Category Archives: News

A Sneak Peek…

My new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, will be released one month from today. Invitations to launch parties in Toronto and Owen Sound will be sent out in October. Meantime, click on this link for a sneak preview.

If you won’t be able to make either of the launches in November, you can pre-order a copy now. (The link has details.) And here’s what some advanced readers have thought of the book:

Cover

Eric Zweig captures what the Toronto Maple Leafs have meant to many hockey fans since their inception. I had particular interest in the decades following their 1967 Stanley Cup victory, and Eric captures the ups and downs of the team for all fans of hockey. I particularly enjoyed reading of the present state of the Maple Leafs and how Eric has detailed the rebirth and future of this franchise.
– Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Fame Builder and winningest coach in NHL history

… I am so delighted that my distant journalistic pal, Eric Zweig, has produced this magnificent, insightful, and all-encompassing oral history of the Leafs I so much loved. To put it simply — and historically — the moment I began turning these pages, I felt precisely the same thrill as when I heard Foster Hewitt shriek He Shoots! He Scores!! on a big Don Metz goal in that classic 1942 playoff comeback. Eric Zweig wrote — and he scored!
– Stan Fischler, hockey historian, broadcaster, and author

A standout hockey book of Leaf fortunes and foibles with a twist. Zweig calls on numerous chroniclers of Leaf history to make this one hum. Leaf Nation will love it.
– Brian McFarlane, bestselling author and former broadcaster

Eric Zweig has bled blue and white since he was seven years old. But this is far, far from just a fan’s book. When you combine the abject fan with a fine historian and a writer’s ear for grand storytelling, you end up with the book on the Toronto Maple Leafs, from past grandeur through years of debacle to today’s future promise. A wonderful read.
– Roy MacGregor, bestselling author and Globe and Mail columnist

Eric Zweig is acknowledged within the hockey community as one of its premier historians, and he unequivocally proves why he has few equals in his field with this outstanding history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eric leaves no stone unturned with his exhaustive research in this truly entertaining but equally important book.
– Kevin Shea, hockey historian and author

Not just another history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but generational work by one of hockey’s premier historians, period. Supremely researched and presented, as one would expect of Eric Zweig.
– Howard Berger, former Leafs radio reporter and creator of BetweenThePosts.ca

The hundred-year history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is so rich in drama and event and personality — there are even some (long-ago) Stanley Cups in there, somewhere. Trust Eric Zweig to wrangle it all into such a full and compelling narrative, which he has done — just as the Leafs look like they’re ready to dominate again.
– Stephen Smith, author of Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession

A History of Sports and The National Anthem

How is it, I was asked yesterday in the wake of recent news, that the National Anthem got hooked up with sports in the first place?

Although I had been asked specifically about hockey when I first looked into this back in 2009, the best answer I could find indicated that the practice of playing the National Anthem at sports events began when The Star-Spangled Banner was played during the 1918 World Series. That seemed reasonable to me, given that Major League Baseball cut short the regular season that year due to World War I.

However, I also found that, in a story in the Toronto Star from May 4, 1917, the National Anthem (presumably God Save the King) had been played prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening game of the International League baseball season. No doubt World War I was the reason again, but clearly, while the World Series of 1918 must have garnered more attention in the United States, it couldn’t have been the first time. [NOTE: See this later story from the Boston Globe on October 25, 2017.]

Yesterday, I asked John Thorn, the Official Historian for Major League Baseball (who I’ve known since 1998 when Dan Diamond and Associates created Total Hockey for John’s Total Sports Publishing company) what he knew about the history of the National Anthem and baseball. As it says in the sub-title of the article he sent me, the story goes “back, back, back.”

It turns out that the connection goes all the way back to the time of the U.S. Civil War. It was the opening game of the Union Grounds ballpark in Brooklyn, New York, on May 15, 1862, and the band on hand for the festivities began the musical proceedings by playing The Star-Spangled Banner. I think both John and I are only speculating at a direct connection between the War and the playing of the National Anthem that day, but it certainly makes sense.

Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1862. Page 2.

I wrote about God Save the King being played prior to a game in 1910 in my very first book, the novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. The book was published 25 years ago and I honestly can’t remember anymore if I’d come across any evidence of this having actually happened at the time. (The book was fiction, after all!) However, the National Anthem was most definitely played prior to the opening home game of the Ottawa Senators early in the second NHL season of 1918-19.

