EXCLUSIVE — EYEWITNESS TO SUMMIT SERIES FURY: AL EAGLESON VS. KEN DRYDEN’S DAD
Revisiting Canada’s melodramatic Summit Series victory in Game 8 a half-century ago has been a soothing syrup for Canadians, as it should be. But behind the scenes in 1972 there were clashes galore some of which were unreported for one reason or another.
In the last two issues, I recounted Vic Hadfield’s walkout after a nasty confrontation with Harry Sinden. In Hadfield’s autobiography, Vic also ripped Team Canada’s majordomo Alan Eagleson.
And that’s not all. In an exclusive interview with my buddy, hockey author George Grimm, New York Times hockey writer Gerald Eskenazi revealed that Eskenazi was eyewitness to another personality clash.
This one featured Eagleson — sitting next to Gerry on a train from Montreal to Toronto — and goalie Ken Dryden’s father. This is what Times’ reporter Eskenazi recently told “We Did Everything But Win” author George Grimm:
Eskenazi: “I was on the Turbo Train going to Toronto, seated next to Alan Eagleson, and all of a sudden Ken Dryden’s father came down the aisle, spotted Eagleson and exploded in the middle of the train. ‘YOU SUCKERED US!’ he shouted. And Eagleson got up and I thought the two of them were going to come to blows.
“After all, Dryden’s dad was embarrassed at that moment. He was the father of a goalie who had given up a whole bunch of goals and — according to a lot of Canadians — let his team down. It was a really explosive situation. Dryden’s father was accusing Eagleson of purposely demeaning the Russians so that the Canadians would play them and not prepare very hard for them. And the two of them went head to head for a minute or two and then Eagleson sat back down. But to me that was a very memorable moment.”
WHY THE ISLES WERE RIGHT NIXING OVERPAID, OVERRATED KADRI
Plenty of noisemakers were fussing and fuming over Lou Lamoriello’s Islanders not signing Nazem Kadri. But the Isles are a better team now than had they signed Kadri. Our keenest of analysts, Joltin’ Joe Dioniso, explains:
“The Islanders did the right thing by not overpaying Nazem Kadri. The criticism of Lamoriello has been absurd. Kadri had the final say, so it’s preposterous to presume any general manager can wave a magic wand and force a player to sign. More vitally, in a Salary Cap league you cannot separate a player’s value from his contract.
“It would have been crazy for the Isles to financially gut their squad for a guy — despite being a very good center — who won’t EVER put up 87 points again without the Avalanche cast singing backup around him.
“Since Kadri became a full-time NHLer, he’s averaged a mere 45 points over the past eight seasons. If last year’s 87-point campaign isn’t an outlier, I don’t know what is.”
A HAT TRICK OF NOTABLE RETIREMENTS
Rare is the day when the National Hockey League acknowledges the retirement of three defensemen of grand achievements. But that happened on Tuesday with the procession of announcements starting with Zdeno Chara, followed by P.K. Subban and then Keith Yandle.
Remarkably, each performer leaves a legacy of superior play. Chara is a sure Hall of Famer as the backbone of the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team.
One could say without fear of contradiction that The Biggest Z played the game in the Larry Robinson style — with consummate smarts, blended with toughness and versatility.
There never will be a player who could surpass Chara when it came to the pursuit of physical fitness not to mention all-time leadership.
At his peak, Subban ranked with the top backliners of his time. In Montreal, P.K.’s superior play was matched by P.K.’s philanthropic efforts far beyond the call of duty.
More than that Subban’s ebullient personality added a touch of rock star glamour that widened the NHL’s image beyond the playing rink.
On the other hand, while Yandle remained quieter, his16 year career was filled with meaningful accomplishments, highlighted by his ironman record of playing 989 consecutive contests, an astonishing feat in its own right.
Hail to Chara, Subban and Yandle — each an exemplary role model.
WHY THE NHL’S ‘NON-TRADITIONAL’ MARKET IS TORONTO, NOT DIXIE!
For decades, a handful of Canadian journalists have taken great delight in mocking mostly Southern NHL expansion cities with the euphemistic term “Non-Traditional Market.”
It always looked kind enough on paper but the inference always was less commendable and more like: 1. You’re really not what we call “hockey country.” 2. You’ll be fortunate to survive.
These alleged non-traditionals not only have survived; they’ve thrived.
Tampa Bay boasts a model franchise. Nashville sells out every game. Ditto for Carolina. Los Angeles, St.Louis and Dallas are doing just fine, thank you. Granted, it’s taken longer in Sunrise but the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers are becoming a hot ticket.
