Maven’s Ravin’: 41 Post-Playoff Thoughts, Draft Insights & Gordie Howe Stories

1. One playoff minus was officiating inconsistency. Retired ref Kerry Fraser agrees. Dubious fouls got called yet woodchopping got the blinder treatment. A foul should be a foul whether it’s the regular season or Cup finale. (Sub-par reffing; not exactly breaking news.)

2. There can be no alibiing for officials failing to penalize Sidney Crosby off the opening face-off in Game 6. Everyone — including the arena termites — saw the Penguins’ captain do his lumberjack whack job on Joe Thornton right off the draw. No call. Nothing. (Sorry. I forgot. That’s ancient history.)

3. As I predicted when it happened, the injury to Pittsburgh defenseman Trevor Daley was the best thing that happened to Mike Sullivan’s sextet. Older and slower, Daley was replaced by the young No-Names and they all were an improvement.

4. One of those No-Names, State of Maine product Brian Dumoulin demoralized all of San Jose with the first goal of Game 6. Daley couldn’t have done better.

5. Among the amazing aspects of the Penguins’ late-season surge was the ease with which new additions fit into the machine. Credit general manager Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan for that. Captain Crosby, too.

6. Adds Sidney: “When you look at the guys we added — the young guys and those we got through trades — it took a special group to be able to come together the way we did.”

7. Is there another NHL club that will be able to match Pittsburgh’s fire-wagon speed game next season? Answer: Nay. Rangers, Capitals and Lightning all had their chance this postseason. Of course, a lot can happen between now and next fall in terms of trades, etc.

8. One thing that will drive me nuts all summer is a reflection on the first 18 minutes of the Rangers’ first playoff game with Pitt. I mean, New York domination was so complete it seemed that nothing would stop the Blueshirts. Nothing.

9. That is, nothing but Marc Staal‘s stick penetrating Henrik Lundqvist‘s mask and then hitting his eye. Had that not happened, “Quién Sabe?” Who knows?

10. Above the 49th Parallel, they’re already worrying about whether a Canadian team will make the playoffs in 2016-17.

11. If Carey Price isn’t fully recovered — or gets injured again — the Habs won’t. Neither will the rebuilding Maple Leafs. Matter of fact, I’m not so sure that Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver has the goods.

12. A Gordie Howe story nobody knows because only The Maven was there. This was a fantasy hockey group in Lake Placid; two NHLers per team. Detroit had Gordie and Bill Gadsby. They played Chicago one day and a wise guy on the Hawks’ fantasy club wanted to prove how tough he was. Once, twice, he messed with Howe. Once, twice, he was warned by Stan Mikita to lay off Mr. Hockey. The wise guy wouldn’t listen and tried a third time. Poof! Just like that Gordie deposited  the jerk into fantasy land, on his back seeing Xs and Os.

13. By the way, I watched Howe do virtually the same thing to Staten Island’s Nick Fotiu when the one-time Ranger was with the New England Whalers. Gordie was with the WHA Aeros playing in Houston. Nicky came barreling in from behind at 25 mph but Gordie saw the reflection in the end glass. A half second before Fotiu delivered his hit, Howe’s elbow shot up and Nick was another delivery to Howe Fantasyland.

14. Don’t be at all surpassed if Edmonton’s gifted Nail Yakupov winds up on one of the Met Area teams. Word from Oilers country is that Yakupov was headed to New Jersey before the trade deadline in exchange for Eric Gelinas. Instead, Ray Shero peddled the defenseman to Colorado.

15. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dallas broadcasting colleague Dave Strader who revealed this week that he’s battling cancer.

16. I had a nice chat with Al Arbour’s widow, Claire, now living in Longboat Key, Florida. She followed the playoffs and agreed that what Butch Goring meant to Al’s Islanders in winning the 1980 Stanley Cup, Phil Kessel meant to the new champ Penguins.

17. Peter DeBoer labels Martin Jones puck-stopping, “One of the all-time best goaltending performances in a Final.” And, do you know what? Pete’s right.

18. Give DeBoer a ton of credit. He took an overachieving Devils club to the Final in 2012 and did likewise this time around with San Jose. The man can coach.

19. With the NHL Entry Draft just around the calendar, I keep wondering how high Long Beach, Long Island product Charlie McAvoy (Boston University) will go. The International Scouting Services peg him at 23rd. Other say he might go 18th or lower.

20. I have a feeling that the Devils, at 11, will give serious thought to center Clayton Keller, out of Swansea, Illinois. International Scouting sees him going 12th.

21. Although he’s aging and slowing down a trifle, unrestricted free agent Milan Lucic is attracting attention. His former Boston boss Peter Chiarelli, now in Edmonton, is supposedly thinking of signing the hulk.

