Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sports Illustrated memories


Sports Illustrated magazine. We all know it, most of us love it. I was lucky enough to be given a subscription to S.I. for most of 1983 and 1984. This turned out to be one of the greatest gifts ever for a pre-pubescent sports nut (some might say I still am one). I don’t have a lot of those old mags now having sold a lot of them off while in college. Out of these one hundred or so issues, very few had a hockey cover. Those two years produced one Gretzky cover, one Mike Bossy and one Billy Smith. Athletes such as George Brett, Alan Trammell, Carl Lewis and Patrick Ewing each had at least two cover appearances in my stack, I had some great early Michael Jordan covers while still with North Carolina and the first two or three covers featuring Mike Tyson. All of these sold for good money years later. Needless to say, those hockey covers meant a lot to a kid from Newmarket, Ontario. This era was also the beginning of the rise of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. I was proud to see them make the “big time” of Sports Illustrated and was ecstatic when on July 13, 1983 I found in my mailbox Dave Stieb and Andre Dawson smiling back at me.

Thanks to the extensive S.I. Vault (http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/), all of these along with every cover and page ever issued by S.I. are available for viewing. You’re able to search concise words, names or teams. Using this great website I decided to read up one of my favourite hockey topics, the World Hockey Association. Below, I have compiled some great quotes about the W.H.A. and the date of the S.I issue they appeared in.

John McKenzie, Philadelphia Blazers player-coach, on his team needs for next year: "Eighteen Bobby Orrs, seven Phil Espositos and four Bobby Clarkes." April 23, 1973

I’m assuming Ol’ Pie Mackenzie would dress all the Orr’s, one Espo, one Clarke and have pretty nice taxi squad in the press box.

Aurel Joliat, 72-year-old hockey Hall of Famer who scored 270 goals in 16 seasons with the
Montreal Canadiens: "I'm insulted that I haven't had an offer from the World Hockey Association." February 04, 1974

Seeing as a 45 year old Gordie Howe scored 100 points that year, I would think Joliat could have been an effective penalty killer and thrown 50 to 60 points on the board.


Gerry Cheevers, who defected from the Boston Bruins to the Cleveland Crusaders of the World Hockey Association, on the difference between the two teams: "Well, it did seem a little strange to discover that the No. 4 carrying the puck was Ralph Hopivari, not Bobby Orr." January 21, 1974

This one is a typo as Cheevers had one Ralph Hopiavouri skate in front of him that season. And Orr he most definitely was not, over three partial seasons in the WHA he notched 21 points in 70 games with a tidy -17 +/- rating.

Brian McKenzie, explaining why he was happy to go from Edmonton to Indianapolis in the World Hockey Association expansion draft: "We went 40 straight days of sub-zero temperature up there, that's why." June 24, 1974
Edmonton’s record low temperature is -49F, Indianapolis’ is -27F…Brian may have had a good point.

Gilles Gratton, 22-year-old goalie for the Toronto Toros, asked what advice he would give youngsters: "Quit while there is still time—at about 12 or 13 years of age." March 24, 1975

Or just quit at age 25 like Gilles the nut-job, who told people he was reincarnated and had once been a soldier in the Spanish Inquisition.

Rick Dudley, of the WHA's Cincinnati Stingers, after his face and Gordie Howe's stick collided: "It made me mad. But what are you going to do? If I fought him and won, I'd look like an idiot for beating up a 47-year-old man. If he'd beaten me, I'd look like more of an idiot for losing." March 29, 1976

These are good points Rick, but the larger question would have been…what the hell was with the
molester ‘stache?

Wayne Belisle, president of the World Hockey League's Minnesota Fighting Saints, announcing that although he could not meet his payroll the Saints had agreed to play for nothing: "A lot of fans tell me they stay away from pro sports because they are turned off by athletes making too much money. On that basis we ought to have crowds of 150,000 a game now." January 12, 1976

Not too sure where they would have put all these folks, the frozen banks of the Mississippi perhaps?

