The Fischler Report: 6/7/21

Great U.S.-Canada border news! Keep the Leaf's core intact? What Coby loves about the NHL playoffs. Whats next for the Florida Panthers?

BIG GOALIES DON'T MEAN MORE SAVES

As goaltenders increase in size, the concern has been that there'd be no room for shooters and scores would decrease.

That issue was addressed when goalies' unnecessary equipment was trimmed by new rules -- yet the bigness has remained as puck-stoppers have taken on the look of mastodons on skates.

No problem.

The combination of the latest in high-tech sticks, combined with intense stickhandling skills has produced creative goals that never have been seen before.

I'm talking about between-the-legs goal-scoring and lacrosse-like goals, among other moves to drive goalies nuts.

Another goaltending technique now becoming more and more exploited is "The Butterfly," otherwise known as "The Inverted V."

A variation of that simply could be labelled "The Prayer," in which the netminder simply stays on his knees, moving side to side -- from post to post-- as the case may be, hoping that the shooter is blind to all the space being left above Mister Butterfly.

Most goalie schools have taught the "Butterfly" and/or "The Prayer" until it now has become a second nature move with far too many goalkeepers.

As a result, more players are shooting high on these "knee-ed" goalies and producing way more goals than would be the case were the puck-stoppers in a stand-up position.

Martin Brodeur, the winningest goalie of all-time, produced a reasonable solution called "The Hybrid," You go down in some situations such as a scramble around the crease but remain upright for other challenges.

This may be hard to believe in terms of the contemporary game but in the 1930's and 1940's goalies were warned not to fall to the ice unless the circumstances were extreme. The Rangers boss, Lester Patrick even wrote it in a book.

Hall of Fame defenseman Eddie Shore owned the AHL Springfield Indians after retiring from the NHL. Shore was so firm about goalies "standing up" that during practices, he'd get a rope and tie his goalie, Don Simmons, to the net and have players shoot at the forced "Stand-Up" stopper.

Even if Donny wanted to do a "Butterfly" the rope made him a "Stand-Up!"


GOOD NEWS RE CANADA-U.S.: Here’s the latest on teams crossing the 49th parallel. According to @CBCAlerts on Twitter, “The federal government has approved a travel exemption for the final 2 rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs that would allow NHL teams to cross the Canada-US border without quarantining. Players and club personnel will be subject to enhanced public health measures.”

“NHL players and team personnel will cross the border using private planes, and will be subject to pre and post-arrival testing in addition to daily COVID-19 tests. The players will have to live in a modified quarantine bubble and there will be no contact with the general public.”


'HELP WANTED' SIGN UP IN DETROIT: Head coach Jeff Blashill is on the lookout for an aide; specifically an assistant coach who can turn the Wings power play from tepid to terrific. He calls the new guy being sought, a tactician. "I'm looking for fresh, unique ideas." (The line forms at the left.)


GOSSIP:

  • This is about the time when Jimmy Rutherford is getting calls now that he's made it clear that he's fresh for another g.m.gig. Anaheim seemed like a possibility but ownership has decided to give Bob Murray another shot. Murray, in turn, is keeping coach Dallas Eakins.

  • Now that embattled Leafs g.m. Kyle Dubas insists that Mitch Marner will not be dealt, Dubby will have to slice a few vets off the roster. The likelys are Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza. Re-signing Zach Hyman will be an issue.

  • It'll be interesting to see if Rick Tocchet's decision to quit the Coyotes will mean another job emerging. His name has been bruited about for a couple of NHL stations, but nothing definitive has happened..

  • A question that will be discussed in Chicago from now and until training camps open will be whether captain Jonathan Toews is recovered from the mystery ailment that sidelined him all season. No clues have been available.

  • Jets Mark Scheifele says he accepts his four-game suspension but not the abuse his family is taking.

  • The real reason the Penguins can't trade Evgeni Malkin is that he requires knee surgery and won't even be ready for the Pens September training camp.

