November 10, 2019

Welcome to HHOF: Guy Carbonneau

Guy Carbonneau became the standard of defensive excellence in the post Bob Gainey/Doug Jarvis era. The premier defensive shadow in the age of high scoring stars such as Gretzky, Yzerman and Lemieux, Carbonneau was a masterful face-off specialist and a superb shot blocker. And he excelled while his team was shorthanded. An incredible penalty killer, Carbonneau was always out against the other team's power plays, especially in the dreaded 5-on-3 penalty kills.

Born in Sept-Iles, Quebec, Guy played junior hockey with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. At that time players from the "Q" were rarely noted for the defensive play. High scoring games were the norm in the "Q" in the 70s and 80s, and Carbonneau sure did his share of scoring. Guy had a mind boggling 171 goals and 435 points in 273 career games with Chicoutimi. While he was definitely an offensive threat, in his own zone he wasn't exactly the Guy Carbonneau that he would later become.

The Montreal Canadiens did Guy and themselves a big favor when they didn't rush Guy into the NHL. The 44th overall pick by the Habs in the 1979 Entry Draft, Guy spent two full seasons apprenticing in the AHL where he scored 88 and 94 points respectively. However Guy's apprenticeship in the minors wasn't about offense, but defense.

“You didn’t play in Montreal until you learned how to play offensively and defensively, not even Guy Lafleur,” said Ron Low, a former NHL goalie and coach. “Teams don’t teach the right way to play the way the Canadiens once did."

Montreal brought Guy, along with so many other fine players prior to the late 1980s, in slowly to the NHL. Under the guidance of such Montreal greats as Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson and Mario Tremblay, Guy was raised in the mystique of the Montreal Canadiens, something he would later pass on to the next generation of Canadiens.

While Guy learned a lot from his coaches and teammates, he also had the help of some special Habs alumni.

"Just to be able to sit around and talk with Maurice and Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Toe Blake. . . . When you’re a young guy, that means a lot," Carbonneau said. "When they tell you a story, it’s from the heart. Those guys, they played for the love of the game."

So did Carbonneau.

Carbonneau had the instinct and ability to be a better scorer in the National Hockey League. His hockey sense, soft hands and good wheels should have seen him score more than he did. But Guy was so team oriented that he sacrificed his own point totals for the good of the team. Instead of becoming the next Guy Lafleur, he became the next Bob Gainey

Guy was a consistent offensive contributor, though not prolific. He never scored more than 57 points in a season, but scored at least 50 points in 5 years. He scored at least 18 goals in 9 of his seasons, including a career high 26 in 1988-89.

In total Carbonneau scored 221 goals in 12 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. He was in the prime of his career when the Habs won the Stanley Cup in 1986. For Guy it was his first taste of Stanley Cup champagne. He played a huge role in those playoffs too. In addition to his usual defensive work, Guy contributed 7 goals and 12 points in 20 post season games.

Carbonneau won the Frank J. Selke Trophy three times in his career - 1988, 1989, and 1992 - and was the runner up twice more. Because of his zestful love of the game it came as no surprise that Guy was named as captain of the Montreal Canadiens. In 1989-90 he shared that duty with Chris Chelios and by 1990-91 he assumed the full captaincy role.

After the completion of the regular season in 1992-93, it looked as though Guy Carbonneau's days were numbered. He finished with career lows (at that point) in games (61), goals (4), assists (13) and points (17). It was certainly a season to forget for the aging veteran and speculation was that the 1993 playoffs would be Carbo's last hurrah in a Habs jersey.

However something funny happened that post season. Led by the heroics of Patrick Roy and some timely scoring by the Habs forwards, the Habs unexpectedly advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals where they faced off against Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings. Guy's re-energized youthful play against the Great One rejuvenated his career. Carbonneau shadowed Gretzky all series long and played an important role in the Habs 1993 Stanley Cup championship.

Carbonneau returned the following season and rebounded with 14 goals and 38 points in 79 games. However Guy's advancing age and salary convinced Montreal management to trade the veteran center to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for prospect Jim Montgomery.

Guy played one season in St. Louis, where he played an important role under head coach Mike Keenan. Keenan loved defensive forwards and Carbonneau was a natural fit in Keenan's system. Carbonneau also was teamed up in St. Louis with Esa Tikkanen, another top defensive forward in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Carbonneau's stay in St. Louis was short however, likely due to his age - 36. The Blues moved him to Dallas in exchange for Paul Broten in 1995.

