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Fischler Report: Why Returning to Juniors is Right for Wright

Stan Fischler shares the first part of a conversation with ESPN's Leah Hextall, thoughts on Shane Wright's development, how to fix the Penguins and more.
Shane Wright

SIX SHOTS ON GOAL, INCLUDING A FEW ‘GOADS’

1. The Jets are to be taken seriously. Exhibit A was last night’s 7-4 rout of Vancouver. Kyle Connor’s hat trick and Pierre-Luc Dubois’ four assists were Exhibits B and C.

2. As a top overall draft pick, Alex Lafreniere might have to find his game in Hartford!

3. The difference between Connor McDavid and Cale Makar on Saturday night was this: the Avs ace scored the OT-winner and McDavid was a minus-3.

4. With two goals and an assist on Saturday – defeating the Rangers – Jack Hughes is this tiny bit closer to moving into the NHL’s elite circle.

5. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff took a gamble hiring the much-travelled Rick Bowness as the coach. It’s turned out to be one of the best moves of the off-season.

6. Brad Marchand is as good at throwing tantrums – after a missed ref call – as he is at getting away with non-good housekeeping behavior. That’s why I call him a latter-day (Hall of Famer) Ted Lindsay.


EXCLUSIVE: A CONVERSATION WITH LEAH HEXTALL

This past June, ESPN play-by-play voice Leah Hextall courageously spoke about the vile, sexist comments she’s been subjected to. Our Glenn Dreyfuss caught up with the trail-blazing broadcaster in this first of a two-part interview.

Glenn Dreyfuss: What new ways of thinking were you hoping to inspire at The Coaches Site conference?

Leah Hextall: “Whenever someone female gets a job, our hockey audience has been trained to believe, ‘Well, they’re getting that job as a token,’ instead of, ‘They got that job because they worked really hard and they’re qualified.’ We have to own that because we didn’t open the doors of opportunity to diversify earlier than we did.

“That’s the reason I spoke this summer, because maybe I can get people at the grassroots level who coach a team or run an organization to think, ‘I should find out if there’s someone I should be looking at.’ I’m hoping that trickles up into the highest levels of the game.”

GD: You’ve benefited from working with a mental skills coach and shutting out the negativity of social media.

LH: “As a society, we’ve decided there is no decorum anymore, even if it’s hurtful or threatening to someone’s personal safety. I’ve experienced that. I made the decision to not be online very much. You have to stay healthy on the mental side of things.

“I had trouble letting a mistake go. This season has been a world of difference. I have strategies now to refocus on what I’m doing in the moment. I work my tail off, because it’s not about being a woman anymore – it’s about being a play-by-play. I can see myself getting better this season, and I have the tapes to prove it.”

GD: (Leah’s cousin, Ron Hextall, GM in Pittsburgh, was a star NHL goalie.) Since Ron played goal, have you spoken to him about the benefits of a strategically short memory?

LH: “I understand why so many athletes, especially goaltenders, work on their preparation, their routine, to get past things. What Ron has said to me, seeing me attacked on social media is, ‘You just need to pay attention to those that matter. You can’t listen to the noise. Head down, work hard, do the job.’”

GD: What’s the best way for men, be they fathers, fans or in the hockey business, to be allies? Not just for women already in the profession like yourself, but for girls who want to follow in your footsteps?

LH: “The bottom line is to look at the people around you. If everybody looks the same and has the same background, then you’re not going to win. You can’t win by ignoring 51 percent of the population. You can’t win without diversity of thought within your organization.

“I consider myself part of the hockey community that needs to do better. We do the window dressing – weeks that celebrate diversity, women’s history month, a female broadcast – but we aren’t doing enough of the long-term work to set a path, so that young girls understand they have the opportunity to be a GM or coach of a hockey club at any level.

“Make sure you have different voices, different perspectives in the room. Say, ‘OK, this person might not be the most qualified, but they are qualified, and I’d like to speak to them.’”

(Next Friday: More straight talk from Hextall. Furthermore, see the story at the bottom about why her story has a personal feel.)


EXCLUSIVE: 30-SECOND 3D DEGREE WITH DETROIT’S EVP, JIM DEVELLANO, ON HIS RED WINGS

Maven: What’s the best thing about your hockey club?

Jim Develleano: We’re an improved team.

Maven: Why and where?

JD: Steve Yzerman made some good summer signings. Start with goalie Ville Husso and two defensemen, Olli Maatta and Ben Chiarot, who’ve upgraded the blueline.