Gordie Howe, on the condition of the World Hockey Association: "The funny thing is, except for the teams going under, our league has never been in better shape." May 17, 1976

Only four teams made it through the full seven years of the WHA, the four that would merge with the NHL.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Warren Young, Mario's Sidekick


Warren Young caught lightning in a bottle. Having been drafted in the fourth round by the California Seals in 1976, he opted to return to Michigan Tech to complete his college career. He would graduate in 1979 with a B.S. in management and a point per game over 4 hockey seasons. Young would soon establish himself as a professional scorer leading the EHL with 53 goals as a Baltimore Clipper. Moving up to the Central League he would score 26 ,31 and 26 goals for the North Stars farm team. Through all this, he would play only five games in the NHL, never distinguishing himself. By now, the years of bus rides to nowhere had him discouraged and a free agent at 27.The Pittsburgh Penguins signed him to their Baltimore AHL team and he responded with 63 points in 59 games as well as 8 points in 15 games with the big club.
The following year, Mario Lemieux, fresh out of junior hockey personally requested the 29 year old Young as a line mate. "He handles the puck so well he makes room for me," Lemieux is quoted in a Jan. 1985 Sports Illustrated article on Young. "We're not going to shave Warren's hair," said team captain Mike Bullard of the standard rookie initiation rite, "because at his age it might not grow back." Young tallied 40 goals, 72 points and 174 pims in being named to the All-Rookie squad alongside Mario, Tomas Sandstrom and Chris Chelios.
Young was a free agent once again however following his terrific rookie year. He would jump at the big money and sign with the Red Wings. He perhaps under estimated the importance of playing along side one of the greatest scorers of all-time, as he would tally only 22 goals and 46 points for an awful Detroit squad. The Wings gave up on him and dealt him back to Pittsburgh for cash in October of 1986. Young would play parts of the next two seasons with the Pens scoring only 8 goals in 57 games. In 1987/88 while playing 60 games for the IHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks he would manage 25 goals as well as a goon-like 325 penalty minutes.
Young was out of hockey, save for a brief four game stint in 1994 with the Pittsburgh Phantoms of the Roller Hockey League scoring 4 points and 20 pims. He coached Louisville of the ECHL for seven seasons until 1998.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bjorn Johansson, the next Borje Salming


Bjorn Johansson was the fifth overall selection in the 1976 NHL amateur draft by the California Seals. A 20 year old defenseman, Johansson was coming off a 30 goal, 51 point season in the Swedish League with Orebro IK. He had been named to the World Junior tournament all-star team that year and had scouts comparing him to the recent Swedish grad, Borje Salming. Johansson was thought so highly of, he was drafted two spots ahead of Hall of Famer Bernie Federko as well as contrymen Kent Nilsson and Thomas Gradin. He also was selected ahead of fellow defensemen, Reed Larson, Randy Carlyle, Mike McEwen and Rick Green.
Johansson would of course never play for the Seals, nobody ever would again as that summer the team would transfer to Cleveland becoming the Barons. He would barely play for the Barons either, counting a mere 15 games and two points over two seasons. He collected 24 and 25 points in consecutive years in the minors before heading back to Sweden.
Johansson reverted to his scoring ways back in the land of Tre Kronor, playing and excelling until 1989.
Bjorn Johansson wasn’t even the worst draft pick by California/Cleveland that year. In round two they selected the much heralded Vern Stenlund who had just scored 119 points for the London Knights. He would notch four games that year for Cleveland before injuries forced him to sit out two seasons. Stenlund came back in 1980/81 to play in Norway scoring 36 goals in 36 games only to retire for good soon after.
As well that year the Seals selected future Sabres GM Darcy Regier and future Mario Lemieux line mate Warren Young who wouldn’t make the big-time for over six years.
That story next….

