Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Crosby & Gretzky

Today is a perfect time to further compare the current exploits of Sidney Crosby to the greatness of, not that Gretzky above, the mullet-laden one below (I'll take any chance I can to put a picture of Paulina on the Den).
Anyway rather than look at the streaks of each, I wanted to further examine just the raw season stats.
Sid has now played 38 games and tallied 32 goals and 33 assists. In 1981/82, after Wayner had played 38 games he had 45 goals and 57 assists. Of course, the next game he went out and ventilated Pete Peeters and the Flyers for 5 goals and a helper. At first glance it's obvious that Gretz's 102 points in 38 games blows Sid's 65 out of the water. I am here however to provide more than a "first glance", that's where the calculator comes in.
We all know that a straight-up comparison of different eras doesn't give a clear picture, especially the free-wheeling early '80s versus today's game. Over the entire 1981/82 season each and every game produced an average of 8.03 goals per match, today the average is 5.61/game. If we want to look at the numbers they have to be put on a level field.
Scoring today is almost exactly 70% than that of 1981/82's rate. If Gretzky's first half of that season is equated into today's rate of scoring it translates into 31 goals, 40 assists for 71 points in 38 games. Gretz still leads Sid by six points, but Sid actually is scoring at a comparitively better rate. I distinctly remember following as a kid the progress of Gretzky's run to 50 in 39, (I still have the scrapbook of newspaper clippings I kept) so to watch Crosby collect goals and points as he is now is that much more impressive and fascinating to me.
One other weird thing about Crosby's last calendar year is the amazing increase in his goals/game average. Over the first 330 games of his career (up until Jan 1, 2010) his goal rate was 0.470/GP and assist rate was 0.879/GP. Since the beginning of 2010, he has now played 78 games and tallied 60 goals, 66 assists and 126 points. His assist rate is pretty much the same at 0.846/GP but his goals have increase almost by almost two-thirds to 0.769/GP. This is no small sample size either. How does a guy who was already a superstar increase his goal scoring by that much? Was it the Olympic spotlight that spawned the goal scoring spurt, or is it the HBO camera's following him around for the last few months? Whatever it is, it is ridiculously impressive.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Don Simmons, 1962 Cup Winner

On this evenings' Leaf broadcast, play by play man Joe Bowen offered his condolences for the recent passing of ex-Leaf goalie Don Simmons. The strange thing about that is the fact that Simmons actually passed away this past September. Apparently it was his wish that the news be kept low key. Simmons was a solid back up for most of his NHL career as well as a terrfic minor leaguer. He produced 321 professional wins over 18 seasons including 101 in the big leagues.

In January of 1957 he made his NHL debut with Boston when he was purchased from Springfield of the AHL. The Bruins Terry Sawchuk would be out for the remainder of the year with "nervous exhaustion". 25 year old Simmons filled in admirably going 13-9-4 with 2.42 GAA. He then lead them past the first place Red Wings before losing four games to one to Montreal in the final.
The following year Simmons shared the net duties with Harry Lumley and once again led the B's to the finals. His 2.41 regular season GAA was third in the circuit and he improved to 2.24 in 11 post season tilts. 1958/59 was Smmons only season as undisputed starter. playing 58 games. However by the time the playoff rolled around, Harry Lumley had usurped Simmons as starter and played every game in a first round loss to Toronto.
In January of 1961 Simmons was traded to the Leafs and served as Johnny Bower's main back-up for three years. In 1962/63 he actually led the NHL with a 2.46 GAA while playing 28 games.
It was in the spring of 1962 when Don Simmons proved instrumental in Toronto's first Stanley Cup victory in eleven years. He had played a mere 9 games in relief of the "China Wall" Bower but had to step into game four of the finals when the old vet went down with a leg injury.
Simmons played the final 45 minutes of a 4-1 loss to Chicago after Bower was injured making a save on Bobby Hull. He was in civilian clothes in the stands when summoned to fill in, and the final five minutes of the first were added onto the start of the second allowing Simmons time to get dressed. When the series returned to Toronto for game five there was thoughts of freezing Bower's leg to get him between the pipes,but Simmons was called again and stopped 26 of 30 shots in 8-4 Leaf win.
In game six Simmons earned his keep in stopping 20 of 21 shots allowing only a 3rd period Bobby Hull marker. Don Simmons finished the three finals games with two wins, one loss and an average of 2.91, and was the man in charge of the twine-tent when the Leaf's "curse of Barilko" was broken.
That would be Simmons' last ever NHL playoff match as he would play bits of three seasons with the Rangers backing up Ed Giacomin. Simmons would post years of 35 and 38 victories in the minors before retiring at the age of 37. Born in Port Colborne, Ont in 1931, Don Simmons was 69 years old.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Spengler Cup, Familiar faces

The Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland kicks off today. I have always been somewhat interested in this tournament due to some of the names that resurface. Also, the rink in Davos is a spectacular looking facility that looks great on TV. Team Canada is usually a cobbled together "all-star" squad of players toiling away in the Swiss League. A look at this year's rosters seems to show even more recognizable names than normal.