Going to Dallas was like a Montreal Canadiens reunion for Guy. The Dallas GM who traded for Guy was none other than Bob Gainey, Guy's one time mentor. Behind the bench was Doug Jarvis. On the ice he eventually was once again teaming up with some great Montreal defensive players from the past - Brian Skrudland, Mike Keane and Craig Ludwig.

Don't underestimate the importance of the ex-Hab factor in the Stars 1999 championship.

“There’s a lasting effect on people who learned how to play the game for the old Montreal Canadiens. There’s the tradition, the winning attitude they had. It carries over wherever they go. It gets in your blood, and it trickles down to everybody around them.” says Mike Modano. “The experience, the values they’ve learned rub off on you. How to be unselfish, to be patient, to play with passion has rubbed off on me.”

While many criticized the Stars for acquiring older veterans, the Stars knew exactly what they were doing. They wanted winners to come into their dressing room and teach their team how to win. Winners who would help the Stars win a championship of their own.

Winners like Guy Carbonneau.

"Players like him love the game for all the right reasons," said coach Ken Hitchcock "I don’t care if these games were played in an outdoor rink, it doesn’t matter to Guy. He just loves the game. He absolutely loves it. And he never picks his spots. He just plays. He's a competitive person. Money and the amount he gets paid is irrelevant to Guy Carbonneau. That's why he's an older player who can survive in a young man's game."

Carbonneau and the Stars returned to the Stanley Cup finals the following season, but fell short the New Jersey Devils. At the conclusion of the season, Carbonneau retired.

All told, Guy Carbonneau finished his career with 1318 games played, 260 goals, 403 assists and 663 points. He added 231 post season games where he scored 38 times and assisted on 55 others.

While he was not in the same class as the superstars of his era, Guy Carbonneau will always be mentioned in the same sentence as the Gretzkys, Lemieuxs, Yzermans and Hulls - as the man who shut them down.

November 09, 2019

Who Was Better? Montreal's Big 3

Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe comprised arguably the best blue line group any team has ever had.

In the 1970s the Montreal Canadiens were blessed with arguably the three best defenseman ever on the same team. Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe were all Hall of Fame defenders, and aside from Bobby Orr and Brad Park, all three were considered to be the best in the game.

No wonder why Montreal won all those Stanley Cups in the 1970s.

But how does history rank these three great teammates? Who was the best?

My personal impression always had Robinson as the best. Savard was a fantastic defensive dman whose overall contribution was underrated albeit hampered by early career serious leg injuries. Guy Lapointe was a wonderful offensive defenseman with an overlooked defensive game. But Robinson was a combination of the two with a commanding, intimidating presence about him to go with it. Robinson, who was the only of the three to win a Norris Trophy (he won it twice), ranks as the best of the three in my opinion.

But I wanted to ask a few Montreal Canadiens experts as to their thoughts.

Robert Lefebvre of Eyes On The Prize also went with Robinson, although it was far from a decisive decision. He put so much thought into it he has a whole post over at his website. Here's a quote:
Back during their prime years, I recall being asked by a fellow fan, which of the three was the best.

It was tough to answer then, as it is now.

The way the question was put to me was in hypothetical terms, such as a draft scenario with Canadiens holding the first overall pick and all of The Big Three being available prospects at that imaginary time.

Without the benefit of hindsight, who would you choose between the lanky and raw Robinson, the wild but promising Lapointe, or the composed Savard?

It's tough to call isn't it?
Dennis Kane had some great commentary on the issue.
I can picture like it was yesterday those three and the way they played and how how great they were on great teams.

They were different players for sure. Savard was big and smooth, skated with poise, and pulled off that spinerama move with grace and style. He was smart, confident, and a leader.

Lapointe was a great skater and playmaker, and we hear about his antics in the dressing room as a practical joker, but he was all business on the ice and loved to carry the puck, often end to end. He had a low, hard shot like Orr, and was a real danger. He was a beauty.

Robinson wasn't quite as good a skater as either Savard and Lapointe, but got from A to B and the way he did it would raise fans out of their seats. He liked to go with the puck, and it was a beautiful thing when he would blast one home from the blue line.

They were all different, and all great. But you asked me who I thought was best, and I'm choosing Robinson because he not only had great skills, but was also strong as an ox, and it was a sorry fellow who decided to drop his gloves with him. Robinson commanded respect all around the league.

Making things more conclusive, Kevin from Ya! The Habs Rule! also ranked Robinson on top.
With Robinson, you got it all. Defense, offense, and a reputation as an extremely solid hitter to go with his "finger pointing" intimidation of opponents.

I always felt his presence in the lineup was the backbone for the '70s Habs teams when facing the Bruins and the Flyers.

His longevity as an effective player (including 20 straight post-season appearances) and two Norris Trophies solidify his spot as the top of this group.

