Back in my younger days (we’re talking under 10 here), one of the things I looked forward to was getting The Hockey News’s annual yearbook. The last chunk of the magazine was the different leagues’ team-by-team scoring statistics. There would be the NHL, AHL, IHL, CHL, OHL, QMJHL, WHL and more. It was a numerical orgy.
I’m embarrassed to admit one of my weirder habits was to see how many players on each team had at least 100 penalty minutes. Don’t ask why, I just did it. Go through every team, count them up and see who had the most.
And I always, always, always did the Western Hockey League at the end. Invariably, it would produce the winner. When I met Florida Panthers scout Al Tuer, the first thing that came to mind were his insane totals from the early 1980s. But the year that stood out was 1977–78, when the WHL had two players top 500 minutes — Brent Gogol (Billings/Victoria, 511) and Mel Hewitt (Calgary/Saskatoon, 508). Both played 68 games. I remember, as an eight-year-old, marveling at the craziness of it all.
That was the final season of the New Westminster dynasty. The Bruins, the roughest and nastiest of a rough and nasty league, won four consecutive WHL titles from 1975–78, capturing the Memorial Cup in 1977 and 1978. They developed some very good NHL players: Barry Beck, Brad Maxwell, John Ogrodnick and Stan Smyl.
The last championship coincided with the arrival of 16-year-old defenceman Boris Fistric. He came at the end of a great run, but Fistric was emblematic of what the franchise stood for. He had 43 points and 414 PIMs in his rookie season, adding 19 points (16 of them assists) and 142 PIMs in 21 playoff games. As a Toronto kid, I didn’t see him live, but his totals were eye-poppers, even in his two minor-league seasons after being drafted by Detroit.
Kelly Hrudey, who joined Medicine Hat in 1978–79, would say that Fistric was among the toughest he ever faced. And we reminisced further after Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, when news broke that he had died after a fall at his home in Edmonton. He was 56.
“Our warmups against New Westminster were unbelievable,” Hrudey said. “They’d steal our pucks, shoot at me, then take our nets.” He couldn’t stop laughing at the memory. “But (Fistric) could play, too.”
Fistric was traded to Brandon in 1980, where he faced Hrudey in the playoffs one last time. Back then, the format was a round-robin. Hrudey’s Tigers beat Fistric’s Wheat Kings 7–5 to eliminate Brandon and put Medicine Hat in the Eastern Final against Regina. Longtime WHL reporter Gregg Drinnan — who we were messaging with Saturday night — reminded Kelly that Fistric was so angry after the game, he chased referee Ken Wheler.
Drinnan wrote for The Brandon Sun at the time, and his column that night was highly critical of Fistric. A couple of days later, there was a knock at door of the reporter’s house. He told his wife not to answer it if it was this particular player.
“Too late,” she said.
It turned into a great conversation, with Fistric telling Drinnan that as tough as he was, his mother was even tougher.
(Drinnan also asked that I mention Fistric was a “great passer of the puck.”)
Times have changed. So much of what was written above – 500-penalty-minute players, intimidation warmups, players showing up at reporters’ homes — well, let’s just say all that would be frowned upon now.
The Bruins themselves would be caught in the early stages of this attitude change. In March 1979, they instigated a brawl with rival Portland that went too far, even in the eyes of their own fans. It began their decline, and the franchise moved to Kamloops in 1981.
Boris’s son, Mark, followed his father into the WHL and was a Dallas first-round draft pick in 2004. He played 325 NHL games with the Stars, Oilers and Ducks. I hoped to get a few comments, but he understandably declined.
“I’m not sure I could make it through a conversation right now,” he sent via Twitter Direct Message.
He added his father was “his idol.”
All the best. No one who came across Mark’s father could ever forget him.
1. It sounds like the Islanders asked Florida for permission to talk to Gerard Gallant about three weeks ago. There are two possible conclusions. First, Gallant would already be the coach if he wanted the job. Or, second, it’s possible the Islanders were testing the waters; gauging Gallant’s interest before changing coaches.
