Sunday, 19 July 2009

Jennings: Owner and Trophy-Maker

There are trophies for all sorts of things in the NHL, but the more recent trophies that the NHL has begun awarding to players deal specifically with individual statistics aside from points. The Maurice Richard Trophy, for example, is given to the player who scores the most goals in the regular season, and the tradition of handing out that award started in 1999. The William M. Jennings Trophy was the first trophy to be awarded for specific goaltender statistics. It is awarded annually to "the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it". Previously, this statistic normally lent its weight to the voting for the Vezina Trophy, but the NHL created the William M. Jennings Trophy to specifically reward those who kept the red light off behind them. So who was William M. Jennings? Why does he have a trophy named after him? Are there any interesting facts about the trophy and its winners?

William M. Jennings' history really is incomplete as far as I could find on the Internet. He was born on December 14, 1920 in New York City, New York. He attended Princeton University as a law student, and, upon his passing of the bar exam, began practicing law in New York City. As his stock rose in the world of law, he eventually became a senior partner of the New York City law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

Because of his position with the firm, he was able to branch out into other ventures. He was a director or member of the Board of Directors for a number of companies and corporations in New York City. He served as the honorary chairman of United Hospital in Port Chester, New York. Due to his love of sports, Mr. Jennings became the owner of the New York Rangers in 1959, and moved into the role of President of 1961.

The Rangers were a ridiculously bad team at the start of the 1960-61 season, having finished the previous season with an embarrassing record of 17-38-15. Mr. Jennings' move into ownership didn't help the Rangers' fortunes as they compiled a record of 160-251-79 over seven seasons from 1960-61 until 1966-67. The only season above .500 that they posted in those years was in 1966-67 when the Rangers went 30-28-12.

However, Mr. Jennings was working on a number of other NHL initiatives during this period. In 1964, he was instrumental in having the NHL Offices relocated to New York City. He also worked tirelessly to start up the Metropolitan Junior Hockey Association, as well as assisting other minor-hockey leagues in whatever capacity he could to help the game grow. He also was a major part of the new Madison Square Garden opening in 1968 as the Rangers, and other attractions, moved from 17 blocks downtown from the old Garden on 33rd Avenue into their new home on 50th Avenue.

In 1966, Jennings initiated the Lester Patrick Award Dinner, which annually honours persons for "outstanding service to hockey in the United States". The Lester Patrick Trophy is presented to these persons by the NHL and USA Hockey. The Lester Patrick Trophy has been awarded to some impressive names over the years, including legends such as Jack Adams, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and the entire 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Mr. Jennings, coincidentally, won the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1971.

One of the major undertakings that Jennings was involved with was the expansion of the NHL from six to twelve teams in the summer of 1967. He was voted in as the Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors in 1968 for his work with the NHL in doubling the league's size, and remained in that position until 1970. With the league growing, the Rangers also began to see their fortunes change as they finally posted their first 100-point season in 1970-71.

The National Hockey League inducted Jennings into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976, and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame inducted him in 1981. Unfortunately, Mr. Jennings passed away on August 17, 1981 at the age of 61.

While Jennings was certainly less controversial than some of the other names associated with NHL trophies, he certainly left his mark on the NHL with the 1967 expansion and by bringing the Lester Patrick Trophy to reality.

The first William M. Jennings Trophy was awarded in 1982, one year after Mr. Jennings' passing. It was presented to the Montreal Canadiens' goaltending tandem of Rick Wamsley and Denis Herron after they allowed a league-low 223 goals in the 1981-82 season. Here are some other facts associated with the William M. Jennings Trophy:

  • In the 25 years it has been awarded, 27 different goaltenders have earned the award.
  • Patrick Roy has won the most Jennings Trophies in NHL history with five wins. Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour sit second with four wins each.
  • Only six goaltenders have earned the Jennings Trophy and the Vezina Trophy in the same year. They are Patrick Roy ('88-89 and '91-92), Ed Belfour ('90-91 and '92-93), Dominik Hasek ('93-94 and 2000-01), Martin Brodeur ('02-03 and '03-04), Miikka Kiprusoff ('05-06) and Tim Thomas ('08-09).
  • Only five goalies have changed teams after winning the Jennings Trophy and earned it again. They are Patrick Roy (MTL/COL), Ed Belfour (CHI/DAL), Roman Turek (DAL/STL), Dominik Hasek (BUF/DET), and Manny Fernandez (MIN/BOS).
  • The Montreal Canadiens have won the award five times, most in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils are second with four wins, and the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks sit third with three wins each.
  • The Montreal Canadiens hold the record for consecutive wins with three. This was done from 1986 until 1989, and all three wins were split between Patrick Roy and Brian Hayward.
  • Roy and Hayward hold the individual record for most consecutive trophies as well as stated above.
  • The highest number of goals allowed to win the award was 241. This was done twice. 1985-86 saw the Philadelphia Flyers' tandem of Bob Froese and Darren Jensen win the Jennings with 241 goals-against. The following season saw the Montreal Canadiens' tandem of Patrick Roy and Brian Hayward win the award with 241 goals-against.
  • The lowest number of goals allowed to win the award was 164. New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur set that mark in 2003-04 in winning the award.
  • In 2002-03, there was a tie between two teams - the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams allowed a league-low 166 goals-against, so Martin Brodeur, Roman Cechmanek, and Robert Esche shared the award. It's the only time there has been a tie in the history of the trophy.
  • Only 14 teams are represented on the William M. Jennings Trophy.
So there's a little history on the William M. Jennings Trophy and the man behind the trophy. While I would say this is more of a team trophy, it still takes that last man guarding the net to keep the puck out, so the goaltenders do deserve this trophy as much as the NHL likes to reward the goal scorers with the Richard Trophy.

I just find it a little odd that the NHL can't get the name of their trophy right on their website. According to their website, they awarded the William J. Jennings Trophy to Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek. Oops!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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