A Plug for Travis Green -- Plus Other Coach Talk
Lightning, Panthers to square off in All-Florida First Rounder. Phil Kessel notches his 900th point. TV hires. Torts talk.
When The Hockey News ran its first gossip column -- written by me -- in 1979, the byline atop the column read 'By Jacques Justice."
Editor In Chief Tom Murray began getting calls with the question, "Who's this Jacques Justice?"
To which Tommy would shoot back, "Everyone knows there's no justice in hockey."
That's the way I feel about a few icy things these days and one of them is all about my dear pal, Travis Green.
Everyone from the distinguished ex-NHLer-turned-insightful tv analyst Ray Ferraro to me believe that -- for crying out loud -- why doesn't Canucks ownership get it over with and extend Green's contract.
“Under very tough circumstances.” Ferraro insists "Travis has done a terrific job."
The Covid epidemic smote the entire Vancouver lineup more than any other club. Matter of fact, it reached a point where critics were urging the NHL to send the Canucks home and call it a season.
Green, who also got badly slugged by the disease, brought his team back in action. For a brief but very exciting time they actually took a good sprint toward a playoff berth before post-pandemic fatigue folded their chances.
Speaking of coaches, John Tortorella's decision to say, "Goodbye, Columbus" is a wise one all around. If I were advising Torts, I'd tell him to take a season off and get a tv gig.
The Mouth That Roared is rapidly becoming a post-game cliche. His one-word answer and media ripostes have been fun television. In a bygone era, he could have been a vaudeville star.
What he could be now is what Don Cherry was two decades ago; a boisterous -- occasionally hilarious -- but insightful analyst. Then, Grapes suckered himself into wearing those ridiculous clown outfits. That's when Cherry's anonymous tailor became the star not the hockey coach.
Finally, a word about the most unobtrusive coach in the NHL, Nashville's John Hynes.
I worked with Hynes for a couple of years in New Jersey and savored his honesty and insights. After his Devils exit, The Man Who Never Needs A Haircut was fielded on the short hop by an even older, old pal of mine, David Poile.
"Hynes settled in after a 28-game audition," wrote David Boclair in The Hockey News. "His time in charge provided valuable insight when it came to off-season alterations."
For a while this season -- as the Preds sunk into NHL subterranean depths -- it appeared as if Poile would make an in-season alteration by putting Johnny on the unemployment line.
Matter of fact it looked as if David would forget playoff dreams and trade for next year. But Poile played the patient tune and something strange happened.
The toothless Preds got a new set of molars and began biting every foe in sight. And -- YAY! Hynes -- Johnny Came Lately got his lads into the playoffs.
Granted, this is not a McDavid-Matthews kind of marquee headliner but, somehow, I like the John Hynes-David Poile tale better.
Stan’s Java Jive
HEADLINE: PANTHERS AND LIGHTNING TO MEET IN THEIR FIRST EVER PLAYOFF SERIES
THE JIVE: Our man in Florida, Alan Greenberg says call it the Sunshine Showdown, the Battle of Florida or the Sunshine Skate (Thank you George Richards of Florida Hockey Now for the last one.), it is a natural rivalry long overdue.
These cross state rivals have co-existed since the Panthers entered the NHL for the 1993-94 season but never have they simultaneously iced teams worthy of a post-season matchup. For the Panthers, were it not for Covid, they would be enjoying the rarity of a sold-out arena.
How the teams got to this point are deep contrasts. The defending Stanley Cup Champions were a good bet to repeat when the season opened. The Panthers, on the other hand, were marginal playoff contenders. With eight regular season meetings this season, including a final set to determine second place, these teams have seen enough of each other for the animosities to build.
Their paths to the playoffs were aided by incredible depth, without which neither would have achieved their level of success.
The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, last years’ leading scorer, was lost for the entire regular season. Steven Stamkos missed the final 16 games of the season. With bottom six players like Yanni Gourde and Mathieu Joseph stepping up, the Bolts still finished in the top ten offensively.
For the Panthers, new g.m. Bill Zito’s remake of the team came rapidly. Building around his core of Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, Zito added much needed toughness in Patric Hornqvist and Radko Gudas. For finesse he added Carter Verhaeghe, Alex Wennberg and Anthony Duclair. His deadline pickup of Sam Bennett was timely. All of the new players were major contributors to the team’s success. The Cats have so much depth that veteran d-man Anton Stralman has been a healthy scratch for most of the late season run.
The Panthers’ hopes could have ended when star defenseman Ekblad was lost for the season on March 27th. Instead, his regular partner, MacKenzie Weegar, a 7th round pick in 2013, and pre-season waiver pickup Gustav Forsling, have excelled as a first pairing. The Cats are 16-5-1 since Ekblad went down.
On paper the Bolts are an obvious favorite. Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good as it gets in goal. His stats and league leading 31 wins are Vezina quality. Sergei Bobrovsky played well enough to garner 19 wins in 29 decisions. For backup an edge to the Panthers’ with Chris Driedger who ended his regular season by shutting out the Lightning..
Victor Hedman is still a premier two-way defender, giving the Lightning the edge here. The return of Jan Rutta from an 18-game injury hiatus will help. If Hedman is healthy, with Ekblad out I give the edge to the Lightning. Both teams made deadline deals for d-men. David Savard for Tampa and Brandon Montour for Florida added blueline skill. Hedman and Ryan McDonagh sat out the last two games of the season resting injuries so there is a major X factor here. Lightning coach Jon Cooper has been very non-committal about their status.
