The Fischler Report: 10/11/21

My favorite hockey publication reviewed. ESPN-TNT ready to duke it out. Seth Jones then and now. Montreal pressure. Aleksander Barkov inks a big long-term contract. What is Stewart Gavin up to?

REVIEWING THE HOCKEY NEWS ANNUAL

For my money "The Bible" of our sport arrives every fall and never lets me down.

I don't pray by it but I swear by it.

That would be The Hockey News Yearbook. 

I love it and have never stopped loving it because it improves every new season.

The newest edition -- celebrating THN's 75th anniversary -- is as good as any and arguably the best ever. Here's why:

1. TEN THINGS TO WATCH: Ace feature writer Ken Campbell has some beauts but the one I like best is "Can Lightning Strike Thrice?" Ken concludes: "They'll be right there in the thick of the Stanley Cup chase. And that's no No. 1 bull." My response. The 1949 Leafs were the first to win a third straight. The Bolts ain't the Leafs -- and won't. And that's no bull either!

2. TOP 50 PLAYERS IN THE NHL: Senior writer Ryan Kennedy opens with Connor McDavid and closes with Ryan Pulock at 50. I don't like Nathan MacKinnon at Number Two because he never wins a Cup. I prefer his Number Three, Nikita Kucherov  because the Bolt has two Cups and Nat has 0! Big surprise was Kennedy burying Gino Malkin at 47. By the way, Sid-No-Longer-A-Kid is an okay ten.

3. PRICE-LESS: THN went big with  Carey Price feature -- who knew? -- and the sub-head on Matt Larkin's fine essay may explain the Hab goaltender's pressure points: "Try to assign blame and Carey Price will gladly assume the burden. But try to fire praise his way and he'll deflect it away as deftly as a shot from the point." Additionally, Larkin has a bullseye quote from Tampa Bay g.m. Julien BriseBois that says it all about Price: "He's got a Hall of Fame career if he retires right now. That's just the reality." 

4. TEAM REPORTS: Larrupin' Larkin was given this challenging assignment and handled it objectively and well. Naturally, I dispute a few of  Matt's machinations. Here goes:

A. He picks the Bolts first in the Atlantic Division. I say, no, that it will be he Cats first. The Champs have lost too many key players and Tampa Bay's missing element will be the most important --  motivation.

B. Is he kidding? Leafs third in the Atlantic. No way! Any team that needs four assistant coaches -- Spencer Carberry, Manny Malhotra, Dean Chynoweth, Paul MacLean -- is in trouble. They'd do better just with Dean.

C. Matt underrates the Rangers, burying them sixth in the Metro. With Gerard Gallant coaching, they'll climb to third. Move the Caps from third to sixth. Lift the Devils from seventh to fourth and drop Philly down to NJ's seventh.

D. Colorado -- with inferior goaltending -- shouldn't top the Central Division. I put Winnipeg first and drop the overrated Avs to fifth. Minny is my choice for second place, not fifth.

E. Upset of all Upsets: I can see why Larkin would pick Vegas first in the Pacific; except I'm sure that Robin Lehner will not be up to par without Marc-Andre Fleury around for comfort. Nor does Edmonton's goaltending impress. So, my longshot pick is Pal Darryl Sutter's Flames in first place and leave it at that!

Postscript: Nobody knows what to make of the Kraken. THN has Seattle sixth in the Pacific and there'll be no arguing from me. I like their goaltending and my buddy, Jordan Eberle, will help up front. Larkin points out that, theoretically, they could have eight or nine 20-goal candidates.

My main question mark is coach Dave Hakstol. 

As for The Hockey News Yearbook, once again it's in first place. With that in mind, congratulations to Executive Chairman and TFR Publisher W. Graeme Roustan, his Senior Editor Brian Costello and Managing Editor Edward Fraser.

 A job well done!


HEADLINE: GRETZKY VS. MESSIER ON TV; ROUND ONE

THE JIVE: Both ESPN and TNT are revving up the p.r. for their first NHL season. Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky (TNT) and Mark Messier (ESPN) are the respective marquee analysts. Each did a media preview this week and both promise not to pull any punches.

On the ESPN media scrum, Newsday's Neil Best hit Mess with a question about his former Rangers club that's been in a playoff drought. Mess responded with a main -- old, Conn Smythe -- theme: If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't 'em on the ice.

Mark leveled both a backhanded slap at the previous (John Davidson) general staff for not staffing enough hockey cops with the infamous Tom Wilson Rangers beat-up as his key point. Mess concluded that the Wilson episode never would have happened against his many-Cupped Oilers; because Edmonton had sluggers like Dave Semenko. The current Rangers version of Semenko -- according to Messier -- is Ryan Reaves.