These non-traditional markets have given birth to such superstars as Auston Matthews and Jakob Chychrun, to name just a couple. And more are on the way now that every Southern venue has a huge kids hockey program underway. Right now, there’s only one non-traditional market and it happens to be Toronto.
That’s the village where Conn Smythe’s Leafs won Cups the way Germany makes automobiles. Where Punch Imlach’s Leafs won Cups the way Florida grows oranges.
Toronto is home to the wealthiest Canadian NHL team — second richest in the league — and for over half a century years, it hasn’t produced one Cup-Winner. Now, that’s non-traditional if ever there was one. (Or, is it the other way around?)
The Scotiabank Arena tenant can’t even worm its way out of a first playoff round.
Now that’s non-traditional, isn’t it?
But what’s 50 years among friends; and Leafsland has millions of them; arguably the most patient in sports history.
Anyway, 2022-2023 is the “Next Year” that Torontonians have been talking about when they say, “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”
The Law of Averages suggests that the Leafs eternal theme song — “Our Day Will Come” — is pointing to this as THE season.
But don’t listen to me. My studious Toronto reporter, Rob Del Mundo, will now tell you what’s in store for the Leafs.
THE INSIDE STORY OF THE ‘NEW’ LEAFS — DEJA-VU ALL OVER AGAIN.
Just for very old times sake a lot of people — me included — would like to see the Maple Leafs not only clear the first playoff round, but go all the way to the Cup Final just like the Lightning make a habit of doing. Our Rob Del Mundo wouldn’t mind watching such a miraculous event either. That said, here’s his long-range view.
In each of the past six seasons, the team’s fanbase has acquired a “Charlie Brown” mentality. The affable cartoon character actually believed that he’d finally get to kick Lucy’s football. Like Charlie Brown, the Leafs Faithful believe that THIS is the year that Toronto averts its first-round playoff jinx and even contends for the Stanley Cup.
But, really, there’s every reason to believe that the current edition will find itself flat on its back, a la Lucy yanking the football away from poor Charlie Brown. This new season figures to be another build-up to a letdown despite the Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner heroics to come.
It’s difficult – if not impossible – to assert that the currenr roster is any better than the one that was ousted by the Lightning last May in a hard-fought, seven-game clash.
Don’t forget that 21-goal scorer Ilya Mikheyev was lost to free agency. His offensive output is not likely to be replaced by the acquisitions of depth forwards Calle Jarnkrok nor Cup-winner Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
With Jack Campbell’s departure to Edmonton, the Leafs have regressed between the pipes. The reclamation duo of oft-injured Matt Murray and mediocre Ilya Samsonov inspires no confidence.
In terms of goaltending, the Leafs are the weakest of the league’s seven Canadian clubs. That said, they have more than enough firepower for another 50-win campaign and could win an Atlantic Division title.
But a best-case projection sees the team win a playoff round, maybe two. In the worst-case scenario the team is bounced in the first round for a seventh-straight year.
Should that happen, Kyle Dubas will be fired. Ultimately his mismanagement of the salary cap, leading to four forwards consuming practically half the team’s budget, will be his undoing.
P.S. Such advanced thinkers such as Sean McCaffrey and Irad Chen do not beat around the bush. They say: “Leafs! First-Round and OUT!!” (No analytical or further explanations are necessary.)
SIZZLING BOOK ON SIZZLING FLYERS OWNER ED SNIDER
Author Alan Bass knew Flyers legendary owner Ed Snider as well as anyone, which explains why, Alan’s new book: “Ed Snider: The Last Sports Mogul” (Triumph Books) is must reading whether you like Philly cheesesteaks or not.
I asked Bass to name Snider’s most significant controversies. He’s what he cited:
1. MERGER HUSTLING WITH THE WHA: Pushing for merger with the WHA, for sure. He and Harold Ballard had some nasty battles. Ed had experience with mergers after working with the Philadelphia Eagles ahead of the NFL-AFL merger, so he knew the damage that would be done if they chose to fight the WHA. As early as 1973 he was begging the league to come to an agreement with their rival, but his counterparts on the NHL Board of Governors wanted nothing to do with it. Ed was already hated by Clarence Campbell, Ballard, and others, because he was giving out expensive, long-term contracts to his superstars, something that annoyed the others. There’s a good chapter in the book on this entire topic that covers his fights in the league.