  • Speaking of surgery or not surgery, what Jack Eichel's and the Sabres plan to get him ship shape for next season still has not been worked out. That, of course, means that a possible Eichel trade -- has to remain in the "I Love A Mystery" category.


Weekend Wrap with Rob Taub

It's almost like a rite of passage when the Montreal Canadiens are in the playoffs that they find a way to stun everybody. Something about that iconic sweater just changes when the chips are on the table. Montreal didn't only come all the way back from a 3-1 deficit against the Leafs, but now they are on top in another series as the less superior team to their opponent, the Winnipeg Jets. How have they accomplished it? Character. Forward Phillip Danualt: "When we had our backs against the wall I think we all looked at ourselves in the mirror. And I think we all saw that we had much better and that this couldn't be it. We've been through a lot, and we have a tight group. Good energy in the locker room."

The Tampa Bay versus Carolina second-round series might come to an end after the Lightning's 6-4 Game Four win on Saturday afternoon, but that contest alone might have provided the best period of the postseason to date. Both squads combined for eight goals in a wild middle frame. There was a 10:08 sequence where the period saw the Hurricanes score four times and Tampa twice.

No one knows trade deadline finds like Lou Lamoriello, and wouldn't you know it, one of them struck again on Saturday night. Kyle Palmieri, whom Lou acquired back in April from New Jersey, got the game-tying marker in the Islanders' 4-1 win over the Bruins. It was Palmieri's team-leading fifth goal of the postseason. He and J.G. Pageau, playing on the third line, have been terrific as a duo. "They raise their game, they're not afraid of getting involved, they're not afraid of contact. They quietly both really enjoy the battle, which is a great quality," said head coach Barry Trotz.

The Vegas and Colorado series has been every bit of the entertaining showdown everyone expected it to be. High-flying offense, speed to the maximum, and quick-strike capability from both squads are just some of the ways to describe how the series has gone so far. Vegas scored twice in 45 seconds on Friday to steal game three.

The Wild might have been eliminated by Vegas, but they might have gotten a huge win already to start the offseason. Marco Rossi, their ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft, finally was back on the ice for the first time after recovering from COVID-19 complications that began in January. Wild general manager Bill Guerin was in high spirits on Rossi's latest development. "He's doing very well," Guerin noted late in the week. "Things are looking really good. He seems to be incredibly healthy. Very positive."

TSN's Gord Miller, who has been broadcasting the World Championships, reported Saturday that there was significant progress made towards the NHL sending players to represent their countries at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.


DON'T KEEP THE LEAFS CORE

TFR’s Toronto contributor, Rob Del Mundo calls for change after another disappointing first round exit.

The morale of Leafs Nation is at its nadir, following Toronto’s inexplicable first-round exit at the hands of the 16th best team in the playoffs, the archrival Montreal Canadiens.

Not even the Game 7 collapse in 2013, which precipitated the ubiquitous “It was 4-1” jokes felt as bad. Back then, the Leafs were underdogs with few expectations of defeating a Bruins team that eventually made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

In acquiescing three games to one series lead to the Habs, a team the Leafs dominated in the regular season with a 7-2-1 record, Toronto has become exemplary of a team in need of major change.

It’s difficult to finger-point at general manager Kyle Dubas, who dutifully upgraded what had been a porous blue line by acquiring TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian. Dubas’s tinkering at the trade deadline, while ineffective, did not necessitate dealing coveted prospects Rasmus Sandin or Nick Robertson.

Similarly, it’s difficult to envision the Leafs parting ways with coach Sheldon Keefe. While imperfect (exhibit A: unnecessary lineup changes in Game 5 after Leafs had a commanding lead), the one-time Calder Cup-winning Keefe assembled cohesive line combinations in the regular season, and maximized the efforts of multiple cast-off Alex Galchenyuk. Few would argue that Keefe wasn’t an upgrade over his predecessor, Mike Babcock.

In the end, this Leafs collapse lies on the shoulders of two of its underperforming stars; Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The duo combined for an outstanding 61 goals, 133 points over the regular season while making a combined $22.5 million against the salary cap. 

