Stan's Java Jive: 2/5/21

The Leafs are looking good -- or are they?; NHL lands another Euro TV deal; Q's risk is not rewarded and Hextall in Pitt?



THE JIVE: Every year is supposed to be the year for Toronto. So, why not this year, winning The Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967? Because general manager Kyle Dubas has built a well-rounded club that can compensate for modest goaltending. It's not because they routed Vancouver last night, 7-3, but rather the balance both on and off the ice that matters. When a third string -- only because Joe Thornton is out -- center such as aging Jason Spezza can deliver a decisive hat trick, man, oh, man, you've got depth with a capital D. Add to that the key grit addition of Wayne Simmonds who's re-found his fighting spirit and adds a few goals, to boot. We know all about the Marners and Matthews but hidden off the ice is a brain trust to aid Sheldon Keefe behind the bench. Dubas hired vet coach Paul MacLean, former Florida asst. g.m., Eric Joyce and Manny Malhotra who's brought power play savvy to the organization. Right now, the only question that remains is whether team defense stays up to par.

(Then again, when a retread like Spezza gets a hat trick, who needs defense?)


THE JIVE: My enthusiasm over the Leafs immediately is shouted down by colleague, Sig Demling, whose insights are like journalistic jewels. Here's what I mean when he puts the emergency brakes on my boast about the Hogtown Heroes: "The Canadian Division is the worst in the league," Demling proclaims. "That division has made the Leafs look like world-beaters, which they are not. If a (washed up) Joe Thornton and a Spezza can play in Toronto -- and contribute, then Jaromir Jagr should play the rest of the season for a Canadian team and would do well. Imagine him in Edmonton." (Oilers boss Kenny Holland should start imagining. A call to Kladno is cheap these days. In fact, if Ken calls "Collect,": JJ will accept the charges.)


THE JIVE: With Patrik Laine and John Roslovic alive, well and playing for Columbus, Winnipeg has been minus the other half of the deal -- Pierre-Luc Dubois -- since the exchange. Dubois, under mandatory Pandemic lockdown, has not been eligible to emerge until tonight. If all goes well, the flying Frenchman will make his debut on Tuesday in Calgary. By then, Laine and Roslovic will have played six and three games, respectively. Meanwhile, Dubois wil have watched Peg play seven times without him.

This has enraged everyone on the Winnipeg side from g.m. Kevin Cheveldayoff, coach Paul Maurice and the players. That's the fury news. The good news is that the Jets beat Calgary without Peg's missing piece, 4-1, last night.


THE JIVE: With more and more European players enhancing the NHL scene, Bettman, Inc. is seizing the opportunity to spread the North American game throughout Europe. For the third straight year, the league and 20 international broadcast partners will deliver more than 31 games live  in prime time every weekend through the season. Fans in 25 countries across the continent will enjoy a European Game Of The Week presented by SAP. The opener is slated for tomorrow. Meanwhile, ex-Michigan State and Red Wings ace Justin Abdelkader has signed on with the Swiss Ev Zug sextet. Justin, 33,  has been bought out of his seven-year contract and welcomed to the fast Swiss league. "Justin has earned enough in his career and isn't here for the money," says Reto Klay, EV.Z sports director. "He just wants to play again." (Good stuff and Ab is in the right place at the right time. Swiss hockey is the best!)


THE JIVE: No coach is more "veteran" than Florida's Joel Quenneville. And nobody knows the dangers of a "Coach's Challenge" than the estimable Mr. Q. So, with his Cats leading Nashville by two goals late in the game, the blunder was committed. Preds captain Roman Josi scored to narrow Q's margin to a single goal. Not willing to leave bad enough alone, Jumpin' Joel challenged the alleged "high stick" and was informed that it was lower than high. Hence a two-minute penalty against Florida followed by a timely Nashville goal at 19:03 and the Preds win 6-5 in overtime on Filip Forsberg's goal. As my expert guy in Fla., Alan (I'm No Greenhorn) Greenberg points out, Q manfully accepted the blame. "It was one of those situations that took a little risk and it came back to bite me." (A spoonful of Listerine will wash away the bad taste.)


THE JIVE: This is wonderful news for Hexy supporters such as The Maven. Ron has a solid track record, is respected in Crosbyville not to mention around the league and is as good as Mario Lemieux can get. Hopefully, he'll get the gig and immediately find a trading partner to take Evgeny Malkin off the Pitt roster. (Then again, if Hexy can do that, aspirin sales will plummet in Pittsburgh and environs.)


THE JIVE: Rebuild is the name of the game in Canada's capital city and rebuild bossman Pierre Dorion did. With the No. 3, No. 5 and No. 28 selections in the October Entry Drafts first round. Yes, there was reason for joy in Bytown. But the By's have gone bye-bye since the new season began and that's set off tremors of terror among the media and Sens' faithful. I say throw the ubiquitous panic button into the Rideau Canal and put the sunny side up. As my Canadian reporter Rob Del Mundo suggests, "The future is bright but the kids will have to endure growing pains." Those rookies include German winger Tim Stuetzle. The Hockey News' scouting report offers this: "He's a four-direction speedster with finishing hands. Add to that excellent vision and an intelligent play-driver." Stuetzle was Tim Terrific last night coming through with a goal and an assist to snap Ottawa's nine game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the previously hot Habs. Del Mundo also likes right wing Drake Batherson and I like Brady Tkachuk for goals. Also, I endorsed the acquisition of goalie Matt Murray but I wish that old, reliable Craig Anderson had been retained. (Craig and Matt would have been a nifty combo.)