This game between Ottawa and the defending Stanley Cup champions from Toronto was played on December 26, 1918, just a few weeks after the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Prior to the War, previous Governors-General had often attended games in the Canadian capital, but with the Duke of Devonshire in attendance that night, it marked the first time since before the war that, as newspapers put it, “the hockey season was ushered in under vice-regal patronage.” When the Duke and his party arrived shortly before the start of the game, the Governor-General’s Foot Guard “played the National Anthem and every person within the big rink stood up.”

Ottawa
This article appeared in the Vancouver World on December 27, 1918.

But when did the National Anthem become a regular occurrence at sports event? Apparently, it wasn’t until 1924 in Paris that National Anthems were played for every winner at the Olympics. John Thorn’s story mentions that although some Major League Baseball teams had begun playing the National Anthem before games in 1941, which was prior to the U.S. entering World War II, it became universal in baseball in 1942 after American  involvement. I haven’t looked into the National Anthem and football, but it seems reasonable to believe the practice started in the NFL around the same time.

As for hockey, it’s been said that the tradition of playing the National Anthem prior to games began around 1930. This picture of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons at the Boston Garden may well have been taken during the NHL playoffs in 1930. It’s often said to be an early example of the “new” trend.

Boston

Certainly the practice seems to have been common enough that no special reason was needed when this article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on January 12, 1931:

Montreal

Still, there’s reason to believe that, even if it wasn’t continuous from 1918, the link between National Anthems and the National Hockey League dates back to at least the mid 1920s, and perhaps before that. When the first NHL game was played in Madison Square Garden between the New York Americans and the Montreal Canadiens on December 15, 1925, bands played both The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the King prior to the opening face-off.

In the PhD thesis that would become the basis of his book Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, my friend and colleague Andrew Ross notes that Tex Rickard and John Hammond (who ran the Garden, and soon the New York Rangers as well) “maintained the Canadian tradition of playing the national anthems before every game, not just restricting them to special occasions.” This practice, says Andrew, “continued thereafter and spread from the Garden to other cities and other sports.”

Andrew quotes Hammond from an article in the New York World-Telegram in December of 1934 as saying that The Star-Spangled Banner had been played before all hockey games at Madison Square Garden since the very first. “The Canadian anthem has always been associated with hockey there,” Hammond said, “and I think we should pay our anthem the same tribute.”

So even if baseball started it, it looks like it was hockey that made the National Anthem a regular part of going to a game.

Hockey Awards Season

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class of 2017 yesterday. Five players and two builders. I don’t know a lot about University of Alberta legend Clare Drake, but someone who dedicated his life to teaching and coaching seems to me to be the type of person the category of builder was created for. Jeremy Jacobs has certainly done his share for the game, but rich guys who own teams are a little bit harder for me to get behind.

As for the players, it’s a pretty media-friendly group this year. And you can’t really argue with the numbers for guys like Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, and Teemu Selanne – although of those three, only Selanne ever achieved real superstar status. Danielle Goyette is definitely a worthy recipient from women’s hockey. Paul Kariya? Well, who doesn’t like Paul Kariya? His totals of 402 goals and 587 assists for 989 points in 989 games are pretty impressive, and at his best, he was also a superstar. Still, he’s a lot like Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure and Peter Forsberg in that he’s yet another inductee of whom it could be argued that he’s being honoured for the potential of what might have been if not for the injuries …. But I’m not really going to complain.

HHOF

The Hockey Hall of Fame doesn’t release voting results the way the Baseball Hall of Fame does. (Hockey has a fairly small selection committee of industry insiders, while Baseball relies on a large pool of veteran sportswriters.) The NHL does reveal the details of the voting for its awards, but since I’m not aware of a lot of media outlets that ever bother to release them, I thought people might find it interesting to see the results. So, here they are…

HartSelected from 167 votes cast by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Norris
Selected from 167 votes cast by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

3
Selected from 167 votes cast by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Vezina
Selected from 30 votes cast by NHL general managers.

Byng
Selected from 167 votes cast by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Selke
Selected from 167 votes cast by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.


Selected from 105 votes cast by the NHL Broadcasters Association.

GM
Voting conducted among NHL general managers and a panel of NHL executives, print and broadcast media at the conclusion of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

An Ace Of An Idea!

