Rookie Class of 1969 (HOF)

This is Bobby Clarke. His Hall of Fame career may have been spent with the Detroit Red Wings if not for the universal “amateur draft” that matured and changed the powerbase of the game in the summer of 1969.

Although the NHL would take many years to shake the final original 6 dynasty (Montreal 68-79), the draft gave teams a chance to pick the cream of the crop and by 1969 pretty much all of the “sponsorships” were over (not all, however).

Clarke was drafted by Philadelphia and spent his entire career with them. He was an impact player on all kinds of levels, and his team came to reflect the balls out style Clarke exhibited in every NHL shift.

The rookie class of 1969 was still top heavy with quality in the senior division, but the gap was closing.

Also important in this season of rookies were college men. More on that as we move along.

1969-70
  • Total Rookies of Interest: 40
  • Best Player as a Rookie: Tony Esposito. He would be a trend setter in many ways over the years, including becoming the first of two NHL goalies who came out of college, played on a Stanley Cup winning team, and THEN won the Calder trophy the following year.
  • Second best player as a Rookie: Keith Magnuson. His rookie season was one for the ages.
  • Oldest Rookie: Goalie Marv Edwards was 34 and had a track record that would make you giggle. He played in about a dozen leagues and for many, many teams with names like the Nashville Dixie Flyers.
  • Oldest Rookie who Played a Lot: Edwards played quite a bit (25 games), but defensemen Bob Blackburn was a rookie at 32 and performed well. His pro career had begun 12 years earlier with the Washington Presidents.
  • Most Unusual Story: Michel Briere. He was a promising prospect out of the QJHL (the precursor of the QMJHL, inferior because Montreal Jr Canadiens were an OHA team) and had a fine rookie season with the Penguins. In 76gp, he was 12-32-44 and had a strong playoff. Briere, who was in his hometown of Malartic, Quebec preparing for a wedding, was involved in a car accident on May 15, 1970 along with two of his friends. During the accident, Briere was thrown out of the car and suffered massive brain injuries, inducing a coma. During his time in intensive care, Briere would be in a coma for almost seven weeks. After the coma, Briere would fade in and out of consciousness for almost a year. After this and four major operations to help recover from his injuries, Briere died in the hospital on April 13, 1971, aged only 21. (source: Wikipedia).
  • More on the story from Legends of Hockey: The other two occupants survived the crash, but suffered multiple fractures. When emergency crews arrived on the scene, they found Briere unconscious, some distance from the car. “He was in the back seat,” Penguins coach Red Kelly recalled. “There wasn’t even a mark on him. But he was thrown out, and there was damage to his brain.” But there would be yet another tragedy associated with the crash on that fateful rainy evening. On the way to transporting the severely injured Briere to hospital in Val D’Or, the ambulance transporting him struck and killed an 18-year-old pedestrian, a young man by the name of Raymond Perreault of Malartic. Briere lay in a coma for seven weeks before showing signs of consciousness. The owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Donald H. Parsons, told the Briere family that he would provide lifetime financial security for Briere, if he was unable to resume his hockey career. He remained in a twilight condition, between consciousness and unconsciousness for close to a year and underwent four operations before dying of his injuries on April 13, 1971 at the age of 21.
  • Longest NHL Careers: Bobby Clarke (1144), Butch Goring (1107), Tony Esposito (886 games in goal), Don Marcotte (868), Cliff Koroll (814).
  • Longest NHL/WHA careers: Paul Shmyr (854).
  • Most Seasons of High Quality: Bobby Clarke, Tony Esposito, Butch Goring.
  • Most Seasons of Above Average Play: Don Marcotte, Cliff Koroll.
  • Peak Value: Clarke played a decade at a very high level (69-78) and 1972-76 you could reasonably argue he was one of the two or three very best players in the game (he won the Hart in 73, 75 and 76). Esposito played at an extremely high level from about 69-75, and then fell off a little for another decade. Keith Magnuson was an amazing player when he came up, ripping off season after season of heroic performances almost exclusively inside his own blueline. His plus minus numbers were ridiculous, and his playoff performances were legendary. Old footage often shows him getting his brains beaten in, but Magnuson was among the toughest players in the game’s history. More on him later.
  • Anything Else? College players began to arrive. Along with Tony Esposito, Keith Magnuson and Cliff Koroll (plus Jim Wiste) in Chicago, Al Karlander broke through in Detroit and former UND forward Dennis Hextall finally arrived as a regular. I can tell you that it had an immediate and major impact on the NHL, mostly because it turned Chicago around in a heartbeat. The Hawks went from pretenders to contenders by getting Tony Esposito in the Intra-League draft and elevating the two kids from Denver University (Magnuson made the Hawks straight off the campus, Koroll had been in the minors for a season after graduating). A January 2, 1970 Hockey News story about Al Karlander making the Red Wings begins “another collegian has made it to the NHL”.
  • Anything Else Else? Juha Widing was a Swede born in Finland. At 16 he played for Goteborg (Swe-2) and then found his way to Canada where he starred for three seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Long before Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom endured slings and arrows from fans (and owners), and long before Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg represented Winnipeg and endured some brutality on WHA ice, the kid Widing broke a barrier in small town Canada and arrived in the NHL 4 full seasons before Toronto signed Salming and Hammarstrom.
  • Is that it? Just a quick mention of the role players. Once again (third year in three), the number of good, quality NHL regulars who appeared on the scene was impressive. Among the names were Jim Lorentz, Garnet Bailey, Garry Monahan, Gary Croteau, Billy Fairbairn, Dennis and Bryan Hextall, Barry Gibbs, Al Hamilton and Dale Hoganson.