2. BREAKUP WITH BUDDY, JERRY WOLMAN: The breakup with Wolman in the 1960s was something to behold. There’s a full chapter on this in the book that goes pretty deep into it, but in short, the two business partners broke up after Jerry’s financial empire came crumbling down after the construction issue in Chicago. It led to Eddie taking full control of the Flyers and Jerry taking full control of the Spectrum, before eventually plunging it into bankruptcy. Even today, there is a stark battle between those lined up behind Eddie and those lined up behind Jerry, each claiming their side was correct.
(MORE HOT SNIDER STUFF ON MONDAY)
THE SURPRISE TEAM OF THE METROPOLITAN DIVISION: THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
(It’s hard to believe but nearly a half-century has elapsed since the Flyers carried the Stanley Cup down Broad Street. Still, with John Tortorella now the Supreme Commander, Philly commands the attention of our Sean McCaffrey. Listen up.)
The heralded Metropolitan Division, as usually is the case, feels like a tag team steel cage death match.
In one corner, are the veterans — Washington and Pittsburgh. In the other corner, are young bucks — Carolina and the Rangers.
While this quartet jockeyed for first-place last season – can any of the bottom four horses nose their way to a playoff berth?
The Islanders didn’t add any new stallions to their stable. Instead, Lou Lamoriello is banking that last season was an aberration. Time will tell.
The Devils enter the race with a collection of mustangs ready to run, now with a former two-time champion, Ondrej Palat, looking to pace the pack. However, goaltending, a key piece of any strong playoff team, is suspect in Newark.
One team did land a pure thoroughbred — the Blue Jackets. While Johnny Gaudreau can play in a breakneck fashion, it remains to be seen if his teammates can keep up.
Ironically, the Flyers could become the “Rocky Balboa” underdog of the division, especially if, somehow, Torts can fortify the oft-weak defense. The new coach’s secret word is “structure.” Here’s how he puts it:
“You need structure. One of the most important attributes of a head coach is to find and teach the structure away from the puck, and I work at that.”
Actually, defense starts with goaltending and, at one point in his career, it was believed that Carter Hart could become a perennial Vezina contender. Nay; no way!
Tortorella: “We need to give Carter a little bit more support as far as how we play around him. Allow him to really get himself into the NHL. He’s onlyb23 years old. And I’m not gonna give any criticisms for his prior play, but this is how you go about it.”
If anyone can get the best out of Hart, it’s Torts.
Not only did he previously coach a pair of Vezina Trophy winners, Henrik Lundqvist (2012) and Sergei Bobrovsky (2017), but both goalies became annual candidates for the award while Torts coached them.
Much has been said about the Flyers’ biggest off-season acquisition: defenseman Tony DeAngelo and I believe Torts and TDA will thrive together.
Listening to the coach, you’d think he was Tony’s personal press agent. To wit:
“You don’t build a team without any personality. Tony’s going to bring that and, plus, he’s a hell of a player.”
DeAngelo and Tortorella — each had his own stints in New York — will be aligned with another former Ranger, Kevin Hayes, now in the fourth year as a Flyer.
Sean Couturier would have been a factor but his current heath status is not encouraging. What’s also alarming is the fact that the remainder of the Flyers’ top forwards finished last season with abysmal plus-minus stats.
Travis Konecny (-23), Cam Atkinson (-2), James van Riemsdyk (-33), Joel Farabee (-11), Scott Laughton (-9), Morgan Frost (-11) and Owen Tippett (-4) should see their plus-minus numbers improve under Tortorella.
The same goes for the Flyers’ defensive core, Ivan Provorov (-20), Rasmus Ristolainen (-9), and Cam York (-14).
Of all returning Flyers, only defenseman Travis Sanheim finished with a positive plus-minus stat (+9) last season.
Bottom Line: Because of Tortorella, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flyers qualify for the postseason. That will be especially so if Philly foes — the Caps and Pens — continue to regress.
I’M JUST SAYIN’
* The Leafs asked for it by putting a MILK patch on the front of their jerseys.
* What they’re getting is funny Tweets. My favorite goes like this: “They can’t milk their way to the second round!”
* In a more serious vein, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly asserts that revenue from the jersey patches will help compensate for revenue lost during the Covid crisis.
* It (the patch) is a very significant piece of real estate and a great opportunity for potential sponsors.”
* As for patch critics, Pal Bill has the perfect squelch: “It’s not the end of the world.”
* I’m not sure of the year but next up with patches will be refs and linesmen.
* There’s a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Why isn’t there a WNHL? I’m waiting for one — just one — logical answer.
* Hot Stuff Department: Ex-Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling is making a success doing stand-up comedy.