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bobby Lu, Lowest Career Playoff GAA


Roberto Luongo is currently in the midst of only the second playoff season of his career. Including 2007 he has now played in fifteen career playoff games, not a substantial amount, but a fair sized sample from which to gauge his performance. Luongo’s career playoff Goals Against Average is a miniscule 1.64. This number is the the best of any modern tender since 1945. All-time, Luongo is only bettered by Alec Connell, Charlie Gardiner and Lorne Chabot all of whom retired in the mid 1930’s.
The only other modern era goalies who have bettered a 2.00 GAA in 15 or more playoff games are Ilya Bryzgalov (16 gp, 1.68), Patrick Lalime (41 gp, 1.77), Turk Broda (46gp, 1.84), Gerry McNeil (35 gp, 1.89) and Martin Brodeur (172 gp, 1.96)….quite an eclectic group indeed. Bryzgalov had a somewhat surprising run taking over for JS Giguere in 2006 and played five games in winning the ’07 Cup. Patrick Lalime led Ottawa to a final appearance yet owns a mere 21-20 W/L record. Turk Broda was an all-time legend and won five Cups with the Leafs. Gerry McNeil won the 1953 Cup with the Canadiens yet is perhaps better known as the goalie who allowed Bill Barilko’s OT Cup winner the year before. Then there’s Marty Brodeur, still at the top of his game and possesser of three Stanley Cups.
Where will Roberto Luongo end up amongst this group of six? Perhaps he will join the legends Broda and Brodeur with multiple Cups. He could end up a perennial playoff underachiever like Lalime or he could sneak away with one Cup yet not quite reach the upper echelon status like Bryzgalov and McNeil.
Right about now, I’d say Canuck fans would be extremely pleased if he were to only achieve the latter.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals Competitiveness

I was recently reading a book on the WHA and specifically the 1978 Avco Cup finals. The Winnipeg Jets swept the New England Whalers by scores of 4-1, 5-2, 10-2 and 5-3. This works out to an average margin of victory of four goals each game, which seems like a very non-competitive series. The fact that the series was a sweep must make this one of the least competitive final series in hockey history. The goal differential would be a good way to decide this, as well the length of the series itself would be the other factor in deciding how competitive it was. I decided on a formula of Avg Goal Differential multiplied by the Length of Series Factor. If a series went the full distance of seven (or five games prior to 1939) I assigned a one to series length, if it went one game short of full, I assigned a two continuing on to a sweep in a seven game series being assigned a four in series length. The lower the number here, the longer the series went, and hence the more competitive it was.
The chart below lists the most and least competitive finals series using my formula.


That 1978 WHA final does indeed hold up as the biggest "blowout" final ever. In fact the WHA holds four of the top five spots in the non-competitive chart. The closest WHA final was in 1977 which actually had the highest margin of victory average in hockey history. Winnipeg and Quebec combined for an average goal difference of 4.71 per game.
The Jets won games by 6-1 and 12-3 and the Nords won by 6-1, 8-3 and 8-2. The only reason this wasn't the least competitive series ever was the fact it went seven, with each team taking turns dominating the other.

The least competitive Stanley Cup final was 1970 Boston vs St.Louis with an average margin of victory of 3.25 goals. This may put Bobby Orr's memorable winner into a slightly different light. The Oilers first Cup win in 1984 rates high on the chart and served as retribution for the Isles beating up the Oilers the year prior.

On the competitive side, the best score a series could achieve is a 1.00 which represents a series that goes the distance and every game is decided by one goal. Three pre-modern era series came close while the most competitive modern era series was 1964 Toronto over Detroit with five of the games being decided by one goal, and only the last game decided by more than two.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the two recent finals featuring Tampa & Calgary and Carolina & Edmonton were among the most competitive ever, both went seven games and each had four of the games decided by one goal.

Only three final series have had each game decided by only one goal, 1927 Ottawa & Boston, 1951 Toronto & Montreal and 1968 Montreal & St.Louis. Each of these series went far from the maximum to negate the closeness of the individual games.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Canadian NHL teams, No Cups since '93


Pretty much once a week, myself and three or four friends of mine will get into heated email debates about hockey, usually about the virtues of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. Most often the Canuck “fans” in our group will bash the Leafs for not having made the Stanley Cup Finals even once since 1967, and they will extol the virtues of the ‘Nucks and the fact that they have been to the finals a whole two times since their inception. Our retort as Leaf lovers is to chastise this “celebration of losing” and failure to close the big one. Once in a while, a Canadiens, Oilers, Flames or Sens fan or two will be included in our ridiculous arguments, backing their squads. I recently decided to compare these six Canadian NHL teams in raw numbers. I chose to look at each franchise’s records since a Canadian team last won the Cup, that of course being Montreal in 1993. The winning of the Cup is the ultimate goal for any team and fan and this would trump any dispute between fans.