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

  1. Keith Magnuson. Chicago writer Bob Verdi: He broke so many bones for the Blackhawks and sipped so many portions of liquid slop through fractured jaws, and tiptoed through so many summers with casts and canes and assorted pains. He said he would break his neck for his team, and a couple of times he even came close to doing that. Magnuson was a stay-at-home defender of the first degree. His plus minus numbers compared to his teammates in the first 5 years of his career were impressive and had he played at that level for even 5 more a Hall of Fame argument could be made. I think we as fans should prepare for a movement at some point down the line for Magnuson’s career to be recognized somehow in the Hall, after his tragic death brought his name into focus again. His playing career does not merit the Hall alone. The guy’s story is ridiculous, from paying for his university tuition by washing dishes in a sorority house to his hilarious attempts to win a fight on the ice. Years ago when he was the Leafs’ coach, John McLellan said “there would be no ex-coaches if every player worked as hard as Keith Magnuson.”
  2. Don Marcotte. One year when Wayne Cashman was injured, Don Marcotte moved up to the Esposito line and popped 31 goals. There’s no doubt he had skill as a shooter and a passer. Marcotte and Craig Ramsay have always reminded me of each other as players, consistent two way wingers who played on famous checking lines (Sanderson-Marcotte-Westfall) and played in famous playoff games. Marcotte also scored some famous playoff goals too and played for over a decade in that “old style” up and down the wing way. Cherry once said if he had to teach people from another planet how to play the game, he’d use Marcotte. I have never read it in print, but I believe Marcotte was the culprit in the “too many men” game against the Habs.

From the 69-70 group, who belongs in the HOF?

  1. Bobby Clarke. If you didn’t see Bobby Clarke play you missed something special. There was a time when the Flyers were not considered the tough expansion team (St. Louis was, the Plagers were filthy) but soonafter Clarke arrived (and Shero too) the team became impossible to play against at home, on the road and probably at neutral sites. Clarke didn’t personify the Flyers tireless, fearless, intimidating, bullying attitude, they seemed to take it from him. Many of the things modern day fans saw in Mark Messier were contained in the play of Bobby Clarke. He could do it all: powerplay specialist, penalty killing demon, filthy in the corners, outstanding in the faceoff circle, great team player, great checker, exceptional passer, could shoot the puck. One year they lost in the semifinals to Boston and Clarke said immediately afterwards “we need to look in the mirror at ourselves for what went wrong.” In his day and time, Clarke was refreshing in his honesty. As for his HOF credentials, he’s as qualified as any forward in the 70s not named Lafleur. Three Hart trophies, held both PP and PK scoring records for his team, he was a stunning hockey player.
  2. Tony Esposito. I think the one thing about him that has been forgotten over the years is how little he was respected when he came into the league. Even after he won the Calder AND the Vezina as a rookie (!!!), there was still talk that his butterfly style couldn’t be counted on, that he was a fluke. I’m serious. Esposito put himself into the Hall from 1969-75, when he won the Calder Memorial Trophy (1970), was named First All-Star Team Goalie (1970, 1972), was named Second All-Star Team Goalie (1973, 1974), won the Vezina Trophy (1970, 1972, 1974). After that he was honored only once more (1980 1st All-Star), and I’ve always felt that the Hawks wore him out in the 70s (76-78 he accounted for 53 of his teams 58 victories in those two years, and he played over 55 games in every season but one from 1969-81). Anyway, Sam Pollock let him get away for nothing, and because the butterfly style was not considered to be reliable. O-L-D S-C-H-O-O-L.