As you likely know by now, the Maple Leafs’ lavish ceremony on Saturday night to open the 100th season of NHL hockey in Toronto was a huge success. After years of choosing to “honour” players numbers but keep them in circulation, the team announced it would retire those numbers – as every other team in sports does for its greatest franchise heroes.

What Dave Keon had long perceived as this lack of proper recognition is what had kept him away from the team for so long, rather than any lingering resentment over his feud with Harold Ballard. Now Keon is back, and while I might quibble with his selection as the number-one player in Leafs history, his number 14 has taken its rightful place among the rest of the team’s greats.

Uni 1

In the past, the Leafs had only retired the numbers of Bill Barilko (5), who was famously killed in a plane crash after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1951, and Ace Bailey (6) whose career ended in 1933 when he fractured his skull after being knocked to the ice by Boston’s Eddie Shore. Even so, James van Riemsdyk was the only current Leaf wearing one of these newly retired numbers, and he gladly gave up Borje Salming’s now-retired 21 and took 25.

Team president Brendan Shanahan had something very interesting to say when asked about the decision to change the Leafs’ policy regarding retired numbers. “When you asked questions, people really didn’t have a reason why we [weren’t doing it]. I like the story of players handing numbers down … to another player. But I don’t remember Borje Salming handing a sweater to JVR. It wasn’t happening. It’s a great story. But if you’re not doing it, then let’s do the right thing.”

Uni 2

I have read accounts from Teeder Kennedy saying how pleased he was when he was given the number of his hero Charlie Conacher, and I know that Darryl Sittler has talked about his belief that the team had big plans for him because he was given Frank Mahovlich’s #27. But the only Leafs story I’m aware of where a player literally handed his former number to a current player was when Ace Bailey requested that Ron Ellis be given his #6.

Bailey handed his number to Ellis in a ceremony at the Hot Stove Lounge at Maple Leaf Gardens on September 24, 1968. “My family and I wanted to see somebody wear the number while I was still active in hockey,” said Bailey, who was a timekeeper at the Gardens. “Ron is a real hockey player who never gives his club any trouble. I think he’ll be an all-star in years to come.

“This number is two digits lighter than your old number,” Bailey joked to Ellis, who had worn #8 since his junior days, “so you should go a little faster.”

“I’ll wear this sweater with a great deal of pride,” Ellis told him.

Uni 3

But as the Toronto Star noted the following day, Ace Bailey handed a #6 sweater to Ron Ellis, but not the #6 sweater. Bailey had kept his retired jersey for nearly 30 years, but it had recently been discovered that it was missing!

Bailey had loaned his sweater to the Hockey Hall of Fame about seven years earlier, but a short time later the Maple Leafs asked the Hall if they could have it and Barilko’s #5 sweater for a display at Maple Leaf Gardens. Gardens officials swore they had returned it, but the Hall of Fame’s new curator Lefty Reid was “99 percent sure it was not in the building.”

Speculation was that Bailey’s sweater may have been destroyed a few years earlier when a drain backed up at the Hall of Fame building and flooded some storage rooms, or that a workman might have made off with it during recent renovations there.

“If anyone has seen a blue hockey sweater, 1933 vintage, with a white Maple Leaf on the front and the number 6 on the back,” wrote Jim Crerar in the Star, “please contact Lefty Reid at the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately.”

I don’t believe the sweater has ever turned up.

P.S. As a late note to this story, the dean of hockey historians Bill Fitsell points out that Charlie Conacher DID hand a #9 sweater to Teeder Kennedy, as noted in the Globe and Mail of September 11, 1946. Click on the link to the right: leafs-unis-4

Great Start … But Is It A Record?

Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Austin Matthews scored four goals last night in his first NHL game. It’s pretty amazing! (Although marred somewhat by Toronto’s 5-4 loss in overtime to Ottawa.) So, was it an NHL record? That’s not as straightforward as you may think!

The confusion probably goes back to the 1979-80 season when the NHL didn’t want to consider Wayne Gretzky a rookie because of his one year as a professional the season before in the World Hockey Association. Gretzky had 51 goals, 86 assists, and 137 points that season. His 51 goals would have been two short of Mike Bossy’s then-rookie record of 53 … but his 86 assists and 137 points should have been records. They still should be, but instead, you’ll see those ROOKIE records are held by Peter Stastny, Joe Juneau (70 assists) and Teemu Selanne (132 points).