Whatever the case, the ex-Panther has options. There’s the Islanders, Las Vegas and whatever other opportunities pop up. By joining the Islanders now Gallant would gain a new contract and likely a raise from what he was earning in Florida. But, if Garth Snow is not the long-term GM, is he going to risk the potential of another philosophical divide with a new front office? This doesn’t seem a likely fit. Now, if Dale Tallon ends up there, too, that changes things.
2. You can’t fault them for pursuing Gallant. With that try, Islanders have made it clear they will consider candidates who are available. If Boston fires Claude Julien, you can bet they will be all over it. This year’s coaching carousel is different than normal, with Las Vegas added to the mix. Unless New York wants to zero in on someone like Luke Richardson, who just won the Spengler Cup with Team Canada, the most likely scenario appears to be Doug Weight finishing the season as coach. Other organizations are unlikely to release candidates during the year, unless they are fired. A couple of sources wondered if they would consider giving their AHL head coach, Brent Thompson, a bit of a run to see what he could do.
3. Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo reached out to Jack Capuano before the Sabres played in Toronto on Tuesday night. He was disappointed. “Tell you what,” Okposo said. “No one quit on Jack. We liked playing for him.”
4. Last weekend, another NHL executive indicated he thought Snow was getting closer to moving Ryan Strome. My guess is that changes. It makes sense to see if Strome (and others) benefit from a different voice. The Travis Hamonic/Nick Leddy pairing has had a strange year, too. Those guys are good players.
5. Thought Dan Bylsma and Robin Lehner did a good job not publicly pouring gasoline on the fire after Lehner — in full view of everyone — angrily denounced his second-period removal Tuesday night.
Because they were in Toronto, that could have turned into a five-alarm blaze with incendiary post-game commentary. No doubt those two — neither a shrinking violet — are going to have some kind of private conversation.
6. Is it possible St. Louis moves Kevin Shattenkirk, freeing up cap space to do something else? The Blues can handle it, with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko on the right side. It’s a creative move and it makes sense, since Shattenkirk and the coaching staff don’t always seem on the same page. What it also does is open up some short-term possibilities that might not otherwise exist.
Shattenkirk made it known he would not consider Edmonton long-term, but would he do it for a few months as the Oilers chase the playoffs? Why not? Montreal and Toronto would also make sense as teams that need a short-term burst. Think about it: Those clubs (or anyone else who would be interested) get a good rental. Shattenkirk gets a situation where he’s going to play a big role and make himself look even better for his upcoming free agency. (Although, as I’ve said before, other teams are convinced he wants to play for the Rangers.) Shattenkirk breaking out with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner or Connor McDavid would be fun to see.
7. The biggest hurdle to this kind of plan is what the Blues want for him. The ask has been high during previous conversations. Shattenkirk is months away from unrestricted free agency, and an extension before then seems unlikely. That generally lowers a return. The other thing to remember is St. Louis is in it to win it. If the Blues know they can add another element that helps them now, would they drop their price to get it done?
8. Pretty funny last Friday night for about 30 minutes when a contingent of Blues’ executives showed up for Winnipeg/Arizona. “What are they up to?” “Who are they watching?” The organization was in town for its scouting meetings. But it shows you how someone showing up somewhere starts a brush fire.
9. One rumour that was shot down: St. Louis bringing back Brian Elliott.
10. Speaking of reunions, in my endless quest to find Chicago another forward, does Patrick Sharp become a possibility?
11. Jamie Oleksiak’s injury lowered the chances Dallas makes a defensive move for the time being, since the Stars dropped from eight defencemen to seven. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was in Chicago when the Blackhawks acquired Johnny Oduya, and I always look for tie-ins like that. (Oduya was hurt during Tuesday’s win over the Rangers. An update is expected Wednesday.) Montreal supersnoop Eric Engels suspects the Canadiens and Ducks have been talking, and some of that dates back to last season. What is true is Montreal’s been scouting Anaheim quite a bit. We’ll see.
