Friday, May 21, 2010

Ron Hextall and the stolen Conn Smythe Trophy

Ron Hextall did not deserve the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1987....there, I said it. I recently caught game seven of the '87 finals on ESPN Classic, where the Oilers beat the Flyers 3-1. Hextall was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy to the disdain and boos of the Northlands Coliseum. Hextall was (and remains) the fourth player to win the trophy in a losing cause. Even as a teenager following these playoffs as they happened, I thought this was an injustice. Upon further inspection, I believe he only won because he was a rookie, and was the "sexy" pick as opposed to the proper pick.

When looking at his numbers, it's hard to figure why he won. Hextall finished with 15 wins, 11 losses and a GAA of 2.77. Oilers, Grant Fuhr went 14 and 5 with an average of 2.46. I realize that stats cannot tell the whole story, but even if we dig further the award doesn't seem justified. His .908 Save Pct was the same as Fuhr's and tied for third behind Ken Wregget and Kelly Hrudey. Also, Hextall had nine victories in close victories (games decided by two goals or less) while Fuhr had ten such wins.

As well, 1987 proved to be the best defensive team effort for the Oilers during their dynasty, which is even more reason that Fuhr should have won the Smythe. During this post season, the Oilers allowed 2.71 goals per game. Every other post-season between 1983 and 1988, they allowed between 2.95 and 3.13 goals per game.

On top of this, Wayne Gretzky could have also been awarded the Conn Smythe on the strength of the third most assists in NHL playoff history. In 21 games, Gretzky scored only five goals but notched 29 helpers. He finished six points up on Philly's Brian Propp.

As I stated, I believe Hextall won merely because of the fact that he was a rookie. If proper consideration was given, Fuhr or Gretzky should have won the award.

Next I will look at the other three Conn Smythe winners on Cup losing teams. Reggie Leach was an easy and obvious choice in 1975, Roger Crozier in 1966 and Glenn Hall in 1968 perhaps were not so deserving....


David E. Wilkinson said...

OMG, are you insane? Did you even watch that series? Saying that he simply received the Conn Smythe because he was a rookie is to ignore EVERYTHING he did in that series.

MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. That Flyer team was decimated with injuries and was without their top scorer Tim Kerr (58 goals in the RS). He meant more to his team than ANY one player on the Oilers. Hextall was the ONLY reason that series was not over in 4 or 5. He basically took that team on his back and willed them to the closing moments of the 7th game against arguable the best team ever assembled. The series he played was nothing short of amazing and looking at it on paper does not even BEGIN to tell the whole story. Your statement is completely uninformed.

He was without a DOUBT the MVP. He faced wave after wave of breakaways and odd man rushes in that series and kept his team in it. The Flyers scored EXACTLY 2 first period goals and scored the first goal of the game only ONCE and that was in game 7.

The man played what is arguably the best playoff series ever played by a goalie. It is idiotic to simply look at the numbers on paper and make the assessment you have made that it was simply because he was a rookie. You really think after the kind of "unsportsmanlike" behavior he had shown in game 4 and throughout the playoffs that they would have given him such an honor if he did not deserve it? That is ridiculous, ESPECIALLY when you consider the names on the team who won the series.

Do me a favor. Watch this entire series of videos and take a look at the caliber of chances that he faced game in and game out and tell me if you still think that:

You mentioned Gretzky but he was not even the best player in that series. Glen Anderson was certainly more of a factor in the finals than Gretzky as was Kurri.

Fuhr? I love Grant Fuhr and think he is certainly one of the best goalies ever but he did not have to do HALF as much as Hextall did in that series or that playoff year. Hextall set NHL records for games played by a goalie both in the Regular Season as well as the Playoffs that year.


David E. Wilkinson said...

