The Fischler Report:6/14/21

Lightning and Islanders are appropriate dance partners. What's the Leafs next move? Who will coach the Rangers? Future forecast for Columbus.

A PAIR OF APPROPRIATE RIVALS

It's exceptionally difficult to get angry with the Lightning or Islanders.

You can try, of course, but it won't work.

I'm talking about two of the most admirable of National Hockey League teams from ownership through the last man on each roster.

Jeff Vinik, who owns the Lightning, has been hailed over and over again in the Tampa Bay community for helping craft a championship team but also for his extraordinary work on the non-hockey side.

As for the Islanders, co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky have turned the Nassaumen into one of the most popular franchises in the NHL as well as their work in building a state of the art arena due to open next season.

The teams themselves have been models of construction and deportment.

Under general manager Julien BriseBois, the Bolts have become the model of on-ice excellence. They proved it last season with their Stanley Cup triumph and have reiterated their competence this year.

Captain Steven Stamkos has been the able face of the franchise. Other aces such as Victor Hedman and Brayden Point play The Game as it should be played, with a blend of artistry and muscle.

On the Islanders side, the team has emerged in such a remarkably competent state that even the rival Rangers have tipped their hats in admiration.

The Boss, Lou Lamoriello, has applied the same disciplined and well planned blueprint as he had in New Jersey, winning Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

His captain, Anders Lee -- out with injury -- set the template for self-made star while smooth-skating Mathew Barzal has become one of the most talented young stickhandlers in the league.

The New Yorkers may lack a Norris Trophy-winner of the Hedman ilk, but the Isles duet, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock , have formed one of the top units of its kind over the past two years.

Likeable or not, the teams will go through the series with the same intensity that has brought them to this point.

Time will tell whether The Champs will prevail again or the upstarts pull an upset.

Either way -- enjoy!


WHAT BRENDAN SHANAHAN SHOULD DO FOR LEAFS

How come Brendan Shanahan has become hockey's Teflon Man?

Since he took over the Commissar-ship of the Maple Losers, what has he got to show for it? 

A Stanley Cup? No.

Tons of Maple Losers media coverage? Yes.

Ole B.S. still has his job but maybe now would be a good time to tell him how to run the richest franchise in Canada.

Yes, this is our business and for that we've loaned Brendan, free of charge, our Chief Team Fixer, Gus Vic.

As a public service Vic is going to pretend he's Shanny -- wishing he had Brendan's dough and luck -- and help the poor boy fix his Maple Losers.

"Don't fire Kyle Dubas. He added grit to compliment the skill. He came up short on defense and Jack Campbell was solid. And since Sheldon Keefe is Kyle's guy, he, too, has to stay, but why?

"Keefe isn't the biggest problem although Dom Ducharme has proven to be a heck of a lot better. I'd say fire Shelly if the Losers went out in a sweep. Keefe was good enough to get three wins. Trouble was that his players -- Sandin, Galchenyuk, Dermott and Marner -- were the major culprits. They failed to execute the basics. Therefore, the onus does not fall on the guy running the bench.

"Dubas must move Big Ticket Marner. His style is not suited for playoff hockey. He doesn't lead by production and his playoff script reads like a bad movie. By contrast William Nylander showed in defeat what it takes to succeed beyond the regular season.

"Shanahan must replace old grit and experience with new grit and experience since the former didn't work. Dump the ten UFA's and recreate the current model and hope different blood delivers. Just don't believe that Marner should be part of it.

"The seminal moment for Dubas is coming. It will be fascinating to see what his team looks like in October. No matter, Shanny still will be Chairman Of The Board and, guaranteed, there'll be no Stanley in Toronto for another year."


A SHORTER HEADS-UP FOR SHANNY

Broadcaster, tv play-by-play man about the rinks, Peter Ruttgaizer had a compact version of "Advice to Shanny."

Go, Peter, go!

"You can't have four players chewing up 50 percent of your Cap. Plus, you can't have three players making ten million sheets per season. And, let's face it, they don't have enough grit.