The prime Gretzky subject dealt with goalie Robin Lehner's recent outburst about medicinal treatment. It was interesting, especially the poke at Lehner for implicating Flyers coach Alain Vigneault without much evidence, if any.

All things considered the rival segments amounted to respective exhibition games with the real stuff yet to come. Whether either or both can live up to the "Almost Anything Goes" promise remains to be seen.


HEADLINE: CONNOR MCDAVID CONTRADICTED

THE JIVE: It was just fine that Connor McDavid could impugn the integrity of Calgary's defenseman Chris Tanev for an allegedly dirty play last week. Among other bits of McDavid's nastiness was his charge that Tanev was "sloppy with his stick."

Perhaps it's really King Connor who's being "sloppy" with his verbiage. In any event Sportsnet's man in Calgary, Eric Francis, got to Tanev. The Flames vet digested McDavid's argument and offered this rebuttal:

"I'm an honest player; maybe get two or three minors all year. I don't try to hurt people, I try to play the puck. On that play I tried to hit the puck with my stick. McDavid then tried to jump over me. It was pretty unfortunate that he got trapped and fell into our goalie."

My conclusion: It was a typical bang-bang hockey play. McDavid is setting a poor precedent for himself making a federal case out of an incident in which he suffered a grand total of no stitches, no observed wounds and only a rebound goal scored by his hockey club.

Bottom Line: McDavid took the wrong route. Some call it La Rue De Cry Baby.


HEADLINE: ANOTHER -- MORE POSITIVE VIEW OF MCDAVID

THE JIVE: Our super-seer-of-seers, Gus Vic has taken a keen view of King Connor and offers this communique:

"McDavid can often be the victim of his own speed.and this was the case in the collision with Tanev. Clearly beaten, Tanev did what any defenseman in the NHL would have done to prevent McDavid from getting in front of the net. 

"It was absolutely a trip and the end result was a hockey play gone bad."


HEADLINE: SETH JONES, THEN AND NOW

THE JIVE: Back in 2013, I was visiting my older son, Ben, and family in Portland, Oregon. My buddy, Travis Green, was coaching the WHL Winterhawks. "Keep your eye on our rookie defenseman, Seth Jones,"

Travis urged. The way Jones played that night made it almost impossible not to focus on his two-way play.

Frankly, after Jones was named 2013 WHL Rookie Of The Year, I figured he'd hang out for another year or two in Portland. But that year, Seth was picked by Nashville with the fourth overall selection. Since then he's played in 580 NHL regular season games.

That's the "Then" part of it. As for the now, Winterhawks alumnus Jones has been named one of three provisional players to be included on Team USA's men's hockey Olympic national team roster.

Travis Green taught him well. Jones joins Blackhawks teammate Patrick Kane and Maple Leafs ace Auston Matthews as the first players chosen to play for Team USA in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Chicago Blackhawks g.m. Stan Bowman likes Uncle Sam's chances for Gold in the games. "Patrick, Auston and Seth reflect the high level of talent that will make up our final roster," says Bowman.

Back in The Rose City, hockey boss Mike Johnston has reason to be proud. The Winterhawks tradition of training outstanding players continues.

Seth Jones is just one very good example.


HEADLINE: CAREY PRICE AND THE CANADIENS PRESSURE 

THE JIVE: Playing big-league hockey in Montreal is double-trouble. In no other NHL city does a player have to deal with both a French and English-language media. Competition is keen both on the French and English side and even keener within each one.

Some Canadiens see it only as a positive. Others regard it as a double-edged sword. Then you have the cases of Jonathan Drouin and now Carey Price. Both have been forced to step out of the pressure cooker for a respite and rehab. Drouin is back, fresh and determined to succeed.

Price is gone for who-knows-how-long. For a player to commit himself to treatment in the NHLPA program took guts galore. Particularly at this start-of-the-season point.

Hopefully, Price will evolve from the treatment in mint condition resuming his quest for the Cup along with his Montreal teammates. 


HEADLINE: KNOWING MORE OR LESS ABOUT JACK EICHEL

THE JIVE: Pat Brisson, the super-duper agent for Jack Eichel, was hired to find a solution somewhere in the Sabres vs.Player morass. The result -- surprise, surprise -- is that we're back at square one. In an interview with 

Sportsnet's Jeff Marek, Brisson revealed (ha!) that he's in close contact with the Sabres. 

Yeah, so were Eichel's previous agents and look where that close contact got them. Goornished.

More brilliant non-revealing Brisson insights: 

"It's an interesting case." (No kidding. We've been saying that for months.)

"A very complicated case." (See above.)

The best answer and the reason why Eichel is on a treadmill to oblivion comes from Sabres g.m. Kevyn Adams: "We'll do right for the Sabres. If something makes sense, we'll do it."

Seems to me I've heard that song before. haven't you?

