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Opinion

Tom’s Take: Doc Emrick Retires

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Doc Emrick Eddie Olczyk NBC Sports

We all knew this day would come eventually. Mike “Doc” Emrick has decided to retire from hockey broadcasting.

As the former radio voice of the Nashville Predators I was a colleague of Doc’s for five years at the NHL level, but met him way before I made it. I remember him sitting in with the broadcasters at the ECHL league meetings when I was with the Augusta (GA) Lynx. Doc talked to us about the craft and even took notes from us to expand his vocabulary on calls. He showed us that notebook, crammed full of synonyms for every single situation you might encounter calling a game. I’ll never forget it.

Doc showed us up-and-comers a lot of things, whether by example or by storytelling. You can’t just show up and call water polo in the Olympics, but Emrick prepared himself for success by doing his homework. Much the same as that notebook, he made sure his scope and vision weren’t just narrowed to what was familiar. Emrick took the time to look at things from all angles. He found the stories and the ways to tell them. And if you watched water polo with him on the call, you somehow became invested. That’s excellence.

I’ve called games at every possible level of the sport from the long-gone Western Professional Hockey League to the NHL. I’ve learned a lot along the way, both what to do and what not to do. One thing I learned early on is that fans can tell passion. They know if you’re into the game and if you’re not. No one could ever doubt Doc’s passion for the game, and that was perhaps his greatest gift to hockey fans. When he called a game, it meant something. It didn’t have to be a Stanley Cup Final. Even those mid-week January (in a normal season) games contain memorable moments, and Doc could convey them with energy and excitement.

I know broadcasting is a subjective art like any other performance. But there are keys to greatness, and Doc Emrick leaves a wonderful roadmap for those who will follow.

Happy Trails, Doc. I’ll miss you.

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Vegas Hockey Now Editor-in-chief. Host, creator online hockey show @talkingpucktv. Yes I called NHL games.

Features

Stop The Charade: Marc-Andre Fleury is Vegas #1

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Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights

For whatever reason, from the moment Pete DeBoer was named head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury fell out of favor. It was clear DeBoer didn’t think the veteran netminder was enough to get the Golden Knights over the top, and a late season trade for Robin Lehner doubled down on that idea.

I don’t agree now, and I didn’t agree then. Acquiring Lehner gave the team depth in net which I believe is necessary for any team to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Then GM Kelly McCrimmon gave Lehner a five-year, $5M AAV contract that boggled my mind because of how it left the team in cap hell and also gave Lehner the starting job based on three regular-season games and an ok playoffs.

It also created a situation where the entire league knew you would want to move your former starter with two years remaining at $7M AAV. No one was going to stretch themselves to help what is already one of the best teams in the leauge, making Fleury as immovable as the VGK’s early demands.

While I could go on about how I think Lehner’s current contract is a hastily-made mistake of a signing, that’s not the issue here. Lehner has been bad this season, and now he’s hurt. McCrimmon and DeBoer are lucky they fanned on moving Fleury.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been thrust back into the starting role and is seizing the reins with aplomb.

The early-season rotation between Fleury and Lehner clearly showed Fleury was the better goalie. No matter if you went eye test or fancy stats, Fleury was better. It could be tempting to let Lehner continue on in the rotation or even start several consecutive games to break out of the slump now instead of later, but his injury has rendered that point thankfully moot.

Until he shows he’s no longer capable, Fleury deserves to be the starting goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights by any standard of measure. His teammates love him, they clearly have enthusiasm playing in front of him. I would even call it joy. Fleury’s teammates want to play hard for him because he plays hard for them.

Age a factor? It doesn’t look that way. Even though Fleury’s on the wrong side of 35, he’s still in top shape, is tracking the puck better than ever (Lehner has had major struggles with this so far), and has an amazing ability to keep his head in the game even when his workload is light. All things elite goalies do every game.

Let me tell you everything I need to know about Marc-Andre Fleury and how much he means as a leader and teammate by way of a simple training camp observation.

Maybe you noticed. Maybe you didn’t. During camp this year, the young goalies flocked to Fleury. He would engage them, talking to them and helping them out when he could. Clearly he was invested in them when as the greybeard, he doesn’t have to be. He could just give them a nod or a tap on the pads. He could even just ignore them and prepare for the season. But that’s not who he is. Fleury is the guy who grooms the players who will eventually take his job because that’s what it means to him as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights.