To continue:

Again, you cannot simply look at the numbers. Hextall faced a team with 6 future NHL hall of famers. That Flyers team has exactly 0. Hextall faced a WELL rested and healthy Oiler team who lost only TWO games getting there. Fuhr faced a tired and injury filled Flyer team who struggled to even get a shot on goal for extended periods of time in this series. I am sorry but Fuhr does not even belong on the list for consideration. Not because he did not do his job but because he was not called up do do very much. Yes that team gave up fewer goals per game on average and Fuhr had something to do with that but so did the team in front of him. They were just an all around better team by 87 who played better defensively. Again, look at the videos. Fuhr was not NEARLY as big of a factor for his team as Hextall was.

If you want to make you assessment based on watching game 7 alone then lets look at game 7. Hextall made 40 saves in that game. That is FOURTY saves. On the other side Fuhr faced a total of 16 shots with only 6 in the second period and a measly TWO in the third. Why should Fuhr have have been given the MVP over Hextall again? It was his performance in that game alone that solidified him as MVP. He was the best player on the ice…period. He was the ONLY reason they were even still in that series and game into the 3rd period and THAT is what makes an MVP. Neither Fuhr, Gretzky, Kurri OR Anderson meant as much to their team that year as Hextall did to the Flyers and that is why he was given the award. NOT because he as a rookie.

Sorry bud but if you are going to make such a statement you have to do better to support it than look at the numbers on paper and one game. That does not even BEGIN to tell the story of his performance or that series. There are FEW who disagree with that choice then or now. Of course the fans in the Northlands would boo. He was a villain to them after game 4 so bringing that up is kind of pointless.

Geoff_9 said...

Ya, Mizzoni ... Numbers aren't the whole story.
What are you, some kind of accountant?

David E. Wilkinson said...

Here is another way to look it it. You mentioned that they both had a .908 SP which is very good. Now think about this. If you have two goalies who both face 10 shots in a 60 min game [numbers are just for example). Goalie A has to stop 2 breakaways and 3 odd man rushes as part of those 10 shots. All 10 shots goalie B faces are from the point or are easy to handle. In the end they both allow 1 goal and finish with the same SP but who played better? Goalie A of course.

Understand? That is this series in a nutshell. Fuhr did not face NEARLY the scoring chances that Hextall did. Shame is I do not think they kept Scoring Chances stats back then. That would really be something to see and would really tell the story.

David E. Wilkinson said...
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Nitzy said...

Obviously some passionate Hextall fans out there. As I said in my post, I am not basing my opinion merely on watching game seven recently or by simply looking at numbers, (which definitely can lie)I watched those playoffs back in 1987 as a huge hockey fan, and I had this opinion back then.

I realize the Flyers were under-manned (Kerr), banged up (Poulin for one) and overmatched, and Hextall made that final series much closer than it should have been. His game seven performance was indeed amazing. However, the Conn Smythe Trophy is as we know for the MVP of the entire playoffs not just the final.

Also, I'm tired of how Fuhr is so easily dismissed as merely the beneficiary of basketfuls of goals by his team-mates. He didn't just simply sit back and kick out the rare shot against. In fact he faced an average of 27 shots per game through the entire post-season compared to Hextall's 29/game. Plus, the firewagon style of the old Oilers left Fuhr open to great scoring chances even in a season when they played better team defense overall.

The fact that Hextall's "unsportsmanlike" behaviour in game four was brought up is interesting. I remember watching his slash on Nilsson and losing alot of respect for him. The fact that Hex was suspended for the first eight games of next season, and NOT in the playoffs was frankly a joke.

I'm glad to have stirred up some passion on this subject.

Geoff_9 said...

Fuhr wasn't an MVP factor ... the Oilers were such a strong team, they should've won that series with even Warren Skorodenski in net.

David E. Wilkinson said...

It is not even really a matter of being a "Hextall Fan". If there was a better choice then I would not have a problem saying so. There wasn't. Not one player meant more to his team in that series OR the playoffs than Hextall did.

