WHY I LOVE THE PANTHERS AND FLAMES – NIX TO THE AVS AND LEAFS
Let's get on with it. I have an idea who's going to win the Stanley Cup, but we'll get to that a little bit later.
Meanwhile, The Hockey News Yearbook has Carolina beating Edmonton for the title.
That's a compelling twosome and I like it, but not as much as my duet. However, I now must tell you what I learned about the "art" of predicting Cup finalists and the winner.
It comes down to two words – for my personal use only – get smart.
For Yours Truly, the lesson began last autumn. While under the influence of All-Bran, I succumbed to stupidity and picked the Leafs to go the route.
Well, why not? At the time they were on a tear, Jack Campbell was making people – mostly his GM – smile and the Matthews-Marner Money Machine had been illuminating a galaxy of red lights. I was suckered by the scoring.
Fool that I was, I also figured the Royal Blue and Whiters would once and for all obey the Law of Averages. After all, it may be a long way to Tipperary, but it's even longer to 1967 when Punch Imlach – not to be confused with Punchy Dubas – was winning Cups and ruling the roost.
So, for this season and – for that matter – forever, forget about Toronto winning the magnificent mug. Period!
Next question: What about Denver, home of the Champs?
I know for sure that the Avs won't repeat 'cause they lost too many core guys and their goaltending is ersatz-to-the-radical-50. Enjoy it, Joe Sakic, it was a wonderful one-shot.
See ya next June on the first tee.
This brings me to the Lightning, my favorite team today. With a healthy Brayden Point, coach Jon Cooper's club has everything.
Well, almost everything. The Fountain of Youth has run out of juice. This wonderful outfit that Steve Yzerman and Julien BriseBois crafted has played too much hockey in too short a time.
The Bolts' real hill to climb is called Mount Attrition. They almost got to the peak last June but "almost" only counts when you're a Leafs fan. Attrition is a nasty challenge – always was and always will be.
It was attrition that finally subdued Al Arbour's magnificent Islanders after four straight Cups and 19 consecutive victories. Attrition stopped Toe Blake's Habs after five Stanleys in a row and 10 straight series wins from 1956 through 1960.
One current club that should have no attrition aspects lives on Seventh Avenue, Manhattan.
The ever-confounding Rangers have youth, talent, depth, plus a Vezina goalie and a gallant coach to push his skaters. Trouble is, when push comes to shove, the Blueshirts always find a way not to put their pick axes on the peak.
One exception was Neil Smith's "Edmonton" Rangers of 1994. But if you subtract the imports such as Messier-Lowe-Anderson-MacTavish-Tikkanen-Graves-Beukeboom all you'd hear is that Big Apple wail-of-all-wails; Nineteen-Forty!
Looking west, the McDavids seem to have it all – up front, that is. Connor will dazzle, Leon will play hurt, Hyman will hustle and Kane will score. But the defense is dubious and the goalkeeping, doubtful.
But enough with the negatives. I see an accent on the positive in two very distant places, each with a well-balanced line and all other good things.
I envision the Flames and Panthers duking it out for the right to embrace Stanley.
Each has a smart coach – Sutter is funnier, by far – an accomplished goalie and grit. Florida's addition of Matt Tkachuk is my favorite off-season get, closely followed by Calgary's Jonny Huberdeau. Flames and Panthers to the Final but don't ask me who'll win.
Sacre bleu, would I ever love to see that pair atop Mount Stanley, formerly Attrition Peak.
DEPARTMENT OF WILD PREDICTIONS
My first weekly guest forecaster is longtime author and hockey historian John Kreiser. Go, Johnny, go:
"Matty Berniers of the Kraken will win the Calder, and the Berniers-Shane Wright tandem is an excellent 1-2 combo down the middle. Seattle added a couple of useful players, but Philipp Grubauer looks like one of those goalies who needs a good team to excel – and this isn't a good team."
I'M JUST SAYIN'
* No NHL player has more pressure on him than the Leafs' starting goalie – or so they say – Matt Murray. Nobody, I say, no one.
* As Pal Johnny K points out, "The Leafs desperately need Murray to be at least close to the player he was during Pitt's Cup runs."
* Yeah, but those runs were in a different decade, and who's to deny that Double M simply had a lucky Crosby streak and that was that?
* Best Coach Line of the week goes to my old (New Jersey) pal, John Hynes. Speaking of his sizzling (2-0) Preds, Hynes says, "Our obsession is, 'How can we be better tomorrow?"
* Speaking of pressure, what about Jack (Isn't It About Time) Eichel?
