Thursday, February 26, 2009

Roland Cloutier, "Mini Lafleur"

Roland Cloutier played a total of 34 NHL games over two seasons scoring 17 points, but what a start he had. On Oct.25 , 1978 Cloutier replaced an injured Andre St.Laurent with the Red Wings and tallied a goal in his Detroit Olympia debut. He scored five goals in his first three games on a makeshift line with Errol Thompson and fellow rookie Fern Leblanc. “Thank heavens for that line, they all were outstanding.” commented coach Bobby Kromm. Even higher praise came from Wings GM, Ted Lindsay who said Cloutier had the potential to be a “Mini-Guy Lafleur” Mini would be the operative word here as he stood only five-foot-eight and 160 pounds.

Cloutier had started the season with the Kansas City Red Wings of the Central League and would play a total of 19 games with the big club. The previous season he had notched 32 goals and 61 points in 59 games with K.C., and in his final year of junior he’d finished tenth in the Quebec League with 131 points. After his grand start with Detroit, Cloutier would score a mere one goal in his last 16 games before being sent back down. Lafleur he was not. He was re-claimed by the Nordiques after the WHA merger and tallied five points in fourteen games in 79/80.
After another mediocre AHL year in 80/81, Cloutier played seven seasons in France leading in goals twice and scoring over two points per contest.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gretzky's Calder Trophy

The 1979/80 Calder Trophy race for rookie of the year was a fairly wide open race with many candidates right down to the wire. Ray Bourque won the award as he broke the record for points by a rookie defenseman. This was of course Wayne Gretzky’s “rookie year” in the NHL and had he been eligible for the Calder it would have been no contest.

A few of the fine rookies that season were, Mike Foligno, Pete Peeters, Brian Propp and Paul Reinhart. None of these gentleman however, were even close to the Great One’s 137 points.
According to a 1980 Hockey News item, there was a precedent set well before the WHA/NHL merger that excluded WHA “veterans” from the Calder Trophy. Four years earlier, the NHL triumvirate of Clarence Campbell, Bryan O’Neill and Ron Andrews had excluded 22 year old Pat Hickey and 20 year old Wayne Dillon from the rookie voting. Both players were signed from the Toronto Toros by the New York Rangers following a 95 point year by Dillon and 69 from Hickey. They would score 45 and 36 points respectively in their first NHL season of 75/76, hardly a threat to Bryan Trottier’s fantastic Calder winning year.

Other young stars that were affected by this Calder banning were Michel Goulet, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburg, Rob Ramage and Rick Vaive. Amongst these, only Goulet and Gartner would have been even remotely considered to challenge Bourque and the others.
So, in fact, it wasn’t Gretzky that changed the Calder Trophy eligibility, it was a pair of WHA Toros.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pentti Lund, Calder Trophy Winner

Pentti Alexander Lund was born in Karijoki, Finland before moving to Canada at age six. He played junior hockey in Port Arthur, Ontario with the Navy Team leading the league in scoring both years. He would turn pro and score 92 points in 56 games for the Boston Olympics of the Eastern League. Lund followed that with 62 points in 68 AHL games with the Hershey Bears in 1947/48. He made the big time with the New York Rangers the following year and notched 14 goals and 30 points in 59 games winning the Calder Trophy. Lund would lead the NHL in playoff scoring with 6 goals and 11 points in 12 games while losing the final in seven to Detroit. He finished two points up on team-mate Don Raleigh, and Red Wings Gerry Couture and George Gee in perhaps the most unheralded leaderboard ever.

Lund is often credited as being the first Finnish born player ever in the NHL, but Albert Pudas (originally Putaansuu) played 4 games with the Leafs in 1926/27. Lund would play two more full seasons with the Rangers before being traded to the Bruins prior to the 1951 season. In mid-November of that season in a game against the Blackhawks he got caught with a stick in the right eye during an opponent's clearing attempt. Lund lost most of the sight in the eye and was sidelined for three months before actually coming back to finish the season. He would amazingly play the following year as well and tallied 17 points basically using only one eye. Lund reclaimed his amateur status and played two seasons of senior hockey with Sault Ste. Marie before retiring. He was inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Finnish Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992, and is still alive and well.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Top Two Points Leaders = Missed Playoffs

After watching my Buds comeback against the Penguins last night including a five goal third period, it looks as if the Pens are going to be hard pressed to make the playoffs. Currently (Feb. 15) Pittsburgh sits five points behind eighth place Buffalo, and the Sabres have a game in hand. It seems like it would be next to impossible to have the top two scorers in the league and still find a way to miss the post season. Malkin and Crosby are one-two in scoring, although Ovechkin is making up ground fast. As amazing as it would seem, this would not be the first time that a team with the top two scores failed to make the playoffs.
Exactly sixty years ago, in 1948/49 the Chicago Black Hawks enjoyed the top two points men in the NHL, Roy Conacher and Doug Bentley. They tallied 68 and 66 points respectively, finishing a full twelve points clear of third place Ted Lindsay. The Hawks still managed only 50 points over the 60 game season finishing seven points out of the post season dance. Their downfall that season would appear to have been team defense, as they allowed 39 more goals than any other squad. 'Sugar' Jim Henry posted a GAA of 3.52 finishing well back of the Ranger's Chuck Rayner in second last at 2.90.
Amazingly, the Black Hawks also had the fifth and seventh ranked scorers that season in Jim Conacher and Gus Bodnar. It was not enough. If the current Penguins can't straighten themselves out soon, they'll join Chicago in this rare and un-wanted achievment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Equalizing Goal Scoring

