Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mark Howe, The Last WHA Hall of Famer?

I brought this question up in the hockey change room last night after another summer league win. Is Mark Howe the last Hall of Famer that will have played in the WHA? We tend to swing from very informed hockey discussions in the change room from Hall of Fame qualifications, possible signings and trades, various trivia I pull off the top of my head, Seinfeld, Happy Days, Good Fellas quotes and 20 year old drinking and dating stories. On this night though, the topic of the recent Hall inductees was the main one and my query about Howe being the last WHA veteran inducted was debated.

The first and only real obvious name that came up as possible future WHA Hall of Famers was Paul Henderson. Now, in reality Paul Henderson is probably not a Hall of Famer but his unbelievable week in Moscow in September of 1972 puts him at least in the discussion. Henderson is the only WHA veteran to have even a remote chance at the Hall. The truth is though there are a few WHA vets that are borderline Hall of Famers. In my opinion if Clark Gillies is in the Hall why not team mate John Tonelli?

Tonelli played 1252 comined games in the WHA and NHL and scored 389 goals and 986 points. He won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders and was MVP of the 1984 Canada Cup. I'd put him in over Gillies, easily. Another ex-WHA-er who wouldn't be out of place in the Hall is Ralph Backstrom. He was an integral piece of six Stanley Cup wins, played 1336 big league games and scored 378 goals and 892 points. Backstrom is a more qualified Hall of Famer than Bob Pulford or Dick Duff.

The best of the rest of ex-WHA players who will likely not be Hall of Fame worthy, but should at least be in the discussion: (combined NHL/WHA GP-G-A-Pts)

Bob Nevin 1141-310-421-731, 2 Cups
John McKenzie 1168-369-51-887, 2 Cups
Kent Nilsson 711-345-555-800, 1 Cup, 5 Intl. Tournaments 47-22-32-54
Vaclav Nedomansky 673-257-274-631, 11 Intl. Tournamnets 93-80-39-119
Marc Tardif 963-510-557-1067, 2 Cups
J.C. Tremblay 1248-123-664-787, 5 Cups
Ken Linseman 931-294-589-883, 1 Cup
Andre Lacroix 876-330-666-996
Anders Hedberg 751-408-447-855, 6 Intl. Tournaments 49-24-20-44
Real Cloutier 686-429-481-910
Mike Liut 325-310-78, 28 shutouts, 2.83 Adjusted GAA better than 6 goalies in the Hall.

So, it would appear that unless Paul Henderson ever gets in it is indeed very likely that Mark Howe will be the last WHA veteran to gain entry in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gretzky and the quest for a 100 goal season.

In the winter of 1981/82, the Wayne Grezky Legend exploded in earnest. This was the first time in NHL history in which there was serious talk of a player scoring 100 goals in a regular season. And I was a 10 year old Gretzky-idolizing, hockey stat loving kid. I was in my glory. Gretzky was coming off his first two NHL seasons with goal totals of 51 and 55, so nobody expected him to make a run at 100 in season three. Sure, he'd scored 28 goals in the last 29 games of 1980/81, but 100...come on.

Gretzky is quoted before the season by Terry Jones of the Edmonton Journal saying he was going to go for goals instead of assists. He said,"Lafleur advised me at the Canada Cup, to shoot more." Gretzky actually started off the season on a pedestrian 50 goal pace with 7 goals in his first 11 games. He notched 24 in his next 15 games to get to 31 in 26 overall games by Nov. 29 but then went goal-less in the next four to sit at 31 goals in 30 games. There was no talk of 100 goals but the 50 in 50 watch was in full stride. He notched one goal in each of the next four games to sit at 35 goals in 34 games heading to Minnesota on Dec. 19. Then he got really silly. A hat-trick against the North Stars was followed by 2 against Calgary and 1 against Vancouver to bring him to 41 goals in 37 games by Christmas. Breaking the record of 50 goals in 50 games set by Rocket Richard and tied by Mike Bossy the previous year seemed a certainty.

