The Fischler Report: 3/29/21

Preds Watch; What really hurt the Flyers; Jack Campbell indispensable for the Leafs?

OBSERVATIONS:

* DAVID POILE'S Nashville Predators have become an interesting study since Peter Laviolette was fired. It represented the first time the general manager made an in-season coaching change in team history. John Hynes -- after being dumped by the Devils -- settled in as coach after a 28-game audition following Laviolette's dismissal. His time in charge of the Preds provided valuable insight moving forward. But it wasn't enough to provide an optimistic boost in the first half of this campaign. Poile, nevertheless, has stayed with his man and Nashville responded with a healthy comeback that still gives them a shot at the playoffs. The key now for Hynes is to find line combos to spark his underachieving centers, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. Meanwhile, Poile must decide whether he's willing to trade and continue the reboot or stay quiet and hope the club continues its revival.


* MATT NISKANEN'S unexpected retirement was not expected to torpedo the Philadelphia Flyers climb to the NHL's upper echelon. Just to be sure, G.M. Chuck Fletcher signed free-agent defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year deal. However, Fletcher also allowed UFA's Tyson Pitlick and Derek Grant to leave. The total is that Niskanen's departure has hurt coach Alain Vigneault's sextet much more than expected. Worse still, the goaltending tandem of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott has disappointed big-time. The designated Number One, Hart, has been a consistent disaster while Elliott has been no team-saver either. Fletcher has made no bones about his desire to be a buyer rather than a seller, but the question remains; does he buy a defenseman or a goalie. Or both?


GOSSIP:

  • To nobody's surprise, Taylor Hall has said he'd erase the no-trade clause in his Sabres contract. That said the left wing who signed a one-year, $8 million contract has seen his value plummet as fast as the team on which he plays. For sure, there'll be a contender who'll take a gamble on Hall but the Sabres will need quality in return; and not just one or two players either.

  • Before the season, one debating issue involved a "Who's Better -- Miro Heiskanen of Dallas, Quinn Hughes of Vancouver or Cale Makar, the defense ace with Colorado. Right now, it's no contest; Makar all the way.

  • While the Lightning's Victor Hedman continues to lead in the Norris Trophy race, the Bolts are getting A-1 work out of ex-Ranger Ryan McDonagh. My man in Tampa Bay, Larry Hirsch, offers this: "Ryan is the Bolts most solid, dependable backliner when it comes to blocking shots and taking charge in front of the net. What a sensational trade it was getting him."

  • If Vic Hedman can be beaten out for the Norris Trophy, two fine challengers in the East are Carolina's streaking Dougie Hamilton and Seth Jones, anchor of the Blue Jackets blue-liners.

  • Speaking of the Canes, they continue to get solid work from third-string goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, the pride of Parma, Ohio.

  • The first shoe has dropped in Buffalo with Eric Staal moving to the Canadiens for a third and fifth-round pick. Naturally, it makes a joke of Marc Bergevin's recent assertion that his Habs won't be trade-active. It makes one wonder just what kind of skeleton team Buffalo will ice by the time dealing is over.


TRIVIA QUESTION: Which two teams were accepted into the NHL following the great expansion of 1967? (Answer below.)


INTERESTING QUOTE FROM YESTERYEAR: "Guys strike out all the time in baseball, but if a goalie misses one, the world is over."

-Blackhawks goalie Murray Bannerman. (Thanks to Glenn Liebman’s "Hockey Shorts.")


TRIVIA ANSWER: The NHL expanded to 14 teams in 1970 when the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks were welcomed to the club.


WEEKEND WRAP:

It feels like nowadays anytime we've heard the name Patrick Marleau this season, it's been about another record he's tying or shattering. Well, that was the case again Saturday night for the 41-year-old. Marleau joined Hall of Famer Mark Messier for the second-most games played all-time with 1,756 in the Sharks' 4-0 loss to Arizona. The next one for Marleau to pass is the legendary Gordie Howe, for whom he is just 11 games away from passing for the most games played in one NHL career.

