Rookie Class of 1968 (HOF)

This is Jim Dorey. He was a tremendous hockey player. You’d have loved watching him: tough, tough player in any era and he’d fight at a moment’s notice. Strong as an ox, good shot blocker, and he could put up offense from the blueline too. He was not a dirty player, and in an era when there were two filthy players per-team per-shift, he stood out for just that reason.

Dorey brings into focus something I’d like to talk about: the WHA. Dorey began his pro career on the blueline of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his plus minus in his first 4 seasons (+9, +9, +6, +10) on a mid-level team implied quality. If we choose to ignore the WHA, then Dorey would have to be judged on 4 seasons (instead of 11) and we may lose a legit HOFer in the process.

Dorey isn’t a HOF candidate. Injuries affected his career all down the line and a player of his type would have to amass quality career numbers (career value) to qualify but Dorey played fewer than 700 games in the NHL/WHA and adding the WHA years gets him into the conversation.

So I’m going to value the WHA (with help from Desjardins) if you don’t mind.

1968-69
  • Total Rookies of Interest: 30.
  • Best Player as a Rookie: Danny Grant in a close contest. Former Hab prospect blossomed in Minnesota, scoring 34 goals in his first full season.
  • Second Best Players as a Rookie: Norm Ferguson, who also scored 34 goals as a rookie and was a former Hab prospect. Another point of interest: eastern Canada is often mentioned as being a little light on producing NHL players, but Grant was from NB and Ferguson from NS.
  • Oldest Rookie: Myron Stankiewicz, 33.
  • Oldest Rookie to play a lot: Dick Cherry, 31. His brother Don tells a story once in awhile about the lowest moment of his life being the time he was trying to get a job in hockey and the GM (for a minor league team) said “if you were your brother, I’d hire you.” Nice guy.
  • Most Unusual Story: Danny O’Shea. He was a Montreal prospect that Pollock traded to Minnesota (for TWO 1st round picks, who turned into Chucks Lefley and Arnason) and thrived as a playmaker and in fact played in two All-Star games. He was an important role player on that Chicago team that went all the way to the 1971 finals. He was in St. Louis for 72-73 and had a good year. In July 1973, O’Shea suffered a heart attack which effectively ended his NHL career because he couldn’t get clearance to play. O’Shea signed on with the Minnesota Fighting Saints and played his final pro season (74-75) in the WHA.
  • Longest NHL careers: Brad Park (1113 games), Wayne Cashman (1027 games), Jean Pronovost (998), Nick Libett (982), Walt McKechnie (955), Walt Tkaczuk (945).
  • Longest NHL/WHA careers: Andre Lacroix (876 games).
  • Most Seasons of High Quality (Peak Value): Brad Park, Wayne Cashman, Jean Pronovost.
  • Most Seasons of Above Average Play: Walt Tkaczuk, Jim Dorey, Andre Lacroix.
  • Peak Value: Brad Park from about 1970-78 was one of the five best defensemen in the NHL. His style of play was less exciting than an Orr or a Lapointe, but Park was a consistent, top quality defenseman for a long time and had a long period where we could consider him at his peak. Jim Dorey had a tremendous start to his pro career but injuries (back, knee, shoulder, spinal surgery) slowed him. Jean Pronovost had a 5-year run where he scored 40, 43, 52, 33 and 40 goals. Danny Grant scored 50 goals once, and 30 or more three other times. Andre Lacroix had 6 consecutive seasons of 100 or more points in the WHA, peaking at 147 points. Wayne Cashman was Ryan Smyth with gifted linemates for more than a decade. Danny Grant’s career had plenty of peaks, with a 50 goal season plus some in the 30s, but he didn’t have enough impact seasons and he didn’t hang around long enough to help his cause with “career” value.
  • Anything Else? Lots of quality role players again. These would include defensemen like Rick Smith, Rick Ley and Lou Nanne, as well as forwards like Nick Libett, Bobby Schmautz, Walt McKechnie, Simon Nolet and Gerry Meehan.