How do we compare the greatest goal scoring seasons of all-time. Which was better, Gretzky's 92 goals in 1982, Richard's 5o in 50 or Joe Malone's 44 goals in 1918. Firstly, we can look at each season using Goals per Game to account for different length of seasons, but that alone does not put each on an equal playing field. The average goals scored in a National Hockey League game has fluctuated wildly from almost ten combined goals in the late 1910's to under three goals/game in the late '20's. The average goals scored in an NHL game would hover between five and seven for the balance of the '40's through '70's before jumping up over eight in the '80's. The dead puck era would return with the new millenium with the goal average dropping into the fives again.
In order to achieve an equalized view of the greatest goal scoring seasons, we can take the player's Goals/Game and divide it into the League Goals/Game to reach a Goals Equalized to League Average rating. This number puts each season onto an even plane in order to see which goal scoring season was truely the best.

I've split it up making the start of the "Original Six"era as the dividing line. We see that Joe Malone's record season of 2.20 goals per game is taken somewhat down by the league average of 9.56 goals per game. Babe Dye's 38 goals in 29 games during a season when the league average was 5.00 turns out to be the greatest equalized scoring season ever. Cy Denneny of the old Ottawa Senators makes the top ten list three times and Howie Morenz takes two of the top seven spots.

In the modern era, Brett Hull is a slight suprise at the top of the list narrowly edging out two Mario Lemieux seasons. Phil Esposito's 76 goals in 1971 rate high as the league average was 6.24 goals/game. Lemieux checks in at number five and four of the top seven modern seasons. We don't see the top Gretzky year until sixth place even though his own goals/game was the top modern average, the league average was near 8.00 in his heyday of goal scoring. Gordie Howe's 1952/53 season rates highly due to the relatively low league average, as do Bure and Ovechkin's more recent seasons. Perhaps one of the suprises on the list is Charlie Simmer who's league leading (along with Danny Gare and Blaine Stoughton) 56 goals came in only 64 games in 1979/80.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mike Green Update

Well, Mr.Green notched two more goals today to extend his streak to seven straight with a goal. I got lucky today, as I was driving home listening to the Rangers broadcast (on Satellite radio) of the game against Washington. During my twenty minute commute home, Green scored his first goal which promted announcer Kenny Albert and colour man Don Maloney to inform the listeners that Green had just tied the record for consecutive games scoring by a defenseman. What I could not find by searching on the internet a few days ago, I heard over the airwaves.
Albert announced that Green had just tied the NHL record of seven straight games set by Boston's Mike O'Connell in 1983/84. He also mentioned that the four other defenders who had went six consecutive games with a goal were O'Connell's team-mate Ray Bourque also in 83/84, Colorado Rockies Barry Beck, Bobby Orr, and Montreal Canadien Harry Mummery in 1920/21.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mike Green, Goal Scorer

A colleague at work is friends with and grew up with Mike Green in Calgary. For this reason, I have been following him quite closely since his first pro season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. His development into an elite defenseman in the NHL is impressive and fun to watch, especially being a Canadian Olympic hockey team fan.
Green's current scoring exploits are nearing historical proportions. His sixth consecutive game with a goal set a franchise record for defensemen and he's the first d-man since Ray Bourque in 1984 to accomplish that. I can't find what the all-time defenseman record is, but Punch Broadbent had 16 straight games with a goal in 1921/22 and Charlie Simmer went 13 straight in 79/80. One article I read says that defenseman Bobby Connors of the 1928/29 Detroit Cougars notched a goal in 11 consecutive matches. I am doubting this is true, as Connors had a total of only 13 goals in 41 total games that season. It seems improbable that he would score most of those in 11 games.
Green's 19 goals in 41 games played would put him on pace for one of the greatest goal seasons in NHL history for a defender. As it stands, even missing 13 games with a shoulder injury, he has the chance to join some exclusive company. Since returning from injury on December 12, he has played 23 games and scored 12 goals. That pace continued over the remaining 28 games would give him 34 goals in his 69 games played. Only three men in NHL history have score more than 34 goals as a defenseman. Paul Coffey with 48 owns the record, and three times had 37 or more goals. Bobby Orr had 46 in 1974/75 and also notched at least 37 three times. Doug Wilson scored 39 in 81/82 to round out the top d-men scoring seasons ever.
It's reasonable to think that Mike Green has a 40 goal season in his future which would be more impressive considering the relative league scoring of today. In 85/86, when Coffey scored 48, the league averaged 7.93 goals per game, and it was 6.85 G/GP in 1975 for Orr's 46 goals. As of Feb, 8, '09 the average is 5.78 goals per game for both teams. If Green were to notch 35 this year it would translate to 48 goals exactly in 1986 when 37% more goals were scored each game.
Any way you look at it, Mike Green is having a terrific year and at 23 years of age he should only get better. If he doesn't make the Canadian Olympic squad, it will be as big a mistake as Crosby being left off in 2006.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Guyle Fielder, All-Time Great