Moscow Spartak
Dominik Hasek,12-16-3, 2.68, 3 SO
One month shy of his 46th birthday, The Dominator continues to ply his trade for the sub.500 KHL squad.
Branko Radivojevic, 38-5-16-21
His third year in the KHL after scoring 120 points in 393 NHL games. Last season he
finished 7th in league scoring with 54 points.
SKA St.Petersburg
Mattias Weinhandl, 37-18-19-37
The ex-Islander and Wild sits 5th in KHL scoring the same spot he finished last year with 60 points.
Alexei Yashin, 35-11-14-25
After finishing 3rd in scoring, two points off the lead last year, it appears old man time has started to catch up with the 37 year old.
Maxim Afinogenov, 37-9-15-24
Not quite the season that was expected of a guy who had 61 points for the Thrashers last year.
Geneva Servette
Brian Pothier, 30-4-17-21
Veteran of 362 NHL games including Washington and Carolina last year, Pothier is one of the top scoring d-men in the Swiss circuit.
Richard Park, 31-12-12-24
34 year old vet of 684 NHL matches played the last four seasons with the New York Islanders.
Sparta Prague
David Vyborny, 34-6-6-12
The 35 year old is playing for Sparta Praha for his tenth total season of the last nineteen. He played seven full years with the Columbus Blue Jackets scoring 317 points in 543 games.
HC Davos
Reto Von Arx, 36-14-22-36
In his fifteenth season with Davos Von Arx had one year stint with Chicago and their farm team Norolk in 2000-01. Other than that, he is a consitent point-per-game producer in the Swiss league.
Mark Bell, 36-13-8-21, Kloten
Back to back 20 goal seasons for Chicago in the mid-2000s, Bell is in his second year playing in Europe.
Josh Holden, 29-13-24-37, Zug
Ex-Canuck and Leaf, in his sixth season as a consistent top scorer in the Swiss league.
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, 4-5-2, 3.34, Oklahoma City AHL
He of 48 NHL games last year is on loan from the Oilers farm team.
Martin Kariya, 25-4-12-16, Ambri-Piotta
The 29 year old undrafted brother of Paul Kariya is in his third year playing in Europe after scorin 53 points in the AHL in 2007-08.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Johnny Bower and Honky the Christmas Goose

Exactly 45 years ago, Maple Leaf goaltender Johnny Bower was approached by a CBC producer to make a Christmas record. Although hesitant, he soon recorded Honky the Christmas Goose with the help of his nine year old son Johnny Jr. and some neighbourhood kids. The record sold 40,000 copies during Christmas 1965, the proceeds of which were donated to charity.

The Christmas break in the NHL is a good time look back on the year that was. The following are the top NHL scorers from last years Christmas break to now. (GP-G-A-PTS)

Sidney Crosby 80-58-65-123

Steven Stamkos 80-57-51-108

Henrik Sedin 78-21-87-108

Daniel Sedin 77-39-66-105

Alex Ovechkin 80-38-66-104

Martin St.Louis 80-36-62-98

Niklas Backstrom 82-29-64-93

Brad Richards 80-30-59-89

Alex Semin 79-44-43-87

Eric Staal 76-39-46-85

The 123 points would represent a career season for Crosby, and Ovechkin's 38 goals would be by far his lowest full-season total.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Old Man Point Producers

Teemu Selanne is a pretty special player, has been for a long time. What he's doing this season however is almost unprecedented. Only two men in the history of the NHL have scored at least a point per game in a season in which they were at least 40 years of age. Teemu is well on his way to becoming the third.

Selanne turned 40 this past July and has played 29 games for Anaheim this season. He has 32 points for 1.10 points per game. The first man to accomplish this was Gordie Howe in 1968/69 at 40 years even. He scored an amazing 103 points in 76 games for 1.36 Pts/GP. Howe would go on to score almost 700 more points in the NHL and WHA combined.

The second and last man to score at a point-per-game clip as a 40 year old was Johnny Bucyk of Boston in 1975/76 who was also exactly 40. The Chief scored 83 points in 77 games, at 1.08 Pts/GP just behind Selanne's rate. Bucyk almost repeated his productivity the following year with 43 points in 49 games before falling off the pace in his last year.

As for Selanne, who knows if he plays even next year. It's obvious he is still quite capable of playing at a high level.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lynn Zimmerman, Goalie Assist Machine

Years before Grant Fuhr set the NHL mark with 14 goalie assists in 1983/84, a minor league tender accomplished the same feat...and he almost matched it the following year as well.

5"8" Lynn Zimmerman from Fort Erie, Ontario began his professional career in 1966/67 with the Eastern League Charlotte Checkers and was a Second Team All-Star. He played most of the next eight years in the AHL, mainly with Rochester. By 1975/76 he was in the North American Hockey League with the Erie Blades. He had 30 wins in 54 games, and more impressively he also had 13 assists. He also spent three weeks filling in for the soon-to-fold Denver/Ottawa WHA team where he garnered another helper.

Apparently Zimmerman was so able and active with the puck, Erie coach Nick Polano devised a breakout plan around him. "This year Nick put in a system where I handle the puck instead of the defenseman. We work on it in practice everyday. When the other team comes in after the puck we just break out and trap them." says Zimmerman in the March 19, '76 issue of Hockey News. Imagine a goalie today making the first pass as a defenseman does. The issue also states that he once collected three assists in one AHL game. Jeff Reese, with Calgary in Feb, 1993. is the only other pro goalie to accomplish this.