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

Butch Goring. The year he won the Masterton and the Lady Byng while playing for the Los Angeles Kings, Butch Goring was also voted the NHL’s most underrated player. Early in his career, Goring had shoulder trouble (both shoulders) but afterwards settled in and was healthy and very consistent (this is all still in Los Angeles).

From 1972 through 1979, he scored between 27 and 37 goals each season. He had a quick, choppy stride that made it seem like he was working extremely hard (the opposite of Joe Thornton, as an example), he was among the best penalty killers in his time and he could score goals (Goring’s 375 NHL goals are actually more than Bobby Clarke’s career total of 358). He was an outstanding passer, and unlike many of the good checking forwards in NHL history, Goring was money on breakaways. His dad, Bob, still recalls the day he got that strange looking Snaps helmet in 1961. The thing was so comfortable, Goring never took it off until he retired in 1985. The Edmonton Oilers of the WHA offered Goring a 5-year, $1 million dollar contract in 1978.

As an Islander, Goring was a winner from the get-go, being awarded the Conn Smythe in 1981 and settling into a less offensive role (the Islanders were loaded at center, with Bryan Trottier and Bobby Bourne filling the net every night). It’s impossible to correctly identify what getting Butch Goring meant to the other centers on the Islanders, except to say they were a damn good group who took flight when he arrived.

I think Goring’s career falls just short of an ideal Hall, but if they put him in the HHOF I won’t complain.

EDIT TO ADD: I wanted to post the SP numbers for the three seasons I have during Esposito’s career as an added item.

1970-71

  1. Jacques Plante, Toronto .942
  2. Ed Giacomin, New York .921
  3. Tony Esposito, Chicago .920
  4. Gilles Villemure, New York .920
  5. Gerry Cheevers Boston .918

1974-75

  1. Rogie Vachon, Los Angeles .926
  2. Bernie Parent, Philadelphia .918
  3. Daniel Bouchard, Atlanta .914
  4. Phil Myre, Atlanta .909
  5. Ken Dryden, Montreal .906
  6. Tony Esposito, Chicago .905

1975-76

  1. Glenn Resch, NYI .928
  2. Ken Dryden, Montreal .928
  3. Daniel Bouchard, Atlanta .911
  4. Wayne Stephenson, Philadelphia .908
  5. Billy Smith, NYI .908
  6. Tony Esposito, Chicago .905

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9 Responses to "Rookie Class of 1969 (HOF)"

  1. Black Dog says:

    Great post LT.

    I didn’t know that Tony O had his name on the Cup. I presume that he was the backup on the Habs 68-69 club during the playoffs, perhaps?

    Also, he played in the ’72 Series

    Keith Magnusson was awesome. The Hawks had a real nice team in the early 70s. Stupid Habs.

  2. Lowetide says:

    BDHS: Yeah, 68-69 Habs. The 61 Hawks had all the really great names from the 60s on the Stanley winner (Hall, Pilote, Vasko, Hay, B Hull, Nestrerenko, Mikita, Wharram, Chico Maki and the Balfours).

    But the 70s team (before WHA) never won one, so Magnuson, Dennis Hull, Pit Martin, Pat Stapleton, Cliff Koroll, Bill White all those guys didn’t get their names on it.

    ’71 spring Whitey Stapleton had 17 points in 18 playoff games. I used to work with Ken Brown, who was the backup goalie G7, SCF in 1971 and he said Tony O was puking buckets between the second and third periods after giving up a long shot goal to Lemaire right at the end of the second.

    It sounds like a bad goal (and it was, I saw it), but it wasn’t as bad as it has been made out to be. The shot dipped, and it was always hazy in old Chicago stadium.

