Monday, January 30, 2012

Doug Wilson Waives Niittymaki; Laments the Decline of the 3rd String Goalie

Just before the All-Star break San Jose Shark GM and former Norris Trophy winner Doug Wilson waived goaltender Antero Niittymaki for the purposes of demotion. In doing so, he addressed a sparsely attended press conference bemoaning the loss of such a critical roll as the third-string goaltender. "I do wonder where our game is going," he decried before strangely adding, "I know the Greenpeace folks will be happy with this."

Wilson went on, "The fear is we don't have a readily available goaltender if and when both other goalies get injured in warm-up. That's my fear. My admiration for this kid just knows no limits." adding that he had a tough time sleeping knowing he had to potentially end the career of a character player like Niittymaki.

"I mean, in my day I'm not sure what we would have done without an Alain Chevrier, Greg Millen or Jarmo Myllys on the squad. Jeez my first year in San Jose we had five goalies for crying out loud, those were the days. " Wilson continued. "Look at 1981, Montreal had three goalies share the Vezina! Where would they have been without those 6 wins in 25 games from Dennis Herron? Nowhere I tell ya." When reminded that was also the season the Canadiens were swept in the first round of the playoffs by Edmonton Wilson bellowed, "It sure as heck wasn't Dennis Herron's fault!"

As the press conference continued, Wilson ranted about the many other things he fears have been lost from the NHL forever including moulded Lange skates, bench-clearing brawls and white guys with Afro-Mullets.




Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Max Bentley wins two Race Horses



Today I was reading through an old Hockey Digest from April 1979 (as I often do) and read about a story I’d heard before about Hall of Famer, Max Bentley. It was written in the magazine as follows;


“…one of the most famous stories in Maple Leaf Gardens history. During a 1952 game a well-to-do fan who had seats at the end of the Leaf bench promised Max a race horse if he scored on the next shift. The Leafs were losing 2-1 against Detroit, and there had been a delay because of an injury to Detroit goalie, Terry Sawchuk. “Max”, said the fan, who owned a hotel around the corner from the Gardens, “if you tie up the game on your next shift I’ll give you a race horse.” Max scored seconds later. “You got the horse,” hollered the fan, and shook Max’s hand. Later, a Gardens’ director heard the story and said, “If a fan can give you a horse, I can give you one too.” Max ran his two horses on different tracks in Winnipeg and Calgary before other owners bought them in claiming races. “I got enough money from them to make it all right,” he recalls.


A nice little yarn but did it really happen and if so, during which game did it take place? There is no way of verifying that the fan made this offer, but let’s assume that Bentley indeed did win a couple of horses. The question is when could this have happened? The things that can be checked are the facts. Let’s see what we have to go on.

1. The game was in 1952. Not sure if it was the end of 1951/52 or the beginning of 1952/53.
2. The game was against the Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens.
3. Max Bentley scored a goal to tie up a 2-1 game.
4. There was a delay for an injury to Terry Sawchuk.

Thanks to the magic of hockey-reference.com we can check game results from any season. For games with Detroit visiting Toronto that took place in 1952 there are six possible matches.

Jan. 12, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 3
Feb. 13, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Feb. 23, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Mar. 8, 1952 Toronto 6, Detroit 3
Oct. 22, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 4
Nov. 8, 1952 Toronto 3, Detroit 3

The story states that Bentley’s goal tied up a 2-1 game so at first glance the two Feb. 1952 matches can be ruled out as the Leafs scored only once. However often times when tales are passed along the first thing that is forgotten is the actual score, so we’ll have a look at those just in case. The Hockey Summary Project is another terrific site that has most game summaries of goals and assists through NHL history. There are holes in the research though, and the 1951/52 season is one of them. That’s when we go to Google News archives to find actual game reports and summaries. Here’s what I found for each possible game.

Jan. 12, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 3
Leafs got down 3-0 by the ten minute mark of the first period in this one before they began to chip away. The tying goal was notched by Sid Smith at 10:12 of the 2nd. Bentley did score in this one, but it was the 5-3 goal halfway through the 3rd. It’s likely not this game in the race horse tale.

Feb. 13, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Bentley did not score in this one.

Feb. 23, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Once again, Bentley did not score.

