AN EXCLUSIVE INSIDER’S VIEW OF HOW TORTS HAD CHANGED:
Jay Feaster has known John Tortorella since The Irascible One orchestrated the Lightning’s first Stanley Cup in 2004, under Jay’s managership. Herewith is Feaster’s exclusive explanation of how Torts has changed in almost two decades
of NHL action:
“Torts has grown, adapted and changed as far as his handling of the new generation of athlete. He understands it no longer works to answer the player’s question as to ‘why must we do it lie that?’ with ‘because I’m the head coach!’
“He understands that today’s players want to understand the ‘why’s’ and want to know ‘how will this make me better as a player.’
“He has not changed his principles nor his beliefs, and he continues to instill structure and discipline, but as with any great teacher, he finds new and innovative ways to teach the lesson.
“What more and more people are starting to find out is that as John gets older and now also has been seen as a tv personality is what a great guy he is as a person, as a human being. I cannot begin to say how much I enjoy watching our former Tampa players from the 2004 Cup team interact with him when we all get together. To see them now understand the love and affection he had for them back then, but that they did not understand nor appreciate until years later; it is awesome!
“As for Torts coaching the Flyers, in my opinion (and I’ve been saying it for MANY years now), John Tortorella and The City of Brotherly Love, and the Philadelphia Flyers, were MADE for each other!. The Philly Faithful will LOVE HIM!”
THE COLUMBUS CONUNDRUM — GOOD: BUT MAYBE NOT GOOD ENOUGH
My expert on all things East of the Mississippi, Irad Chen, includes the Blue Jackets in his scouting realm. Much as we’d like to see John Davidson’s sextet gain the postseason, the stern, insightful Chen, only will commit to a “Maybe” and here’s why:
“Once upon a time no one wanted to come to Columbus. But this summer Jarmo Kekalainen surprisingly was able to land the most coveted of all the available free agents, Johnny Gaudreau. Whoops! Then he re-signed RFA Patrick Laine to a four-year deal, which was more than anyone expected. Poof! Just like that, the Jackets boast one of the best duos in the league.
“Laine’s shot is Ovechkin-like and now he can have his own Nicklas Backstrom to feed him the puck in Johnny Hockey. But then what? Their forwards are — as a group — average although the future is bright. Cole Sillinger, Kirill Marchenko and Kent Johnson all will make the team but will require at least a season to reach their full potential.
“I like the first defense pair with star power Zach Werenski and Adam Boqvista but after the studs, the D is shallow. The Jackets signed veteran Erik Gudbranson — his sixth team in four seasons — and he’ll add size and needed grit. But for 4X4 to a snowshoe skater in this giddyap era makes no sense. With Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo guarding the crease, goaltending is solid. Elvis is in the building with a five-year $27 million pact.
“The most underrated Blue Jacket is Kekalainen who enters his ninth full season with the team. He’s done well drafting and has crafted a competitive club that will wreak havoc in the East. As for the playoffs; that’s up to Johnny (Moneybags) Hockey!”
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO THE JETS for signing Sam Gagner. At 33, he still has the goods. And for a year at $750,000, Chevvy can afford him.
THE JACK EICHEL GOOD QUOTE DEPARTMENT
My dear pal, former intern and brilliant writer for NHL.com, Jackie Spiegel, recently penned an insightful piece on the still-undefinable Jack Eichel. With Jackie’s help, The Vegas Ace-Of-Clubs did a bit of self-shrinking not-so-subtly aimed at his detractors who’d like him to become a McDavid. Try these two lines for accuracy of one’s self:
1. “It takes time to get back to feeling like yourself.”
2. “Just because you have surgery, it doesn’t mean everything goes back to normal.”
I’M JUST SAYIN’
* My long-range, long-shot Norris Trophy-winner prediction is not Cale Makar — he’ll get too full of himself — nor Adam (Not U-Bet) Fox.
