This day in hockey history - June
This day in hockey history, June 13th 1978, Fearing that the Cleveland Barons (who had finished their second season) and Minnesota North Stars were about to fold, the NHL Board of Governors unanimously agreed to a merger of the two teams. Although it was more than the Barons were absorbed into the North Stars franchise, as Minnesota kept their team but took on the Barons owners. The dispersal draft took place two days later.
The Barons had been losing over $2 million dollars per season. "We're sorry to be leaving Cleveland but we look forward to our new association in Minnesota," said Gordon Gund one of the principal owners of the Barons. Gordon Ritz President of the Minnesota team welcomed his new partners with open arms. "It's going to be a great partnership and it's going to give us one heck of a hockey team." The new team will be caled the Minnesota North Stars and play it's games in Bloomington, Minnesota. It will play in the Adams Division where the Cleveland team had played.
On this date in Buffalo Sabres history, the Sabres drafted Pierre Turgeon with the first overall selction in the NHL entry draft. The Sabres were awarded the first overall pick for having the worst record during the 1986-87 season. The debate over who should be the top pick was between Pierre Turgeon of the Quebec leagues Granby Bisons and Brendan Shanahan of the Ontario Leagues London Knights.
Turgeon put up an incredible 69 goals and 85 assists for 154 points with only 8 penalty minutes, while Shanahan scored a respectable but hardly spectacular 39 goals and 92 points along with 128 penalty minutes. Turgeon's higher point totals were seductive, showing potential for the NHL bound junior star. Shanahan's much higher penalty minute totals could represent a comparative measure of that players physicality and level of competitiveness. The higher the penalty totals, the more physical and competitive the player. The question was, whose game would transfer better to the NHL?
Turgeons low penalty minutes seemed to fit the prevailing stereotype of the Quebec league as a scorers league inferior to the tougher Ontario league which produced players more attuned to the physical style of play in the professional leagues.
Scotty Bowman had recently been fired by the Sabres for presiding over the team's descent into the league basement. Bowman apparently held no grudge over his dismissal when he warned the Sabres not to draft Turgeon because Bowman felt he was too soft. Bowman has proven to be the most brilliant mind in hockey, but he was in a career lull at that point. Maybe that's why the Sabres ignored his advice and drafted Turgeon, In doing so, the Sabres lost an opportunity to build around Shanahan who would become one of the best leaders, goal scorers, and champions the NHL has ever seen.
Drafting Turgeon was the worst decision ever made in franchise history. Turgeon's presence in the lineup created a false hope for success which never materialized as the franchise endured a ten year stretch without a single victory in a best of seven playoff series. Turgeon did prove to be a valuable asset to the Sabres organization when he was traded to the New York Islanders as part of a package deal for Pat Lafontaine.
The general manager responsible for the 1987 draft selections was former Sabres captain Gerry Meehan. Meehan had been a capable player who earned his way into the NHL by rising through the minor professional leagues. After retiring from hockey, Meehan earned an undergraduate degree from Canisius College and a law degree from the University of Buffalo. He was considered a rising star among NHL team executives. How he erred so tremendously at the 1987 draft provides a cautionary tale of evaluating the potential in young athletes.
Meehan was a skilled forward who could fairly be called a soft player (non physical). During his junior career in the rough and tumble Ontario Hockey Association's Jr. A circuit, Meehan was assessed exactly zero penalty minutes over 68 games played over the 1963-64 and 1964-65 seasons combined. During his NHL career Meehan was assessed only 111 minutes in penalties in 670 games.
Perhaps Meehan felt a connection to the skilled Turgeon and his low penalty minute totals, maybe he felt that Pierre was “his kind of player”. Maybe he felt Shanahan was like a schoolyard bully with all those penalty minutes and thus didn't fit his vision of the type of player to become the star of his team. Perhaps he saw Turgeon as the heir apparent to the recently retired Gilbert Perreault, another former Quebec league scoring star drafted first overall by Buffalo in 1970. Perreault had dazzled Sabres fans and the entire league for 17 years with his skating and stick-handling moves.
But Perreault had failed to deliver a championship to Buffalo and except for a trip to the finals in 1975, failed to help make the Sabres a contending team, as Punch Imlach pointed out in his book “Heaven and Hell in the NHL” where he recounted his years with the Sabres. Imlach felt that Perreault lacked the fire necessary to be considered one of the games great players like Gretzky or the Rocket. The Sabres team which Meehan had been a part of from 1971-1974 had become regarded in the NHL as a soft team (again see Heaven and Hell in the NHL).
With no “schoolyard bullies” of their own for opponents to fear, the gentlemanly Perreault was regularly defeated in the playoffs by stronger physical two way players who could score as well as he did and also play well defensively, like Bobby Clarke and Bryan Trottier. Quarterfinal round eliminations were common for the Sabres in the Perreault era and Sports Illustrated ignominiously named them Professional Sports Choke team of the 1970's. So if Meehan thought the Perreault model was the way to rebuild with Turgeon, based on that history it was a flawed vision.
