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December 01, 2021

Where is Bob Gainey?

The Montreal Canadiens made bold changes this week, removing Marc Bergevin as king pin and replacing him, in part, with Jeff Gorton and soon to be announced others. A whole new regime change.

Names already being linked with the new regime include former Habs Daniel Briere and Patrick Roy, although if I'm Jeff Gorton or Geoff Molson, I'm looking at Mathieu Darche, one of the assistants in Tampa Bay. (Or, is there any chance Julien Brisebois, the Lightning's top boss, wants to come home?)

But a name from the past creeped up in my mind - Bob Gainey. The Hockey Hall of Famer needs no introduction. One of the Habs and NHL's all time great players who turned into powerful coach and manager, including with the Habs from 2003 to 2010. He vacated his GM position with Montreal for personal reasons, saying he could not make the long term commitment needed for the job.

It always struck me at that time that Gainey was, like Bergevin now, burned out. Just the words he used to explain his departure. 

"I believe that the general manager position requires a long-term vision and commitment, and I did not want to make a commitment for four or five or six more years," he said. "If I have to choose between leaving a bit too soon or staying a bit too long, I prefer to leave earlier. I've done my best and now it's time to pass the torch." 

Gainey's burnout was likely exacerbated by the death of his 25 year old daughter Laura in a sailing accident in 2006. How could it not? Especially coming off his wife Cathy's death in 1995 from cancer, at the age of 39. Gainey likely just needed to get away.

And get away he did. He did initially stay on with the Habs as a consultant, a nice gesture from the Molson family. He also briefly served as a consultant with the Dallas Stars in 2012 and the St. Louis Blues in 2014.

But otherwise Bob Gainey has seemingly all but disappeared from the hockey world. I do not for one second believe that at this age (Gainey turns 68 this month) that Gainey wants to return to the Habs as the general manager, though he did make an appearance in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.

But I did get to wondering where is Gainey these days and how is he doing? It does not appear that he (or another Habs great, Larry Robinson) are still with the Blues as advisors. He appears to have moved home to Peterborough, Ontario where he acts as a volunteer advisor his old junior club, the Peterborough Petes.  He recently sold of a significant amount of his personal hockey memorabilia, including his five Stanley Cup rings, to raise over $300,000 for the Gainey foundation in memory of his wife and daughter.

By the way, I found out this small piece of information quite interesting. You likely know Gainey had a son named Steve who was drafted by his father and briefly played in the NHL. But Gainey has a daughter named Anna who was the president of the Liberal Party of Canada through 2018.

November 27, 2021

Lemieux vs Tkachuk: Dad Edition

So on Saturday night there was a nasty play in the Ottawa Senators/LA Kings game.

Kings forward Brendan Lemieux, son of one of hockey's all time great villains Claude Lemieux, apparently bit the finger of Senators' captain Brady Tkachuk. Tkachuk, of course, is the son of Keith Tkachuk, one hockey's toughest hombres (and top goal scorers) of the 1990s.

While the rest of the world talks about last night's chomp, I thought I'd bring your attention to this YouTube clip of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, where the two dads get into a, shall we call it, a spirited disagreement of their own:

St. Louis Eagles and The Great Depression

Long before any one had ever heard of the St. Louis Blues, the NHL had a team called the Eagles in the Gateway City.

It was for just one season - 1934-35. And if you know any 20th century history at all, you already see the problem. That season came at the height of the Great Depression and the team was another casualty.

Sadly, the fact the NHL was in St. Louis at all was a desperate attempt to save one of the original great franchises in all of hockey history - the original Ottawa Senators. They were hockey's first powerhouse, predating the NHL, facing off for the first time in 1883. Including the seasons where they skated to their original nickname of the Silver Seven, Ottawa won 11 Stanley Cups, including four after the formation of the NHL in 1917.

Ottawa was the NHL's smallest market back then, and they had reportedly been a money loser even before the stock market crashed resulting in the Dirty Thirties. To try to stay afloat, the NHL unwisely moved the team to Missouri.

St. Louis has proven to be a good hockey town, with solid success with the Blues and the minor league Flyers before them. But in addition to the Great Depression the low flying Eagles had their financial woes exacerbated by their exorbitant travel costs. They simply could not carry on and folded, dispersing the players around the rest of the league.