M1

The records Gretzky is credited with for the 1979–80 season are all records for A PLAYER IN HIS FIRST NHL SEASON … but not rookie records. It can certainly get a bit confusing!

For years, the NHL listed the record for most goals by A PLAYER IN HIS FIRST NHL GAME as 3, first by Alex Smart in 1943, and then, more recently, by Real Cloutier, Fabian Brunnstrom and Derek Stepan. Unfortunately, I don’t have NHL Guide’s going back far enough, but my guess would be that before Cloutier (who, like Gretzky — but with even more years — was a WHA veteran) this was actually listed as a rookie record, but ever since I’ve been working on the Guide the wording has stated FIRST GAME and not ROOKIE.

There has also been a record for MOST GOALS BY A PLAYER IN HIS FIRST NHL SEASON, ONE GAME that for years was shared by Howie Meeker and Don Murdoch. But then, beginning with the NHL Official Guide & Record Book for 2010-11, we added the much older five-goal games by Joe Malone, Harry Hyland and Mickey Roach during their first NHL seasons. Since Malone and Hyland had both scored 5 goals in the two games played on the very first night in NHL history back on December 19, 1917, we had to add them to the record for most goals by a player in his first NHL game as well.  Given that the rule book already had a distinction between rookies and first-year players, how could we not?

M2
Stories from The Toronto World, December 20, 1917.
Summaries from the Toronto Star of the same date.

Malone and Hyland had both been pros, playing in the highest leagues of their day, since 1908. So, it’s certainly hard to consider them NHL “rookies” in 1917-18. Still, given that it was the league’s first season, there’s no denying that they each scored five goals in their first NHL games.

So, technically, while Auston Matthews seems to have set a rookie record last night, it’s not a record for a player in his first NHL game. But it’s still a pretty impressive debut! And if you check the summary above, you’ll note that Reg Noble scored four goals for Toronto against the Wanderers in that December 19, 1917 game. So, it looks like we’ll need to add that to the list along with Matthews for next year.

Your Guide to the NHL

The National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book will be shipped from the printer’s this week. That means it’ll be showing up in bookstores later this month. (If you’re a customer who prefers to purchase it directly from our office, it’s time to send in your email order or click this link to the dda.nhl eBay site.) If you’re a media person who receives The Guide from the NHL, or from Dan Diamond & Associates, you should be getting your copy soon.

National
The National Cover

This year marks the 85th edition of The Guide & Record Book, which is pretty impressive – especially when you consider that this season marks the NHL’s 99th anniversary. All of us are certainly hoping to have the opportunity next summer of working on The Guide for the NHL’s 100th anniversary. (For something of a “behind the scenes” story, please have a look at Howard Berger’s photo essay and interview with Dan Diamond published yesterday on Howard’s web site Between the Posts. Scroll down from his top story about the Leafs’ quiet summer.)

As I said in my own story about The Guide last year,  we can’t match the up-to-the-minute aspect of the many sports web sites out there these days, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any one site on the Internet that can give you all the information we provide as neatly and concisely as what’s contained in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book. And I dare say you’ll have an even harder time finding one that does so with such attention to detail!

Rangers
New York Rangers custom cover

In my story last year, I provided a brief history of the NHL Guide and my role with it. I also wrote about how Connor McDavid’s father had helped me to make sure we had Connor’s minor hockey stats correct. Nothing quite as impressive as that this year, but as usual, there were some 40+ people I contacted to make sure we got the stats for some 150 or so new North American Draft choices as accurate as possible. Many of these people have helped out year after year. Others I encountered for the first time this summer.

Among my favourite stories this year involves Adam Vay. Vay wasn’t drafted, but was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild in May. He’s from Budapest, Hungary, and is currently the only Hungarian in The Guide. (The Edmonton Oilers drafted Tamas Groschl of Budapest – who was still playing in Europe last year, although he never made it to the NHL – back in 1999).

Calgary
Calgary Flames custom cover

Our International Editor and European expert, Igor Kuperman, was able to confirm the overseas stats for Vay that can be found on many web sites, but I wanted to track down the numbers for the two seasons he spent playing junior hockey – in Texas! – with the El Paso Rhinos of the Western States Hockey League. (Vay, by the way, is one of two players in the Guide to come out of the WSHL; the other being Jeremy Langlois – pronounced LANG-LOYS, not LAN-GWAH because he’s from Tempe, Arizona, not Canada. You’ve probably never heard of Langlois, but he spent the last three seasons in the San Jose Sharks’ system.)

