Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Buffalo Sabres Are Back to Square One

Through the first 14 games of 2013/14 the Buffalo Sabres have a record of 2-11-1.
After the first 14 games of their expansion year in 1970/71 they went 2-11-1.
Was the first ever incarnation of the Sabres better off than the current squad ? Let's have a look.

1970/71 after 14 games (GP-G-A-Pts)  21 GOALS FOR, 58 GOALS AGAINST
Gilbert Perreault  (20 yrs old)              14-7-5-12 
Gerry Meehan     (24 yrs old)              12-4 3-7 
Cliff Schmautz      (31 yrs old)             11-3-4-7
Larry Keenan       (30 yrs old)             12-1-5-6  
Reggie Fleming     (34 yrs old)             14-1-4-5 
Randy Wyzorub   (20 yrs old)             14-2-1-3 
Steve Atkinson     (22 yrs old)               3-1-1-2 
Al Hamilton          (24 yrs old)             11-0-2-2
Floyd Smith          (35 yrs old)             14-0-2-2
Skip Krake           (27 yrs old)            11-1-0-1

Dave Dryden  (29 yrs old)   60min   3.00GAA
Roger Crozier (28 yrs old) 633min  3.79GAA
Joe Daley     (27 yrs old)    147min  5.71GAA

2013/14 after 14 games (GP-G-A-Pts) 23 GOALS FOR, 41 GOALS AGAINST 
Cody Hodgson   (23 yrs old)            14-4-6-10
Marcus Foligno   (23 yrs old)            11-2-4-6
Steve Ott            (31 yrs old)            14-2-4-6
Christian Ehrhoff  (31 yrs old)           11-0-4-4
Brian Flynn          (25 yrs old)           14-2-1-3
Tyler Ennis           (24 yrs old)           14-1-2-3
Zemgus Girgensons (20 yrs old)        13-1-2-3
Jamie McBain       (25 yrs old)            7-1-2-3
Drew Stafford       (28 yrs old)          14-1-2-3
Tyler Myers          (23 yrs old)          14-0-3-3
Matt Moulson       (30 yrs old)            1-2-0-2
Cody McCormick (30 yrs old)          10-0-2-2

Jhonas Enroth  (25 yrs old)   241min  2.24GAA
Ryan Miller      (33 yrs old)   595min  3.13GAA

Two pretty rough squads here. The original team would end up 24-39-15 for 63 points. This year`s team would need 58 points in the remaining 68 games to match that total, doubtful but you never know. Ryan Miller would have to be considered an improvement over Roger Crozier and friends in net, but barely so at this stage. One would have to take Zemgus Girgensons and Marcus Foligno over Randy Wyzorub and Steve Atkinson. Tyler Myers over Al Hamilton, even with his recent struggles is a no-brainer.

That brings us to the leading scorers of each team, Gilbert Perreault and Cody Hodgson. Sure, Hodgson is a nice player and has a chance to have a good to very good career. Perreault on the other hand was a generational-type player and sure-fire Hall of Famer. I wonder which team the average die-hard Sabres would chose between the two squads. Personally, I`d probably take the 1970 team if only for the future potential of Perreault. I just don`t see a great future any time soon in the current edition.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crosby Having a Nice Start

With 17 points in his first 9 games of 2013/14, many are already talking about Sidney Crosby having a season for the ages. The real impressive thing is the era in which he is producing such outstanding numbers. Crosby's 17 points are 4 ahead of second place Henrik Sedin and the 24 other players within 3 points of each other trailing him. Even when Wayne Gretzky was putting up 200 points a season in the 1980's a 4 point lead in the points race at this stage of the season was rare.

A look at the scoring leaders during the early 1980's at the same point in the season:


Through Oct. 26, 1980
Charlie Simmer    7-8-8-16
Kent Nilsson        9-6-8-14
Wayne Gretzky    8-5-9-14
Through Oct. 25, 1981
Real Cloutier     10-7-12-19
Marcel Dionne      9-8-9-17
Wayne Gretzky  10-7-10-17
Through Oct. 27, 1982
Wayne Gretzky    9-6-18-24
Mike Bossy        12-12-8-20
Through Oct 23, 1983
Wayne Gretzky    9-11-13-24
Peter Stastny        10-3-18-21
Oct 28, 1984
Wayne Gretzky   9-10-17-27
Mike Bossy         8-12-11-23
Oct 27, 1985
Dale Hawerchuk   9-6-11-17
Brian Propp            8-8-8-16
Wayne Gretzky      7-4-11-15
Oct 26, 1986
Wayne Gretzky    10-8-20-28
Mario Lemieux     9-12-12-24
Walt Poddubny      9-4-12-16

Amazingly, even back in the high-flying 1980's Gretzky et al never had more than a four point lead in the scoring race at this point in the season. The fact that Crosby does now, when goal scoring is 40 to 50% lower makes it all the more impressive. Now, if he can just stay healthy perhaps we will indeed see a season for the ages.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

6-1 start for the Maple Leafs, does it mean anything?