The following year with Erie, he collected another 12 assists for a two season total of 26. He would finish up his career the following season in the WHA with the Houston Aeros.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fed Up with Phil

I had my first chance to see Phil Kessel play in person last night. I sat 13 rows above Luongo's left side in the corner for two periods and had a terrific angle on most of the Leaf "chances" as well as the deciding 2-0 Vancouver goal in the second. The Canucks (rather lackadaisically) beat the Leafs 4-1 in a game in which the entertainment value was derived mainly from the atmosphere in the crowd. The Leafs simply do not have the talent to compete effectively against an elite team such as Vancouver, especially with Phil Kessel playing well below his potential. I'm starting to lean more towards the thinking that what we're seeing in fact is his full potential, and that makes me sad and angry.

Kessel certainly has dynamic hockey skills, great speed and a terrific shot. These are displayed far too infrequently however to have much of an impact on a game. His one move on a rush, the "outside/inside toe-drag" works far less than half the time. It worked once last night on Dan Hamhuis (0:24 mark on video below) but led to a weak back-handed attempt that Luongo turned aside easily. Kessel ended up with six shots on goal while playing 19:25. More importantly he finished with a minus 2 rating. His worst display was on the back-breaker 2-0 Vancouver goal which I saw unfold as it happened.

Kessel made a simply awful fly-by on a puck just inside the offensive zone (awful even for Rec beer league hockey) with the intimidating Jeff Tambellini closing in on him. (1:35 mark below, top of the screen) and leaves Luke Schenn hung out to dry. Tamby simply chips it past Schenn as Kessel falls on his own into the boards. Four seconds later it's in the back of the net. How he just allows this puck to be picked up unmolested is beyond my comprehension.

Kessel is the type of purely offinsive minded player that has little care for his own end but admittedly should be surrounded with players of slightly better quality. Bozak and Versteeg are not first-liners, sorry Burkie. This being the case, Kessel absolutely needs to produce when his chances present themselves...and any defensive consciousness would be welcomed.

On another note regarding last night's affair. It really is mind-boggling how Roberto Luongo received the First Star selection. He made perhaps 3 or 4 above average saves, and bobbled at least twice as many shots. The Grabovski goal over his glove hand simply should have been stopped. Oh well, another example of home town bias.

So, Toronto hasn't won in Vancouver since before the lockout, yet myself and many other Leafs still attend. It's getting to the point where we as Leaf fans are made to look like idiots for caring so much when it seems the teams' management and star player have minimal concern for the continuing ineptitude.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Just Missed All-Stars

I recently came across the official, end of season All-Star voting results from the late 1970's onward. It's interesting to look at the numbers to see where players were ranked and how the All-Star votes compared to individual Trophy voting.

Back in 1988 there was some strange voting for the Goaltender All-Stars and the Vezina voting.
Grant Fuhr won the Vezina and was named First Team All-Star by collecting 297 voting points, Patrick Roy was voted to the Second Team with a distant 64 points. In the Vezina voting, for some reason, Roy didn't fare as well. Fuhr won again going away with 78 points over second place Tom Barrasso (22 points) and third place Kelly Hrudey (17 points). Roy somehow only garnered 2 second place and 2 third place votes for 8 points total to finish EIGHTH overall in Vezina voting. Also finishing ahead of him was Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck, Rejean Lemelin and Roy's teammate Brian Hayward. Puzzling.

The 1983/84 season proved to be one of the more difficult ever to choose the best goaltender.
Sure, Tom Barrasso was both the Vezina winner and First Team All-Star but what a tight vote it was. In a four man race, try choosing the best netminder out of these numbers;

Tom Barrasso 26-12-3, 2.84
Rejean Lemelin 21-12-9, 3.50
Pat Riggin, 21-14-2, 2.66
Al Jensen, 25-13-3, 2.91

This was the same order of Vezina Trophy voting, their vote totals were 42, 39, 37 and 37.
The All-Star voting had Riggin and Lemelin reversed and the four vote totals were 141, 131, 104 and 100.

Another incident of strange voting was for Norris Trophy in 1982/83 when Rod Langway won the first of his back-to-back. Although Langway won the Norris 180 votes to 155 over Mark Howe, he was well behind in the All-Star voting. Howe collected 262 All-Star points to Langway's 228.

Another neat thing to look at is players who almost were voted First or Second All-Stars, but never actually made it.

In 1980/81 Mike Bossy ran away with the Right Wing voting getting 299 points. Dave Taylor gained 85 points for Second Team just ahead of Wayne Babych's 71. This would be as close as Babych would ever get to being an All-Star.

Newly elected Hall-of-Famer Dino Ciccarelli came close twice to being a Second All-Star. In 1981/82 he was third in voting behind Mike Bossy and Rick Middleton. Even though Dino had 55 goals and 106 points to Middleton's 51 goals, 94 points it was Middleton who got two first place votes. Overall he had 102 voting points to Dino's 64.

Ciccarelli was slightly closer in 1986/87 when he finished third by 25 points, this time to Jari Kurri and Tim Kerr. That year, he finished sixth in the league in points with 103 but his 52 goals was 6 behind Kerr.
Craig Hartsburg came extremely close to being an All-Star in 81/82 when he finished fifth in voting just behind Brian Engblom (108 points to 112). Hartsburg actually received 14 first place votes, more than both Second Teamers, Paul Coffey and Engblom. In the past I discussed the selection of Engblom as an All-Star.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A 12 point night

The Toronto Star recently had an in depth article detailing the Greater Metro Hockey League, and more specifically the Shelburne Red Wings. The GMHL labels itself as a Junior A (Tier II)league but is not officially sanctioned by Hockey Canada. The main reason for Hockey Canada's disapproval is the extremely unconventional route most teams went in filling their rosters. In the small town of Shelburne about an hour northwest of Toronto, the Red Wings 22 man roster consists of 19 Russian-born players.

