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.

Monday, May 29, 2017

1972/73 NHL Transfers and 1974/75 Loblaws Stamps

Here are a few recent purchases to add to the Den collection. I love 1970's oddball hockey stuff, and it doesn't come more oddball than the old Letraset rub-off transfers that were big back in the day. Remember, there were no video games or computers, so we did what we could for indoor fun. I picked up two from the 1972/73 NHL "Hockey Action Replay" Transfers issue, still in unused, perfect condition. They were originally sold for ten cents per scene, and each came with a background on which to transfer the images and five images that could be rubbed onto the scene. Of course, once applied, the images were immovable and half of them tore as you peeled the paper backing. Boy did we have fun. 
I also got a bunch of intact sheets of Loblaws NHL Stamps that were given away free with the purchase of groceries. Each booklet of eight player stamps came with a handy coupon. "Save 8 cents on Dr. Ballard's Meat Dinners for Dogs", what a deal!

 I definitely need to get one of the old Loblaws albums to organize my collection. I managed to get some of the big names; Orr, Esposito, Mikita, Dionne, Gilbert, Ratelle, Potvin and Keon. The Denis Potvin is actually a rookie season issue too. They are all in real fine shape too. In their full panels these are worth a few bucks each (Orr a fair bit more), not bad for a cheap flea market purchase. Just look at all the glorious 1970's colours, fantastic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Inside the Maple Leafs Room

Time to identify another old hockey photo from my friends at Vintage Sports Images in North Vancouver. I got this one with no date or info attached, but there are some easily identifiable faces. 
The three in the middle with their jerseys removed are Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun and Tim Horton. 
The Leaf at left reading the game program certainly appears to be Carl Brewer which makes sense, as he was always more cerebral player than most. To the left of him we see a player in the midst of removing his jersey. If we look closely at the skate under the bench below him, there is a number "23" visible (see below) making this very likely the one and only Eddie Shack. You can almost see his nose poking through his jersey.
The last guy at the right side of the scene enjoying a swig of 7-Up is almost surely Larry Hillman. His face nicely matches the photo below. To narrow down the timeframe of this photo, the terrific uniform database nhluniforms.com informs us that the Maple Leafs added numbers to their sleeves for the 1962/63 season. This makes the the photo from prior to that and most likely from the 1960/61 season using the Larry Hillman factor. Hillman was claimed by the Maple Leafs in the Intra League draft from Boston in the summer of 1960. He played 62 of 70 games with Toronto in 1960/61 and only 5 games the following season, then the Leafs added the numbers to their jersey. This makes it extremely likely that this photo is from the 60/61 season. 
In conclusion, I am fairly confident that from left to right we see; Shack, Brewer, Stanley, Baun, Horton and Hillman. Allan Stanley was selected to the NHL 2nd All-Star team in 60/61, and the Leafs finished in second place with 90 points in 70 games. Alas, Toronto was beaten in the first round of the playoffs by underdog Detroit in five games. The only game they won was the first in double overtime, on a goal from George Armstrong, assisted by Allan Stanley.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"We'll Take It Here"; Punch Imlach

A few tidbits from the day off between Game 5 and Game 6 of the 1967 Cup Final culled from the archives of the Montreal Gazette and Toronto Star:
"We'll wind it up here," Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach stated after the Leafs went through an hour-long practice session on the Sunday after Game 5. Toronto had beaten Montreal at the Forum the previous night by a score of 4-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the 1967 Cup Final. Imlach continued, "We don't even have transportation booked for a return to Montreal, we haven't even tried. He finished by saying, "I have nothing to say. After 96 games, I'm all talked out. The team'll have to do the talking in this one." Of course Imlach added, "What difference does it make? Has Blake decided who he's going to use in goal?"
"You'll know who's in goal at game time and not before", said Montreal coach Toe Blake, answering Imlach's query. "It doesn't matter who's in goal as long as we work in front of him. It wasn't Vachon's fault that we lost on Saturday. He's been terrific since he came up and could rebound with a big game. Gump was great in the playoffs last year, but he hasn't played for a long time and could be rusty." However, an anonymous Habs veteran commented, "We'll win with Gump. Experience counts most in the playoffs."
Leaf goaltender, Terry Sawchuk commented on this hopefully being the final game of the season,"When I walked here in the sunshine I thought this is the kind of a morning a guy should be able to sit on a bank of a trout stream with a cold brew in one hand and a fishing line in the other."
Imlach wondered about injured Johnny Bower,"I'm surprised he didn't come out to skate today, but I guess he didn't feel he was ready." Bower of course had a torn groin muscle from warm-ups prior to the fourth game.
Montreal initially canceled reservations at a suburban Toronto motel in favour of their customary downtown hotel after they heard all the visiting newspapermen would be there as well. Alas, the newsmen moved back to the city too and it was too late for the team to switch back.
Leaf rookie Brian Conacher was somewhat miffed that he hadn't been credited with an assist in the Game Five win,"I checked the puck off Bobby Rosseau and knocked it free to Marcel (Pronovost). I felt I deserved an assist and told the referee (Bill Friday). He made the correction with the fellow at the timekeeper's bench and that's the last I heard of it." Pronovost had notched the third goal, a shorthanded marker at 12:02 of the second period on Saturday night. Fifty years later, Conacher has yet to receive his assist and he ended the post-season with 3 goals and 2 assists in 12 games. He would not play another NHL playoff game after the '67 Cup Final. 
Toronto is a 9-5 favourite to take the Cup in Game 6.
The Conn Smythe Trophy will not be presented, nor the winner named, until two days after the Cup Final. This is not because league governors will take that long to decide but because the NHL feels two presentations in one evening are too many.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Johnny Bower The Seamstress gets The Shutout