It's official, Toronto's start to the 2013/14 season is their best one in twenty years. The Leafs haven't been better than 6-1-0 to start a season since their NHL record 10-0-0 beginning to the 93/94 campaign.
In fact the franchise has only had at least a 6-1 start in now six seasons. The other occasions it has happened:

2013/14 6-1-0, 27 Goals For - 16 Goals Against
1993/94 7-0-0, 35 GF - 15 GA
1980/81 6-1-0, 36 GF - 27 GA
1944/45 6-1-0, 35 GF - 17 GA
1941/42 6-1-0, 26 GF - 16 GA
1934/35 7-0-0, 23 GF - 9 GA

Amazingly, this is only the third time the Leafs have started a season this good in almost 70 years. The time previous to 93/94 is interesting in the fact that their hot start really didn't mean a thing once the season went on.

 The Wilf Paiement, Darryl Sittler, Jiri Chra-led Leafs would end up with a mere 71 points in 80 games. They had fallen back to a .500 record just over a month after going 6-1-0. It would take them 23 games to win their next six games. The Leafs made the playoffs by one point that season only to be swept aside by the Islanders.

The 1944/45 Leafs would fare infinitely better with their 6-1-0 start. Although they finished with only 52 points in a 50 game season, they ended up winning the Stanley Cup. The 41/42 version of the Leafs would carry their 6-1-0 start to second place overall and another Cup victory.

The 1934/35 Leafs and their perfect 8-0-0 start finished with 64 points in first place of the 48 game season. They would fall to the Montreal Maroons in the Cup Final. Of course the 93/94 10-0-0 Leafs ended up 5th overall in the 26 team NHL and lost the Semi-Finals to Vancouver.

So, a 6-1-0 start to an NHL season for Toronto means they will either go deep into the playoffs or be swept in the first round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.

Honestly, after only seven games, this really is how wide-ranging and ridiculous we should be predicting how this season plays out.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Maple Leafs Dynasty Halted by New NHL Rules?

At the conclusion of the 1963/64 NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had won the previous three Stanley Cups. Throughout the hockey world, the Leafs were regarded as an older, grinding, defence-first squad that engaged in 'clutch and grab' tactics. They were so successful that the NHL may have actually created new rules simply to curb the success of the irritating-to-play-against Maple Leafs. If one was to believe Maple Leaf coach/general manager Punch Imlach, this is exactly what happened.

During the four-day June 1964 draft/league meetings in Montreal, a few new rules were adopted for use in the upcoming season that some thought was a direct attempt to impede the Leafs. In the Maple Leafs game programme of October 1964, these new rules, their effects and the complaints about them are discussed in depth. As with most topics concerning his hockey club,  Punch Imlach was far from pleased. Imlach speculated, as did others, that the new rules were added to harm his Maple Leafs. It's impossible to answer that in any definitive manner, but it sure is fun to speculate.

The main new rule change concerned the amount of interference that was prohibited during the execution of a face-off. To quote the words of National Hockey League President, Clarence Campbell at the time;"It was agreed that there would be no physical contact between the two men facing off after the puck was dropped. In other words, if a man got the puck and passed it off, he was not to be interfered with."

Leaf public relations director and author, Ed Fitkin put forward the anti-Leaf theory;
If the new rules are aimed at the Leafs, as has been suggested by Leafian officials, then it's just as possible that they were sired in Montreal. For years, they've been saying down there that the Leafs are the clutch and grab exponents par excellence, and also that they got away with too much rough stuff. This, of course, is the price of success; and perhaps Punch Imlach should feel flattered, rather  than downright irked. It would seem that he has built better, perhaps, than even he suspected, if they have to change the rules to handicap his team.

Simply put, officials were to now crack down on face-off interference, a tactic deployed expertly by the Leafs. Ed Fitkin continued on and illustrated how in the past, there were indeed rule changes made by the league in an attempt to slow down a successful team.
The last time that happened was when Montreal Canadiens were the powerhouse of hockey, winning five Stanley Cup championships in a row. They were just too good, and everybody in hockey realized it. To level things off, the 'rich should help the poor' policy was fostered, such as protected lists being chopped down to provide availability of players for all clubs. This didn't help Canadiens, but it helped the league. And on the ice, the awesome Montreal power play, which could produce two or three goals in a two-minute stretch without much trouble, brought about the rule that a penalized player returns to the ice as soon as the opposing team scores.

These new rules could be an indication that the three-time Stanley Cup Champion Leafs have risen to the elite company of the old Canadiens.