    Fricking Habs. Man I hated them. I even wanted to go back today to take Lemaire off my HOF list from the 1967 group because I like Goring about 100 times more.

    Oh well. :-)

  3. Bruce says:

    Another fine post, LT. When you write your book you might want to remove the redundant bit of the otherwise excellent Michel Briere section, but that’s a small thing much better said twice than not at all. That was a real tragedy.

    I don’t quite share your enthusiasm for Bobby Clarke but there’s no denying he was a hell of a player.

    A couple of small things: Tony Esposito does not have his name on the Cup, but he did play on a Stanley Cup winning team. (Nice catch on how he foreshadowed Dryden, LT) Tony O played 13 games for the Habs that winter, but in the spring took a back seat to Gump Worsley and Rogie Vachon and never played a post-season game, so didn’t quite qualify for inscription. He did, however, play in one of the most memorable regular season games it has ever been my pleasure to witness, a scoreless tie between the Bruins and Canadiens late in 68-69. It was a titanic struggle on HNiC between the champs and the contenders, both went at it hard for 60 minutes, with well over 70 shots on goal stopped by the two goalies. Memorably, young Tony stoned his big brother Phil, who earlier that season had already become the first player to score 100 points and was on his was to his first scoring title. I remember being shocked that Montreal let him get away that summer just based on that one game.

    As I recall that Lemaire rocket that beat Esposito from just over centre took a deflection off the Hawks right defenceman almost right off his stick, but it changed direction and then dipped about three feet, all of it at about 100 m.p.h. Lemaire had an absolutely wicked shot and one of those early banana blades. It’s easy to imagine Tony O puking between periods, I was practically doing so myself.

    re: Don Marcotte, it happens that Rick Middleton was on Off the Record’s “Next Question” segment earlier this week, and he said the culprit was the second left winger and specifically NOT Marcotte, who had been assigned the job of shadowing Lafleur and was doing what he was supposed to do. What a sound player he was, it’s too damn bad that he gets remembered for something like that. Like poor old Fred Snodgrass or Fred Merkle or Mickey Owen or Steve Smith, life ain’t always fair.

  4. Lowetide says:

    bruce: Re Tony O. Are you sure? I have him (along with Gump and Rogie) listed as having his name on the Stanley in my Official Guide and Record Book. That MAY just be the rosters, but I always thought it was the actual names on the Stanley.

    I do have another source and will check on it later.

    Not Marcotte? I’m glad. He was always a favorite of mine.

    As for Clarke, well he beat my Bruins on a phantom Dick Redmond tripping call to win the Stanley so you can rest assured he wasn’t my favorite player.

    As an aside, what’s your feeling on Goring? Unlike White and Cashman, I had a much harder time keeping him off my list of guys who got in. Although his points-per-game total doesn’t compare to Lemaire’s, he didn’t play with Lafleur either and he surely had a similar two-way impact.

    I’d be interested in your opinion on it. Love the input, btw.

  5. Mr DeBakey says:

    I hated Clarke
    Still do
    Before I hated him tho’
    was the Canada-Russia series

    I was a Leaves fan then
    It was pretty exciting for me that in the opening games the best line for Canada had
    Ellis & Henderson
    on the wings
    Clarke was between them.

    When you at old footage you can see why those two Leaves were so sucesssful in that series
    Both could just fly

  6. CrazyCoach says:

    Awesome post LT,

    More on Michel Briere. Although he only played one season and two playoff series, he made an impact.

    I’ve been reading a book about the California Seals and their sad history. It basically boils down to player recollections thrown together to form a history.

    The name Michel Briere comes up a lot from those former Seals players and the majority of them say Briere had a monster series and was the deciding factor in the 69-70 playoff series between the Pens and Seals.

  7. Bruce says:

    bruce: Re Tony O. Are you sure? I have him (along with Gump and Rogie) listed as having his name on the Stanley in my Official Guide and Record Book. That MAY just be the rosters, but I always thought it was the actual names on the Stanley.

