The Fischler Report 5/31/21

First round exits revisited. Vegas smoked in Game 1. Penguins futures. Disney hockey from the past. Reflections on Canadian critics.

UNWILLING GOLFERS CAN BLAME THEMSELVES

"Now they can have an early golfing season."

You hear that every spring when the first playoff round ends and -- egad! -- look who's teeing off this time?

The May NHL-Exit Golf Tour is headlined by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. For four games against Winnipeg they played like caddies.

Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom exited to the tees faster than you could say "What's your alibi this time, coach Laviolette?"

In Pittsburgh Paint Shop, Sidney and Gino have replaced their not-so-magic wands for five irons -- or should I say ironies? -- for the nearest course in Pennsylvania.

Of course, this shouldn't be, should it? These are the heavy lifters, getting the most dough. Or is the lift too heavy for Connor, Sid and Leon?

You should have a dollar for every alibi. Try these on for starters:

1. Connor needed better goaltending.

2. Sid's just getting old.

3. Leon: (see 1.) 

What you should really want to know is why so many? And the answer is that these chaps have been blinded by their stardom.

After watching his 356th highlight reel, a gentleman such as McDavid has to be thinking, "Gee whiz, I'm so good I can beat Winnipeg with Leon tied behind my back.”

Leon must be musing: "Gee, if Connor can carry me, I can carry Edmonton to victory!"

Alex must be moaning: "How much is (Caps owner) Ted Leonsis going to trim off my billions?"

Which leaves us the Sid-Gino headliners who might be ad-libbing on their way to the 18th hole: "Burkie's the boss now. Hexy is riding sidecar. I can hear their duet and they're singing, 'There'll be some changes made.' I sure hope Sully's not listening."

X -- Factor: The Hockey News put it best. "It's all about the playoffs; not just making it to the postseason but also making some noise. If not, explosive changes could follow."

 Chief Noisemaker Burkie has the key to the explosive charge department. 

Hey, if a first-class act like John Davidson could be victim of an "You're Fired" explosion, any in The Pittsburgh Paint shop could be smeared as well.


AVS HIT VEGAS HARD; NOT THE KNIGHTS' NIGHT

Colorado's scorers re-defined blitz on Sunday night. The 7-1 drubbing could have a lasting effect on the Vegas troupe and, especially, Robin Lehner who re-defined sieve. Equally interesting will be what -- if any -- effect the third period brawling will have on tonight's match and the rest of the series. The physical damage inflicted by the Losers may also have a tangential effect on the Avs starting tonight. (From here, it looks as if the Knights were sore losers while winning Colorado is just sore; and maybe angry enough to make this a sweep.)


PENGUINS SEASON REWIND

After a fourth-consecutive early playoff exit, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ front office has some tough decisions to make this summer. TFR’s Vince Comunale explains. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins are at a crossroads. Their core is aging and the team is mired in mediocrity. The Penguins’ playoff record over the past four seasons is a less-than-impressive 3-11. They were swept by the Islanders in the first round in 2019. In 2020 they lost in the qualifying round to the lowest seed in the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens. This season they bowed out to the Islanders in six games in the first round.

The Penguins have not advanced to the second round of the playoffs since the 2018 post-season, during which they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. Since that series the Penguins have had an extraordinary amount of turnover. In fact, only seven players remain from the 2018 Stanley Cup Championship team.

The big three of the seven remaining players from that team is the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The later two have contracts that are set to expire at the end of next season. The Penguins will almost certainly let them both play out their contracts as a sign of loyalty to two players that have helped to deliver the franchise three Stanley Cup Championships. This being said, changes need to be made.

No doubt, goaltending was the Penguins’ biggest issue in their series loss to the Islanders. Expect the Penguins to bring in a proven veteran goaltender either via trade or free agency. Two intriguing names out there are John Gibson in Anaheim and Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas. Gibson is a Pittsburgh native, so a chance to play for his hometown team could be appealing for him. He is signed at a very cap-friendly deal of $6.4M through the 2026-27 season and has a “Modified No Trade Clause” that kicks in for the 2021-22 season, which means he can submit a list of teams to which he is willing to be traded. Needless to say, the Penguins would have to pay a king’s ransom to acquire Gibson, but stranger things have happened. 

Fleury, of course, won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins and holds just about every goaltending record in Penguins franchise history. Fleury will be entering the final season of his contract next season at a cap hit of $7M. Considering the Golden Knights have Robin Lehner tied up at $5M per season through 2024-25, Vegas may be looking to bring in a less expensive goaltender to back-up Lehner. Fleury could also serve as a “bridge” goalie for the Penguins until highly-touted goaltending prospect Calle Clang is NHL-ready. Any trade for a goaltender will likely involve Tristan Jarry going back the other way. The Penguins simply don’t want to waste another season with an unproven asset in net. 