So, was this a conspiracy theory put forwarded by the disgruntled Maple Leaf brass, or was the club merely being paranoid? Legendary writer Dick Beddoes outlines the actual wording of the new rule and implies that Imlach was even fully agreeable with the when they were voted upon in June;
The rules that alarm Mr. Imlach were devised last June and recently clarified in a two-day seminar for NHL officials, coaches and managers. Mr. Imlach, as the principal Toronto delegate, was among those who unanimously approved the changes. Rule 52, Section (b) "In the conduct of any face off anywhere on the playing surface, no player facing off shall make any physical contact with his opponent's body in the course of playing the puck after the face off has been completed. For the violation of this rule, the referee shall impose a minor penalty or penalties on the player(s) whose action(s) caused physical contact." Allied with Rule 52,is a stricter enforcement of Rule 62, which deals with infractions called interference. All parties agreed in their seminar to curtail 'offensive interference', that is, interference by the team with the puck.

Beddoes sums up his thoughts with a statement that could very well have been penned today;
 "One of the oddest phenomena of our time is the adulation of the hockey tough guy and enormous sums paid for his barbarous ability. There is a muscular theory that bloodshed is box-office. But the rowdies should not be allowed to drag down the skillful, the disreputable to beat the deft. There ought to be a premium on talent. That is what the new face off code is designed to do. It will free clever performers such as Henri Richard and Dave Keon and Murray Oliver from being flattened on the draw by a loogan who thrusts his stick between their skates, or something. There is a place for hatchet men, but the place is a logging camp.

Further adding to his belief that Imlach may be complaining a bit too much, Beddoes quotes Clarence Campbell again;
"The legislation should be simple enough, and reasonable. We want the face-off to be a thing of skill. We're trying to stop some players from immobilizing good opponents after the puck is dropped. The only bumping we've taken out of the game is on the face off, which we believe should be a thing of finesse, rather than force." There was a presidential aside on Mr. Imlach's vigorous complaint: "It all depends on whose ox is being gored. Imlach has a team that, in some instances thrives on the interference type of game."

It would seem that neither Beddoes or Campbell were having any of Imlach's whining. Another legendary hockey writer, George Gross managed to put to paper the thoughts of the Leaf Coach as he addresses the fact that he did in fact agree to the rule change back in the summer;
According to Punch Imlach, National Hockey League officials are trying to enforce rules which would make hockey look like basketball on skates. "I attended the meeting when these things came up and Clarence Campbell explained it to us in such a way that we understood, after the puck is dropped, everything reverts to normal. Three other general managers (Muzz Patrick, Lynn Patrick and Sid Abel) will back me up on that. What do they expect a defenceman to do? Just motion with his arms and say 'after you Alphonse!' Hockey is a man's sport," he fumed, "and while I don't advocate dirty tactics, I certainly believe that people like to see rugged hockey with clean, hard body checking. Otherwise we may as well call it basketball."

The Maple Leafs' two greatest past offenders of face-off interference, defencemen Carl Brewer and Bob Baun express their concerns through the pen of George Gross;
Leaf defender Carl Brewer sees it this way,"This new rule is going through its trial stages. They are trying to prevent a defenceman from being over-aggressive and, at the same time put some art back in the game. I am sure they'll have to modify the existing interpretation in order to accomplish what they set out to do. I go along with the original thought that, after the puck is dropped, a defenceman is allowed to move in." His defence mate, rugged Bobby Baun, put it more bluntly: "This new rule affects me more than any other player. Taking a man out on a face-off was my big play. There hadn't been that much interference before they brought this thing in anyway. I hope they change it pretty soon."

Baun actually admits that "Taking a man out on a face-off was my big play.". He understandably is concerned about the newly formed limitations. So the question is, "Were the new rules indeed instrumental in the Leafs failing to win the Stanley Cup for a fourth season in a row?" Let's look at the numbers.

During the course of the 1963/64 NHL season, the six teams were assessed a total of 5370 Penalties in Minutes, in 1964/65 they were assessed 5979 PIM's. Toronto on their own had 928 PIM's in 63/64 which rose to 1068 the following year. This represents an increase of 15.1% from one year to another. Amazingly, Detroit which had finished fourth in the NHL point standings in 63/64 saw an increase in PIM's from 771 to 1121, or a ridiculous 45.4%. This means, the four remaining NHL teams had their PIM's raise by a negligible 3.3%. Almost half of Detroit's increase may be directly attributed to the comeback to the NHL of Centreman, Terrible Ted Lindsay who's 173 PIM's were four off the league lead.

One further point, every NHL team saw their Penalty Killing success rates go up from 63/64 to 64/65 except Detroit and Toronto. One would have thought the extra practice killing penalties would have helped. Toronto's biggest complainers of the changes, Brewer and Baun did in fact get penalized more often, if only slightly more. Brewer went from 2.0 PIM/GP in 63/64 to 2.5 PIM/GP. Baun's increase was even less, 2.2 PIM/GP to 2.3. Toronto's largest increase belonged to defender Kent Douglas who rocketed from 0.7 PIM/GP to 1.9.