Mar. 8, 1952 Toronto 6, Detroit 3
The only occasion in this game that Toronto scored a goal to tie Detroit was at 3:43 of the 2nd when Ted Kennedy tallied to make it 2-2. Bentley assisted on the 4-2 goal by Ray Timgren in the 3rd and scored 55 seconds later to make it 5-2. Although this game does have Leafs tying it at 2, it wasn’t Bentley so cannot be the race horse game.

Oct. 22, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 4
Detroit had a 4-2 lead going into the 3rd in this game before Gord Hannigan scored in the first minute of the 3rd from Howie Meeker and Bentley. Then at 9:59 of the final frame, Toronto ties it 4-4…on a goal from Max Bentley. He would also add a helper on Meeker’s winner four minutes later. Sure, the tying goal Bentley scored was 4-4 not 2-2, but so far this game is promising. And yes, Sawchuk was in net for Detroit however I can find no mention of an injury delay.

Nov. 8, 1952 Toronto 3, Detroit 3
Toronto twice tied this game, Bentley to make it 1-1 at 13:11 of the 1st period and George Armstrong to make it 2-2 in the 2nd. In my opinion, a fan making a brash offer of a race horse as reward for a tying goal would more likely do it in the midst of a two goal comeback in the 3rd period, not down 1-0 in the 1st stanza. To me, this means that the race horse tale took place in the prior meeting of the two clubs.

So, if we have to put a date on this classic tale I’d say it was Oct.22, 1952. Even though Bentley ties it to make the score 4-4 instead of 2-2, it’s the only game that otherwise matches the circumstances in the old story.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Season's Pleasant Surprises

Every hockey season is full of surprises. Things that were unexpected at the start of the season, whether they be good or bad things. A few of the surprises on the not so good side are players performing way under their expected range such as Henrik Zetterberg, Ryan Getzlaf, Drew Doughty, Brad Richards, Derek Roy, Ryan Miller and Alex Ovechkin. There has also been a number of surprises this year of guys that have gone above and beyond expectations. The following is my list of the pleasant surprises of 2011/12 heading into the All-Star break.

Scott Hartnell
With 25 goals and 44 points in 47 games, he may just about to be off to his first All-Star game as a replacement for Ovechkin. Although still 16 points behnd his career best, he is only 5 away from matching his top goal total.

Joffrey Lupul
Was pretty much a throw-in/salary dump in the Beauchemin for Jake Gardiner deal last year but now has 70 points in 76 games since moving to Toronto from the Ducks. Even the most ardent Leaf fans (me) did not see him scoring at over a point per game pace this year. Is now one away from his career high in points and an Alternate captian for the All-Star game.

Jason Garrison
This guy was playing beer league hockey in the summer with a buddy of mine (seriously) and now leads NHL defencemen in goals. He hadn't scored more than 8 goals in a season since 2005 with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCJHL.

Jaromir Jagr
Multiple groin injuries aside, did anyone really expect Jagr to put up near a point per game after three years in Siberia?

Chris Kelly
Always a solid 10-15 goal solid checking guy, currently has 14 goals through 46 games on pace for 25. Oh yeah, and is also a plus 23.

Michael Del Zotto
Sure he's still only 21 years old and had 37 points as a rookie, but he had such a regression last season that this one has to be considered a pleasant surprise. Was minus 20 as a rookie, currently is plus 20 and playing himself into consideration for the Canadian Olympic squad.

Jannik Hansen
The 'Honey Badger's development may be more expected this year after a nice playoff last season, but 13 goals and 25 points is still a pleasant surprise for Canuck watchers. Already bested his career high in goals by 4.

Mike Smith
After never playing more than 42 games in any of his first five seasons, 'Bubbles' is carrying the mail for the Coyotes this year with 37 games played. His .921 save pct. is the highest by far in his career.

Brian Elliot
Although having been usurped again by Jaro Halak, is there any better surprise than Elliot leading the NHL in Goals Against Average? His save pct is almost 30 points higher than in any other season and five shutouts in 22 games ties his career high set in 55 games.

JS Giguere
Not thought of as an elite (or even average) NHL goaltender in about 4 years, but Giggy has had a bit of a renaissance in the thin air of Denver. His .922 save pct and 2.11 GAA are both career bests in his 12th full season.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Unwanted Twig, please take it off my hands.