22. Ben Bishop may be a Vezina Trophy candidate but if I was a GM I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot goalie stick. Too many injuries, too many times.

23. Kris Letang scored the playoff cup-winner. His coach loves him for that but Mike Sullivan adds: “He played so many important minutes for us and in so many situations. He’s one of the top defensemen in the league.” (No argument there.)

24. One reason why Kirk Muller was brought in by the Canadiens as an assistant coach is to be a counselor-confidante-consultant to erratic P.K. Subban. Kirk is smart enough to turn him into a team player once more.

25. Not that you should take this to the bank but my buddy, NHL.com’s Mike Morreale — whom I trust — has the Devils drafting Tyson Jost with the 11th pick. He also believes that the Isles will go with Max Jones at #19.

26. Time For The Toughie: Which two NHLers played for the Devils, Islanders, Rangers and Vancouver?  (Answer will be at Number 30.)

27. Unsung behind the scenes Pittsburgh Cup heroes were assistant coaches Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin. That Odd Couple was responsible for the Penguins No-Name defense starring without Trevor Daley.

28. My Vice-President In Charge of “Feel-Good Stories,”  Stanley Cup Edition, Alan Greenberg, puts Matt Cullen on his list. “This,” says Greenberg, “was a 39-year-old on a one-year contract. The Cup-clincher was possibly his last NHL game. Cullen won a Cup with Carolina in 2006 and his dedication to the game kept him in the league for 18 seasons with eight NHL teams.”

29. Yeah, but the real genius in Cullen’s saga was Pens GM Jim Rutherford, who coaxed Matt to Pittsburgh for one more season to be fourth line center, role player and experienced locker room voice. Blueshirts fans can appreciate Cullen — with regret. Hey, Matt scored two game-winners against the Rangers in this spring’s opening series.

30. Answer: Sergei Nemchinov and Kevin Weekes. Also: Did Sidney Crosby deserve the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP? The Maven says no, no, no, a thousand times NO!

31. My choice would be Phil Kessel for the following reasons. A. Phil led the Penguins in scoring — 10 goals, 12 assists for 22 points, and was Plus-5. B. Crosby had six goals, 13 assists for 19 points and was MINUS-2.

32. Whether Sid-No-Longer-The-Kid deserved the Smythe or not, Crosby showed a more positive side to him than ever before. Pitt’s captain has matured skillfully and socially.

33. His whining has subdued — he lets Kris Letang hiss and moan for the team — and he takes his hits like a man and not a teenager who believes he owns the refs.

34. Plus, Crosby’s innate class and teamsmanship were evident when it was time for him to hand off The Cup to a teammate. Injured Trevor Daley and Pascal Dupuis were Sid’s choices and that was not merely well done but real captain’s stuff.

35. LETTERS: Reader Noam Kogen of Manhattan constructed a list of Islanders who won’t be back in October. That group includes Marek Zidlicky, Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton, Brian Strait and Kyle Okposo. (I reserve judgment on the latter pair.)

36. With the NHL Entry Draft coming up June 24-25, one of the most intriguing stories is running in The Hockey News. The Game’s “bible” picks 1996 for the dubious distinction of being the worst of its kind.

37. How bad, you ask? The top choice wasn’t bad at all. Defenseman Chris Phillips enjoyed a long career with Ottawa although never the “superstar” predicted by some. Runner up was San Jose’s pick of defenseman Andre Zyuzin, claiming “He has a ton of talent.” Where? When?

38. As for our locals, choosing third, the Islanders went for J.P. Dumont. ‘Nuff said. New Jersey went 10th and decided on defenseman Lance Ward. “He does a good job without any fanfare” was the way THN put it. (True, he got no fanfare because he merited none. Rangers — in the 22nd spot — also got a D-man. Jeff Brown; just like Lance Ward.

39. When it comes to weird decisions, how about St. Louis naming its coach for 2017-18. Good for Mike Yeo, but what’s the big rush?  What if Ken Hitchcock wins the Cup for the Blues next June? Don’t you think he’d want to stay? I do.

40. What better way to close than a last Gordie Howe tale from Wayne Gretzky, who classily dubs Howe THE greatest. Here’s what The Great One says: “On my first encounter with Gordie, I took the puck from him and before I knew it, the big stick pounded me on the hand. I thought I broke my thumb. Gordie took the puck and said, ‘Don’t ever take the puck from me.’ And I go: ‘Okay.'”

41. The third most exciting post-Cup event — along with the Draft and Free Agent Frenzy — will be the decision to admit Las Vegas to the fraternity. As I’ve noted, this is one ownership vote that has not had unanimous support. In plain English there are some owners who don’t like it. Furthermore, there are sports-biz types who insist that the NHL in Nevada will be as hospitable as a snowman in the Mojave Desert. As for the verdict, you bet Vegas will be the 31st franchise.