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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.