Guyle Fielder played a mere six games for the Wings in 1957-58, yet he still garnered a card in that year's Topps set. These were six of his fifteen career NHL games over a seven year period without notching a single point.
In 1957/58 with the Seattle Totems, Fielder had tallied the first ever 100 point season in hockey history with 122 in 69 games. Detroit traded for him that summer but wasn't giving him ice-time, seeing as the minimum NHL contract of $7,500 was the same he made in Seattle he went back to the WHL. In 62 games with the Totems he had 111 points, then 119 the following year. The Western Hockey League was a professional league just about on par with the AHL. Most teams had players affiliated directly with NHL clubs, and in fact Fielder himself had in 1953 won the AHL rookie of the year award in his only season in that circuit.
In total, Guyle Fielder would play 21 seasons in the WHL, mainly with Seattle along with his one AHL year. From 1951/52 through 1972/73 he played 1430 regular season games scoring an amazing 1854 points. Among these points were 1441 assists, over one per game played for his entire career. In total he was named to 13 first or second All-Star teams and named MVP six times.
In a recent article in The Seattle P.I. newspaper by Dan Raley, Fielder is quoted, "I kind of doubt I could do it on that level (NHL), but I would have liked to had more time to see that style," he said. "It never happened. But I wasn't going to sit around."
Said Bill McFarland, former Totems player and coach and WHL president, "It's totally mind-boggling to me he couldn't play in the NHL and not be a great player in the NHL."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jiri Crha

The Toronto Maple Leafs of 1980 were a team in turmoil and transition. Having in 1978 beating the New York Islanders in the quarter finals, the Leafs went on to be swept by the Canadiens in the semi-finals AND the 1979 quarter-finals. As well, captain Darryl Sittler was feuding with owner Harold Ballard, and once he was re-hired, GM Punch Imlach. When Imlach stated he was open to offers of trade for his captain, Sittler's agent Alan Eagleson said it would take $500,000 for him to waive his no-trade clause. Instead, just after Christmas 1979, Imlach traded Sittler's best friend and line mate Lanny McDonald to the lowly Colorado Rockies. In response to this, Sittler decided to remove the captain "C" from his sweater. Even with all this going on, he managed to pot 27 goals in his final 40 games and the team flirted with a .500 record until March. They finished in 11th place overall with 75 points before being swept by the Minnesota North Stars.

In his post-mortem of the season, Ballard, with infinite idiocy is quoted in the March 21,1980 Hockey News as saying,"We will definitely win the Cup next year". He also said it would take some trade to get rid of Sittler. Apparently less than two years later the definition of "some trade" turned out to be Peter Ihnacak, Rich Costello and Ken Strong, some trade indeed.

A large part of the Leafs future hope rested on the back of Czechoslovakian goaltender Jiri Crha. The Leafs had won a bidding war with Montreal and Philadelphia for the 29 year old veteran. Crha was a regular on the Czech national squad, usually the back-up in addition to posting solid numbers in league action for Pardubice. Incumbent star Mike Palmateer was on the outs with management, having demanded a five year deal worth $500,000. Imlach shipped him to Washington in June of '80 in essence handing the reigns to Crha.

Having been unfamiliar with the NHL style of goaltending, Crha spent the first half of 79/80 simply practicing with the Leafs and learning from Palmateer and Johnny Bower. He was quoted in the 1980/81 Pro Hockey Book as saying, "Goaltending is different in the NHL, you must move out to cut off shooting angles and you must play the puck outside of your crease. These were things I had to learn. I had never done them."
Quite the pickup for the Leafs you might say? After impressing in the AHL for Moncton, Crha was summoned to the big club in mid-February after injuries had ravaged four Leaf tenders (see earlier blog entry about Bower almost being called upon). The Czech import wasted little time impressing winning 8 of 15 games in posting a respectable 3.61 average.

In Ballard's Cup guaranteed year of 80/81 Crha went 20-20-11 with a 4.07 average. The Leafs posted 71 points and were once again first round sweepees by the eventual Cup champion Islanders. Perhaps this is the premonition that Ballard had the previous year, he just misinterpreted it...silly old codger. Anyhow, that would be it for Crha's NHL experiment, although he'd play until his early forties in the German League. The Jiri Crha era in Toronto was over.

And that was the beginning of the end for the Leafs, or at least the continuation of it. Over the next dozen seasons the Leafs floundered, never finishing over .500 and winning but two playoff series. In 1992-93 they made their first of four league semi-finals over ten seasons, but the Leafs are still Cup-less into a fifth decade. Sigh.

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