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 blogTO.com 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.
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