1. If I’m in Steven (Still Sidelined) Stamkos skates, I’d get it over with and pledge allegiance to the Tampa Bay Lightning with a new contract. As the club he still captains battles toward the Cup Final, such a move would galvanize his teammates when they most need it.
2. What’s more, with a new deal, Stamkos would still be one of the most filthy-rich NHLers and, simultaneously display a rare sign of team loyalty. Call it repaying the franchise that made him what he is today.
3. A year ago a vendetta-bent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist failed in his campaign for the firing of Pens general manager Jim Rutherford. Now Gentleman Jim is favored to win the NHL Manager Of The Year Award. And when — the other day — a reporter harked back to the “Bit of criticism you took last year,” Rutherford shot back with a laugh: “A bit…?”
4. Rutherford disagrees with reporters who insist that he took a gamble dealing for Phil Kessel, currently the leading playoff scorer. “It wasn’t a risk,” Jimmy explains. “For some reason lots of people don’t like Phil Kessel. But he was the best player Toronto had for eight years. Yet, year in and year out he got the blame for everything. Which was very unfair.”
5. If the Rangers, Islanders or Devils are looking for a vet blue liner who could quarterback the power play, Unrestricted Free Agent, Brian (Not So Soupy) Campbell, ex of Florida, might be worth consideration.
6. Here’s an example of coach’s humor, playoff-style: Prior to Game 4 Friday night in Tampa Bay, Lightning ace Tyler Johnson was hit hard in the face by an errant puck, yet went on to play an outstanding game. “Now,” says coach Jon Cooper, “the talk is that somebody should shoot one in Tyler’s mouth during Sunday Night’s warmup!”
7. By contrast, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is not amused by the manner in which his ace D-Man Kris Letang flies off the handle, getting foolish penalties. “We’d like him to handle that differently,” Sully admits. “I told him so because he’s too important to our team.” (Watch Letang on Sunday night and see how he behaves.)
8. The analytics madness shows no signs of abating and is destined to continue booming. That said, I’ll bet all the young, hockey techies out there such as Coyotes rookie GM John (What Am I Doing Here?) Chayka have no idea who started the ice analytics craze.
9. Believe it or not, the father of analytics is ex-New Jersey Devils coach Kevin Constantine. Credit Edmonton Journalcolumnist Jim Matheson for that discovery.
“Only (analytics) didn’t have a name 25 years ago,” writes Matty. Ex-Rangers goalie — now Coyotes scout — Doug Soetaert worked with Constantine. “Kevin was doing analytics in 1991,” says Soetaert. “He was the pioneer in all of this.”
10. I remember Constantine well when he was Devs coach. There wasn’t a smarter mentor around; and funny, to boot. He’s now coaching the WHL’s Everett (Washington) Silvertips. Kevin told Matheson: “I once read a baseball book that said, ‘If you can measure it, you can improve it’ and that struck a chord with me.”
11. Picking 11th in next month’s Entry Draft, New Jersey could fill its center ice needs with prospect Tyson Jost. As it happens The Game’s bible, The Hockey News, rates the 18-year-old, 6-0, 194 pound Edmontonian as 11th-best out of 100 prospects.
12. How good is Jost, the British Columbia Hockey League’s MVP? One NHL birddog says, “He already has man strength, skates well and has phenomenal hands, plus a great shot. The kid is the real deal.” Ray Shero might like this from a different scout: “He’s got high-end quickness; I like the way he can get behind guys.”
13. The Islanders are in the Draft’s 19th position. At that spot, the International Scouting Services favors offensive-minded defenseman Dante Fabbro as the best choice in that slot. Committed to Boston University next season, the 6-1, 185-pounder got this rave from a scout, “Fabbro is basically like an NHL player already.”
14. Thing is, Garth Snow may figure he’s got enough D-Man prospects and needs forwards. In that case, left wing Kieffer Bellows looms as an appetizing choice. He’s 6-1, 194 pounds and calls ex-NHL sharpshooter Brian Bellows “Dad.”