The Eagles won only 11 games in the 48 game season, finishing dead last in the league and not qualifying for the playoffs. 

Notable players to play for the Eagles included:

Syd Howe, team captain at an early age who would move on to Detroit and become their best player before anyone had ever heard of the unrelated Gordie Howe

Bill Beveridge, the thirst quenching goaltender. 

Carl Voss, who led the Eagles in scoring with 31 points.

Scotty Bowman, but not the Scotty Bowman you are thinking of.

Joe Lamb, who, in Montreal, wore #99 for a minute.

Vic Ripley, believe it or not.

Cliff "Fido" Purpur, one of hockey's all time great names.

Frank Finnigan, Ottawa Senators legend, and his brother Eddie, in a quick NHL appearance.

Bill Cowley, who would retire as the NHL's all time leading scorer at the time. 

November 24, 2021

Chicago Black Hawks' Scooter Line

The Florida Panthers have won the first 10 home games, and with a win tonight against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers can match the NHL record for longest home winning streak to start the season.

The record is held by the 1963-64 Chicago Black Hawks, as they were worded back then. The Hawks were powered by the Scooter Line, shown here on this Sports Illustrated cover. In that 11 game win streak let winger Bobby Hull had 10 goals and 21 points. Right winger Kenny Wharram, a real speedster, had 10 goals and 20 points. Center Stan Mikita had 9 goals and 20 points. 

That was a powerful Hawks team. Hull would end up leading the entire league in goals with 43. Both Mikita and Wharram had 39 goals. Mikita was the playmaker of the line and finished with 89 points, enough to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's scoring leader. Not surprisingly the Hawks led the entire NHL in goals tallied that year.

The Hawks also had Pierre Pilote on the blue line, one of the game's all time great two way defenders. But despite his presence and having the great Glenn Hall in nets, the Hawks ultimately could not win a playoff series that year. They lacked the depth to support their star players.

The following year the Hawks would land Doug Mohns, who sometimes played defense and sometimes played forward. When he played forward with the Hawks, he replaced Hull on the Scooter Line, while Hull tried meshing with a young center named Phil Esposito. 

November 23, 2021

Joyeux Anniversaire, Saku Koivu


Birthday wishes to Saku Koivu, one of the classiest hockey players in Montreal's long, long hockey history.

There was always something special about how Montreal treated the fantastic Finn as one of their own.

"I always felt that I was respected as a player and for the way I played the game, but what makes me feel humble was the way I was loved by the fans," Koivu once said. "Sometimes you think about why it happened, why they took me as their own. "You can't explain it, but there has been a real, unique bond between the fans in Montreal and myself. They've shown their passion and love and support throughout the years and really, it's been amazing."

Never so amazing as the night he returned to the ice following treatments for cancer in the middle of his career:

The city, the province embraced him first as a great hockey player, known for his playmaking and determination, but then as an even better person, as shown by his Masterton and Clancy trophy wins.

November 19, 2021

Yet Another Return of the Nordiques Headline


Daily Faceoff has a story about the Quebec provincial government's desire to see the return of the Quebec Nordiques.

In the story, Quebec Premier Francois Leagault says he "spoke with [Mr. Bettman], and we have meetings with him in the coming months. You have to look at who is ready to invest. We have an amphitheater in Quebec that has already been built. We are in the process of making contact with Mr. Bettman. We are looking at what we need to bring back the Nordiques. I think we are capable of having a second team in Quebec.”

This is what I call opportunism politics, a frequently used ploy in Quebec in particular. Legault doesn't have a buyer lined up, but he has the slimmest of open windows to tug on the hearts of the Nordiques faithful while making headlines and say "hey look me, I'm trying to do something cool for Quebec."

The slim open window is the Arizona Coyotes situation. They don't have an arena deal lined up for next year. If they fail to get one in Phoenix in the next few months, they will have to relocate. That might be the best idea for everyone involved in the desert disaster known as the Coyotes, but Quebec would not be the NHL's first choice.

That would be the hockey hotbed of Houston, Texas. Okay, hotbed no, but, like Quebec, it has a state of the art arena ready to move into, and, like Quebec, is the home of a former WHA powerhouse. But, perhaps more importantly, Houston is the 4th largest television market in North America, and likely would find interested financial contributors.