At forward, if Kucherov and Stamkos are back and can play at their true level of ability, the edge again goes to the Lightning, especially on the power play. It will, however, be difficult for both to return to action full blast after missing so many games.
Both teams can be explosive. Each has at least seven players with ten or more goals. The Bolts’ Brayden Point and the Panthers’ Barkov and Huberdeau are all in the twenty-goal club. Both teams have bottom six depth and plenty of grit.
The Panthers scored five goals or more against Tampa four times this season and won five of the eight games. Florida ended the season on a six game win streak while Tampa Bay lost their last three and were outscored by a 14-3 margin.
The two teams have had plenty of time to build a dislike for each other. After last Saturday’s 154 penalty minute slugfest Tampa coach Jon Cooper gave a playoff prognosis. “The physicality may stay the same but maybe the recklessness won’t be there as much.”
Likewise the verbal battle has begun, with rugged Pat Maroon implying in the media that that the Panthers should be intimidated at the prospect of playing the Lightning in the first round. Cats’ tough guy Radko Gudas shrugged it off with a chuckle. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
These two teams could conceivably play nine consecutive games. If the regular season wrap-up is any indication of things to come, get set for a rough ride.
HEADLINE: TOM WILSON -- THE LAWYER FOR HIS OWN DEFENSE
THE JIVE: Like him or not -- and we all know that many do not -- Tom Wilson did not shy away from explaining why he acted the way he did in the now well-argued Rangers-Caps episode last week. Mike Johnston of Sportsnet captured Wilson at the mike. "I never thought all this (fuss) would blow up the way it did," Wilson asserted. "It seemed like a fairly routine hockey scrum that took on a life of its own after the game."
Wilson then explained what ignited his anger-grenade and ensuing assault on the Rangers Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin. "Their guy kicks at our goalie and we learn at an early age in hockey to stand up for our goalie. Then I had a guy jump on my back. Those scrums get chaotic; lots of stuff goes on." For a closer, the Capitals forward sagely added, "Nothing I say now will change anyone's thinking." And he's right about that."
HEADLINE: PHIL KESSEL REACHES MILESTONE.
THE JIVE: Hidden somewhere in the wilds of Arizona, the most reviled and misunderstood player in the NHL continues to earn his simoleans. Phil Kessel, the immigrant from Boston, Toronto and Pittsburgh, just rung up his 900th NHL point last Friday on a clean, breakaway goal against San Jose. While at times Phil looks like a guy just pulled off the street to play hockey, he has been a two-time Stanley Cup-winner and his own man whether the reporters like it or not. (I happen to like it.)
HEADLINE: IF GRETZKY TAKES TURNER; ESPN CAN TOP THAT
THE JIVE: As headliners go, The Great One dominates the marquee. But when it comes to brash, uninhibited opinions, The Wayner is not that kind of mouthpiece. Oh, sure, Gretz will be just fine if he takes the Turner hockey gig, but now it's ESPN's turn to out-turn Turner. As noted above, the Duke of Torts would be my choice. Then again, why doesn't Brian Burke get himself out of that boring Penguins gig and become ESPN's mouth-that-roared. The moolah will be marvelous and Burkie could be headlined as "The Maine Event."
HEADLINE: Rick TOCCHET TO COYOTES: 'SO LONG, PHOENIX
THE JIVE: Now Ron Francis in Krakenville has yet another potential coach to interview and not a bad one at that. The mere fact that Tocchet survived the off-season of front office turmoil -- including a g.m. who quit -- was a feat unto itself. Rookie g.m. Bill Armstrong says he'll have a long list of interviewees including a few assistant coaches who will be happy to run a bench in Arizona. Word has it that once freshly-minted Rangers g.m. Chris Drury finishes his end-of-season players schmoozes, he'll have a better idea whether or not to retain David Quinn. If the answer should be "nix," another juicy coaching job will be available for someone not named Tortorella. Finally, Steve Yzerman's decision on Jeff Blashill's future could be made as we speak. Jeff did as well as anyone could with the material at hand. It's noteworthy that he coached without any of the negative noise that always seems to accompany a Torts or Mike Babcock.
HEADLINE: AN OBJECTIVE VIEW OF TORTS
THE JIVE: Our Gus Vic has never had a problem with John Tortorella. So what he says here is a fair assessment, Go, Gus: "The reality is that (2020-21) is the season the team was expected to have last season -- with the departures of Panarin and Bobrovsky. However, the opening round sweep of Tampa and noble performance against Boston delayed the downward slide.
"So, where does Torts go from here? Given his uber-competitive nature and comments regarding this season about "being kicked in the teeth," does he want to jump right back in the soup or take a year off for, perhaps, broadcasting?" Good question. I say he'll exhale for a year and go for a tv gig. He may deny it but John needs a rest.
TRIVIA CORNER: Which NHL coach originated the idea of alternating goaltenders during games? (Answer below.)
CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "As a coach, you must always remember that when you're on the way in, you're on the way out!"
-Punch Imlach when he led the Toronto Maple Leafs to their last Stanley Cup in 1967.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Shortly after World War II, Rangers coach Frank Boucher had two equally good goalies.
During a couple of games he would rotate his goalies as he did his lines. The gimmick didn't last long.