Maven: What about offense?

JD: Dominik Kubalik and Andrew Copp have helped up front.

Maven: And young guys?

JD: There’s been continued development of our draft picks. Michael Rasmussen and Joey Veleno have taken a step upward as well.

Maven: Overall assessment?

JD: We are getting closer to becoming a playoff team.


I’M JUST SAYIN’

* For sheer down-to-the-wire melodrama, the world juniors was a five-star winner.

* But is there any logic in having 3-on-3 hockey to settle a world juniors gold medal game? I still can’t figure it out. What the heck was the rush, guys?

* As for those still beefing on behalf of Team USA over their two cancelled goals, there’s no realistic protest available other than “Grin and bear it.”

*The Devils’ defense will be one the best in the league for years to come. Exhibits A and B were available at the world juniors. Namely, Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec are whiz-bang aces-in-the-making.

* Should one of them sign on with New Jersey later this season, GM Tom Fitzgerald will have to do some serious thinking. After all, Damon Severson – who scored the OT-winner on Saturday – is heading toward free agency.

* Go figure: The Canes are that good, yet their leading scorer, Martin Necas, is 46th best on the league point list.

* Credit Canes’ GM Don Waddell with building a super-depth team. One issue could be the lack of a game-changing star for the playoffs.

* John Tortorella has had almost half a season to judge his Flyers. We’ll judge Torts on how he and Philly fare in the second half.

* My headline of the week ran in the Winnipeg Sun: “We Were A Pack Of Pissed Off Guys.” And the sub-head: “The Jets Turned Their PK Into a Game-Winner.”


WHY RETURNING TO JUNIORS IS RIGHT FOR WRIGHT

Despite four goals and three assists in Team Canada’s run to the World Junior Championship, Shane Wright won’t be immediately returning to the Seattle Kraken. Glenn Dreyfuss tells us why the talented teenage center is headed back to the junior ranks.

Kraken GM Ron Francis made the decision and even informed Shane’s parents before Wright captained Team Canada to the gold medal.

“If he came back to us he would be playing limited minutes,” Francis explained in a KJR-FM interview, “and we don’t think that’s best for his development.”

While Wright has officially been returned to his junior team in Kingston, Ont., Francis says he’ll soon be relocating again.

“He’ll likely get traded to a competitive team, and potentially compete for the Memorial Cup.”

This year’s tournament won’t conclude until June, so the Kraken are prepared not to see Wright again until next season’s training camp.

For Wright, the disappointment of early-season benchings in Seattle has given way to a series of successes. Wright scored four goals in five games with AHL Coachella Valley, then returned to the Kraken for one game and scored his first NHL goal. He scored again in the world juniors championship game on his 19th birthday.

Francis observed Wright in person at the world juniors.

“He’s doing all the little things it takes to win a hockey game,” Francis said. “He was playing a hard 200-foot game.”

About not immediately returning to the NHL, Francis told Wright, “in no way, shape or form are we unhappy with you. This is part of the process.” The GM said Wright, in response, was completely on board.

Wright’s positive attitude may surprise those who witnessed his supposed stare-down of the Montreal table at last year’s draft. (The Canadiens passed on Wright with the first-overall pick, and he fell to Seattle at No. 4.)

Wright also made a favorable impression with the AHL Firebirds.

“They held a rookie dinner at the end of his conditioning stint,” Francis revealed. “We didn’t want him to go, because he was coming back to Seattle the next day. The players were adamant that they wanted him to be a part of it. So he endeared himself to his teammates.”


IRAD CHEN ON HOW TO GET THE PENGUINS HEALTHY

Pittsburgh’s recent slide suggested the Pens had lost their identity. If true – and I believe it is – then GM Ron Hextall should take action.

The club must return to its successful fast-game strategy. But, to do so, changes are a must. If I were Hextall, I would attempt the following moves to clear cap space to bolster the roster:

1. Trade Brian Dumoulin. He’s off of his game, seems very slow and, more often than not, makes the wrong play. In the past, he skated on the first pair with Kris Letang. So far this season, he has negatively affected Letang’s game and has since been demoted to the third unit.

2. Ty Smith could replace Dumoulin. The former first-round draft pick was brought in from New Jersey in exchange for John Marino and was then forced to play in the AHL to start the season due to cap reasons. Smith is a puck-moving, smooth-skating defenseman who is just what the Pens need.