Overall, the Penguins are in a tough situation. They are a perennial playoff team, but not the elite team they once were. That being said, ownership does not want to waste the last year(s) of the Crosby, Malkin, and Letang trio career by going through a rebuild, so they are attempting to retool on the fly. This is going to be difficult for the Penguins because they don’t have much to offer in a trade. They’ve traded their first-round pick in just about every season, so it’d be wise of them to start stockpiling those again. Therefore, in order to retool on the fly they’ll have to trade an asset from the current team. The most likely candidate is Jake Guentzel. While Guentzel has been an exceptional player for the Penguins, he’s far from a physical force that Brian Burke and Ron Hextall are looking for to play with Crosby. The Penguins would also love to rid themselves of defenseman Marcus Pettersson and his $4M cap hit through 2024-25, but they’re not likely to find many takers for that contract.

While it appears that Sullivan will be back as coach, there’s always a chance that the Burke/Hextall duo will make a change.

A coach who is available with several ties to Pittsburgh is Rick Tocchet. Hextall played with Tocchet in Philadelphia, Tocchet played with and won a Stanley Cup with Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux, and Tocchet also served as a Penguins assistant coach 2014-2017, winning two Stanley Cups before being hired by Arizona as their head coach. It’s no secret the Hextall and Burke want the Penguins to play a heavier, more physical game, which is the exact game that Tocchet played and preaches. Sullivan’s style is more based on speed and outskating other teams. While a coaching change is not imminent, it is also definitely a possibility. 

After a third-consecutive first-round playoff exit, changes are coming this offseason in the Steel City. What could be the final season of the trio of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang will look very different than the team that exited the ice on Long Island on Wednesday.


ABOUT WALT DISNEY'S HOCKEY AND CLINT MALARCHUK

Few of today's movie-goers realize that the outstanding film cartoonist, Walt Disney actually created a couple of cartoon shorts about hockey. Our Seattle correspondent Glenn Dreyfuss tells a bit about them. Then he connects their tale with former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk. Here's how:

In 1939, Disney produced "The Hockey Champ," starring Donald Duck, his first involvement with the ice game.

Six years later Walt created a second one, "Hockey Homicide" with his character, Goofy, playing all roles.

“With such an aggressive sport like hockey, Hockey Homicide permeates with sheer chaos, which starts as soon as the rival players launch the referee into the scoreboard,” writes cartoonresearch.com’s Devon Baxter. “What ensues near the end is manic enough for lifted footage of previous Goofy sports cartoons — along with quick cuts of Victory Through Air Power and Pinocchio — to convey the pandemonium”

“The reason I know about Donald's hockey adventure is because a while back, I was researching goalie Clint Malarchuk,” Dreyfuss remembers. Clint tended goal for the Nordiques, Capitals and Sabres in a 338-game NHL career. One of the nicknames he acquired was "Mallard," because he would quack and do Donald Duck impressions on the ice during games. One teammate called Clint "The mayor of Pluto" - the former planet, not Mickey Mouse's pooch.”

While Malarchuk was an NHL netminder for 10 years, his most notable moment was one that nearly ended his life.

In 1989, as a member of the Sabres, Malarchuk’s jugular was cut with a skate during a game. 

“Turns out, there was a serious issue behind Malarchuk's goofy antics. (Goofy as in weird, not the star of "Hockey Homicide.") Clint was later diagnosed with anxiety, clinical depression and OCD, the effects of which he courageously detailed in his autobiography, "A Matter Of Inches." What others, and even Malarchuk at the time, didn't realize was that he was using antics to distract himself from the mental pain he was suffering,” Dreyfuss adds.

“Since going public and becoming a mental health advocate, Malarchuk has received an outpouring of thanks from those who have suffered like him. So, Clint qualifies as a real Hockey Champ,” he concludes.

The Fischler Report’s own special cartoon critic, Coby Maeir, viewed both Disney hockey shorts and offered his conclusions: "While it's always neat to find hockey in strange places -- and a Disney cartoon surely qualifies -- I found how the Donald Duck and Goofy episodes could be appealing to children and other people who enjoy consuming cartoons.”


SERIOUS HEADLINES THAT ARE FUNNY AS HECK

From the Washington Post: "Brian MacLellan -- Caps Ran Out Of Gas."  Our Comment: : Next time read the sign: Batteries not included. 

From the Edmonton Journal: "Oilers Need More Offensive Help For McDavid And Draisaitl." Our Comment: Next week, we'll be told that the sun rises in the East. 


JOLTIN' JOE RIPS THE CANADIAN RIPPERS

Like other journalists South of the 49th Parallel, our California columnist Joltin' Joe Dionisio takes umbrage with that Alberta-based writer who accused the Oilers of "choking," among other failures against the Jets.