* Ah, but it is that man among the tumblin’ tumbleweeds, Miro (The Heistmeister) Heiskanen.
* I’m writing a song: “The Sean Shines Bright On My Old McCaffrey Home.”
* Oh, hi, Sean: I’m all for your telling Chris Drury to sign P.K. Subban.
* Why should McCaffrey care; it’s not his dough.
* I’d just love to get my old pal, Les Binkley, to show the Butterfly goalies how to do it better with the stand-up style.
* Bink turned the first-year Penguins into a respectable team.
* When he stopped the Bruins Derek Sanderson with a kick save — and a beauty! — it made one of the best stand-up save photos of all time.
* Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons asks: “Can Auston Matthews score 60 again?” No point wasting Steve’s time. Answer: NO!
* I still can’t figure out why Jimmy Vesey has played for five teams in six years.
* So, the Vesey merry-go-round brings him back to New York for another shot at the Blueshirts varsity.
* No problem. Jimmy’s theme song has to be “Love Is Lovelier The Second Time Around.”
* Speaking of tunes, “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” has to be J.T. Miller’s theme song on account of he found the pot of gold at the end of his rainbow.
* At age 29, Miller will pull in $8 mil a year on his seven-year deal.
* On the Canucks part: Sanity or Insanity? You tell me.
* Nevermind: Insanity.
THIS GENERAL MANAGER IS A FIVE-STAR THINKER
How can you not like the Dallas Stars?
Nifty uniforms, a sweet smell of success and a general manager who “gets it.”
How do I know?
Simple. I read Tracey Myers NHL.com interview with Jim Nill, who has a lot to bubble about. When — No Relation To Dick — Tracey pointed out that Jeems has an abundance of young talent eagerly awaiting a leap to see the Stars At Night In Texas,
And while Myers gently hit the Stars — not nail — on the head, No-Nonsense Nill tossed a cautionary curve back at Ms. Myers.
“I always want to be respectful. It is a man’s league and it’s a big jump. On the other hand, some of these guys are knocking on the door. As we’ve seen, some of these kids don’t seem to miss a beat.”
Translated: The Stars in Jim’s eyes will be stars on the ice.
Trust me and thank you, Tracey Meyers.
MORE DALLAS NEWS — AN ARENA UPDATE
When it comes to the Stars, there’s always this issue about their home rink, American Airlines Center. Just happens that my business-in-sports expert, Evan Weiner, was mulling this issue as well. Here’s Weiner’s report:
“In the sports world, nine years is a long time and in nine years, the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks organization and the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars organization will have expiring leases at the Dallas arena the two businesses call home.
” It probably takes about four years to build a new arena from conception to lobbying a municipality to getting approval to build an arena and then come up with the needed financing and arena building is not getting any cheaper. There is not an immediate urgency to get a new or renovated arena in Dallas. At least not yet. But Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said about a year ago that the odds of remaining at the now 21-year-old facility was ‘less than 50 percent.’ But Dallas Stars ownership is open to keeping its business at the facility but the venue needs to be kept up with the times.
“‘We think it’s a great place to play for a long time,” said Stars CEO Brad Alberts in an interview with the Dallas Business Journal. “We love this location. We love being in the city of Dallas. At the same time, it’s more than 20 years old, and it’s no different than a house that’s 20 years old. It’s got great bones. It doesn’t need to be torn down, but it needs a renovation. It needs interior finish-outs and needs some new facelifts.’
“What Alberts didn’t say is this. The arena needs to be modernized with the latest money-generating gadgets. Alberts used the catchphrase “upgrade the fan experience.” That means that the building should have more restaurants, food courts and a merchandise area. Maybe a sportsbook although at the moment Texas lawmakers are not very concerned about legalizing sports betting. Cost and money will be the ultimate decider if Dallas gets a new building.”
