1. Of all the Islanders forwards, Casey Cizikas has been my choice as most underrated. However, we no longer can say that the Toronto native is underpaid. His new five-year ($16.75 million) deal rewards his past excellence and guarantees more ice up ahead; likely as a third-line center.
2. One of the many things I like about Casey’s game is his aggressive penalty-killing. He’s among the best at chasing down foes in their own end. And he does it in a way that often disrupts rushes before they start.
3. Now the question: Which free agent(s) — among Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin — will Garth Snow attempt to ink? Reports have surfaced that the Isles’ GM has been chatting with Nielsen’s rep. That’s a start.
4. The next Rangers move will be replacing assistant coach Ulf Samuelson who exited Seventh Avenue to coach the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. I wouldn’t be surprised if an ex-Blueshirt gets the gig.
5. If you’re wondering why Pittsburgh can make it three in a row on Saturday night in San Jose, listen to coach Mike Sullivan. “My group stays in the moment — not dwelling on the past, not getting ahead of itself; just focusing on that one game.”
6. Sully has ducked kudos which he deserves for reviving the Penguins. “The greatest story of all is this group itself,” he insists. “For me, being part of something that’s bigger than me, it’s a special feeling. I know these guys have it right now.”
7. Nobody has had it better than goalie Matt Murray who made his debut in the Rangers-Pitt series. What’s his club’s key? “No matter what the circumstance, we stay resilient,” the astonishing rookie points out. “Once a goal happens I can’t get it back. I don’t worry about it once it’s over. We keep looking forward.”
8. Biggest bargain on the Penguins is ex-Ranger (2006-07) Matt Cullen. Pitt signed him for one year at $800,000. He saved Pitt when No. 2 center Evgeni Malkin got hurt down the stretch and has delivered two playoff game-winners even in fourth-line duty.
9. NHL owners are very close to a vote on expansion. Of the 30 Lords of Hockey, about five are opposed including — I’m told — Board Chairman Jeremy (Boston Bruins) Jacobs.
10. Nevertheless, all signs indicate that Las Vegas will be admitted because of four key factors: A. The league needs another team in the West; B. Vegas sugar-daddies will cough up $500 million; C. Bettman, Inc. will have the first major league team there; D. NBC likes the idea.
11. Quebec City still is in the expansion running, but more as the recipient of a transfer franchise should one of the hurting clubs decides to move. The falling Canadian dollar also has braked Quebec’s chances.
12. One reason why Penguin fans are rooting against a four-game sweep of the Final has to do with home ice. It’s been since 1960 that a championship has been won in Pittsburgh. Pens pals would prefer champagne be poured after Game 5 at the Consol Energy Center.
13. Time Is A Healer Department: For most of the season, Phil Kessel looked like the dud of Pittsburgh duds. Now the deal that GM Jim Rutherford pulled off last year comes off as the Stanley Cup steal of all steals.
14. Sharks defenseman Roman Polak credits Lou Lamoriello for helping him play in the Cup Final. “When I was with Toronto,” says Polak, “Lou promised to deal me to a contender. Other executives just say those things but Lou stuck to his word.” We knew that from Lamoriello’s years with the Devils.
15. The Rarest of Coach Admissions Department: Asked when he knew that Troy Brouwer was a good fit for his Blues, Ken Hitchcock said it was the day Brouwer told him to “shut up.”
16. Funny thing is that Brouwer confirms the episode without blinking. “Hitch is so passionate about hockey, but sometimes you (players) need a break from hearing his voice.” P.S. Troy insists that his rip wasn’t meant in a mean way and wasn’t as harsh as it sounded.
17. By the way, Brouwer is one Unrestricted Free Agent whose dollar value spiked during the playoffs. He was a goal-scoring star for St. Louis with half his goals being game-winners.
18. Here’s another reason why Rutherford should be named “General Manager of the Year:” Since the Rangers knocked Pitt out of the playoffs last Spring, only Crosby, Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist have remained as starters. “We brought in some character,” notes Gentleman Jim.
19. Wouldn’t it be something if Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop wins the Vezina Trophy and then is traded to, say, Dallas. It’s even-money BB will get the goalie prize and virtually guaranteed that Steve Yzerman will keep Andrei Vasilevskiy as his No. 1 goalie.
20. Speaking of the Lightning, Tampa Bay Times columnist Martin Fennelly believes that the “Steven Stamkos Era” is over in Lightning-ville. “Sure feels like it,” writes Fennelly. “It felt like it all season.”