What the Sabres got with Turgeon was a good player who put up good point totals but failed to deliver when it mattered, in the playoffs. From 1988 to 1990 the Turgeon led Sabres mmade the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round, twice by Cam Neely and the Boston Bruins. Neely was the epitomy of the NHL power forward, the first of his kind. He could run you over to score the winning goal, set up another and beat up your tough guy all in a nights work. Neely would routinely play a big role in the Bruins playoff victories over Buffalo and the Sabres could not stop him. In a nod to his Irish lineage, Don Cherry called Neely “A fine broth of a lad.”
In 1988 as the Bruins made their way to the Stanley Cup finals after eliminating the Sabres, one of their players told me that they didn't consider Buffalo to be a serious rival like Montreal as the Bruins knew that they could beat Buffalo because the Sabres hadn't learned to do all the things that were necessary to win in the playoffs. That statement was hardly a compliment to team captain and team leader Pierre Turgeon. In comparison to the Bruins Neely, Turgeon was nicknamed “The Tin Man”, perhaps unfairly, by the Bufflo media. This nickname was attached to him for the remainder of his stay in Buffalo.
Drafting Shanahan instead of Turgeon may have altered the destiny of the franchise. A Neely-like power forward himself, Shanahan as a Sabre playing against Neely in those playoffs would have made for epic showdowns with the Bruins star instead of a prelude to golf season. In the Turgeon era, Mike Foligno was one of a few Sabres with the ability and attitude to do whatever it took to win. Imagine Shanahan and Foligno together, their attributes may have been enough to infect their teammates and turn the Sabres into a playoff opponent to be feared rather than an automatic bye into the next round. Even Don Cherry would have found it difficult to favor his beloved Neely over Shanahan since each was a “Fine broth of a lad.”
In his 1524 game NHL career, Shanahan scored 656 goals and 698 assist for 1354 points with 2489 penalty minutes. But stats alone are inadequate to tell his story. Shanahan was a player who evolved and improved his game. Playing with Brett Hull in St. Louis he learned the secrets of shooting and became a better goal scorer netting back to back 50 goal season in 1992-93 and 1993-94. His previous best had been 33.
Proving to be a man of his convictions, when Scotty Bowman sought the missing link to turn his Detroit Red Wings into champions, he acquired the player he had advised the Sabres to draft, Brendan Shanahan. While Steve Yzerman's hockey skills and leadership are properly credited for Detroit's success, it wasn't until the arrival of Shanahan that the Wings became champions. In fact Shanahan helped make the Red Wings the most successful team since the Edmonton Oilers dynasty with Wayne Gretzky. Bowman certainly didn't reach out for Turgeon to build his champion team nor did any other contender.
Shanahan's playoff career was far brighter than Turgeon whose teams missed the playoffs seven times, were eliminated in the first round eleven times and four times in the second. Conversely, Shanny missed the playoffs only twice, in his second year with the Devils and once with Hartford. With three Stanley Cups his teams made the playoffs 17 times with eight first round and six second round losses.
Shanahn's leadership abilities transcended the arena when during the 2004 lockout he called a summit meeting of the games players and executives. His vision was to reinvent hockey by removing obstruction from the game and reinvent the game giving the fans a better product coming out of the work stoppage.
This was a selfless exercise since Shanahan was a physical clutch and grab style of player whose own career would hardly be enhanced by these changes. But Shanahan's vision transcended his playing career and focused on making the game better. The players and the league jumped on board with this plan and the celebrated “new rules” were little more than calling the rules that had always been there but were selectively enforced. As a result of his efforts, Shanahan can properly be credited as the architect of the modern game.
Failing to draft Shanahan was a once in a generation opportunity lost for the Sabres who have had only two opportunities to draft first for available amateurs. They hit a home run with Perreault and missed terribly with Turgeon. Brendan Shanahan was precisely the type of player the Sabres have been searching for the last 25 years, a power forward who can score goals and be a leader. In short, our own Cam Neely. How could they have let him get away?
In a recent discussion. Meehan told this writer that the Sabres needed a number one center and that's what drove the decision to take Turgeon. That being the case, Joe Sakic was a true franchise player at center superior to Turgeon who somehow slipped to 15th overall in that draft. Sakic was the best player drafted in 1987 with 625 goals and 1641 points in 1378 games.
Sakic was a three time first team all star, and won the Hart trophy as NHL MVP in 2001 when he was also voted the best player in the NHL by the Player Association winning the Lester B. Pearson trophy. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1996. Of course to be fair these decisions look much easier in hindsight.
Gerry Meehan, the rising star as an NHL executive, was promoted to Sr. Vice President of business and legal affairs and replaced as general manager by John Muckler in 1993. Meehan never worked in hockey operations at the NHL level again.
In 2010 Meehan and Shanahan were both inducted into the Etobicoke, Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Meehan told the crowd that choosing between the slick playmaking Turgeon and power forward Shanahan was the toughest decision he ever made. The crowd chuckled later when Shanahan told Meehan “Growing up in Toronto I hated the Buffalo Sabres. You made the right choice.”