3. If coach Mike Sullivan wants more of a veteran presence, he can use depth defensemen Chad Ruhwedel or Mark Friedman – or both – more often.

4. Trade Kasperi Kapanen. He has played better since returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch earlier in the season. But he’s stuck earning $3.2 million playing in the bottom six. It seems as if KK will never gain coach Sullivan’s trust again.

Assuming Hextall gains cap space, Ron should aim for the best trade target – Vancouver’s Bo Horvat.

The Penguins’ ownership group wants to win another cup in the Crosby- Malkin era. So I say they trade for Horvat.

With Horvat in the lineup, Sully can slide him into the second line with Malkin and demote Zucker to the third line. He can spread the depth and place Horvat at the third-line center and then move Jeff Carter to the wing to create the best one-three center position in the league. He could also shift Malkin to the wing and employ Horvat as a second-line center.

Granted, getting Horvat won’t be easy, but the Penguins must get faster and more depth as soon as possible.

That said, goaltending will ultimately determine the Penguins’ season, especially if they make the playoffs.


YES, IT’S POSSIBLE TO STOP MCDAVID – BUT NOT EASY.

With all the McDavid madness engulfing the Oilers every time he steps on the ice, the Maven wonders if there’s any wizard out there with a formula for punching the air out of McD’s tires.

One of my very smart consultants said it’s virtually impossible because no player in the league can match McDavid’s speed-plus.

Meanwhile, George Falkowski went directly to the history books. He learned that – yes, it was possible to stop the otherwise indomitable Mario Lemieux – and the Bruins’ indefatigable Steve Kasper was the man who turned LeMagnifique into just Magnif.

“Plus,” added George, “I recall when Cam Neely was a holy scoring terror for Boston during the mid-1990s. At the start of the 1995 playoff with New Jersey, coach Jacques Lemaire put Claude Lemieux on Neely and drove Cam nuts. The Devs won that series with ease, thanks, in part, to Lemieux on Cam.”

Ah, but is there a Claude Lemieux in the league with the determination to deflate McDavid?


THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

FRIDAY: Winnipeg beats Tampa Bay, 4-2, and Pierre-Luc Dubois gets his 18th and 19th goals. Guess we know who won the Dubois deal, don’t we?

SATURDAY: Edmonton’s No. 1 goalie Stu Skinner goes down to make an OT save, and Cale Makar skins Skinner going up with the shot for the game-winner.

SUNDAY: The Caps just got a boost with Tom Wilson and Nick Backstrom back in the lineup, coupled with a 1-0 win over Columbus last night.

MONDAY GAME TO WATCH: Oilers at Kings. Want to see real two-way 200-foot NHL forwards? Watch Zach Hyman and Anze Kopitar.


INTERESTING HOCKEY PERSONALITIES: HOW BROADCASTER LARRY HIRSCH SOLD THE DEVILS TO JERSEY FANS, & SAVED THE FRANCHISE (PART 1 OF 2)

Hall of Famer – and one-time Lightning GM – Phil Esposito once said, “Once we get you (Florida fans) to the arena, we got you!”

It was the exciting and excitable broadcaster Larry Hirsch who got New Jersey fans to Meadowlands Arena to see the brand-new Devils. By doing so, Hirsch helped create, save and then build one of the NHL’s strongest fan bases.

Hirsch did such a phenomenal job that hockey historian Larry Berger – writing in the Bergen Record – recently proposed that Hirsch’s name belongs on a banner atop Prudential Center with other Devils legends.

“I feel strongly about telling younger fans about his impact on the Devils and sports fans in the Tri-State Area in general,” said Berger.

That’s strong stuff, but I can vouch for both Berger and Hirsch since I, too, listened to the inimitable and indomitable Larry Hirsch. He became

known as ‘The Master Blaster’ and the first broadcasting hero in New Jersey.

“Hirsch was a legend, so much so that I used to record his broadcasts,” Berger said. “Larry’s impact was huge, and his contributions to the Devils development should be honored.”

New Jersey’s original (1982-83) players, such as goalie Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch, knew how much Hirsch meant to the team in terms of fan development.

Now the Devils’ radio analyst, Resch told Berger: “We needed visibility, whether it was a player or a personality. Larry took it upon himself to promote the team, and he did a great job of it.”

In author Matthew Blittner’s oral history, Unforgettable Devils, Hirsch revealed how he captured the fans, but only after club owner Dr. John McMullen was swayed by the Master Blaster’s sales pitch and hired him on the spot.

