INTERVIEW WITH THE MAVEN: Stan Fischler Talks Islanders Hockey and more!
BD's note:Last week we had a conference call between myself, Michael Hirschbein, and Matt Clausen with MSG's hockey writing and broadcasting legend Stan Fischler. "The Maven" as he is called for his tomes of hockey knowledge shared some time with us as we hit on all the major issues from internet rumors, concussions, the Islanders season, and much more.
Stan was a sharp and informative interviewee, who has not lost any of his "vim and vigor", besides hockey acumen, despite being now one of hockey's elder statesmen. He even slagged on some unnamed hockey rumor guy, besides some sharp takes on much more. Still punchy, sharp and witty.
And away we go....
In talking to some NHL brass and some writing old-timers -- they brought up that there are a lot of rumor hounds that have kind of clogged the blogosphere. They all told me the story that long before there was Internet, that you were one of the first people on the scene to do that. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Stan Fischler: Well, when I was writing for the ‘New York Journal-American’ newspaper, which was the Hearst’s evening flagship paper, it was the biggest evening paper in the city, I covered the Rangers beginning in '65, '64 or '65. And I was also writing for the ‘The Hockey News’, which at that time was the Bible of the sport.
As the ‘The Hockey News’ evolved, I decided that I would use a kind of a format that my boss at the ‘Journal-American’ had, his name was Max Kase. He was a terrific guy. He had a regular column that ran about two or three times a week called ‘Brief Kase’, and he used to have a lot of notes with what we would call a three-dot column, a notes column. And he would always ask his writers, different guys, the guys that are covering basketball or baseball. He he would ask Yankee’s writer to give him a couple of notes, and he would ask me to give him some hockey notes, and it was a really neat reading column.
When Don Walt took over as publisher of ‘The Hockey News’, which would have been '79, he asked me to write a column for the paper, and I also suggested to him that they have a notes column. It eventually evolved as Blue Lines, and that was the first hockey gossip column per se, it ran every week, and it was essentially the way ‘Brief Kase’ was, three dots, another item, three dots.
What’s your thought on some of the rumor people that have kind of popped up online these days?
Stan Fischler: Well, I find it’s kind of laughable. One guy came along just during the lockout, last -- that would be 2003-2004, a guy from Philly and he became readable or well read numbers wise, because he was reporting on how negotiations were preceding. He didn’t have the scoop; I had the scoop when it happened, on the morning it happened at msg.com.
But after the lockout, this guy kept writing rumors, trade rumors, and of course that led to others commenting, blah, blah, blah. And one day I asked a friend of mine, who published my last book, who is a big Flyers fan, who lives near Philly, I said, well, why do you keep reading this guy? He tells me that the guy’s stuff is 95% nonsense. So I said, why do you read him? And he says because it’s fun. So I imagine that there is a block of fans out there who just read this stuff just for the heck of it.
Now, that said, in all fairness, some of the most legit columnist in the business, to me, Jim Matheson of the ‘Edmonton Journal’ is right up at the top. And his last column, it’s filled with possibilities, conjunction.
So this is what we have in today’s world. You have got the Internet and all bets are off. As a rule, I generally laugh at most of the stuff I read.
And that’s not to stay that I am not part of it, because when I do a show, like in the pre-game in the Devils show, I bring up possibilities. For example, the last Devils show, I said, not the last Devils home game, but last one I was on, which was a week or so ago, I brought up the fact that Buffalo is in bad shape, and they have got one really outstanding commodity, and that’s in gold.
So I suggested that, that might be a real blockbuster, Ryan Miller being traded. Now, Ryan Miller has said that he does not want to leave Buffalo, but that’s what he said, I am told that he would leave in a Buffalo second if he got traded.
I think it will be clear to many readers in who you are referring to.
Do you think there are differences of, at least I have noticed, of different hockey chatter that people tend to report? You have the chatter of agents, the chatter of team personnel and even team members and that’s a lot different than the chatter that goes on from GMs and people that are really in the know of stuff. Do you think what’s happening also is that if people just talk to agents or former players of the game, where there are different levels of chatter?
Stan Fischler: It’s all about agenda and the agents of course are promoted, they are promoting their guys, they are promoting their trade, they are trying to make things better for themselves. That’s why I say, people ask me about, well, so and so, will Rick Nash be traded by Columbus? And I said, well, it’s not only Rick Nash you have got to talk to, it’s his agent, because the agents want to make their own -- make things better for themselves. So agents are selling stuff to the writers.
I mean, anybody who knows the journalistic business can read through 95% of the stories that are agent rooted. Then of course you have, the teams have their agendas.
It reminds me of a line I had the other night on the Islanders pre-game field, we were discussing Tim Thomas, and I said, there are three sides to the story, just like my grandmother used to say; your side, my side, and the truth. With all these rumors floating around, you have got to search for the truth.