There hasn't been a lot of positives to come out of Detroit these past few years, but there's been some of note this season. Saturday ranks up there in terms of a feel-good moment, especially for one Calvin Pickard. The 28-year-old had gone winless in the NHL dating back three years until his 21-save performance in the Wing's 3-1 win over Columbus. Said Pickard: "Obviously, my games at this level have been few and far between in the past few years, but I know I'm still capable of playing at this level. It helped that I got to play the last 50 minutes of the Nashville game, even though you never want to have a game like that, and I was able to get one game down in Grand Rapids (of the American Hockey League)."

The last few weeks have been embarrassing in the City of Brotherly Love for the Flyers. Saturday's tilt with the Rangers looked as if it was going to be another heartbreaking defeat. Enter Samuel Morin. With the game tied nearing five minutes left in regulation, the Flyers' rookie let a wrister go off a one-timer which found its way past Blueshirts netminder Igor Shesterkin. Morin's winner didn't only give Philly a much-needed win but was the first goal of his National Hockey League career. Talk about perfect timing.

The Blackhawks might have lost their game to the Predators on Saturday evening, but the contest might also be considered a win. Kirby Dach, the club's talented forward, made his season debut just three months after he broke his wrist playing in a pre-tournament game for Canada at the World Juniors. Chicago has a chance to make the playoffs and the addition of Dach could be critical.

As for his night, he didn't feel he missed a beat. "My legs have felt fine, my conditioning has felt fine," he told the media postgame. "I don't think that was ever the issue coming back, it was more my wrist and feeling comfortable with it along the wall or [on face-off] draws or making plays that way."

Point streaks have been all the rage recently in the NHL, just ask the Islanders and Capitals. And then we have the Carolina Hurricanes, who continue to dominate. Their come-from-behind victory over the reigning-champion Lightning Saturday made it 14 straight games with a point, the tops for any team in the league this season. Oh, and how about Martin Necas? He tallied four points in the triumph and the game-winning goal to boot.

In the non-NHL sphere, the game's spotlight belonged to the absolute classic between the University of North Dakota-University of Minnesota-Duluth which went into the early hours of the morning Sunday. The two clubs battled for a record five overtimes before UMD's Luke Mylymok ended the stalemate to send his team to the Frozen Four. This game had everything and it made it into the record books as the longest game in the history of men's Division I hockey and in the NCAA tournament.


RE-ASSESSING LEAFS DEAL FOR JACK CAMPBELL

With the Leafs’ once-dominant lead atop the North Division now hanging precariously slim, goaltender Jack Campbell has become all but indispensable. Rob Del Mundo analyzes the Leafs’ backstops:

Starter Frederik Andersen stumbled his way during a stretch in which the Leafs played seven consecutive games without a regulation win, magnifying the presence of both Winnipeg and Edmonton in Toronto’s rear-view mirror.  Coach Sheldon Keefe revealed that Andersen has a lower-body injury. The earliest date for the Danish netminder’s return would be Monday’s game versus the Oilers as the Leafs come off of a 4-3 OT win against the Edmonton skaters.

Campbell avenged his team’s 5-4 loss to Calgary on March 19 – which was Andersen’s most recent start – by posting a shutout in the rematch the following night.  He followed that up with a 29-save performance in an overtime win last Thursday versus Ottawa, boosting his record to 5-0-0 this season.

Unquestionably Campbell has been Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas’s most important trade acquisition during the executive’s tenure with the team. Toronto has been the clear victor of the transaction, at least in the first year after it was finalized.

On February 5, 2020, just over six months before the pandemic – when arenas were still filled with fans and cross-border deals did not require quarantine – the Leafs swapped forward Trevor Moore plus Columbus’s third-round 2020 draft pick and a conditional third-round pick in 2021 for Campbell, and forward Kyle Clifford. Los Angeles also retained 50 percent of Clifford’s salary.