The odds of the Quebec Nordiques ever returning to the NHL are miniscule. 

I can't see the NHL ever expanding there. It just doesn't grow the business. The NHL already has hockey fans there. Putting a team there doesn't really increase that. 

What the NHL does need is a location in its pocket that it can turn to in the case of emergency. That's how Winnipeg got the Jets back when the Atlanta Thrashers failed. The difference there was the Jets had the ownership group ready and in place, and patiently played Gary Bettman's game until the opportunity came available.

That is the only way the Nordiques return. But so long as Houston also exists as an option, it is unlikely, especially without an ownership group.

But that won't stop Quebec politicians from playing this game of grabbing easy headlines and tugging on heartstrings time and time again.

New York Rangers vs Montreal Canadiens (1936!)

November 16, 2021

Finally something to celebrate?

 


This isn't a fake book. It was never published, obviously. But if there was ever one single hockey book I ever wanted, this would have been it.

I saved this image from the Amazon listings a decade ago. The NHL wanted the championship book out as soon as possible after the Stanley Cup was handed out, so they listed two books - one for Boston and one for Vancouver - before the series was even decided. That way fans could pre-order. 

Of course those pre-orders were never fulfilled, and no Canucks fan felt fulfilled then or since. It's been a long 10 years. It's been a long 52 years. And it promises to continue for the foreseeable future. 

This past week the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted the class of 2020. 2021 was postponed to 2022, thanks to Covid. Which is unfortunate, though it does allow for a unique opportunity for Canucks fans to celebrate. And Jesus, Joseph and Mary do we ever need something to celebrate. 

When the Hockey Hall of Fame inducts players in 2022, three first year eligible players will include Roberto Luongo and Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It somehow seems fitting for all three to go in to the Hall of Fame together, no?

Maybe the will finally add Alexander Mogilny too. 

Bobby Clarke and Michel Briere were dealt very different fates

On April 13th, 1971, Michel Briere, prized rookie for the Pittsburgh Penguins died. He succumbed to injuries suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier.

Stephen J. Nesbitt has a fantastic piece on Briere's life, death and legacy at The Athletic. Yes, it's behind a pay wall but I do recommend subscribing.

Briere's car accident and death is something I have known about for a long time. But I did not know that another young NHL star was in a scary car accident the day before Briere's.

Bobby Clarke, the emerging leader of the Philadelphia Flyers, was back home in Manitoba and somehow managed to flip his car into a swamp.

Sports Illustrated's archives tells us more: 

That spring, shortly after returning to Flin Flon, Clarke was in an automobile accident. Though no one was injured, it had a profoundly sobering effect on him. Clarke admits he was playing the NHL hotshot. "I was driving along with three girls in my big new car with the big engine one night," he says. "We'd had a few drinks, and all of a sudden I hit the gravel on the side of the road, the car flipped and I found myself on the roof."

The very next day Pittsburgh's Michel Briere, whom Clarke had beaten out for Rookie of the Year honors, lost control of his car on a Quebec highway, was hurled through the windshield and, after several months in a coma, died. "It made me think about a lot of things in a different way," says Clarke.

November 14, 2021

The Pugilistic Exploits of Hockey's Most Gentlemanly Player

Leonard "Red" Kelly very well might be the most underrated superstar in National Hockey League history. 

You might be asking yourself how can this be? He's an 8 time Stanley Cup champion who starred with 2 different dynasties He's an 8 time all star who won the Lady Byng trophy 4 times and the Norris trophy once. He's and a battle proven veteran of over 1300 NHL games that was named as the 22nd greatest player of all time by The Hockey News at the dawn of the 21st century. He starred at both center and defense, and even served two terms as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa while playing in Toronto.

If you had only one word to sum up Red Kelly it would gentleman. He took just 327 minutes in penalties in a 1316 game career. Much of his career was playing defense in the rough and tumble Original Six days where clean defensive play was certainly a rarity. Yet he excelled.

But did he ever get into a fight?

On December 30, 1954 he lost his temper with Toronto's Eric Nesterenko, a hulking forward Kelly admitted he didn't always appreciate. It must have been one heck of a fight! Kelly, the reigning Lady Byng Tropy winner, was assessed an astounding 22 minutes in penalty for the altercation - a minor, two majors and a misconduct. That one exchange saw him take more penalty minutes than he took in all of the eight previous seasons combined! And he only took 3 minor penalties the rest of the entire season.


