The Stew: Maven for HHOF, Any Teeth Will Do, Skilled Heaviness
'The Maven' Belongs in the HHOF
Prolific hockey book author, columnist, and broadcast analyst Stan Fischler celebrated his 89th birthday earlier this week. Now's a good time to remind people that he belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame: both the ones in Toronto and Eveleth. "The Maven" should have been inducted a long time ago, actually. It ought to be a no-brainer.
Fischler is the author of more than 100 books on hockey -- read widely by generations of hockey fans -- and is one of the foremost hockey historians who has ever lived. He's also a Lester Patrick Award winner for his contributions to hockey in the United States. If you grew up reading hockey books, there's a strong chance than at least some of them were written by Stan either by himself or in conjunction with his late wife, Shirley.
Why is he still not inducted HHOF? Beats me, but I have a theory. Mave can't help but be himself. He's 100 percent genuine, and if he's not your cup of tea, so be it. Nonetheless, he is a titan of the industry and has been a generous mentor to a slew of aspiring writers. Speaking personally, he's always been a good friend, too; a great person to have in your corner.
Stan is a big believer in meritocracy. Maybe if Stan were less strongly opinionated about the powers that be and the internal politics within the game, he'd have been inducted into the "big" Hall of Fame in Toronto years ago. Perhaps if you took away his New York accent and replaced it with the tendency to pronounce "out and about in a boat" as "oat 'n' aboat in a boat," and edited his written work so that words like color were spelled with an -our, he'd nevertheless have long been in the "big" Hall of Fame in Toronto years in the journalism (Elmer Ferguson Award) or broadcasting (Foster Hewitt) categories.
Who knows? Maybe I'm wrong. Whatever the reason he's not inducted yet, it should be corrected posthaste.
Any Teeth Will Do
A few evenings ago, I flipped on the TV and caught a few minutes of a pregame show. They showed a pregame clip of players entering an NHL arena, appropriately socially distanced and wearing their masks. Just a typical day-in-the-life during the pandemic, along with frequent hand washing and sanitizing.
Speaking of sanitizing, I could not help but think back to my days as a student-athlete and Class of 1923 Rink attendant at the University of Pennsylvania. One day, at the end of practice, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ed van Impe asked me to fetch his false teeth from the locker room because he was about to be interviewed by the local reporters. A large percentage of players -- Ed, Bobby Clarke, Joe Watson, Bill Barber, and others -- had sacrificed many or most of their natural teeth to the game. I did, too.
I brought Ed a cup, containing what I thought were his dentures.
"Wrong teeth, Stewy," he said.
The dentures in the cup belonged to Andre "Moose" Dupont.
"Sorry," I said. "I'll get yours."
"Nah, it's OK," van Impe said.
Eddie proceeded to put Dupont's dentures in his own mouth. He did the interview wearing someone else's ill-fitting false teeth. As soon as he was done, he dropped the dentures back in the cup.
van Impe then summoned "Dee Moose." Dupont casually retrieved his dentures, placed them in his mouth and went off for a bathroom break, a smoke and a post-practice Schaeffer can.
The weirdest part of it all in hindsight: It didn't seem strange back then. It was just hockey people being hockey people, and I was one myself. There are still some NHL players who are missing their share of chicklets; not nearly as many as back then, but still quite a few. Even so, I would seriously doubt they share their dental bridges with each other.
Not all change is for the bad, my friends. Thinking back, this story is pretty damn gross, actually.
Skilled Heaviness Matters
If you asked me which current or past NHL player I'd rather have on my team -- Johnny Gaudreau or Anders Lee? Markus Naslund or Jarome Iginla? Adam Oates or Mats Sundin? Pavel Bure or Jaromir Jagr? Ziggy Palffy or John LeClair? Brian Propp or Tim Kerr?-- I'd tell you that I have a lot of respect for all of these players but my choices, without hesitation, would be Lee, Iginla, Jagr, LeClair and Kerr.
Both in the past and now, I think there is a lot of value in what you can call "skilled heaviness". I'll take the forward who is extremely difficult to knock off the puck or budge from the scoring areas over someone who is a little faster. Even if the smaller, finesse player somewhat outpoints the bigger one during a given regular season, I think the heaviness comes in beneficial during the grind of the playoffs. Obviously, I picked big guys who had good hands, too, because if there's too wide a skill gap then it's a no brainer to take the smaller player regardless.
I know that some consider this backward thinking in today's game, but I really don't care. I think the New York Islanders, for example, would be better off working around the absence of Mathew Barzal than the task they face of trying to take another Eastern Conference Final trip (or beyond) without Lee. There's more razzle dazzle with Barzal, of course, but Lee is the one who is a force in the corners and at netfront.
If you control the four corners, the two netfront areas and get saves from your goalie on the clear-sighted shots, you've got the inside track to win a playoff series; and it can be accomplished with an on-paper speed and/or finesse disadvantage. Of course, if you've also got the speed and stickhandling guys along with some skilled heaviness and the goaltending, that's what Cup favorite material.