21. At least one smart hockey scout I know believes that the Lightning high command was dead wrong in playing Stamkos in Game 7 at Pittsburgh. His reasoning is that the rusty captain actually disrupted the Lightning attack.
22. Meanwhile, the former Bad Boy of Tampa, Jonathan Drouin, now is all lovey-dovey with Yzerman. “I definitely want to be here (with the Lightning). It’s where I want to play.” Of course the GM agrees. “Jonathan makes us a better team,” adds Stevie Y. (Sure, especially when Stamkos leaves!)
23. The Kings are in a tight cap situation and that means that UFA wing Milan Lucic will be tempting several general managers. Apart from his size and general rugged style, he’ll only be 28 when the new season starts; in his playing prime.
24. It isn’t often that two Danish-born aces are available but sure enough, Nielsen and Mikkel Boedker are the Danes-in-waiting.
25. You hear all kinds of descriptions of goalie value, but the one I like best comes from Lightning coach and NHL philosopher Jon Cooper: “The goalie doesn’t always have to win you a game. It’s great when he does. He just can’t lose the games!”
26. That’s why Murray has Pittsburgh just two wins away from the champagne-filled Stanley Cup.
27. My buddy, Evgeni (Nabby) Nabokov, tells me that Martin Jones can thank Sharks goalie coach — ex-Devil — Johan Hedberg for improving Jones’ game. “Heddy taught me on-ice stuff,” Jones reveals, “and what it takes to manage the highs and lows of a season.”
28. What happens when media types want to ask questions of players and coaches after tough losses while the losers are still angry about dropping a game? In the case of Peter DeBoer, he dismissed a hardball query out of hand.
29. On the other hand, Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t even show up for his post-game interviews after St. Louis was eliminated by San Jose. But after a couple of cooling-off days, the Russian showed up and explained: “I wasn’t ready to talk. I was too frustrated, upset and mad about our loss. I didn’t want to give you reporters a hard time.”
30. Ex-Rangers hero Brad Richards was a lot less of a star in Detroit this past season. The two-time Cup-winner wants to hook on with another NHL club. Vacationing at his Long Island home, Richie insists that “I still have a good year left in me.”
31. Everybody in Montreal knows that playoffs-missing coach Michel Therrien’s job is hanging by a gossamer string. Now that the Habs have hired ex-Devil-Islander Kirk Muller as associate coach, that Therrien string looks awfully weak.
32. Good for the Panthers. After gifting their fans with a playoff team, ownership has come up with a new and more attractive uniform for next season.
33. The Cats’ new threads will be on display in our vicinity on Oct. 8 when the Devils face off against Florida at West Point. The neat note is that Army’s Tate Rink happens to be 200 by 90 feet, five feet wider than NHL ice.
34. Call me a dreamer, but I still believe that — had Henrik Lundqvist not taken a stick through his mask to the eye in Game 1 against the Penguins — the Rangers could have beaten Pittsburgh in the opening round.
35. Granted that William Shakespeare wrote, “There’s much virtue in if,” but the Blueshirts had completely outplayed the Penguins for 18 minutes of the first period of the first game before the accident.
36. Who are the unsung Penguins heroes of the Final round? Coach Sullivan makes no bones about the answer: “Our unsung heroes include the six defensemen who have stepped up with (veteran) Trevor Daley out with an injury.”
37. Fair enough; but what makes them “unsung?” Unwritten stuff that has frustrated San Jose. “They go back for pucks,” says Sully, “take hits, make plays, and help us get out of our end zone, defend hard and block shots.”
38. Quick Quiz: Name some NHL players who have skated with the Rangers, Islanders and Devils?
Answers: Sergei Nemchinov, Pat Conacher, Mike Dunham, John Vanbiesbrouck, Kevin Weekes, Joel Bouchard, Vladimir Malakhov, Mike Mottau and Arron Asham.
39. I’m convinced that Stamkos will become the youngest superstar ever to hit the open market in free agency. One reason is that the Lightning do not believe that Stamkos is worth what Steven thinks he is.
40. If the Blackhawks can’t find a way to keep right wing Andrew Shaw — and they may not — that’s one fine forward for one of our Met Area teams.
41. Quicker Quiz: Which player stickhandled for the Canadiens, Rangers, Pittsburgh, Islanders, Flyers and Devils?
Answer: The very same Arron Asham.