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Fischler Report: Thoughts After a Sizzling First Round

Stan Fischler shares his thoughts from the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, including why the Leafs lost again, which teams look the best and so much more.
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LANE LAMBERT, GETS THE ISLES GIG

For the past three years, Lane Lambert's name has been mentioned many times as a prospective NHL head coach. And just as often, Lambert chose to remain Barry Trotz's loyal right-hand man behind the Islanders bench.

Now that Trotz's departure from the Nassaumen is complete, Lane's move to being top banana of the bunch is complete.

And perfectly natural. All you have to do is read Boss Lou Lamoriello's words and you know the reason why Lambert is the perfect choice. "I've had the opportunity to work with Lane for four years," Lou explained. "and we've worked together one on one when he was the interim head coach. My conclusion is that he's the right person to coach the team." Specifically, here's why"

1. He knows all the varsity players and prospects in the minors.

2. Lambert is a disciple of Trotz and Lou has supported Barry's blueprints for success.

3. The players know and respect Lambert.

4. As Lamoriello pointed out, the time has come for a fresh voice behind the bench.

5. At this point, the franchise needed a younger, more vigorous leader but one who has studied under the master even before Barry left the Capitols for Long Island.

6. If the spirit moves him -- and it may not -- Trotz has the option to coach elsewhere with Winnipeg being the most likely venue.

Sure, Lou could have opted for the likes of Mike Babcock, John Tortorella and any other number of marquee names.

But none would have known the ins and outs of this franchise better than Lane Lambert.

For Lou it was a natural. Now, for the shiny, new, Isles mentor, the challenge ahead will be fascinating, and big!

Bottom Line: In making the decision, Lou travelled down the right Lane!

SIZZLING SUBJECTS FOR YOUR BRAINSTORMING AS THE CURTAIN FALLS ON THE FIRST ROUND:

1. RANGERS: The Blueshirts had too much of everything -- especially netminding -- for a gallant Ptt team that inevitably would be de-pitted. Next up should be a classic. New York vs. Raleigh. I have the Big Apple boys turning the Canes into saccharine -- in 6.

2. TORONTO: "The Past Is The Past" was how Auston Matthews put it before Game 7. Here's hot news for the moustached guy who didn't deliver when it most counted. With the Leafs, the present still is the past. Ergo: Maple Leafs are traditionalists; they always lose in the first round. The alibis will flow all summer but the facts remain the same. Golfing in May.

3. TAMPA BAY: I thought that attrition would bring them down. The Champs beat fatigue because they have a brilliant coach in Jon Cooper and an ace GM in Julien BriseBois who was smart enough to nab Nick Paul at the Trade Deadline.

4. EDMONTON: The Oilers played "The Funny Kind Of Game." They didn't let L.A. have the puck. Give L.A. credit for hangin' in but a team never wins by scoring 0. The bigger test will be for the Oil Cans to get past Round Two.

5. FLORIDA: Andrew Brunette still is working under an "interim" deal. Now that the Panthers have made it to the second round; it's time to make him "Head Coach."

The Sunshine Series should be a second-round dilly. It figures to go seven. After seeing what the Bolts did to Toronto, I expect the Champs to win in seven. They do that so well, don't they!

6. CHICAGO: A decision on the re-hiring -- or releasing -- of Derek King should be happening post-playoffs although Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson may already have made up his mind. Chi's office-shakeup may delay the decision. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun says, "I'd bring him back." (Me, too.)

7. WASHINGTON: Even with Captain Ovie, the Caps haven't won a series since their Cup year, 2018. GM Brian MacLellan has to start by unloading the dead wood and find a better goalie than Ilya Samsonov.

8. CALGARY: I'll make this simple. Darryl Sutter does not get enough YAYS for bringing the Flames to this point.

9. CAROLINA: Antti had the Bruins yelling :"Uncle!" Genius GM Don Waddell got the gem, Max Domi. Bye-bye Beantowners! It's been almost good to know Ye.

10. DALLAS: Really, you couldn't add much more to the Stars' fine effort right down to the Johnny Gaudreau torpedo that ended another splendid series.

11. PITTSBURGH: The Penguins' high command will be debating the "What Ifs?" all summer. Sid will be back; maybe Letang. Malkin? I doubt it. All in all the Pens outdid themselves taking Game Seven so valiantly until ousted by a power-play goal!

12. CONCLUSION: First round provided the best hockey in memory.

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GETTING YOUR TRADE DEADLINE'S WORTH -- RIGHT NOW!

The greatest deal ever made at the Trade Deadline was engineered by Islanders GMTorrey in 1980.

