THERE SHALL BE NO BREAKS FOR THE KRAKEN THIS YEAR – NONE
Normally an expansion team struggling to be competitive can expect a few breaks from media critics and the fans.
But that honeymoon ended with a thud when the rookie Vegas Golden Knights gave the rest of the NHL a collective case of lockjaw by galumphing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Thus, it was perfectly natural for the well-publicized and well-funded Seattle Kraken to be compared to the be-knighted ones from Sin City. The thinking was basic enough – if Vegas can do it, why not The Jewel Of The Northwest?
Last year's Hockey News' Yearbook actually picked baby Seattle to finish ahead of such mature franchises as Anaheim and San Jose.
Not this time. Writing in THN, Seattle Times hockey guy Geoff Baker has dropped the Kraken one slot – the Sharks swim last once more – but that's just the least of it.
Echoing what may be a league-wide feeling, no crocodile tears have been shed over Seattle failing to get close to .500 hockey. Baker speaks of the cracked-up Kraken of last year in tough terms.
"The goaltending was subpar," writes Baker, "the scoring was abysmal and the sluggish defense was prone to costly mistakes." And then a harsh report on the result. "The early local Kraken buzz has worn off."
And if you believe that, it means GM Ron Francis has his hands full, because nobody's around to give him a handout. Those NHL days went out with Vegas in the final.
What's more, if the goaltending was subpar a season ago, why would vastly overpaid Philipp Grubauer be any better the second time around?
Granted, the additions of Oliver Bjorkstrand and wunderkinds Matty Beniers and Shane Wright should give the infantry more pizazz. But if Adam Larsson is ranked at the top of the defense depth chart, well, not good – not good at all.
Coach Dave Hakstol has been around long enough to know that if he can't get his machine from first to third gear pretty fast, the tall man behind the GM desk will not fool around.
Certainly not with the likes of Geoff Baker moving the Missouri theme out to Washington State: Show me, pal, SHOW ME!
DON'T REWARD THE PENALIZED TEAM – EVER
Sometimes hockey logic defies credulity.
This fact of ice life recently was brought to my attention by a fellow who both plays and teaches our favorite sport.
My longtime pal, confidante and consultant, Joltin' Joe Dionisio, is California's version of a hockey maven. His home base is the very nice 'Ice In Paradise' arena of Santa Barbara where the Joltin' D poses a harsh, sensible question:
"Why does the NHL reward a team for taking a penalty?" Dionisio wonders out loud.
"At 5-on-5, it's illegal to ice the puck. But if your club commits a foul – which, it's worth noting, is inherently a blight on game excitement because most penalties impede skilled players – then the shorthanded team is gifted with the option to ice the puck without repercussion.
"It's the very definition of illogic. That's like imprisoning a bank robber, yet telling him he can keep the money as a reward for his crime. No wonder that episode of Law & Order doesn't exist."
Joltin' Joe's justice makes sense to me and Joe. How about you?
WHO SAID IT? "Ten more seconds and I can clobber somebody." (ANSWER BELOW.)
A BOLD CUP PREDICTION BY AN ACTIVE HOCKEY PLAYER. NIX TO THE AVS
Skating for Switzerland's Thun team in the under-20 category, Ariel Fischler is a constant and keen reviewer of the NHL scene. He's also the proud Maven's grandson. Here he goes out on a limb predicting the 2023 finalists and eventual new Cup champ. Shockingly, the defending champion Avs are not one of the teams. Read on and see why:
"Coming out of the East, I like – surprise, surprise – the Columbus Blue Jackets. State of Ohio, buckle up because you’re in for one heck of a ride thanks to GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Check out his well-balanced roster and you'll see why I like them.
"One of my favorites, right winger Jakub Voracek, has always been more than dependable. He had 56 assists and 62 points last season, and Jack Roslovic, the hometown kid, produced 22 goals, totalling 45 points. Very gifted Patrik Laine is looking for a bounce-back season, although he still managed 26 goals.
"Then, there's the new headliner who'll put them over the top.
" 'Johnny Hockey' is in town and the fans won’t have a frown. Gaudreau enjoyed a productive-plus last season – 40 red lights and 115 points – not to mention his mighty fine plus-64. And let's not forget promising young center Kent Johnson (fifth overall in 2021) who could be a sleeper for the Calder.
"The BJ's trick now is to develop chemistry, and coach Brad Larsen will solve that equation, especially since his staff has returned intact.
