Monthly Archives: June 2016

Eric Lindros … Yes or No?

All these years later, it seems there are still plenty of people who hate Eric Lindros.

Spoiled and arrogant? A self-entitled jerk? Maybe. (I don’t know him.) And we’re not going to go into the whole Koo Koo Bananas incident. (I wasn’t there, and he’s certainly not the only rich young man – athlete or not – to act like a jerk. Not that that excuses anything!) But here’s my thinking on Lindros and his parents.

Suppose your son is 18 years old. Just out of high school, or maybe finished a year of university. He knows what he want to do … and he’s very good at it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a lawyer or a plumber or what. Say it’s a plumber. He’s drafted by a plumbing firm. It’s based thousands of miles from where you live, and he probably can’t earn as much money there as he could somewhere else. But he HAS to go. Or, at least, everyone believes he’s got to. And later, if the plumbing firm wants, they’ll trade him somewhere else. Or just let him go.

Would we accept that?

NHL Network
Announcement Monday on the NHL Network that Eric Lindros had been elected
to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’ll be inducted in November with Rogatien Vachon,
Sergei Makarov and Pat Quinn.

The Lindros family certainly rocked the boat when Eric refused to go to Quebec (and Sault Ste. Marie before that). Lindros said the other day that the reasons had nothing to do with the city, the province or its culture, but with personal differences – likely with Marcel Aubut, who was CEO of the Nordiques at the time and recently stepped down as president of the Canadian Olympic Committee over allegations of sexual harassment.

Whether or not that was really the case, or just revisionist thinking, the Lindros family was fortunate to be in a position where they weren’t like the old-time farm boys or miner’s sons looking for their only way out. Eric Lindros and his parents wanted to have a say in his future. I’m pretty sure my parents would have wanted the same with me. As it was, my family certainly did a lot to help when I was getting started in my work. Wouldn’t you do the same for your kids if you were in a position to? And yet people hated the Lindros family for it. Many still do.

But, of course, sports aren’t like being a plumber. Or a lawyer. Or a writer. These athletes should consider themselves lucky that they get paid to play games! They should do what they’re told!

And yet, we all look back at Gordie Howe and we think how terrible it was that such a great athlete was taken advantage of so badly by the people in charge of the game he excelled at. A team jacket as a signing bonus; a thousand dollar raise each year; a salary kept artificially low so that other teams could say to their stars, “how can we pay you more than Gordie Howe?”

It was all about who controlled the money, and who had the power. That’s why guys like Punch Imlach and Jack Adams could walk around with train tickets to minor league towns sticking out of their pockets, terrifying young players into toeing the line.

Yes, things are better now. Players can make tens of millions of dollars. But there’s still no one in management really looking out for their best interests … unless they also serve the best interests of the team. As I’ve said before, I do have a hard time rooting for people half my age making more money per game than I do in a year, but if there really is that much money out there, I’d rather see the players getting their fair share.

In this Associated Press report from Montreal on August 16, 1991 – two months after
that year’s NHL Draft – Steve Yzerman said he didn’t want to play in Quebec either.

All that aside – and you’re certainly free to disagree with me – there’s still the question of whether or not Eric Lindros the player is worthy of induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Love him or hate him, in the early days of his career – before all the concussions –  Lindros was certainly living up to “The Next One” hype. In his first six seasons, from 1992 to 1998, he played 360 games (injuries had already cost him nearly 100 games) and had accumulated 507 points.

In the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, there is a listing for the Highest Points-Per-Game Average, Career (Among Players with 500-Or-More Points). At the time Lindros had reached those 507 points, his points-per-game average was 1.408. If he’d kept that up for his entire career, Lindros would still be a long way behind Wayne Gretzky (1.921) and Mario Lemieux (1.883), who hold down the top two spots, but he would only be slightly behind #3 Mike Bossy (1.497) and would rank ahead of the 1.393 mark of the #4 player … Bobby Orr.

If Lindros had managed to stay healthy enough to play 1,000 games at that scoring pace, he would have had 1,408 points in his career. That would rank him 20th in NHL history despite playing significantly fewer games than anyone else in the top 20 except for Mario Lemieux, who ranks eighth all time with 1,723 points while playing only 915 games.

Even at his final career scoring pace of 1.138 (865 points in 760 games), which was much diminished due to his injuries, if Lindros had managed to reach 1,000 games his 1,138 points would place him 54th in NHL history (two spots ahead of Bossy) despite playing far fewer games than everybody ahead of him except Lemieux and Peter Stastny (1,239 points in 977 games.)

But, of course, those are pretty big ifs!

I’m not sure the Hockey Hall of Fame should be rewarding anybody for the potential of what might have been … but since Peter Forsberg and Pavel Bure are already in with pretty comparable statistics, and Cam Neely is in with much weaker career numbers, it’s hard to make the case for keeping Lindros out.