I’m not saying Lehner was horrible to the youngsters. His body language suggests that he just wanted to do his own thing during camp and that’s just fine. He exchanged the customary taps and gestures when the situations called for it. But to compare the two is no comparison at all. Fleury is the guy you want in all situations.

On top of that, Fleury has come into this season with a fire lit under him. He has been nothing short of his best self on the ice, fighting for every puck and leading by his hustle and heart. You don’t have to be in the room to see how excited the team was to mob him off the bench after Sunday’s shutout. Go back and look at the celebration. It’s very clear what the situation is for the Vegas Golden Knights.

To his credit, DeBoer seems to have softened on his initial rejection of Fleury, partially out of necessity as Lehner isn’t available right now. But DeBoer did start the season with a clear rotation instead of just handing the reins to Lehner. Was that forced by Fleury’s salary? Maybe something about Lehner coming out of camp didn’t seem 100% right? Was there still concern about his shoulder surgery? Could be none of those. Could be all of them.

Whatever the case, if Lehner returns and the team goes back to a rotation, that would be a major mistake. I also believe it would cause murmurs in the locker room which is never good. The Vegas Golden Knights coaching staff and front office has to stand behind Marc-Andre Fleury as its starter until his play shows otherwise.

To do otherwise is to proceed at your own peril.

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Opinion

Josh Ho-Sang is Worth A Look For Vegas

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Josh Ho-Sang Vegas Golden Knights VGK

This week, what might be one of the most drawn-out sagas in the NHL ended when the New York Islanders finally waived Josh Ho-Sang.

For those who may not know, Ho-Sang never seemed to really get his shot with the Islanders on a full-time basis. In limited NHL action with the Isles Ho-Sang was roughly a half-point-per-game player. In 53 NHL games spread across three seasons, Ho-Sang put up 7-17-24. Not bad numbers especially bouncing in and out of the lineup.

Now at 24, the Islanders have finally decided it’s time to part ways with Ho-Sang. The relationship dragged on a long time, and the Islanders seemed to like the idea of Ho-Sang but no idea how to actually apply him to the lineup. Now he’s free to find a deal of his own after clearing waivers.

The Vegas Golden Knights should call him.

One of the best parts about Ho-Sang’s game is that he has the potential to really pile up points. In the OHL he posted three straight 80+ point seasons. With the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2018-19, he had 43 points in 56 games. And we’ve already talked about him basically being a half-point-per-game guy at the NHL level.

Christian Arnold at NYIHockeyNow.com has this to say about Ho-Sang:

“Josh Ho-Sang has a lot of offensive talent. He has speed, puck handling ability and can put the puck in the net in dazzling fashion. Under the right tutelage, Ho-Sang could finally prove to the NHL what he’s believed about himself since the Islanders drafted him in 2014. ”

Ho-Sang makes an interesting addition to the Golden Knights because he could potentially make a third line with Alex Tuch and Cody Glass incredibly dangerous. No disrespect to Nicholas Roy either, who could potentially make the same jump this season. Don’t forget that Roy is also capable of playing center if the need arises.

At this point you might be saying too many forwards spoil the stew. Normally I would agree with you – were we not in a pandemic. Dallas has pushed back the start of its season. The Columbus Blue Jackets have had to miss practice a few times and it won’t end there. We will see more teams hit by this. Ho-Sang could come at a manageable price enticed by the chance to make a really deep run on a talented team instead of being buried in the minors by the Islanders.

If he pans out and turns into a real playmaker at the NHL level, it would be an incredible bargain signing for the VGK. If he doesn’t quite pan out, it really doesn’t cost you much if anything at all. I predict that Ho-Sang will indeed become an impact player at this level with the right team. Vegas should look at every chance to make this team even more dangerous. This one doesn’t cost them anything but the time to pick up the phone.

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NHL

Which Alex Tuch Shows Up This Season?