SPECIAL HOCKEY PERSONALITIES: HOWARD DOLGON, THE CRUNCH MAN
When Howard Dolgon took over the AHL’s Syracuse franchise almost three decades ago, few could have foreseen how this savvy entrepreneur would convert the Upstate New York burgh into Empire State Hockeytown and the ultimate model for making minor league hockey look major league. In an exclusive interview, Dolgon addressed the following points:
Keys To Success: “We are heading into season 29 of Crunch hockey and the one thing that’s remained constant all these years is the passion and love for what we do. It’s an invaluable feeling that continues to motivate our entire organization to keep our brand, and how we present it to the public, fresh and exciting. Nowadays fans and corporations have lots of options on how they’ll spend their money and time. We never take anything or anyone for granted.”
Advice To New Owners: “We’ve had some outstanding owners come into the league during my tenure, in both big and smaller markets. One key piece of advice would be to not expect the honeymoon to last forever. Early enthusiasm for a new product is always going to fade somewhat so it’s important to recognize that from the get-go. Our markets, for the most part, are smaller than the major leagues so it’s critical to become deeply intwined in the community and to sustain that activity. AHL teams have a strong voice and platform in our cities and it’s important that we use it when it’s needed.”
Crunch Affiliation With Lightning: “Saying that Tampa Bay is the best organization in all of sports would be an understatement at the very least. It starts at the top with owner Jeff Vinik and continues with leadership on the hockey side with GM Julien BriseBois and team President Steve Griggs on the business end. They are communicative, inclusive and have a real interest in our overall operation – – not only our hockey players and staff but our Crunch administrative team as well. Simply put, they care. And while development is paramount — more so than ever in a salary cap world — they understand the importance of winning and experiencing playoff hockey as a part of that process.”
Knowing Yzerman and BriseBois: “Steve is a legend in the game and one of the greatest players and leaders to ever put on an NHL sweater. He’s got a winning pedigree and he was able to take those qualities to the front office and I have no doubt his Red Wings organization will shortly be contending for the Cup. Julien is definitely one of my favorite persons in all of hockey because I’ve known him both as an AGM and GM but also as a family man and great father to his two sons. He is so bright, yet incredibly humble. As busy as he is with the Lightning, he’s totally in tune with everything going on with our hockey club. And like Yzerman, always available for a conversation and truly interested in the opinions we offer.”
Dave Andrews As AHL Leader: “When the Crunch entered the AHL in 1994 we became one of 18 franchises in a league based predominantly in the northeast corridor of the U.S. and eastern Canada. Back then Syracuse was among the largest markets in the league and now 29 seasons later we are one of the smallest. We came into the AHL coincidental with Dave Andrews becoming President and for that I am forever grateful. Dave had a Laser focused vision and strategic plan for the league, combined it with dogged determination and didn’t rest until he achieved his ultimate goal – – 32 AHL teams partnered with 32 NHL teams. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and again, Andrews was truly one of the best sports executives I’ve had the opportunity to work with and I strongly believe he could effectively run any major league.”
Working With The NHL: “There’s no question that Commissioner Bettman has been a staunch ally and strong supporter of the AHL since taking the helm of the NHL. It’s a necessary and mutually beneficial partnership. AHL teams are totally reliant on their NHL affiliate for our talent pool and we’re responsible for developing the next generation of players for the big club. And in a salary cap world, it’s even more important that prospects are properly groomed and prepared to graduate to the next level. The same thing goes for coaches, trainers, equipment managers, referees and broadcasters. We’re the second best league in the world and we could never have gotten here without the NHL’s continued support.”
WHO’S BETTER? IGOR SHESTERKIN VS. ANDRE VASILEVSKIY
You think you know the answer?
Hold on, sweetheart. Hold on, buddy. No rash, impetuous answers, please. The one and only Sean (I’m Flyin’ High) McCaffrey has the answer. Listen up: “Throughout this summer, a time when ‘Who’s Better?’ debates are commonplace, we’ve seen many hockey pundits weigh in on Connor McDavid vs Auston Matthews, Adam Fox vs Cale Makar, and other NHLers dripped in hardware. One stone left to be turned — goaltenders.
