September 01, 2014

Remembering Carol Vadnais

Former NHL defenceman Carol Vadnais died Sunday at the age of 68. He had been fighting cancer.

Vadnais was one of a number of 1970s defensemen who put up good numbers offensively and played the game with physical flair, but never really got recognized as one of the game's top blue liners.

Certainly Vadnais was not of the same caliber as Bobby Orr (who he played with for 5 seasons), Brad Park (who, as part of a bigger package, he was traded for), Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin or childhood friend Serge Savard. And he was not nearly as celebrated as 1970s tough defensemen like Ed Van Impe, Keith Magnuson or King Kong Korab.

Instead Vadnais was in a group of mobile defenders such as Dale Tallon, Jimmy Watson and Ian Turnbull who never quite seemed as appreciated as they could have been. Sure, Vadnais was susceptible to defensive errors from time to time, truly separating him from the league's elite. That and his reputation for lack of fitness and heavy smoking throughout various points of his career. But he did score 169 goals and 418 assists for 587 points in a lengthy career spanning 1087 games.

Vadnais briefly started his career with his hometown Montreal Canadiens in 1966, getting his name on the Stanley Cup in 1968. From there he was claimed in the expansion draft and blossomed in Oakland as captain of the Oakland/California Seals.

In 1972 he joined the Boston Bruins for several seasons, winning another Stanley Cup in year one. He was sent to the New York Rangers in 1975 as part of a blockbuster deal that also sent Phil Esposito to the Rangers.

Vadnais enjoyed New York until 1982. He extended his career by crossing the river and playing with the first year New Jersey Devils in 1982-83. He then retired as one of the very last players who played in the Original Six era.

Vadnais originally stayed in the game, working as a NHL scout and junior coach. Later in life he returned home to Montreal, specifically Laval, and worked in commercial and industrial real estate.

Vadnais probably did not find it very funny at the time, but he liked to tell the story of how he was mistakenly arrested by four FBI agents in Philadelphia as a suspect in a bank robbery in a case of mistaken identity.

1974-75: Orr, Espo's Last Hurrah, Hull, Howe Excite In WHA

The Three Stars:

Orr And Esposito Enjoy Last Dominant Season - Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito put on another amazing offensive explosion, but little does anyone realize it is their last hurrah. The defenseman Orr nets a ridiculous 48 goals and wins his second Art Ross Trophy (135 points) and his eighth consecutive Norris Trophy. It proves to be his last full season as injuries devastate him. Espo leads the league in goals for the 6th straight time, scoring 61 and finishing second with 127 points. He is traded the next season.

Tough Guys Repeat - In the first Stanley Cup final between expansion franchises the Philadelphia Flyers down the Buffalo Sabres to repeat as champions. The Flyers infamously are known for their brawling ways (Dave "The Hammer" Schultz set a record with 472 PIMs this season) but they can thank their team defense and unparalleled goaltending of Bernie Parent for the league title. Parent wins his second consecutive Conn Smythe trophy. The offensive powerhouse Sabres managed only one goal in each of game 1, 2 and 5 and were shut out the decisive game 6.

Miracle On Long Island - The New York Islanders are down 3-0 in games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their playoffs quarterfinal. Coach Al Arbour replaces goalie Billy Smith with rookie Chico Resch and the trick works like magic. The Isles win four straight games, including 1-0 in game 7. They joined the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs as the second team in NHL history to overcome such a severe deficit. Boston and Philadelphia have done it in recent years.

Season Highlights:
  • NHL expansion into Washington and Kansas City forces the league to move to four division format for the regular season, naming each grouping after hockey icons. Lester Patrick, Conn Smythe, Jim Norris and Jack Adams are all honoured.
  • The schedule is expanded to 80 games.
  • The Washington Capitals finish the season with a record of 8-67-5. They lost 17 consecutive games in one stretch, lost 37 consecutive road games, and allowed 446 goals against.
  • Guy Lafleur blossoms with a 53 goal, 119 point season, good enough for 4th overall.
  • Detroit's Marcel Dionne finishes third in the league in scoring with 121 points, then demands to be traded. The Wings would comply, moving him to Los Angeles in the off-season.
  • Bobby Clarke scores 116 points including 89 assists and wins his second Hart trophy.
  • In the WHA Bobby Hull teams up with Scandinavian stars Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and scored an unthinkable 77 goals, while Gordie Howe and sons led the Houston Aeros to the WHA title. 