Anyway, the Minnesota Wild did seem to have detailed numbers for Vay in their press release when they announced his signing – but nobody else did. I always like to be able to confirm such things and for whatever reason, a lot of the web sites that are great for minor and junior hockey stats aren’t very good for goalies. They seem to be set up mainly to track goals, assists, points, and penalty minutes, and often only show games and goals-against average for goalies. That was certainly the case with Vay, and the correct Pointstreak site that should have had the full numbers for the Western States Hockey League from past seasons was proving difficult to find.

LA Kings
Los Angeles Kings custom cover

It’s not always easy to get a hold of hockey people in the summer. That’s often a frustration in our job. So, I can’t say I was expecting much when, late on a Monday afternoon in early August, I called the office of the El Paso Rhinos. Much to my surprise, a young woman (who can’t possibly be as young as she sounded!) answered the phone. She’s the team’s Assistant Director of Hockey Operations, and was able to direct me to exactly where I needed to go to find Vay’s complete stats for his two seasons with the team. (The Wild had it right, by the way!)

“How does a kid from Budapest find his way to El Paso?” I asked.

“We have scouts all over Europe,” she said.

Who knew?!?

Adam Vay
Adam Vay in action with the El Paso Rhinos. For more on his story, click here.

Vay’s not likely to make the kind of impact in Minnesota this season that Connor McDavid has made in Edmonton. In fact, after spending last year back in Hungary, he may well find himself with the Wild’s American Hockey League farm club in Des Moines, Iowa, or even their ECHL team in Moline, Illinois. But I’ll certainly be watching to see if and when he makes it to the NHL!

Upon Further Review … Fastball (2016)

Barbara and I recently watched the documentary Fastball. Loved it! As a review this past spring in the Los Angeles Times noted, “You don’t have to be a baseball fanatic or for that matter a historian or a physicist to appreciate [this] fittingly zippy tribute to the art of the pitch.”

Fastball PosterjpgNarrated by Kevin Costner, filmmaker Jonathan Hock (who directed the ESPN 30 for 30 episode about The Miracle on Ice, among his many credits) uses an impressive cast of baseball Hall of Famers to discuss the fastest pitchers of all time. The film also explains the science of how someone can throw the ball at the very upper limits of human mechanics, and how someone else can still manage to hit a pitch whose speed is at the very edge of how quickly a human being can physically see and react. Fascinating!

Plenty of today’s fastest pitchers are featured, and there’s also the sad story of 1960s minor league phenom Steve Dalkowski, who could never master his control. But the movie goes all the way back to Walter Johnson, who pitched 20 years in the Majors from 1907 to 1927 with the Washington Senators.

Virtually everyone of his era agreed that Walter Johnson was the fastest pitcher they had ever seen. As early as 1912, his speed was measures scientifically by the U.S. Army … who tracked him at 122 feet per second. That was considered astonishing at the time, but it works out to only 83.2 miles per hour – which struck me as pretty disappointing for such a legendary fastballer. But more on that in a bit.

When Bob Feller burst on the scene 80 years ago this summer as a 17-year-old phenom, he quickly became the new fastball king. Could he throw harder than Walter Johnson? Perhaps you’ve seen the old film clips of Feller firing his fastball alongside a speeding motorcycle doing 86 miles per hour, but Feller was also given a more scientific rating by the U.S. Military. In 1946, his speed was determined to be 98.6 miles per hour. Now that’s more like it!

Fastball Feller

Feller had begun his career at about the same time that Jesse Owens won the 100 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in a time of 10.3 seconds. The current world record of 9.58 seconds was set by Usain Bolt in 2009. The film points out that if fastballs had improved at a similar rate, there would be dozens of guys throwing 120 miles per hour these days. But, of course, there aren’t.

In 1974, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to be clocked while he was pitching in an actual game. Radar tracked him at 100.8 miles per hour in 1974 — making him the fastest pitcher ever. Aroldis Chapman currently has that distinction, hitting 105.1 mph in 2010 and again just recently on July 18. But here’s where the measurements get interesting.

Back in 1912, Walter Johnson’s 83.2 pitch was clocked about 7.5 feet beyond the 60-foot-6-inch distance from the mound to home plate. Feller’s pitch was timed just in front of home plate, and Ryan’s at about 10 feet in front. Today’s modern radar guns record the speed of a pitch at about 10 feet from the pitcher’s hand … some 40 to 58 feet prior to where Johnson, Feller and Ryan were measured. It might not sound like a lot, but any extra distance allows gravity to slow down the speed of the ball as it moves through the air.

