Monday, 21 November 2011

Old Headlines

I was doing a pile of research for a story, and I happened to be combing the newspaper archives on Google. I admit that I am very disappointed that Google has decided not to continue this project as I've found the stories from the individual newspapers about a subject to be varied and extremely informative. Alas, I guess the company saw little value in it, despite the incredible benefits I've found, and they axed the project from their scope. Thankfully, a number of newspapers have made their way to the digital world, and I've been lucky enough to find some amazing headlines that should raise eyebrows in terms of the information in the stories that accompany them.

Let's start with a CBA rule in 1977 that I wasn't even aware of in terms of its existence. Phil Esposito was traded to the New York Rangers, and the big power forward had a few clashes with head coach John Ferguson during his tenure as the Rangers' bench boss. What I didn't know was that there was a clause in the CBA that prevented a team from fining a player unless the infraction was on a list filed with the NHLPA - a clause not seen in any other professional sport!

In the article linked above from the February 4, 1977 edition of The Montreal Gazette, Phil Esposito decided to skip the NHL All-Star Game banquet dinner. His the reason for his absence, according to Ferguson, "was not satisfactory", but there was little Ferguson could do aside from holding a team meeting about this type of behavior. How many NHL players would wish for that kind of clause today? Sean Avery would probably be one of them!

Everyone knows that Billy Smith of the New York Islanders is the first NHL goaltender to be credited with scoring a goal in the NHL, but he was almost the second goalie to do so. Los Angeles Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon temporarily entered the history books on February 15, 1977, but the goal he scored didn't stand.

In the February 17 edition of The Montreal Gazette, the full story about how Rogie Vachon almost made history. With referee Andy Van Hellemond waiting to call a penalty on the Kings' Bert Wilson, Islanders goaltender Glenn "Chico" Resch made his way to the bench for the extra attacker. Islanders forward Bryan Trottier attempted to pass the puck back to either Resch or a defenceman at the blueline, but the puck traveled the distance of the ice and ended up in the Islanders net. The announced goal scorer was Vachon, but official scorer John Bealy determined some time later that Kings centerman Vic Venasky had been the last King to officially touch the puck. Vachon temporarily held the record for while, but ultimately his name was stricken from the record books. So close!

There's no denying that the Montreal Canadiens were the most dominant team in the 1970s. From 1970 until 1980, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup six times, were the best team in the regular season five times, were virtually unbeatable throughout the decade. Montreal could roll out their third line, and have them outscore most teams' top line. They were that good.

The February 18, 1977 edition of the Pittsburgh Press saw Dan Donovan pen an article about breaking up the Canadiens.While the case that he makes to break up the Canadiens isn't very strong, he illustrates just how dominant the Canadiens were in that decade. He writes,

"The Penguins are having their best season ever, yet still trail the Canadiens in the Norris Division by 34 points. The Penguins aren't the only ones who have trouble with the Canadiens, for Montreal has only lost 18 of its last 139 regular season games."
That, readers, is simply outstanding. The Canadiens were posting points in 87% of their games - simply dominant. With player movement the way it is today, there isn't a very good chance of seeing that kind of dominance again, but those figures certainly make the case that the Canadiens of the late-1970s were one of the best teams in NHL history.

Charles Wang's finances have probably seen better days as the owner of the New York Islanders, but it's not like he's the first Islanders owner to suffer losses and fan apathy towards his product. A June 15, 1978 article in the St. Petersburg Independent tells of Ray Boe's money woes as the owner of the Islanders and the NBA's New Jersey Nets.

In the article, Boe's debts are estimated at $25 million, and it appears the NHL told the struggling owner to get his house in order by July 18 or face revocation of his franchise. While we all know what happened in the following years - four straight Stanley Cup championships - but Boe sold the Islanders to John Pickett through a deal orchestrated by Bill Torrey. Bow was not seen in NHL circles again after divesting himself of the team.

Wayne Gretzky has set many records and had many headlines written about him, but would you believe that the Canadian government almost wrote a law concerning him? When Gretzky signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA as a seventeen year-old, the Canadian government had been assured by the WHA that no players under the age of twenty would be able to sign contracts. However, we all know that the WHA wanted to attract good, young players to their league over the NHL, so the WHA decided not to follow the NHL's lead in signing players who were twenty years of age of older.

The June 15, 1978 edition of The Leader-Post in Regina reported, "The federal government is powerless to stop the signing of underage junior hockey players to professional contracts". Minister of Sport Iona Campagnolo "said the situation has been brewing since the WHA was refused entry into the National Hockey League last year". So that would mean that talks began in 1977 to merge the two leagues! How very interesting!

Speaking of those merger talks, the Edmonton Journal reported that as early as June 15, 1978 that La Presse had information about the meeting between the NHL and WHA were "secret" merger talks. Again, they can't be secret if everyone knows about them, so instead the NHL and WHA made them into "anti-trust" discussions. Does anyone really believe that? Especially since four WHA teams started play in 1979 as members of the NHL?

Well, one man wanted everyone to believe differently.In that same issue of the Edmonton Journal, Peter Pocklington re-affirms that anti-trust stuff, stating, "The NHL is deathly afraid that the other WHA partners could sue for violation of anti trust laws... claiming the NHL was invading their territory", and he basically says that he'd preparing to be in the WHA for another year.

I found the talk of buying his way into the NHL as an extremely interesting perspective. The Barons had already merged with the North Stars, and the writer identifies the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Penguins as potential targets. Wayne Gretzky could have been a Pittsburgh Penguin?!? This is too close to being Bizarro World.

So there are some of the great tidbits of information from yesteryear. The little details are what make these stories so great. I'll have more later this week as my research on one topic has led to me almost a day-by-day account of two weeks in one franchise's problems. It should be good.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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