Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elwin "Moe" Morris. War-Time Fill In and Cup Winner

During the second World War, as in most sports, rosters of NHL teams were depleted by players signing up for military duty. When the Toronto Maple Leafs reported for training camp in the middle of October 1943 there were only three veterans present. Bob Davidson, Lorne Carr and Bucko McDonald who were soon joined by fellow vets Babe Pratt, Mel Hill and Reg Hamilton.

One of the many rookies that would round out the line-up was 22 year old defenceman Elwin "Moe" Morris. He had previously been a "well-regarded" backfielder with football's Toronto Argos in 1940 and had graduated from the Toronto Marlboros junior and senior programs.
Morris' hockey career really took off in 1942/43 aftre joining the Toronto Navy squad. He joined the Navy in December, 1942 and would be discharged in June of '43 for physical reasons. Upon arriving at Leaf camp in 1943 Morris said, "I don't know what happened last year but I suddenly gained confidence." He had produced 6 goals and 16 points in the 11 games he played for Toronto Navy.

Leaf coach Hap Day planned on pairing the rookie with Babe Pratt on the Toronto defence saying,"Morris can carry the puck, but he's the kind of a player who will stay back and take care of the defence while Pratt makes use of his puck carrying ability. They make a good team." Day's assessment proved correct as Morris finished his rookie season with 12 goals and 33 points while playing all 50 games. He finished fifth amongst defnders in points behind Pratt, Pat Egan, Ott Heller and Flash Hollett.

The return from military service of Leaf veteran Wally Stanowski bumped Morris down the depth chart the following season. Morris played only 29 games in 1944/45 and his production plumetted to zero goals and a mere 2 assists. t would seem though, he saved his best for the playoffs that year as he notched three goals in helping Toronto win the Cup.

Morris broke his season long slump in a Semi-Final game five loss to Montreal and added the important first goal in game six, when Toronto clinched the series 3-2. The newspapers described; "He paired up with dependable Frank McCool to provide one of the best defensive shows in hockey play this year. Morris also scored the first Toronto goal in the first period, on a brilliant solo effort. It came on a breakaway play on which he shifted clear of a five-man Montreal attack and then outdistanced Defenceman Frankie Eddolls of Canadiens in a furious rink-long dash. It was the second goal Morris has scored this season, his first coming Thursday night in the fifth game of the series."

He then added another tally in the Game Two Finals 2-0 win over Detroit; "Hard-working Elwyn Morris of the Leaf defence notched the clincher on a breakaway in the last period." Apparently, for a defenceman, Morris managed to get his fair share of breakaway's.

After Toronto went up three games to none in the Final on the third straight shutout from "Ulcers" McCool, Coach Hap Day was quoted; "The four youngsters with the team-Gus Bodnar, Ted Kennedy, Elwyn Morris and of course Frank McCool - have risen to great heights." Toronto would go on to win the Cup in seven, almost blowing a three game lead.

The following season, Morris got into 38 games with Leafs, scoring a goal and 5 helpers. He would then settle into eight solid years in the AHL and was traded to New York Rangers and played 18 games with them in 1948/49. In December of that year he was traded to Providence of the AHL in a deal that brought future Leaf defenceman Allan Stanley to the NHL.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bill Cowley and the lost 100 point season.

The 1943/44 NHL season had the highest goals per game average in modern history. The 8.167 goals per match was higher even than the 8.025 of 1981/82. During this season Boston's Herb Cain set the record for points in a season with 82 besting the 73 shared by Cooney Weiland and Doug Bentley. Cain's teammate Bill Cowley would have most likely shattered even this number if not for a mid-season injury. In fact, Cowley was on pace to be the first to score 100 points almost a quarter century before Phil Esposito did it for the first time.

Cowley had in fact just the previous season got within one point of the single season points record when he scored 72 over a full season. He began the 1943/44 season in fine if unspectacular fashion with 14 points in his first 8 games.

Dec. 3, 1943

At this point, the media started to realize there may be some scoring records set this season. The Montreal Gazette on Dec. 4, 1943 stated; “Unless Bill Cowley and Modere (Mud) Bruneteau start slowing down at all intersections, two scoring standards will be shattered when the NHL completes it's 4 ½ month schedule next March.” Cowley's 18 assists in 13 games was well ahead of his own record pace of 45 from 1940/41. " As well, Mud Bruneteau had scored 15 goals in 11 games to that point, threatening the all-time mark of 44 by Joe Malone.