What's more, the club's defensive unit is admirable – I particularly like Adam Boqvist who had 22 points in 52 games – as well as the ever-productive Zach Werenski who tallied 48 points in 2021-22 and could vie for the Norris Trophy this coming semester.
"Between the pipes, the Jackets are solid enough with Elvis Merzlikins as the starter and Joonas Korpisalo as the backup. Yeah, there may be some issues in the crease, but I remain high on Elvis.
"Out West – or Midwest, if you will – Billy Guerin's Wild are my dark horse winner. I see them being paced by – who else? – Kirill Kaprizov who totalled 108 points last season.
"Check out the well-balanced offense. Start with Mats Zuccarello who finished last season with 24 goals and 79 points, not too bad for a 35-year-old. Ryan Hartman delivered 34 goals and a hefty plus-31. I also like left winger Jordon Greenway's fierce edge as well as Joel Eriksson Ek and young buck Matt Boldy who's looking at a breakout season after a relatively smooth jump to The Show.
"The D is led by Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and tough Matt Dumba. Brodin picked up 30 points in 73 games last year along the way. They'll be backed by Marc-Andre Fleury who I seriously believe still has the championship goods as well as motivation. Granted, he's a bit of a gamble, but I'll take that one.
"No question but that Dean Evason – he finished fourth in the Jack Adams Award voting – is the right man at the right time to lead Minny's Cup parade. Let's not forget that Evason was runner-up for the Adams in 2020-21.
"The Kaprizov-Fleury-Spurgeon-Evason-Guerin combination inspire me to pick Minny to pick up the June marbles, shaped in the form of a Stanley Cup!"
YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY
The prevailing opinion since I started covering the NHL was that Canadiens icon Jacques Plante was the first goaltender to actively pass the puck to teammates heading on the attack. But now I learn that, no, it was not Plante.
Avid researcher and historian Jeff Miclash points out that "many" netminders from the 1930s employed stickhandling as an offensive weapon.
Jeff's book, Total Bruins, 1929-39, makes it clear that Boston's Hall of Fame goalie Tiny Thompson was decades ahead of Plante The Passer.
"Thompson would regularly trap a shot," wrote Miclash, "drop the puck to one side and feed a pass to start a Bruins attack."
Remarkably, during an exhibition game with Providence on Feb. 27, 1931, Thompson took his knack a step further.
Miclash: "Tiny broke up a Reds rush at center ice, deked a defender and fired the puck past astonished goalie Mickey Murray."
DIDJA KNOW? THE ONE PLACE WHERE WAYNE GRETZKY WAS NOT A STAR
The Great One's first pro team was the World Hockey Association's Indianapolis Racers. Still a skinny teenager in a nondescript outfit, Gretzky played only eight games for Indy. Writing in The Athletic, author Bob Kravitz headlined his piece:
"Before Wayne Gretzky Was 'The Great One,' He Made People In Indianapolis Ask, 'Who's that?''
Kravitz's piece details everything about The Pre-Great One, including his education at Broad Ripple High School. But Wayne remained a virtual unknown right up to the Racers folding.
"His impact was muted," noted Kravitz. "Gretzky was a bit of a curiosity, but outside the insular world of hockey, nobody really knew who he was or what he eventually would be."
LETTERS – A GENUINE MAPLE LEAFS FAN HAS SOMETHING HARSH TO SAY
The author of the following letter is legitimate but has pleaded for anonymity. And so it shall be granted only because his missive comes from the heart. Here's how a lifetime Leafs fan feels about his team.
"As a long (eternal) suffering Torontonian and Leafs fan, I've had to endure Harold Ballard, a complacent/complicit media, a deluded, fantasizing fanbase and about 600 goaltenders of various skill sets and neuroses.
"But perhaps nothing has frustrated me as much as the 'Kyle Dubas era', 'Shanaplan' and whatever other epithet/expletive one can use. Baseball's MoneyBall ethos was arguably a sham; MoneyPuck is a definite scam. In the quixotic attempt to use advanced analytics to gain an advantage, Dubas has failed to understand that any quantitative system is only as good as the quality of its inputs.
"Dubas (and, for some strange reason, Shanahan) decided that he knew better than the accumulated wisdom of a century of professional hockey:
"Checking, Hard Hits? Feh! Better to just positionally 'guide' the offensive player out of the play.