On Dec. 27 against Mario Lessard and the Los Angeles Kings he potted four to stand at 45 goals through 38 games. Three nights later of course, The Great One obliterated Richard and Bossy's record by scoring five against Philadelphia, the last one his 50th in 39 games. Even as a ten year old, that math was easy. The Oilers were one game shy of the halfway mark in the season, Gretzky was on pace for 100 goals (actually 103). And I wasn't the only one getting excited about it.

The Dec. 31 Edmonton Journal's headline proclaimed "I CAN DOUBLE EVERYTHING; GRETZKY FEELS HE CAN GET 100 GOALS THIS SEASON." Gretzky is quoted,"As long as the rest of the guys on the team keep playing the way they are playing, I think I'm capable of doubling what I've done so far." His room-mate Kevin Lowe noted, "Now he'll probably want to get 65 (goals) in 50 (games)". The Montreal Gazette on Jan. 2 headlined,"GRETZKY AIMS AT 100 GOALS AS ROCKET CHEERS HIM ON" Richard is quoted,"He's a natural scorer just like I was. There's no doubt he would have scored-not as many goals-in my day, but he would have been the best scorer in the league." And Mike Bossy himself chimed in with,"He seems on a course for a 100-goal season. And I think he can do it."

Although was held pointless in his 40th game against Vancouver his scoring line read a neat and tidy 50 goals through 40 games. He slumped for the next two weeks with only 7 goals in 8 games, (how ridiculous is that sentance in today's era of hockey?), and he fell to a 95 goal pace before scoring 3 against Gary Edwards and the St.Louis Blues. 4 goals in the next 5 games was followed by another hat-trick (against Rick St.Croix and the Flyers) to close out January. He now had 67 goals in 55 games, on pace for 98. Then came another slump of 3 in 5 games to drop the pace to 93 for the season.

Of course it was almost a given at this point that Gretzky would break Phil Esposito's NHL record of 76 goals in a season but talk of 100 had died down. Gretzky himself wasn't quite ready to concede though as he ripped off 12 goals in six games to close out February including hat-tricks against Hartford's Greg Millen and Buffalo's Don Edwards on the night he broke Espo's record. By the time March rolled around he had 82 in 66 games, full season pace...99 goals. He was asked about the possibility of scoring 100 goals and on March 1 is quoted,"I am getting a little bit excited now that it's getting close. Basically, because no one else has ever done it."
Then came a REAL slump...

From March 2 through March 13 Gretzky scored zero goals in 6 games while collecting 9 assists. He was stymied by the following goalies; Rick Walmsley of Montreal, Daniel Bouchard of Quebec, Chico Resch of Colorado, Mario Lessard of Los Angeles, Don Edwards of Buffalo and Rick Heinz of Vancouver. By March 14 Gretzky had 82 goals in 72 games. The pace was down to 91. When he finally did score a goal against L.A on March 15 he said afterwards," I'm paid to score goals. When you're not scoring goals you get concerned you're letting the team down. I've been getting lots of chances but the puck wasn't going in."

With his tenth hat-trick of the year on March 17 against Pittsburgh he broke another of Bossy's records. Penguins coach Eddie Johnston summed up the game saying, "If Gretzky's Irish, he had a hell of a night," in reference to St.Patricks Day, "Is it O'Gretzky?" Gretz himself addressed his probable falling short of 100 goals, "Maybe this year wasn't supposed to be my year to get 100 goals; maybe that will be something for me to aim for next year." He did however score 8 over this 4 game stretch through March 25 to get it to 90 in 76. Could he possibly score 10 in his final 4, 10 year old me pondered. He had in fact done exactly that from Dec.19 to Dec 27. And even had 10 goals in 3 games from Dec 23 to Dec 30. Alas, it was not to be.

He scored once on Colorado's Chico Resch on March 26 to reach 91 goals with three games left. On March 28, L.A.'s Doug Keans surrendered 4 goals on 7 shots to the Oilers in the first 11 minutes...none to Gretzky. He did however put one past Mike Blake later in the game. On March 31, Mario Lessard was beaten seven more times by Edmonton with Gretzky collecting three helpers and no goals. On the final night of the season, Winnipeg's Doug Soetaert shut down the Great One to keep him stuck on 92 goals.