Dec.18, 1943

The Edmonton Journal was one of the first media outlets to talk of a possible 100 point season; "Ott Heller's prediction that Bill Cowley would score more than 100 points in 1943/44 NHL competition seems to have been something more than a shot in the dark. With little more than seven weeks of the 4 ½ month schedule completed, Cowley has collected 36 points."

Dec 23, 1943

100 points of course would require a two points per game pace over the entire 50 game campaign and Cowley was still scoring at that rate as Christmas approached. Uncharacteristically Cowley had really upped his goal scoring rate during this time with 10 goals and "only" 8 assists in his last 7 games.

Dec 28, 1943

As the new year loomed Cowley finally broke through the 2 Pts/Game pace. He seemed assured of breaking the single season points record. It all came crashing down four games later in Toronto as stated in Montreal Gazette headline from Jan.11; "SHOULDER INJURY TO SHATTER HOPES, Unable to Top Weiland Mark Now. Bill Cowley, Boston Bruins’ centre star who, up until Saturday night had a great chance to surpass the present all-time scoring record, saw his hopes fade away at Toronto Saturday night, when a separated shoulder injury put him on the shelf for at least four or five weeks."

Jan 9, 1944

Perhaps frustrated with the loss of his superstar, Boston coach Art Ross fired acqusations of intent to injure at Leaf centre Jack McLean. He was quoted in the Toronto Star on Jan 11; "Ross said McLean 'was the central figure in a mass attack carefully designed to put Cowley out of business.' Ross also warned the Leafs to 'bring plenty of reserves into Boston.' When the Leafs travel to Boston January 18. It was believed that McLean would be unable to make the trip to Boston with the team, because of his student duties here. "

Toronto GM Frank Selke replied to the charges and is quoted in the Calgary Herald the next day; " 'I'm afraid Arthur is building this up for Boston consumption,' was the only comment of Frank Selke, Toronto Maple Leafs in his reply to screams from Art Ross of Bruins, that his Bill Cowley had been deliberately put out of commission. Telling how he was injured Cowley merely said; 'I was going around the south goal and McLean was checking me. He eased me into the boards. I felt my shoulder pain and skated directly off.' Cowley had nothing to say when told that Ross had termed it a savage and deliberate attack. "

Fortunately when Toronto paid a return visit to Boston on Jan. 18, the threats of retaliation from Art Ross and the Bruins failed to materialize. Leafs won 7-2 and Toronto veteran Lorne Carr tallied a hat trick and an assist to climb past Cowley for the scoring lead.

Cowley would return from the shoulder injury on Feb.13 against Detroit in a game which he failed to register a point. The Associated Press tells; "The loss of Bill Cowley, veteran centre, for another week to 10 days was announced tonight by the Boston Bruins management. He now is suffering from water on the knee, which resulted from a bumping with Flash Hollett, his former teammate, in Sunday’s game here with the Detroit Red Wings. That was Cowley’s first start in five weeks, since he suffered a shoulder separation in Toronto."

He did indeed return ten days after the knee injury to play in an exhibition game on Feb. 23. Boston played Cowley's hometown Ottawa Amateur Commandos in nation's capital. Cowley proved he was healthy in collecting five points. Coach Ross commented on his squad's chances of catching Toronto, Detroit or Chicago for a playoff spot; “A great deal depends on Cowley, “ he admitted. “ If Bill is right for the rest of the schedule, if he can shake off that knee injury, I imagine we’ll be all right.

Mar.1, 1944

Cowley returned against the Leafs on Feb. 29 scoring a goal and two helpers. By March 7 he had returned to the 2 points per game rate with 4 goals and 7 points in the next 3 matches.

Mar.7, 1944

He continued his torrid goal pace with 6 goals and 9 points in the final 5 games of the season. Overall, Cowley notched 10 goals in his last 8 matches and finished with a Point/Game average of 1.97. This would stand as the modern record until Wayne Gretzky topped 2.00/game in 1980/81.

