September 21, 2014

1995-96: NHL Goes Mile High; Canada Loses Franchises

The Three Stars

Nordiques Win Stanley Cup, But In Colorado - After years of last place finishes and first overall draft picks the Quebec Nordiques are bought by American interests and moved to Denver to become known as the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs star in their first season, sweeping John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers to win the Stanley Cup. They are the only the NHL team to win the Stanley Cup in its first season in a new city. Quebec isn't the only jilted Canadian city. The NHL approves the sale of the Winnipeg Jets and agrees to move the franchise to Phoenix in the 1996-97 season.

Red Wings Soar - Steve Yzerman's Detroit Red Wings finish with a NHL record 62-13-7 record, bettering Montreal's 60 win season of 1976-77. The Wings also equals Philadelphia's record for home wins with 36 wins. Its personal victory for coach Scotty Bowman, who also guided the '76-77 Habs. He moves past Al Arbour (1,606) into first spot on the all time list of games coached, finishing with 1,654. But the Wings lose to their new arch-rivals from Colorado in the playoffs.

NHL Stars To Play In Olympics - The NHL, NHLPA and IIHF reset the look of international hockey. The Canada Cup is renamed and reworked into the World Cup. More importantly, plans are announced to allow all NHL players to be able to participate in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The league will take a 17 day break in the middle of the season.

Season Highlights:
  • The Avalanche may very well not have won the Stanley Cup had they stayed in Quebec. That's because the Montreal Canadiens almost certainly would never have traded disgruntled superstar goalie Patrick Roy to Quebec City. But, following an embarrassing 11-1 loss and subsequent incident on the bench with coach Mario Tremblay and president Ronald Corey, Roy is traded to Colorado.
  • After a year of rest from cancer treatments and chronic back ailments Mario Lemieux returns. He scores his 500th career goal as part of his 69 goal, 161 point season. His storybook season sees him win the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy and Pearson Trophy.
  • Steve Yzerman, Dale Hawerchuk and Mark Messier also score their 500th career goal. Another former Oiler, Paul Coffey, notches his 1000th assist.
  • There is great excitement in Vancouver as the Canucks acquire superstar Alexander Mogilny to play alongside 60 goal man Pavel Bure. Unfortunately the Russian Rocket is grounded with a severe knee injury after just 15 games. Mogilny picks up the slack by scoring 55 goals.
  • Grant Fuhr plays in goal for 76 consecutive games in St. Louis. A late season knee tweak was the only thing that prevented him from playing in all 82 games.
  • Winnipeg traded Teemu Selanne to Anaheim where he teamed up with a red hot Paul Kariya.
  • Los Angeles Kings winger Tony Granato undergoes brain surgery after hitting his head against the boards in a game.
  • Though it did not shock the hockey world like it did the first time around, Wayne Gretzky is traded. He joins Brett Hull in St. Louis but they Blues lost in dramatic fashion to Detroit in seven games in the playoffs.
  • The Florida Panthers surprise with their Stanley Cup run. After Scott Mellanby kills a rat in the dressing room, Panthers fans take to littering the ice with plastic rats after each Florida goal.

September 20, 2014

1994-95: Dead Puck Era Begins

The 1994-95 NHL season was rocked by labor wars, off ice law suits and the unofficial start of offense starved so-called Dead Puck Era

The Three Stars:

No Hockey Until New Year - NHL owners lock out the players on September 30th because there is no collective bargaining agreement in place. Owners give commissioner Gary Bettman approval Dec. 12th to shutdown the entire season, hoping to scare players into accepting their "final" offer. Negotiations go on until the new year, when suddenly the NHPLA seems to switch gears and accept the owners proposal at the very last minute. After a 103 day labor dispute a 48 game season is scheduled to finally begin on January 20th.

Mario Sits - Lockout or not, Mario Lemieux had always intended on not playing the 1994-95 season. After missing all but 22 games in the 1993-94 season due to his bad back, he sits out the entire season hoping his back will get the chance to recover. In his absence teammate Jaromir Jagr wins his first Art Ross Trophy.

Former Players Win Pension Suit - Former NHL players, led by a group featuring Carl Brewer and Brad Park, win a Supreme Court of Canada lawsuit that contended the NHL skimmed money from the pension fund. The NHL reportedly owed $40 million to the alumni.