In exchange for okay defenseman Dave Lewis and right wing Billy Harris, Bow Tie Bill "stole" center Butch Goring from L.A.

The trade converted the Nasaumen from regular contenders to annual champions, four Stanley Cups-worth. Plus, a never-to-be-matched 19 straight playoff series victories.

No GM will do that any more but that doesn't stop them from trying.

Exhibit A is Bill Zito. Florida's hyperactive GM landed Claude Giroux from Philadelphia and Ben Chiarot from Montreal.

"Giroux looks like this year's Butch Goring," says Al (Himself) Greenberg who covers the Panthers with dozens of fine tooth combs.

"Zito brought him in for tight situations and he's come through big-time. Chiarot also is performing well."

When Greenberg first saw Nick Paul, he immediately wrote me that Bolts. GM Julien BriseBois got another winner. Sure enough, Paul scored both goals in Saturday night's 2-1 clincher vs. Leafs.

"The Lightning paid a heavy price this year (two first round draft picks) for Brandon Hagel," notes Greenberg. "The Rangers did well getting clutch forward Frank Vatrano, Andrew Copp and depth defender Justin Braun with minimal losses.

"Colorado acquired impact players, Josh Manson and Arturri Lehkonen without mortgaging the future and made a strong team even stronger."

Conversely, Minnesota gambled on Marc-Andre Fleury who garnered big headlines but not enough big wins to justify his acquisition.

In their ever-futile Cup quest, the Leafs gave up three future picks for aging Dman Mark Giordano. The only Cup Toronto got was a cup of coffee.

Finally, the Penguins still might be playing had Rickard Rackell not been injured in the opening game against the Rangers. Pitt had sent three players and a 2d round draft pick for the forward.

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EXPLAINING THE DEFUNCT MAPLE LEAFS

Prior to opening night last fall, a Toronto reporter asserted that all Leaf regular season wins in NHL 2021-22, would be meaningless. What matters will be how the Leafs atone for their annual first-round playoff exit. Guess what? For the sixth straight year, it's another playoff exit.

How come? It's not hard to figure. To wit:

1. One Dimensional: Sure they can score playing the 100-foot game; but they don't defend well enough. The rink still measures 200-feet.

2. Wrong Leadership: Auston Matthews should be captain. It never should have been John (So What If I'm Erratic) Tavares.

3. Not enough defense. The total package -- at best -- is good but not good enough. Nice knowing you, Mark Giordano.

4. Modest goaltending: Happy Jack Campbell is just-average and that wasn't enough compared to Andre Vasilevskiy.

GM Kyle Dubas blundered by thinking oft-injured Petr Mrazek could be Happy Jack's successful back-up; and we know where that went.

In November, Toronto looked to me --right here on this page -- like a Stanley Cup-winner. I figured that Dubas finally had figured it all out. I guessed wrong!

Ownership has to debate whether its general staff -- Brendan Shanahan, Dubas and Sheldon Keefe -- should be invited back to produce another egregious disappointment.

I'll bet that they all keep their jobs because what they're doing is selling hope; and that never ends in Toronto!

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* I have a feeling that Rick Bowness, 67, has had enough of heading- coaching. His Stars gave it their all. So did Rick. Maybe he'll give it another year of coaching. I hope so. He's solid all around. 

* One thing about Barry; wherever he goes he leaves a ton of friends. And I can't imagine any enemies.

* And if he does coach, where else but the most natural landing field of all; Winnipeg. For a native Manitoban, it's a natural.

* If you were Ron Francis, would you return Dave Hakstol behind the Kraken bench? (I'd give him another year.)

* Department of Sad: "It's a shame that Crosby got knocked out of the Rangers series when he did." Reporter Vince Comunale in Pittsburgh. "For a good while, Sidney did look as good as he did in 2009." (C'est la guerre!).

* Ex-goalie Ron Hextall rules the Penguins. Do you think he'll stick with another year of Jarry-DeSmith as his stoppers? No way!

* I love it that nobody is talking about the possibility of Andre Tourigny getting fired by Arizona.

* Here's why Bill Zito is a terrific GM = Carter Verhaeghe.

* Here's why Don Waddell is a terrific GM = Tony DeAngelo. From an on-ice perspective, that is.

* Florida Quote Of The Week: "I never saw a guy not named Gretzky or Lemieux have a series like Carter Verhaeghe." Al Greenberg.

* Just a hunch but I believe that the Islanders will be playing Ilya Sorokin in goal a lot more next season than in this past season.

* Hats off to the Stars' Jake Oettinger. He started the season as Dallas' third-string goalie and ended his year with a 64-save masterpiece vs. Calgary. He'll be the starter next season, and could win The Vezina!