12. We’re also awaiting a Wednesday update on Jonas Brodin, injured in Minnesota’s loss to New Jersey. Not sure there’s a player in the NHL with a better bounceback year. Brodin was Trade Rumour Central in 2015–16. There was one going around that a third team was trying to involve him in a multiple-club deal that would have moved Jacob Trouba, but he’d had such a rough year that it didn’t work. Good on him. Nice comeback.
13. Speaking of heavy scouting, a couple of execs joked Colorado should buy a house in Ontario, Calif. — home of Los Angeles’s AHL affiliate. Undoubtedly, one of the players they are watching is defenceman Paul Ladue, in his first pro season after three years at North Dakota. I’ve had some guys saying the Kings won’t make him available, others disagreeing. But he’d be a Colorado target.
14. We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards. But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.
15. Another team eyeing some kind of trade two-step is Tampa Bay. The Tampa Times’s Joe Smith reported Las Vegas has been watching a lot of the Lightning, which makes sense. They have some challenging expansion decisions. GM Steve Yzerman must protect four players — Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos. (Only Columbus, Chicago and Pittsburgh currently have more.) Filppula has a partial no-trade which covers half the league. He’s got another season at $5M. From a purely logical standpoint, with everything the Lightning have to juggle, I could see him being the guy they’d try to move. It’s not easy to move salary now, but I wonder if you’d have a better chance with a forward who has played centre and wing.
16. Think Tampa also has Nikita Nesterov available. However, a GM said word is he’s going back to Russia next season. One of the reasons: He’s represented by Dan Milstein, also Pavel Datsyuk’s agent. Asked about it, Milstein said, “(Nikita) wants to play in North America.”
17. One thing to note about Winnipeg’s goalie situation: Connor Hellebuyck is now waiver eligible. He hit 60 games last Friday in Arizona.
18. A couple of months ago, I was at a panel discussion featuring David Segal, co-founder of David’s Tea. One of his philosophies is, “Never marry your ideas.” I thought of that while waiting for the Jets to call up Ondrej Pavelec. I understand what they were thinking: “We made a call and we’re going to stick with it,” which is the way you have to start with these things. Make a decision and give it time.
In this case, however, they reached the point of diminishing returns and had no choice but to step back. They had to do it as much to protect Hellebuyck as promote Pavelec. The former is still the goalie of the future, but it’s clear this is not the time to expose him to the wolves. He needs work, in practice if not in games. As for Michael Hutchinson, word is Winnipeg has feared losing him on waivers, particularly to San Jose.
19. When it comes to Paul Maurice, my thoughts are this: 2017–18 is the final year of his current contract and I do believe it was always Winnipeg’s plan to discuss an extension with him after the season. Sometimes, the ground shifts underneath our feet, throwing our best-laid plans out the window. In a perfect world, that’s what I think the Jets would still like to do. The organization is loyal and patient. They gave Claude Noel a longer rope than most other teams would have, and you always look for patterns in behaviour.
20. One of the reasons I think Winnipeg likes Maurice: He plays their young players. The Jets want to know what they have. It’s not always easy to find coaches comfortable with that, especially since being a bench boss is not exactly a stable profession.
21. A year ago, it’s unlikely Shane Doan would have thought about waiving his no-move protection. Finishing his career with one franchise was very important to him (and I suspect still is). What changed? The Coyotes would like to see someone else grab the mantle of leadership, recognizing even he cannot play forever.
Monday in Edmonton, Arizona had five power plays. Doan did not get time on the first four. It’s not hard to see where this is going, and the team is losing. That’s why his outlook is different. He’ll have to accept a depth role, but I could see three of the California teams taking a look. As Doan said himself, “It’s going to have to be a perfect situation.”
