The G.M. of the Year Awaits -- Who?
A pre-deadline look at the G.M. of the Year candidates; We pick the top NHL insiders; Where will Hall wind up?
Quite a few NHL general managers out there are in the running for the annual Best In Show G.M. of the year.
I kid you not.
How do you separate the jobs done by Lou Lamoriello on Long Island, Don Waddell in Carolina, Kyle Dubas in Hogtown -- alias Toronto -- and, yeah, even converted agent, Bill Zito down in The Sunshine State.
Even though Larrupin' Lou is a personal friend, I've got a right to sing his praises.
Think about it; Ever since John Tavares did his updated version of Benedict Arnold, Lou not only absorbed The Pyjama Boy's offstage walk, but has turned the Islanders into a better team. Hard to believe; no?
Then again, at least a few good words are in order for the Rajah of Raleigh, the one and only Don (I Stay In The Background) Waddell.
Who can forget how Dauntless Don was ridiculed by the easy-to-mock media when he was coronated g.m. of the Canes? I can't.
But all this fellow has done is crafted Carolina into a genuine Cup contender. Among his many genius moves has been retaining the excellent Rod Brind'Amour as head coach and still more.
How about the wily Waddell "stealing” Vincent Trocheck from Florida; not to mention the addition this semester of Jesper (I'm Very) Fast on right wing.
Being that he's in Toronto, Kyle (Not So Dubious) Dubas knows what it's like to be a face on a dart board. Naturally the slings and arrows arrived when he signed such relics as Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds.
Yet, each of the Ancients has proven valuable around the Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner cartel. Nor would I minimize the latest reconstruction project -- Alex Galchenyuk.
Yeah, even with Jack (I Never Lose) Campbell in the net, the Leafs are the best in the North. And I say this will all deference to Pal Kevin Cheveldayoff and his winning band of Winnipeg Jets.
Finally, Bill (The Zinger) Zito. He's reorganized a Panthers sextet, designated as ninth-worst in the league before the season started into one of the best. Why? How?
Check out these valuable additions: Alexander (A Winner) Wennberg, at center; backed by Carter (What A Steal) Verhaeghe; a pair of solid centers. Also, Patric Hornqvist on the right side and Radko Gudas on defense.
Each of the aforementioned have kept Florida famous in various ways and it's all because of Zito's adroit moves.
And that's far from the end of my list but I'm running out of space. So, quickie kudos to Buddy Bill Guerin in Minnesota and Stan Bowman, who’s done wonders even without captain Jonathan Toews for the entire season.
STAN’S JAVA JIVE
HEADLINE: WHO'S THE BEST AMONG HOCKEY 'INSIDERS?'
THE JIVE: With the Trade Deadline just around the weekend, the so-called Predictors Of the Future are hellbent to guess right as to which player is going where. Taylor Hall still is leading the pack. None of the geniuses figured out the Lou Lamoriello-Tom Fitzgerald blockbuster, so the boys-with-the-crystal balls are oh-for-one at trade-guessing. Which inspires the question, who is the most reliable of the bench? My money is on Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman who, to me, is the Insider's Insider. My sage buddy, Gus Vic, agrees and then lists his runners-up as follows: 1. Bob (Semi-Retired) McKenzie; 2. Darren (I'd Pick Him Ahead Of McKenzie Any Day) Dreger, and Pierre LeBrun. (Special Commendation to Friedman's weekly "31" lists and to Detroit based Kukla's Korner since it's my first read every a.m.)
HEADLINE: QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT TAYLOR HALL WILL GIVE HIS NEXT TEAM
THE JIVE: If this most-mentioned trade possibility is worth as much as his name comes up, the figure would be in the billions. So, why hasn't a team bid for the former Hart Trophy-winner? You have to believe that prospective suitors are not sure what kind of superior play remains in his
body, if not his head. One thing is certain and that is this his MVP year in New Jersey feels as if it happened in the 18th Century. You look at what he's done -- or, rather, not done -- for Buffalo and have to ask another question: Why didn't he do more for Ralph Krueger when the beleaguered coach needed Hall play to his price tag? You have to wonder whether he never was the same solid player after that last injury. You have to wonder about his motivation. (Bottom Line: Any team that takes him also is taking a gamble.)