Season Highlights:

Cecil Blachford

Cecil Blachford, an old-time chap you likely have never have heard of, was Montreal hockey legend before anyone had even heard of the Montreal Canadiens or the National Hockey League.

Blachford won the Stanley Cup no less than five times. The first came in 1903 as a member of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association's hockey team. He, and several other members of the AAA, lefter to join James Strachan's newly formed Montreal Wanderers hockey team in 1904. Blachford would serve as team captain when the Wanderers won three consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1906, 1907 and 1908.

Blachford would leave the game briefly in 1909 but returned in 1910 to help the Wanderers win another Stanley cup title.

Despite captaining one of hockey's early great teams, Cecil Blachford is not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Several of his teammates are, including Lester Patrick, Moose Johnson and Ernie Russell.

Perhaps part of the reason for the HHOF snub is how much playing time he missed. Twice he was sidelined with serious ailments. One time he suffered from a horrible blood poisoning. Another time he was viciously elbowed by a player named Charlie "Baldy" Spittal of Ottawa. Spittal would tried in court over that assault. He was fined $20, only to find himself in court again for another on-ice incident the following year.

September 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Unveils Retro Jersey

What's old is new again in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have unveiled their new third jerseys. We have seen them before, as the design is pretty much identical to the black sweaters worn by the team from 1986 to 1992 — made famous by Mario Lemieux with back-to-back Stanley Cups. 

The new sweater will be worn 12 times this season beginning Oct. 22 against the Flyers.

1993-94 - Drought Ended

The Three Stars:

Rangers End 54-Year Stanley Cup Drought - The endless chants of "1940" (rival New York Islanders fans loved to remind the Rangers of how long ago their last Stanley Cup title was) come to an end as the New York Rangers defeat the Vancouver Canucks in a thrilling seven game Stanley Cup final. Mike Richter was brilliant in goal while Brian Leetch took home the Conn Smythe Trophy. Mark Messier became immortal in New York sports history with his victory guarantee in the epic conference final vs. New Jersey. Stephane Matteau scored the famous winning goal in that series.

802 - Wayne Gretzky tops Gordie Howe as the NHL's all time leading goal scorer. on March 23rd, 1994 he notches career goal 802. Gretzky, who already established himself as the all time leader in assists and points as well, wins his 10th and last Art Ross trophy with 130 points. But the Los Angeles Kings miss the playoffs - the first time in Gretzky's career he does not get to play for the Stanley Cup.

Swedish Stamp of Approval - In what proves to be the last Winter Olympics hockey tournament prior to full NHL participation, Peter Forsberg becomes an eternal Swedish hockey hero with his spectacular shootout goal to give his county its first Olympic gold medal ever. Forsberg's incredible one-handed backhand goal on Canada's Corey Hirsch is commemorated on a Swedish stamp, though Hirsch refuses permission to have his image on it.

Season Highlights -
  • The NHL opens the season with two new teams - the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (owned by Disney and named after the Disney movies "The Mighty Ducks"). The Minnesota North Stars move to Texas and become the Dallas Stars.
  • The Ottawa Senators draft Alexander Daigle first overall.
  • The NHL's on-ice officials strike on November 14th, 1993 and are indefinitely replaced with referees and linesmen from other leagues. The strike ends on November 30th.
  • Disgraced agent/NHLPA boss Alan Eagleson is indicted by a US Federal Grand Jury on 32 criminal counts including fraud, racketeering and obstruction of justice.
  • Detroit coach Scotty Bowman earns his 1000th win. However Arturs Irbe and the San Jose Sharks upset the Red Wings in the playoffs.
  • Peter Bondra scores 4 goals in 4:12 of play against Tampa goalie Daren Puppa. Bondra scored 5 goals in total that night.
  • Pavel Bure leads the league in goals with his second straight 60 goal season.
  • Sergei Fedorov is arguably the league's best player, finishing 2nd in scoring with 120 points including 56 goals. He wins both the Hart and the Selke trophies.
  • Mario Lemieux only plays in 22 games this season. Ailing from his badly damaged back he still scores 17 goals and 37 points.
  • Tough times appear to hit the Buffalo Sabres as Pat Lafontaine and Grant Fuhr suffer serious injuries. However newcomer Dominik Hasek earns the nickname "Dominator" as he becomes the first goalie in 20 years with a GAA under. 2.00. He wins the Vezina trophy. 
  • Shortly after winning the Stanley Cup, Rangers coach Mike Keenan breaks his contract and signs with the St. Louis Blues. Tampering charges are laid and Keenan suspended. The Rangers are compensated by taking St. Louis' Petr Nedved in exchange for Doug Lidster and Esa Tikkanen.

