NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Five Questions With …” will run every Tuesday through the 2018-19 regular season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features NFL analyst, talk-show co-host and celebrity hockey fan Boomer Esiason.
Norman Julius “Boomer” Esiason is famous for a bevy of accomplishments that include 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback who played in Super Bowl XXIII, a national studio analyst for CBS Sports and co-host of “Boomer & Gio” with Gregg Giannotti during the morning drive on WFAN, a sports talk radio station in New York.
He’s also a die-hard fan of the New York Rangers, and his knowledge of hockey is anything but ordinary. Esiason holds great respect and appreciation for the hockey community, tradition dating back to the Original Six and the skill level of the players who compete at the highest level.
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“It starts with skating,” Esiason said. “Then it’s your hands and it’s your ability to see the ice and appreciate how players play with a great sense of anticipation. Some players have more of that than others.”
When not in the limelight, Esiason is a hockey player; he has a team on Long Island that plays a 40-45 game season from March to August and tournaments in the United States and Canada. He then transitions to a winter sports club between October and March, getting in roughly 70 games a year. He’s twice called hockey games on the radio, most recently with Giannotti when the New York Islanders defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in a shootout at Prudential Center on Feb. 7.
“I was just glad the Rangers weren’t involved,” Esiason said. “That would have been a whole different emotional experience for me.”
The roots to Esiason’s Rangers fandom are traced to 1968 while watching Rod Gilbert skate at Madison Square Garden. He wore No. 7 in the NFL because it was Gilbert’s number. And in a twist of fate, his future son-in-law is Islanders forward Matt Martin, who met Sydney Esiason during his first tenure in New York before spending two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That wasn’t the easiest of transitions. The day Sydney brought Martin home for the first time, Boomer went in the garage and put on his Rangers jersey.
“I walked into the kitchen and I said, ‘Hey Matt. How are you? I’m Mr. Esiason and you will refer to me as that.’ You may be able to convince one person in this household to love the Islanders, but you’re not going to get everybody.”
Alas, Boomer grew to love Martin, who he calls the type of player you want in the locker room. His love for hockey has evolved to where he’s can break it down immaculately and use it as a platform for charitable endeavors, including the fifth annual Mikey Strong Charity Hockey Game, which will be held at Prudential Center on Friday. He’s established the Boomer Esiason Foundation, committed to helping those with cystic fibrosis. One of the 30,000 children and adults affected by the genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems is his son Gunnar, 27, a survivor and leader in the cystic fibrosis community.
“If I’m judged on anything in my life, it will be on that and his success,” Esiason said. “The fact that he’s living and he’s healthy, and he’s fighting a disease and he’s advocating for people with that same disease unselfishly and putting himself out there, I can’t even begin to express the amount of pride that I have in that regard.”
Here are Five Questions With … Boomer Esiason:
The Islanders have exceeded preseason expectations of pundits by competing for first place in the Metropolitan Division. How do you project them performing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a roster that remained largely unchanged by the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline?
“I would say defense wins championships, and one of the reasons they are where they are this year is because of their goaltending and their defense. I think Barry Trotz has basically pushed that narrative since the day he got here. I think Lou Lamoriello took a chance on Robin Lehner. Thomas Greiss has been unbelievable. I don’t necessarily know if their scoring is going to be good enough to get them past the second round. I think they’re definitely a second-round team. They’ll beat whoever they play in the first round, but I think the second round will be tough because that’s where the skill level really ramps it up. If Mathew Barzal can find the scoring touch again and get himself back to where he was in the middle of the year, they may be able to surprise. They’ve done this with grit, toughness and defense, but I don’t know if they have the skill level to take it to another level.”
Were they right to stand pat, maybe to avoid messing with team chemistry?
“Not only did they stand pat, they may have left themselves open for either more criticism after what happened with John Tavares last year at the Trade Deadline. Your captain, Anders Lee, is a free agent [after the season]. [Brock] Nelson is a free agent, [Jordan] Eberle is a free agent, Lehner is going to be a free agent as well. I’m not really sure what the plan is for Lou Lamoriello. It’s going to be really interesting moving forward. Is this going to be a one-hit wonder or are they going to be able to capitalize on this wonderful success they’ve had this year?”
The Rangers made difficult decisions ahead of the deadline by trading Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid. You later said on WFAN that general manager Jeff Gorton was being ruthless. What do you make of their rebuilding program and how quickly can they return to the status of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?
“It’s going to depend on what they decide to do this year in free agency. They’re going to have some money. They’ll be enough top-end guys where they can probably bring in two, maybe even three, free agents. They’re probably going to end up buying out [Kevin] Shattenkirk, I would imagine. They’re still a young team. If you want to talk about guys you feel really good about, I like the trade for Brendan Lemieux. I like what he’s going to bring to this team. I like Filip Chytil, I like Libor Hajek, I like Tony DeAngelo right now. But the big question is what do you do with Chris Kreider moving forward? Chris Kreider, while I’m a big fan and somebody who supported him staying here and not being traded, I think he’s been a big disappointment. I thought he’d be a 40-goal scorer at some point in the NHL. He may be a trade chip in the offseason. If you really want to be ruthless, that’s the guy that you have to consider trading because I know there will be a lot of teams enamored with his size and speed. The question is what happens to him? Five, six, seven games he’ll go without scoring. This guy should be a 75-point guy and he has not reached that plateau, so I don’t necessarily know if he’s going to be much better than he already is and if he is, how much are you going to pay to keep him?”
Do you see any team going on a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup? The Los Angeles Kings won it as a No. 8 seed in 2012 and the Vegas Golden Knights showed last season that anything is possible.
“Could you see [goalie Sergei] Bobrovsky get hot and maybe take the Columbus Blue Jackets, when they figure each other out, do they have what it takes? They have a lot of good players and if Bobrovsky gets hot that could be the making of what can be a Cinderella team.”
Who do you have winning the Cup?
“Tampa Bay, definitely. One hundred percent. If they stay healthy, they’re going to be virtually unstoppable. They have a terrific goalie, solid D-men and snipers all over the place. And they have their superstars playing like superstars. I think watching them night in and night out, boy, they very rarely have an off night. That’s a real credit to their club and who they are. They have players on all four lines that can score. They have three levels of defense that very rarely make crucial mistakes in front of their net. It’s their time. They’ve been building and building and building. Then when they get to the Final, which I believe they’ll make, then it comes down to whether or not you can be as big and as heavy as either Winnipeg or Nashville. I don’t know if Vegas or Calgary will make it. It will be either Nashville or Winnipeg.”