THINGS TO THINK ABOUT AS THE PLAYOFFS BEGIN
1. With the one-two (Marc-Andre Fleury-Cam Talbot) goalie punch, Minnesota enters the postseason with more netminding flexibility than most teams.
2. Minny coach Dean Evason's toughest decision: who to start in goal. (I'd go with Fleury.)
3. Heading into the first round, the non-McDavid who's gonna make a huge difference for Edmonton will be Zach Hyman. What a gorgeous Ken Holland get!
4. Prediction; This will be the most exciting first round in NHL history.
5. If the Leafs win the first round, the entire City of Toronto will rise at least ten feet off the earth.
6. Should the Leafs win The Cup, Canada's capital will be moved from Ottawa to Hogown On The Lake.
A GALAXY OF PLAYOFF PREVIEWS.
With or without crystal balls, ouija boards or tea leaves, everyone has a right to predict the 2022 Stanley Cup winner. You can pick one or a backup if you will since there's no charge.
Naturally, I lean on a guy who's been around. Glenn (Chico) Resch has been a player, Cup-winner, coach and most recently radio analyst for the Devils.
"Either Colorado, Minnesota or Tampa Bay will win it," says Chico. "My 'Long Shots' are Carolina and St.Louis. The factors will be depth, top-end talent and goaltending."
When I reminded Glenn that he should have included the Rangers, he came back with this: "Once again, you're thinking with your beard not your head. The Rangers need to play the right opponent in each series. In some ways, they're not in control of their destiny. They need Devine scheduling or their shirts will be more than blue. It will be their hearts."
ANOTHER OBJECTIVE PLAYOFF PREDICTION
USHL president-commissioner Bill Robertson is as objective as they come so I figured, he'd be the go-to-guy for playoff predictions. Here goes:
East Favorites: Bruins, Canes, Rangers and Toronto.
East Sleepers: Bolts and Panthers.
West Favorites: Avs, Flames, Wild.
West Sleeper: St.Louis
Top Goalies: Shesterkin, Markstrom, Andersen (if healthy).
Best D-men: Makar, Josi, Hedman.
Best Forwards: McDavid, Matttews, Kaprizov.
Cup-Winner: Flames. "They're high-scoring, physical and don't give up many goals."
ADAM GRAVES LIKES THE RANGERS CUP CHANCES
A member of the Blueshirts 1994 championship team, Adam Graves sees a similarity between the current New York challengers and the outfit Mark Messier led to the title 28 years ago. Here's Adam:
"For starters, there's the goaltending. We were spoiled by having Mike Richter -- and more recently Henrik Lundqvist -- and now they're getting top work from Igor Shesterkin and Alex Georgiev
"Our defense was solid and now with (Norris Trophy-winner) Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren, they've got depth on the back end. Meanwhile, K'Andre Miller and Braden Schneider have been improving game by game."
Graves points out that New York's power play and penalty kill rank near the best in the league. The trade deadline moves impressed him no end.
"A catch like Andrew Copp -- via Winnipeg-- has added to the character and depth of the team," Graves adds."Let's face it, this club is one of the youngest and most exciting in the league."
But it's a veteran such as Chris Kreider -- his goal total is 52 -- who can make or break the Blueshirts when they take on Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
Graves: "Kreider's dedication and commitment to making himself the best player he can be is second to none. All the success Chris has gotten so far has come from hard work and dedication" (Thanks to Max Fineman for his fine help on this item.)
THE MAVEN'S CRAZY PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
RANGERS OVER PITT IN 5: Blueshirts have the goaltending.
PANTHERS OVER CAPS IN 4: Even with Ovie, no chance!
LEAFS OVER BOLTS IN SIX: This is Toronto's year.
BRUINS OVER CANES IN 7: Minus Fred Andersen; minus a W.
FLAMES OVER STARS IN 6: Better balance and better goalie.
WILD OVER BLUES IN 7: Every game could go to OT.
OILERS OVER KINGS IN 4: Eddies got hot at the right time.
PREDATORS OVER AVS IN 7: There has to be one upset. No?
A ZANY LIST FROM A SOBER THINKER
Joel Cohen, who covers the Canes for me in Carolina, leaps out of the box with the following list. I predict that you'll disagree with 97 percent of his calls. Check 'em out.
Most Exciting Teams: Senators, Sabres, Red Wings.
Most Exciting Players: Cole Caufield and Brady Tkachuk.
What No One Saw Happening: Jeff Skinner scoring 33 goals and 29 assists for Buffalo.
Most Exciting Part of Watching A Hurricanes Game: Coach Rod
Brind'Amour getting angry!
REFUELING WINNIPEG'S JETS:
Like the Panthers in Florida, the Jets in Winnipeg were shaken by a coaching change. Joel Quenneville exited on October 28th and was replaced by Andrew Brunette. Already a hot club, the Cats sizzled even more under Handy Andy.
