Whether you were first introduced to him as a member of the WHA's Cincinnati Stingers, Wayne Gretzky's head coach with the Los Angeles Kings or his many years being on television, Barry Melrose is one of the most recognizable faces in hockey. Barry was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule of analyzing the NHL and competing with fans in The NHL Hat Trick Challenge, presented by Enterprise to talk some pucks.
As we are getting closer to the Conference Finals, which team has been the biggest surprise? The biggest disappointment?
The biggest surprise in my opinion has been Minnesota. I think they were pretty unknown coming into the Playoffs - no one talked about them much. They got down to Colorado and then came back, and they have not lost a game in the Playoffs at home. They are also giving Chicago all they can handle.
The biggest disappointment has been Pittsburgh. They still have not been able to finish off a 3-1 series lead and were struggling against Columbus in the first round.
If the playoffs ended today, who would get your vote for the Conn Smythe?
That's a good question. If it ended today, I'd have to go with Henrik Lundqvist. He's played good every minute. I can't remember a bad goal he's let in and the fact that he hasn't played a bad game and has been rock solid, I'd have to give it to him.
The Blackhawks seem to have that special factor when it comes to the postseason; a confidence where they feel they are never out of a game or a series. As a man that coached The Great One, how rare is it to achieve such a team-wide attitude?
It's very rare. The old saying goes "if winning was easy more teams would do it." Chicago has got something special and all winners have something special... and to me, that's a guy that shows up when you need him the most.
Last night the score was 1-1, Jonathan Toews goes to the front of the net wins a physical battle and scores the winning goal. You can say that's no big deal but he does it every game. It seems like when Chicago needs something really good to happen, Jonathan Toews is in the middle of it.
That is rare - those guys that are clutch performers. Messier was one. Gretzky was one. Toews is one. Those guys are hard to find and when you find them you don't give them up.
Corey Crawford had a magnificent run to the Stanley Cup and, in my opinion, should have won the Conn Smythe last summer. He is off to another tremendous start in the playoffs this year but, for whatever reason, he doesn't seem to get the same respect that other big-name goalies get in the national media. Why do you think that is?
Because the team in front of him is so good. Same thing happened with Grant Fuhr when he was a member of Edmonton. They said anybody could play goal for Edmonton and win.
I agree with you - I thought Crawford deserved the Conn Smythe last year. I think he's had a magnificent Playoffs this year. He doesn't get the respect he should. The only thing he does is beat goalies that are supposed to be better than him - Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Tuukka Rask. Because of the team in front of him he gets no credit. I agree that's not fair.
Stan Bowman had to dismantle the 2010 Stanley Cup winning team due to the hard cap and had them winning the cup again just three years later. Is Bowman the best general manager in the game?
He's one of them. Stan doesn't get credit for building that team. Dale Tallon really built that team and Stan was the assistant general manager during that period, but he has done a lot of great things since. Bringing Versteeg back was a good deal, Saad is an excellent young player, Ben Smith is an excellent young player. So they have been able to re-tool. Keeping Bickell, Shaw and guys like that. And Stan has done a great job, especially with the cap. When you've got so few players making so much money it's hard to round out a team and Stan has done that. So Stan has done a good job and he's thought of very, very highly in hockey.
I have written many times that we are currently living in the Golden Age of Blackhawks hockey. A huge reason for that is the duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane who have become this generation's Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. If you had to start an NHL franchise today with only one of them, who would it be and why?
I would say Toews because he's more of a complete player. He's great defensively. He's one of the finalists for the Selke Trophy every year. He's good on draws, can kill penalties, is good on the power play and a natural leader.
I would love to have either one of them, or both of them, but if you made me pick one I would pick Jonathan Toews.
You have been associated with the NHL as a player, coach and analyst for over 30 years and have seen many changes to the game both on and off the ice. One of the biggest evolutions recently, especially in the blogosphere, has been the use of advanced analytics or as we like to call them "fancy stats." What is your opinion of these new measurements of a player's success like Corsi, Fenwick and PDO? Will they become the be-all end-all on judging a player's worth? Or will we always need the eye test?
I'm an eye test guy. I think hockey is much more than numbers. I think hockey is about the heart of the player. The passion the player plays with. Things you can't measure with numbers. Who makes a play when the game's on the line? Who gets the puck out along the wall when the game's tied? Who goes to the net and scores a goal when everyone else is tired? So I'm an eye test guy. I still believe in the heart of a player and character of a player more so than just the numbers of a player.
What are you doing with Enterprise and the NHL Hat Trick Challenge?
I have partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, an Official Partner of the NHL for the past five years, as they launch a Stanley Cup Playoffs edition of the Hat Trick Challenge. From now until a Stanley Cup champion is crowned, visit HatTrick.NHL.com to participate in the challenge.
The NHL will pose three questions each game day on the Hat Trick Challenge website - questions include items such as which teams will win games, who will score goals and who will make assists.
If you answer all three questions correctly on a given day, you score a hat trick - the person who scores the most hat tricks throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs will win two tickets and a trip to next year's NHL All-Star Game... so come back every day to play.
My answers to the Hat Trick Challenge questions will also appear on the website everyday throughout the playoffs - so you can see my predictions and agree or disagree with my selections.
Finally, I'm going to put you on the spot, will we be seeing another Stanley Cup parade this June in Chicago?
Yeah - I picked Chicago at the start of the year and still think they're the best team. I thought they showed a lot of character last night winning that game. I still think Chicago is the team to beat.
Thanks again to Barry Melrose for making some time to talk with us at Second City Hockey!