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Fischler Report: What to do With Jeff Blashill

Stan Fischler talks about the Florida Panthers; shares a chat with Kevin Weekes; gives thoughts on Guy Lafleur; why the Wings should keep Jeff Blashill; tidbits about Mike Bossy and Pat LaFontaine and much more.
Jeff Blashill

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT ON A MONDAY NIGHT

1. BRUINS: Linus Ullmark beating Igor Shesterkin, 3-1 on Saturday night in Beantown tells me that Boston's goaltending is underrated.

2. HONORING GUY LAFLEUR: The Flames encouraged its capacity crowd to applaud the late icon and it was an impressive tribute.

3. MORE ON LAFLEUR: Scotty Bowman, who so successfully coached The Flower, points out that Guy was as good a playmaker as he was a scorer. Linemates Jacques Lemaire and Steve Shutt would agree.

4. VEGAS: In again, out again, in again: Robin. Face it, Lehner's injury list confirms that the Knights were more "golden" with Marc-Andre Fleury in goal than when Robin is bob-bob-bobbin' along.

5. CAPITALS: Anything more than a slight injury to Alex Ovechkin means that the Caps are playoff-doomed.

6. CANES: Goaltending has become a major problem now that Rod Brind'Amour is down to putting Pytor Kochetkov in goal.

7. HABS: Nine straight losses do not enhance Marty St.Louis' chances of returning as head coach.

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FLORIDA JUST WON'T FADE:

When Aaron Ekblad went down with injury not that long ago, it appeared as if the brakes had been applied to Florida's phenomenal surge as an NHL power. But the facts in math and on the ice prove that this team can win without its best defenseman. Consider these startling aspects of Panthers assets:

A. Up until last night, they had 13 straight wins -- a franchise record; B. A mark of 16-1-0 since Ekblad's injury; C. How about 24-8-4 when giving up the first goal; D. Bobby The Goalie -- 39 wins and 13 straight wins are both franchise records.

Terse comment from someone of note in Sunrise: "If anyone had told me -- before the season began -- that the Panthers would be fighting for a Presidents' Trophy I would have wanted to know what that person was smoking!" Alan Greenberg.

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DON'T FIRE JEFF BLASHILL!

A pair of prominent Detroit writers, Kevin Allen and Bob Duff, believe that the Red Wings need a coaching change. On Saturday the Winged Wheelers closed their home season with a 7-2 loss to Pittsburgh. The rout did nothing to encourage a return of Jeff Blashill behind the bench. Yet, our learned reporter Al (Pal Of Beleaguered Coaches) Greenberg disagrees, despite these dismal days in Hockeytown.

"Let's not call for Blashill's scalp just yet," Greenberg insists. "The wins have had recent wins over good teams like Tampa Bay, Carolina and Boston and have shown some progress. Yes, they actually have improved over last year and continue to improve although it has not been great. The nucleus is there with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi in the prime of their careers as well as a top goalie in Alex Nedeljkovic. What's more Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider may be rookies but they've played like seasoned veterans and will only get better. But it has been a painful rebuild."

Considering, the negative media around him, Blashill has been virtually oblivious and believes that his team will continue to improve. The decision -- to keep or not to keep -- will be made by the Ilitch ownership as well as GM Steve Yzerman.

Hey, it's refreshing to know that at least one media member is in the coach's corner. But, this much is certain, if the Wings continue losing -- as they did 7-2, to Pittsburgh -- Allen and Duff will be more right than Greenberg in their final assessment about Blashill's future.

Last night's win over New Jersey will not affect Yzerman's decision one way or the other.

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KEVIN WEEKES EXCLUSIVE:

Kevin Weeks is everywhere.

And that's a good thing.

Good if you like deluxe hockey insights.

Good if you like stories told by a master storyteller.

Good, if you just prefer genuine, "Insider" scoops or a good schmooze about our favorite game.

This likable fellow is even being mentioned as a possible candidate for the open Sharks GM job.

My personal like for Kevin dates back to the 1999-2000 season when the Toronto native was playing goal for the Islanders and I was playing my personal game of "Ask A Good Question For A Change."

Weekes made it easy for me on two counts: 1. He was a darn good goaltender; 2. He was a super-duper-a-la-Peter T. Hooper interview. Add (1) and (2) and you have a good idea why I liked having him around.