"Slapshots from the point? Feh! Better to shoot the more controllable and accurate snap or wrister from 60 feet away.
"Clear opposing players from your own net? Feh! You might get a penalty.
"Field a team of big bruisers along with some speedy small darting forwards? Feh! Since other teams prize power forwards and defensemen, the smaller players must be undervalued. A team of Yvan Cournoyers would surely reign supreme.
"Of course, this Dubas MoneyPuck system can work in a regular season, especially when Matthews and Marner star up front for you. But the playoffs are another matter.
"If you don't hit the other team hard, and yes, occasionally, risk being placed out of position, pretty soon the other team will not fear you and you will fear them and cough up the puck too quickly. In a playoff series, hard hits are cumulative and by the end of a series, inevitably, pay off.
"If you never shoot slappers, the opposing team will inevitably begin blocking every shot they can.
"If you never clear opposing players from the net, your goalie will be screened, will lose rebounds and inevitably, get 'run' by the Tom Wilsons of the world.
"If you field a team of shrimps, who are more Alex Kerfoot than Marcel Dionne talent-wise, you will get pushed around and you will lose.
"On the other hand, Dubas does sport nice eyewear!"
A RANGERS FAN CLUB IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PLACE – THE HOLY LAND
The most distant NHL fan club in the universe is located in the city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. That geographic oddity is matched by the fact that all members of this Rangers Fan Club are 54 years or older. Member Mark Tobin – originally from Great Neck, Long Island – remembers how the distant rooting outfit came about.
"We were a bunch of middle-aged friends from the same part of town and all Ranger fans. In 2015, we wanted to have an outlet to talk about our favorite team. And since there's no sports radio here in Israel, we became our own talk show."
Members include 60-year-old rock musician Lenny Solomon, lawyer David Glass, 54, and Jon Brody, 58, an actuary.
"The whole point," said Brody, "is to schmooze about the Rangers."
Because of the time difference – Noon in New York is 7 p.m. in Israel – the games start at 2 a.m. in Beit Shemesh.
"I have NHL GameCenter," said Lenny Solomon, "and pride myself on watching at least part of each regular season game. I look forward to the 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. starts in the States, which are 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. here in Israel."
David Glatt said he'd only watch a game at 2 a.m. "if it was a playoff contest."
There are Islanders, Devils and Penguins rooters who I happen to know here in Israel, but none of them have their own fan club.
"I'm not open to include other teams," emphatically concluded 57-year-old David Arnheim. "Our club is unique for the Rangers."
FASCINATING PERSONAL REVELATIONS IN THE ED SNIDER BOOK
Hot off the presses, Ed Snider – The Last Sports Mogul, the biography of the Flyers' passionate owner, touches some family nerves. Check out author Alan Bass' response to some sensitive points. Here goes:
WHY ED'S SON, JAY SNIDER, FAILED TO TAKE OVER THE FLYERS:
"There’s a full chapter on this topic. As the third generation of a family business myself, this entire saga felt very personal to me. I’ve watched twice as our family business got passed down (first to my dad, then eventually to me). I’ve also watched colleagues’ businesses crash because of too much conflict within the family.
"It’s extremely difficult to do it well on a small scale, let alone on a national stage like the Flyers. To sum it up briefly, there was certainly fault on both sides. Ed legitimately thought he was putting Jay in a position to succeed, yet couldn’t help but second-guess him on every decision.
"On the flip side, Jay certainly made some questionable decisions that harmed the team. The sad part to me is that the two could not figure out a proper way to work with one another and complement each other’s skill set. Each had his strengths and, together, they could have done great work. I put that part mostly on Ed, as even those who knew him assumed he would not be able to simply retire and walk away. It was in his blood and he couldn’t let it go. For better or for worse!"
ED'S PRIDE IN BEING JEWISH AND HIS LOVE FOR ISRAEL:
"Ed was not observant by any means, but was extremely dedicated to his Jewish faith and was very much connected to the local Jewish community and to the religion’s history and struggles. He was around Bar Mitzvah age when World War Two ended, and it pained him for the rest of his life to think of kids his own age being murdered across the world just because of their religion.
"Holocaust education was something he cared deeply about, even becoming one of the largest benefactors of the Jewish History Museum in Philadelphia. As for Israel, he was a regular traveller to the country and contributed greatly to any cause supporting Israel. He supported politicians who supported Israel. And he despised anti-Semitism of any variety.