The following season there was no talk of 100 goals as Gretzky took 25 games to score his first 20 and sat at 30 through 40 games. He'd pot 41 over the final 40 to finish at 71. In 83/84 he scored 30 in his first 30 then ripped off 22 in his next 13 to reach 52 in 43 games. His was now on pace for 97 goals. Of course he never really would have a chance at 100 as he injured his shoulder on a hit by the Kings Dave Taylor on Jan. 21. After aggravating the shoulder during the All-Star Game, Gretzky missed six straight games. Upon returning he potted 12 goals in his first 5 games to get to 73 goals in 57 games, an 80 game pace of 102. Problem was, Edmonton only had 17 games remaining. He would slow down to score 14 over that stretch and finished with 87 in 74 games, a full season pace of 94 goals.

Gretzky would never again threaten the 100 goal plateau. In 84/85 he scored 42 in the first half but finished with 73. The race for the single-season goal record and 100 goals in 1981/82 proved to be a rivetting and memorable event for a ten-year old hockey nut as well as the rest of the hockey world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Old Man Lidstrom

Of course Niklas Lidstrom is coming back for another year, why wouldn't he? He just completed a season in which he became the highest scoring 40 year old defenseman in NHL history. With 16 goals, 46 assists and 62 points he is the only d-man that old to score at least 60 points. Ten years previous, Ray Bourque tallied 59 points in his last season playing with Colorado.

The only two other 40+ year old defenders to reach even the 30 point plateau were Chris Chelios with 39 in 2001/02 and Rob Blake with 30 in 09/10. Prior to Bourque in 2001, the top scoring 40 or older blueliner season was way back in 1969/70. Tim Horton scored 28 points in 74 games while splitting the year between Toronto and the Rangers.

The only other two defensemen to score even 20 points in a 40 year old season were Doug Harvey and Doug Mohns. Harvey notched 22 points as a 44 year old in 68/69 with St.Louis in his final season and Mohns had 21 with Washington in 74/75 as a 41 year old.

Also, Lidstrom's 16 goals at age 40 are more than double the next best season. Only Blake and Bourque with 7 and Chelios with 6 bulged the twine more than 5 times as 40 year olds. In fact if you knock the age back to 35, 40 year old Lidstrom's 16 goals are surpassed only five times. Bourque had seasons of 18, 19 and 20 after age 35. Al MacInnis scored 20 at age 35 and Mathieu Schneider has the most goals after turning 35 with 21 in 2005/06.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stanley Cup Post Mortem

Well, as you can imagine it's been a crazy few days around Vancouver since my last post. What with Game Seven, the rioting idiots, designing a new Luongo T-shirt and the odd facebook debate with good friends about all of that...I finally have some time.

I won't hide the fact that I was happy to see the Canucks lose, especially in the manner they did. As a Leaf die-hard (I hate that term "die-hard", it's too easily thrown around when discussing ones fandom. My unwavering, undying support of the Leafs is unmatched by anyone I know with their favourite team. It really is all-consuming.) there was no way I wanted the Canucks to win a Cup in my lifetime before my Buds. It would have been thrown in my face, and held over me for years, until the Leafs win one....maybe for decades. Now, I have a collosal Canucks collapse to throw in the face of my rivals when need be. Some may say it's a case of "Schaedenfraude", pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. If that's the label, so be it, because it's true.

I try to be as impartial as can be in my research and analysis, and on many occaisons I have written of the exploits of various Canucks past and present. But, when it came down to Game Seven, I had to watch the game with the only other two like-minded pals I have. I have to admit, I was probably as nervous before that game than I would be if it was the Leafs trying for a Cup victory...(yeah, yeah I may never find out.) Needless to say, I was pleased with the outcome. Anyway, here's a few facts and thoughts;

  • Throughout the post-season, Tim Thomas Home/Road splits were Home; 1.78 GAA & .945 Sv% and Road 2.22 GAA & .934 Sv%., very comporable and balanced. Roberto Luongo's splits were; Home, 1.80 GAA & .939 Sv% and Road, 3.76 GAA & .878 Sv%. They were pretty much identical when on their home ice but Luongo saw his GAA more than double over 11 games on the road.