"When Bob Berry was coaching he once told me, 'If you have more Poodles than Bulldogs in your lineup, you're in big trouble."

In Maple Losers land, the Poodles rule and the Losers lose!


Gossip:

Steve Simmons of The Toronto Sun provided some insight into what it takes to be a successful g.m. in his Sunday column, and provided his own gossip. Excerpts follow:

“Building a foundation — that’s the most important factor in performance.

“I remember having a conversation with an Islanders front-office employee just months after Lamoriello had taken over on Long Island. He said he couldn’t believe the difference in the group from before Lamoriello arrived as GM. He talked about team structure, the hiring of Barry Trotz as coach, the way in which everything was geared to team, the notion of one team, one goal.

“The philosophies may seem old fashioned, but understanding and accepting everything from leadership to dedication to discipline to your place within a framework matters significantly in a team sport like hockey.

“Steve Yzerman began to build the Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to a Stanley Cup championship. Kelly McCrimmon has quickly grown into one of the top general managers in hockey with all he has done with the Vegas Golden Knights. Leadership matters.

“It’s Saturday night. It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. And there’s no game on television. What is the NHL thinking? Or not thinking? … In Montreal’s past seven games, all of them wins, the Habs have allowed just 12 goals against. And it’s not all Carey Price. He hasn’t had to be spectacular. The Canadiens have been that great defensively … The Maple Leafs outscored Montreal 12-4 in their first four playoff games. Since then, Habs have outscored their opposition, 24-12.

“This hasn’t been a good time for Mark Scheifele. His season ended with him being suspended and he blamed the department of safety for shutting him down in Winnipeg. The truth: He shut himself down. A player has to be responsible for his own behaviour. He wasn’t and it wasn’t a good look at the end for the Jets best player … Rental Nick Foligno apparently wants to stay with the Leafs. That’s what he’s telling people. If the team can’t sign Zach Hyman, which is likely, maybe they can afford Foligno.”


HOW GOOD WERE THE TOP TEN NHL PLAYERS

Never is there a bigger disappointment when a superstar fails to fulfil his notices and, worse yet, crumbles in the playoff crucible

Prior to the current season, it was reasonable to expect Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Artemi Panarin, David Pastrnak, Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl to star.

After all, they are the big money-makers and many had starred in the past. 

Of the most egregious failures you have to go with those who excited the first round. 

Start with the Gold Dust Twins of Edmonton, Connor and Leon; not to mention Crosby, Ovechkin and Matthews.

At least Boston's duet  -- Pastrnak and Marchand made the second round while The Bread Man of Manhattan, Panarin rolled on a treadmill to oblivion; leaving the unsolved mystery of his self-imposed furlough that every well could have cost the Rangers their playoff berth.


WHO WILL BE BROADWAY’S NEXT LEADING MAN?

David Quinn was signed to be the developmental coach at a time when the Rangers needed an influx of youth. But now that the Blueshirts need to contend, Quinn was given the hook and the search for his replacement is ongoing. TFR pal, Matthew Blittner has authored multiple books and hosted multiple shows and now he gives his thoughts on who will replace Quinn.

Did you hear? Broadway is a few months away from being open for business and auditions are being held to find next season’s new lead.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you think I meant the theatre? No, no. I meant The Broadway Blueshirts, who are currently searching for Head Coach number 36 and the man who is holding casting auditions is the new Producer and Director, former Blueshirts Captain, Chris Drury.

Thus far, reports say Drury has spoken with Gerard Gallant and Rick Tocchet. Rod Brind’Amour, Paul Maurice and Jared Bednar are being monitored. And several mystery people have been thought about. No, John Tortorella isn’t one of them.

So, now that we know the candidate pool, who might be the one to emerge and claim the lead role?

Most sources believe it's Gallant’s job to lose and maybe they’re right. But I’d be concerned if he signed on the dotted line. Gallant was signed by the Panthers to be their Bench Boss for the 2014-15 season and lasted into the early stages of the 2016-17 campaign. He then latched on with Vegas for the 2017-18 season and was dismissed little more than midway through the 2019-20 campaign.

