their lad continue the rooting.
But he had to make a buck and wound up in a pharmacy, tattoo parlor and promoting wrestling events before operating heavy equipment.
McCaffrey: "I started a BlueCollarBlueShirts.com website ten years ago because I wanted to follow my passion. I still cover the Rangers on my website but I feel a better sense of accomplishment working on a book;
"I plan to write several more history books about the Rangers. I'd also want to write a screenplay on the life of Tex Rickard, the guy who brought the Rangers into the NHL back in 1926."
During his research, he became fascinated with the original Rangers center, Hall of Famer Frank Boucher. He wrote so many columns about "Boosh" that he eventually met Boucher's granddaughter, Frankie Baird and drove to her Kemptville, Ontario home. Naturally, the Boucher Family supports McCaffrey's campaign to raise Boucher's #7 to the MSG rafters.
"The Boucher Family and I created a special friendship that continues today," Sean proudly notes.
Meanwhile, whether up on a stratospheric crane or behind a computer pounding out another Blueshirt book, Sean enthusiastically anticipates the new season with typical Rangers fan optimism.
"During my lifetime as a rooter," he concludes, "I pick the Rangers to win The Cup every year." Then a pause:
"I'm 1-40 with those predictions!"
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY: MARC STAAL: I interviewed the vet D-man even before he cracked the Rangers lineup. At that time, I liked the kid and have been impressed with him ever since. He'll be at the Panthers camp with the right attitude. To wit: "I'm excited for the heightened expectations and the expectation to win every night."
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante when asked if wearing a mask proved that he was afraid.