The management of the team outwardly recruited in Russia, offering Russian youngsters a chance to develop their careers in Canada. Shelburne isn't the only team ignoring Hockey Canada's rules about Canadian content on their roster. Bobcaygeon has 11 Europeans on it's roster and the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jets have 23 Americans, 2 Russians and a Kazak on it's Canadians. The Eliot Lake Bobcats have 7 Americans, 7 Slovaks and 2 players born in France and Bradford has only 3 Canadians to go with 18 Europeans.

The Shelburne experiment appears to be working fairly well too. In the thirteen team league Shelburne sits fourth overall with a 15-9-1 record. More impressively is the fact they sport the leagues top two point a ridiculous margin. 17 year olds Alexander Nikulnikov and Stanislav Dzakhov, both from Moscow have 84 and 83 points respectively in 25 games. The GMHL's third place scorer has 52 points. As well, Shelburne has scored a total of 129 goals on the season meaning these two have each garnered a point on almost two-thirds of the team's goals.

Understandably, the overall talent level in the GMHL may not be the greatest, but these two are impressive non-the-less. This past Friday Dzakhov did something that is impressive in ANY league. In a 13-8 win over the Algoma Avalanche he scored 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points. His pal Nikulnikov had a mere 9 points with 5 goals. Last month the Columbus Blue Jackets were inquiring about the 6' 1", 205 lb Dzakhov, perhaps there will be more interest soon in this "renegade" league.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


As the WikiLeaks scandal unfolds, Nitzy's Hockey Den has just as damaging revelations that the hockey world would rather keep secret. Through a network of spies, moles and informants I present...NitzyLeaks.

1. Brian Burke has a secret 40% ownership stake in the Boston Bruins.

2. Henrik Sedin and Tanner Glass have a personal bet on who scores more goals this season, loser has to wash Luongo's Trans-Am

3. Marc Savard has removed Colin Campbell from his Christmas card list.

4. Ilya Kovalchuk is being paid 6.6 million a year to acurately impersonate the scoring talents of long gone Lou Lamoriello favourite, Hector Marini.

5. The entire Maple Leafs roster has vowed to not score goals while Jonas Gustavsson is in net, all goals are purely accidental. They apparently don't think too much of Giggy either.

6. Mike Green is so intent on winning a Norris Trophy he has decided to score just like Rod Langway.

7. This past summer, Tim Thomas broke into the Hockey Hall of Fame and stole the goalie pads of George Hainsworth.

8. Dustin Byfuglien doesn't need to be in an opponent's crease to score goals.

9. Gary Bettman plans on moving the Coyotes to Brantford, Ont. where they will be coached by Keith Gretzky.

10. In true HBO fashion, the Pens and Caps will engage in an expletive laden, yet darkly comedic gunfight during the first intermission of the Winter Classic.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crosby's Dominance

As of the morning of Dec.9 Sid the Kid has scored a point in 17 consecutive games in which he has scored 35 points, just over 2 points per game. He has tallied 50 points in 30 games, 10 clear of second place Steven Stamkos.
Almost as impressive is the fact that after he started this year with only 3 points in his first 5 games, Crosby now has counted 47 points in 25 games. This works out to 1.88 points per match. If he were to continue at that pace over the remaining 52 games he will finish with 148 points while Stamkos is on pace for 117 points. This would be the largest margin for a scoring leader since the days of the original Kid, Gretzky.
If Crosby is to win a scoring title by at least 30 points (remember, Ovechkin has been fairly quiet still so far) it would be the first time since Gretzky had 163 points to Brett Hull's 131 in 1990/91.
Of course if he does end up scoring 148 points or anywhere near that many, that will be the real impressive story. Remember, nowadays goals are much more harder to come by than they were even 20 years ago. Today, each NHL game averages 5.59 goals while in 1990/91 the average was 6.91. Crosby's projected 148 would equate to 183 at 1991 scoring levels. If we take his season back to 1985/86 when the NHL average was 7.94 goals per game, his 148 becomes 210.
85/86 of course was the year Gretzky scored his record 215 points. Safe to say, the current season is only a third of the way through, but what Crosby is currently doing is fairly historic.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ilya Kovalchuk, The Worst Season in History?

Is New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk in the midst of the worst single season for a forward in NHL history? At his current pace, he will finish with 79 games, 16 goals, 19 assists, 35 points and a minus 47 +/- rating. If so, he will be only the 12th man in history to have 16 or less goals and a +/- so low (remember +/- didn't become an official stat until 1967). A truly awful season for Kovy, especially considering the money he is getting paid.

Below are a few more seasons that would be in the running for worst all-time.

Jude Drouin,
Winnipeg Jets 1979/80
78-8-16-24, -38

At 31 years old in 79/80, Drouin was near the end of the line and would indeed play only 7 more games the following season. Drouin had just three years prior tallied 24 goals, and the year before 62 points. He topped out with 27 goals and 73 points in 72/73.

