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Fischler Report: MacKinnon vs. McDavid - Matching Money vs. Magic

Stan Fischler shares thoughts on how Nathan MacKinnon's next contract might compare to McDavid's, the New York Rangers heading into 2022-23, how the New York Islanders can surprise, a chat with Jay Feaster and much more.
Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid

MACKINNON VS. MCDAVID -- MATCHING $ VS. MAGIC

I don't know whether to laugh or cry; you tell me.

So, I turned to my throbbing Sportsnet page and what do I see but a "provocative" -- or so they think -- question:

Is Cup-winner Nathan MacKinnon going to top His Lordship, Connor McDavid, as "the highest-paid player in hockey?"

I swallowed an aspirin and then thought about this -- for two seconds -- and then thought to myself out loud: "IS THIS A QUESTION THAT I AS A HOCKEY FAN, OR YOU, AS A HOCKEY FAN, SHOULD WORRY ABOUT?"

Naturally, the Sportsnet geniuses do not have an answer to this self-styled dollar derby, It simply comes to maybe yes, maybe no; who knows? Good-bye!

Then again, maybe I should just get used to this greedy -- who gets more? -- talk.

But -- I tell you this in all seriousness -- if that's what King Connor is worried about, I do feel sorry for him! (Frankly, I'm sure, he's above it all.)

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WHY THE RANGERS SHOULD BEWARE OF HYPER-OPTIMISM

A year ago the Blueshirts were the talk of the drowned; picked to be somewhere down in the NHL depths; doomed to miss the playoffs.

But it was the doomsayers who choked on their predictions. The New Yorkers not only made the playoffs, but they also came darn close to making the Cup Final.

This makes this young, hustling club the talk of the town, if not the continent.

Rangers fans are doing cartwheels of optimism, eager for the fun to start.

But, whoa! There's one Blueshirt chronicler who doubles as a fan and is managing to curb his enthusiasm. The would be the one and only Sean McCaffrey, author of "One Game At A Time -- A Season To Remember."

Here's McCaffrey's take on his team:

While I have a ton of confidence in Chris Drury and Gerard Gallant, their sophomore outing won't be as easy as their first. Drury lost some good ones but added center Vincent Trocheck.as a way to offset his Salary Cap-driven losses. He then added Louis Domingue, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Carpenter, Gustav Nydahl and Turner Elson.

The key for the Rangers is the growth of their younger players. Alexis Lafreniere has shown improvement, showing he could hang with the big boys. He's got to follow up that performance. Meanwhile, Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko will be relied on to take the next steps. Thus far, for that trio, this trip has been more disappointing than impressive. They must step-up, big-time.

Then there's promising D-man Braden Schneider who has to avoid the sophomore jinx, assuming that such a thing exists.

The Drury-Gallant duet needs a perfect mix of veterans and young players. If Kakko, Kravtsov and/or Chytil can't turn it on, the general staff will have to rely on veterans such as Dryden Hunt, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves to shoulder the load.

Defensively the Rangers have their top five spots locked up with the sixth one still to be filled.

But when all's said and done, the Blueshirt season will rest on the play of Vezina Trophy-winner Igor Shesterkin. He'll determine how far the Rangers go.

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COMPARING CHAMPS -- WHO'S BETTER 2022 AVS OR 2018 CAPS?

Andre Burakovsky played for Stanley Cup-winning Washington and the current defending champion Avalanche. And, yes, thanks to our Seattle savant, Glenn Dreyfuss, Andre picks a winner between the two title teas. Listen up:

"We are talking about two completely different outfits. Our team in Colorado was the better club. Every single line was dominant -- especially our first line. Plus, our fourth line dominated the other team's fourth line.

"What stood out for our 2018 Washington team was that everyone was so close to each other. We all took care of each other; everyone. It was like being part of a very close family. Now that I'm going to be playing for Seattle, I want to bring that family environment to the Kraken because I've seen that it can go a long way in making a champion."

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ISLES CAN SURPRISE

The Islanders have taken a few gratuitous kicks in the pants from journalists who, themselves, never have to pay hockey players too much $, while getting too little in return.

Lou Lamoriello has played a patient waiting game, already benefiting from addition by subtraction. That is, the two aged defensemen -- Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara -- are gone; a big plus right there -- and the Isles D now ranks with the league's best. Ditto the goaltending tandem of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. While Lamoriello didn't overpay for one of the free agents -- and rue the move two years later -- he could be better off with a young stud such as Finnish whiz, Aatu Raty.