“The hockey world can argue about who is presently the best puckstopper but what can not be argued are the two names — Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers and the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“The fact that both Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy are Russian is no coincidence. They’re linked to perhaps the super Comrade, Class of 1989 Hockey Hall of Famer, Vladislav Tretiak.
“When Tretiak became head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, one of his objectives was to produce goalies who would grow into Hall of Famers. Over time, Igor and Andre would benefit from Tretiak’s vision.
“Vas got there first, as he’s nearly eighteen months older than Shesty; and once arriving in the NHL, they took similar paths. Each would replace successful franchise goalies – although Shesterkin taking over for Henrik Lundqvist was not as easy as for Vasilevskiy, when “The Big Cat” replaced Ben Bishop.
“Since becoming Tampa’s main man, Vasilevskiy has backstopped himself into four NHL All-Star games, one Presidents’ Trophy (2019), one Vezina Trophy (2019), two Stanley Cups (2020 and 2021), and one Conn Smythe Trophy (2021).
“If you consider names like Lundqvist, Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Quick and others of that ilk from a previous generation – then without doubt – Vasilevskiy, who may be a fuure Hall of Famer, is the best goalie of his generation. “Enter challenger, #31 from the Rangers, Igor Shesterrkin. The 2022 Vezina Trophy winher became an 82-game starter and the net was his, and all of the never-ending negative back-page stories were gone.
“By the end of the 2021-22 season, this became apparent – Vasilevskiy began his career with a Stanley Cup contender. Shesterkin MADE his team a contender. Suffice to say, there’s a reason why Shesterkin not only won the Vezina Trophy in 2022 – but finished second runner-up in the Hart Trophy voting too – an MVP award that’s decided by pro-Canadian media.
“Entering the 2022-23 season, Vasilevskiy has played in 365 NHL games, where he’s compiled a record of 229-101-24, a GAA of 2.50 and a save percentage of .919. Shesterkin has played in 100 NHL games, where he’s compiled a record of 62-29-7, a GAA of 2.31 and a save percentage of .928.
“Perhaps more important than that (especially if you consider playoff hockey as the end-all-be-all), it’s Vasilevskiy who has an Eastern Conference final win (2022) over Shesterkin. Furthermore, it’s Vasilevskiy who owns a slew of playoff records that go along with his impressive performances during elimination games.
“Due to age and experience, Vasilevskiy is still the top goaltender of the league. However, if there’s any goalie that will wrest away the title of “best goalie of the league” from Vasilevskiy, it’s Shesty.
“Perhaps the two will see each other again, a “Round 2,” during the 2023 Eastern Conference Final. If that’s the case, sit back and enjoy the best goaltending on the planet.(The Maven respectfully disagrees: Why? Check Igor’s latest save percentage: .935!)
HOW ABOUT THIS — NORTH AMERICA VS. EUROPE; WHO’S BETTER?
Having conquered one ‘Who’s Better?’ our Judge Of All Judges, Sean McCaff attacks a variation on the question: ‘Who’s Better — North American or European Junior Prospects?’ Go to it Sir Sean, and don’t expect unanimous agreement, pal.
“Time-and-time again, no matter the tournament, and no matter if a player played well or not, I am inundated with feedback, where the bulk of the talk suggests that one tournament can make-or-break a career.
“When it comes to prospects/teenage players, just like the old New York Lotto motto – ‘Hey, you never know.’
“Without any true insider access to these players how can any fan, blogger, reporter, podcaster, whoever; determine the mental make-up of a young player?
“Exhibit A is Lias Andersson. The former seventh-overall pick wasn’t mentally there for the Rangers. And, let’s face it, North American players will always have a better success rate/advantage in the NHL whenever compared to their European counterparts.