Who built at least a portion of a HOF career while still falling well short?

  1. Walt Tkaczuk: (pron. Ka-CHOOK) One of the teams who didn’t win a Stanley but should have were the NYR from 1970-75. They always had weird things happen, like the year they went to the finals (1972). Jean Ratelle was hurt in a meaningless game against the Seals from a Dale Rolfe slap shot just before the playoffs with the team unbeaten in 12 at the time. They lost the Stanley to Orr’s crew in 6 and maybe Ratelle would have been the difference. Anyway, Tkaczuk was a quality, two way center for years in NYC who could score goals, kill penalties and brought toughness (Walter was not a great skater, though). Somewhere in the heart of his career he stopped scoring, and then was a highly paid checker after that and despite recovering a little later on Tkaczuk’s 1974-77 looks out of time with the rest of his career. I blame the WHA money. 945gp, 227-451-678.
  2. Jim Dorey: Most of what I would say here is above at the beginning of this post, but Jim Dorey was a very good hockey player for a nice stretch in the late 60s/early 70s.
  3. Nick Libett: He qualifies on this list in the way Ross Lonsberry did in the 1967 edition. Libett seasons are so consistent it looks made up. He played on dog teams and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that had he landed on the Habs in 1972 they’d be whispering about putting him in the Hall by now. Nick Libett once had a series of seasons in which he scored 53, 53, 48, 51, 46, 41 and 45 points. 982gp, 237-268-505. Good 2-way winger with speed.
  4. Bobby Schmautz: I’m including him here for two reasons: Schmautz did have an impact on games beyond the stats he put up, and he was also an actual hockey player. Seasons of 38 and 33 goals were followed by 5 seasons in the 20s, and he also had a mammoth playoff in the spring of 1977 (11 goals in 14 games).
  5. Andre Lacroix: As an NHL player, Lacroix established himself as a solid offensive option on mid-level teams. He had seasons of 56, 58 and 53 points before going to the WHA and putting up seasons of 124, 111, 147, 101, 114 and 113 points. Gabriel Desjardins ran through the WHA a long time ago and gave us an NHL equivalency for each of those years. If we run Lacroix’s performance through Desjardins, we are left with seasons of 57, 84, 103, 89, 63 and 73 points. That’s 1 impact season and two above average seasons for a small, skill center. Lacroix’s resume is further hurt by his performance after the merger, as he lasted on 29 games into the 79-80 NHL season. He was pretty much Mike Comrie.
  6. Jean Pronovost: Do you remember Jean Pronovost? He was a beauty player, my favourite kind. Very fast, quick release on an accurate wrist shot, knew how to play without the puck and worked hard. Because he played in American towns, Pronovost’s consistent scoring record is rarely brought up when talking about the best RWers of the 1970s. However, he does belong in the conversation. He scored at least 20 goals in 12 consecutive seasons, scored 208 in a 5-year span and was on one of the very best lines of the 1970s (Syl Apps-Lowell MacDonald-Jean Pronovost). An underrated player all down the line.
  7. Danny Grant: After winning the Calder trophy, Grant continued scoring goals for several years. He did this with also-ran centers for the most part, and in fact when he finally played with a gifted center (Marcel Dionne) he ended up popping 50 goals. Grant built a solid resume from 1968-75 with 226 goals in 7 years, but doesn’t qualify under “career” or “peak” value. He needed 5 more years. Nickname: “Tuna.” 736gp, 263-273-536, once had a GP streak of 566.

From the 68-69 Group, who belongs in the Hall?