He is God to Coyotes fans, so they have to treat him well.
22. Good line on the Hurricanes from another coach: “If there was an advanced stat for percentage of times a player is exactly where he’s supposed to be, they’d lead. Smart team.”
Carolina is on a huge run, making a charge at the playoffs in the league’s toughest division. GM Ron Francis and head coach Bill Peters received extensions last summer, but another NHL exec was saying that most of the other coaches and staff there are all up after this season. That’s a surprise, considering how well things are moving. But with Peter Karmanos’s murky ownership future, maybe that’s the issue.
23. As of Wednesday, the Hurricanes have played 44 games. Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer did preliminary work on this, but by my count, they’ve faced the opposing team’s backup 20 times. Since Dec. 23, for example, they faced Boston and Chicago twice each. They never saw Corey Crawford or Tuukka Rask, grabbing six out of eight points. The last two games, however, saw them get Thomas Greiss (who is New York’s number one now) and Sergei Bobrovsky. Curious to see if this continues now that Carolina is on the cusp of the post-season.
24. Followed up with the NHL to check the ruling on the Rangers goal against Carey Price last Saturday.
Here’s what I was told: “The referee in consultation with the situation room believed that the real incidental contact with the goalie occurred in the white as he was trying to avoid the goalie… After reviewing the ref did not think the contact in the white was deliberate, and thereby confirmed his original call.”
25. On Price: A couple of players who’ve played against him recently say he seems “slower than normal” for some reason. Another observer said Price’s body language looked like it did when he struggled in 2009 and we haven’t seen that in a long time. He’s so confident that it really throws you to see him like this. The one thing they all agreed on: He’s too good for it to last. The other thing we’ve learned is that Montreal is in a much better position to handle goaltender challenges than they were a year ago.
26. The NHL sent out a memo Monday indicating each goalie must be wearing the new, tighter pants by Feb. 4. Each must wear pants that are “anatomically proportional and size specific based on the individual characteristics of that goalkeeper.”
Here’s what I understand the measurements to be: They will be assigned a pant size with an inner circumference six inches greater than their waist size, fitting in the following five ranges — 32-34, 34.5-36, 36.5-38, 38.5-40 and 40-plus.
It’s interesting how technical the instructions become. For example, the maximum width of the thigh pad across the front of the leg is nine inches. If the groin and/or hip pads extend beyond the edge of the front thigh pad they are to be included in this nine-inch measurement, which must be taken while the goalkeeper is in an upright standing position. There is a whole list of regulations for curvature, length and thickness of the thigh guard, too. I can hear the grumbling already. This process is so much more complicated than we realize.
27. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly led a delegation to visit China, with potential pre-season games next season among agenda items. It’s been reported that Los Angeles and Vancouver would go, with one team setting up shop in Beijing and the other in Shanghai. One exhibition game would be in each of those cities. There’s some question about whether the players will want to do it if they don’t get to go to the Olympics, which makes my head want to explode. Someday, both sides will drop the politics and just do what’s best to grow the game. Anyway, no doubt that’s also part of Daly’s exploration — finding out what type of growth opportunities exist in the country.
28. With the demise of the breakaway challenge, which was as much the players’ decision as the league’s, the skills competition adds what’s called “The Four Line Challenge” as a replacement. Players will try to hit targets in the net from the closest blueline, centre ice, the far blueline and then the opposite goal line. Goalies will be offered the chance to try from the farthest distance, with more points available if they can do it.
29. Did it seem weird to anyone that Vancouver took a two-game road trip to Nashville and Philadelphia over three days? Very different than what they’ve tried to do in the past.
30. The legendary Joe Louis died in 1981. At his funeral, the audience was asked to cheer, clap, celebrate as much as they mourned. That stuck with me; I loved it. What a great way to recognize an incredible life. Good on the Rangers doing the same for Steven McDonald last Friday.