Former NHL player, coach discusses a variety of league topics
By Pat Payton
Sports reporter Pat Payton interviews Terry Crisp every year when he and his wife Sheila come back to town to spend the summer months.
Crisp is on a short list of just 14 men who have played on a Stanley Cup winner (Philadelphia Flyers) and also coached one (Calgary Flames). He has now spent two decades as Nashville Predators’ game colour analyst for Fox TV.
The former St. Marys Lincolns’ centre and league scoring champ recently discussed a variety of NHL topics with the Independent. This is Part 2 of that interview.
Does adding free-agent star John Tavares make the Maple Leafs an instant Stanley Cup contender?
“No,” says Crisp, who was quick to reply with his answer. He compared it to the Wayne Gretzky days in Edmonton. Gretzky was the Oilers’ star centre, but he had a strong supporting cast with teammates such as Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and goalie Grant Fuhr to name just a few.
“I don’t think it makes Toronto an instant Stanley Cup contender,” Crisp said. “I look at the Cups that Wayne Gretzky won in Edmonton and Mario Lemieux won in Pittsburgh. But remember, those guys didn’t do it alone.
“They were the point of the spear that helped make it all happen. They were surrounded by good players and good goaltenders like Grant Fuhr. Speaking of Tavares, he could be the point of the spear with Toronto.”
Crisp was very interested where Tavares would land because he says teams such Tampa Bay and San Jose–who also wanted to sign the Islanders’ star–will continue to be in the Stanley Cup mix over the next few years.
Tavares, 27, spent his first nine seasons in the NHL with New York. Last year, the Islanders’ captain had 37 goals and 84 points in 82 games. The Mississauga native recently signed a $77 million dollar contract with the Leafs.
Playing under the magnifying glass in Toronto after signing his huge contract, is there going to be tremendous pressure on Taveras to succeed?
“Yes, there’s going to be a lot of pressure, but that’s nothing new,” Crisp replied. “He had pressure on the Island to win with the (team) history that they have there.
“For instance, when Chicago got (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews, it wasn’t instant success. It took them a few years to put it all together and they won three Cups (in a span of six years). With their support cast, the Blackhawks slowly built a winner.
“And I think that is where Toronto is heading. They needed a point of the spear, and I think the point of the spear right now is going to be John Tavares. You look at their support cast, and yes the Leafs are young and fast and exciting, and they’re going to be good and contend.
“I think one of the biggest pluses in Toronto is putting Tavares and (coach Mike) Babcock together. Tavares is looking to win and has the motivation to win a Cup, and Babcock won a Cup in Detroit (2007-08) and is not afraid of a challenge. He’s driven to win again. And Toronto dished out some pretty big bucks to get those two guys.”
The time for coach Babcock to win has come
Is there even bigger pressure on Babcock right now to win, Crisp was asked. The Maple Leafs’ coach signed a $50 million, eight-year contract in 2015. Leafs missed the playoffs his first season in Toronto, and have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the last two years.
“Babcock is one of the best coaches in the NHL,” he said. “Yes, they have to start winning right now. With the addition of Tavares, the pressure certainly does fall on the coaching staff.
“But that pressure also falls on the scouting and building staffs with the Maple Leafs. Toronto needs a third and fourth line that can win at playoff time. They put you in the hunt for a Cup. They are your support cast and depth chart.”
Crisp used Washington as a good example. In addition to Alexander Ovechkin being “on a mission,” he said Capitals won the Cup this spring because of their depth on the third and fourth lines with players such as Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie.
An up-and-coming team in Crisp’s estimation, which could soon contend for a Stanley Cup, is the Colorado Avalanche.
“I know Nashville got past Colorado in the first round this year, but they were a handful,” Crisp noted. “I think in the next three or four years, Colorado is going to make strides. Big, strong and fast, and they keep coming at you.
“Their first line with (Nathan) MacKinnon ia awesome. If they bulk up their support cast, they’re going to be heard from.”
The NHL has made several changes in the last few years, and they seem to be working to make the game significantly better. What is the biggest change the league has made that has improved the overall level of play?
“Probably the biggest difference that I’ve seen is the crackdown on slashing and clutching and holding, the obstruction stuff. If you want to catch a guy, you have to catch him with speed, and that has opened up our game.
“But on the other side, I would like to see the red line back in the game, being a traditionalist and an old-time hockey guy. Without the red line, it takes away a lot of the skill and passing coming through the neutral zone, but it does open the game up. It makes for a speed attack . . . teams can come at you full bore.”