 I end this latest chapter of "Tales of Jack Eichel" with a note that 

ESPN's ace reporter Emily Kaplan has said that she believes Jumpin' Jack will land in Vegas before we see November.

Sounds good to me.


THE JIVE: Our Man in Florida, Alan Greenberg, has seen Aleksander Barkov play for all of eight NHL years. Here is his take on the contract extension.

We’ve seen it often. Superstar in the final year of contract, obviously looking for (and entitled to) big bucks and a long-term deal. Names like Tavares, Stamkos and Pietrangelo come to mind. Aleksander Barkov has been playing in a small market for his eight NHL years and for a long time was one of the most underrated players in the league. Recent Selke and Lady Byng Trophies have given him well-earned recognition and with Florida destined to be one of the league powerhouses this year he will be getting more attention.

His eight-year $80 million extension was no real surprise.

Unlike many similar situations, Barkov had publicly expressed his desire to stay in Florida all along and the feeling was mutual.  That’s why Friday’s press conference in a Fort Lauderdale hotel overlooking the site of the Panthers’ future practice facility was less of a contract announcement than it was a statement that the culture of the organization has changed and that Florida can attract top players.

General Manager Bill Zito was up to the challenge of extending Barkov since joining the Cats prior to last season. Barkov obviously was looking for the maximum eight years, in the $10M range, consistent with other top performers. To his credit, former g.m. Dale Tallon had locked up Barkov for six years at a team friendly AAV of $5.9M. With Barkov now a firmly entrenched superstar Zito’s job was more difficult.

Some of Tallon’s other contracts made the task cumbersome. Primarily the $10M annual stipend to Sergei Bobrovsky and the remaining substantial cap hits of Keith Yandle’s bought out seven-year contract. With approximately $14.5M in projected cap space for next year (CapFriendly.com) and a possible small cap increase, Zito’s task was to sign Barkov to a roughly $10M contract and still be able to accommodate about eight more NHL level players to fill out the roster.  

Nobody really wanted to think about it now but this means that some regulars who will be free agents after this year – including Noel Acciari, Frank Vatrano and Markus Nuutivaara – may be allowed to walk and a few Zito acquisitions, such as Patric Hornqvist, Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair and Braden Montour, may, of necessity, end up as part of a salary dump.

Barkov, as is his style, low-keyed any training camp discussion other than to acknowledge that all parties wanted it to happen. He was more concerned with getting ready for the season.

When it was a done deal Barkov humbly said, “I really love every second here – my whole career - I never thought about anything else than being here and playing here and trying to win a Stanley Cup here.”

The Panthers have a window of a few years to contend for the Cup with the team Zito assembled before the salary cap precipitates a breakup.

Fast forward one year. We will go through the same drill with Jonathan Huberdeau.


HEADLINE: MANAGING THE BUSINESS OF BEING A PRO ATHLETE 

THE JIVE: TFR's Glenn Dreyfuss shares financial wisdom from former Maple Leaf, Whaler, and North Star Stewart Gavin, who recently appeared on the "Squid and The Ultimate Leaf Fan" podcast, which Glenn helps produce. 

Stewart Gavin received a $20,000 bonus as a rookie with Toronto in 1980. "I rip open my signing bonus check, and it said $12,500,” Gavin recalls. “I went, 'Where's my money? Where's my 20 grand?' I'm 20 years old. I didn't have a clue what taxes were." 

Another fiscal lesson came when Gavin, just called up, was invited to lunch with his new Leafs teammates. "I'm living my dream, I'm with my idols. The bill comes, someone says, 'It's $40 each.'" Stewart's protested, noting his thrifty order of the $12 pork chop special. "Hey rookie, shut up, throw your money in," he was told. Thusly motivated, Gavin took economic courses during off-seasons and began negotiating his own contracts. 

Following a 13-year, 768-game NHL career, he entered the financial consulting field. His firm, Gavin Management Group, specializes in advising pro athletes. Stewart says fans - even players - don't realize how expensive it can be. "A $4 million player, after escrow, taxes, FICA, PA dues, trainer expenses, agent fees, disability insurance, all these other costs - first thing you know, their $4 million is down to $1.5 million or less." 

And that's before fixed costs and lifestyle costs. "They live in a different world than most of us. A bottle of wine might be $500 after the game, let alone whatever it's going to cost for dinner." Gavin compares his monetary counsel to a player's regimented training program. "We do the same on the financial side - give them tools and equip them to make good decisions. There are three numbers that are important, and it's not your Corsi score, your body fat or your vertical jump. What matters, and it'll matter more after your career, is how much do you spend each month, how much should you save, and how much do you have to save throughout your career so you never have to work." 

Current players know Gavin speaks from experience. "For sure, we didn't know how much we needed to maintain our lifestyle when our career was done."