I’ve got a bit of a problem. This week I came into possession of a hockey stick autographed by this year’s entire Vancouver Canucks team. The problem? Well, I am a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Not only that, but I am a long-time, self-professed Canucks hater. Hate is a strong word, but in this situation it is more than apt. I’m not one of those band wagon Canuck haters just because it’s in vogue now. I have been one since I moved to the West Coast in 1994. The hatred blossomed from a basic indifference I had about the Canucks while growing up in Ontario and was spawned by being immersed in this region.

How in the heck did I acquire this unwanted twig? I have my father to thank for that. You see, my dad ‘pretends’ to like the Canucks although he still lives in Ontario. He does it mainly to get a rise out of my mom and I, but honestly, I think he really does like them. He tries to pick Canucks in his hockey pools and entered a pool on the Canuck website earlier this season. This is where he won the team signed stick. They wouldn’t ship it to Ontario for him, and he really doesn’t have any need for it anyway so he arranged so I could pick it up. All this week he’s told me to put it up on a wall in my den. Anyone who knows me even a little bit or has read any of my blog knows this is not going to happen. My den (yes there really is a Nitzy’s Hockey Den) is full of everything Maple Leafs with a smattering of Gretzky. See photos below.
















It really would be sacrilegious to display such an item in my shrine. I mean really, how can you compare the Nucks stick to my 1963 Leafs team signed stick (which I also got from my dad, he’s batting .500 I suppose) which includes the likes of Tim Horton, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich and Johnny Bower.


Therefore, I will attempt to sell the stick and split the money with my father. I’m going to put it on ebay with the hope of selling it to someone locally in the Vancouver area, I’m not even sure what it would cost to mail it across the continent if needed, probably at least 40 bucks. It has 25 signatures on it, and I have deciphered most of them. Henrik has a simply awful autograph. Anyway, if anyone has any interest in taking this wonderful item off my hands, check out the link in the title at top or here:




And by the way Dad, I did find a temporary place for the stick after all. See the white part barely sticking out from behind the Leaf stick below...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NHL Parity or Widespread Mediocrity?




A look at the NHL Standings can be fairly deceptive. The Florida Panthers sit in first place in the Southeast Division yet have been outscored by 11 goals over the season. Washington, one point behind is only marginally better having scored one measly goal more than they've allowed. Ottawa sits tied for third place in the entire Eastern Conference despite having given up 2 more goals than they've surrendered.

In the West, the standings seem a bit more truthful although Los Angeles and Minnesota currently hold down playoff spots while giving up more goals than scoring. In the East, three of the current playoff qualifiers have allowed more than they've scored. So, how many actual 'good' teams are there in the NHL?

Forget about team point totals when trying to determine this, a better way is goals scored and allowed. In the current season, only 9 of 30 teams have scored more than five goals more than allowed. Ten more goals scored than allowed over a full season does not necessarily imply a team is 'great' but it should at least be the bottom end of the spectrum for being a 'good' team in any given year.

So, with the current season on pace to produce only 9 'good' squads, how does that stack up when compared to past years? As I suspected, this season has the lowest ratio of truly good teams since the mid-1980's. The teams on pace to meet the threshold of a good team (10 more goals scored than allowed) are Boston, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (who are on the playoff bubble as of now but their goal differential of 134-116 certainly makes them a good team), Vancouver, Chicago, St.Louis, Detroit and San Jose.

The remaining 21 teams, many of which are in a playoff spot are simply not that good. 9 of 30 teams means only 30% of NHL teams are good, the rest are mediocre at best. This season really is a historically low level for the number of quality teams and inversely, a high level for mediocrity as seen below. A lower percent of quality teams in a given season means there is a high level of mediocrity among the other teams. While a high number of quality teams (over half) would appear to be a good thing, it also shows a great disparity among the teams.



  • Post Lock-out 2010/11 - 2005/06

The number of good teams each season is consistent between 37 and 47 percent with a six year average of 42 percent.



  • Expansion Era 2003/04 - 1991/92

Again, the number of good teams each year is fairly consistent with a low of 37% in 2002/03 and a high of 50% in four different years. Overall, the twelve years show an average of 44% of NHL teams being considered good in any given year.