Eddie Joyal,
Los Angeles & Philadelphia 1971/72
70-14-7-21, -43

This would be Joyal's last year in the NHL after having seasons of 33 goals one year and 57 points another with the Kings. He jumped to the WHA in 72/73 and spent the last four years of his career with the Alberta/Edmonton Oilers.

Alexandre Daigle,
Ottawa 1995/96
50-5-12-17, -30
The first overall pick a mere two years prior to this clunker of a season, Daigle was at this point well on his way to fashioning what very well may be one of the worst careers ever in NHL history.
Pat Boutette,
Pittsburgh 1983/84
73-14-26-40, -58
Boutette had scored the previous three years 28, 27 and 23 goals. In 83/84 he would record the third worst +/- rating by a forward in NHL history. He would retire after 47 games the following year.
Dwight Foster,
Colorado 1981/82
70-12-19-31, -53
Foster had tallied 24 goals and 52 points with the Bruins the previous year before this clunker. He would also score 17 with a +/- of only -9 the next year. Must have just had some real bad luck in '82.
Bob Bourne,
Los Angeles 1987/88
72-7-22-18, -31
A once integral part of a Cup dynasty, Bourne had three 30 goal years with the Isles and had scored 17 just two years before this, the last one of his career.
Johan Garpenlov,
Atlanta 1999/00
73-2-14-16, -30
This one may be the actual worst of all-time...2 (TWO) goals for a guy who had scored 18 as a rookie with Detroit and years of 22, 18 and 23 with San Jose and Florida. Somehow, Garpenlov was given over 15 minutes of ice time per game this season.
Brian Sutter,
St. Louis 1977/78
78-9-13-22, -38
Sure he was only 21 years old this season and sure the Blues were pretty awful this year but for a guy who would score 41 the following year, this one is simply brutal.

Merlin Malinowski
New Jersey & Hartford 1982/83
80-8-25-33, -40
This one has it all, a player who scored 25 goals just two years earlier notching a mere 8 in 80
games. Plus he had a -40 rating. This would be Merlin's last NHL season at the age of 24 as he went to Switzerland and played until he was 31. He even represented Canad in the 1988 Olympics.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leaf woes....the numbers

As awful as the Leafs have been recently, (and they have been awful) it's probably only going to get worse before it gets the near future and distant future.
Here's a look at a few numbers:
  • over their last four losses their opponents collective Winning Pct. entering each game was .473, Leafs were outscored 15-4.
  • their next five games are against teams with a collective Win Pct. of .667
  • Leafs have only one more point after 24 games this season than last season, at this point last year they reeled off 6 wins in the next 9 games.
  • they have been shutout 6 times in the last 16 games after being blanked only 4 times all last year.
  • since starting this year with 4 wins, the Leafs have gone 4-12-4, they have scored 1.75 goals/game and allowed 3.05. If the last 20 games is a true indication of this team and they continue at this pace the Leafs will finish with 55 points this season. That would be the worst record since the heyday's of John Brophy in 1987/88

At least, after finishing that poorly in 1988 they were able to draft such re-building blocks as Scott Pearson, Tie Domi, Peter Ing and Ted...Crowley and Len...ummm...Esau...good lord, they truly have been a mess for my entire life.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Connie Poitras

Conrad "Connie" Poitras never played in the NHL and played only one season in the AHL, but over his ten year career he became the only man in history to play on a minor league squad with both Gordie Howe AND Jean Beliveau.

Born in Quebec City in 1924 he played junior with the Verdun Terriers in 1943/44 scoring 18 points in 14 games. The next season was his only spent in the AHL with the Indianapolis Capitols. He scored 16 points in 56 games while playing in front of future Hall of Fame goalie Harry Lumley. His teammate calibre increased even more the next year with the Omaha Knights of the USHL. Fresh off the farm was a 17 year old Gordon Howe who tallied 48 points in 51 games on his way to becoming a legend.

After two more years in the USHL he joined the San Diego Skyhawks of the PCHL. In 1948/49 Poitras scored 30 goals, 52 points in 65 games and led the playoffs in goal scoring with 8 in 14 games as San Diego won the Patrick Cup championship. By 1950/51, Poitras was back home playing for the Quebec Aces of the QMHL. As a teammate he was witness to the very beginning of the professional career of Jean Beliveau. "Le Gros Bill" played one game with the Aces scoring two goals and an assist. Beliveau would lead the Citadelle du Quebec to the Memorial Cup that year, scoring 28 points in 10 games.
Beliveau returned for two more seasons with the Aces, leading the league in goals and points each year before moving to superstardom with the Habs. Poitras would play two more seasons of hockey in lower level pro leagues before retiring at age 29.
He is alive and well today, along with the two legends whose careers he witnessed starting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some Interesting NHL Numbers

As Sidney Crosby has finally caught and passed Steven Stamkos for the overall points lead 40 to 39, the more impressive number is Crosby's point total at even-strength. Sid the Kid is the only player in the league to average at least one even-strength point per game with 26 in 25 matches.
Stamkos is next a full 7 points behind at 19 and the surprising Loui Eriksson and Bobby Ryan are tied at 18 even-strength points.
Poor Johan Gustavsson, despite his 3-6-1 record for the Leafs he sits 11th in the league in save percentage at .917 (among goalies with at least 10 games). In his losses he ranks even higher. Among goalies with at least 6 losses he is 3rd with .908 Save Pct behind Ondrej Pavelec and Tuukka Rask.
Speaking of the Leafs, "1st Line Centre" Tyler Bozak has now gone 18 games without recording an assist. 18 games, without an assist playing with Phil Kessel who has 6 goals over that span.
In Colorado, rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has quietly tallied 10 points in 12 games and averaged over 20 minutes per game since being called up in early November. He has 4 goals and 9 points in his last 6 games and now sits tied for tenth in rookie scoring, one off the lead for defensemen while playing half as many games. Perhaps Shattenkirk is a darkhorse Calder Trophy candidate...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Team Canada, The forgotten ones

