Friday, January 23, 2015

Is This The Worst Maple Leafs Squad Ever?

On December 16, 2014 Toronto beat the Ducks of Anaheim 6-2. Their record of 19-9-3 was good for 6th in the Eastern Conference, 3 points out of first place. Toronto was 7 points up on 9th place. Then, the World Junior Championships moved into the Air Canada Centre and the Maple Leafs played 13 of their next 17 games on the road. To say it has not gone well is an understatement. Toronto has gone 3-14 to the All-Star break and plummeted out of the playoff picture.

Five goals scored during the current six game losing streak has raised the question on many fronts; "Is this the worst Leaf team in recent history?" Since Toronto won the Stanley Cup in 1967, the worst Leaf edition before this year would have to be the edition from exactly 30 years ago in 1984/85. This memorable squad  which is ingrained in my childhood memory finished with 48 points and a record of 20-52-8, good for last overall in the NHL. The current Leafs have gained only one less point than the 84/85 team did all season, so they should end up with a fair bit more when all is said and done. Remember, the record of the current squad has just crossed the .500 level (in the wrong direction of course), so could it realistically be worse than the 84/85 last place team? Let's compare these two wonderful squads, by looking at the top-9 forwards, top-6 defenders, 2 goalies and prospects from each.
2014/15 Forwards (Age)
Phil Kessel (27)
James van Riemsdyk (25)
Tyler Bozak (28)
Nazem Kadri (24)
Joffrey Lupul (31)
Mike Santorelli (29)
Leo Komarov (28)
Peter Holland (24)
David Clarkson (30)

1984/85 Forwards
Rick Vaive (25)
Bill Derlago (26)
John Anderson (27)
Miroslav Frycer (25)
Dan Daoust (24)
Peter Ihnacak (27)
Greg Terrion (24)
Stew Gavin (24)
Russ Courtnall (19)

The nine guys from '85 averaged 24.6 years of age, the NHL average for forwards that season was 25.6. Each and very one of them would play at least 400 career NHL games, Vaive scored over 400 goals, Courtnall and Anderson topped 200 goals. The current squad averages 27.3 years of age at forward, slightly above the current average. Kessel, the current version of Rick Vaive will likely top 400 career goals and Lupul is close to 200 career goals, vanRiemsdyk should get their...the rest, who knows. Overall, the mere presence of David Clarkson makes me prefer the forward core from 30 years ago.
Edge: 84/85

2014/15 Defence
Dion Phaneuf (29)
Cody Franson (27)
Roman Polak (28)
Stephane Robidas (37)
Morgan Rielly (20)
Jake Gardiner (24)

1984/85 Defence
Borje Salming (33)
Jim Benning (21)
Al Iafrate (18)
Gary Nylund (21)
Bob McGill (22)
Bill Root (25)

Jeez, what's to like about either of these groups? Other than Bill Root (who was marginally a 6th D this season anyway) every one of the 84/85 group played over 600 NHL games, and Salming topped 1000 and is in The Hall. Even with him, this sextet averaged 23.3 years old, two full years under the NHL average. From the current group, Phaneuf and Robidas should make it to 1000 games, but unless Jake Gardiner is moved to Centre and turns into Red Kelly 2.0...none of them are getting into the Hall of Fame without paying. 
Edge: 84/85

2014/15 Goalies
Jonathan Bernier (26)
James Reimer (26)

1984/85 Goalies
Tim Bernhardt (27)
Ken Wregget (20)

Both pairs of goalies are well under the league average in age. Bernhardt would play more than half of his NHL career games in 84/85, Wregget however went on to a 575 game NHL career (48th most in history). Bernier seems to be a slightly above average NHL goaltender as evidenced by his higher than average Save Pct. James Reimer is a serviceable number two man. I have to begrudgingly take the current pair over the old one.
Edge: 14/15
2014/15 Prospects
William Nylander (18)
Josh Leivo (21)
Frederik Gauthier (19)
Connor Brown (21)
Andreas Johnson (20)
Rinat Valiev (19)
Greg McKegg (22)
Sam Carrick (22)
Stuart Percy (21)
1984/85 Prospects
Steve Thomas (21)
Gary Leeman (20)
Todd Gill (19)
Craig Muni (22)
Alan Bester (20)
Walt Poddubny (24)
Cam Plante (20)
Dan Hodgson (19)
Jeff Reese (18)
This one is tougher to judge, as we're only speculating on the future of the current prospects but there doesn't seem to be many first or second liners other than (hopefully) Nylander. The 84/85 roster produced 1000 game men Todd Gill and Steve Thomas, 50 goal scorer Gary Leeman and "three assists in one game" goaltender, Jeff Reese.
Edge: 84/85

One other thing to remember about the 1984/85 team is that, in finishing last overall, they were able to draft 1st overall pick Wendel Clark. The current Leafs will likely not be drafting a player of that calibre this off-season. So, even though this year's team will accumulate more points and finish higher than the one from 30 years past, I really believe the older team had a better overall roster and was better set up for the future. Yikes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Seattle Seahawks, Hockey's Version

Frank Jerwa, Seattle Seahawks
As the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks prepare for a chance to repeat their Super Bowl title, let’s have a look at the original Seattle Seahawks…hockey’s version.

