Stan’s Java Jive: 3/12/21

Matthews leads Leafs to overtime win; Laine and Torts are at it again; Wings trending up.


THE JIVE: The NHL's high command -- via detailed answers to media questions -- views the future with a blend of hope and optimism. Ergo: It's looking like next season will return to an 82-game normalcy. "It should be pretty darn close if not fully normal," Commissioner Bettman reports. "We believe we should be able to start next season on time." Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly adds that the NHL Draft "more likely than not" will remain in July. Further good news is that more than half the clubs currently are welcoming fans on a limited number. "As long as the Pandemic cooperates," adds Bettman, "and more vaccinations are available, we're optimistic as we get toward the playoffs." The point is that things are looking up and, hopefully, the trend will stay that way. (That's the best news we've heard in a while!)


THE JIVE: Relentlessly -- hand injury or not -- Auston Matthews is fast becoming the "Babe Ruth of Toronto." His well-crafted overtime backhander against Winnipeg saved the Leafs from the indignity of a fourth straight loss. The 4-3 win climaxed at 59 seconds into the extra session. It wasn't an ordinary goal that beat Winnipeg's ace Connor Hellebuyck. Matter of fact, The Hero From Arizona -- Matthews, that is, not a Coyote -- borrowed from the Doc Emrick vocabulary, describing the winning scene as, "It was chaos!" Auston added an assist to his league-leading 21st goal. On the other side, my favorite Jet, Nik Ehlers, matched Matthews with two red lights and a helper. Trick is Babe Matthews got the winner. (That ties the series at one apiece. Rubber match coming up should be a dandy.)


THE JIVE: The tail-spinning Blue Jackets badly need a win; that's a given.

What's more, when Max Domi decided to play hockey for a change and put the BJ's ahead of Florida by three goals last night it looked like a "given," a Columbus victory. Nay, nay and NAY. Those Comeback Cats then began their 12th come-from behind victory. As my Florida V.P. In Charge of Comeback Stories, Al Greenberg, enthuses, "In the space of eight minutes, the Panthers scored three goals, including Ryan Lomberg's first that started the surge." The winner was scored by Frank Vatrano in OT and, adds Greenberg, "The Jackets barely touched the puck in the extra session." But here's the kicker: John Tortorella benched Patrik Laine late in the third period and OT. Laine's explanation is a gem: "I thought I was playing good. I guess I thought wrong!" (You can bet this Laine guy is telling his agent to find him a non-Torts destination. Pronto!)


THE JIVE: There were some "He's too old!" wisecracks uttered when Darryl (Don't Mess With Me) Sutter was named Calgary coach recently. Fair enough; it's just that the critics simply do not understand that we're talking about one of the most savvy hockey guys this side of Viking, Alberta. Exhibit A was available last night when The Man went behind the bench for the first time since since his Protocol delays and won 2-1 over the Habs.The Flames now have Darryl batting a thousand -- one for one is batting a thousand, right!  Darryl did it starting with Josh Leivo's two goals. Leivo has been a Flame to watch. When healthy, he scores at a 40-point pace and was he ever healthy against the Habs. Better still, Sutter energized previously tradeable Sam Bennett who assisted twice for Josh as did Derek Ryan. Suddenly, Sutter has crafted a nifty Leivo-Ryan-Bennett line. Plus, his Flames climbed to the .500 mark (12-12-3) and are primed for a Sutter surge to the playoffs! (P.S. Nice going, Darryl!)


THE JIVE: Celebrating his 28th year at the NHL's helm, the Commissioner is at the top of his game. He steered the league through especially rocky shoals to complete the 2019-20 season and has orchestrated half the current campaign, defying all odds and the legion of negativists. That he's been able to deliver a record ESPN-NHL tv contract is but another example of his 14-Carat gold stewardship. Still to come will be a second U.S. network deal -- could be NBC returning or, conceivably, Fox -- that will add record income to the league coffers. And all this while the Pandemic still engulfs the civilized world. The Bettman-Bill Daly duo ranks at the top of the sports executive peak.


THE JIVE: My tv Insider, Joel Cohen, observes that one aspect of the NHL-ESPN marriage is that the league is reaching out to the younger and more tech-savvy demographic. "A  key factor," says Cohen, "will be in broadcasting to that demographic; showing details of the game that excites them." Cohen wonders what changes will be made in the broadcast booth, intermission panel formats and discussions. He also is interested in "changes in the sights and sounds of the game that enhance the viewing experience of a younger demographic." Looking backward, Joel concludes, "There was nothing more exciting than listening to Gary Thorne do a hockey broadcast."