I recently picked up a copy of Canada On Ice - The World Hockey Championships, 1920-2008 by Dave Holland and have been somewhat surprised at some of the relative unknowns that have represented Canada in the past. Upon returning to the World Championships in 1977, there has always been a slight struggle to field the best team possible with players often declining invitations. This has lead to some slightly less than world-calibre names being selected to past squads.

Trevor Johansen, 1979
Defenseman, Trevor Johansen was a smallish (5' 9") first round selection of Toronto in 1977. A product of the Toronto Marlies system he never scored more than 39 points in a junior season but was a First Team All-Star in 1977. We was also added to the St.Catherines Fincups team that represented Canada in the 1977 World Junior Championships.
He notched 16 points in a full rookie season with the Leafs in 77/78 and was traded with Don Ashby to Colorado for Paul Gardner near the end of the following season. He got the call to Moscow for the 1979 Championships replacing injured Rockies teammate Barry Beck and scored 2 goals and an assist in 8 games as Canada finished a distant fourth.
David Shand, 1978 & 1979
Another first round selected defenseman from the Ontario Juniors, Shand was taken 8th overall by Atlanta in 1976. A solid stay-at-home defender, he would tally 25 and 26 points in his second and third years, each time registering a +23 rating. Shand helped Canada to a Bronze medal in Prague in 1978 playing all 10 games with 3 assists chipped in. The next year he went pointless in 7 matches.
Pat Ribble, 1978
A teammate of Shand in Atlanta and in Prague, Pat Ribble also played all 10 games in the 1978 tourney going scoreless. He had scored 17 points for the Flames and was traded to Chicago the next year in a blockbuster that also involved Tom Lysiak, Ivan Boldirev and Darcy Rota.
Phil Sykes, 1986
Sykes was a college sniper at the University of North Dakota and signed with the Kings as a free agent in 1982. After two fairly productive AHL years in New Haven he finally cracked the Kings with a 17 goal rookie year in 1984/85. After scoring 20 the next season he represented Canada at the Worlds in Moscow. He played 9 games without a point as Canada won a Bronze medal.

Paul Woods, 1979
A third rounder by Montreal in 1975 after a 119 point season with the Soo Greyhounds, Woods spent the next two years with Nova Scotia in the AHL unable to crack teh greatest team of all-time. He was claimed on waivers by Detroit in 1977 and scored 19 goals, 42 points as a rookie. After the next season he played for team Canada going pointless in 8 games.

Ed Staniowski, 1979
A second round pick by St.Louis in 1975 Staniowski had really only one NHL season as a team's number one goaltender. In 1981/82 he would play 45 games for Winnipeg with a sub-4.00 GAA. He had played for Canada in 1979 after going 9-25-3 for the Blues with a 3.82 average. Combined with Jim Rutherford in net, Canada was demolished in the medal round losing 5 of 6 games against the Soviets, Czechs and Swedes. Staniowski ended up with a 7.13 GAA over 160 minutes of playing time while Rutherford didn't fare much better going 1-5 with a 4.50 GAA.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Struggling Superstars

Some interesting numbers since last year's Olympics, as we have half a season's worth of combined numbers to look at. As some stars such as Crosby and Stamkos are thriving, many have continued a post-Olympic let down into this season.

Since the Games (GP-G-A-Pts);

Alex Ovechkin 40-18-28-46
A full season pace of less than 40 goals, definitely not what we've come to expect from Ovie.

Evgeni Malkin 33-13-19-33
A point per game pace is far below what Malkin produced over his first few seasons.

Jarome Iginla 40-14-15-29
The streaky-one just may finally be coming out of a real cold stretch.

Ilya Kovalchuk 41-13-19-32
Safe to say, not quite what the Devils expected when they signed him long term.

Miikka Kiprusoff 16-19-2 2.77 GAA
His and Calgary's struggles started long before this season started.

Roberto Luongo (including 2010 playoffs) 24-21-4 3.08 GAA
A just over .500 record with a below average GAA is not going to take the Canucks to the promised land.

One other note, over his last 48 regular season games (since Feb 1, 2010) Henrik Sedin has scored a total of 6 goals. Mind you, he also has 52 assists over that time. A 10 goal full season pace which is however somewhat surprising since he started last season with 25 goals in 54 games.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stamkos Last 50 games

After his hat-trick last night Steven Stamkos sits with 19 goals in 19 games. The hockey world is abuzz with speculation that he may have a shot at scoring 50 goals in 50 games. This feat has only been done eight times by five players, the last being Brett Hull almost 20 years ago.