Although Detroit's PIM's rose dramatically, their number of times Shorthanded did NOT rise as much as Toronto's. Each NHL team saw their Power plays Against rise as such; Chicago's increased 22, Detroit 45, Boston 51, Montreal 53, New York 61 and Toronto's shorthanded occasions increased by 77. The Leafs surrendered more than ONE extra Power play opportunity per game in 1964/65, far more than any other team. This may have been a large reason their PK% dropping from a league best 88.72% to 83.67%.

Overall, Toronto's regular season point total only dropped from 78 to 74 between the two seasons. This caused them to slip from third to fourth place. The increase in penalties and decrease in penalty-killing efficiency did however play a large part in their playoff match up with Montreal. In 63/64 Toronto played Montreal in the first round and beat them four games to three. Over the seven games, the Leafs were shorthanded 39 times, and killed off 38 of these chances for an impressive 97.4% Penalty-Kill rate. The following season, the same teams met once again in the first round. Toronto was shorthanded 37 times in the six game loss, about one-half additional chances per game. The drastic difference was that this time Montreal tallied NINE power play goals in the series. Toronto's PK Rate of 75.7% is the main reason the failed to advance to the Cup Finals.

So, when all was said and done the new rules seemed to really hinder only two of the six NHL clubs, Toronto and Detroit. Even though Detroit's regular season Penalties in Minutes rose more dramatically than Toronto's, the increase of Shorthanded situations of more than one per game definitely hurt the Maple Leafs. These extra opportunities for opponents combined with their drastic drop-off in Penalty Killing success were certainly contributors to Toronto's failures, if not the sole reason. Even if the new rules weren't the main reason for Toronto's failure, they certainly allowed their inefficiency at penalty-killing shine through.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Leafs with Two Road Wins to Start a Season, First Time in Franchise History

Two road games to start a season, two road victories. That may not seem like much, but it's literally the very first time the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise that it has occurred.

The Maple Leaf/ St.Patricks/ Arenas have only started the season with two consecutive road games seven times in their history. This year is the first time they have won both of these games.

The last time the Leafs started a campaign with consecutive road games was 1994/95, they tied in Los Angeles and lost in San Jose. The best that Toronto has done in any of these two game road starts was a tie and a win in both 1971/72 and 1981/82.

In 1971/72 the Leafs won their opener in Vancouver then tied the Golden Seals in California. Back the, Toronto split the goaltending each game with Bernie Parent starting the first, and Jacques Plante the second.
A decade later in 1981/82 the Leafs won 6-1 in Winnipeg then tied Minnesota 3-3 behind the not quite so formidable duo Vincent Tremblay and Michel "Bunny" Larocque.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Original KLM Line

Most hockey fans are aware of the famous KLM line that skated for the Soviet Union throughout the 1980's. Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov were perhaps one of the greatest units on hockey history. They were not however the first trio to be christened with the label of KLM line.

More than three decades before the famous Soviet line, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a line with the very same KLM name. In his 1950 biography of Ted Kennedy, "Come on Teeder", Ed Fitkin makes two direct references to the Leafs KLM trio.

In 1946/47 a rookie Howie Meeker and new Leaf Vic Lynn joined fourth-year Leaf Ted Kennedy to form a line. Meeker won the Calder Trophy that season, Kennedy finished fifth in NHL scoring and Lynn notched 20 points in 31 games before getting injured. The line would stayed together for over three seasons and was popular enough to have a poem composed by Toronto Star Hockey writer, Gordon Walker in the style of the baseball poem "Tinker to Evers to Chance."

These be the choicest of summary words;
Kennedy, Meeker and Lynn.
Trio of Leaflets, fleeter than birds,-
Kennedy, Meeker and Lynn.
Thoughtfully clicking on passing plays
Doing tricks with the puck that amaze
Words becoming a popular phrase
Kennedy, Meeker and Lynn.

Ed Fitkin was not only the author of many hockey biographies from this era, but he was also the Director of Public Relations for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The fact that he refers to the line by the name KLM leads me to believe that the name was fairly well-used at the time. He mentions the name twice:

Page 118
Lynn followed Meeker to the sidelines with a shoulder dislocation - and on Jan. 20, the entire K-L-M Line was hors de combat when Kennedy finally had to yield to his severely bruised back.

Page 128
(1949/50 season) The K-L-M Line had been broken up and Kennedy's partners were Sid Smith and Fleming Mackell, the two youngsters who had played so well with him in the playoffs.

I was not aware of a KLM line in existence prior to the mighty Soviet trio, but perhaps it is time to acknowledge the existence of a KLM line some thirty plus years before it's more famous usage.

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