May 25, 2011

Fischler Report: FHL expansion a story of survival

by Stan Fischler

Bruins coach Claude Julien (photo: Getty)

Our roving correspondent, John Landers, reports an encouraging development from the minor leagues:

Beating long odds that it would not survive its first season, the Federal Hockey League will return for a second campaign in October with several expansion teams in place, significantly widening the FHL map.

Adding franchises in New Jersey, Niagara Falls and Vermont, and two in the Midwest in Cincinnati and Danville, Ill., the FHL is flexing its muscles.

“There was never any question in our minds that we would be back for a second season and for many years to come,” asserted league administrator Phil DeFranco. “We experienced the expected growing pains and we have shifted gears accordingly in several areas, but we never thought even for a moment that our first year would be our only year.”

There are three New England-based franchises: the Danbury (Conn.) Whalers, Vermont and the Cape Cod Barons.

Jumping from the Danbury Whalers to lead the New Jersey Outlaws is Chris Firriolo, who wasted no time in signing former Brooklyn Aviators winger Matt Punturer.

“Building our team around a top player such as Matt makes perfect sense,” said Firriolo. “He was a thorn in Danbury’s side many times last year and was one of the best players in our league start to finish. I’m glad he’s on our side now.”

The Outlaws will play out of the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, N.J. It will undergo an extensive makeover during the summer months adding seats to boost its capacity to 1,400.

Observations

* Gary Bettman has done everything possible to preserve NHL hockey in Atlantaand the 29 owners know it. Unlike the situation in Phoenix, no viable sugar-daddy in Georgiacould be found.

The inevitable Thrashers-move-to-Winnipeg hardly is the best-case scenario. But it is better than having the league scaled down to 29 teams. What remains to be seen is what effect not only the Atlantademise but also a few other struggling franchises will have on the eventual CBA negotiations.

Gossip

* From midseason until the playoffs began, a bloc of assorted Boston media types was on Claude Julien’s case, as in he’s had it as Bruins’ head coach.

What we now have among those former chortling chipmunks could be the name of a movie: “The Silence of the Lambs.”

* Tim Panaccio of Comcast SportsNet.com figures that Brian Boucher (Woonsocket, R.I.) has played his last game as a Flyer. “His poor playoff performance will cost him as Philadelphiaseeks a goalie via trade or free agency,” said Panaccio. “It’s uncertain where he ends up.”

* Ken Hitchcock has emerged as the most prominent coach-in-waiting for an NHL job. The odds are that Hitch will land something; perhaps even in New Jersey, although we consider that a long-shot.

After Hitchcock there are oodles of candidates: Kirk Muller, Kurt Kleinendorst, Bob Hartley and former Universityof Lowellstandout Craig MacTavish are among them. Unfortunately, the best is no longer available: Jacques Lemaire.

* No matter what logic dictates, don’t count on the Red Wings moving into the Eastern Conference anytime soon. They’re gold at the box office.

The Detroit sextet was the NHL’s No. 1 road attraction this season, playing to 99.8 percent capacity. If you own a Western Conference franchise, would you vote to give the Red Wings the geographic balance it deserves by allowing the club to move?

Or would you rather the guaranteed sellouts in your building when the Wings pay a visit?

Take the money! The Wings may get old, but, like the Rolling Stones, their act doesn’t.

* As good as he had been before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, former UMass-Lowell star Dwayne Roloson can’t expect to be TampaBay’s starting goalie for more than 40 games in 2011-2012. Hence, a deal with the Islanders for Evgeni Nabokov is possible.

After all, it was Nassaufrom where Dandy Dwayne came before becoming a Bolt. Then again, Isles GM Garth Snow (Wrentham, Mass.) might also be able to do business with Stan Bowman in Chicagonow that the Blackhawks have signed Corey Crawford to a new deal and Marty Turco is history.

The Islanders’ Matt Moulson on former teammate Roloson: "He's like a fine wine. Dwayne just gets better with age."

Stan Fischler can be reached at FischlerReport@aol.com.