Making adjustments for the different distances (1 mile per hour for every 5.5 feet, says the science guy), Walter Johnson’s fastball jumps from 83.2 to 93.8 miles per hour. That’s a little more like it! Feller’s 98.6 improves to an incredible 107.6 mph. And Nolan Ryan? He clocks in at 108.5.

So take that, modern flamethrowers!

Crosby, Kessel, and the Stanley Cup

Last Friday and Saturday, Sidney Crosby took the Stanley Cup to his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. It was a busy 24 hours in the Halifax area, as Crosby brought the Cup to a local Tim Hortons (being the most famous graduate of the Timbits hockey program), took it to his local hockey school for children and brought it to a Veterans hospital on the Friday. On Saturday, he paraded with the Cup in Cole Harbour.

Crosby
Screen shot taken from the Internet feed of Crosby’s Cole Harbour parade.

Crosby did many of the same things during his 24 hours with the Stanley Cup after Pittsburgh’s victory in 2009. Didn’t seem like anyone was tired of it, though!

After Sidney Crosby’s time in Cole Harbour, the Stanley Cup was flown to Madison, Wisconsin, where Phil Kessel and his family spent some time with it in their hometown on Sunday. On Monday, Kessel brought the Stanley Cup to Toronto. People hadn’t seemed thrilled with the idea when the controversial ex-Leaf said he was thinking about a Toronto visit after Pittsburgh’s victory. Even so, Kessel seems to have won the hearts of his detractors with his unannounced visit to share the Cup with the young patients at the Hospital for Sick Children … a Toronto institution he had quietly supported throughout his time with the Maple Leafs.

Sick Kids
Screen shots taken from Sick Kids video of Phil Kessel’s visit.

Phil Kessel isn’t the first former Toronto star to bring the Stanley Cup to town after winning it with another team. The very first time the Cup visited Toronto was way back in February of 1901. It came in the care of George Carruthers. Never heard of him? Well, you likely would have if you were a hockey fan in Toronto in the late 1890s. He played with the Toronto Rowing Club and the team from Osgoode Hall, and Toronto newspapers circa 1899 referred to him as the best cover point (defenseman) in the city.

In the fall of 1900, work took Carruthers to Winnipeg. He caught on as a spare player with the Winnipeg Victorias, perennial champions of Manitoba, and was with the team when they defeated the Montreal Shamrocks in a tight series that wrapped up on January 31, 1901. On their way back to Winnipeg with the Stanley Cup, the Victorias stopped off in Toronto to make a pilgrimage to the gravesite of their former teammate Frank Higginbotham, who had died in his hometown of Bowmanville, Ontario, shortly after the Vics’ first Cup win in 1896.

Toronto
Clippings from the Toronto Star and The Globe, February 5, 1901.
Photo of George Carruthers is from the Society for International Hockey Research.

George Carruthers was “The Keeper of the Cup” during its visit to Toronto, and on February 5, 1901, he put Lord Stanley’s prize on display for the citizens of his hometown in the show window of J.E. Ellis, a jeweller with a store on the corner of King Street and Yonge – less than a five-minute walk from the current location of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The clip from the Toronto Star says of Carruthers and the Cup, “when it is not on public exhibition, he carries it around in the pocket of his coon-skin coat.” The Stanley Cup was a lot smaller in those days, but even so that must have been some big coat Carruthers was wearing!

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.

Yzerman
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.

How the Deal Got Done

There are all these talking heads on sports television these days (radio too) telling us the “inside story” on what trades might be in the works. Drives me crazy! Personally, I don’t want people telling me what might happen (but usually doesn’t). I want people giving me analysis when something DOES happen. And, for me, I don’t care who breaks the story. I care about who covers it best.

Admittedly, I don’t exactly have my ear to the ground for these types of things, but for all the talk that he’s been on the block over the past year (and for all those Leaf fans who’ve been wishing they’d trade him for even longer than that), when the nine-player deal that sent Dion Phaneuf to the Senators was announced yesterday, it was amazing to see how fast it got done … and how little had leaked out beforehand.