* Jumpin' Jack squeezed in at 50th in The Hockey News Yearbook's "Top 50 Players In The NHL." Author Ryan Kennedy wrote, "The Playoffs are a must for Vegas."
* True enough, but a reputation-saving season is a must for Eichel.
* Sad news via Merrimack and the passing of assistant coach Josh Ciocco, the former New Hampshire captain.
* Jay Pandolfo, the Devil, was one of the best defensive forwards I've ever seen. He's now coaching Boston University and came up with a W on his first try. Good luck, old buddy!
WHO SAID IT? "We'd all love to have a lot of money in the bank. But I'm so poor, I can't afford to pay attention!" (ANSWER BELOW.)
R.I.P. DAVE DRYDEN
Like Dennis to Bobby Hull or Mac to Neil Colville, Dave Dryden's hockey accomplishments were obscured by his Hall of Fame brother, Ken. But there was a lot to like about Dave, who recently passed away. Thinking about the elder Dryden brother, I go back to Feb. 3, 1962. That was the night when Dave, only 20 and playing junior hockey for the Marlies, replaced Rangers Hall of Fame goalkeeper Lorne Worsley at Maple Leaf Gardens when Gump was injured.
Granted, Dave allowed three goals in a 4-1 Leafs win, but his pro career was launched.
He eventually wound up with the Sabres and actually played against Ken, then with Montreal. It marked the first time in NHL history that goalie brother faced goalie brother.
Dave eventually teamed with Wayne Gretzky on the WHA Oilers. In 1978-79, Dave led the WHA in GAA, wins and games played. He remained with Edmonton through its first NHL year and later became a teacher and vice-principal.
For a time, the NHL used him as a consultant, reviewing goalie equipment and injuries. Dave may not have been a Hall of Famer, but he gained his own brand of fame as a successful hockey man on several levels. My condolences to Ken and the Dryden Family.
YAYS AND BOOS
* YAY TO MATTIAS EKHOLM. The Predators D-man was asked how Nashville's successful penalty kill works. "(Goalie) Juuse Saros – he's always our best penalty-killer," was Matt's reply.
* YAY TO ALASKA ANCHORAGE, back with collegiate hockey after a two-year hiatus. Alaska needs good collegiate hockey and Anchorage delivers.
LETTER FROM COLIN KIRK IN AUSTRALIA WITH AN 'ICING' SUGGESTION:
I agree with the assessment that allowing icing while short-handed is a significant benefit to the offending team and a detriment to the non-offending team. However, I suggest that there be an adjustment to the rule rather than complete removal of the ability to ice the puck.
I favor a change that permits icing once the player clearing the puck has crossed the defending blueline. I suggest this due to the very strong potential for player injury resulting from over-fatigue and the relentless forechecking prevalent in the NHL.
Every NHL player is an asset of varying value to his team, ownership, and the NHL. Any rule change/adjustment needs to be considered in light of player safety, potential for grievous bodily injury, and controlling inflating payrolls.
There needs to be some opportunity for player substitution, and while it would still be difficult to achieve a full line change in the first and third periods, it would be near impossible for second-period short-handed situations, so some of the defenders will still be at risk.
To encourage scoring during overtime, a no-icing rule could be considered as there's very limited body contact in OT. I make this suggestion as a goaltender (of no particular note) for 53 years and an on-ice official for 30-plus years.
What also bugs me is when a puck has been high-sticked, officials signal a delayed call, and the non-offending team just stands there and waits for the call. Officials could give a two or three steamboat count then carry on with play.
A TOUCHING ED SNIDER SIDEBAR: When Alan Bass' new biography (Ed Snider: The Last Sports Mogul) was released, it had an impact on many who worked for the Flyers' boss. One of the more compelling reactions came via Joltin' Joe Dionisio who runs the hockey program – not to mention the Zamboni – at Santa Barbara's Ice in Paradise twin rinks.
"I wouldn't be employed without Ed Snider," Dionisio explained. "He was a resident of nearby Montecito (Calif.). Ed was the second biggest benefactor (behind Minnesotan Jack Norqual) in building our Ice In Paradise. In fact, our NHL sheet of ice is named 'Snider Rink.'
"If you would have told a 14-year-old Long Island puck fan that I'd one day be indebted to the, egad, Philadelphia Flyers, my head would have exploded!"
DIDJA KNOW HOW GOALIE WILF CUDE RETIRED? After a successful career in which he played for a Cup-winning Detroit sextet, Cude had just about had it while goaltending for the weak 1940-41 Habs. During a pre-game steak dinner at home, Wilf's wife brought a T-bone steak to the table. Unfortunately, Cude felt that his missus failed to cook it well enough. Disgusted he took the T-bone and tossed it across the room against the far wall.