Final Stats

Perhaps a chance at the first ever 100 point season in history was lost with Cowley's injury in January. He seemed well able to maintain his scoring pace throughout his injury plagued year, never really having a slump.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Darryl Sittler; The Mother of all Breakout Games

Earlier this year I discussed Darryl Sittler's amazing 10 point night on February 7, 1976. I noted that the game represented a breakout of sorts in Sittler's overall career arc. Upon further inspection, Feb. 7, 1976 indeed appears as a dramatic stepping stone to a new level of performance for Sittler.

1975/76 was his sixth season in the NHL and after two developing years to start his career he became a nice point per game centreman. Over Sittler's third through fifth seasons, he produced 1.06 points per game. In 1975/76 up until Feb 7, he had continued along at 1.04 points per game. However, since the new year of 1976, Sittler had actually slowed down his production to pedestrian standards. Over the 17 games leading up to his explosive night, he had a mere 13 points.

The Toronto media was calling for the Maple Leafs to aquire a "top scoring" centre if they had any hope of contending. The truth is, the media may very well have had a point. Over the three previous seasons there were ten NHL centres that scored points at a higher rate than Sittler.

Sittler actually made reference to the criticism after his magical evening of Feb. 7 stating to the media, "I wonder if they're still looking for a centre?" Although it would take Sittler the next seven games to collect his next ten points, Feb.7, 1976 did end up being a drastic step to the upper echelon for Darryl Sittler. In his final 28 games of 75/76 including Feb.7 he notched 47 points. He would continue scoring points at a new level over the next five years as he was bested by only Marcel Dionne and Bryan Trottier in points per game.

It's either quite a coincidence or a statement of fact that Feb. 7, 1976 proved to be dramatic turning point in the career of Darryl Sittler. In my opinion, the numbers are overwhelming that this historic game gave Sittler the confidence and knowledge that he was indeed in the upper echelon of NHL centremen.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oddball Hockey Memorabillia

When I first started the Hockey Den, I intended it as a showcase for my hockey collection and it has since evolved into more of an analysis of hockey history and statistics. In fact I am indeed always adding memorabillia to the Den, and yesterday I picked up some nice oddball stuff.

Above and below are cards from Lipton Soup issued in 1974. Bobby Hull in the original Jets jersey is a fairly rare card, and I love the photo of the rookie year Borje Salming sprawling to block a shot.

The next one is a 1983 issue from the Hockey Hall of Fame picturing Cyclone Taylor. This was back at the time that the Hockey Hall shared a building with the Canadian Sports Hall on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. Pretty much every time I visited the CNE for the fair or for a Blue Jays game, I would go to both Halls. If I recall, they were free admission, times sure have changed.

These next two are part of a sticker set put out in 1974 by Loblaw's a grocery store chain in Canada. The Orr goes for about $20 on ebay.

This next one I find very interesting. It's from a series called Bulgaria Sports Photos. This cigarette card was issued in 1932 and pictures I believe two German teams. As far as I can decipher (with google translator) the teams are Zeheldorfer Wespen (Wasps) and Charlottenburger. The Wasps were victorious 2 to 0. This card appears to fetch at least $100, which is cool as I paid 10 for it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Charlie Simmer, Two of the Greatest Goal seasons...almost

Charlie Simmer had two of the greatest back-to-back goal scoring seasons in NHL history...just about. In 1979/80 he scored 56 times in 64 games to tie for the league lead and the next year he matched it and played only one more game. Both years were marred by long-term injuries.

In 79/80 he threatened to equal Rocket Richard's mark of 50 goals in 50 games a year before Mike Bossy would do it. That year, Simmer had 36 goals through the first 40 games but injured his right knee ligaments on Jan. 9 and missed the next 15 games. Upon his return he ripped off 11 goals in his next 10 games to get to 47 goals in his first 50 games. In fact his scoring average before the injury was 0.900/game and afterwards was 0.833 (20 goals in 24 games). His season-long Goals/Game of 0.88 was only the 7th time since 1930 a player scored at that rate and works out to a 70 goal pace over 80 games.

The next season, Simmer was just as good...and just as injury bitten. He had 56 goals in 65 games until March 3, 1981 when he broke his leg. In an attempt to check Toronto's Borje Salming, Simmer lost his balance and fell to the ice with his leg doubled-up under his body. The fractured tibia kept him out for the remainder of the year. His 0.86 Goals/Game pace translates to a 69 goal full season.