Great point. Yes, I completely agree. Just to pick up on something before I hit into some of the Islanders stuff, just because I have written about it on CBS New York, and continues to be a big story this season...
What’s your thought on the huge amount of concussions that have gone on this season?
Stan Fischler: Well, first of all, helmets are far overrated as a protective device. And I go back to when I was working the sports channel broadcast with Eddie Giacomin, who was one of the last players to not wear a helmet. And Eddie often said that if nobody wore a helmet, that that would be an infinitely tremendous difference in terms of head injuries.
Their respect went away with the advent of the helmet. High-sticks were unknown before the helmet, except, except in a particular grueling situation, but the generalized sticking was very, very miniscule compared to what happened when the helmet came along. So the helmets really don’t help the heck of a lot; it’s other types of injuries.
Mike Santos made a very interesting comment, we had an interview with him in my newsletter, ‘The Fischler Report’, and he pointed out that body checks, the style of body checking changed when the NHL decided to calculate hits and players used to body check to get the puck. Now they hit for the sake of hitting. There’s a whole different thinking about that.
That’s why when former Mr. Clean or the current Mr. Clean from Pittsburgh took out Marc Savard, and you know who I am talking about, that was not to just the puck. That was to lay on hits, and in this case, a very dirty hit, and Marc Savard to this day hasn’t recovered; he is not going to play again. So the types of hits have changed and the whole philosophy of hitting has changed, and that’s led to more of these dirty hits and the concussions.
Do you think that the NHL removing the red line and also the more calling out of the touch and grabbing, which they kind of rooted out back in the late 90s or the early 2000s, when they cracked down, do you think that’s also led up to like a speedier, thus more dangerous game?
Stan Fischler: Well, there’s no doubt about it, there’s no doubt. I mean, it’s like in the old days, the speed limit if you wanted to go to Albany was 55 miles an hour; with the throughway, it was 70, 75 miles an hour. So they are changing the rules. They have up the speed limit.
I mean, these guys have never skated fast, they have never watched the game going back to 1939. It was a totally different game and some believe that it’s too fast for its own good. But there’s no doubt, it’s faster than ever.
All right. I am going to move over to some Isles specifically...
Is the Islanders this season what you expected?
Stan Fischler: Those of us who follow the team were hopeful about the team. We were hopeful that with three goaltenders in camp, including DiPietro, Nabokov, and Montoya that they would be able to choose two best, and theoretically that was the case.
I would defy anybody to have predicted the amount of injuries that DiPietro has endured. And who is going to think that Montoya is going to go down with a concussion. You generally think of goalies not being concussed as much as the others, but of course, you saw what happened with Ryan Miller.
So we start with the goaltending being a source of hope. The defense got some talented young guys; Hamonic coming off a nice season. We look upfront; Niederreiter was going to be given a real good chance and who could figure he was going to get done before training camp is over.
And then for a very, very long period of time, that’s hard to imagine something like that would happen. And before you know it, bad luck piled on bad luck.
And they are in a better position now than they were last year, and now they have one very good line. And the trick has been to get the second line scoring up and of course, hope that the third and fourth lines will click.
I just wrote something actually for my MSG blog before we got on and I said that there’s only one team in the League right now that you can rule out of playoff contention and that’s Columbus. Everybody else has a shot of getting hot in the home stretch, and the Isles are one of them.
I covered the last game and I have covered a few games and I was really appalled by the officiating and how they go two straight games without having a power play.
Now, two straight games without a power play, playing a team like Toronto that has some pretty tough guys, it didn’t make sense to me.
But to answer you question, we thought things would be better than they are, but there are still hopes.
What’s your opinion on the limited minutes Nino Niederreiter seems to be getting on the Islanders so far this season?
Stan Fischler: Well, there are a lot of different ways of looking at the coaching and in terms of who plays and when and where. And the main thing in Jack Capuano’s mind is to win hockey games. And he feels, at least just based on what we see that Niederreiter has to be nursed back into playing form and acclimatizing himself to the League.
After all, what, he has only played ten games last season, nine games, and then he comes, he doesn’t have training camp. It takes him a while to get back. So I am not surprised, I think he feels that with his top two lines, this guy has to -- I think after the World Cup, Nino is going to play more.
Speaking of Jack Capuano, do you think he is the right man for this job with these young guys then?
Stan Fischler: Yeah, I think -- I don’t think, I know he is. I mean, it’s basically a young team and the young guys are the ones who have to be nurtured. He did the job in Bridgeport with the guys, he knows the system, he knows the guys.
You can’t blame him for the situation with DiPietro going down again. You can’t blame him for the Niederreiter injury. We moved him for the first quarter of the season, and he has developed the best player on the team into a star. He has got -- he took Parenteau, who was a player who was rejected basically around the NHL, today he has turned into a very productive player.