  1. Brad Park. In 1975, Rangers General Manager Emile Francis said “I’d say it’s been Brad’s misfortune to be playing in the Bobby Orr era. They play the same type of game and as a result, Brad has never received the credit he deserved. He’s one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. Of all time, I mean.” There’s no reason to disagree, once we establish that Orr had about 5 more speeds than Park did and I think that’s fair. Brad Park played in the Orr AND the Denis Potvin era, and was runner-up for the Norris 6 times in an era that also contained Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe. He wasn’t a flashy player and when he was traded to the Bruins I felt he played a far more defensive role for them, but he could impact a game on all levels and did it for a very long time. He was not a huge defender, but very strong and knew how to gain position on a forward and force the play wide. Consistent player. Offensively, he was patient (ala Pronger) with his passes and could hit the tape every time. He was a beautiful passer. One of my pet peeves when talking about the HOF is the argument that guys like Park are somehow less qualified for the Hall because they didn’t win the Stanley. Can we give this a break? He didn’t play in the original 6 era where you waited to be dealt to MON, TOR or DET and win your Stanley, and he played in a few finals and was a quality playoff performer. Brad Park imo qualifies under “peak” and “career” values and is in fact one of the very best defenseman of the period 1965-1995. Among his achievements:
  • NHL First All-Star Team (1970,1972,1974,1976,1978)
  • NHL Second All-Star Team (1971,1973)
  • Won Bill Masterton Trophy (1984)
  • Played in NHL All-Star Game (1970,1971,1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977)
  • 1113gp, 213-683-896.

Final Question: What one player would you argue is closest to being HOF worthy without meeting the requirements?

Wayne Cashman. If you like Ryan Smyth, you’d have loved Wayne Cashman. He came up as a right wing, you know. I think it was Ron Murphy who got hurt (on the Espo line) and they tried Cashman over there and something clicked. He played his most famous seasons with the ponderous Phil Esposito and the indifferent Kenny Hodge, and he was vital to the line. Why? Cashman in the corner was like a bull in a china shop. He was dogged, aggressive and mean spirited. He was Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo and the opposition defenseman was often the wheelchair.

Cashman was the last of the original 6 players to play an NHL game (Serge Savard and Carol Vadnais also played in the same week or so), he overcame a very serious back injury and he spent his entire career in the shadow of all-time greats. However, he contributed to their greatness and to one of the very best team decades in modern history (Bruins, 70-79) in a very big way.

Cashman (and Jean Pronovost) don’t belong in the HOF under “career” or “peak” value, but they were both among the very best at their position for the decade of the 1970s.

Neither is mentioned much today, but they were beauty players.

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14 Responses to "Rookie Class of 1968 (HOF)"

  1. Bruce says:

    Another beauty post, LT, this is fantastic stuff. Jean Pronovost, Nick Libett, Wayne Cashman, Andre Lacroix, beauty players indeed.

    Agreed absolutely with your inclusion of WHA performance. I had a love/hate relationship with the rival league for a year or two, but as a (then) Leaf fan I mostly blamed the tightwad Harold Ballard for the loss of Bernie Parent, Jim Dorey, Brad Selwood, Rick Ley, and Jim Harrison (and later, legends like Dave Keon, Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson) that turned a promising Buds club into an also-ran. But it sure was fun to get a chance to see some of those guys (not to mention Howe and Hull) in the flesh. The WHA soon sported a very decent brand of hockey, not quite up to the standards of the Montreal Canadiens but all the other NHL teams were in the same boat.

    I’ll not sure I buy the comparison of Lacroix to Mike Comrie which is at best premature. Lacroix was older when he played his first WHA game than Comrie is today. He was way more consistent and a much better playmaker than Comrie, and for a time held the “major league” record for assists in a season at 106. He was the classic late bloomer just waiting for the right opportunity; a more comparable current NHLer to my mind would be Andrew Brunette.

    Brad Park played in the Orr AND the Denis Potvin era, and was runner-up for the Norris 6 times in an era that also contained Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe.

