Stan's Java Jive: 3/31/21

ESPN lining up the NHL broadcasters; Bubble clubs still fighting; The North shaping up?


THE JIVE: Armed with its new NHL contract, ESPN is moving full speed ahead to produce a solid lineup, top to bottom from production innovations to top talent. Michael McCarthy, writing for Front Office Sports, discussed ESPN's plans with boss Mark Gross. Among the many bits of good news is that the hockey-savvy broadcast crew will include ace vets Barry Melrose, Steve Levy, the ever-vivacious and savvy Linda Cohn and witty John Bucigross. The network is planning a new NHL studio and, according to Gross, will expand Cohn's "In The Crease" segment and bring back the 1990's theme music. While the high command has not yet picked its announcing teams, Gross does -- not surprisingly -- admit that ESPN has enjoyed "an overwhelming response" from prospective talent, crew folks, et. al. (Very exciting times in Bristol!)


THE JIVE: I just made that "Won’t Go Aways" up to describe bubble clubs who refuse to disappear from the playoff race. It has to start with Nashville and Chicago. The Preds won their sixth straight last night defeating Dallas, 3-2 in overtime while the revived Blackhawks edged tough Carolina, 2-1. Lagging behind but still alive is Torts' Blue Jackets who handed Champ Tampa Bay a 3-1 loss. Goaltenders have made a huge difference in Music City and the Windy City. Juuse Saros came through with 33 saves in the win over the Stars and, once again, Kevin Lankinen continues to be the surprise-of-surprises for Patrick Kane's pals. Not to be overlooked although they're only one win over .500 are the Rangers who took the measure of division-leading Washington 5-2 last night. NHL Star of the Week, defenseman Adam Fox got another red light for the Blueshirts.


THE JIVE: Both fortunately and unfortunately, Raleigh, North Carolina is not the center of hockey's universe. The citizens of Toronto are convinced Hogtown is the place. Which helps explain why the Hurricanes remain the best kept secret of the current NHL season. My Royal Raleigh reporter -- a staunch realist -- Joel Cohen understands. That said he has a message: "Wake up, hockey world; You're missing the hottest show on ice. No, not Mathews and Marner; not McDavid and Draisaitl. Move over Crosby and Ovie. Have you ever heard of Sabastien Aho, Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter? The Canes' super line features speed, skill and finesse." I'm with Joel all the way. Rod Brind'Amour's slick outfit has beaten the best of 'em including a recent 4-2 decision over the Champ Lightning. Carolina's top line created an exclamation point play for  the win. It was a three-way passing gem that befuddled the foe. And I still didn't get to the humongous work of one delightful defenseman, Dougie Hamilton, who has a legitimate shot at the Norris Trophy. (However, they don't win 'em all. Chi topped the Canes, 2-1, last night.)


THE JIVE: The general feeling for almost half of the season was that the North (Canadian) Division was below the standard of those below the 49th parallel. Right or wrong, that no longer is the case; at least not in the mind of my right-hand expert Gus Vic. After studying the performances from British Columbia to Quebec, Vic offers this apt appraisal: "Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg are quality teams. That said, none of them are flawless; not by a long shot. The big question -- now an unknown -- is how any of the North's Big Three will hold up in a semi-final once the club escapes from Canada to play State-side champs. That said, I like the troika more than I did a few weeks ago." (Meanwhile, the well-rested Canadiens curbed Edmonton's enthusiasm last night with a 4-0 win in Montreal. So, maybe Marc Bergevin's coaching change is working after all. Couldn't happen to a funnier guy!)


THE JIVE: There was genuine concern when Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov left the dated palms of Florida for supposedly greener pa$ture$.

Hoffman moved on to St.Louis while The Ev Man headed north to Ottawa.

Instead of wailing "Woe is me," Panthers rookie g.m. Bill Zito went about the business of replacing his deserting duo. The new men who arrived at Sunrise were Carter Verhaeghe and Patric Hornqvist. When Hoffman was a healthy scratch against Anaheim on Sunday, it prompted Pal Al Greenberg to produce some comparative stats. Turns out that Carter has 17 goals for Florida and Patric a dozen red lights. Meanwhile, when he plays, Hoffman has totalled eight goals while Daddy-O had nine. (I guess we know who won those deals. Hint: His last name is Zito! And he signed Verhaeghe for a mere $1 million for two years. Cut-Rate if ever there was one! What Bashin' Bill can't cut are his club's injuries. See below.)


THE JIVE: It doesn't rain much in The Sunshine State but when it comes to the Panthers and their injury list, it pours! The latest to go down with wounds is Anthony Duclair with an "Upper Body" mishap which appears to be his shoulder. The Hurt List now also includes Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, and Patric Hornqvist. That's the winning core yet the Cats won their third straight last night, beating Detroit, 4-1. I asked my man in Sunrise, Al Greenberg, how come Q's team keeps getting W's? "The lesser lights are stepping up," Big Al explains. "Fellows like Gus Forsling who Florida got from Carolina, and Noel Acciari, a fourth-string center from Rhode Island; plus rookie right wing Owen Tippett have delivered. The surprising thing is that Sergei Bobrovsky has not played that well in goal but he keeps winning." (That's from the song, "Nice Work If You Can Get It, And You Can Get It If You Try.")


THE JIVE: At least the Sabres are consistent; they always lose. But Hockeytown's favorite team, the Red Wings, have displayed some neat wins -- and then, back to Kayos-ville. In last night's 4-1 loss to injury-riddled Florida, the Motor City sextet elicited this response from Al Greenberg: "They looked terrible. There was one giveaway after another. I felt sorry for Thomas Greiss, who replaced Cal Pickard who had a bad start." The problem with my old pal Greiss is that he's not been anything near the saviour we hoped he'd be in Detroit. He went 0-2 last week and his numbers are hardly encouraging -- 4.68 and .878. His deal is $3.6 million through next season. (Figure g.m. Steve Yzerman is on the phone a lot these days.)


* WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THE GHOST? The Flyers have put once highly-highly-highly-touted defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on waivers. Oh, how the hghly-touted have fallen. 

* WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THE CHAMPS? For the first time this season, the Stanley Cup-winning Lightning have lost three games in a row. Is it time to worry in Tampa Bay? (Yes, if they blow the next one!)


Name the award-winning television producer who also was the Rangers practice goalie during the late 1950's.

(Answer below:)

FUNNY LINES FROM YESTERYEAR: "It's supposed to be their year every year."

-Canadiens defenseman Serge Savard when asked if 1992 was "The Rangers' year."

TRIVIA ANSWER: Arnee (Not Arnie) Nocks was an Emmy Award-winning producer for New York's Dumont Network.

When he wasn't doing his video work, he doubled as the Rangers practice goalie while Hall of Famer Gump Worsley was on the other side. Nocks was persuaded to wear a plexiglass mask once. Andy Bathgate's slapshot shattered it. That marked the one and only time Nocks ever wore any mask in goal!