John Ferguson Battling in Game Two
After Game Two of the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals, Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach stated the obvious to the Montreal Gazette, "When you have two good netminders you're not taking a chance. Bower usually goes well against Montreal so I played a hunch that he could come through in this game. He came through and so did the rest of the team."
After replacing Terry Sawchuk in Game One with 15 minutes remaining, Bower allowed one goal on eleven shots in Montreal's 6-2 victory. In the second match, Imlach started Bower and he went on to shutout the Habs 3-0.
In the process of shutting out the Canadiens, Bower earned a $100 bonus from his team. Bower was not even aware of the extra money earned for a shutout, arranged by King Clancy. "I haven't heard anything about the bonus plan but I certainly won't argue against it," Bower declared.
Ferguson Causing Trouble Again in Game Two
Once returned home to Toronto the following day Bower was back at Maple Leaf Gardens on the off-day to tend his own repairs on his goal pads. 
"I'm taking them home to make sure they stay hot. Tommy Nayler (Leaf equipment man) sews on my buckles and straps, but I like to do my own patching. That way I can soften the spots where the big rebounds pop off and sew splits in such a way that they don't give bad rebounds," Bower told the Toronto Star.
"There is art to this job, believe me. I wouldn't trust my pads to anyone but Nayler, and then only for minor repairs. The big jobs I do myself."
Bower was stellar in Game Three at The Gardens, turning aside 60 of 62 shots as Leafs prevailed in Double Overtime on Bob Pulford's winner. However, in pre-game warmup for Game Four, Bower injured his thigh stretching to make a save of Larry Hillman's shot. He would not return to play in the final round and Sawchuk was called back into action. After losing the fourth game by a familiar 6-2 score, Sawchuk found his game and guided Toronto to the Cup victory.
Game Two Shutout with his hand-repaired Goal pads

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Teenage 40 Goal Scorers

Auston Matthews just completed a rookie season for the ages, as a teenager. He became only the 12th teenager in NHL history to notch at least 40 goals and only the 3rd since 1993. Below is the chart from hockey-reference.com showing all the teenagers to top 39 goals, which adds Yzerman and Crosby to the list.
Now, of course, league-wide goal scoring rates have fluctuated greatly over the years from 8 goals per game in the early 1980's to just over 5 goals per game just prior to the lock-out of 2004. The 2016/17 season produced a scoring rate of 5.53. Hockey-ref has a wonderful statistic called Adjusted Goals in which seasons from different eras can be compared to an even playing field. Below is the list of teenagers above translated to Adjusted Goals:

Stamkos 56
Nash 48
Carson 46
Matthews 44
Gretzky 43
Crosby 39
Nolan 37
Lemieux 34
Lindros 33
Hawerchuk 33
Hawerchuk 32
Bellows 32
Turgeon 31
Yzerman 31

Matthews' season looks even more impressive after adjustment for era. His goal scoring was more statistically impressive than even Gretzky's rookie season. Amazing. The fourth best goal-scoring season by a teenager in NHL history. If Matthews doesn't win the Calder Trophy, I'll eat one of my many, many Maple Leafs hats.

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