Somewhat surprisingly, Simmer's two seasons were only the second time since 1930 that a player scored at least 0.85 Goals/Game in consecutive years. Phil Esposito had rates of 0.97 and 0.87 in 70/71 and 71/72. Since Simmer did it, only four other players have ever done it. Wayne Gretzky scored at least 0.85 Goals/Game in four straight years, Jari Kurri did it in 84/85 and 85/86, Mario Lemieux three in a row from 86/87 thru 88/89 and Brett Hull three in a row from 89/90 thru 91/92.

Simmer would never be quite the same after the broken leg, coming back in 81/82 with 15 goals in 50 games, then 29 in a full following season. In 83/84 he did score 44 goals but never reached the heights of 1980 and 1981 again. These two seasons do however stand with some of the best goal scoring years of all-time.

Friday, September 9, 2011

David Krejci, Improbable Playoff Goal Leader

The NHL playoff Goal Leader for 2011 was Boston's David Krejci who tallied 12 times. During the regular campaign he scored only 13 times over 75 games. This is one of the lowest regular season goal totals for a player that would go on to lead the playoffs in goal scoring of all-time.

Prior to Krejci, the most recent unlikely playoff goal leader would have to be Edmonton's Fernando Pisani with 14 in 2006 after a regular season of 18 goals. Krejci just about accomplished a rare feat of scoring as many or more goals in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. This in fact did happen three times over four years in the mid-1990's, mainly due to the fact that the players had played far less than the full amount of regular season games.

Sergei Fedorov led the playoffs in goals with 10 in 1998 after scoring only 6 in 21 regular season games. In both 1997 and 1995 Claude Lemiuex led each playoff with 13 goals, during seasons which he scored only 11 and 6 goals. However he only played 45 games each season due to injuries. As well, in 1993 Wayne Gretzky led the playoffs with 15 goals in a season which he only scored 16 times; he like Lemieux however had played in only 45 games during the season.

In reality it has been over 50 years since a playoff goal leader had even close to his regular season goal total in a year which he didn't miss a significant amount of games.
In 1959, Montreal's Marcel Bonin led in playoff goals with 10 after scoring only 13 in the season. Even Bonin though missed 13 regular season matches, playing in 57.

In 1953, Boston's Ed Sanford scored 8 playoff goals to lead the NHL after potting only 14 during the season, he as well though missed 9 of the 70 scheduled games. Hank Goldup of Toronto equalled Fedorov and Lemieux's low of 6 regular season goals for a playoff leader. Rookie Goldup led with 5 playoff goals but had played less than half the season with the Leafs in scoring his 6 goals.

It seems it's safe to say that David Krejci would have to be the most improbable playoff goal leader in modern times (post 1940) barely narrowing out Pisani for the "title".

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Big Minus Cup Finalists

The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between Vancouver and Boston was certainly one of the strangest in history. It produced the worst Plus/Minus number by a player who sucessfully got to the Cup Finals. In truth, Canuck Christian Ehrhoff merely tied the record of -13 set by Luc Robitaille in 1993. Ehrhoff played 23 of Vancouver's 25 games on his way to equaling the unwanted record.

Canuck captain Henrik Sedin checked in with a -11 mark which is the second worse rating for a Cup Finals participant since +/- became an official statistic. The only two other players to make it to a Final while sporting a -10 rating was Florida's Scott Mellanby in 1996 and Boston's Don Sweeney in 1990.

How rare is it for a player to get to the Finals and have even a -7 rating over the playoffs? Since 1984 it's been done by only 13 players.

If the threshold is raised to a -5 rating, even that is a rare number for a player who made it to the Cup Final. As some solice for the five Canucks who were at least -5 last year (Oreskovich, Glass and Daniel Sedin the others) there have been some big name Finalists in the past that were saddled with a poor minus. In 1984 Denis Potvin and Bobby Nystrom of the Islanders both sported -5 ratings enroute to a Cup loss to Edmonton. The following year Flyer Peter Zezel also went -5, then Calgary's Joel Otto did it in '86. Of course all of these lost the Cup. In 1991 Brian Bellows had a -6 and Bobby Smith a -5 during the unsuccessful Minnesota Cup run.

In 1992 Pittsburgh's Jiri Hrdina somehow clocked a -6 rating in "helping" the Pens to a Cup win. Rob Niedermayer is the only player to have done ths more than once. In 1996 for the Panthers he was -8 and in 2003 for the Ducks he was -5, his team lost the Cup in each of those years.

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