15. In Kieffer’s favor is the fact that scouts see a lot of his father’s superior style in the son. Another Boston University commit, Kieffer gets this birddog’s critique: “The kid has gifted offensive instincts. When he gets the puck, it’s a hair trigger.”
That’s the kind of forward they yearn for at Barclays.
16. Granted that Cory Schneider has plenty of good years left in him, but there’s a beaut of a Devils puck-stopper in Juniors. Drafted 42nd overall in 2015, Mackenzie Blackwood — starring for Barrie — was named Ontario Hockey League goalie of the year. He led the league in save percentage and ranked near the top in wins and goals-against average.
17. Brent Burns’ playoff distinction may be more than his having a carpet-sized beard. The Sharks’ back liner could emerge as the best of the postseason defensemen. Certainly the best ex-forward-to-return-to-blue-line-work.
18. You may be wondering how San Jose GM Doug Wilson pilfered BB from the Wild; not to mention Martin Jones, who’s one of the top playoff goalies.
19. Here’s how it went: the first trade was in 2011, when Wilson traded Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, and his first-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Zack Phillips) to the Minnesota Wild for Burns and their second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft (Pontus Aberg).
20. The second trade was last year, when he traded Sean Kuraly and his first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the Boston Bruins for Martin Jones. It’s hard to believe how far Jones has come in so short a time.
21. Here’s a compelling note for Rangers, Islanders and Devils fans. The Hockey News selects two Top Prospects for each of our Locals. Here they are: Rangers, Adam Huska, USHL goalie of the year. Committed to UConn; Pavel Buchnevich, who could make the big club this Fall.
22. The Isles nabbed an Ilya. That’s Ilya Sorokin, who led CSKA Moscow to the KHL Final with the best GAA in the league (1.32) and played in their All-Star Game; Mathew Barzal, according to Newsday‘s Steve Zipay, is someone who has all the makings of a second line center in the NHL.
23. As for New Jersey, The Hockey News likes Pavel Zacha. According to asst. GM Tom Fitzgerald, “Pavel is projected to be a top NHL player.” Another goodie: Steve Santini at Boston College. He could turn pro. but shouldn’t be rushed, The word is that SS could be a captain down the line.
24. What do you think of these awards for “Best” at positions for the Locals: (With some input from Jacob Valk):
Islanders – John Tavares; Devils – Cory Schneider; Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist.
26. Best Goalie:
Islanders – Thomas Greiss; Devils – Cory Schneider; Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist.
27. Best Defenseman:
Islanders – Nick Leddy; Devils – Andy Greene; Rangers – Ryan McDonagh.
28. Best Rookie:
Islanders – Ryan Pulock; Devils – Joseph Blandisi; Rangers – Dylan McIlrath.
29. Good Conduct and Good Play:
Islanders – Frans Nielsen; Devils – Travis Zajac; Rangers – Jesper Fast.
30. The beauty part of Howie (I Don’t Like Shootouts) Rose’s professionalism was his ability to win over Rangers fans when he broadcast Blueshirts games and then do ditto after moving to the Islanders’ broadcast booth.
31. That was a tough trick, but no tougher than his ability to deliver a baseball broadcast as effortlessly and efficiently as Howie handled hockey.
32. If you’re a Devils fan and you remember the club’s glorious march to the Cup Final, you have to be happy for Peter DeBoer. The Devils’ coach then is now in the semifinals guiding San Jose, hopefully to the fourth round. DeBoer’s secret has been has been his knack for instilling confidence. “Pete is very confident in our ability,” explains forward Tommy Wingels, “and it’s contagious. If the leader is confident, it’s hard as players not to feel the same way.”
33. That over-the-glass delay of game penalty still bothers me. I’d love to see it abolished but I know it won’t happen. Gary Bettman likes it.
34. Against the Islanders, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov’s shot was deadly. Against the Penguins, the Russian’s shot has been dead.
35. If you’re wondering about the NHL’s best referees, consider this: Wes McCauley, Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland officiated during the 2015 Final Round and still are handling the current playoffs.