The bromide you're often better off with the deal you didn't make could hold for the Isles. Plus, there won't be a 13-game road trip to open the season. A more balanced schedule also should help them. 

The Isles were badly hit by COVID and forced to dress weak lineups for several games before the NHL began postponing games.

And while this may sound sacrilegious, the fresh, younger Lane Lambert could emerge as a better coach for the Nassaumen than his mentor, BarryTrotz. That's not impossible. I'll close with the insightful words of my sage pal, Gus Vic: "I would not put it past Lou to pull off his sleight of hand and see the Isles back in a playoff spot."

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* A big unfulfilled gap on 2022-23 ESPN hockey will be John Tortorella's absence.

* One critic put ESPN's challenge this way: "You can't invent a new Torts."

* Meanwhile, the up-and-comer at the network is Ryan Callahan, the next Ray Ferraro.

* Mailbox: "McDavid and Matthews may be the present and future, but I'll take Crosby over either of them." Sean McCaffrey.

* Sean, pal, you won't hear from Connor nor Auston. But a "Thank You" card from sentimental Sid could be in the mail. (Just don't bet on it.)

* Kevin Allen of Detroit Hockey Now asks, "Is There A Future For Mike Babcock?"

There should be another NHL gig for the old (59) maestro of mayhem.

* Problem for Babs is that he now has to get in line behind Barry Trotz, Travis Green and Rick Tocchet.

* Since ESPN needs a solid replacement for John Tortorella, Babcock would be a good choice.

* Check out Mike Stephens' neat Hockey News piece on "Top UFA's 27 And Under" and tell me why nobody has pulled in Sonny Milano.

* Department of Smart and Smarter: The Devils new MSG Networks play-by-play guy Bill Spaulding sent a letter to all Devils fans telling them how pleased he is to be broadcasting to them.

* The beauty part is that it came from Bill's heart.

* Since the Coyotes' new home will be called the Mullett Arena -- named after the Mullett Family benefactors -- the club's mascot should wear a mullett. No? Yes? (Thanks, Sean.)

* It was the Predators who turned Nashville into a top sports town. Major League Baseball finally has wised up and will have a team in Music City in five years.

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BIG QUESTION: HOW DO YOU MAKE ANALYTICS WORK?

Gerry Meehan has the answer.

The Sabres 30-goal scoring captain and later g.m. has seen it all and insists that a hybrid approach be taken. "Analytics is not new," Gerry told our Glenn Dreyfuss on a recent Hockey Time Machine. "The difference is that we have it delivered in warp speed and in multiple forms."

Meehan, who sees things clearly and sees them whole, currently is developing a series of courses with the University of Buffalo School of Engineering. "The topic," says Dreyfuss, "is how data analytics intrudes into team management, scouting, roster development, player representation and contract negotiations."

Meehan: "I'm comfortable with analytics, as long as it's used appropriately. Technology, the eye test, video review -- all of these things have a role to play in roster evaluation."

Meehan insists that analytics can expose nuances that the eye test might miss. He adds, "Players who are good on faceoffs, on possession, who hold the puck under pressure; and giving a read on goalie performance than save percentage alone can provide."

But there are analytic pitfalls; ergo: the limitation without context can create a misleading impression of a player's effectiveness.

Dreyfuss: "He cites one player's 'giveaway' stats. He said, 'They don't seem to understand that when I dump the puck out of my own zone off the glass, I may be relieving my team from offensive pressure, in a way that allowed them to recover the puck in the neutral zone.'"

Meehan's solution goes this way: "That's where the hockey guys need to come into the system and say, 'That's actually not a giveaway. It could be a good play.'

The goal would be to find that person (within the front office) who can understand the value of analytics, and have a feel for the game."

Ergo: There's a good job out there for someone!

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Yay Boo

YAYS AND BOOS:

YAY TO BILL DALY'S ANNOUNCEMENT ABOUT THE WORLD CUP: The NHL and NHL Players' Association are uniting to make a 2024 World Cup a reality. I always feel better when Bettman, Inc. and the union combine for a good cause.

"We're moving full steam ahead," Daly told NHL.com's Dan Rosen.

BOO TO FOES OF THE SHOOTOUT: Since hockey is a skill sport; what's wrong with a "Skills Competition" as topping? Absolutely nothing. Nada! Period! I love the Shootout.