Then, a terrible thing happened; terrible for me at least. My buddy Weekes got traded and I had to learn how to interview all over again. (Just kidding.)

Kevin went on to play plenty of good goaltending until retirement time came. And since good things still happen to good people, Sir Weekes has done splendidly in his after-playing life.

You might find him on ESPN, the NHL Network or TSN. And that's not counting his other ventures that include being a keynote speaker and president-CEO of Speekes Media, Inc.

I managed to catch up with Kevin at ESPN and since he's busier than a paper-hanger with an itch, I requested fast answers to short questions. The amiable and articulate Weekes obliged

What do you like best about your gigs?

Kevin: "I love all parts because they all feed each other; doing color, studio, on location, breaking news. The earned, trusted relationships are keyyyyyy." (His Ys, not mine.)

I love Shootouts; many don't. And you?

Kevin: "I LOVE Shootouts. I faced them in the old International Hockey League and in the NHL. It's a great way to win and a tough way to lose."

I do not like goalies relying on the Butterfly. I prefer stand-up goalies. How about you?

Kevin: "That's a fair point. Standup is a rare but effective technique.

Every butterfly -- in-game or practice -- is 2 to 3 times your body weight of force on your hip/knee ankle joints."

I asked Weekes' what he considered a challenge for him, moving from player to TV personality?

Kevin: "The biggest challenge is that some folks don't want to hear the factual -- but inconvenient -- truth about their team or game!!"

What about Kevin's ideas about making The Game even better?

Kevin: "Be inclusive and open-minded. Continue to serve and elevate the game for all the right reasons!"

What's the most fun about his job?

Kevin: "Serving the game and being a bridge between the fans and players. Also, there's nothing like being at games and doing coverage!!" (The exclamation points are Kevin's; just so you know.)

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WHO SAID IT? "We were extremely confident without being arrogant." (Answer Below.)

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I'M JUST SAYIN':

* In the playoffs, goaltending is everything. Which means, Carolina minus Freddie Andersen is kaput.

* Jonathan Huberdeau would be a genuine Hart Trophy candidate had the media been stronger down Sunrise way. His chances of winning the Art Ross is another story.

* Good for Milan Lucic reviving a faltering career in Calgary and leading the Flames in hits.

* Too little credit has been given to Ken Holland for gambling on Evander Kane. The move -- as predicted here the day it happened -- guarantees not only a playoff berth for Edmonton but a surge to -- and maybe through the second round.

* Likewise, Kane rates a YAY for his plus work since becoming an Oiler.

* There's no need for Holland to wait; He should revoke Jay Woodcroft's"Interim" status and elevate him to head coach. Jay has justified the promotion.

* Mark Giordano is demonstrating to his Toronto cohorts what the Seattle folks knew; before MG exited the Kraken; he's MVP material wherever he plays.

* The Kraks offensive MVP could be Jared McCann. Proof positive:

He earned a five-year $25 million contract extension.

* Billy Guerin has to be a solid candidate for "Best GM" based on how formidable the Wild have become, so fast!

* You can double the value of that statement if Marc-Andre Fleury gets Minny into the second playoff round.

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REVEALING THE RANGERS:

The Blueshirts have galloped toward the Finish Line a lot more forcefully than many could have imagined last October. And if you want to know the reason why, our superior analyst, Gus Vic, has the answer.

"Coach Gerard Gallant has his team buying into the similar style he had when his (then) Golden Knights played so well in Vegas' first year. The strategy is hard pressure in all three zones as well as good gap containment on the defensive side of the puck. Add to that, improved discipline and puck management on their side of the red line."

Since no team is perfect, the Blueshirts have a minus or two. Vic insists that the Rangers "Can be too lateral offensively with the skill forwards showing reluctance in some spots to play the simple game and get pucks deep. That said, overall the Rangers are formidable."

Gus took time for a snapshot look at the East. "Let's face it," Vic goes on, "there are no easy touches in the East. While Washington is the one team I can't see escaping the East, I still could see the Caps springing a first-round upset if their goaltending holds up.

"When you think about it -- with the exception of Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy -- no team has truly established playoff goaltending in The East."

