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An interview with Scott Morrison

This Tuesday, Illegal Curve conducted an interview with well-renown hockey writer Scott Morrison of CBC and Hockey Night in Canada. Morrison has recently released a book called “By the Numbers.” The book is perfect for those who love hockey and the history of the game because it names the best player to wear every NHL jersey number in the league’s history. Not only does it rate the top player to wear each jersey number, but it includes stories about how the player came to wear that jersey and which other hockey legends donned the same sweater numbers. I just finished the book, and highly recommend it; it can be purchased by clicking here: Hockey Night In Canada: By The Numbers: From 00 to 99ir?t=illecurv 20&l=as2&o=1&a=1552639843.

Here is my transcript with Scott Morrison:

Richard: Thanks for agreeing to the interview Scott. The first question I wanted to ask was how did you come up with the idea for this book?

Scott: Well, the book came about when we were brainstorming in the office one day, trying to come up with different concepts and different things we could do, and Ron MacLean had mentioned being on a radio show and some people had been talking about numbers. So we thought, hey, it might be a neat thing to do our own version. So the original thought was maybe to do ten or twenty numbers and pick the more hotly contested ones and then ultimately we said, well, if we are going to do it, might as well do them all and we’d assemble a list of every player to wear each number and then present it to our panel to figure out who each one was. I knew at that point, already, some different stories about numbers and I thought it might be interesting to tell the stories behind the stories for each number. So it really kind of came about through innocently kicking around the idea.

Richard: Regarding the book, I wanted to ask you whose number was the most difficult to decide/most interesting to debate?

Scott: I mean, there were a lot, when you get to the goalies who wore # 1 and #30, there were some battles there. Also, #16 was interesting and #19 was extremely interesting. I think that #7, #9 and #19 strike me as probably being the more interesting ones, and the most closely contested, other than the goalies.

Richard: All of those numbers make for great debate. I also wanted to ask you a couple of questions regarding the current goings on of the NHL. First off, do you think there is any chance that both John Ferguson Jr. and Paul Maurice are back in their current jobs for the Leafs come next season?

Scott: Oh, I think there is definitely a possibility one, or both, could be back for next season. If they make the playoffs, and have a little bit of success and are a much more competitive team, and a much more consistent team when they get into the playoffs, then I think there is a very good chance that Ferguson would get an extension. Do they have to win a round for that to happen? I think that depends just on the climate and how the team is performing; if they just sneak in, and then they get beaten, that might not bode well for them. But I think if they build some momentum over the year and they start to become a better team, and they get in to the playoffs, and earn their way in (and don’t get blown out in the 1st round) I could see them both back.

Richard: Over in the Western Conference, have you been surprised at how tame Mike Keenan has been behind the Flames’ bench so far this season?

Scott: Yah, he’s been very patient and he hasn’t done anything too severe; I think that speaks to the new situation, he’s got a lot of veteran players there and he is obviously trying to change the way the team is playing, so he is being patient. How much longer that lasts we don’t know; we may see Iron Mike pop off any day now—especially with the way things have been going lately.

Richard: You are right about them changing their system and that taking time. At least from a fan’s perspective, their change in style (to a more aggressive/offensive style of play) has to be a nice change for fans who were growing tired of watching defensive battles.

Scott: Mike isn’t really a defensive coach by any stretch, in terms of that being the only way they play. I mean, he is very much a believer of having a good offense and being very aggressive to get the puck in the other end and then make things happen. So, a lot of his teams are tough, they are hard to play against, and not just defensive teams by any stretch.

Richard: Still on the Flames, do you worry at all about the increased number of minutes that Keenan has given to his horses like Dion Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla, and Daymond Langkow?

Scott: Not necessarily. Those guys are in great shape and Keenan will find time over the course of the year to make sure they get the proper amount of rest. A lot of that is in practice time more than games, to make sure that they get time for their bodies to recover and heal, and Mike’s very good at that. He has always been a guy who has ridden his top players very hard, and given them a lot of time and responsibility; he knows how to make sure they don’t burn out.

Richard: Moving from an offensive coach, to a more defensive coach, what are your thoughts on the job that Ken Hitchcock has done so far in Columbus?