  • Firewagon Era 1990/91 - 1979/80

The average per year is remarkably consistent again at 43% of the NHL being quality teams. There are wide fluctuations however with a low of 29% good teams in 1986/87 and a high of 62% in 1984/85. That season saw an amazing 13 of 21 teams have at least 10 goals more goals scored than allowed. Conversely, it had an inordinate number of truly awful teams with 7 of the teams surrendering at least 50 more goals than they scored themselves. At the other end of the scale is the 1986/87 season with only 6 quality teams and only one team allowing even 33 goals more than they scored. Only two teams had 100 points that year, with Edmonton at 106 and the worst teams Buffalo and New Jersey each had a poor but not awful 64 points. True mediocrity that puts that season on a same scale with the current campaign.




  • Post Original Six 1978/79 - 1967/68

Once again, the number of good teams was at 45% per season with a high of 61% in 1974/75 and a low of 33% in 67/68, the first year after expansion. In 1974/75 as in 86/87, although there were many good teams, the disparity between good and awful was extreme. Four teams scored at least 100 more goals more than their opponents while the four worst teams allowed at least 100 more than they scored themselves. The 1967/68 season with only 33% of the teams being good is similar to the current one in it's overall mediocrity. 8 of the 12 teams finished within 14 points of each other and there was really only one awful team in the Oakland Seals.



Overall from 1967/68 through 2010/11, the NHL had an average of 44% 'good' teams in any given year. Amazingly each era was consistently within 2% of the average. This shows that the current campaign, with only 30% 'good' teams is one of the most mediocre seasons in a long time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

36 Years Ago Today, "They're Going Home!"

January 11, 1976 was the conclusion of the Super Series tour by Red Army and Soviet Wings. The vaunted Soviet Red Army had beaten New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and tied Montreal Canadiens. It was up to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions Philadelphia Flyers to restore the good name of the NHL and Canadian hockey in gerneral.

Of course, what unfolded has been well documented many times with the Flyers soundly beating Soviets by a score of 4-1. At the eleven minute mark of the first period with the score 0-0, Red Army coach Konstantin Loktev yanked his team off the ice in dispute of some rather violent play by the Flyers. The actions of the Soviets prompted play-by-play man Bob Cole to repeat, "They're going home!" The final straw was a hit by Ed Van Impe on Valeri Kharlamov that was not called a penalty and in today's game would have warranted a five game suspension. Check out the clip below. It's hard to tell, but it sure looks like a straight-arm right to the head of the Russian star.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGOxVBG4bfk&feature=player_detailpage#t=50s


After a 16 minute delay and much pleading from Clarence Campbell and Alan Eagleson, the Soviets returned to the ice. 17 seconds after the resumption of play, Reggie Leach scored on a powerplay, the Soviets having been penalized for delay of game for their little stunt. Rick MacLeish scored late in the period as Philly outshot the Red Army 17-2. If not for the play of Vladislav Tretiak in net the Flyers would have scored double digits as the final shot count was 49-13.

Flyer coach Fred Shero explained how the Flyers won, "They do a lot of unnecessary skating. They do a lot of retreating, hoping to get one man to leave his position. But we wouldn't be enticed out of positon. It takes patience to beat them." He also instructed his forwards to hold the puck as much as possible in the Russian end, which they did , even if it meant not shooting. "I told them to hold the puck for a faceoff if they didn't have a good shot. They're not very good at faceoffs anyway".

The New York Times was colourful in their description of the proceedings, "The triumph of terror over style could not have been more one-sided if Al Capone's mob had ambushed the Bolshoi Ballet dancers. Naturally, it warmed the hearts of the Flyers' followers, who would cheer for Frankenstein if he could skate." The Soviet papers did not hold back with their feelings as evidenced by the cartoon (seen below) published in Pravda the following day.

Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star wrote, "Loktev knew the conditions before he came. Nobody loves playing in Philadelphia. Once he accepted a game with the Flyers, under NHL rules, with an NHL referee, he was in the same boat as the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks when they come to town." The Montreal Gazette summed it up in a headline alone,"Flyers Salvage Canada's Pride."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bruins on some kind of roll.

Boston currently sits near the halfway mark of the 2011/12 season with 138 goals for and 69 against. That 2 to 1 ratio is extremely rare for a team throughout NHL history. The only occaisons it has been done over an entire season was 1976/77 Montreal Canadiens when they scored 387 and gave up 171 goals and in 1943/44 the Habs had a goal ratio of 234 to 109. Teams rarely even score even 100 goals more than they surrender over a season. The last time even that happened was 2005/06 when Ottawa scored 314 while giving up 211.