    Surely this was the golden era for defencemen in NHL history. The six-pack named above, plus Jimmy Watson, comprised the greatest defence crew I have ever seen on one club, Team Canada 1976. And that era saw the first great international defenceman in the NHL, Borje Salming, who made six consecutive end-of-season All-Star teams. Although he never did win the Norris, Park more than held his own among that illustrious group, and certainly is a very worthy member of the HHoF.

    One of my pet peeves when talking about the HOF is the argument that guys like Park are somehow less qualified for the Hall because they didn’t win the Stanley. Can we give this a break?

    Yes and no. There’s only one Cup winner a season so the Law of Averages dictates there will be great players like Park who don’t win it due to circumstances. At the same time, there are players who make their fame due to their contribution to championship teams. So to my mind that is a criterion, but hardly the criterion, for Hall consideration.

  2. Art Vandelay says:

    Love Cash.
    I think the informal criteria for Hall induction (among fans, anyway; I can’t explain the selection committe to save my life) is whether a guy is a driver or a passenger.
    Espo, Orr, Park, Ratelle: drivers.
    Cheevers is a passenger to me, but he got in.
    Cashman. Passenger.
    But he was a beaut just the same.

  3. Lord Bob says:

    You omit one key fact about Lacroix, LT: he was the leading all-time scorer in the second-most important professional hockey league of the last century, and he did it while moving more often than Sheldon Souray’s injury estimates.

    If you ask me, Lacroix’s a Hall of Famer based on his WHA years alone. Keeping him out would be like keeping Tretiak out because the Desjardins numbers of the Soviet Elite League circa 1972 are rubbish (and if they’re not rubbish they should be, Dynamo was in the most literal sense of the word stacked before the Wall fell).

  4. Lowetide says:

    Lord Bob: I think the WHA was certainly a quality league, and Desjardins’ gives him credit for his monster seasons. However, even if we list his seasons in the WHA (with the Desjardins redux) he just didn’t have enough impact seasons and his career value isn’t enough.

    Here, let me list his entire career as if the WHA never happened (and using Desjardins):

    67-68 18gp, 6-8-14
    68-69 75gp, 24-32-56
    69-70 74gp, 22-36-58
    70-71 78gp, 20-22-42
    71-72 51gp, 4-7-11
    72-73 78gp, 16-41-57
    73-74 78gp, 23-61-84
    74-75 78gp, 29-74-103
    75-76 80gp, 26-63-89
    76-77 81gp, 18-45-63
    77-78 78gp, 23-50-73
    78-79 78gp, 28-50-78
    79-80 29gp, 3-14-17

    So his career totals would be: 13 seasons, 876gp, 242-503-745.

    How many seasons were elite? Let’s say 3, which is a pretty low threshold (80 points) considering he was a one dimensional player. Is that enough for a HHOF career? I don’t think it is.

    Okay, what about career? From the 1968 rookie group, Park, Cashman, Tkaczuk, Libett, Schmautz, Pronovost and McKechnie all exceeded his GP total.

    His 242 goals are behind Pronovost (391), Cashman (277),Schmautz (271), Grant (263).

    His 503 assists are less than Park (683) and Cashman (516).

    His 745 points are less than Park (896), Cashman (793), Pronovost (774).

    I will agree that Lacroix deserves HOF consideration, but imo he’s in a group that is behind Park (who is in), Cashman and Pronovost.

  5. Bruce says:

    I’m in the middle on this one. Rather than accept some subjective formula that waters down his totals, let’s look at Lacroix’s real actual numbers:

    67-68 18gp, 6-8-14
    68-69 75gp, 24-32-56
    69-70 74gp, 22-36-58
    70-71 78gp, 20-22-42
    71-72 51gp, 4-7-11
    72-73 78gp, 50-74-124
    73-74 78gp, 31-80-111
    74-75 78gp, 41-106-147
    75-76 80gp, 29-72-101
    76-77 81gp, 32-82-114
    77-78 78gp, 36-77-113
    78-79 78gp, 32-56-88
    79-80 29gp, 3-14-17

    His (real) major league career totals are 876 GP, 330-666-996. He was less than imposing in the playoffs, with just 50 points in 64 GP (both leagues).