Certainly he has a chance of some sort to accomplish this feat. Let's look at his last 50 total games including last season. In his final 31 games of last year he put up 24 goals and 19 assists for 43 points. Since Jan. 27, 2010 Stamkos has played exactly 50 games and his totals read 43 goals, 35 assists for 78 points. These are fantastic numbers for sure, but as good as they are he still falls seven goals short of 50 in his last 50. In each of their last 50 games played including this season Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have 31 and 30 goals respectively. In fact the next best is Alex Semin with 33 in his last 50.
Of Tampa's next 31 games, 17 are on the road and only 14 at home. This shouldn't be much of a hinderance for Stamkos as he has scored 14 goals in 12 road games so far.
Indeed Stamkos is on a pace all unto his own. Whether or not he can keep it up is the question.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Terry Sawchuk, The Numbers

I recently picked up a cool full-size replica of Terry Sawchuk's goalie mask for my hockey den. It's an exact copy of the one pictured in the above photo. It got me looking deeper into Sawchuk's career stats. He really did have two distinct portions of his career.

The 20 year old Sawchuk came up to Detroit after two solid seasons in the AHL and 4-3 with a 2.29 average and a shutout. Then, for five seasons he was out of this world.
Sawchuk's Goals against average of 1.94 was over half a goal better than the league average and he recorded an amazing 57 shutouts over those five years. Then, the Wings traded him to Boston in favour of an up and coming Glenn Hall. Hall had played the last three seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western League and the Wings wanted him to take over for Sawchuk even though Hall was only two years younger. Sawchuk would play adequately the next season but in January of '57 he left the Bruins due to exhaustion and nerves. He returned to live in Detroit and missed the remainder of the year. Detroit re-aquired him in July of that year for Johnny Bucyk. Sawchuk's career numbers after his initial trade to Boston are rather pedestrian as seen below. His Average is still under the league average, but not by much, and his record was under .500. Even his playoff numbers were the polar opposite of his outstanding first five seasons.
In reality, after the glorious start to his career, Sawchuk became Kirk McLean. Check out McLean's career numbers compared to Sawchuk's final 15 years. McLean's record was slightly worse and his average was as close to over the league average as Sawchuk's was under it.
Sawchuk made only two Second All-Star Teams and finished in the top three in GAA only three times over his last fifteen seasons. McLean garnered one Second Team selection over his 16 seasons. In truth, the numbers Sawchuk put up over his first five years were probably enough alone to have him considered one of the all-time greats. I just find it strange how
the last fifteen years of his career were nowhere near the calibre of his start.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Maple Leaf Gardens Gutted

I spent the past weekend in Ontario visiting family and made my usual pilgrammage to downtown Toronto. Everytime in the city I trek over to Maple Leaf Gardens just to have a look.
Knowing full well that the building is being renovated by Loblaws and Ryerson University I was still surprised by what I saw. The entire street level of the Gardens is boarded up like any other construction site, but I found my way to the only opening. Near the back corner of the building on Church and Wood St. there is a large truck bay that was fully open to view with a couple of security guys on guard. From here one can see clear through to the other walls of the building which had been stripped clear of any signs of seating from the ground to the ceiling.
Thanks to the website we can see that very view (I had forgotten my camera that day).
You can see the angled remnants of the upper grey seating at the far corner. The concrete and steel of the stands have been removed all the way back to the outer wall. The scoreboard has been covered and raised close to the roof to be used in the smaller third floor rink.

What follows is the process that got to the arena to it's current point. The first photo below is from Jan. 2010 and shows the crews beginning to pick away at the seating area. We can see clear into the concourse of the old arena, the very spot where I bought my hot dog and program some thirty years ago.

Below is from March 2010 and shows how the North and South end stands have been removed at this point.

The next photo is from Aug 2010 and nicely shows how the building has been stripped down to it's shell and is merely an indoor construction site. Around the back of the Gardens on Wood St, many of the iconic yellow bricks of the exterior have been removed and stacked in piles for re-use. These were kept behind fencing and away from the likes of souvenir hunters like myself. A brick from the Gardens sure would have looked good in my den. I did however manage to find a few small pieces of these bricks laying around nearby and they'll do just fine.
One area I was able to access during my urban exploring was the small alley on the West side of the Gardens. From the back of the building, behind a portable construction trailer the narrow alley was open and unattended and I stood there looking all the way out to Carlton St. Usually gated, this five foot gap between the Gardens and the hotel beside it was strewn with other pieces of the gutted Gardens. I stood at the opening, leery to enter too deep and risk trespassing. Close to me there was some of the metal window frames from a few of the tall narrow windows like the ones seen in the photo above. If there was any piece of them smaller than the three or four feet they were, I would have grabbed one for my den as well.

Below is what the rink will look like when opened by March of next year. The original roof will be impressively displayed closer to the new ice surface some three stories above the old floor.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don't blame Giggy

Which goaltender has the lowest goals against average so far this season among Canadian born players? Yep, Maple Leaf Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 2.31. The sad truth is that this mark places him only 9th overall among goalies that have started at least 6 games. Next on the Canadian list is Dwayne Roloson at 2.44, Carey Price and Dan Ellis at 2.45, Marty Brodeur at 2.70 and Roberto Luongo at 2.76 checking in at 19th overall. Ahead of Giguere are four Americans, two Finns, a Slovak and a Russian.

Overall as a team, Toronto ranks the same ninth overall in GAA and an atrocious 29th overall in Goals Scored For/ Game. Since the Leafs won their first four games of this season, Giguere has a GAA of 2.48 while going 1-3-2. Over the nine total games the team has scored a grand total of 15 goals.