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THE HUMOR OF ALEKSANDER BARKOV

Asked what it was like playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov shot back, "They talk a lot in French so I don't understand.

"Then, someone wanted to know whether the Finnish-born Barkov considers himself Russian or Finnish. "When I'm home," Barkov shot back, "I'm Russian. When I step outside I'm Finnish!"

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BOSSY ON HITTING BACK:

The autobiography of Mike Bossy ranks among the most candid tell-alls in hockey. One of the Hall of Famer's pet peeves.was fighting. He particularly loathed the Flyers' Broad Street Bullies style. Reluctant -- as a matter of principle -- to drop the gloves, there came a time when Mike felt that he had no choice. 

In the book, "Boss - The Mike Bossy Story," -- co-authored with Barry Meisel -- Mike explains his dilemma on the eve of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final vs. Philadelphia.

Prior to the opener, Mike took abuse over a magazine article he had authored and his comments directed at the Philly goons: "Each time you knock me down, I'll get back up and score more goals."

Bossy knew there'd be a showdown with a tough Flyer and it came after an icing call against the Islanders. It would be Philly's rough center Mel Bridgman against Bossy. Here's how Mike described it in his book:

"As I skated back for the face-off in our zone, Bridgman stopped near the Flyer bench and stood in my path. I was 20 feet away when I spotted him. He saw me too. And he wouldn't move.

"I had come to the crossroads, with only a split-second to think. Do I sidestep him and make him think he got the best of me? Do I nudge him to send a message? Do I run over him and risk waking up in the doctor's room with two black eyes?

"I stood my ground and ran over him. I sent him flying. I didn't hit that hard but I caught him completely by surprise. With (Flyers) Bob Dailey and Moose Dupont standing there menacingly, with Bridgman looking at me with those piercing eyes and his mustache drooping halfway down his face, with their entire bench cursing at me, I was scared to death.

"I prayed that some of my teammates would get here real quick just in case a couple of them decided to make mincemeat out of me. But nothing happened. I did what I said I would do. I stood my ground when a Flyer shoved me. I kept my gloves on and kept myself in the game.

"I felt proud of myself. At that moment I knew I would never have to drop my gloves to prove anything again. That was the day I earned the NHL's respect."

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PAT LAFONTAINE'S THOUGHTS ON MANY THINGS: (Part Three)

His Work With The NHL: "I still serve as a consultant primarily focused on Hockey Development and Community Affairs. I'm extremely proud that we were the first sport to adopt the Declaration of Principles in 2017. It was signed by 17 hockey organizations from around the world.

Aims Of Those Declarations: "At the core is the commitment that ALL hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic background. Hockey is for everyone!

Difference In Hockey Today Vs. When Pat Played? I love that the game has become even faster and amplifies the skill involved in playing. The league has done a really good job legislating out the clutching and interference that used to impede the flow of the game. Credit the players with honing their skills."

He notices other differences: "There was a time when the bigger players might have been less skilled and inclined to just get in the way. Now everyone is really good. Every player can skate and handle the puck well. I love watching today's game and am so appreciative of how it's evolved."Current LaFontaine Projects:"We continue to grow the Companions in Courage Foundation (www.CIC16.org). Our goal is expanding our reach to more pediatric patients now that we're emerging from two years of Covid lockdowns. I'm fortunate that there's always 'one more thing to do' in the various projects."One Final Thought, Please."One of the most prominent lessons hockey taught me is, 'Score your goals when you're young because as you get older, life is truly about the assists.' That's one project that will never come to completion."

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WHAT'S IT LIKE TO OWN ONE OF THE CONTINENT'S BEST JUNIOR TEAMS: Owner of the Portland Winterhawks, New York-based Michael Kramer jetted West for his first playoff since taking ownership. Meanwhile, GM-coach Mike Johnston has the Hawks up two games to none over Prince George. So, how does it feel, Michael?"Although I'm on the other end of the country, I haven't missed a game this year. I've literally been at or watched every single game. It does have a totally different feel knowing that we're in the playoffs and we believe we're in a good position to make a good run. For me, it's like being a kid again." (Imagine if they get past the first round.) 

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Hall of Famer Mike Bossy said it after the Islanders had won their second straight Stanley Cup in 1981 over the Minnesota North Stars, four games to one.

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