Scott: He is a terrific coach. He has been exceptional everywhere he’s been and I think it is a little unfair that he just gets the label of being a total defensive coach; at the end of the day, you have to deal with what you’ve got and make it work, and he’s obviously got that team playing a lot better at its own end of the rink and its penalty killing has been outstanding, especially to start the season. They have really tightened up, and it is one of those cases where sometimes a good goalie makes a great coach and I think in this case it is a great coach has helped to make a good goalie. Pascal Leclaire has been very steady, but the play in front of him has been excellent and that’s what Ken’s strengths are. He can put a system in play and if the players buy into it, then it generally works. Also, they are scoring their fair share of goals too; I think they have averaged around three goals per game, which isn’t too bad. At the end of the day, they just needed results there and build some confidence and they’ve been able to do it. It was a tough season for him last year, but a lot of the success was borne from the work Hitchcock did last year.

Richard: I also wanted to ask you your thoughts on the struggling Canucks. Although they may have lost some leverage with their defensive injuries, do you foresee that organization making a move for some added offense prior to Christmas?

Scott: They’ve got problems with the three guys out on the blueline for what looks like an extended period ,so that makes everything a little more difficult; it also changes what your expectations are. The biggest challenge for them is that after their top four players of Sedin, Sedin, Morrison, Naslund, there is just such a severe drop-off after those guys; even their top guys have put up good, but not great, numbers. To be successful, that team has to work so hard every night, and that is tough to do. When you go through one long season and you were rewarded for it, and then you start up another year, it is hard to convince yourself that you’ve got dig down every night and do that all over again. Then you add injuries to it, and it’s pretty difficult. They’ve got to, kind of, weather the storm. Remember, they weren’t very good until Christmas last season and we all know what happened after that.

Richard: That is a perfect segway as I wanted to ask you about a team that was terrific up until Christmas last year and then hit the skids and that is Montreal. Once again, they have had a terrific start to the season; do you foresee them sustaining this success for an entire season unlike last year?

Scott: Well, it looks pretty much like it did last year. It’s was a little misleading their record last year because their special teams were really carrying the day. While you’ve got have ‘em (special teams) to be successful, you have to be good five-on-five because inevitably the powerplay is going to dry up and that is what happened last year, that and some injuries. But their goaltending has been terrific, and the special teams have been there, so it has given them a chance to kind of build elsewhere; but they’ve got to get a guy like Ryder going, although Kovalev has been better this season and that’s helped. They don’t really have that sort of first-line star guy so enjoy it while it lasts because it may not last too much longer.

Richard: Well we can be sure the Habs’ fans are enjoying their success for now. Staying inside that division, to what do you attribute Buffalo’s ongoing offensive struggles?

Scott: I’m not really sure, they seem to be kind of finding their way; I mean they lost two great players in Drury and Briere and, while it is nice to say you’ve got the kids to step up, and they’ve got a lot of talent to fill-in, but they look to be in an adjustment period. I still think they will be fine, it’s just I think the players are being put into different roles and it takes time to adjust to those roles because those were two pretty significant bodies that they lost.

Richard: Before I ask my last question, I wanted to ask you about something you touched on in your blog last week, and that is the Rick Tocchet situation. Overall, do you think the league set a strong precedent for the possibility that another person breaks the rules in the future?

Scott: I think so. I mean, he is going to miss two years and I think that is a pretty severe punishment. Especially for what he did, he didn’t do anything close to, and I’m not saying what he did was right—it was wrong, but he didn’t do anything close to what was advertised in the beginning; so you could argue he was given more than his share of punishment.

Richard: Finally, you have worked prestigious jobs at the Toronto Sun, and Rogers Sportsnet, but I’m wondering what it is like working on Hockey Night in Canada?

Scott: Well it is fun. I mean, it’s a job, but it’s a job you have fun at. The group of people are tremendous from Ron (MacLean) and Don (Cherry), they are all good team players and it is great. You know, it’s still the big show in the big land and it is kind of nice to be a part of something, with all the history and obviously the tradition of it, it is special to be a part of it.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.