By no means was Kings general manager Rob Blake fleeced in the deal.  Moore, a Sherman Oaks, California native, provides grit and tenacity, as was exemplified during the AHL Toronto Marlies run to the 2018 Calder Cup championship.  Moore, along with Mason Marchment and Adam Brooks formed a shutdown trio that stymied defenders consistently. He has 13 points in 32 games with Los Angeles at the time of this writing.

The Kings used the 2020 pick to select Alex Laferriere, a 6-foot winger and native of Chatham, New Jersey. Laferriere has been lighting the lamp for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, scoring 45 points in 42 games last season, and producing at a point-per-game clip during a 2021 campaign that has included a seven-game point streak.

Los Angeles would have had its 2021 pick upgraded to a second-round choice had the Leafs re-signed Clifford or had Campbell won six regular-season games last year.  Neither scenario materialized. Clifford provided fourth-line toughness during his brief stay in blue and white, and he signed with St. Louis as a free agent.

On the other side of the ledger, Campbell has solidified an unstable goaltending situation in Toronto that has existed ever since the departure of Curtis McElhinney, three years ago.  At the time of Campbell’s arrival, the Leafs were desperate for an upgrade over Michael Hutchinson and Kasimir Kaskisuo. 

With Andersen set to become an unrestricted free agent, it’s not unfathomable that Campbell becomes the Leafs’ starter in 2021-22.   If the measure of the trade is valued by the assets to their respective teams, then over the past twelve months, the Leafs are definitive winners over the Kings.

A ‘crowning’ achievement for Dubas, to be sure.


COBY’S COLUMN: WHICH PLAYERS WILL HAVE NEW HOMES?

As the April 12 trade deadline swiftly approaches, here are the players most likely to be on the move. Editor’s note: All cap-related details are courtesy of capfriendly.com.

With the trade deadline just two weeks away, teams that are buyers will look to add the one missing piece for a Stanley Cup run and teams that are sellers will look to use current assets to improve the future of their franchises. This year, it will be interesting to see how the 14-day quarantine required for anyone entering Canada from the U.S. will impact how teams go about deadline day.

Which players could be on the move? Here are my thoughts.

Sabres forward Taylor Hall, who carries a cap hit of $8M, is the most likely player that will be traded by April 12th. Buffalo is dead last in the East Division, and 12 points behind seventh-place New Jersey. The shift should focus onto the future, as so far, this season is a lost cause in terms of competing for a playoff spot. Hall has a No Move Clause and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, meaning he must approve a trade destination.

Chicago’s Mattias Janmark is another forward whose name has been brought up among potential players that will be dealt. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and has provided the Hawks with solid minutes, scoring 10 goals so far this year, and playing a solid 200-foot game. He carries a $2.25M cap hit, so teams should not need to make too much space for him.

On the blueline, the most coveted player will be Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm. Preds G.M. David Poile is going to want a haul in return, as Ekholm is a quality left-shot blueliner who will play big minutes in the top-four. Additionally, he has a very friendly team-friendly contract, as his cap hit is just $3.75M for this season and next season.

Another defenseman who could be on the move is Arizona’s Niklas Hjalmarsson. He has a cap hit of $5M and is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Like Hall, Hjalmarsson has a No Move Clause. The three-time Stanley Cup champion is a solid defensive-defenseman who brings toughness and experience to any locker room.

Other pending unrestricted free agents who could be on the move include Columbus defenseman David Savard, New Jersey forward Kyle Palmieri, who carry cap hits of $4.25M and $4.65M, respectively. Savard is one of the more underrated players in the league and Palmieri provides depth, toughness, and experience to any forward group.

Deadline day should be interesting, to say the least.


LOSING SKIDS FROM THE HISTORY BOOKS

The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a 17-game losing streak and are having a woeful season. However, the Sabres’ 2021 season pales in comparison to some of the NHL’s all-time worst seasons and winless streaks. TFR’s Vince Comunale explains. 

