Sanderson won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year in 67-68. He had a nice range of skills, good on faceoffs, PK demon, he was just born to play hockey (plus he was a rink rat, which gave him oodles of icetime as a kid).
Sanderson’s rookie season was a nice foundation for a Hall-of-Fame career, but he pissed it away on wine, women and song. Many of the headlines we’d read about him during his Bruin career had little to do with actual hockey matters and more to do with outside interests (“Grandma’s date with Derek!”). He wasn’t Steve Howe, but you could see him from there.
As statistics continue to evolve and give us a purer picture of the game, I think the value system will change. The players getting in now are from the 80s and 90s, with a few veterans from the 60s getting in here and there. Without pointing fingers at the previous generation, can we create an “ideal” paper HHOF that represents the cream of the crop? Or will we end up with our own bias based on personal timeline?
The NHL changed in the summer of 1967. Expansion doubled the size of the league, and the number of rookies in that one season was mammoth. In looking at the 67-68 season, the line in the sand for me was 25 games for a forward or defender and 14 for a goalie. If a player exceeded 25 games in any two seasons (20 for goalies) then the larger number of games would be considered their rookie season.
I won’t list ALL rookies, but will consider those that established themselves as fringe HOFers (or better) based on peak (a few seasons at elite level), career (15+ seasons of quality) or a combination of the two values. Ready?
- Total Rookies of Interest: 52. I could have added 20 more.
- Best Player as a rookie: Derek Sanderson (74gp, 24-25-49, +11)
- Second Best Player as a rookie: Probably Doug Favell (37gp, 2.27)
- Oldest Rookie: Jim Anderson, 37.
- Oldest Rookie to play a lot: Seth Martin, 34.
- Most Unusual Story: Where to start. Frank St. Marseille got the job with the Blues by sending a resume from the International League; Les Binkley couldn’t see very far but was an outstanding goaltender; Tom Reid was probably the poorest skater (from reports) in the NHL by a long, long shot; Mickey Redmond had several stories written about him after accidentally injuring goalie Ian Young (Christmastime 1966) of the Oshawa Generals when one of his patented slapshots struck Young in the eye. Young had been a highly rated goalie at the time. Bill Masterton was a rookie in 67-68 and we all know his tragic story. You could pick any of those and be right about the most unusual story of the 67-68 rookies.
- Long NHL Careers: Serge Savard, Carol Vadnais, Ross Lonsberry, Garry Unger.
- Most Seasons of High Quality: Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard.
- Most Seasons of Above Average Play: Carol Vadnais, Ross Lonsberry, Garry Unger.
- Peak Value: Jacques Lemaire had sustain, although he also had terrific linemates. Savard was an offensive defenseman who could also handle the defensive aspects of the game, but changed his style mid-career to best fit Larry Robinson’s skills. Bill White was a minor league defenseman forever, another victim of Eddie Shore’s antics in Springfield. When he finally arrived in the NHL, he spent a decade as one of the very best players at his position.
- Anything else? Yes. An absolutely stunning number of useful hockey players emerged in 67-68. They had long careers in the NHL and helped their teams win, and with very few exceptions they owed their careers in the big leagues to expansion. Among them were Barclay Plager, Gary Jarrett, Roy Edwards, Bill Flett, Ted Irvine, Dale Rolfe, Gary Sabourin, Gary Smith, Tracy Pratt, Keith McCreary, Bill Collins, Andre Boudrias, Craig Cameron, Tim Ecclestone, Glen Sather, Doug Roberts, Terry Crisp, Ron Harris.
Who built at least a portion of a HOF career while still falling well short?
- Carol Vadnais. Skilled defender who battled injuries and gaps defensively early and late in his career. His development also may have been slowed by a move to LW by the Oakland Seals in 1969-70. I don’t think we can suggest his peak or career value meets a HOF threshold despite a long career (he played 1,087 NHL games, 47 more than Serge Savard).
- Mickey Redmond. His peak value was exceptional, but there were only three seasons. Two 50-goal seasons, another of 42 and then the injuries ended a tremendous career.
- Derek Sanderson. In the spring of 1970, Sanderson was on top of the world. He’d had some injury troubles, but was among the best faceoff men in hockey, an outstanding penalty killer and played on the best 3line in the NHL (Sanderson-Wayne Carleton-Ed Westfall). His flamboyant lifestyle and injuries had him off the pace just a few years later and he ended up playing fewer than 600 NHL games.
- Garry Unger. There was a time during his St. Louis career that Unger looked like he was going to take flight into elite status. He scored 42 goals at age 22, but the team he played for (Detroit) was rolling over coaches at a one-per-season rate. Ned Harkness was hired in 1970 out of Cornell and brought college thinking to the pro game. Unger would last 51 games before being shipped out, and followed up the 42 goal season with 36,41,33,36,39, 30,32 and 30-goal seasons. His career totals (1105gp, 413-391-804) stop short of him being considered on career value and he never did break into the 50-goal range. I count him as having 6 above average NHL seasons.
