Friday, June 30, 2017

Maple Leafs Calder Trophy Domination

As expected, Auston Matthews easily was voted the 2016/17 Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year with 99.46% of the vote (how a supposedly "informed" voter could leave a 40-goal scoring rookie off their ballot is beyond me). What was additionally gratifying for Leaf fans is that Mitch Marner and William Nylander finished 5th and 6th place in the Calder voting. This is the first time in the post-expansion era that a team has placed 3 rookies in the top 6 of Calder voting.

There have many occasions that a team has had two players even in the top three of voting, but never three players in the top six in the modern era. As recently as 2013/14, Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson placed 2nd and 3rd and in back to back years 2007 and 2008 Pittsburgh and Chicago placed two players in the top three. Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal were 1st and 3rd in '07 and the next year Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were also 1st and 3rd.

In 2001/02 the Atlanta Thrashers Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk were top two in Calder voting, something that hadn't happened since 1975/76 when the Islanders Bryan Trottier and Chico Resch did it. Other instances of two players in the top three were; 98/99 Colorado's Chris Drury 1st and Milan Hejduk 3rd, 1988/89 Rangers Brian Leech 1st and Tony Granato 3rd, 1986/87 LA Kings Luc Robitaille 1st and Jimmy Carson 3rd.
1984/85 had an interesting Calder vote as two teams had two players each in the top four. Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux won the Calder while teammate Warren Young was 4th and Montreal's Chris Chelios and Steve Penney were 2nd and 3rd. In addition, the Canadiens also had Mike McPhee in 10th place and Tom Kurvers in 11th. Four in the top-11, not bad.

We have to go back to the original-six era to have a team with three rookies in the top six, in fact in 1963/64 the Canadiens placed 1,2,3 in Calder voting with Jacques Laperriere, John Ferguson and Terry Harper.  In 61/62 there was another example of three in the top six when Boston's Cliff Pennington, Pat Stapleton and Wayne Connelly were 2nd, 3rd, 4th. The fourth time this happened was in 1960/61 when Detroit's Howie Glover, Gerry Odrowski and Allan Johnson  were 3rd, 4th 5th.
As a Maple Leaf fan, I hope the rookie success of this season follows the lead of those early 60's Canadiens and not so much that of Boston or Detroit.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Greatest Team in NHL History?

Recently the NHL picked the greatest team ever and chose the 1984/85 Edmonton Oilers. The team finished first in the league with 109 points and waltzed to the Stanley Cup going 15-3 in the playoffs. Wayne Gretzky had one of his greatest offensive seasons collecting 208 points and setting the record of 47 points in the playoffs and Jari Kurri had his best goal scoring campaign with 71 in 73 games in addition he tied the NHL record with 19 playoff goals. A great team indeed, but was it even the greatest Oiler team ever, let alone the NHL's best ever?
Edmonton Journal writer, Jim Matheson, who has been covering the team since their inception in the WHA in 1972 tweeted the following when the '85 team was announced as greatest ever;
"Sorry but '86-87 Oilers was greatest team. Added Nilsson to play with Messier and Anderson, Ruotsalainen brought back for D." He next added,"Kent Nilsson with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson in '87 playoffs was fastest line I ever saw."
If Jim Matheson says the '87 team was better than the '85 squad, I have to believe him.
In addition to adding Kent Nilsson and fellow trade deadline pickup Reijo Ruotsalainen, the '87 squad now also included Esa Tikkanen, Craig MacTavish, Marty McSorley, Steve Smith and Craig Muni. Guys that were gone by '87 were Mark Napier, Willy Lindstrom, Lee Fogolin, Larry Melnyk, Pat Hughes, Billy Carroll, Don Jackson, Dave Lumley and Dave Semenko. It's fairly easy to state that the new players in '87 were an big improvement from the '85 departures.
One major difference though that does favour the 1985 Oilers was that in 1987, Paul Coffey missed 21 games with a back injury and four more in the playoffs. This greatly contributed to the fact his playoff points dropped from 37 in 1985 to 11 in '87. However, Kurri, Messier and Anderson produced similarly from '85 playoffs to '87. Kent Nilsson's 19 playoff points and Tikkanen's 7 goals helped make up the difference in production.
Overall team scoring was only slightly down in '87 regular season from '85 but dipped by about three quarters lower in the '85 playoffs. The team defence was better in '87 in both regular season and playoffs, with Grant Fuhr's playoff average improving from 3.10 to a stellar (especially for the 1980's) 2.46. His save percentage in '87 post-season was an almost unheard of .908.
Truthfully, the team in between these two, the 1985/86 Oilers may very well have been better than both of them. Their 119 points was ten better than the '85 squad and Gretzky and Coffey set multiple scoring records, if it wasn't for the Steve Smith own-goal the '86 team may be in the discussion of greatest ever.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Freddy Hockey, Meet Johnny Harms

Nashville Predators rookie Frederick Gaudreau has scored three goals in four Stanley Cup final games...before having scored a regular season goal in the NHL. Indeed this is an extremely rare feat, as it hasn't happened in 73 years. In 1944, Saskatoon native, Johnny Harms of the Chicago Black Hawks also scored 3 goals in a four game final prior to scoring in regular season.
18-year old Harms had spent the 1943/44 campaign with Hershey of the AHL collecting 10 goals and 31 points in 52 games, he played only one game with Chicago. After not playing in the Semifinal upset of Detroit, Harms drew into the lineup against the heavily favoured Habs. His first goal came in game two with one second remaining in the game to break up Bill Durnan's shutout as the Hawks lost 3-1.
With Chicago down two games to none, Harms put them ahead by a score of 2-1 early in the third period of game three. Unfortunately, Montreal scored two goals within the next three minutes and won 3-2. In the fourth game, Harms notched the potential winning goal to put the Black Hawks up 2-1 halfway through the game and two minutes later they were up 4-1 on goals from George Allen and Doug Bentley. Alas, Montreal stormed back with three in the last half of the third and won the Stanley Cup in overtime on a goal by Toe Blake. 
In the end, John Harms had scored three of Chicago's eight goals in the Cup final. He played 43 games for Chicago the next year collecting five goals and five assists. That would be the end of his NHL career. Harms played the next five years with Kansas City of the USHL, averaging a point per game. He then played the last ten years of his career with Vernon Canadians of the Okanagan Senior League in British Columbia. Harms played in four Allan Cups winning in 1956.

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