  • Henrik and Daniel Sedin were both slightly better performers on the road during the regular season yet during the post-season the difference was far more drastic and disturbing. On the road in 11 playoff games Henrik scored 2-11-13 and Daniel scored 4-8-12. At home however, they each dropped off drastically over 14 games, Hank to 1-8-9 and Daniel to 5-3-8. Is it a case of not coping with the pressure of the home crowd.

  • The Sedins were a combined -20 for the playoffs and -12 for the Finals.

  • In contrast, Brad Marchand improved dramatically from the regualr season to the playoffs. After a regular season in which he scored exactly twice as many goals on the road as at home (14-7), he was pretty much identical in the playoffs with 13-6-4-10 at home and 12-5-4-9 on the road.

  • After taking a three games to none lead on Chicago in the opening round, Vancouver won only 12 of their last 22 games. In those final 22 games, they scored 49 goals while surrendering 64. Even though they finished up 12 and 10 they averaged 2.23 goals for and 2.91 against.

  • More importantly, the Canucks became only the fifth team in history to lose a seven game final series after leading two games to none. The others are:

2009 Detroit held a 2-0 lead over Pittsburgh and lost 4 of 5, getting outscored 12-11.

1971 Chicago held a 2-0 lead over Montreal and lost 4 of , getting outscored 16-11.

1966 Detroit held a 2-0 lead over Montreal and lost 4 straight, getting outscored 14-6.

1942 Detroit held a 3-0 lead over Toronto and lost 4 straight, getting outscored 19-7.

2011 Vancouver held a 2-0 lead over Boston and lost 4 of 5, getting outscored 21-4.

Other than the 1942 collapse of Detroit, this year's Canuck melt-down has to go down as the worst in Cup Final history.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weirdest Cup Final Ever?

How weird has this year's Cup Final been? Both Boston and Vancouver have won three games although the Bruins have outscored the Canucks 19-8 in the series. If in fact Vancouver wins game seven by one goal, they will have won the Cup with a Goals For/ Goals Against +/- of -11. They very well could win the Cup while scoring 11 less goals than their opposition.

Over the entire playoffs, Vancouver has a -7 goal differential through 24 games. The last time any Cup finalist was a minus for the overall playoff season was in 1975 when Buffalo was -5. They would lose the Cup in six games to Philadelphia. Through 17 playoff games they scored 53 while surrendering 58 goals. Prior to that it was 1968 when St.Louis was a -8 through 18 playoff games which included a four game sweep at the hands of Montreal.

There has been only one time in NHL history that a Stanley Cup winner had a minus goal differential that playoff season. In 1945 the Toronto Maple Leafs beat Detroit in seven games but throughout their 13 playoff games that year they had a goal diffferential of -6. This stems solely from a 10-3 loss to Montreal in the first round.

A few more weird facts from the 2011 Cup Final:

  • 43 year-old Mark Recchi is tied for the Boston points lead in the six Final games with 6 points.

  • After Vancouver's defensemen contributed 8 goals and 18 points in the 5 game Semi-finals against San Jose they have scored zero goals and a mere 5 assists in the Final.

  • The only Vancouver forward with a plus rating in the Final is Jannik Hansen at +1, Aaron Rome is also +1 in just over two games played.

  • Boston has ZERO players on the minus side of the ledger for the Final.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stanley Cup Finals Tidbits

  • Through four games and two victories each, Vancouver has held the lead for a total 16:57 and Boston for 87:50.

  • In Game Four the Boston forward with the most ice-time was Gregory Campbell at 18:05.

  • Through the four games of the Finals, Ryan Kesler, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have combined for a total of 1 goal on 28 shots, 2 assists, a -6 rating, and 47 PIM.

  • Cup Finals Goalie stats: Thomas 1.25 GAA, Save Pct .966; Luongo 3.77 GAA, Save Pct .887

  • Tim Thomas recorded Boston's first shutout in the Finals since Gerry Cheevers blanked Montreal in Game Three of the 1978 Cup Final.