Since Boston started this season by going 3-7-0 in October, the Bruins have played near perfect hockey. They've gone 23-3-1 since November 1st, a Points Pct. of .852. A few other amazing numbers about Boston's amazing run:



  • In the 27 games they have scored 117 and given up only 44, averages per game of 4.33 and 1.63

  • They have a ridiculous five different players at a point per game pace over the last 27; Seguin, Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and Peverley.

  • Tyler Seguin is +29 over the last 27 games.

  • Six different Bruins are over +20 in that stretch; Seguin, Marchand, Bergeron, Chara, Seidenberg and Corvo.

  • Tim Thomas is 14-2-0 with 4 shutouts, 1.80 GAA and .945 SavePct

  • Tuukka Rask is 9-1-1 with 3 shutouts, 1.14 GAA and .961 SavePct.

  • once again, Tuukka Rask has a 1.14 GAA over that stretch

  • They have scored at least 6 goals in a game 10 times in the last 27.

  • They gave up 4 goals in a game once in 27

  • They have 7 shutouts in the last 27 games, New York Islanders have 7 shutout in their last 221 games.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

All-Star voting joke.



Have a look at the scoring lines for the sets of three players at the current halfway point of the 2011/12 NHL season (G-A-Pts-Plus/Minus).

Group A

10-27-37 +7
11-15-26 +9
13-10-23 +3



Group B

14-26-40 -3

12-16-28 -1

19-7-26 -6


Do any of these look like the numbers of All-Star game starters? Hardly. However,if push came to shove which three would you have start the All-Star game? Doesn't matter really, they're just a collection of mediocre half-season numbers. There has to be dozens of players more deserving to start. Personally between these two groups I'd go with Group A even though they trail the bottom three by 9 points in total, their plus/minus is +19 compared to -10.


The first set of numbers (Group A) belong to the bottom three vote getters in NHL Forwards All-Star voting; Jamie Benn, David Backes and Mike Richards. Group B are the numbers of the voted starters; Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. The Ottawa Senators fans have succeeded in making a mockery of the voting process and it could have been worse. Sergei Gonchar and his 2 goals and -1 rating missed out on second place by only 11,000 votes (or about 50 Ottawa fans worth of ballot-box stuffing).


I'm amazed that Sens goalie Craig Anderson finished a distant 15th in voting. At least they got something right.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Kladno beats Leafs Subs, 34 years ago today.

January 2, 1978, Super Series 1978 rolled into Maple Leaf Gardens in the form of Czechoslovakian team Kladno. The problem was, Leaf owner Harold Ballard and coach Roger Neilson wanted very little to do with the exhibition game. Ballard declared,"We're not going to bust our butts trying to kick theirs. These games are utterly stupid, a very foolish way to do business." Toronto was in the thick of the Adams Division race with a 21-10-4 record battling Boston and Buffalo for top spot.

Coach Neilson didn't dress stars Borje Salming, Lanny McDonald and Mike Palmateer. He claimed Salming and McDonald were hurting and he wanted them ready for NHL play on Wedsneday saying that, "The game isn't as important as the one against Colorado." He started Gord McRae in net saying,"I wanted to use McRae because he hasn't seen much action this year." The only two regular Leaf defenders to play were second year man Randy Carlyle and rookie Trevor Johansen. Part-timer Mike Pelyk and minor-leaguer Greg Hotham replaced Salming and the actually injured Ian Turnbull.

McRae was beaten on several long shots, no thanks to his green defence corp as Kladno built a 3-0 lead within seven minutes of play in the first period on goals from Jaroslav Pouzar, Peter Stastny and Miroslav Krivacek. All three ended up with two goals each and Kladno held a 6-4 advantage after two periods. Darryl Sittler countered with two goals and Errol Thompson, Scott Garland and George Ferguson had one each for Toronto.

The sell-out crowd at Maple Leaf Gardens certainly didn't appreciate Neilson's decision to bench his stars as they booed McRae and Pelyk throughout the match. Also voicing their displeasure in Neilson was Kladno coach Bohuslav Prosek who said afterwards,"We always play to win. So far I'm disappointed with the Canadians because they have little team work. The players don't seem to co-operate with each other."

Perhaps in the end, Neilson made the right call as the Leafs would go on to beat Colorado 5-0 two days later on the strength of a Mike Palmateer shutout, two goals from McDonald and two assists from Salming. The much-maligned Mike Pelyk also had two helpers in the defeat of the Rockies.
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