He took Moulson and he has made him into a star. These are guys that were not necessarily going to be good, and who says that the number one pick is going to be a star like Tavares. I mean, of the three guys, people were saying Tavares should not have been picked number one. But anyhow, he has done as well with his material as you could expect.
Now, both Frans Nielsen and P.A. Parenteau are both impending free agents after this season. Do you foresee the Islanders intending to extend them or possibly trade or counter trade them?
Stan Fischler: I don’t have any idea what Garth Snow is thinking, I don’t get into that. I have no idea and I won’t predict because I don’t know.
And speaking of Garth Snow, when should we as fans or those who follow the team, start grading him on the rebuild?
Stan Fischler: Well, you grade whenever you feel like it. It’s a free country. You want to grade now, you grade now. You want to grade in a year, you grade in a year.
He has had to face an unquestionable amount of adversity with his main man, DiPietro, being injured. Now, people say, well, he shouldn’t have signed him to a contract, blah, blah, blah. Who could have predicted then that he was going to be hurt, there is no way of knowing. You couldn’t look at the guy and say all this.
So when you take into account the amount, the percentage of adversity, and you look at the results, this is what you are going to get if you get guys knocked out.
But who could imagine a team staring a season as they did last year without two of your top players; you lose your top player on defense and you lose one of your top forwards, Okposo.
So this kind of thing doesn’t happen to a lot of teams. So I would say a little more patience. He has done some tremendous things that a lot of people are not giving him credit for. I mean, listen, he got Moulson, who was a great catch; he got Grabner that was a great catch.
How concerned should Islanders fans be on the venue situation in your opinion?
Stan Fischler: I have no idea. I have no idea where that’s going. It’s one of these things where whatever meaningful is going to happen will happen quietly, behind the scenes. All I know is that the Island, Nassau in particular, is a terrific place to have an NHL team, for all the best reasons; the numbers of people, the heritage of the team, basically a very strong fan base.
So having said that, this is a place where the NHL would not like to see any movement.
And talking about DiPietro, do you think that we will see him in goal again next season?
Stan Fischler: I will tell you what, I tell fans who come up to me, at the studio before, and I will say, very simply, I am not a doctor. I have no idea which way the health situation will go with him.
Because any comment I make would be stupid; the reason is, I never when to Harvard Medical School or any of the other ones, and I don’t have a Dr appearing on my door.
Stan, how many years do you think is going to take for John Tavares to become the captain of the New York Islanders?
Stan Fischler: That would depend on how long Mark Streit remains with the team. Streit is the captain, so very, very hard to figure. You look at other teams, some teams have changed captains; others haven’t.
I remember when I was covering them during the pre Cup years, Clark Gillies was the captain, and he wasn’t crazy about how it was affecting his game. So he gave it up and Torrey wound up with Denis Potvin. So that would be for -- as long as Streit is here, captaining the team, and he is still in the knowledge that’s it good for his game to stay captain.
Stan, going back to the dynasty, who is your favorite player coming from that team?
Stan Fischler: I can’t answer that question with one. I start with Billy Smith. There is a Billy Smith in the NHL now, but his name is Tim Thomas. So if you haven’t seen Billy Smith play goal, all you have to do is watch Tim Thomas. They are exactly the same personality wise, they are combative, and they are a man’s men.
Defense, without a doubt, Denis Potvin; Denis Potvin rates with the top three defense for all the time. Eddie Shore would be pre-World War II, post-World War II, Doug Harvey, and then Denis Potvin. Denis Potvin could do more than Bobby Orr in every way, except in skating.
And upfront, this will surprise you, Bob Bourne, I was always a Bob Bourne fan, as a guy, as a player, as a competitor, I love Bob Bourne.
And on the current Islanders team, who would you say that about?
Stan Fischler: We haven’t seen enough of Montoya, but I am very keen on Nabokov, I like him as a goalie, I like him as a guy. He has adapted very well to the Islands.
I am a big fan of Travis Hamonic and I love the way Matt Martin plays the game. Matt Martin is terrific. Matt Martin, if his growth curve continues, will be a kind of a Johnny Ferguson type player. He will score and he will still fight for his players.
Stan, if someone is going to play you in a movie, who would you want to play you?
Stan Fischler: Brad Pitt, because we couldn’t afford him anyhow. I would play myself.
About the Winter Classic, do you think the Isles will be involved in Winter Classic within the next five years?
Stan Fischler: Well, you have to look at the criteria and the NHL’s criteria is to go with top teams in one way, shape, or form. It’s no secret that the Rangers have the historic first shot, because they have been here since 26. So the question is going to be, who they pit the Rangers against? The Islanders did good; don’t have a chance.
But realistically right now I would say the Rangers would have the edge.
You think they are actually the best team in the NHL right now?
Stan Fischler: Well, I have my standings in front of me. They have 66 points in 47 games. Detroit has 67 points in 50 games, so the answer is the Rangers are the best.
And they beat Bruins four out of five times over the last five games, so how can they not beat them.