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Alex Tuch Vegas Golden Knights

Last year was a Tale of Two Tuchs for the Vegas Golden Knights. The regular season Tuch battled injuries, inconsistent linemates and a lack of production. The playoff Tuch led the team in a few different offensive categories and was one of the better players in the return to play. Which story plays out this season for the VGK?

The Vegas Golden Knights made another deep playoff run this season, bowing in the Western Conference Final to the Dallas Stars. Although there was inconsistency up and down the lineup, Tuch was among those who stepped up. He scored eight goals, three of them game winners. Both of those numbers were good enough to lead the Golden Knights in the playoffs. His 12 points doubled his career playoff output. Not bad for a guy who is just 24 and also had a stellar 20-goal, 52-point season in 2018-19.

But then, there was the 2019-20 regular season. Coming off those career best numbers Tuch struggled. Big time. Outside of a nice four-game point streak at the start of December with four goals and seven points, the Syracuse, NY native was absent from the score sheet more often than not. In fact, after scoring a goal in the last game of that streak on December 5, Tuch would only score three more times in the next 28 games. Then Tuch got hurt, and a short time later everything went on pause.

Tuch’s first two seasons with the Golden Knights showed promise and improvement. There was nothing out of the ordinary with the advanced stats. It merely looked like a very good prospect developing into a very good NHL player. Expectations were high for last season for last season but not unwarranted. If Tuch took that next step forward, perhaps he’d blossom into a 30-goal scorer (or better).

It’s possible to say that the pressure of his new contract kicking in weighed on him. Or that teams were paying more attention to him than before after scoring 20 goals. But I truly believe there was one major and one abetting factor holding him back.

The abetting factor would be the injury issues he had last season. Tuch only appeared in 42 games, picking up a “lower body injury” (I hate these terms) on February 13 that ended his season. For those who missed it, it was a cringeworthy crash into the boards late in the third period of that game. Oddly enough he tanlged with current teammate and then-Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the collision. Tuch tried to come back a short time later but suffered a setback. Then the league went on pause giving him time to heal for the return to play.

I don’t have any major concerns on Tuch’s health moving forward, which is a very good thing. I’m sure VGK fans are breathing easier after his playoff performance as well. In fact, the pause took the pressure off many athletes feel to return and help the team. Instead, Tuch was able to focus on getting healthy this time. He’s still young and no doubt felt some pressure to justify that new contract by trying to play at less than 100 percent.

But injuries are only part of the equation.

The major factor is Tuch’s ever-changing supporting cast of linemates. Before the Mark Stone trade, he looked at home in the top six forward group and as mentioned was putting up good numbers. After being knocked down to the third unit through no fault of his own, Tuch struggled to find the consistency that made him such a threat. It’s understandable that occasionally injuries and streaks of play displace linemates. But this is a different situation.

Even head coach Peter DeBoer recognized that fact, saying before the return to play that he felt Tuch not being in the top six hurt his production. Injuries up and down the lineup didn’t help with the consistency for linemates. DeBoer also noted that he didn’t feel Tuch’s game had changed much, but some of the difference was situational.

One thing that will go a long way towards settling down the lines is figuring out the centers. Whether Cody Glass or Chandler Stephenson wins that second line spot where Paul Stastny used to skate, establishing chemistry in a shortened season is paramount. Getting Tuch comfortable with a center who can help create time and space for him is important.

If Stephenson does end up on the third line, reuniting with Nicholas Roy reforms a line that saw success and chemistry in a small sample size last year. DeBoer seemed to like that line coming out of summer camp before the bubble. As if on cue, Stephenson had to step up between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone early in the return when injuries hit.

Truth be told, Stephenson didn’t look out of place, and that’s exciting news if his level of play continues on the second or third line. It also makes sense to put him on a third line to see what Glass has to offer. Plus if the third line has to take some defensive matchup weight they could, although DeBoer noted Tuch is a “mismatch guy” for the VGK. Simply put, DeBoer feels if he can get Tuch on the ice against weaker opposition he should be primed to produce for the Golden Knights.

With the depth of skill up front for Vegas, I truly believe the only factors holding back Alex Tuch this season are comfort and line familiarity. If he can establish himself and his linemates early in camp, there’s no reason to believe the Alex Tuch that earned a seven-year, $4.75M per year deal won’t look like a massive bargain in the long run.

 

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