In seven playoff games, they had just one goal between them – by Matthews.  By comparison, the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck, not known for his scoring prowess, has scored twice in his first eight postseason outings this year.

A culture shock is needed in Toronto.  The team has proven, over five consecutive first-round playoff exits, that it cannot win with the current core.

Matthews, the 2021 Rocket Richard Trophy winner and face of the franchise, is unmovable.

That leaves Marner as the prime candidate to be jettisoned.  A fan favorite with phenomenal vision and the dexterity of a contortionist, Marner has looked like a deer caught in headlights come playoff time. His lazy puck-over-glass penalty proved to be the turning point in a Game 6 loss.

When Marner scored his second goal of Game 1 versus Boston in 2019 on a shorthanded penalty shot, no one at the time would have envisioned that he would not find the net in any of his next 18 playoff games.

Yet fast forward to 2021, and there was Marner – alongside line mate Matthews – completely neutralized by the line centred by Philip Danault, playing with the lethargy of a pre-season game as opposed to the intensity expected out of a Game 7.

Although Marner has an albatross of a contract – Dubas should nevertheless attempt to acquire fair market value for the team’s leading regular season scorer this year.

Minor tweaks are no longer acceptable, not after five years of futility.


WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE PANTHERS?

TFR’s Man in South Florida, Alan Greenberg, looks at some of the tough decisions ahead for Panthers’ management.

Despite the first-round ouster by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Lightning, this was a very successful season for the Panthers. The best winning percentage in their 28-year history, fourth overall in the NHL in points, breakthrough seasons for Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and superior performances from g.m. Bill Zito’s new acquisitions. Under non-Covid conditions, the Panthers would have drawn a less formidable opponent than Tampa Bay in the opening round.

In summing up the season, team captain Barkov expressed the feelings of almost every player. He referred to the season as a “huge step forward” but as a group, not satisfied. “We’re not done. This is just the beginning. Really looking forward to next season, but first get some rest.”

Zito unquestionably changed the identity and culture of the team with the acquisition of hardnose players like Patric Hornqvist and Radko Gudas. Trade deadline pickup Sam Bennett added more grit. Zito had unexpectedly good production from acquisitions like Anthony Duclair, Alexander Wennberg and Carter Verhaeghe. Gustav Forsberg, a waiver wire pickup with little NHL experience, turned out to be a hidden gem with his performance on defense after Aaron Ekblad went down for the season.

Let’s give a little credit here to former g.m. Dale Tallon for his selection of elite goalie prospect Spencer Knight. His late season performance likely solidified him as the Cats’ goalie of the future and possibly starter status for next season.

Now comes the hard decisions. With the expansion draft coming and the ability to only protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and a single goalie, things get sticky. The alternate is to protect a total of 8 skaters and one goalie, an unlikely scenario for Florida.

There are draft exemptions which will hurt. Right now, the long term big dollar contracts of Sergei Bobrovsky and Keith Yandle represent an albatross. Both have no movement clauses, meaning they cannot be exposed to the draft. Zito would probably love to shed these contracts but that will be near impossible.

Obviously, on defense both Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar must be protected along with Yandle, meaning the Cats face losing Gudas or Forsling. Gudas might have been the player most responsible for making the Panthers not a treat to play against. Anton Stralman, with only one year remaining on his contract at $5.5 million, is a more likely buyout candidate. His cap space will enable Zito to re-sign pending UFA Brandon Montour.

Up front Duclair, Bennett and Wennberg are restricted free agents worthy of being re-signed. They need qualifying offers to be protected. Unless some side deals are made, one or more between Wennberg, Duclair, Bennett, Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari will be unprotected. The Panthers probably have sufficient depth in the system to cover a loss of a forward. Center Anton Lundell, Florida’s first round pick in 2020, excelled at the IIHF World Championship and may be NHL ready. Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi have all shown promise and do not have to be protected.

Any new multi-year contracts will come with the knowledge that Barkov’s cap friendly contract expires next season and Huberdeau’s a year later. Cap space must be available for re-signing them. If they lose either of these two the entire face of the team changes and a rebuild will start all over again.