Over their own last nine games, Vancouver Canuck second liners manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres have combined for 10 goals on their own. This is the difference between good teams and not so good teams, contributions from secondary sources. Toronto's de-facto "first line" of Kessel, Versteeg and Bozak over those nine games have 6 combined goals. As much as Giguere can do, the thing he can't do is score goals.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tony Tanti and the hot start of '83

His record still lives to see another year. The record does not have the lustre of Brodeur's 100 plus shutouts or Gretzky's 51 consecutive game streak but in Canuck-land it's still something to talk about. Daniel Sedin came close this season with points in nine straight games to start the year.
In 1983/84 a 20 year old Tony Tanti had arguably the best start in Canuck history. He scored at least a point in his first eleven games scoring 13 goals and 23 points, this included a streak of scoring at least a goal in each of his first seven. As October, 1983 drew to a close Tanti was actually ahead of Wayne Gretzky in goals with 13 battling Rick Vaive's 14 for the goal scoring lead. The Great One was a mere three points up on Tanti for the point scoring lead.
It's interesting to look at past seasons by segments, especially the high-flying '80s. Many players would have stretches of scoring that were astronomical even by standards of teh mid-80s. Gretzky's next 11 games in 1983/84 were simply mind-numbing. From Oct.29 through Nov. 20 of that season, Tanti would score 7 goals and 10 points in 10 games. Not bad, but not enough to stay in the scoring race, especially with what Gretzky was doing. In his next 11 games, he had games of 8 and 7 points and three of 5 points.

At this point in the season, Gretzky had played 22 games tallying 27 goals, 39 assists and 66 points. Tanti now had a still impressive 20 goals and 33 points after 21 games. He would however come back down to earth soon thereafter with 8 goals and 18 points in his next 17 games.
By the halfway point in the season, Gretzky had taken full control of the scoring race. He was on a pace for almost 230 points and only missing 6 games due to injury may have kept him from his greatest season.

Gretzky scored as 45 goals in his last 35 games, as many as Tanti had for the entire season. It would seem that Tanti woke a sleeping giant in late October by giving Wayner an early run for his money.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oh Canada!

Have a look at the NHL's top ten in points. As of Nov.2, 2010 each and every one of the top ten scorers in the league was born in Canada. Yes that is extremely rare. OK fine, tied at 8th place is Paul Stastny who represents USA internationally, but he was born in Quebec City. Also, Dany Heatley was indeed born in Germany, he plays for Canada. If we really want to break it down, Alex Ovechkin is actually ranked 8th on the strength of more goals scored than Stastny, Heatley and Derek Roy. Even still, the top seven scorers in the NHL being Canadian is an extremely rare occurance.

Steven Stamkos from Markham, Ont, Patrick Sharp from Winnipeg, Chris Stewart of Toronto, Regina's Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton of London, Sidney Crosby of Cole Harbour N.S. and Brad Richards from Murray Harbour PEI are not very likely to all finish one through seven in scoring.
The last time that happened in the NHL was 1990/91 when the top eleven scorers were Canadian...sort of. Second overall Brett Hull was born in Belleville, Ontario but of course played for the US internationally.

So, because Hull should really be considered an American, the last actual time that Canadians thoroughly dominated the scoring leaders was 1979/80. The top twelve scorers from Marcel Dionne and Wayne Gretzky with 137 points to Blair MacDonald and Al McAdam with 94 and 93 were all born and raised in Canada. Only Kent Nilsson in 13th and Mark Howe in 24th kept the Canadians from sweeping the top 35 scorers in the league.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Start of Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas. Five games, five wins, THREE goals against, two shutouts.
With a 0.60 goals against average and a .981 save percentage, Thomas has been nearly perfect. And one of his goals against he put a clearing pass on the stick of Washington's Jason Chimera to lose a shutout. Truly amazing start for the recently over-looked veteran, but exactly how good of a start?

The last Bruin to start a season with even four straight wins was Doug Keans in 1987/88 who went on to lose his fifth start. His 4-1 start included a 2.98 GAA, hardly stellar. The last Bruin to go 5-0 to start a season was Cecil "Tiny" Thompson in 1937/38. His GAA over the five games was 1.40 and he had only one shutout. He would win his sixth game as well, beating Chicago 2-1 and lowering his average to 1.33. For Tim Thomas to raise his GAA to 1.33 next game he would have to allow 5 goals.

A quick look at the first five games of some of the graetest goaltending seasons in NHL history;

George Hainsworth, 1928/29 started with a 2-2-1 record, 2 shutouts and a 1.80 average. His second half that year was simply incredible. In his final 22 games Hainsworth went 14-1-8 with 13 shutouts and GAA of 0.59, the same average Tim Thomas has this season after only five games.

In 1951/52 Terry Sawchuk started 4-1 with a 1.00 GAA and 2 shutouts on route to a 44-14-12 record and 1.90 Avg. In 1955/56 Jacques Plante began 4-0-1 with 2 shutouts and a 1.00 GAA. He would finish the year at 42-12-10 AND 1.86 Avg. Bernie Parent almost exactly duplicate Plante's start in 1951, going 4-1, 1.00 in 1973/74. He ended up 47-13-12, 1.89.

Tim Thomas is certainly in terrific company so far, but where he ends up no-one knows.

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