HEADLINE: AFTERMATH OF THE ISLES BLOCKBUSTER TRADE
THE JIVE: There was some thought that it would be prudent for the Islanders general staff to allow newly-acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac a few days off before inserting them so quickly into the lineup.
But the newest Nassaumen showed up at practice and General Trotz decided that his new foot soldiers were ready for action. And since every game down this homestretch is accurately billed as a four-pointer, the Kyle and Travis act made its debut last night at Nassau Coliseum, helping the Isles to a 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Coach Trotz placed the new duo with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau and while neither scored, they saw decent ice-time for a debut. Meanwhile, Brock Nelson continues to demonstrate that he's New York's most consistent scorer with the opening goal plus the shootout-winner for the Isles 3-2 edge. Ilya Sorokin again starred in goal. Give Flyers credit for a 0-2 comeback and a valuable point.
HEADLINE: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE SIDNEY CROSBY, INC.
THE JIVE: Despite the elongated absence of Evgeni Malkin, assorted other injuries and the major front office shakeup, the Penguins are for real.
Crosby's immense competence and leadership are part of the winning equation -- trounced the Rangers 5-2 last night -- along with superior coaching. Not enough good things can be said about Mike Sullivan's bench work. Ditto for former "No-Names" now delivering biggies. They include right wing Evan Rodrigues and center Mark Jankowski. After a shaky early season, the goaltending of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith has held up admirably. (With Malkin back in the lineup, Pitt will be a significant playoff threat.)
HEADLINE: JETS ARE PENGUINS OF THE NORTH
THE JIVE: With all the deserved fuss and fanfare over Connor McDavid and his winning band of Oilers, yes, there is another solid outfit in North Country. Like the Penguins, Winnipeg remains a fine outfit and last night's 4-2 win over Montreal is a case in point. Still not fully exalted, Nik Ehlers continues to excel -- his winner last night was #16 red light -- not to mention steady Conner Hellebuyck in goal. Coach Paul Maurice -- similar to Sully in Pitt -- is the quiet, competent one behind the bench. (My worry is captain Blake Wheeler's concussion.)
HEADLINE: WHO'LL BE KING OF THE SOUTHLAND?
THE JIVE: Start with the fact that you never bet against the Champs. But the latest Steven Stamkos injury is cause for concern and who knows when Nikita Kucherov will return? At this very minute, you have to believe that Carolina is king. Not just because they blanked Florida, 3-0, last night but rather the extraordinary balance from third-string goalie Alex Nedeljkovic's performance but the consistently steady defense and clutch scoring. (Need I say that Rod Brind'Amour is one of the NHL's best bench bosses? There, I said it again!)
* NEXT BIG DEAL? The Chicago-Florida exchange is only significant in bulk but young, dependable Matt Larkin of The Hockey News says it's only a prelude to a real big one coming up involving the Panthers. (Stay tuned.)
* MORE HUFFS FROM HALL: It's very nice of Taylor Hall to reveal that he'll accept a longer term contract from whichever team acquires him.
The answer to that quiz should be available by Sunday night.
* HOW ABOUT THOSE PREDATORS: Frankly, after Nashville's most recent streak, I figured the Preds would slip a notch or two in their playoff drive. Coach John Hynes is not letting it happen. (Last night: Preds, 6-1 over Detroit.)
TRIVIA QUESTION: Who wrote "My 26 Stanley Cups" even though he never won a single championship?
FUNNY LINE FROM YESTERYEAR:
"You know, I could win that trophy ten straight years and still be a candidate the next."
From the late Bob Plager on The Most Improved Player Award.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Broadcaster and author Dick Irvin, Jr. son of the Hall of Famer, Dick Irvin, who coached the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Blackhawks at one time or another.