YAY TO JOHN TORTORELLA FOR THE FOLLOWING COMMENT: "I don't like using the word culture!" Good for Torts. I can't stand that word; it's been beaten to death and does anyone really know what the heck it means?

BOO TO CRITICS OF THE COYOTES TEMPORARY HOME: Okay, it's small, so what? The same naysayers made fun of the Lightning's temporary homes but who's got the last laugh now?

YAY TO KYLE TURRIS FOR A SWEET NOTE TO FANS: On his retirement, Turris received a ton of neat fan mail. Good man that he is, Kyle reciprocated with a "Thank You" of his own.

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WHO SAID IT? "I wasn't disappointed by the turnout for the practice. I was disappointed with the turnout for the game." (ANSWER BELOW.)

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DIDJA KNOW? THE NHL'S BROOKLYN AMERICANS NEVER PLAYED A GAME IN BROOKLYN

Red Dutton, who ran the Amerks in the 1941-42 season, had hoped to build a new arena exactly where Barclay's Center now sits in the borough's Downtown section. He was tired of sharing Madison Square Garden with the Rangers but had no choice but to remain at MSG. But because massive enlistments decimated his club in World War II, Dutton was forced to disband the team for the duration of the war. In 1945, when Red reapplied for membership, he was rejected by NHL owners. The Brooklyn Americans in 1941-42 played all their home games at the Garden. The players lived in Brooklyn and practiced at the Brooklyn Ice Palace, which was not far from where Barclay's is now.

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INTERESTING HOCKEY PEOPLE -- JAY FEASTER ON HOW TO BUILD A WINNER OFF THE ICE (PART ONE)

When the Tampa Bay Lightning won their first Stanley Cup in 2004 coach John Tortorella got the most headlines among the general staffers. But the architect of that championship team was its general manager Jay Feaster.

Since then the likable Pennsylvanian turned his talents to developing hockey in the Florida community and did it big-time. Now senior VP of legal and business affairs for the Vinik Sports Group, Jay has taken time out to explain how he grew the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg community, and environs, into a hockey paradise.

HOW FEASTER BUILT HOCKEY IN AREAS AWAY FROM AMALIE ARENA: "It was thanks to the largesse of the NHL and the NHLPA, through the Industry Growth Fund grants and our incredible owner, Jeff Vinik, who -- in addition to his financial contributions to IGF also put added money into our "Build The Thunder" program.

"Starting with the 2015-16 season, we distributed in excess of 200,000 Lightning logoed street hockey sticks and balls to Elementary and Middle School students in the 5-county region surrounding Amalie Arena. And we visited 1,000 schools distributing complete sets of street hockey gear to those schools at no cost while also providing them with a P.E. street hockey curriculum. We helped them form competitive leagues and after-school enrichment programs."

DEVELOPING RINKS: "We created a Lightning Made Training Center with two 30 by 60 "Rinks." where children and adults could play street hockey and we worked with local county, municipal and city governments and Parks and Recreation Departments to construct ten 60-by-120 feet outdoor rinks complete with Lightning Alumni-led clinics and leagues."

NHL INVOLVEMENT: Other programs we made a priority included NHL league-wide opportunities. They include "Learn To Play." We then created a "next steps" program called "Rookie League" to keep youngsters playing until they decide to commit fully to Recreational Leagues or Travel Hockey. Speaking of the NHL, those "pretty good" NHL teams that Steve Yzerman and Julien BriseBois iced -- and Jon Cooper coached -- enabled us to have great success growing the game. Our stated goal is to "grow the game at all levels." Seeing the number of registered USA Hockey Players more than double in the Tampa region since 2015-16 is how we measure our success. We want to see more and more children (and adults) playing and falling in love with our great game."

GM SKILLS HE USED TO BUILD COMMUNITY HOCKEY IN THE BAY AREA: They included honesty, integrity, authenticity and a passion for the game. I managed the Community Hockey Department the same way I managed in Hershey in the AHL and Tampa and Calgary in the NHL. I always believe in hiring great people, providing them with the resources they need to succeed, and then getting out of the way and allowing them to thrive. I also have their backs. I tell them that if we succeed, I'll give you the credit. If we don't then I'll take the responsibility/blame.

(NEXT ISSUE: HOW JAY'S BOO, OWNER JEFF VINIK, HELPED GROW THE GAME.)

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Larry Robinson, the Kings coach, on an optional practice -- for which few players showed up -- before the team lost their next game.

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