By contrast, when Paul Maurice decided that he had enough last December 17th, g.m. Kevin Cheveldayoff moved Dave Lowry into the hot seat. The Jets, picked to finish second right behind Colorado, are out in the cold.
"Lowry wasn't able to get an offensively talented roster to find enough consistency," wrote Pierre LeBrun in The Athletic. "I think you'll see the Jets opt for a coaching change."
Actually, Chevvy has no choice. He supplied Lowry with all the goods starting with top-flight goaltending and a formidable attacking unit.
Considering that the Jets swept Connor McDavid & Co. out of the playoffs last spring, Winnipeg needs a jolt or three in changes to compensate for this season's woeful result.
THE PLAYERS VOTE -- ARE THEY KIDDING, OR WHAT?
It's very clever of the NHL Players' Association to annually conduct a poll of its members about assorted individual achievements.
Like most of you out in Hockeyland, I perused the list with an open mind.
And when I got through it, I immediately wondered if the players voted with an open mind. One of the questions asked was about goaltending. To wit: If you want to win one game, who's the one goalie you'd want?
Andrei Vaselivskiy came out on top (37.4 percent) with no objections from me. After all he's won a pair of Cups and has maintained a high level if play. But when I came to the runner-up in voting, I wondered about the year this poll was conducted.
Carey Price in second place with 13.9 percent of the vote. Really, is this some sort of a joke? Price, who has suffered through a tough year -- medically and otherwise -- has hardly played. His four-game record is 0-4, 4.03 and .853 with a bad, bad team. So why are these players voting for him in the first place.
More to the point, where's the name of Igor Shesterkin, a favorite to win the Vezina and perhaps even the Hart Trophy. The poor guy wasn't even mentioned. (And they want us to take this seriously. Gimme a break!) By the way, Marc-Andre Fleury was buried with a paltry 6.7 percent of the vote.
Leon Draisaitl won the Best Passer vote. No problem. But where's New York's Artemi Panarin on the list? Nowhere. To that, I say no fair.
My objections extend to Best Stickhandler. I'm good with Patrick Kane in first place. Then four guys follow him, but none of them happen to be Mat Barzal of the Islanders. there's no way that magician should have been totally omitted.
Finally, Sid Crosby topped the "Most Complete Player" category with Aleksander Barkov runner-up. But did the pollsters forget how to spell Mika Zibanejad? The poor guy didn't even get a tumble.
WHO SAID IT? "The best way to get the puck is to hit the man who's carrying it." (Answer Below.)
I'M JUST SAYIN'
* Very shortly Habs GM Kent Hughes will convene with interim coach Marty St.Louis about Marty becoming head coach.
* Marty's flashy start eventually gave way to a discouragingly losing run. St.Louis, with not that much leverage, will ask for big dough.
* The Predators high command deserves a whooping YAY for proving that nice guys -- as in broadcaster Terry Crisp -- finish first.
* The Preds announced a scholarship fund and a rink re-naming in honor of Crispy's 60-year career as player, coach and broadcaster.
* It's not that Moritz Seider is auditioning for "The Invisible Man" but I wonder if the Calder Trophy favorite is recognized outside of Detroit.
* You look at the Canadiens today and then reflect on what they did in last year's playoffs and which one word comes to mind? FLUKE!
* I asked Chico Resch to explain the endless number of netminder injuries.
* Chico had an eight-word answer: "Goalie injuries are definitely related to the butterfly."
* Shootout-haters can breathe easier now that the regular season is over. No doubt the boring beefs will be heard again next fall.
*My Masterton vote would go to Buffalo's goalie Craig Anderson; among other things, the best senior playing in the NHL.
* Does anyone -- especially the players -- care that Don Fehr is one summer away from being gonzo as players' union boss?
* Fehr's best replacement would be Paul Kelly, who had the gig and then was unfairly booted in a sneaky summer move by a few players when no one was looking.
HOW IRONIC CAN IT GET:
Goaltender Petr Mrazek ends up going from Raleigh to Toronto as the hope-to-be Leafs starter. Instead, he's injured for most of the season.
Meanwhile, ex-Toronto starter, Fred Andersen wins the Jennings Trophy -- with a little help from Antti Raanta -- and then gets injured pre-playoff. They do have one thing in common, according to my man in Raleigh, Joel Cohen. "They both," says Cohen, "are heavy 'butterfly'-style puckstoppers."
COMING ATTRACTIONS -- THE 'JOLTIN' ZAMBONI DRIVER
Now that our California correspondent, Joltin' Joe Dionisio, got a New York International Screenplay semi-finalist award for his "Serenade Of The Vulture," he's on to a new challenge. Joltin' Joe has been taking Zamboni lessons in Santa Barbera, California.
I kid you not and we shall have Joe reporting on it very soon.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Rangers then g.m.-coach Emile Francis in the early 1970s.)