That’s two-and-a-quarter years in Florida followed by two-and-a-half in Vegas. If he’s such a good coach then why does he consistently get fired before Year Three is complete? This pattern even took place in his first NHL Head Coaching gig when he was with the Blue Jackets in the early 2000’s. So what gives?

Gallant may be the favorite, but the Rangers need somebody who will be around for Years Three, Four, Five, etc. So, Drury should avoid the need to conduct another search in a couple years from now and instead sign Tocchet, who has the player pedigree and the requisite coaching experience necessary to help the Seventh Avenue Skaters unlock their full potential.

But what do I know? I can only go by the numbers. And the numbers say Rick Tocchet is a better choice than Gerard Gallant.


CANADIENS SUCCESS A COMBINATION OF CONSTRUCTION AND SERENDIPITY

TFR’s Michael Augello provides the answer to Montreal’s surprising playoff run.

The Montreal Canadiens are making one of the more unexpected bids for the Stanley Cup in recent memory, as the club with the worst regular season record of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs has won seven straight games and reached the NHL’s final four for the first time since 2014. 

The question is how?

Part of the equation is the club that GM Marc Bergevin assembled prior to and during the season. After surprising Pittsburgh in the qualifying round and losing to Philadelphia in the bubble last August, the Habs swapped forward Max Domi to Columbus for Josh Anderson and signed the big winger to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract. They traded draft picks to St. Louis for backup goalie Jake Allen, dealt with Carolina and signed pending free agent defenseman Joel Edmundson, and added veteran wingers Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry in free agency to provide support to youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and a stronger defense in front of goalie Carey Price. 

At the trade deadline, Bergevin added center Eric Staal from Buffalo, and depth on defense in Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson.

Anderson scored 17 goals during the year and has been a physical presence in the playoffs, Allen played 29 games filling in for an injured Price that enabled Montreal to finish in fourth place in the North Division, Edmundson solidified the Canadiens big top four with Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot, Toffoli led the club with 28 goals and leads them in playoff scoring, and Perry repeated what he did in Dallas with a great playoff performance after a subpar regular season.  

The Canadiens struggled after a strong start during the regular season, but Bergevin’s plan was to construct a club that would be able to limit scoring chances in the playoffs. That has been the case in their victories over Toronto and Winnipeg, but it has to be said that the Habs could be the most fortunate club in recent playoff history.

Montreal benefited from the unfortunate and unintentional injury to Leafs center John Tavares in Game One of the first round and the brain cramp of Jets center Mark Scheifele in Game One of the second round. 

Tavares was lost for the series, enabling the Habs to concentrate their defensive focus on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and shut the dynamic duo down, turning up the pressure on a Leafs club whose only consistency has been finding ways to lose.   

An injury to Jake Evans winning 2-1 in the series opener forced interim head coach Dominique Ducharme to insert Kotkaniemi, who had not scored in his last 24 regular season games. The 20-year-old center went on to score the game-winner in overtime of Game Six. After Montreal scored only three goals in the first two games in Toronto, Ducharme inserted rookie Cole Caufield in the lineup and the diminutive winger assisted on Suzuki’s overtime winner in Game Five. 

Scheifele’s hit on Jake Evans in Game One earned him a four-game suspension and afterward Winnipeg had very little success breaking through against Montreal’s defense, scoring only three goals in Games two through four. 

Unlike other clubs that have been eliminated, Montreal has been able to seize their opportunities and find themselves four victories away from making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993, but with the prospect of playing Vegas and Tampa Bay or the New York Islanders over the next few weeks, they will have to continue to have “Lady Luck” on their side.  


COBY’S COLUMN: WHAT IS THE FUTURE IN COLUMBUS?

A new coach. Their best player won’t re-sign. First time missing the playoffs since 2016. What does the future hold in Ohio’s capital? TFR’s Editor in Chief, Coby Maeir, examines the state of the Blue Jackets.