    My bad, that’s what I checked too — my understanding, like yours, is that those are the actual names on the Cup — and the list goes Worsley, Vachon, Laperriere, Tremblay, etc.: goalies, then defence, then forward, generally in numerical order. But right at the end of the list, Tony O is squeezed in between Lucien Grenier (who played 2 GP as a Hab, both in those playoffs) and the coaching staff. So I just missed him. I am not sure he meets the modern qualifications, which are something like 40 regular season games (backup goalies are cerdited for dressing I believe) or one game in the SCF, so perhaps I was predisposed to missing him.

    From wikipedia:

    “He first played pro for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1968-69 season serving as the backup goalie. A famous game against the Boston Bruins, led by his brother Phil, ended in a 2-2 tie, in which Phil scored both goals for Boston. As backup goalie he won the Stanley Cup, but did not actually play any games in the playoffs.”

    I remember that 2-2 tie, which as I recall was not televised, but to me that 0-0 game should be even more famous. One of the very best regular season games I have ever seen.

    re: Briere, crazycoach is right that it was a big playoff performance that made his name. A 12-goal rookie season with Pittsburgh Penguins — who were televised about twice a year in those days — was enough to get his name out there, but he made headlines with some playoff heroics, and the consensus was he was a star on the rise.

    As an aside, what’s your feeling on Goring? Unlike White and Cashman, I had a much harder time keeping him off my list of guys who got in. Although his points-per-game total doesn’t compare to Lemaire’s, he didn’t play with Lafleur either and he surely had a similar two-way impact.

    Butch was a beauty, and a very strong case could be made for him. He just kept getting better and better as a player, racking up two straight seasons of 50+ points, then two of 60+, then five straight seasons of 70+, all but the last few games of those nine seasons with the Kings. But despite having two of the better centres in the league (Dionne and Goring) the Kings were a nowhere team, winning just two playoff series in that time. There was no indication that Butch would be the guy that would turn the Islanders fortunes, but Bill Torrey gave up two very good hockey players in Dave Lewis and Billy Harris to get him at the trade deadline in 1980.

    It was a perfect fit. The Islanders went from a team that couldn’t quite get it done to a powerhouse. Goring played just five playoff years with the Isles, but won 19 series in a row (still the record) before finally getting whupped by the Oilers in 1984. (Had to get that in :) Looking at his stats he is perhaps unduly credited with being THE turning point for the franchise, a lot of it had to do with Potvin, Trottier and Bossy maturing and Al Arbour settling on Billy Smith over Chico Resch in net. But Butch’s timing was perfect, he certainly added a great two-way presence on the second and/or third lines, and suddenly the Isles had no weaknesses.

    Goring was one of the cleanest players in NHL history. He compiled just 102 PiM in 1107 career regular season games, almost certainly all minors. In his Smythe year with the Islanders he took 0 penalties in 78 regular season games yet somehow was overlooked for the Byng, which he won just once (1977-78). He had four other seasons of just 2 PiM, and his career high was 16. And that’s not because he was a floater on the periphery, he just played within the rules.

    I’m not convinced about his qualifications for the Hall, though. He was definitely a support player on that dynasty, he was just +16 in his time with the Islanders and had only one season there of 50+ points. Definitely a man of two careers, half an argument could be made for both his time with L.A. and with N.Y. Mind you, if Clark Gillies made it …

    Did you know Butch’s given name was Robert? I had to look it up.

    I’d be interested in your opinion on it. Love the input, btw.

    Thanks. I love this series of essays on the “good old days”. Keep up the excellent work, and I will keep up with the responses.

  8. Rube Foster says:

    Lt,
    Bless you. Let me know when you publish the book. I’ll be one of the first in line.
    Clarke – Nice comp with Messier from a heart and inspiration perspective. Clarke wasn’t the physical force a young Mark Messier was but he certainly was Messier’s equal in that he could will his team to greater heights through his desire and completive spirit. Another comp might be a youg Kenny Linesmen who did a very good Clarke impersonation for a few years before his production fell off.
    Clarke may have started his share of fights and never backed down from anyone but it was the Schultz’s, Dupont’s and Saleski’s that finished the fights. The young Messier didn’t need any help finishing his fights, though having Semenko in his corner didn’t hurt him at all.
    Clarke also had the photogenic goldilocks and the iconic gap toothed smile, his entire persona represented and captured the essence of what it meant to be a Canadian hockey player for a whole generation. How many other people can you say that about?

  9. Leu' says:

    Great post…I’m a Flames fan, but I love this site. Thanks.

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