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GETTING A NEW UNION LEADER WITH A FEHR SHAKE

There's no question that Donald Fehr could have remained boss of the Players' Association as long as Gary Bettman held the NHL's commissioner's reins. That is, if the stick handlers really liked Fehr's work. But The Donald's union leadership will end this summer when a union posse corralls a new leader.

If the skaters really wanted "a smooth transition," the most obvious candidate would be Mathieu Schneider. The former defenseman -- Cup-winner in 1993 -- has been Fehr's "long-time "Special Assistant" and hands-on man about the business.

Nobody knows more about the union's inner -- and outer -- workings than Matty.. He would appear to be Fehr's perfect successor except that his close association to The Donald might be the reason why he won't be part of the "smooth transition."

(My choice would be the man who never should have been unfairly pushed out, Paul Kelly.) Prize-winning sportswriter, Russ Conway, called Kelly, "The first, true, clean leader the NHLPA ever had."

If justice were to truly triumph in this case, Kelly would be back at the helm. Too bad the journalistic hockey muckrakers never dug into the illegal ousting of Kelly. It remains one heckuva story.

The key here is that the plot to oust Kelly was hatched in August 2009 when the rank and file union players all were away on vacation.

Except the small group of plotters that somehow pulled off the dumping of a good man.

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THE SELFISH PENALTY

On Friday night, the Penguins had a chance to close out their series with New York -- even without captain Crosby. Pittsburgh led 2-0 in the second period and appeared to be breezin' along with the breeze.

The last thing coach Mike Sullivan needed was to give his foes a power play. However, Pitt forward Evan Rodrigues obliged. with what's known in the trade as "A Selfish Penalty." Translated: an infraction that could -- and should -- be avoided.

Granted that Rodrigues was offended when whacked by defenseman Ryan Lindgren -- who was not penalized. -- but, no, you don't whack back and cost your team a penalty.

My man in Penguinland, Vince Comunale, says the penalty "might have cost them the series." He's right. The Rangers immediately scored went on to win and tie the series at three. "That selfish penalty was so bad," adds Vince, "that it might cost him re-signing with the Penguins. It's the type of penalty that loses your teammates respect/trust."

Or, as Sully said in the post-game, "You (Evan) can't take that kind of penalty." Put it this way, Rodriques could do worse than enrolling in a community college with a summer course in Discipline 101.

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THE SAGE OBSERVATION OF SEPTEMBER THAT HELD UP IN MAY

In The Hockey News Annual last fall, Luke Decock penned this bit of prose about one of Carolina's capable goaltenders: "Raanta has all the attributes of a No. 1 goalie except durability." Right now you can delete the last two words.

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THE READERS WRITE: This from Brandon Oliver in Santa Monica, California: "This has been the most interesting Round One ever."

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WHO SAID IT? "I can't score if you keep me sitting on the bench." (Answer Below.)

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INSIGHT INTO EYESIGHT:

While producing the weekly "Hockey Time Machine," Glenn Dreyfuss discovers interesting gems from yesteryear. When 50-goal Rick Vaive was on the show, the former Toronto sharpshooter recalled that he scored his landmark 50th goal against St.Louis on March 24, 1982.

"But," Dreyfuss tells me, "Vaive says that the key to reaching 50 came two nights earlier against the Blackhawks."

Here's the secret revealed by Vaive 40 years after the fact:

"Tony Esposito was in goal for Chicago," said Vaive, "and we knew that he couldn't see from a long distance; he wore contact lenses. Our game plan had it that if we tried to beat him in close, we'd have trouble; because Tony was so good in tight.

"But he couldn't see from outside the blue line. Two of my four goals were scored outside the blue line!"

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EXCELLENT HOCKEY BOOK TIP;

For my money, the best book to read during these thrilling playoff weeks was authored by a Minnesota native, Ross Bernstein.

His work is called "Raising Stanley -- What It Takes To Claim Hockey's Ultimate Prize."

Although it was published a dozen years ago, Bernstein's work is as fresh as if it came off the presses this morning. And I'll be running a few excerpts as the PostSeason gallops along.

One note about "Raising Stanley: "It's the only book I ever read that has not one, not two, not three, but four Forewads. They were written by folks you may have heard of in the past: Scotty Bowman, Phil Esposito, Brett Hull and Joe Sakic.

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PEP WORDS THAT SOUNDED GOOD -- BUT AREN'T TRUE:

"We are a deep team." Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

Wrong: Rangers are a deep team; that's why Pittsburgh lost.

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? This was Rangers center Bronco Horvath's answer to his coach, Phil Watson, after Phil complained that Horvath wasn't scoring enough!

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