The Sabres do have some talented players and had a respectable start to the season. In their first 10 games, the Sabres’ record was a respectable 4-4-2. It has just been a Murphy’s Law type of season for Buffalo, but their situation isn’t nearly as hopeless as some of the teams “featured” below. 

The current-day Washington Capitals are one of the most exciting and skilled teams in the NHL, but the 1974-75 version of the Capitals was anything but. That season was the Capitals’ first in the NHL, during which they went an unfathomable 8-67-5. Things were so bad that they had more coaches, three, than they did road victories, one. The team gave up an NHL record of 446 goals and goaltender Michel Belhumeur went 0-24-3 on the season. Their .131 winning percentage still sets the bar, or rather the floor, for NHL futility.   

The 1974-75 season was not a good one for expansion teams. Not only did it produce the absolute worst NHL team of all time, but it also gave us the expansion Kansas City Scouts. The Scouts lost a combined 110 games in their first two seasons. During their second season, they had two separate double-digit winless streaks. The first one was 16 games and the second was 27. The two streaks were separated by a single win and the later streak only stopped because the season ended, meaning that their record in the final 44 games was 1-35-8.  

Expansion futility again reared its ugly head in the 1990s. The 1992-93 Ottawa Senators started well winning their first-ever game, but they would go on to win only nine more games that season. The Senators lost their first 38 road contests and only managed to win one road game. Alexei Yashin had the right idea. After being drafted by Ottawa second overall at the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, he decided to play in Moscow for the season. 

The San Jose Sharks captured the Presidents’ Trophy during the 2008-09 season, but in their second season, 1992-93, the Sharks won the trophy for the most losses in NHL history. The Sharks lost an astounding 71 games that season en route to an 11-71-2 record, good for a .143 winning percentage. Things started well enough, winning the first game of the season in overtime. However, the Sharks dropped the next nine games and 16 of the next 20. The team scored just 218 goals on the season and allowed an amazing 414 goals against. During their first two seasons, the Sharks amassed an abysmal 129 losses. 

The Winnipeg Jets were very successful in the WHA. In fact, the Jets captured the last WHA championship in 1979 before joining the NHL the following season. However, the 1979 NHL-WHA merger treated the four WHA teams that joined the NHL as expansion teams, stripping them of all but two goalies and two skaters that had previously been on their team. Predictably, the four franchises struggled for years.  

The Jets’ second season in the NHL, 1980-81, was the worst in franchise history. The Jets would finish that season with a 9-57-14 mark. Of those 57 losses, 23 of them came during a miserable 0-23-7 stretch spanning October, November, and December of 1980. That 30-game winless streak still stands as the NHL’s longest in history.  

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the more successful franchises in the NHL over the past three decades, but playing post-season hockey wasn’t even a consideration for the Penguins during the 1983-84 season. They finished with a dreadful 16-58-6 record. Many felt the Penguins were purposely tanking games so that they could get the number one overall draft pick, which was undoubtedly going to be Mario Lemieux. For how bad the Penguins were that season, the New Jersey Devils matched them loss for loss, finishing just slightly better with a 17-56-7 mark.  

With many different rules for expansion drafts, a salary cap, and a salary floor in place it will be tough for any modern-day teams to be as bad as those mentioned above. While the Sabres are certainly having a tough season, it isn’t nearly as dismal as the teams chronicled above. 


THE TEN BEST HOCKEY BOOKS RANKED BY WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTOR

Nathan Lajoie of Chatham, Ontario boasts the world's biggest collection of hockey books -- a total of more than 1,100 individual titles. The following is a list of Lajoie's favorites and why:

1. The Game - by Ken Dryden

Ken's memoir remains the gold standard for writing about the game of hockey by someone who played the game. I may be a bit biased as a Habs fan, but this was just so well done that I could read it countless times. My collection features a first edition copy of the game that was in Ron Caron's personal collection. Ken had actually personally signed a copy of the book out to him. A friend of mine won the book in an auction and gifted it to me, since he knows I am a big collector and reader.