The More Things Change…

Well, it’s June 22 and the weather in these parts has gotten pretty summery – though it’s a little bit cool today. But it’s Canada so there’s still a lot of hockey going on. The Leafs made a big trade for a goalie this week, expansion to Las Vegas is expected to be announced, and the NHL Awards from there will be handed out tonight. Still, the biggest news (though as yet unconfirmed) is that Ron MacLean could be back as host of Hockey Night in Canada, replacing George Stroumboulopoulos.

I do enjoy watching Ron MacLean on television, and, personally, he’s been very nice to me. I’ve never met Strombo, but if truth be told, I think he did a decent job … I just don’t like his sports-hipster style. And it seems that I’m not alone. Even so, Strombo isn’t the real problem. As Vijay Menon said in the Toronto Star yesterday, would the TV ratings for hockey these days be any different “if HNIC were co-hosted by the ghost of Foster Hewitt and Paulina Gretzky in lingerie?”

Ratings are off (sorry, rest of Canada) because the Leafs have been terrible. And it didn’t help that no Canadian team made the playoffs this year. Yet the biggest problem is that the game isn’t as much fun to watch as it used to be. And that’s not just cranky “the game was better when I was a kid” talk. Yes, players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever … but I’m not the first one to suggest that maybe they’re moving too quickly now. So fast, in fact, that there’s not enough time to be creative with the puck. There’s not much room for it either. The result is that not enough goals are being scored.

I’ve written about bigger nets, and 4-on-4 hockey in the past, but really, if I could do anything I wanted to fix things it would be to reduce roster sizes. The Players Association would never let it happen, but if teams could only dress 10 forwards and 5 or 6 defensemen (like they used to), the game would slow down a little bit, which would open up more space and allow for more time so we’d see more goals scored. But since that’s impossible, all we’ll get is yet another minor reduction in the size of goalie equipment. It’s better than nothing, but this is an issue that goes back a lot further than you might think.

Take a look at this cartoon from the Pittsburgh Press on March 22, 1908.


I posted the segment at the bottom of this drawing, showing Art Ross and his wiggly moves, on Facebook recently. Today, however, I call your attention to the central feature – Montreal Wanderers goalie and future Hockey Hall of Famer Riley Hern.

Despite the fact that he wears skinny cricket pads, regular playing gloves, no mask (but a jaunty hat!), and is not allowed to fall to the ice to make a save (note the illustration in the top left), clearly what struck Artist Rigby about Hern was the bulky padding he was wearing on his upper body. He looks like a modern lacrosse goalie … or the Michelin Man, as hockey goalies these days have sometimes been called. As it so happens, it’s the size of goalie pants and upper-body protection the NHL plans on slimming down next season.

And check out the “giant” goalie stick Riley Hern lent his name to in this Spalding ad from 1909.


No one’s going paddle-down with that … although, in truth, my real point in displaying this ad is just that I think it’s amazing that future Hockey Hall of Famers were marketing their own brand of sticks as early as 1909!

Mr. Hockey

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but although it’s already been a few days, it didn’t seem right to write about anything other than Gordie Howe this week.

I only met Gordie Howe once, back in 1993 when I worked at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’ll admit, it didn’t have the same feeling of meeting royalty that my similarly brief encounter there with Jean Beliveau had. It felt more like being with your favorite uncle. Like he already knew you and was happy to share a funny story. (We were standing near the Stanley Cup, and he was grumbling good-naturedly about how he’d only won it four times, while Henri Richard had won it 11 times.)

Gordie Howe set records in his day that seemed unbreakable. Some of them never have been. Still, it’s interesting to note that,  before the nickname made its way to him, there were several men who were already known as “Mr. Hockey.”  As early as 1933, it seems that Conn Smythe was going out of his way to discourage New York writers from considering Lester Patrick to be Mr. Hockey.

Lester Patrick as Mr. Hockey in The Ottawa Journal, April 18, 1933.

In my research for my book on Art Ross, I came across several references to him as Mr. Hockey … in the Boston-area, anyway. And Bruins great Eddie Shore was also known as Mr. Hockey “everywhere the game is played.”

Eddie Shore as Mr. Hockey in an Associated Press story, January 26, 1940.

Even in Detroit, Jack Adams was known as Mr. Hockey long before anyone in town had ever heard of Gordie Howe. Adams, who was coach and/or general manager of the NHL’s Detroit franchise from 1927 to 1962, was dubbed Mr. Hockey in the early 1940s.

Jack Adams is referred to as Mr. Hockey in a couple of Michigan newspapers
in the 1960s;
The Ludington Daily News and the Escanaba Daily Press.