- Ross Lonsberry. I don’t think he would have been considered during his career, but he is worthy of a look in the “Alex Delvecchio” category of longevity. His career GP total (968) is less than Unger (1105), Vadnais (1087), Savard (1040) but more than Jacques Lemaire’s (853) and JP Parise’s (890). Fred Shero loved him, and he was one of the few forwards in this group who could play a quality two-way game (Sanderson could when healthy, Lemaire developed into an outstanding two-way player).
- JP Parise. He was nothing like his son. Parise was a gritty, tough player who had enough skill to be very useful. The North Stars teams he played on had several deep runs into the playoffs and Parise of course was one of the very famous characters in the Canada-Russia Series in 1972. He was never considered a HOF candidate during or after his career, but his numbers are impressive enough to get mentioned (890gp, 238-356-594).
From the 67-68 group, who deserves to be in the HHOF?
- Serge Savard. I wouldn’t know how to build a case against him. His offense at the beginning of his career added to the steady play after the arrival of Robinson and Lapointe (plus injuries 70-72) meant he was a rock on the strongest blueline in hockey for over a decade. Savard was a winner, and although I do believe we can get ahead of ourselves with clusters of players on great teams, I’ve yet to read a convincing argument against Serge Savard as a worthy Hall of Fame player. One of his injuries could have ended his career: “There was a time when I was afraid I wouldn’t play again. My leg was broken in three big places besides the chips and I got scared after the doctor took off the cast for the first time. The break was moving inside.” That was 1970.
- Jacques Lemaire. He’s a little tougher to put in imo because of a shorter career and the linemates he enjoyed, married to the fact that he was often offensively the third party on his own line. He came up on a deep team and played some LW with Beliveau or Henri Richard as his center, and then rolled through the 70s with LWers like Frank Mahovlich and Steve Shutt and RWers like Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafluer. When he was slumming it they’d throw Chuck Lefley out there and Chuck Lefley was a helluva player. As late as fall 1970, the Habs were counting on the big three at center (Beliveau, Henri Richard and Ralph Backstrom) with Lemaire considered a sniper off the wing (big shooter) in the same general area of the roster as Mickey Redmond and Cournoyer. If we could go back to 1970, they’d talk about his skating and excellent shot who was a killer on breakaways. He got rapped for not playing physically. He scored 13 of his 32 goals in 69-70 on the powerplay. So then, Lemaire’s HOF credentials begin to build in 70-71 and his career ends in spring 1979. He would have had to be an amazing talent in all areas to earn a ticket to the Hall in a time frame that pretty much matches Ken Dryden’s. I think he did. Jacques Lemaire was an extremely smart player, and he played with two of the least disciplined RWers ever (both tremendous talents, Roadrunner and the Flower) to the point where they were more rover than rwers (Toe Blake once said Cournoyer couldn’t check his hat). It’s very hard to divorce a great player from a great team enough to get an accurate view, and Lemaire’s award cabinet is no help (there isn’t one, he played in the All-Star game in 1970 and 1973) to us at all. Still, he had a major impact on the team and the playoffs they were in and he did it in all areas. Very little black ink (as Bill James would say) but Jacques Lemaire is a Hall of Famer, not for the offense but for the heavy lifting he did while allowing Bowman let his horses run free.
Final Question: What one player would you argue is closest to being HOF worthy without meeting the requirements?
Bill White. If I ever win the lottery the first thing I’m going to do is write a book about Bill White, the Springfield Indians and Bill White’s rookie season with the Los Angeles Kings. It must have been something. Here’s a 28-year old guy buried in the minors from 1960-67 on a team run by a guy who in this day and age would have been tested for dementia. He doesn’t belong to any organization so he isn’t eligible for the expansion draft, but the NHLPA emerges (partly due to the craziness in Springfield) and the Indians are sold to the Los Angeles Kings. He shows up at camp and plays so far above the average on his team it is to laugh. Here are the plus minus numbers for the 67-68 Los Angeles Kings defensemen:
- Bill White +17
- Brent Hughes +15
- Bob Wall -9
- Dale Rolfe -10
- Dave Amadio -10
Brent Hughes was a 24-year old rookie called up 25 games into the 67-68 season. Here’s the plus minus of the 70-71 Chicago Blackhawks:
- Bill White +51
- Pat Stapleton +49
- Keith Magnuson +32
- Jerry Korab +14
- Doug Jarrett +10
- Doug Mohns +5
- Paul Shmyr +3
Mohns was traded mid-season and they called up Korab. White was a big part of the Blackhawks success in the early 1970s (along with partner Stapleton) and he was amazing in the Canada-Russian 1972 series. His career wasn’t long enough to qualify him in the “career value” category, but I can’t help thinking that has more to do with Eddie Shore than Bill White.