GHL friend Jennifer Conway, an University of North Dakota student writing her MA on the 1972 Summit Series, campaigned for Savard:
Out of the three, statistically speaking, Larry Robinson is the winner. Personality wise Guy Lapointe is the winner. But I really enjoyed Serge Savard. He was one of those guys, just heart and soul. He would play injured, he would play however you needed him to, whenever you needed him to.
What really sticks out with me is Savard's unmeasurable contributions. Yes, all three were very good, and stats verify that especially in Lapointe's and Robinson's case. But Savard was the one guy who really stirred the drink in Montreal. If you took one of the Big 3 out of Montreal's 1970s dynasty picture, who would the Habs have missed the most? I think the answer very well may have been the steady Serge Savard.

When you breakdown all three players' games I still think Robinson had all the tools to be the prototypical defenseman every general manager would die to have on their team. His legacy is of higher profile and higher stature. He is generally considered to be the best of the Big 3 and I tend to agree with it.

But I think Serge Savard may have been the most important blue liner in Montreal in the 1970s.

On The 'Net - Earlier this summer Jennifer Conway wrote an interesting story of how Montreal Canadiens players, particularly Serge Savard, saved several people including Scotty Bowman from a hotel fire in St. Louis. Read the article here.

October 23, 2019

New Hockey Books for 2019

I hate to say it, but 2019 does not look like a great year for hockey books.

Maybe I've just seen too many hockey books over the years. I have something like 1400 in my personal library. No joking. 1400. That's a lot of books. So sometimes it takes something really special to get my interest going in project. And, as much as I hate to say it, I'm not too excited by what I see coming down the pipeline so far.

Let's take a look at three books I've read so far.

I have no idea what the word summareliquary means, but Mr. Tidman gives us a good idea once we crack the spine on his new book. He collects the box scores and rosters of every major victory in Canadian hockey history. So that means every Canadian based team winning the Stanley Cup both in NHL history and before the NHL existed. WHA Championships are included, too. And of course international tourneys, both men and women, such as the Olympics, World Championships, World Juniors, Canada Cup/World Cup and the 1972 Summit Series. 

That's it. Its a neat collection of the box score and the roster of the championship game. No real context, or text of any kind for that matter. The book is what it is, and does not pretend to be anything else. So if you're looking for this information, Andrew Tidman's WINS: Canadian Hockey Summareliquary has it all in one place for you. 

Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds In Hockey and in Life by Eddie Olczyk with Perry Lefko.

Being Canadian, I do not watch a much of NBC hockey broadcasts. To me Eddie O will always be the former star player. But to many, especially in America, Eddie has become much more as his broadcasting career has helped to cement a very special place in American hockey history. He is much beloved and understandably so.

News of cancer and his valiant fight to overcome it has taken all of that to another level. He is no longer a hockey player or a hockey broadcaster (I should mention he is one heck of a horse racing broadcaster too), but a real person we can connect with.

Like most hockey autobiographies, this offering is typical sports jock literature. It's pretty pedestrian, with a few good stories along the way. But where it gets real is his chapter on cancer and what he had to go through. It's heart wrenching. After reading it it gives you a whole new appreciation for Eddie and for life. 

Nicklas Lidstrom: The Pursuit of Perfection by Nicklas Lidstrom with Bob Duff and Gunnar Nordstrom

I was a little surprise to see Lidstrom come out with a book, especially so quickly after retirement. Lots of Hall of Fame players deserve a book on the, be it biographical or autobiographical, but don't. Lidstrom always struck me as the kind of personality that wouldn't pursue the book option.

Shows you what I know!

If I complained about Olczyk's book being typical jock literature, I have to re-emphasize that with Lidstrom. Obviously this is a must read for any Red Wings or Lidstrom fan, but otherwise this a typical recounting of a career with not a whole lot of profound offerings in it. I always enjoy reading about the player's youth and upbringing, but find that is as personal as they often get in these books. 

I think that's why I prefer biographical texts rather than autobiographical. It allows the author to explore certain themes in a players life. Think Steven Brunt on Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. Autobiographies are just a little too cookie cutter for me these days. 

October 19, 2019

The Greatest Games Of All Time

What is the greatest hockey game of all time?

That is the focus of the new collector's edition issue of The Hockey News. It's a beautifully laid-out collection of oral histories as told by the legend of hockey themselves.

THN groups the games into three distinct categories: NHL, International, and amateur. They also name the top three games for each NHL franchise.

In Canada the cover features the Crosby's Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympics. In America the cover has the 1980 Olympics Miracle On Ice.