"I've felt forever," writes Dionisio, "in myriad ways, that the Canadian hockey media can be insufferable. They jump on and off bandwagons faster than (silent movie comedian) Buster Keaton leaping off trains. And their drumbeat that EVERY free agent is clamoring  to go to Toronto is maddening

"So it was no surprise that Cannor McDavid was crucified. Finally, one last point about the Oilers demise. If Edmonton's depth is so weak that the Oilers could not field six blueliners in a triple-overtime game, that's the fault of Ken Holland or Dave Tippett. Relying on four defensemen in a marathon game hardly is a recipe for success.

"I hear that Holland wants to re-sign Mike Smith. I'll say this: Smith's effort against Winnipeg was gallant, the fact is that he was leaky at critical moments!”


GOSSIP:

  • Both the Penguins and Rangers will be on collision course in search of grit. Brian Burke not only wants "fighting teams," but made that clear about a hundred times in his autobiography. Watch for the Pens to seek a Wayne Simmonds type. With Glen Sather calling the shots over rookie g.m. Chris Drury, the Blueshirts will be after their missing piece(s), a toughie or three on their second line and defense.

  • Joel Quenneville could be spending the rest of the off-season answering a key playoff question: Why did it take you so long to insert Spencer Knight between the pipes? If current plans jell, Knight could be the Panthers' starter next season.

  • Figure the Blues high command to do some serious soul-searching about the club's first round ouster. For one thing, Torey Krug was no Alex Pietrangelo.

  • Were there a booby prize for "Most Overrated Player Of The Decade," I'd give it to Jack Eichel. At season's start the Sabres captain -- but for how long? -- was rated 13th Best Player in the league by the Hockey News annual. He won't make the "Best 50" list next Fall.

  • I asked an ex-Islander to pick an underrated member of the Nassaumen so far, based on the first round win over Pittsburgh. "Jean-Gabriel Pageau," he said. "J-G is the grease that turned the Islander wheel -- constant attack, hits and big goals."


WEEKEND WRAP WITH ROB TAUB

It's fitting that for their first playoff series in 42 years the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will go the full distance to decide who moves to the North Division final to meet the Winnipeg Jets. The Habs forced a game seven with back-to-back OT wins and because of the heroics of goaltender Carey Price. Price made 41 saves in Montreal's game six on Saturday night. Said Shea Weber: "There's no quit in this group, and even though we've given up leads in the last couple games, we grinded it out. Tonight, I thought 'Pricey' played unbelievable. He kept us in it, especially in overtime there when they were pushing, and gave us a chance, and obviously that made the difference."

The Islanders and Bruins put on an entertaining affair in the first game of what should be a tremendous East final. And it was the "Perfection Line" who were the stars of the show. The trio of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron combined for 19 of Boston's 40 shots on goal and six points including a Pastrnak hat trick.

Sunday marked the start of the most anticipated playoff series this summer outside the Stanley Cup: Colorado and Vegas. These two teams missed out on each other last postseason when the Avs were eliminated in seven in the second round by the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Stars; Dallas also defeated Vegas to claim a berth in the Cup final. But now the hockey universe gets the matchup they've been salivating for. "This is two evenly matched teams, a little bit of a different style but both teams are deep and both teams play with a lot of speed, both teams have good goaltending," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "It's a little bit different style. I'm expecting a long, hard series here and so is our team."

If the Avalanche and Golden Knights will be the fastest series to watch, Carolina and Tampa Bay might be the most high-powered. In the first round, the Canes and Lightning were both ranked in the top three of goals for per game. Tampa's Nikita Kucherov also led the league in points in the opening round with 11 points in six games.

The Minnesota Wild bowed out in seven games to Vegas last Friday, and it might have been the last hurrah for the state's own Zach Parise. Parise, who actually tallied a goal in game seven, doesn't know what the future might hold. "You know, I mean, I think that conversation's going to be for a different day. We'll see where it goes. I don't know. I don't know. We'll have to figure that out in the coming summer what's going to happen, but I really ... I don't have an answer on that right now," the 36-year-old forward said after the series ended.

It didn't take long for the Sedin brothers -- Henrik and Daniel -- to be back in the fold with the only franchise they ever played for. Canucks GM Jim Benning told a Vancouver television show over the weekend that both brothers will join the organization's front office. The two franchise legends will be involved in several ways once they begin, which will range from player development al the way down to scouting. 


TRIVIA CORNER:

What strange reason prompted the Montreal Canadiens to trade superior center Red Berenson to the St. Louis Blues?

(Answer below.)


CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR.

"It will never get off the ground!"

-- NHL President Clarence Campbell after being told that a World Hockey Association (WHA) was being formed.


TRIVIA ANSWER: During the era when all players skated bare-headed, Berenson chose to wear the same helmet he wore playing for Michigan.

Habs coach Toe Blake resented helmets and Berenson moved on to stardom with the Blues.