    He was a dominant player in the WHA, its career-leading scorer and a two-time scoring champion. That alone should warrant him consideration IMO, however in the opinion of the NHL-dominated HHoF it is quite the opposite; grudge-bearing NHL types have consistently downplayed if not completely written off WHA performance.

    Desjardins clearly has not done quite that, but I don’t know how much I trust those adjusted numbers. On the basis of real major league results, Lacroix was second in goals (behind Pronovost), second in assists (just behind Park) and first in points of the class of ’68. Not sure that’s good enough to get him in the Hall — Park is the only surefire inductee of this entire group IMO — but he probably deserves a lot more consideration than he actually got.

  6. Lowetide says:

    It’ll come up again, we have Marc Tardif to consider too.

    Can we really put Lacroix ahead of Pronovost, though? The year he scored 147 points, Bobby Hull had 142, and Hull was 36 and past his prime at the time.

    Pronovost scored 104 points (52 goals) in 75-76, finishing behind Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Gilbert Perreault, Billy Barber, Pierre Larouche, Jean Ratelle and Peter Mahovlich.

    Desjardins’ number says the WHA was 70% of the NHL in 74-75. It seems like a reasonable number.

  7. Lowetide says:

    Just an aside on Cashman: the best argument FOR considering him for the HOF is that he was vital to a famous line in a fashion similar to Jacques Lemaire.

    Somewhere between Lemaire and Cashman is the line, and I don’t know if it is post-season performance or point-per-game totals, but the line is there.

  8. Bruce says:

    Can we really put Lacroix ahead of Pronovost, though? The year he scored 147 points, Bobby Hull had 142, and Hull was 36 and past his prime at the time.

    Not sure how you put Hull past his prime based on his performance. In ’74-75 he had his fourth of five consecutive 50-goal seasons (one in Chicago, the rest in Winnipeg), and he had a career highs of 77 goals (beating Esposito’s record by one) and 142 points. It was his first year playing with the Ulf Nilsson (26-94-120) and Anders Hedberg (53-47-100) and Hull was revitalized and playing truly great hockey. Even the great Bobby Hull playing on a stacked line couldn’t beat Andre Lacroix for the scoring title.

    Sure at 36 Hull “should” be past his prime, but so should Gordie Howe have been at 36, and he just kept right on going too, and in the NHL where there was no ambiguity. While there are lots of statistics that will reveal a mean “prime”, each guy ages at his own rate. I watched Hull play that year and believe me, he was still a great, great player. At least as good as Pierre Larouche. :D

    All that said, no, we really can’t put Lacroix ahead of Pronovost unless you value his position as an historical figure within the WHA. And I don’t think there’s a soul on the HHoF committee who does.

  9. Bruce says:

    Desjardins’ number says the WHA was 70% of the NHL in 74-75. It seems like a reasonable number.

    I been thinking about this and I’m not sure I’m buying. Both leagues were watered down to a ridiculous extent: just 8 years after the Original Six there were suddenly 32 teams in major league hockey. Sure there were a lot of bad teams in the WHA, but the same could be said of the NHL, and the good teams and players fattened their totals at the patsies’ expense. The expansion Washington Capitals were the worst team in hockey history, finishing with an 8-67-5 record. Their 446 goals against — still a record — was more than 100 worse than the next worst team in either league. At the top of the NHL heap were the Philadelphia Flyers, hardly the greatest champion in league history. Hockey fans everywhere were taken for a ride in a handbasket.

    So maybe the WHA was at 70% of traditional NHL level, but the NHL itself was at maybe 80% of that level, certainly very subpar. Does Desjardins account for that too?

  10. Lowetide says:

    bruce:

    Desjardins’ explains his finding here:

    http://www.hockeyanalytics.com/Research_files/League_Equivalencies.pdf

  11. Hawerchuk says:

    The WHA numbers are pretty simple – they estimate, using separate estimates for each season, what percentage of a player’s points he would have maintained in the NHL.