Which is fitting because reality is the greatest games of all time are seemingly all on the international stage. The NHL should take that into consideration before making the final decision about the Beijing Olympics.

THN names the Miracle On Ice as the greatest international game, followed by 1972 Summit Series (game 8), 1987 Canada Cup (game 3), 2014 Sochi Olympics women's gold medal game, and then the 2010 Olympics.

(Clearly the marketing department's influence focuses strictly on Canada and USA. I'm sure the Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Russians etc see things a little differently).

It really is amazing, I think, that there are not so many NHL games universally hailed as the greatest games of all time. I guess that speaks to the many different allegiances across a league that has 31 teams now. Most fans in any given market may not have even seen, let alone much cared about, an all time great game in another market.

THN names the LA Kings Miracle on Manchester upset of the Edmonton Oilers in 1982 as the greatest NHL game of all time. It is much celebrated of course, because it was a rare misstep in Wayne Gretzky's career. There have been plenty of crazy comebacks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If Gretzky wasn't involved in this one, it would just be another wild game.

 In reality almost no one saw that game. As always the East Coast was sleeping in bed before the West Coast game even started. And while the game winning goal is Daryl Evan's claim to fame, but most people can not name who scored the Miracle goal.

Also named is the 1987 Easter Epic. The dramatic game seven  between Washington and the New York Islanders went to four overtimes. Which oddly means much of the East Coast was asleep again.

Then there was the "Too Many Men On The Ice" game between Boston and Montreal in 1979. Another epic collapse but perhaps over-celebrated because of celebrity Don Cherry's presence.

Oh yes, we have to have the New York Rangers win over New Jersey in 1994, courtesy of Mark Messier's guarantee. And add the 1936 six overtime marathon game some 80 years ago between Detroit and the Montreal Maroons.

Marathon is the key word. The NHL is a marathon. International hockey is the 100m dash. Everyone knows the 100m sprint is the darling event of the Olympics. Why? Because everyone consumes it. It only takes 10 seconds. Everyone witnesses it. It's on the grandest stage.

The Olympics might not benefit the NHL in any tangible way. And if the IOC isn't going to fit the associated costs while keeping all the cash, no one should blame the NHL for staying away. But if that issue can be overcome, the NHL could surely benefit from the grandest stage.

October 14, 2019

Terrible Ted Green

Born on March 23, 1940 in Eriksdale, Manitoba, Ted played his junior hockey in St. Boniface Manitoba in the Montreal Canadiens junior system. He led the league in penalty minutes twice in his 3 full seasons in the MJHL, quickly developing a reputation as the baddest hockey player in all of Manitoba. However the Canadiens left Terrible Ted unprotected in the 1960 Intra League draft and he would join the Boston Bruins organization.

Green remained in Manitoba initially. He played two years with the Winnipeg Warriors of the WHL before the Bruins came calling for the 1961-62 season. The Bruins were looking for a rugged rearguard replacement for Fernie Flaman. Boston GM Lynn Patrick's search ended in his own system as Green quickly became a leader among the Bruins blue line corps.

Though he was brought in initially for his physicality and intimidation, Green developed into a good NHLer through sheer determination. A monster in his own zone, Green kept the other team honest. A hard hitting and willing fighter with a short fuse, Green became an integral part of the Bruins. An excellent shot blocker, Green saw time as a forward on penalty kills. His puck skills improved to the point where in 1969 he was named to the NHL Second All Star team when scored 8 goals and 46 points, a far cry from his 11 point rookie season.

Green opened the 1961-62 season in Boston and led the team with 116 PIM. He gained instant respect around the league that season, dropping the gloves with any and all comers, including a memorable fight with Frank Mahovlich in which Green broke his hand. Green playing hurt would quickly become a regular occurrence. Never a true offensive threat, Green developed into a decent d-man with the puck. He became very good at making the first pass to clear the zone, and his assist totals eventually reached the mid- 30s on a consistent basis. He scored a career high 8 goals on 2 occasions.

In September 1969, Green suffered one of the scariest injuries in NHL history in a stick swinging incident with Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues. It was an exhibition game in Ottawa and the two began swinging their sticks at each other as though they were Jedi Knights. The altercation ended when Maki clubbed Green on the head baseball swing style. That resulted in life threatening injuries to Green with three major operations were required to save his life. The left side of his body was paralyzed and it seemed obvious he would never play again.

Yet somehow Green made a miraculous comeback. Through courage and determination, Green returned to Bruins lineup in 1970-71 and savored the Bruins Stanley Cup victory in 1972.