  • Brad Marchand now has 8 playoff goals as a rookie, tying the Boston rookie record of Mike Krushelnyski in 1983 and Bob Joyce in 1988.

  • Over their last 7 games, the Canucks have scored in the First Period only twice, both by Alex Burrows (Game 4 vs. San Jose, and Game 2 vs. Boston).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

8 Goals against in the Stanley Cup Finals

Roberto Luongo has had an up and down playoff season in 2011, more up then down. The game three 8-1 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals is about as down as he can get. A team notching eight goals in the Finals is, as expected a rare event. It's even more rare when a goalie is not pulled in such a game and allows all eight. The last time a team scored 8 was in 1996, and the last time one goalie gave up all eight was in 1985 when Philadelphia's Bob Froese was ventilated.

The following are the eight goal games in the Stanley Cup Finals:

  • 1996, Game 2. Colorado 8, Florida 1. John Vanbiesbrouck and Mark Fitzpatrick 4 goals against each.

  • 1991, Game 6. Pittsburgh 8, Minnesota 0. Jon Casey and Brian Hayward 4 goals against each.

  • 1985, Game 5. Edmonton 8, Philadelphia 3. Bob Froese 8 goals against.

  • 1973, Game 1. Montreal 8, Chicago 3. Tony Esposito 8 goals against .

  • 1973, Game 5. Chicago 8, Montreal 7. Ken Dryden 8 goals against.

  • 1962, Game 5. Toronto 8, Chicago 4. Glenn Hall 8 goals against.

  • 1942, Game 5. Toronto 9, Detroit 3. Johnny Mowers 9 goals aganst.

  • 1936, Game 2. Detroit 9, Toronto 4. George Hainsworth 9 goals against.

  • 1918, Game 4. Vancouver 8, Toronto 1. Hap Holmes 8 goals against.

  • 1917, Game 1. Montreal 8, Seattle 4. Hap Holmes 8 goals against.

  • 1917, Game 4. Seattle 9, Montreal 1. Georges Vezina 9 goals against.

  • 1915, Game 2. Vancouver 8, Ottawa 3. Clint Benedict 8 goals against.

  • 1915, Game 3. Vancouver 12, Ottawa 3. Clint Benedict 12 goals against.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My only Stanley Cup Final; Gretzky, Desjardins and The Forum

It was 18 years exactly since Eric Desjardins completed a hat-trick in overtime in the McSorley "illegal stick game". A pretty special game to have witnessed in person, and I did from the Standing Room section of the Montreal Forum.

This was game two of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final between Montreal and Los Angeles. My buddy and I were living in Monreal at the time had camped out in front of The Forum a week earlier for these tickets. We spent a luckily pleasant night about twentieth in a line of Habs fans that eventually numbered well into the hundreds. Most of the kids in front of us were there on behalf of scalpers and being paid maybe fifty bucks to buy the maximum amount of tickets allowed. My pal and I were on much more of a budget and opted for only the standing room tickets for games Two and Seven. I think we paid 30 apiece for them.

As it turns out we also ended up going to Game One as well by pure fluke. Our apartment was about a block from The Forum and we had to walk past it to get to the Atwater Metro subway station. We were doing just that after watching the first period of Game One at our place on the way to The Peel Pub. Apparently a few of the scalper brigade still had inventory left after the first period and offered us a pair for fifty bucks each. We laughed at him and said we'd give him twenty each and walked away toward the subway. After about five seconds he yelled back at us in his French accent, "Here, take dem!" we did. We really hadn't missed much, after a period the score was 1-1, and the shots were tied at 11.

We actually had "seats" to "sit in", in the upper corner of the fabled rink, and I was one of the very few cheering for Gretzky. He had assisted on the first goal and would add two more helpers and a goal the rest of the way as the Kings took Game One 4-1. When the Great One scored an empty netter I was the only one standing up applauding, to a dirty look from a large "biker" guy about 10 rows in front. I quickly sat down.