The John Tortorella era in Columbus is over. After four consecutive playoff appearances, followed by a disappointing 2021 campaign where the Blue Jackets finished with the league’s fourth worst record, Tortorella and the Blue Jackets parted ways.

Brad Larsen, who had been an assistant coach for the Blue Jackets for the past seven seasons, takes over as the bench boss, and is inheriting a tough situation.

Seth Jones, who has spent the last 5 ½ seasons as an elite defenseman for Columbus, informed the team “that he will not sign an extension at this time and plans to test free agency,” per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Assuming that g.m. Jarmo Kekalainen and newly hired President John Davidson elect to trade Jones, this will be the most important trade in the franchise’s 21 year history. Additionally, if Jones is indeed traded, how does this affect the mood of fellow elite blueliner, Zach Werenski, who, like Jones, is under contract through the 2021-22 season. However, unlike Jones, who will be able to truly be a free agent, Werenski will be a restricted free agent.

Speaking of trades, the Patrik Laine acquisition is looking like a miss. After scoring six goals in ten games for Columbus, Laine scored just four in his last 35 games. Adding that to the fact that they traded Pierre-Luc Dubois, their top center, and this trade is looking like a potential disaster. Players like Dubois, a 200-foot first line center, do not grow on trees. However, neither do 40 goal scorers, which Laine did in 2017-18.

But, Dubois clearly did not give his all for the Blue Jackets at the beginning of this season, so they had to trade him. On the bright-side, Columbus native Jack Roslovic, who came over with Laine from Winnipeg, scored 34 points in 48 games. Roslovic should be a cornerstone of the future.

Laine is a restricted free agent this summer, and I would be shocked if he doesn’t return to Columbus to try and have a bounce-back season. He has proven that he can be an elite goal scorer, but the consistency has been absent. If he can return to the player he was in his first two seasons in the NHL, that will go a long way to determining the success of the Brad Larsen era.

This summer will be a crucial one, and it starts with the NHL Entry Draft on July 23rd. The Blue Jackets have the fifth overall pick, and have a chance to select another future cornerstone. Due to COVID-19 making it so many of the prospects have not played a great deal of hockey, or any hockey in the past year, this draft will be the toughest in a long time.

The 2021 off-season may prove to be the most important in this young franchise’s history, as the decisions made will be franchise altering. Hopefully for the Blue Jackets, those decisions lead to an era similar to Tortorella’s tenure, rather than the pre Tortorella era.


ANOTHER LOOK AT THE ROOKIE CROP:

Before the season started, The Hockey News put an X-Ray on four NHL rookies. Looking backward, we can evaluate how the quartet fared over the full schedule. To wit:

ALEXIS LAFRENIERE, RANGERS. No matter you shake it, the number one pick was the number one disappointment. With his offensive skill and great vision, he was expected to dominate as he had in Juniors. But it didn't happen. Sure, he had offensive spurts but not nearly enough to help the Blueshirts to a playoff berth. Call him disappointing. 

KIRILL KAPRIZOV, MINNESOTA: It was a five-year wait for Wild fans but well worth it. The dynamic Russian gave the Wild a high end goal scorer who could win The Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year. The pre-season question revolved around how fast he could adjust to the NHL rinks and the ambience. The answer was A-plus.

IGOR SHESTERKIN, RANGERS: Not unlike teammate Lafreniere, the highly-touted goaltender suffered a build-up to a letdown. He was not the game-stealer as hoped and also proved injury-prone. That said, he has the tools to become the legitimate successor to Henrik Lundqvist but that will have to wait until next season.

ALEXANDER ROMANOV, CANADIENS: Dynamic in many different ways, Romanov became an instant favorite in Montreal. His big shot and penchant for delivering body-splashing hits -- that's how The Hockey News described them -- was what wowed scouts who watched him in Juniors. But, like so many rookies, the Russian has used his freshman year as a learning experience. So far, so good.