Following the '72 championship, Green jumped at the big bucks being thrown his way by the WHA. He played the next three years with the nearby New England Whalers before finishing his career with seasons back in his home province with the Winnipeg Jets. Adding to his legend as a winner, Green was part of three Avco Cup championships, 1 in New England and 2 in Winnipeg.

Green was one of the toughest players ever in league history. He made the NHL in the magical days of the Original Six when jobs were scarce. He played 20 years in pro hockey and developed into an All Star and a Stanley Cup winner. Yet he his best known nearly dying on the ice.

"Today, years after the injury, people come up to me and say, "You're Ted Green? How's you're head?" That's all they seem to remember of a long career. So I find it hilarious sometimes"

Ted is able to laugh about the injury and never held a grudge against Maki, who died a few short years later of a brain tumor. Though his Bruin teammates vowed to get revenge against Maki, Green always tried to calm them down and helped to ensure nothing escalated in future matches with the Blues.

Green, who later went on to become a long time coach with the Edmonton Oilers, always joked that the injury actually led to his improved golf game because the weight of the steel plate in his head forces him to keep his head down. He also joked that he couldn't play golf in the rain because that steel plate made him a human lightning rod.

In 11 years in the NHL, "Terrible Ted" Green recorded 48 goals, 206 assists and 254 points in 620 regular season games. In 31 playoff games, he collected 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points.

October 12, 2019

Captain Kirk

October 10, 2019

Canucks Season Opener Classy, But Big Absence

The 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings was nice. The naming of Bo Horvat as the new team captain was warranted. And the pre-game presentation was about as classy as it comes.

But the real story may be who was not in attendance, and why?

The Canucks paraded out former stars Dennis Kearns, Stan Smyl, Kirk McLean, Todd Bertuzzi, Orland Kurtenbach and Daniel and Henrik Sedins for the ceremony. Markus Naslund was in Sweden and unable to attend, but he did reach out online.

Yet arguably the two biggest names in franchise history were absent. Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden.
(We could bring up Roberto Luongo's name here, too, but somehow since this only game one since Luongo's retirement from Florida, somehow it feels like there is plenty of time to repatriate him as a Canucks legend).

Bure is no surprise. He has been all but estranged from the franchise since the day he left in 1999. Aside from a couple of days of appearances in 2013 to retire his jersey, it seems Bure has little interest in his place in Canucks history or even hockey history outside of Russia.

Linden is a surprise. This should have been his first appearance with the franchise that "amicably" let him go as President of Hockey Operations a year ago. He will forever remain the favorite son of the franchise, as only the Sedins have come close to similar status. Yet, on a night when most of the greats were there, he, of all people, was absent.

The question is why? And ultimately the question is just how amicable was that split?

Team officials said Linden was unavailable as he was out of town on a trip booked months ago, but that has been proven to be inaccurate. He was in town. They reassured that Linden will take part in 50th anniversary ceremonies, though a scheduled appearance in February 10th remains unconfirmed by Linden.

So is this a cover up by Aquillinis who did not want Linden there? Probably not. They do realize how important Linden is to the fans, and that's why he is so prominently featured in 50th anniversary marketing materials. No matter how strained the relationship might be, the Aquillinis have to include Linden one would think.

So is Linden avoiding the Canucks? He's been around hockey a long, long time and knows why the season starts. Was his planned trip a convenient excuse to not attend? Does he no longer want to be part of the organization that fired him?

Now everyone will stop here and point out how classy Linden is and that he would not let down the community by completely boycotting. Even under the worst of assumed circumstances he will make his appearances. 

Then again, he did conveniently have an out of town trip when Bure's jersey retirement happened, and it's long been rumoured that those two do not see eye to eye.

I am certain both sides will say all the right things. I expect Linden will be there on February night when the franchise retires the Sedins jerseys. However Linden, a close friend of Daniel and Henrik, will be there because the Sedins will have invited him, not necessarily the organization. And if that is his only appearance, wow what a story we have here.

The Canucks franchise has been hard-luck to down right cursed over 50 years. To be estranged from Bure and now Linden is terrible karma. The franchise has to right this. Aquillinis tried with Bure, but ultimately it has to be a two way street. And now they might have a karma problem with Linden.

There was a time when the Montreal Canadiens had burned bridges with several of their all time greats, including Rocket Richard and Guy Lafleur. They spent considerable effort to mend those relationships. The Toronto Maple Leafs did the same, most notably with Dave Keon.

Now some of this is on Linden, too. He should have been the bigger man and put the fans and franchise ahead of any rift with the Aquillinis. 

The Canucks better get working on mending these relationships. Or this rift will overshadow the 50th anniversary celebrations and be yet another black mark on a franchise full of black marks.