So, there I was then at Game Two, two days later. We stood at about blue line depth halfway up the arena, and even better we had the front of the standing section which meant a railing to lean on. I have to admit, it was a tight fit as they must have sold every single standing ticket and we were about four deep all around the rink. We had to go individually on beer runs or washroom breaks so as to not lose our railing spot. It was on one of these forays into the concourse that I met Janet Gretzky who was there with Craig "The Walrus" Stadler who was obviously pals with Wayner.

Then, late in the third with the Habs in danger of going down 2 games to none, Jacques Demers called for a stick measurement on Marty McSorley. The coach was quoted after the game, "We were dead. We didn't want to go down 2-0. I never like to embarrass a man who has so much pride like Marty. I just do my job. We didn't have a choice." Kings coach Barry Melrose felt the move lacked class saying, "We got a lesson tonight. We're going to have to watch stuff like that throughout the series. I don't believe in wining that way." Apparently Montreal captain, Guy Carbonneau had noticed that both McSorley and Luc Robitaille used illegal sticks in Game One and said later, "With six or seven minutes left, I reminded Demers that Robitaille and McSorley had bad sticks and that we could call it. It was McSorley's fault. It was too big".

Anyway, while all this was happening on the ice we up in standing room and the rest of the crowd were trying to figure out what was going on. Once we saw referee Kerry Fraser take the stick to the penalty box, we knew. The rest was history. With Patrick Roy pulled, Desjardins scored 32 seconds later and won it 51 seconds into OT. It was one of the more incredible turn of events I'd ever seen at a sporting event and I have to admit I was high-fiving some of our French standing room neighbours when the Habs won. We really had no choice in the matter, the mass of standees jumped as one and pandemonium ensued.

Of course, we would not need our Game Seven tickets as Montreal took the Cup in five. That game, we DID manage to make it to the Peel Pub to watch, and when it was over we spilled out of the bar onto Rue Ste. Catherine and into the Stanley Cup riot. I've probably never been more scared for my well-being before or since. That's what happens when beer bottles are flying off tenth floor balconies and people are runing metal barriers into police car windshields. But, that's another tale.

As well, it's needless to say the Game Two high-fiving was the first and last time I've ever celebrated a Montreal victory.

Friday, June 3, 2011

1-0 Stanley Cup Final games

As you may expect, the 1-0 game in game one of this year's Cup final is a fairly rare event. In fact it's only the 25th time in the last 87 years that it has occurred.

2007, May 30 Anaheim 1 Ottawa 0, Game 2
2004, May 31 Tampa Bay 1 Calgary 0, Game 4
2003, June 2 Anaheim 1 New Jersey 0, OT , Game 4
2000, June 8 Dallas 1 New Jersey 0, 3OT, Game 5
1996, June 10 Colorado 1 Florida 0, 3OT, Game 4
1992, May 30 Pittsburgh 1 Chicago 0, Game 3
1986, May 22 Montreal 1 Calgary 0, Game 4
1984, May 10 Edmonton 1 New York Islanders 0, Game 1
1975, May 19 Philadelphia 1 Boston 0, Game 6
1968, May 7 Montreal 1 St.Louis 0, Game 2
1957, Apr 9 Montreal 1 Boston 0, Game 2
1954, Apr 11 Montreal 1 Detroit 0 OT, Game 5
1953, Apr 16 Montreal 1 Boston 0 OT, Game 5
1945, Apr 6 Toronto 1 Detroit 0, Game 1
1945, Apr 12 Toronto 1 Detroit 0, Game 3
1945, Apr 21 Detroit1 Toronto 0, Game 6
1937, Apr 11 New York Rangers 1 Detroit 0, Game 3
1937, Apr 13 Detroit 1 New York Rangers 0, Game 4
1934, Apr 10 Chicago 1 Detroit 0 OT, Game 4
1933, Apr 13 New York Rangers 1 Toronto 0 OT, Game 4
1928, Apr 12 New York 1 Mon. Maroons 0, Game 4
1927, Apr 7 Ottawa 0 Boston 0 OT, Game 1
1926, Mar 27 Mon. Maroons 1 Ottawa 0, Game 2
1924, Mar 8 Montreal 1 Ottawa 0, Game 1
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