Goaltender, Emmett Vende
From 1933 to 1941 Seattle boasted a minor professional hockey team with that very name. Initially members of the North West Hockey League along with Vancouver, Portland, Edmonton and Calgary, they were subsequently a member of the fledgling Pacific Coast Hockey League. The Seahawks would regularly play before hometown crowds in excess of 4,000 and captured the NWHL title in 1935/36. Over the tenure of their existence many past and future NHLers would wear the Seahawks sweater.  The original coach and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks was none other than Hockey Hall of Famer, Frank Foyston.

The owner of the Seahawks was Phil Lycette who was a somewhat strange character. At different points in his ownership he was either trying to sell the team or purchasing entire other teams in the circuit. In the spring of 1937 Lycette was quoted, “I told Frank Patrick I was willing to dispose of the hockey franchise to anybody who made a reasonable offer.” Another time he accused his own players of "laying down" and not giving their best efforts.

One of the more notable NHLers that played at one time with the Seahawks was ex-Maple Leaf, Ken Doraty who put up 42 points in 48 games in the final season of his career, 1938/39. Gord Fraser played a season in Seattle after suiting up for 144 NHL matches, having scored 14 goals for Chicago Black Hawks in 1926/27. Art Gagne finished his career with the Seahawks in 1936 after 228 NHL games. He had scored 20 goals for Montreal Canadiens in '27/28 and 19 for the Ottawa Senators in '30/31. Veteran of 308 NHL games, Johnny Shepard would also wind down his career with two seasons in Seattle.

Dave Downie, he of 11 NHL games played with Toronto would prove to be the Seahawks most effective scorer over the five seasons of their PCHL stint. Downie played 207 games notching 222 points leading the loop in goals one year and points another. Defenceman Pat Egan suited up for the Seahawks as a 20 year old in 1938/39 (and led the league in PIMs with 185) before going on to a fine 554 game NHL career. 
Hal Tabor

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mystery Hockey Photo, Vancouver Lions 1930

Looking through the Vancouver City Archives I found this great photo titled simply, Vancouver Lions 1930. The Lions were members of the Pacific Coast Hockey League from 1928 to 1931, playing out of the Denman Arena in Vancouver. They won the league championship all three seasons before the league disbanded in 1931. Interestingly, this year's squad was coached by Guy Patrick, the lesser-known brother of Hall of Famers Frank and Lester Patrick. Guy never played the game in any discernible manner, but was the arena manager for the family's Denman Street facility. In addition to coaching and managing various versions of the Vancouver Lions he had coached the female Vancouver Amazons in 1922 and would eventually marry one of the players, Kathleen Carson. 
Guy Patrick
Using the database of the Society of International Hockey Research I was able to identify each player in the team photo which includes many future NHLers.

Back Row, Left to Right;

Lorne Carr was 19 years old and the Lions were his first pro team after starring with the junior Calgary Canadians. Carr of course would go on to star in the NHL scoring 426 points in 580 games. He was a first team All-Star with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1943 and 1944 scoring 36 goals in 50 games in 1943-44.

Sam McAdam was 22 this season and actually played five NHL games with the New York Rangers in this 1930-31 campaign. This would be his only stint in the big-time as he played until 1944 mainly in the North West Hockey League and the Pacific Coast Hockey League.

Gord Pettinger was the relative giant on the team standing a full 6 feet tall. The 19 year old was also in his first professional season after a pair of Memorial Cup appearances with his hometown Regina Pats. The lanky Centre would go on to play 292 NHL games with the Rangers, Bruins and Red Wings with his best season coming in 1938-39 when he tallied 25 points in 48 games for Boston.

Frank Jerwa led the Lions in scoring in this his third year with the squad, scoring 16 points in 32 games. The 21 year old would make the jump to the NHL with the Bruins the following campaign. In all he played 81 NHL matches collecting 27 points.

Robert Sanderson would have one of the shorter careers of the Lions pictured here. 25 at the time, he would hang up the blades by 1932, never having reached the NHL.

Ralph Blyth was another who never played in the NHL but he managed to carve out a nice career in the North West until 1946. In 578 mostly PCHL games he played everywhere from Calgary, Edmonton and Portland to Seattle, Spokane and New Westminster. While with Seattle in 1944 he scored a PCHL record three goals in a 46 second span.