“It boils down to this – every North American hockey player grows up dreaming of playing in the NHL. The same doesn’t necessarily apply overseas. North American players don’t grow up saying, ‘I can’t wait to light it up in the SHL and in the KHL!’ Instead, European leagues, including the KHL, is where a lot of NHL careers go to skate into the sunset.
“During interviews, NHL scouts have to deduce the desire, passion and if a player can make a life-changing adjustment/transition to a new country – where the player may not even know how to read/write/speak English, or in some cases (Montreal), French.
“As for touneys like the recent World Juniors, it’s better to enjoy them for what they are, rather than bestowing any future laurels on the individual stars until they earn them.”
DIDJA KNOW? HOW THE ELEPHANTS COST THE RANGERS THE ’50 CUP!
No, this is not a animal fantasy joke although, in the end, the April 1950 joke was on the Broadway Blueshirts.
Coached by Lynn Patrick, the underdog New Yorkers upset Montreal, in a five-game semi-final and then faced Detroit in the Cup Final.
Bear in mind, the last time the Rangers got that close to the Stanley was in 1940, when they actually sipped the champagne.
So, now came the big chance except that they faced odds that no other club ever was challenged with in a final round. The Rangers would not be allowed to play a single home game of the allowable total of seven contests.
What’s so ironic is that it was all the Rangers fault. The then Madison Square Garden biggies preferred giving the available dates to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus. Or, to put it a more pachyderm way, the elephants booted the Blueshirts out of their home.
The result was that the league granted Patrick’s sextet two “home” games at Maple Leaf Gardens with the remaining five played at Detroit’s Olympia.
As it happened, New York led the series, three games to two and Game 6, of course was in Detroit when — technically speaking — it should have been at the Garden on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
The Red Wings won Game Six and athough the Rangers took Detroit to double overtime in the decisive final match, Olympia rocked when Pete Babando beat goalie Charlie Rayner in the second sudden death.
Or, as one New York wag put it, at least one Ringling Bros. elephant should have been granted a sip of the bubbly!
WHO SAID IT? “Now we’ve got someone our fans can really hate.” (ANSWER BELOW)
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: ARIEL FISCHLER ON WJC TOP FIVE PLAYERS
Since The Maven’s 16-year-old grandson, Ariel, is playing forward in Switzerland for Thun’s team, he’s also been reviewing the recent World Junior tourney in Edmonton. Here are his final conclusions about the best quintet of the group.
1. Kent Johnson: The Canadian ace has a combo of Patrick Kane’s hands and creativeness as well as skating ability of the Chi ace from yesteryear, Denis Savard.
Plus, Johnson plays a strong physical game — he can take a hit — and displays clutch-ability. I see him as a second or even first-line winger with Columbus.
2. Jasper Wallstedt: The huge Swedish goalie is a team saver and life-saver for the fans. He’s as flexible as Gumby and has rebound control second to none. If there’s a big save to make, Jasper will make it. Billy Guerin in Minnesota might just be figuring he’s got another starter in the nets.
3. Connor Bedard: At 17, this talent has a Mike Bossy-Auston Matthews scoring edge. He gets to the right spot at the right time to release a laser shot and he’s not reluctant to make out-of-the-box moves, nor dish a big hit. He infuses more energy into an arena than an ACDC concert. Figure the lad as the top pick in the next Entry Draft.
4. Luke Hughes: Uncle Sam’s blue liner provided American muscle and a point-a-game average over five contests. His dekes are of major league caliber along with a huge shot arsenal. At times he resembles a latter-day Denis Potvin. No question that he’s NHL ready for the Devils.
5. Atu Raty: The 6-foot-2 Finnish center reminds me of Joe Nieuwendyk. He blends a rugged game with a pro’s scoring knack. The topper is Raty’s playmaking ability which helped his club to the Final round. I give him a good shot at making the Islanders varsity.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Tampa Bay Lightning GM Phil Esposito on the Florida Panthers being admitted to the NHL