Goaltending provides the biggest dilemma. Bobrovsky’s $10 million for five more years will be a tough nut to crack. A buyout at this point is prohibitive. Chris Driedger, who was the better goalie the last two seasons, is a UFA who was on a bargain contract. He will likely get a big payday and a multi-year contract elsewhere. Knight does not have to be protected.

Despite Bobrovsky’s mediocre numbers and playoff flameout, he actually played well during the season. I see a Bobrovsky/Knight duo next year with the possible acquisition of a bargain-priced veteran for depth. Knight’s sample is only six NHL games so I wouldn’t rush to judgement that he is NHL ready. Sam Montembeault, the one-time heir apparent to the Florida net, has never quite proven himself as NHL ready. He is an RFA and would probably benefit by a change of scenery.

In his post-season media briefing, Zito was non-committal on the goalie situation. “We need to approach each season from a fresh perspective – and we’re going to do that. We’ll get with the goaltending department and will evaluate and we’ll do everything in our power…to help each of our players individually and collectively be as good as they can be – and I think they will be.” In other words, he’s not saying what he’s thinking.

With the Expansion Draft on the horizon and an abbreviated off-season, look for a lot of creative dealing all around the NHL. If I was Seattle g.m. Ron Francis I would be sitting back right now waiting for my phone to ring.


COBY’S COLUMN: WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS

As usual, the NHL playoffs have provided unparalleled excitement, inconceivable upsets, and moments that will live on throughout history.

Starting in Canada, who would have thought that the Art Ross-winner, Connor McDavid, and the Edmonton Oilers would be swept in four games by the Winnipeg Jets? Every game was a nailbiter, with the final three ending in overtime, so the fact that Winnipeg won all four goes to show how unpredictable the playoffs can be.

Headed east, what a series it was between the Habs and Leafs. Carey Price returned to his all-time great form as he led his team back from a 3-1 series deficit, stopping 103 of 109 shots in games five, six, and seven.

Another reason why the playoffs are special is because they are a completely new season. Toronto’s Auston Matthews had a historically great season, scoring a league-leading 41 goals in just 52 games. However, he scored just once in the seven games against Montreal. Same goes for his teammate Mitch Marner, who was fourth in the league in scoring with 67 points. He registered just four assists in the series.

One of my favorite moments of the playoffs was prior to Game Six in Montreal, where 2,500 fans returned to the Bell Centre for the first time in 14 months, and sang “O Canada,” united as one. It was a moving experience to watch, and it made me smile to see fans back in Canada.

Speaking of fans, it was amazing to see packed barns in the U.S. Having fans back reminded me how much I missed the atmosphere that they bring, especially come playoff time.

Regarding the other three divisions, they have provided some classics. From Game One of Tampa Bay-Florida, which included nine goals, to the Boston-Washington series going to overtime for the first three games, to six OTs over four games between Nashville-Carolina. I can’t forget about the seven game classic between Minnesota and Vegas, or the Islanders dispatching the Penguins for the second time in three seasons.

Now that Montreal is leading Winnipeg 3-0, the playoffs are an annual reminder that playoff Carey Price is a real thing, and also that a hot goalie can take a team a lot farther than their roster might indicate.

Islanders-Boston, Tampa Bay-Carolina, and Vegas-Colorado have all provided for great theater, with each series going to at least one overtime so far, and with both teams in each series winning at least one game.

The playoffs have been a joy to watch thus far and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the postseason has in store!


TRIVIA CORNER: WHICH PLAYER, COACH AND MANAGER WENT ON TO BECOME PRESIDENT OF THE NHL? (Answer below.)


CLEVER COMMENTS FROM  YESTERYEAR: "If we don't put a stop to it, we'll have to start printing more tickets."

-- Leafs boss Conn Smythe on fighting in hockey.


TRIVIA ANSWER:

Red Dutton had starred on defense for the Montreal Maroons and then the New York Americans. He later coached and managed the Amerks. He became NHL President in 1943.