Chuck Dunn was another relative giant at 5 foot, 11 inches and 160 pounds. He never played in the NHL, retiring with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1935.

Front Row, Left to Right;

Jimmy Arnott was 23 at the time of the photo and would play in nearly every game of the three year existence of this incarnation of the Vancouver Lions.

Percy Jackson the 24 year old goaltender posted 28 shutouts over the three seasons of these Vancouver Lions. He would get spot duty in the NHL over the next six years playing seven games for the Bruins, Rangers and New York Americans. He won only one game and posted a Goals Against Average of 3.98 in his NHL career.

Doug Brennan was an elder statesman on this Lions squad at 27 years old. The 180 pound defender was a stalwart on the blueline over the Lions three year tenure. The following year he jumped to the NHL and played the next three seasons with the New York Rangers. Two separate suspensions for striking an official may explain his career ending in 1936. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1958 Leaf Caricatures by Jack Reppen

This full page Christmas greeting was in a Toronto Maple Leafs program in December, 1958 that I picked up recently. As an animation artist by trade, I always enjoy when I see hockey and art colliding. This one was from the pen of Canadian artist Jack Reppen. The close-ups of the individual caricatures are below. 

Great stuff from Reppen, a few strokes of the pen beautifully captured each individual's character, especially the Conn Smythe and Punch Imlach drawings. Reppen was a freelance cartoonist with the Toronto Star from 1952 until his untimely death from cancer in 1964. For the last five years of his life Reppen had dedicated himself to contemporary painting and exhibited regularly. Below are two more portraits from the same 1958 Leafs program of two of hockey's greats.

Gordie Howe by Jack Reppen, 1958
Maurice Richard by Jack Reppen, 1958

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hockey Tips by Dave Keon

Here's one of my favourite new additions to The Hockey Den, a very cool booklet from the early 1970's featuring Dave Keon. It's loaded with great artwork depicting Keon instructing how to play as an all around Centreman. I'm not sure who issued the book, but judging by the sideburns on him in the photo on the back page, it's 1970 or 1971. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hockey Reporting, Circa 1901

I came across this terrific article in the newspaper archives of The Nelson Tribune dated January 30, 1901. It's a write-up about a the first game of the Stanley Cup challenge between the Winnipeg Victorias and the Montreal Shamrocks. The article itself is bordering on the hilarious as it really is merely a play-by-play account of the action on the ice. I mean, a literal play-by-play report of the entire game; from offside calls, goaltenders stopping the play, pucks getting 'lifted' into the grandstand and on and on. Check it out below and replay the action in your imagination.

MONTREAL, January 29, 1901.—The hockey game between the Victorias of Winnipeg and the Shamrocks of Montreal was faced off at 8:10 p.m. The game was very even. Johnson secures puck, loses it, and Grant lifts. Brennan secures puck, going down to Victoria's goal. Brown makes a good stop. Bain shoots on goal off-side. First game for Shamrocks in six minutes. 
Dan Bain
Off again, Trihey secures puck but loses it to Bain. Bain makes a run, but is stopped. Play is all in Victoria's vicinity. Johnson makes a run, but loses to Scanlan, who takes it down to Victorias' end, offside. Off again, Bain secures puck, and passes to Gingras, who loses to Grant. Grant makes lift off-side. Off again, Trihey passes to Scanlan, who passes to Johnson. Bain makes the second game for Winnipeg in two minutes. 
Harry Trihey
Off again, Wood shoots on goal, loses it. Johnson has it, loses to Brennan. Trihey secures, loses to Woods. Bain secures, makes a hot shot on goal, but misses. Another long lift by Flett; Grant makes a shot. Gingras loses to Scaulan. Woods shoots on goal but loses. Bain misses. Johnson makes shot on goal, misses Brennan loses,to Bain. Wall makes long lift. Magnus Flett passes to Johnson, Gingras makes a good run but he is stopped by Grant. Woods has the puck, loses to Brennan but gets it again. Johnson lifts on goal but misses. Grant makes long lift. Flett lifted puck into grand stand. Scanlan makes a run passes, Flett relieves, Gingras passes to Woods,who shoots on goal. Scanlan making run loses to Flett. Bain making great run shoots on goal but no go. Scrimmage around Shamrock's goal, off-side. Grant secures, loses to Johnson who loses to Grant. Fleet lifts. Third game for Victorias, Woods scoring in three minutes. Off again, Gingras secures, loses to Brennan, off-side. Off again, Trihey shoots on goal. Woods' game not counted. Trihey making for Victorias' goal, off-side. Off again, Trihey secures, loses to Gingras. Third game for Victorias, Bain scoring from a pass from Gingras. 
Antoine Gingras
Off again, Bain secures, but loses to Grant. Johnson secures, Bain has it again. Off again, Shamrocks' man kicking. Grant has it, but is stopped by Brown. Bain makes a hot shot on goal. Grant' secures, loses to Woods, who loses to Wall. Wall makes a long lift. Johnson secures, loses to Grant, who is making a run on Victorias' goal. Two men ruled off, one Victoria and one Shamrock. At half time it stood 3 goals to 1 in favor of Victorias. Woods scored fourth game. Off again at 9:52. Johnson secures, Bain shoots on goal. Trihey shoots on goal, Flett makes beautiful shot, Bain makes a run on Shamrocks' goal, but misses. Woods secures but is knocked down by Grant. Magnus and Brennan on fence. Farrell secures and shoots in fifth game for Shamrocks in five minutes.
Off again. Gingras secures and is working down ice. Bain secures and shoots on goal. Trihey secures and passes to Farrell, who loses to Woods. Again Gingras secures but falls. Wall lifts. Sixth goal for Shamrocks. Off again. Gingras passes to Bain, Woods shoots on goal. Loses to Wall. Bain loses to Farrell. Magnus relieves and Bain makes a run down the ice, off side. Again Farrell makes a hot shot on Victorias' goal. Seventh game scored by Woods for Victorias.