The earliest reference to Gordie Howe as Mr. Hockey that I’ve come across dates back to March of 1953. Nels Stewart (an NHL star of the 1930s and ’40s) was referring to the fact that while Maurice Richard might have recently surpassed Stewart’s NHL record of 324 career goals, Howe would likely pass them both some day.

Richard Howe
The story on the left appeared in Toronto’s Globe and Mail on March 7, 1953.
The one in the right was in papers across North America on October 21, 1957.

But Stewart’s quote seems to categorize Howe as just one of several Mr. Hockeys, Maurice Richard among them. The name doesn’t really seem to attach itself to Howe until after Jack Adams retired from the Red Wings in 1962, as I haven’t been able to find it again in reference to Howe until 1963. And, really, it doesn’t seem to come into widespread use until after Adams died on May 1, 1968.

Howe x 2
The story on the left appeared in many Canadian papers on
March 6, 1963. The one of the right ran in papers on November 3, 1969.

Others have already written about this since Friday, although I’m not sure I’ve seen it put as directly as I’m about to right now: Gordie Howe is the reason we think of hockey players at their best the way we like to. The stereotype – which is generally true – is that hockey players are more approachable than other athletes; and we like to think of the best of them as being as tough as they are talented on the ice, but always humble and accommodating off of it.

That was Gordie Howe. He truly was “Mr. Hockey.”

Who Needs A Pair?

The Stanley Cup Final could wrap up tonight with a Penguins win on home ice. Pittsburgh’s three previous Stanley Cup victories (in 1991, 1992 and 2009) all came on the road. In fact, no major pro Pittsburgh sports team has won a championship at home since the Pirates in 1960. So it’s no surprise that scalpers are asking a lot for this game. Highest price I saw last night  for a single seat at ice level was nearly $12,000! Who knows if they’ll get it, but they’ll certainly get a lot more that what the scalpers wanted the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup according to The Globe and Mail on May 3, 1967.


Check out the face value of 1967 Leafs tickets shown in the ads below. Notice in comparing the two that they raised the price a whole dollar across the board for the playoffs! And for those who don’t know, the reds being scalped in the story above were the best seats the house at Maple Leaf Gardens back then.

Leafs 1967

For comparison, here’s the listed price for tickets in Pittsburgh during the postseason:

Pens tics

According to what I could find online, the median household income in the United States was about $7,200 in 1967. Canada was likely pretty much the same. The most recent data for the U.S. shows about $54,000 as the median income in 2014. Just using some basic math, it seems to me that while income has increased by a multiple of 7, the face value of a top-price Stanley Cup ticket is 77 times more!

So my guess would be there were a lot more working stiffs in 1967 who could afford $7 for a ticket then there are who can afford $544 today. And even $50 on a yearly income of $7,200 would be about half a week’s salary for half of that $100 pair. A half-week’s salary of $12,000 today would net you about $1.2 million per year! I guess there are plenty of people who actually make that kind of money … but I sure don’t!

Stanley Cup Play in the City by the Bay

After tonight’s game between the Penguins and Sharks, the Stanley Cup scene shifts to San Jose for games three and four on Saturday and Monday nights. While this is the Sharks’ first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in their 25 seasons in the NHL, this will not be the first time that Stanley Cup-calibre hockey is being played in Northern California.

Ninety-nine years ago, in 1917, just days after the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens to become the first American-based team to win the Stanley Cup, the two teams met again in a best-of-three “World Championship” series in San Francisco.

I wrote about it for The Hockey News in September of 2012 after the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the first time. The story works even better now, but rather than write it all again, you can click here to have a look at the original. You can also check out the images below…

(And just to complete the story, it appears that by the fall of 1918 the Winter Garden Ice Rink where these games were played was converted to a dance pavilion, which then disappears from the record around 1927. Winterland, which was an ice rink later converted to a famous concert hall, seems to have been built on or near the same site in 1928.)

Ad for the opening of the Winter Garden Ice Rink,
the San Francisco Chronicle, October 7, 1916.

Rink opens

San Francisco Chronicle stories, October 10 and 11, 1916.

Hockey ad
Ad for the first game between Seattle and Montreal,
The San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1917.

Hockey headline
Headline and story segment hyping the first game between
Seattle and Montreal, the San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1917.

Mets Habs
The Seattle Metropolitans and the Montreal Canadiens on the ice at the Winter Garden.

San Francisco’s Olympic Club was one of many amateur hockey teams to play
at the Winter Garden during the fall and winter of 1916-17.
Note the curving lights that are also visible in the above picture.

Map 2
Depending on traffic, this year’s Stanley Cup games will be
little more than an hour away from the site of the Winter Garden.

Map 1
The Winter Garden was right in the heart of San Francisco,
bordered by Sutter, Post, Pierce and Steiner Streets.

2000 Post
This apartment complex (which appears to have been extensively renovated in recent years) stands today in San Francisco on the site that was once the Winter Garden and Winterland.