* He sure wasn’t a stand-up goalie but, then again, who is?
* Jack Campbell couldn’t get Toronto past the first round. That’s who you get a five-year, $25 million deal in Edmonton.
* In Alberta, Jumpin’ Jack is being tabbed a “Stanley Cup Calibre Goaltender.”
* In Toronto, Ole Soupy is fondly remembered as a “Not Stanley Cup Calibrre Goalte.”
* Until further evidence comes forth in April, the Campbell joke is on Ken Holland. Jumpin’ Jack in last spring’s playoffs: 3.15 goals against; .897 save percentage. Or, Jumpin’ Jack after the All-Star break when it really counted: 3.28 and .894.
* John Tortorella and I have one huge disagreement. He loves the Philly Cheese Steaks. (I say overrated.) I love Philly Brand Cream Cheese.
UNDERSTANDING THE RANGERS NILS LUNDKVIST DEAL
At long last, Chris Drury acquiesced to Nils Lundqvist’s trade demands. Let’s face it, there was no way for Nils to crack the Blueshirts’ line-up. Thus,
Lundkvist will now get a chance to prove himself with a Stars team looking for an offensively gifted “star” D-man following the departure of John Klingberg to Anaheim.
Better for the Rangers since not only did Drury receive a first-round pick for the former 28th overall pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but in addition, the general manager received either a third-round or fourth-round pick (conditions pending on Lundkvist’s performance) too.
While you can’t fully assess trades featuring draft picks until many years down the line, either way, Drury came up smelling like a rose after this transaction.
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO AUSTON MATTHEWS WHO WON’T DISCUSS HIS CONTRACT: In other words, he’s telling nosey reporters to mind their one business.
BOO TO THE LEGION OF SEERS WHO KEEP PREDICTING THAT LINDY RUFF WILL BE FIRED: Give the guy a break. He’s undefeated so far this autumn.
YAY TO KEVYN ADAMS FOR HIS NEW CONTRACT: Once mocked, the Sabres GM is slowly and relentlessly crafting a winner.
ANSWERING A QUESTION ABOUT ROOTING — OR NOT — FOR THE BLUES.
Our roving correspondent, Irad Chen, mentioned last week that he was not a Blues fan but still was fascinated by St.Louis. Here he explains how some hockey fans — Chen roots for the Penguins – think.
I like cheering for former Penguins players and I especially liked David Perron even though his stint in Pittsburgh wasn’t that good. In 2015, my hockey team had a training camp in Pittsburgh, and we got to do shootouts between intermissions during a game. I was the first guy who got to score with a forehand fake- backhand top shelf), so after the game I received David’s stick. Hence, I became a David Perron fan wherever he played.
DIDJA KNOW: This week the NHL celebrates the 96th birthday of a league-turning event; a huge step in the league’s expansion process. On September 25, 1926 at a meeting in Montreal, the owners approved franchises for Chicago and Detroit. It also approved a second team for Madison Square Garden, the Rangers. Both Chicago and Detroit blueprinted hew state of the art arenas, Olympia Stadium in The Motor City and Chicago Stadium in the Windy City.
The Rangers would share still new — and huge — Madison Square Garden with the New York Americans.
WHO SAID IT? “Was Wayne Gretzky sick?” (ANSWER BELOW)
WHY EVERY TEAM NEEDS AN ICE COP; EXHIBIT A IS RIGHT HERE
The Hockey News Yearbook’s depth chart for the Rangers has Ryan Reaves down at the bottom. The Big Guy is looking up at Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais, Vitali Kravtsov, and Julien Gauthier.
Last week, we wondered how Reaves could climb into a roster spot. My devoted Rangers fan grandson, Ariel Fischler, offers the answer: Reaves makes the varsity; it’s a no-brainer because — even in this giddyap age — every team needs and ice cop.
“Reaves is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to hits, forechecking and throwing down the gloves. He brings energy into The Garden not to mention the clubhouse as well as the bench. Nor does it matter whether Reaves delivers a pre-game motivating speech nor one of his big hits that sparks a comeback. Training camp can change things but it appears that Kaapo Kakko will be the first right wing, Samy Blais at two and Vitali Kravtsov the third.
It all comes down to the fourth slot, it’s either Reaves or Julien Gauthier. Every Blueshirt fan remembers the notorious Tom Wilson beat-up. Gauthier is not the Ranger to neutralize Wilson but Reaves is and that’s why he makes the team again.”
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Canadiens defenseman Larry Robinson after being named NHL Player of the Week during Gretzky’s prime
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