    There’s no adjustment for the level of play in the NHL. That would be a completely separate study.

  12. Bruce says:

    Yeah, I understand the concept. I’m just not sure I buy the 70% solution, that’s all.

    If I’m reading Desjardins right (and thanks for the link, LT), the primary (sole?) measuring stick is guys who had a past or a future in the NHL. It stands to reason that the middle years of the WHA would produce the lowest numbers of those. Lots of solid journeymen played several years in the WHA but were before their prime in 1972 and after it in 1979, so they never got more than a cup of coffee in the NHL. Especially considering there was contraction to 21 major league teams coupled with two “double drafts” when the draft-eligible age dropped first to 19 and then 18. (Of course the WHA was directly responsible for this with its rash of underage signings the last two seasons.)

    By 1974 the WHA had begun to establish its own identity and feeder system quite independent of the NHL. As an example, the Houston Aeros trio of Larry Lund, Frank Hughes and Andre Hinse (how’s that for a blast from the past?) was one of the best second lines is hockey from 1973-77, and among them played 16 seasons in the WHA scoring 1032 points in a combined 1100 GP. Collectively they played just 9 games in the NHL. I’m convinced it’s not that they weren’t good enough — they would have ripped the Washington Capitals too — it was a matter of opportunity, choices, and timing. But according to Desjardins, guys like these actually lowered the comps between leagues. (Am I missing something?)

    And thanks, Hawerchuk, I realize the method involves estimates, it’s exactly that that I’m shying away from. While I agree that the WHA was about AHL-quality its fist season, it got pretty steadily better after that, yet the Desjardins percentages are up and down like a yo-yo. 0.88 in ’75-76, then only 0.55 the next year? Doesn’t jive with my memory of things.

    Bottom line: in a very best-case scenario, we accept Andre Lacroix’s numbers at face value, like an American tourist trap accepting Canadian $$$ at par. (What’s that, you say?) Even doing so, giving Lacroix the very best benefit of the doubt, he’s not quite Hall of Fame calibre in my opinion. But viewed in this mirror he’s a lot closer than he appears.

  13. Bruce says:

    Further: I have re-read Desjardins (a.k.a. hawerchuk?) and now think I did misread him. Is the idea to compare all players who played >40 Gp in the WHA one year to how those same guys did in the NHL the next year? If so, the percentages certainly have some validity, however are still subject to season-over-season changes within the NHL itself, which clearly was much weaker during expansion years (WHA merger season being the only exception, although scoring went up that time too). I couldn’t find the actual year-over-year numbers in a quick google search (where’s a good keyword when you need one?), however I did find this excellent article by, wait for it, G. Desjardins (nice hockey name, btw):

    http://www.behindthenet.ca/offense.html

    The second graph shows a very telling sawtooth pattern, showing goals-per-game surging in 1971 (presumably, 1970-71), 1973 and 1975, expansion years all. In each case the number self-corrected somewhat the next year before being hit by another expansion.

    So a proper analysis of guys jumping leagues in 1974-75 scoring should include comparison to a baseline of guys who didn’t jump.

    Furthermore, the NHL-WHA scenario is probably the best example in hockey history of players in their prime “going both ways” in jumping leagues. So it would be possible to conduct an identical study of players going the other way, who in theory should deliver complementary numbers. If, say, the conversion rate for WHA players joining the NHL is 70%, then an NHLer jumping to the new circuit should see a ~40% bump in his totals. Let’s just say I’d be surprised if this was so, Marc Tardif or no Marc Tardif.

    All that said, irregularities in year-over-year data cannot disguise the long-term trends that even a partial study of players switching leagues has apparently revealed. The same player would score more points in the WHA than the NHL. Right, Marc Tardif?

  14. Ned Braden says:

    Great Stuff !!!!

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