Of course the Conn Smythe is for the MVP of the entire playoffs but lets face it, it comes down to a player who has actually MADE it to the finals and the player who performs best IN the finals usually wins it. How many times was the MVP given to a player who did not make it to the finals no matter HOW great he may have played in the first three rounds? If a player plays better than any other player in the playoffs in the first three rounds and does nothing in the finals, is he going to win the MVP? Probably not.

That said, you are dismissing the way Hextall played the the contribution he made to his team throughout the rest of the playoffs? As I mentioned, he led his team through a record number of playoff minutes that year for a goalie. 6 against the Rangers, 7 against the Islanders and 6 against the defending Champion Canadians.

Please also take into consideration how much weaker on average the Campbell Conf was at the time. The Oilers and their All Star Team had a cake walk to the finals compared to what the Flyers had to fight through and did so with an inferior team as compared to the Oilers.

In regards to Fuhr, I am not dismissing anything about him. As I said I think he was great and is one of my all time favorite goalies. But you also cannot assume he did more than he did. Again, look at the videos, the tape does not lie. It is absolutely clear that he did not have to do NEARLY as much in the finals as Hextall did.

That all said, you cannot dismiss the team Fuhr had in front of him. You mentioned about the Oilers "firewagon offense" leading to chances the other way but that is only half the equation. That "firewagon offense" would also give them the lead more often than not allowing them to clamp down defensively keeping the opposition from getting quality chances. Playing with a lead is much better than playing from behind. As a result the opposition would be forced to take more chances leading to chances the other way. Oilers 101! This is a simple fact of hockey and exactly what happened in the finals. Again, the Flyers scored the first goal exactly once in the series. The Oilers had a three goal lead in game 3 and two goal leads in games 4, 5 & 6. With the Flyers in this kind of hole in so many games, it forced THEM to take chances and that led to countless odd man breaks and breakaways the other way. The Oilers feasted on this and the result was Hextall having to do MUCH more and face SO many more odd man rushes and breakaways than Fuhr did. Beyond that, think about who was taking those breakaways and odd man rushes. Gretzky, Jurri, Messier, Coffey, Anderson. Really? He faced ALL of that and STILL got them to the closing minutes of game 7.

David E. Wilkinson said...

As you know I am sure Gretzky said himself that Hextall was the greatest goalie he ever faced. He said this for a reason. Because he played one of the greatest series a goale had ever played before and probably since. I have no clue how you can think that Fuhr played anywhere NEAR as good. It is not meant as disrespect to Fuhr. Just a simple fact.

Sorry bud but you still have not made a reasonable argument for anyone else. Geoff 9 is exactly right. Fuhr was not even an MVP factor. Andy Moog could have been in net and they STILL would have won. Anderson and Kurri were BOTH better candidates than Fuhr.

Think of it this way. Hextall was in a position game in and game out where his team was unable to get even a first period goal. He faced multiple two or more goal deficits and managed to clamp down, keep his team in it and give them a chance to win. He did this against the best offense and team the league has ever seen. On the other side, Fuhr was given lead after lead of two and three goal deficits. He was playing behind the best offensive team in history who could score almost at will. In the end, he coughed up lead after lead and almost lost the series against who? A tired and injury filled team without their top goal scorer. Sorry but even if their numbers are the same, you can't compare the two and say Fuhr deserved it more.

Can't argue with your opinions on the slash and the suspension. Personally I loved it but I was 16 at the time so I certainly looked at it differently then than I probably would now.

I do enjoy the subject as you can probably tell!

David E. Wilkinson said...
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David E. Wilkinson said...

Sorry for the multiple posts but as I said, I enjoy the subject and I would like to see if you can respond to any of this. It is pretty clear to me but I am interested in where you would possibly go.

One other stat about how good that team was defensively and the fact that it mattered less which goalie was in net for the Oilers. In the regular season Moog played in 2 more games than Fuhr (44-46). Moog had more wins with 28 vs 22. Moog had a better GAA (3.51 vs 3.44) Their SPs were about the same with Moog being a fraction better at .882 vs .881. Yes Fuhr took the reins in the playoffs and played very well but looking at that it is very safe to assume that if Moog was in net in the playoffs that the results would have probably been the same which means Fuhr was not even the most valuable on his team let alone more valuable than every other player in the playoffs.