September 18, 2014

1992-93: Roy's Habs Top Gretzky's Kings

The Three Stars

Lemieux's Incredible Recovery: Mario Lemieux may have been super-human on the ice but he is forced to face a very scary ordeal when he is diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease - cancer of the lymph nodes. He leaves the ice on January 11th, but makes an amazing recovery following surgery and radiation treatments. He returns on March 2nd, scores a goal and an assist on the same day as his last radiation treatment. He leads the Penguins to the longest winning streak in NHL history - 17 games. He also scores a remarkable 56 points in the final 20 games of the regular season, overtaking Buffalo's Pat Lafontaine for the Art Ross Trophy despite playing in 24 fewer games. Mario is awarded the Hart and Masterton trophies for one of the most incredible individual seasons of all time.

Women Make Their Mark: The early 1990s was a remarkable time of growth and acceptance of the women's hockey game. World championships were created and later it would become an Olympic sport. A lot of that had to do with the incredible spotlight shone on the sport when Manon Rheaume, goaltender for Team Canada, attends the training camp of the NHL expansion Tampa Bay Lightning and starts a pre-season contest, making her the first woman to play in the NHL.

Gary Bettman Named NHL Commissioner: Fans may hate him, but very few people have had the profound - albeit controversial - effect on the National Hockey League as Gary Bettman. He starts the job on February 1st, leaving his job as vice-president of the National Basketball Association.

Season Highlights:

  • The Montreal Canadiens win a surprise Stanley Cup, upending Wayne Gretzky in his only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final with the Los Angeles Kings. The Habs post a record 10 overtime wins (in 11 tries) en route to their 23rd Stanley Cup. Patrick Roy is the obvious choice as Conn Smythe trophy winner, but Vince Damphouse, Eric Desjardins and John Leclair power the offense.
  • In many ways the 1993 playoffs were Wayne Gretzky's last great stretch in the NHL. He misses half of the regular season with a herniated disc in his back, but return with a 40 point performance in the playoffs, willing the Kings to the Stanley Cup final, defeating Toronto along the way in a most memorable playoff match.
  • The Leafs were powered by Doug Gilmour, who shattered team records with 95 assists and 127 points. He won the Selke Trophy and was runner up to Mario Lemieux for the Hart.
  • A major reason Montreal was able to make it to the final was the New York Islanders major upset over Mario Lemieux's Penguins. David Volek scored the stunning winning goal.
  • Pat Lafontaine scored 148 points and linemate Alexander Mogilny scores 76 goals. They were a real treat to watch.
  • The NHL had another 76 goal scorer this season - a rookie! Teemu Selanne of Winnipeg set a new rookie record that may never be matched.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers traded six players, including Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci and Ron Hextall, two first round draft picks and $15 million cash to Quebec to land phenom Eric Lindros.
  • The Nordiques actually had two trades for Eric Lindros lined up simultaneously. The New York Rangers also felt they had successfully acquired the rookie. An independent arbitrator decided Philadelphia had properly acquired Lindros.
  • For all the hype and hoopla, Eric Lindros faced nearly impossible expectations. Knee injuries limited him to just 61 games, but he did score 41 goals and 75 points.
  • Ed Belfour continued to lead the Chicago Blackhawks, Norris trophy winning defenseman Chris Chelios really helped out too, of course.
  • Pavel Bure excites west coast fans with 60 goals in Vancouver.
  • After shelling out huge money to several other stars, the St. Louis Blues inexplicably play hard ball with center Adam Oates - Brett Hull's key set-up man. The dispute results in a trade to Boston in exchange for Craig Janney. Oates has a monster year including a league high 97 assists and third best 142 points.
  • Noted NHL brawler John Kordic dies of heart failure while in police custody. It is later revealed that alcohol, cocaine and steroids played major factors in his death.

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