In 1955-56 he was assessed another 5 minute major penalty, the only other such penalty of his career that I can find. That wasn't a fight, though. He accidentally elbowed Boston's Leo Labine, leaving the Bruin badly leaking blood from the face.

November 13, 2021

Featured Hockey Legend: Teemu Selanne

When he broke into the league, he was the machine gun goal scorer and skater so fast he was nicknamed the Finnish Flash.

By the end of his career he was hobbled by many injuries including reconstructive knee surgery but he finally would become known by the label he wanted to be remembered by: Stanley Cup champion.

Teemu Selanne was selected 10th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1988 Entry Draft but he didn't come over to North America until 1992-93. He remained in Finland playing for Jokerit while serving his mandatory military duty. He also spent 3 years doubling as a kindergarten teacher. No, I'm not kidding.

Selanne was well worth the wait for Winnipeg fans though. More mature than most rookies, he rewrote the NHL rookie record book in 1992-93. Playing on a line with Keith "Walt" Tkachuk and Alexei "Archie" Zhamnov, Selanne scored a league leading (tied with Buffalo's Alexander Mogilny) 76 goals, in the process smashing Mike Bossy's previous rookie record of 53 goals. He also registered 132 points, destroying Peter Stastny's old rookie mark of 109 points. Not surprisingly, Selanne won the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. 

Full Teemu Selanne Biography

November 12, 2021

Featured Hockey Legend: Kirk McLean

In less than one season Roberto Luongo pretty much everyone agreeing he is the greatest Canucks goaltender of all time. There is little doubt that "Bobby Lou" is truly something special, but my favorite Canucks goaltender of all time remains Kirk McLean.

Utilizing his big size, Captain Kirk was one of the last classic stand up goalies to succeed in the National Hockey League. Canucks radio colour commentator Tom Larscheid described him best: "He's like one of those bubble hockey goalies, always standing perfectly straight and just letting the puck hit him."

His stand up style was ideal for his big frame, although in some ways his style made him unappreciated. While other goalies were acrobatically turning away pucks, "Mac" made all saves look routine by just getting in the way of it and making sure the rebound was under control. To the novice fan it looked routine, even boring, but to the hardcore fan it was a pleasure to watch one of the last great stand up goalies. 

Full Kirk McLean Biography

November 11, 2021

Featured Hockey Legend: Andy Bathgate

Andy Bathgate is one of the NHL's greatest players ever to grace a sheet of NHL ice, yet it is amazing that he even played hockey after suffering a horrific injury in juniors.

In 1951, while playing with the Guelph Juniors, he received a check that severely damaged his left knee. A steel plate was fixed beneath the kneecap yet it plagued him throughout his career. Despite this, he missed only five games in more than eleven seasons with the New York Rangers.

Even though this undoubtedly limited Bathgate's play, his immense talent prevailed. Bathgate was named twice to the NHL's first and twice to the second All-Star teams. He undoubtedly would have made it more times except that his principal rivals were Gordie Howe, Boom Geoffrion and Maurice Richard.

Full Andy Bathgate Biography

November 10, 2021

Featured Hockey Legend: Phil Myre

Phil Myre was drafted 5th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1966. However Myre quickly became the bottom man on the totem pole in Montreal. The Habs already had Rogie Vachon and Gump Worsley. They also had Tony Esposito just starting to break in and they had a kid still playing college hockey by the name of Ken Dryden.

Myre spent his first professional season in Houston, Texas where he played for the CHL's Apollos, an affiliate of Montreal. He excelled at that level, being named the league's top goalie in his rookie year. By 1969-70 he was elevated to the Habs chief affiliate team in the AHL and excelled there as well, rapidly improving his ranking in the organization. When Gump Worsley was moved to Minnesota early in the 1969-70 season, Myre earned a shot to play as Rogie Vachon's back up with the Habs. Although he did very well in his sporadic appearances (4-3-2 record with a puny 2.27 GAA in 10 games), in hindsight Myre wished he could have played more at the AHL level before jumping to the NHL. He would rather have been playing in the minors than warming the bench in the big league.

Full Phil Myre Biography