“I guaranteed to Doc Mac that his Devils would become the No. 1 rated team,” Hirsch recalled. “I said, ‘Give me three years and your team will be the most listened to team on radio.’ Then, I took the recommendation from our PR man, Larry Brooks, that Fred Shero be my analyst. That was good because Fred and I got along like peas and carrots. I crowned myself ‘Master Blaster’ and Fred became ‘Doctor Hockey.’ ”

From the get-go, Hirsch pulled off the hustle of all hustles.

“I gave out our phone number to get fans to call in and ask questions,” he remembered. “It was all about fan participation. Through the list we got names and handed them over to the ticket department. I said it would take three years, but we were No. 1 after that first year. We were the most listened to because I got the fans involved.”

This minor miracle only could have happened because Hirsch had the knack. That included an impeccable knowledge of the game, pure passion in his delivery and the motivation that went with competing with the magical Rangers and champ Isles.

Hirsch emerged as a broadcasting rock star with gimmicks that worked in no time.

“When I started the broadcast, I’d tell our listeners, ‘I’m putting you in Row A, Seat 1.’ Then, I did the play-by-play as if I was playing the game myself. One critic said that I had two languages at the same time – English and Body English. And when the games were over, we had fans 50 or 60 deep around our broadcast booth. They couldn’t get enough of me and Fred.”

Mind you, all this success grew while the Devils were buried at the bottom of the NHL. But all the Master Blaster did was intensify his appeal. As for his announcing style? Well, one description would simply be inimitable.

“I combined the Canadian-American way of broadcasting,” he explained. “I presented the game so that every listener could feel the thrills and excitement.”

But it was much more than that. The Master Blaster provided arresting antics that tantalized fans. Likewise, some of them antagonized at least some visiting broadcasters. On one occasion, Larry and a prominent out-of-town play-by-play man nearly came to blows while each was sitting almost side by side doing a game. That near bout was as arresting as the action on the ice.

(Next Friday: How Larry Hirsch almost killed himself announcing a game.)


WHO SAID IT? “That was not me. I must have entered someone else’s body!” (ANSWER BELOW.)


BIG QUESTION: (Via Sportsnet) Is Jakob Chychrun the trade target for Edmonton?

BIG ANSWER: I’m sick and tired of a thousand Chychrun rumors, so the answer is ‘No.’


Yays and Boos

YAYS AND BOOS

YAY TO MORGAN RIELLY on his engagement to figure skater Tessa Virtue.

YAY TO VITEK VANECEK for giving New Jersey big wins in goal despite being a back-up.

YAY TO 32 NHL COACHES for not getting fired. (Yet.)


A CYNIC’S VIEW OF THE WORLD JUNIORS

Not everyone is doing cartwheels of joy over Canada’s Gold Medal in the World Junior tourney. Our Sean McCaffrey, who just recapped the Rangers at the halfway mark of the season, puts it bluntly:

“I despise these tournaments with young players because after every goal scored by any of them, every fan and pundit anoints them as ‘the second coming of Wayne Gretzky.’ Sure, the tournament is great for the fans, but, as far as the games translating to NHL success? Hardly!”


GOOD FOR LEAH, BUT HOW ABOUT THE FORGOTTEN HEROINE?

It is a fact of life that in 1971 a female reporter covering a Rangers game could not work in the press box with male counterparts. It said so in plain English on the press credentials. “Ladies Not Permitted In The Press Box.”

My wife, Shirley, was assigned to cover a Rangers-Leafs playoff game at Madison Square Garden and was denied access to the press box. Rather than accept the gender boycott, she took her case to the NY Human Rights Commission – and won.

It was a landmark victory that the media ignored at the time. I wonder whether ESPN’s Leah Hextall or any female broadcasters know Shirley’s significant victory on behalf of women in the hockey business.

I bring this up for two reasons:

1. I now have a gifted 14-year-old granddaughter who plays defense for a team in Thun, Switzerland – on a boys team.

2. Avigail Fischler would like to become a pro hockey player, and I would like her to succeed, which makes me very interested in the success of women’s hockey so that Avigail can fulfill her dream. Hence, Leah Hextall has meaning for Avigail.

Hextall represents a woman who battled to reach a position normally reserved for men. I hope that, someday, Leah can convey her thoughts to Avigail.


ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Low-scoring Vancouver defenseman Harold Snepsts remarked getting two assists in one game.

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