THE JIVE: It's a bit hard to believe but a good seventeen years have passed since ESPN was a lead NHL tv outlet. Even more fascinating is the fact that just about every hockey person then still is with the outfit now and could be dusting off the throat muscles for next season's telecasts. The posse includes the very familiar Steve Levy, Barry (Himself) Melrose, Linda Cohn and John Bucigross. This does not include "insiders" steeped in hockey I.Q. And that also means Intensity Quotient. Of course we'll hear demands -- requests -- for the likes of play-by-play ace Thorne and even ex-Islanders puck-stopper Rick DiPietro who's currently linked to ESPN NY. (And that's just scratching the surface of hiring possibilities.)


THE JIVE: That's easy; the team most desperate for a playoff berth but still is in a good place. Or, to be specific, the Bruins of Beantown. General manager Don Sweeney had been nervously wondering why the B's Goal Well has gone dry. Despite the likes of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, it's become a big deal for the Shaggy Bears to scrape up more than a couple goals for either Tuukka Rask or his fraternity brother, Jaro Halak. Before the season began it was obvious that Sweeney needed to find scoring wingers for No. 2 and No. 3 centers, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle. Minus, Torey Krug, the onus is on Charlie McAvoy to create offense from the back end. So, the search is on and Division-buddy, Buffalo, could relieve the tension by offering the likes of Jeff Skinner, 

but not for nothing. Meanwhile, Sweeney was given a respite last night when his "Ole Reliables" -- Pastrnak, Bergeron, Krejci -- came through with goals and even Jake DeBrusk awakened with a red light. (The 4-0 win  over the Rangers proved that Jaro Halak still has the Blueshirts number; and has had it since his Islanders days.)


THE JIVE: When a cellar-dweller takes three out of four possible points from the reigning champions, brother, sister, that's a story. And, yes, the suddenly in-flight Red Wings have done just that. The 6-4 win over Tampa Bay last night inspired Bolts captain Steven Stamkos to get his two-cents into the conversation. "Give them credit," says Steve of the Detroiters. "They came out hungry and their goalie played well." Yeah, Jon Bernier produced 40 saves and continues to be the Wings' best player. (Now that Thomas Greiss-Is-Nice has found his game, the Wings are shaping up, well, nicely!)


THE JIVE: Despite their loss in the Motor City last night Tampa Bay deserves top spot in the ratings. However, I disagree with placement of Vegas as runner-up. Not after the Wild -- down at ten -- whipped Marc-Andre's team two-straight. The Canes -- winners again last night -- in third, should be second.. Despite losing three in a row going into last night's win over Winnipeg, Toronto is fifth, one ahead of Florida, also winners last night. The Islanders -- still on a hot streak -- are worthy of fourth place. In 16th -- and last place -- are the Habs and that's fair enough. The only other  choice I question is 13th which now belongs to Philly -- losers last night -- and I'd put 14th place St.Louis ahead of them.


* ANALYSING THE SUTTERS. Calgary reporter Debbie Elicksen on Darryl: "He's like all the Sutters. They're tough with the media. But when you get a Darryl or Brian off camera they are the salt of the earth and very personable."

* DUCKS DEAL? Apparently, Anaheim g.m. Bob Murray is getting calls about his top left wing. Rikard Rakell. He's had a dozen points in his last half-dozen games.

* FLYERS LOOKING: Philly is on the lookout for a defenseman. After losing 5-3 to Washington last night, g,m. Chuck Fletcher might want a goalie as well.

* PART OF THE NEW TV DEAL: The new ESPN deal has a lot of plusses and one of them is that the network is always on in every sports bar. As one tv analyst notes: "The importance can't be overstated -- to get back to ESPN. It's huge for the NHL!"

TRIVIA CORNER: Who was the famed NBC "Tonight Show" host who played against the Rangers? (Answer below.)


-Rangers defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen, a bachelor, when asked whom he would most like to meet!

TRIVIA ANSWER: "Tonight" host Steve Allen arranged a pre-Christmas show on Rockefeller Centre ice which included the Rangers. In one sequence, Allen played goal against a Rod Gilbert breakaway.

But before the Hall of Famer shot, Allen turned the goal around and snapped, "Turnabout is fair play!"