Question is if you take Hexall off the ice in the playoffs how far do the Flyers get? Probably not past the 1st round. That alone makes him move valuable to his team than Fuhr was to the Oilers.

Hextall played in 66 RS games and finished with a better GAA and SP. I only mention this from a fatigue stantpoint which when considered makes Hextall's performance in the finals THAT much more impressive. Getting to the finals Fuhr played in a total of 63 games. Hextall played more than that in the RS and played a total of 85 games getting to the finals. The fact that he outplayed Fuhr being SO rested is flat out remarkable.

For the record. I am not saying Hextall was an overall better goalie than Fuhr. Just that he was better than Fuhr in that series and that is for the simple fact that he HAD to be.

Nitzy said...

Perhaps my overall point is that I hate giving the Conn Smythe to a member of the losing team. As stated, even Kurri and Anderson could have won the award. Frankly, I don't care how well someone plays, if they lose they lose. If a team wins the Cup, they should have a player justly rewarded with the Conn Smythe. Maybe the Oilers were simply too strong and well balanced to have ONE player stand out. This is no reason not to give one of them the Smythe.

Of the four players to have won the Smythe in a losing effort, I feel only Reggie Leach was deserving for his monumental effort of scoring 19 goals in 1975. I believe it should take a truly historic effort to garner the Smythe on a losing team.

Roger Crozier in '66 and Glenn Hall in '68 perhaps won it undeservedly as well. Each time Gump Worsley was denied the Smythe, and in '68 Hall was under .500 in the post season and Gumper went 11 and 0 with a 1.88 GAA. One can say that it was the team in front of him that produced these numbers...but the goalie is part of the team and so often dismissed when discussing juggernaut teams.

Sure Crozier and Hall (like Hextall) led their respective teams to the Finals unexpectedly, but they lost, and neither put up historically fantastic numbers.
I realize both (like Hextall) were the main reason they got that far, like I said, I feel the award should go to a member of the Cup winning squad.

David E. Wilkinson said...

Well that would be a different discussion all together and. If you feel that the MVP must be on the winning team, well that is certainly your opinion and you are welcome to it.

I for one could not disagree more. The Most Valuable Player is just that, and he should be chosen based on the contributions he makes on the ice as compared to the others. It would be completely wrong and render the award meaningless if it did NOT go the player who was indeed most valuable to his team. That does not mean they have to win.

Personally I get the feeling that you are letting your personal feelings for Hextall cloud your judgement of what he did on the ice. Maybe I am wrong but I find that is often the case when discussing Hextall. People remember him for the wrong reasons and often forget the positive things he did. Sure that is his doing but you still have to forget that when questioning his wining the MVP.

Yes, I brought up Kurri and Anderson as examples because they both stood out in the finals but don't get me wrong. Neither of them were more valuable than Hextall to his team. Take either one or both off the ice do they still win? Probably.

Does the fact that they were so well balanced make it harder for them to stand out? Maybe, but they certainly still can. Gretzky was standing out in the first three rounds. Reason one specific player did not stand out as much in the finals was Hextall. Think about how many more goals and points they would have had if it were not for him.

You say that it should only be given to a player who makes a monumental or "historic" effort? OMG, that is EXACTLY what Hextall did. I am shocked that you would think otherwise. It is not just my opinion that he put on one of the most amazing goaltending performances in playoff history considering what he faced. This led to this being arguably the greatest playoff series in NHL history. Would this be the case without Hextall and his extraordinary performance? No way. That IS what you call a "historic" effort. It is undeniable. You obviously were rooting for the Oilers back then, do you mean to tell me that he did not leave you shaking your head in frustration time and time and TIME again? Again, it should have been over in 5 and maybe 4 if it were not for the greatest comeback in finals history in game 3…which is was officially.