2. Those Were the Days: The Lore of Hockey by The Legends of The Game - by Stan Fischler

I absolutely loved this concept. The Hockey Maven interviews some of the greats of the game. Reading this makes you feel like you are sitting at a roundtable with hockey legends, listening to them reminisce about some of their fondest memories. What is not to love here?

3. When the Rangers Were Young - by Frank Boucher, with Trent Frayne

Not an easy to find book, but an essential read for anyone interested in the history of our great game. It gives you a feel for what the game was like during the early days of the New York Rangers. Frank Boucher is a wonderful storyteller. My copy was actually signed by Frank Boucher himself at some point in the 1970's. I came across it at a used bookstore and I practically ran out of the store, I was so thrilled to add it to my personal collection. 

4. The Flying Frenchmen: Hockey's Greatest Dynasty - by Stan Fischler and Maurice Richard

The first half of the book is a wonderful history on the Montreal Canadiens, written by Stan Fischler who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the game's history. The second half is an autobiography of “The Rocket” himself. There are not many historical accounts of Maurice Richard speaking on his own career, but he does so in this book with some memorable accounts of his playing days. He also offers his thoughts on the state of the game at the time of the book's release. A must-read, and not only for Habs fans.

5. Cold War: The Amazing Canada-Soviet Hockey Series of 1972 - by Roy MacSkimming

There have been many great books on the subject of The Summit Series and the Canadian/Soviet rivalry, but this one is the best of the bunch, in my view. Accounts of the happenings behind the scenes, game by game recaps, as well as interviews with many Canadian players throughout. A wonderful and comprehensive look back at what may be the most important event in hockey history. 

6. The Red Machine: The Soviet Quest to Dominate Canada'sGame - by Lawrence Martin

The Iron Curtain was finally opened for North Americans with the release of Martin's The Red Machine. The definitive account on the history of the Soviet game, the book focuses on the players of coaches of the National Team and chronicles each era of Soviet hockey history up to that point. For anyone researching Soviet hockey, this is the book to find.

7. A Season in Time - by Todd Denault

A fabulous account on arguably one of the most exciting NHL seasons in history, and surely the most interesting season in recent memory. Todd details - with great research - all of the main storylines of the 1992-1993 season and anyone looking to relive this exciting time in hockey history owes it to themselves to pick up a copy of this book for a trip down memory lane.

8. The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of The World Hockey Association - by Ed Willes

I have always had a big fascination with this crazy era in hockey history, and the WHA plays a huge role in that. We can make all the jokes we want about how disorganized and chaotic their 7-year run was, but the fact of the matter is the WHA changed the game of hockey forever. Its impact on the game cannot be ignored. Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson joining the Jets essentially paved the way for the flashy European style to make its way to the NHL and North American hockey in general. They used the entire ice and could practically change positions on the fly. Typically seen at that point were wingers skating up and down their own wing, almost like robots. The duo of Hedberg and Nilsson showed how effective it could be to use the entire ice surface. The WHA - and Ken Linseman - could also be credited for the 18-year-old draft that we see today. This book details all of the aforementioned chaos as well as how those seven years changed the game forever.

9. They Call Me Gump - by Gump Worsley, with Tim Moriarty

Just a personal favorite of mine. Gump tells some great stories throughout and is quite a character. Be sure to try his Pineapple Squares recipe!

10. The Game of Our Lives - by Peter Gzowski

A must-read account of the beginning of a dynasty, this is a fly-on-the-wall look into the 1980-1981 Edmonton Oilers. Quite a few future Hall of Famers are young guns here, and it gives some fascinating insights into the day-to-day operation of an NHL club at the time. These "kids" were special, and this book chronicles the start of it all.

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