"In fact, one of the reasons he so despised the Soviets was because his Jewish ancestors were chased out in the early 20th century by the Russian Empire. He held that very deeply in his soul for his entire life. Personally, he loved that the Jewish holidays allowed his family to get together. The Snider's second Seder was like a family reunion every year, with scores of people attending from across the country. He was extremely proud of his religion."
I'M JUST SAYIN'
* Whoever picked Sharks' bench boss David Quinn "The 29th Handsomest Coach In The NHL" should get a second eye doctor's opinion.
* Then a third, fourth, fifth and sixth opinion. Dangerous Dave is No. 1 on my list.
* Torts is fourth – with glasses. Third, without.
* From here to opening night, the only thing that matters with NHL vets is avoiding injury.
* Since Jimmy Rutherford's Vancouver gig places him over both GM Patrik Allvin and coach Cousin' Brucie Boudreau, James' title should be Lord High Executioner.
* Jim says he doesn't interfere with his hires and lets them do their jobs – until they blunder.
* Memo to Cousin Brucie: Don't blunder!
* Lesser known – but important – players to watch: Andrew Copp on Detroit and Sammy Blais with the Rangers.
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO CONNOR MCDAVID who says he has a bigger hunger to win than hunger to score. (Believe that if you can.)
BOO TO THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME VOTERS for not admitting 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson. What better clutch moves than Paulie's versus the Soviets?
YAY TO BOLTS BOSS JEFF VINIK and the Lightning Fund for contributing $2 million for Hurricane relief where it hit hardest around Tampa Bay.
THE CONTROVERSY OVER PLAYER 'NIGHTS' NEVER ENDS
For years, a bloc of New York hockey historians have petitioned Madison Square Garden executives to honor Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park. Although Park completed his career with other NHL clubs, he's remembered as a Ranger first and foremost. Guardians of the Goal author George Grimm presents his case for Park here:
While Billy Joel, Harry Styles and the band Phish all have banners hanging from the rafters at Madison Square Garden, there is still nothing up there honoring former Ranger captain and NHL Hall of Famer Brad Park.
Granted, Billy Joel is a legendary singer-songwriter who has a long-time residency at the Garden. His music will be remembered for generations to come. But I have already forgotten the other two acts while writing this paragraph.
Park also had a long-time residency at the Garden, 465 games over eight seasons as a Ranger, and from the minute the 20-year old defenseman made his debut in 1968, he gave an entire generation of fans hope for the future.
Park was tough and smart. He could skate, handle the puck and had a quick accurate shot from the point. Often compared to the incomparable Robert Gordon Orr, Douglas Bradford Park was a dynamic player in his own right. Whether rushing the puck over the red line or delivering an open-ice hip check, he made things happen out there, and you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.
Park was the Blueshirts’ first true offensive-defenseman of the Emile Francis era. He led the Rangers in points, assists and penalty minutes in 1973-74 as well as sharing the lead in points (with Pete Stemkowski) and assists (with Dale Rolfe) in the 1974 playoffs.
He also led all Blueshirt defensemen in scoring from 1969-70 until he was traded in 1975. Overall, he scored 95 goals with 283 assists in the regular season plus another 12 goals and 32 assists in 64 playoff games for the Rangers.
Park was named team Captain in 1974 and appeared in five All-Star games. He played a major role with Team Canada in 1972, was named the Rangers MVP and won the Frank Boucher award as the team’s most popular player in 1973-74. Emile Francis once said that Park was the best defenseman he ever had.
Park’s Ranger career ended in November 1975 when he was dealt to the Bruins with Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais in a blockbuster trade meant to shake up both clubs. He then played another eight seasons with Boston before finishing his career with Detroit. But as Frank Boucher often said, “Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.”
Brad Park deserves to have a banner in the Garden’s rafters just as much as his teammates, Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield and Harry Howell, not only for what he meant to the Rangers on the ice but for what he meant to the fans in the stands as well.
He also deserves to be honored in the company of his peers, and sadly, that window is rapidly closing. We’ve already lost Emile Francis and Rod Gilbert and at this point, 'Father Time' is catching up to a few more of his teammates as well.
The Rangers need to honor Park NOW, and if not NOW, the question then becomes not WHEN but WHY NOT?
(Note: Next issue, another author with a different view on this controversial issue.)
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? The comic strip character Snoopy, getting ready to play hockey, with 10 seconds left in the national anthem.