August 31, 2014

1973-74: Flyers Become First Expansion Team To Win Stanley Cup

The Three Stars:

Broad Street Bullies Win Stanley Cup - Philadelphia's rugged Broad Street Bullies set a NHL penalty minute record last season. This season they became the first of the modern expansion teams to win the Stanley Cup. The Flyers, led by inspirational and feisty captain Bobby Clarke and goaltending hero Bernie Parent, upset the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were favored as Phil Esposito had scored 68 goals and 145 points and Bobby Orr (122 points) captured his 7th straight Norris Trophy.

Howe Joins Sons In WHA - That upstart league is at it again. Last season they stole a number of marquee NHL names. Now they convinced the greatest name in the game to come out of retirement. But Gordie Howe was not coming alone. He joined sons Mark Howe and Marty Howe in leading the Houston Aeros to the WHA championship. Gordie was named as league MVP.

European Invasion - The Toronto Maple Leafs import a pair of Swedes in Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom. Salming really establishes himself as star defenseman who can not be intimidated by even the NHL's toughest villains. His acceptance paves the way for waves and waves of European talent over the coming years.

Season Highlights:

  • The Montreal Canadiens are unable to re-sign goaltender Ken Dryden. He "retires" and takes a job as an law clerk while he pursues his law degree. The Canadiens are unable to get far in the playoffs with Wayne Thomas and Bunny Larocque in net.
  • Tim Horton Killed In Car Accident - Veteran defenseman Tim Horton is killed after a game on February 21st, 1974. The 44 year old Buffalo Sabres defenseman was driving home to southern Ontario after a game and is killed when he loses control of his Ford Pantera sports car.
  • Vancouver's Wayne Maki, just 29 years old, dies of brain cancer.
  • The New York Islanders draft Denis Potvin 1st overall. He goes on to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He goes on to become one of the game's all time greats.
  • The WHA creates a Summit Series copy cat exhibition with the Soviets, complete with Paul Henderson playing again. However this time Team Canada loses 4-1-3.
  • An unexpected hero emerges in Philadelphia - anthem singer Kate Smith

August 30, 2014

1972-73: A Whole New Hockey World

The 1972-73 season may have had more long-term impact than any other season in hockey history.

The Three Stars:

The Summit Series: Experts predicted an easy 8-0 victory for Canada in their first ever best-on-best showdown with the "amateur" Soviets. But goalie Vladislav Tretiak, 20, is brilliant in stunning Canada 7-3 in game 1 in Montreal and takes a 3-1-1 series lead after 5 games. All looks lost for Canada as the nation is absolute turmoil. Then Paul Henderson, a lesser known player on a team of All Stars, scores three consecutive game winning goals, most famously becoming a national hero by scoring with 34 seconds left in game 8. Canada wins that game 6-5, and wins the series 4-3-1. But the Soviets and European hockey have earned Canada's respect, forever changing the game.

Startup WHA Steals NHL Stars: Not a lot of people are quite sure what to think of the promises of a startup called the World Hockey Association when they promise to be a major league rival. Everyone quickly realizes the WHA means it when they shock the sports world by signing Chicago Blackhawks superstar Bobby Hull to a million dollar deal. Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson, Bernie Parent and J.C. Tremblay soon follow. The floodgates really open when the WHA gets the courts to defeat the NHL reserve clause, introducing true free agency to the hockey world.

Montreal Wins Another Stanley Cup: With the spectacular goaltending of Ken Dryden and  physical presence of Larry Robinson on defense, the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup. Yvan Cournoyer wins the Conn Smythe with an amazing 15 goals and 25 points in 17 games. Chicago may have been without 604 goal scorer Bobby Hull, but his brother Dennis Hull picked up the slack with 39 goals and another 9 in the playoffs.

Season Highlights:
  • The NHL expands by two, making for a 16 team league. The Atlanta Flames, coached by Montreal legend Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion win 25 of 78 games, but the lowly New York Islanders set a NHL record with 60 losses.
  • Phil Esposito leads the league in goals with 55, in assists with 75 and of course in scoring with 130 points. It was his 4th scoring title in 5 years.
  • Espo did not win the Hart trophy, however. That went to the league's second highest scoring player, Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke.
  • Another Flyer with a fantastic season - Rick MacLeish with 50 goals. Mickey Redmond also scored 50, the first Detroit Red Wings player to do so. 
  • Johnny Bucyk and Frank Mahovlich both scored their 1000th career points this season.

August 29, 2014

1971-72: Goodbye Howe, Beliveau

The Three Stars

Howe, Beliveau Retire: The season begins with two of the all time greats retiring. Jean Beliveau, the long time Montreal captain and 10 time Stanley Cup champion hangs up his skates. As does 25 year veteran Gordie Howe, the NHL's all time scorer in goals (786), assists (1023) and points (1809). Gordie, of course, would come out of retirement to play in the WHA and one more season in the NHL.