As the chart shows, somewhat surprisingly (even for me) the Leafs come out on top in both regular season winning percentage and playoff rounds won. Ottawa is at a slight disadvantage having been an expansion team in 1993, but that matters not to me. One could say each and every Canadian team has had an expansion-like roster at some point or another over the last fifteen seasons…the Leafs time being currently.
The Canucks having reached one of their two “magical” Finals in ’94 have won a mere three playoff series in the last thirteen seasons since their run. Other than the two finals runs by the Alberta teams, Edmonton has won two series, and Calgary an embarrassing zero rounds since 1994.

As a point of comparison, I added Tampa Bay to the list. The ‘Ning with their Cup win in 2004 a distant memory have only one other playoff series win aside from that year. They are 229 points behind Toronto since 1994 and have a miserable winning percentage of .446. I as a Leaf fan, and I’m sure most of my friends as well would surely trade a far superior regular season record for even one Stanley Cup victory. I just hope I’m not waiting another forty odd years.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Most Goals, none on the Powerplay

There was a pretty cool stat on the Canucks game broadcast tonight; Alex Burrows is far and away leading the league in most goals scored without collecting one on the power play. With 27 goals scored he is six ahead of Calgary’s Rene Bourque who in turn is five ahead of Carolina’s Chad Larose at 16. In fact Burrows is now forth all-time for most goals in a season without a PPG.

Doug Smail makes the top ten twice with 25 goals two years after his 31. He would later score 25 again while scoring only one on the powerplay. The Jets of 84/85 had the fifth best powerplay in the NHL led by the likes of Dale Hawerchuk, Paul MacLean, Thomas Steen and Brian Mullen. They were anchored by Dave Babych and Randy Carlyle who notched six PPG’s each. Smail would go on to tally 210 career goals with only six of them on the powerplay!
Mike Donnelly of the Kings would parlay his big year into far more powerplay time the following year than Smail received. Donnelly scored 29 goals again in 92/93, this time notching eight of them on the powerplay.
The late 70’s Bruins were in the post-Espo and Orr era. Led by Don Cherry, they managed to succeed by spreading the scoring around. In 1977/78 when Stan Jonathan scored 27 goals and no PPG, the team leaders among forwards were Terry O’Reilly, Gregg Sheppard and Peter McNab with only 5 PPG each. Jonathan would actually not score a powerplay goal through the next three seasons until 1981. 77/78 was the year the Bruins set the record with eleven 20 goal men, Jean Ratelle scored 25 with only 3 PPG, Rick Middleton scored 25 with 2 PPG and Wayne Cashman and Bob Miller had one PPG each with 24 and 20 goals respectively. Cleary, Jonathan wasn’t out of the ordinary on that squad. The Bruins would finish 12th of 18 teams on the powerplay but still garnered 113 points.
They would improve slightly to 9th the following year when John Wensink scored 28 without a PPG. Cashman, Ratelle and Middleton would all score at least ten goals on the powerplay. Wensink, like Jonathan would go at least two more seasons before scoring a PPG in 1980.
Bob Errey’s 26 powerplay-less goals in 88/89 came on the greatest powerplay team in history. The Pens scored an amazing 119 PPG’s that season, led by Mario’s 31, Rob Brown’s 24 and Dan Quinn’s 16. Much like Wensink, Jonathan and Smail, Errey would continue his non powerplay ways. In the next three years, he would collect 20, 20 and 19 goals without even one with the man advantage!
This leaves us with Burrows. One would think that he will sooner than later be rewarded with more time on the powerplay. The fact that Burrows in second on the Canucks in goals scored (3 behind Daniel Sedin); I don’t believe he will go two or three seasons more without a powerplay goal.

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