It was a fine exhibition. 

I like how it ends with a simple "It was a fine exhibition." After all the intricate details laid out, this is the only actual commentary that is given. It seems like it was indeed an exciting match though with "Woods" (Burke Wood) breaking a 3-3 tie late in the game. Winnipeg would go on to win the second match of the best of three series two days later on an overtime winner by Dan Bain. This was the second time the Winnipeg Victorias had won the Stanley Cup, the first was in 1896. They would retain the Cup for over a year, winning challenges from Winnipeg HC in February 1901 and Toronto Wellingtons in January 1902.

They would finally be de-throned by Montreal HC in March of the same year, never to win it again.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gretzky's 100 points in 34 games

I read in a few places how today is the anniversary of Wayne Gretzky reaching the 100 point plateau in 34 games played. Below are the top scorers through December 18, 1983:

Gretzky          34 37 63 100
Kurri               34 28 38 66
Trottier            33 22 33 55
PStastny          34 17 38 55
Nicholls           34 22 30 52
Bossy               27 24 23 47
Savard             33 22 25 47
Tanti                32 25 21 46
Federko           32 20 26 46
Dionne             34 14 32 46
Pederson          32 14 31 45
Messier             33 13 32 45
Deblois             33 16 28 44
Coffey              34 15 29 44

After less than three months of the season, Gretz had a ridiculous 34 point lead on teammate Jari Kurri and a 45 point lead on third place Bryan Trottier and Peter Stastny. One strange name on the 1983 leaders list is Winnipeg Jet Lucien Deblois who had collected 44 points in his first 33 games. He would slow down considerably and finish the year with 79 points.
Of course the scoring rates were somewhat different in the 1983/84 than they are currently. To be exact, back then an average NHL game produced 7.90 goals, nowadays it is 5.47 per game. Today there are about 69% of the goals scored compared to 30 years ago. With a little math we can put the 83/84 numbers into the scoring race of 2014/15. Current players in Red:

Gretzky           34 26 44 70 
Kurri               34 19 26 45
Seguin             30 23 15 38
Trottier            33 15 23 38
PStastny          34 12 26 38
Malkin             30 15 22 37
Voracek           30 11 26 37
Tarasenko        31 20 16 36
Nicholls            34 15 21 36
Crosby             27   9 26 35
Giroux             30   8 27 35
Stamkos           33 18 17 35
Kessel              31 17 17 34
Getzlaf             32 10 24 34
Nash                 29 20 12 33
Bossy                27 17 16 33
Johnson             33 10 23 33
Tanti                  32 17 15 32
Savard               33 15 17 32
Kane                  32 15 17 32
Federko              32 14 18 32
Dionne                34 10 22 32
Pederson             32 10 21 31
Messier               33   9 22 31
Backstrom          30   8 23 31
Giordano             33  8 23 31
Hudler                 32 13 17 30
Forsberg              30 12 18 30
Deblois                 33 11 19 30
Coffey                  34 10 20 30

Amazingly, Gretzky would still be winning the race by a full 25 points over Kurri and 32 over actual leader Tyler Seguin. As well, Seguin's 23 goals look all the more impressive as only Gretzky's 26 adjusted goals would be beating him. In fact there are no other 20 goal scorers other than Tarasenko and Nash after adjusting the old figures to today.

Interestingly, there are more players with over a point-per-game today than the adjusted figures from 30 years ago. Eleven guys today are scoring at least one point a game, the adjusted old-timers only have six at that level.

Anyway we look at it, Gretzky really was in his own league.
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