THE JIVE: There was an abundance of hand-wringing in Calgary last season; and for good reason. The once-dipsy-doodling Johnny-On-The-Spot Gaudreau had plummeted from a 99 point season to 58 in 70 games. You could just feel the trade winds every time his name came up in the off-season. Not anymore. The Salem, New Jersey native has been hotter than an out-of-the-oven ingot. By opening the season with a ten-game scoring spree, he's inspiring memories of Joe Nieuwendyk who, in 1994, opened the campaign scoring as if he wouldn't stop until the season ended. Last night John took his scoring wand to Winnipeg and it wasn't so "wand-erful." Jets won 4-1 but it was nothing to mope about, considering Johnny Hockey's super season so far. What's come over Gaudreau? "Every time he gets the puck, he's making things happen," says teammate Andrew Mangiapane. Captain Mark Giordano puts it another way. "Johnny is always effective when he has the puck. He's got the confidence he lacked last year. Frankly, there's no real way to stop him."  (Ahem; The Jets found the way.)


THE JIVE: Although he now belongs to the Washington Capitals, Henrik Lundqvist still is hanging out in his beloved Big Apple. The better news is that he reports happy stuff about his recovery following surgery in Cleveland for the ascending aortic issue and replacement. It's a month now and the Rangers icon says he had no idea how recuperation would go. "I feel strong," he reports "both in body and mind. I'm filled with positive energy. The recovery is going well." (To that, I say "Hooray for Hank!"


THE JIVE: Unlike the Women's National Basketball Association and the National Women's Soccer League, the NWHL collapsed its season this week. The season cessation was preceded by a Pandemic intrusion and other factors that burst what had seemed a very pretty balloon. As a matter of fact two semi-finals were slated for last night with the Final pencilled in for tonight. All games were sold to NBC Sports which now has to find content for tonight. No question, had we not been assailed by the Pandemic, the NWHL would have pulled it off as did its sister WNBA and NWSL. But stuff happens and now the question remains, how can pro women's hockey be revived for the future? There are plenty of complicated answers but the simplest and most practical comes down to the NHL running the show with all its knowledge and proper mechanisms to make it viable. That said, if such a solution had been so easy, it might have taken place months or years ago. I believe in women's pro hockey for a lot of reasons but mostly because it's fun to watch. I'm also convinced that once the Pandemic is history, the NWHL will return stronger than ever whether with the NHL's help and blessing or not.


* CHRIS DRURY NOT INTERESTED IN PENS G.M. JOB: Smart. Drury's got a sweet deal with the Rangers, and is now formally their Associate General Manager. Malkin headaches not for him.

* BARRY TROTZ FAVORED TO COACH CANADIAN OLYMPIC TEAM: That's what Matt Larkin of The Hockey News says. "Trotz has been the most successful Canadian bench boss in the past half-decade," notes Larkin.

* JAMES van RIEMSDYK HAS NOVEL EXPLANATION FOR SUCCESS: The Flyers scoring machine credits being a new dad. "I've found a better balance," The man says.

WASHINGTON AT RANGERS: 4-2 for New York thanks to Ryan Strome's pair of goals. Negated Alex Ovechkin's 709th red light passing Mike Gartner.

NASHVILLE AT FLORIDA: 6-5 for the Preds. This despite Jon Huberdeau's first-ever hat trick. "He had a career game," says Cats broadcaster Steve Goldstein. "Five points in two periods."

DALLAS AT COLUMBUS: 4-3 for the Jackets. Both Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic make the deal look good with a goal apiece.

OTTAWA AT MONTREAL: 3-2, Sens. And that's not a typo either. Tim Stutze showed why he's a Calder candidate with a goal and two helpers.

VANCOUVER AT TORONTO: 7-3 for Leafs. The up and down Canucks are in another downer. Elias Petterssen had better get going. Like, now!

CAROLINA AT CHICAGO: 6-4 for the revived Hawks. Patrick Kane continues to lift the Windy City boys; this time with a four-point game.

ARIZONA AT ST.LOUIS; 4-3 for the Yotes. Thank you, Antti Raanta for the 40 saves.

CALGARY AT WINNIPEG: 4-1, Jets. I repeat, who needs Pierre-Luc Dubois? Not while Connor Hellebuyck does his winning thing in goal.

YAY TO JASON SPEZZA. It's always refreshing when an "old guy" defies the experts who said Leafs didn't need him. A hat trick, no less vs. Vancouver last night.

GREAT LINES FROM THE PAST: HARRY NEALE: "I'm just like any other coach in the NHL. I sign a multi-minute contract!"