Beyond everything else I have already pointed out, consider this. In the Oilers' 4 other cup series victories they lost a TOTAL of three games. The Flyers beat them three times in this series alone. That is indeed an accomplishment. The ONLY reason for this was Ron Hextall.

In the end you brought up the numbers again but that simply does not apply in this series and is not an indication of what he faced. Again, a breakaway, 2 on 1, or 3 on 1 which Hextall faced many is still only a shot on net on paper. No different than a easy shot from the point. I know you saw the series but did you watch the videos again to refresh your memory?

Hextall did all one man could do to win the cup in 87 and didn't. He did MUCH more for his team in the loss than Fuhr did in the win. THAT is why he was the MVP and deservedly so and why being on the winning team should not be a factor.

David E. Wilkinson said...
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Geoff_9 said...

MVP means most valuable PLAYER of the playoffs ... not the most valuable player on the WINNING team.

I remember when Jean-Sébastien Giguère won the Conn Smythe instead of Martin Brodeur (the winning goalie). Sure it looked silly handing the trophy to the most glum guy on the ice — but he DID deserve it!

His consistent, outstanding play and contributions almost controlled the outcome of every game of the playoffs.

This is why all the greatest hockey minds (excluding Mr. Mizzoni) ALSO selected Ron Hextall as playoff MVP in 1987.

He was the most dominant PLAYER on the ice ... even though he his team didn't win (Yes, Mr. Mizzoni, this IS possible).

I think the quote below also perfectly captures the logic of the MVP choice ... and why you can't always rely on numbers:

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. · Albert Einstein

Mr. Mizzoni, you have an excellent blog and I enjoy reading it ...and I have openly listened to your argument, but I disagree with your final conclusion.

Numbers and stats do not tell the ENTIRE story. There are always intangibles that cannot be measured.

Nitzy said...

Mr. Kehrig, Your comments are constructive and welcome. The one point I will add is, you should pass the puck to me more often!

Also...your hometown hero Glenn Hall did NOT deserve the Smythe in '68. I'm sorry, sentimentality should be left at the door. Hockey is a quantitative sport, not qualitative. You score more than your opponent, you win. Simple. There are no style points.

Geoff_9 said...

I didn't say anything about style or sentimentality (not a Flyers fan ... I thought Hextall was floppy and awkward to watch) ... and don't make me bring your Maple Leafs into the equation (that's not my style).

As I said, not everything can be measured or 'quantified' by numbers ... and sometimes all the numbers in the world can still miss the bigger picture.

On paper, the Oilers should have swept and steam-rolled the Flyers. In reality, they didn't. And Hextall was the reason.

The writer's acknowledged it ... and even the players acknowledged it. Maybe you should too (oh, I forgot, you are a genius and you are always right ... hahaha)

David E. Wilkinson said...

Geoff, Your posts are all very well put and I could not agree more. Love the Einstein quote.

I really feel that all one needs to do is watch this series of videos [ ] closely and without personal bias and they will see the amazing series he really played. It absolutely was a "historic" effort.

I am still amazed that anyone would question Hextall as MVP. To me there was no question who was MVP after his game 7 performance. Again 40 saves in that game and that was his 92nd game played that year, not including pre-season.

I am not sure there has ever been a goalie who led his team in so many different ways. He not only did it with his gameplay but also with his emotion, his intensity and even his fighting and stick swinging. No some of that stuff is not right but it can have a positive effect on a team as we all know. This is not to mention his effect on the game with his skating and stick handling ability. He truly did it all.

Gretzky's words about Hextall after the series say it all in my opinion.

Mark Z. said...

For the record, Reggie Leach won the Conn Smythe in 1976 (on the Flyers team that lost the final). He was part of the Cup-winning Flyers team the previous year, in 1975.

JFM said...

You're a f'n idiot. That may have been the greatest goaltending performance in nhl history.

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