Phaneuf +
Dion Phaneuf and Matt Frattin are among the Leafs leaving for Ottawa.
Milan Michalek is one of the Senators headed to Toronto.

Nine players, and millions of dollars in salary, were swapped between Toronto and Ottawa. Even accounting for inflation, that’s a lot more money than the deal that was considered the biggest in hockey history when the teams from these same cities were last involved in a major blockbuster. And it’s not likely that this deal will have the same immediate impact on the Maple Leafs as the trade to acquire King Clancy on October 10, 1930 (not October 11, as most sources indicate).

The Ottawa Senators had been the top team of the early 1920s, winning the Stanley Cup in 1920, 1921 and 1923 when the NHL had only four teams and still had to compete with other leagues for the top prize. Even after the NHL expanded to 10 teams in 1926-27 and took over control of the Stanley Cup (for all intents and purposes), the Senators won it again that season. But with six of the league’s teams now in the United States, and Toronto and Montreal both much larger than Ottawa, the Canadian capital was the smallest market in the NHL by far. In order to survive, the Senators began selling off their stars; Cy Denneny to Boston, Hooley Smith and George Boucher to the Montreal Maroons, Frank Nighbor to Toronto.

Clancy Journal

On August 20, 1930, a headline story on the front page of the Ottawa Journal confirmed that the club was willing to entertain offers for King Clancy and that teams had begun making inquiries about the Senators captain and star defenceman.

Over the next few weeks, rumours poured in:

  • The Maroons were offering $35,000 and right winger Jimmy Ward
  • Boston was interested, but Ottawa wanted Lionel Hitchman in return
  • The New York Americans were offering $50,000 in a straight sale
  • The Rangers were offering $60,000 for Clancy and Hec Kilrea

The Toronto Maple Leafs were silent … until they lost the rights to John Gallagher, a former star junior defenceman Toronto believed they had signed. Trouble was, the Montreal Maroons also believed they’d signed Gallagher, and in late September the NHL sided with them. Writing in the Toronto Star about a month after the Gallagher decision, Charlie Querrie noted:

Kidding Conny Smythe one day about the result of the Gallagher case and remarking that Montreal generally had the edge in league affairs, the little leader of the Leafs asked me how I would like to see Frank (King) Clancy with the local squad. I looked at him and started to laugh, but when he said he was going east, and remembering ‘Rare Jewel’ [a horse Smythe owned that had recently come in as a long shot and is said to have earned him about $15,000], I began to wonder if he would put it over.

Clancy +
King Clancy and John Gallagher.
(Photos obtained from the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research.)

Indeed, Conn Smythe left Toronto for Ottawa about October 5, announcing (as The Globe reported on October 7) that he would return with Johnny Gallagher in his possession, “or some better player.” A similar report appeared in the Ottawa Journal that same day under a headline atop the sports page stating: SMYTHE WANTS CLANCY.

A day later, the Globe, the Journal and the Toronto Star (undoubtedly other papers too) announced that Toronto had been given an option on the Ottawa captain. The Star also noted on its front page on October 8 that Smythe had announced the directors of the Toronto Maple Leafs would be asking the fans for their opinion on whether or not King Clancy was worth a price of $35,000 plus two players.

Clancy Ad
This ad appeared in Toronto’s Globe newspaper on October 9, 1930.

On the evening of Friday, October 10, 1930, the following press release was issued:

The directors of the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club unanimously resolve to exercise their option on player ‘King’ Clancy with Ottawa. The directorate also appreciate the tremendous enthusiasm and support displayed by the fans of Toronto and all Ontario in this matter.

The Toronto Star reported on some of the many letters the Maple Leafs had received:

“Clancy will be another Rare Jewel…”

“Buy Clancy, don’t let the Maroons get him…”

“See Smythe for Sand, get Clancy if it cost forty grand…”

“If I had $50,000 I would buy the player myself and give him to you…”

“Clancy and the Stanley Cup, some bargain, leave the kid forward line alone, and Day…”

“Oh, Clancy, Clancy, you are the man I fancy, if [Conn] Smythe doesn’t get you, he’ll kick himself in the pantsie…”

The Maple Leafs gave up Art Smith, Eric Pettinger and $35,000 for King Clancy. They made the playoffs in 1930-31 for just the second time in six seasons. A year later, they opened Maple Leaf Gardens and won the Stanley Cup. Soon, with Foster Hewitt broadcasting their games from coast to coast in Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs were a national institution.