Another Fantastic Year For Orr: Bobby Orr becomes hockey's first million dollar player when he signs a 5 year deal worth $200,00 a season. He celebrates by going out and winning the Hart Trophy the third straight time, the Norris trophy for the 5th straight time, and the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second time. He led the Bruins to their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

Habs Add Lafleur, Bowman: The Bruins may be the team to beat this season but Montreal reloads by adding two key pieces to their team that will quickly become the dynasty of the 1970s. The Habs use the first pick overall in the draft (which they acquired in the previous season from the California Golden Seals) to land Guy Lafleur. The Habs, who don't forget are the defending Stanley Cup champions, replace coach Al MacNeil with Scotty Bowman.

Season Highlights:

  • The NHL introduces rules to curb brawling. Any player who joins a fight in progress is immediately ejected.
  • The Bruins regular season record was 54-13-11. Goalie Gerry Cheevers went 32 games without a loss - 24-0-9 - a NHL record.
  • Phil Esposito again leads the league in goals (66) and points (133). Bobby Orr is second with 117 points, including a league best 80 assists.
  • The New York Rangers are the second best team in the league, thanks to the strong goaltending tandem of Eddie Giacomin and Gilles Villemure. Both win 24 games each.
  • The Ranger's GAG Line finishes third, fourth and fifth in the league in scoring - Jean Ratelle had 109 points, Vic Hadfield 106 including 50 goals and Rod Gilbert 97. A broken ankle knocked Ratelle out of the playoffs and really hobbled the Rangers in the Finals vs. Boston
  • Ken Dryden, a seasoned playoff performer and Stanley Cup champion, officially begins his rookie season and wins the Calder Trophy. He had 39 wins and 8 shutouts.
  • Tony Esposito posted an amazing 46 wins and 9 shutouts. His 1.77 GAA is the best post World War II mark up until the late 1990s.
  • Mickey Redmond, acquired in exchange for Frank Mahovlich, picks up Gordie Howe's slack and scores 42 goals for Detroit.
  • Bobby Hull scores his 5th 50 goal season for Chicago. He also notches his 1000th point.
  • For the first time since 1963 the Soviets do not win the World Championships. The Czechoslovakian national team won, though the Soviets did take the Sapporo Olympics gold medal.
  • 10 year old Wayne Gretzky makes national headlines as he scores 378 goals for his Brantford, Ontario novice team.

August 28, 2014

1970-71: Rookie Sensation Ken Dryden Stuns Boston Bruins

The Three Stars:

Dryden Stops Bruins: Despite playing almost the entire season with Rogie Vachon and Phil Myre in net, the Montreal Canadiens take a huge gamble when they turn to Cornell University graduate Ken Dryden - a near unheard of rookie - for the playoffs. Dryden pulls off one of the greatest upsets in hockey history when he shuts down Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the heavy Stanley Cup favorites Boston Bruins in the first round. Dryden would lead the Habs all the way to a surprise Stanley Cup championship while winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. All of this happens one year before Dryden officially wins the Calder trophy as rookie of the year!

NHL Expands Again: The NHL expands by two more teams, as the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks bring the league to 14 teams. The Sabres win the right to draft superstar Gilbert Perreault while Vancouver has to settle for Dale Tallon, setting the course for each franchise for most of the next decade or more.

Sawchuk Dies In Freak Accident: Great goaltender Terry Sawchuk, 40, dies in a freak accident. He and roommate/teammate Ron Stewart are involved in a mysterious drunken off-season altercation where he suffered serious internal bleeding that soon led to his passing.

Season Highlights:
  • The Bruins finished the regular season with a commanding 57-14-7 record, smashing the goals scored record with an amazing 399. Boston boasts the NHL's top four scorers and seven of the top ten. 
  • Phil Esposito shatters the NHL records for goals (76) and points (152) as well as shots on goal (550). He wins the Art Ross trophy, as well as the newly minted trophy - the Lester B Pearson trophy as league MVP as selected by the players.
  • Bobby Orr becomes the first player to record over 100 assists, finishing with 102, obviously earning him the Norris Trophy. He also adds 37 goals, further unthinkable numbers for a defenseman. Orr wins his 2nd straight Hart Trophy. 
  • Johnny Bucyk's 51 goal season almost gets lost in the hoopla as finishes third with 116 points. Ken Hodge finishes with 105. 
  • Montreal acquires Frank Mahovlich from Detroit for Mickey Redmond, Bill Collins and Guy Charron. 
  • In Philadelphia a young diabetic emerges as a star. Bobby Clarke leads the Flyers to a third place finish with his fierce determination.

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