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On this date in Stanley Cup history, June 14th 1994, the New York Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in Game 7 of the Finals in New York to end the longest Cup drought in history with 54 having passed since their last Stanley Cup championship in 1940. The Chicago Blackhawks came the closest to breaking that record at 47 seasons before winning the Cup in 2010, and the Leafs and Blues have the longest active droughts at 49 seasons. The Canucks aren’t too far behind at 41 seasons. Defenseman Brian Leetch, who scored the first goal, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. Also in that game, Vancouver’s Kirk McLean set an NHL record for the most minutes played in one playoff year at 1,544, breaking Ron Hextall’s record of 1540 he set with Philadelphia in 1987.
Visit vintaOn this date in hockey history, June 16th 1961, Steve Larmer was born in Peterborough, Ontario. In junior he spent one season with his hometown Pereborough Petes, then spent three seasons with the Niagara Falls Flyers where he finished his junior career in 1980-81 with 55-78-133 totals teaming on a line with Steve Ludzik where they were known as “The Gold Dust Twins.” Larmer had a lengthy and successful NHL career with 441 goals and 1,012 points in 1,006 games, 891 with the Chicago Blackhawks and 115 with the New York Rangers. After spending 11 seasons with the Chicago where he won the Calder Trophy in 1982-83, he helped New York win the Stanley Cup championship in his first season with the Rangers.
This day in Buffalo Sabres history, June 17th 1990, Gilbert Perreault was announced as a member of the 1990 Hockey Hall of Fame induction class along with Bill Barber and Fernie Flaman.
This day in hockey history, June 17th 1989, the Quebec Nordiques drafted Mats Sundin, making him the first European player to be taken first overall in the entry draft. He played four seasons with Quebec before being traded, then playing 13 seasons in Toronto and one with Vancouver.
This day in hockey history, June 17th 1952, Mike Milbury was born in Brighton, Massachusetts. Milbury has had a 44 year career in professional hockey as a player, coach, manager and broadcaster.
His most memorable moment as a player is climbing the glass in New York as a Bruin and beating a Rangers fan with the fan’s own shoe. He’s known as the general manager who traded away players like Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Wade Redden, Olli Jokinen, and Tim Connolly for basically nothing, and then drafting Rick DiPietro with the #1 overall pick. He also traded Chara and the second overall pick, who became Jason Spezza, for the infamous Alexi Yashin, who he then signed to a ridiculous 10-year, $87.5-million contract. Yashin was a big disappointment and was bought out in 2007. As for his television career…well, he seems to make outrageous statements just for the sake of flouting convention, sort of like America's answer to Don Cherry.
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This day in hockey history, June 19th 1947, Walt McKechnie was born in London, Ontario. McKechnie set a “modern” record for playing on the most NHL teams that no longer exist: the Minnesota North Stars, California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, and Colorado Rockies. He also played on the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, and Toronto Maple Leafs for a total of eight different teams in his 17-year career.
This day in hockey history, June 18th 1975, Bobby Orr won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman for the eighth consecutive season year. This re-set his own NHL record for most consecutive trophy wins by a single player and total wins of a specific award. Wayne Gretzky tied that record in 1987 with his eighth straight Hart Trophy, and would break the record for most wins of a single award two years later with nine Hart Trophies. The closest anyone has come to trying Orr’s Norris streak are several players with three and Nicklas Lidstrom has a total of seven.
This day in hockey history, June 18th 1987, the New York Rangers traded their first round pick in the 1988 entry draft along with $75,000 to the Quebec Nordiques for Michel Bergeron. What made the trade unusual was that Bergeron was the head coach of the Nordiques. This was the first time a team ever traded for a coach
The Rangers' last coach, Tom Webster, was unable to finish out his rookie year this past season because of an inner-ear problem that even surgery failed to correct. Phil Esposito, the Rangers GM, took over and brought a fiery style to the bench, and he was looking for someone with similar qualities.
Esposito said that he had asked the Nordiques about Bergeron almost as a joke during the National Hockey League draft last Saturday in Detroit. Esposito was shocked when the Nordiques' general manager, Maurice Filion, said, ''Let's talk.''
Losing makes Bergeron angry. A story his mother tells concerns his teen-age years, when he was invariably the top student of the month at the school he attended in Montreal. One month, another boy was named the top student. Bergeron beat him up.
In 1964, goes another story, he toured Cuba with a Canadian baseball team as its catcher. Fidel Castro, who was treated with kid gloves by opposing players, performed for the Cubans. Castro hit a long drive that he was thinking of stretching into an inside-the-park home run. As he rounded third, the throw came in to Bergeron at the plate. Bergeron took the throw and threw the ball to third, where Castro had to dive back. The Cuban leader got up, dusted himself off, and cursed Bergeron.
It turns out it wasn’t a very good trade, as the Rangers went 36-34-10 missing the playoffs that year. He was fired with two games remaining in the 1988-89 season for going over Esposito's head to the owner to advocate player trades.
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