"From the time it hit the wall," Wilf remembered, "to the time it slipped to the floor, I knew I had enough of goaltending and quit then and there."
A CAPTAIN FOR THE KRAKEN? DON'T KRAK ME UP!
Looking toward Seattle's second season of NHL Hockey, the Puck Wizard of Washington State, Glenn Dreyfuss has a Kraken captain question that stirs the mind. Go, Glenn, Go!
During a 23-year NHL career, Ron Francis served as captain in Hartford, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. Sports Illustrated in 1998 dubbed him, "Captain Class." So it's somewhat surprising that as Seattle Kraken GM, Francis isn't in a hurry to bestow the 'C.'
"We went into last season thinking we were not going to name a captain. Then it just became very evident at training camp that Mark Giordano (defenseman now with Toronto) was the guy. We'll look at it this year as we go through the exhibition schedule."
Francis left open the possibility that the Kraken might instead go with a group of assistant captains. "You know, in the old days, it was a different way you did it. Sometimes it was a players' vote, sometimes it was input from the coaches."
In today's game, Francis says all constituent groups get heard. "It's kind of management, it's coaches, it's talking to the players and kind of getting a sense. You just watch and observe and say, OK, this is our captain. Or, we're gonna be patient right now, and make that decision down the road."
Perhaps Francis doesn't insist on a single team leader because his staff prioritizes character throughout the organization. "We do a lot of background into players before we draft them, before we make trades. If we send our players onto the ice or into the community to interact with our fans, we want guys to have that character to represent the organization well."
Presence and perseverance have value far beyond public relations. "I think when you go up on tough times, guys with character really dig in, help fight through it," Francis explained. "Guys that don't have a strong character tend to point the finger at other guys, and that's when things really go wrong."
A PAIR OF RANGERS FANS HAVE A 'BATTLE OF THE BANNERS'
Last week, in this space, author George Grimm (We Did Everything But Win) logically urged Madison Square Garden to honor Hall of Famer Brad Park with a banner hanging from the MSG rafters. Grimm's lobbying stung fellow author – and consummate Rangers nut – Sean McCaffrey to take issue with Grimm, and Sean doesn't mean 'maybe' either. Here goes McC.
"While I have no issues with Park, the second-best defenseman of his generation, receiving his just due, I say eight other men deserve this prestigious honor before Park. They are the following:
"Frank Boucher, Bill Cook, Bun Cook, Emile Francis, Ron Greschner, Bryan Hextall, (Ivan) 'Ching' Johnson and Lester Patrick.
"Rangers' history, and paying respect to the alumni, is a topic dear to me. It was the subject of my first book, The New York Rangers Rink of Honor and the Rafters of Madison Square Garden.
"Park played over half of his career outside of New York, where during his days in the NHL, the rearguard was never able to win the silver. The men I campaign for not only spent the majority of their careers in New York (if not all of their time) but apart from Greschner and Francis, also won the Stanley Cup while on Broadway. (And in most cases – on multiple occasions.)
"For an Original Six club that has only won four Stanley Cups in their near hundred years of existence – it's mind-boggling that the franchise can ignore the men responsible for three-quarters of them.
"This was most evident when the Rangers waited 40 years to retire the jersey numbers of Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield. All four legends received responses that were the equivalent of a golf clap. it's woefully apparent that there isn't much interest in the club rectifying the error.
"I don't even need a ceremony. I'd be happy by walking into MSG one day and seeing these richly deserved new banners installed. At the same time, hockey is a business, which is why I always found it peculiar that the Rangers have watched the New York Yankees, who only play a short drive away from MSG, make millions-upon-millions of dollars via the promotion of their history.
"The solution should be a "Legacy Night" featuring Greschner and Park as the living headliners. Prior to honoring the two alumni of the Blueshirt blue line, I'd have the banners of the previously mentioned names all ready to go.
"As the adage goes, 'one thing at a time' – where funny enough, this month the St. Louis Blues announced its own version of a "Rink of Honor," where 10 Blues will soon be featured. If only the Blueshirts expressed such interest in their own history."
BIG QUESTION: Is D-man MacKenzie Weegar worth an eight-year extension for $50M and an average $6.2 million with Calgary? BIG ANSWER: ABSOLUTELY NOT! But it's not my money – nor your money – so who cares? Certainly not Darryl Sutter.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Doug Carpenter when he coached the Maple Leafs.