FISCHLER: Triumphant return for Messier

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At another time — in a previous century — the disclosure that had signed a new pact would have generated the following reactions: 1. Massive cartwheels, executed by deliriously joyful Blueshirts fans. 2. At least a half dozen media-based predictions of a Stanley Cup for the Seventh Avenue skaters. 3. Wayne Gretzky reconsidering a comeback on Broadway. Alas, this is 2002, not 1994, and Captain Mark-vel is going on a steely-eyed-42, not 34. Only the bald head remains the same. Tough as it is to say, the latest Messier signing suggests style over substance.
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  • Exactly a week before Glen Sather announced that his Mess-jesty had returned to the fold, one of North America's most perceptive hockey analysts questioned the move. "If the truth be known," wrote Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province, "Sather would just as soon save the dough and use a young guy." I disagree. However, we'll get to that later. But just as Mayor Bloomberg wouldn't raze the Statue of Liberty on the grounds that it's getting old, neither can Sather tamper with The Apple's tastiest hockey icon. Or, as a high NHL club executive told me, "Sure, Slats would have loved to drop Mess, but there is such a thing as PR." Public relations aside, the Messier curtain call for 2002-2003 raises a number of questions, each of which will profoundly affect the Blueshirts' bid to emerge from their non-playoff funk. QUESTION I: What's left in Messier's tank? ANSWER: Enough for power-play and fourth-line work. Expecting more would be pushing Mark's luck — and the ' luck. QUESTION II: Will The Moose still want to be the go-to guy, or will he willingly settle for a lesser role as supporting actor? ANSWER: If nothing else, Messier is not stupid. He doesn't have to be told he hasn't been on a playoff team for five straight years — three with Vancouver and two in New York. And he knows that a sixth will not be acceptable. Knowing the score, Mess will adjust to a lesser role. QUESTION III: How will he adjust to rookie coach — and long-time adversary — Bryan Trottier? ANSWER: So far, Mess has said all the right things about Trots. Unfortunately, we won't have a genuine answer to this question until after the new year. Make no mistake, this issue could be a team-maker — or breaker. But this much is also clear; Messier never would want to be remembered as a coach-killer in Trottier's rookie year behind the bench. QUESTION IV: Should Messier retain the captain's C, or should a younger ace, such as , be given the distinction of being official leader? ANSWER: Fourth-liner or not, Moose still is THE leader. As long as he's a Ranger he deserves to wear the C. Period. QUESTION V: How will Messier's return affect Lindros? ANSWER: Lindros idolizes The Moose. In an ideal world, Lindros WOULD be captaining the . No doubt — if he stays healthy — he will someday. But having Messier on his side is better for Lindros than not having Mark as a Ranger. Eric still can learn from the maestro; and will. What matters now is the reality of Messier's return and precisely how Mark adjusts to it. During Colin Campbell's coaching reign on Broadway, some insiders believed that Coly wanted to limit Messier's ice time but never could get himself to lay down the law with the Hockey King of Manhattan. As Gallagher noted in the Vancouver Province, "People are still too intimidated by Messier to tell him that he should be grateful anyone still wants him." Hey, Tony, the are grateful he's back because of one important hockey dictum: STRENGTH DOWN CENTER IS THE KEY TO THE STANLEY CUP. The words were uttered by Toronto managerial legend Conn Smythe in 1947 when his were en route to a then-unprecedented three consecutive Stanley Cups (and four in five years). His top centers in 1947-48 were Syl Apps, Max Bentley and Ted Kennedy — all Hall of Famers. The will have Lindros, Messier, and . If that isn't strength down center, I don't know what is. Keys to Messier's success — which I am certain he WILL have this year — are pride, motivation, brains and wheels. He's too proud not to play his best. He's too motivated not to understand that Trots will do what's best for him and the team. He's too smart not to understand the reality of 2002. And even approaching age 42, he still has good wheels, provided they're given proper maintenance. Messier won't let down Sather, his old pal and confidante. And because he's one of the precious few local athletes who retains the old-time fervor, he won't let down his adopted city that he loves so much. Moose wants to close his career here with his head high and his team in the playoffs. When all is said and done, Mark will be just fine. And because of that, so will the . Dust off those 1994 calendars when you get a chance. Known as "The Hockey Maven" in both local and national circles, Stan Fischler is one of the most outspoken authorities on the game of hockey. Fischler can be seen offering NHL analysis on "MSG SportsDesk" and on Fox Sports Net's "Regional Sports Report — New York Edition." Fischler also provides studio interviews and pre- and post-game features and reports for both the and on FSN. His columns appear regularly on MSGNetwork.com.
    Tagged: Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Bobby Holik, Petr Nedved

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