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.
- 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?
- 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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Jacques Plante, Toronto .942
- Ed Giacomin, New York .921
- Tony Esposito, Chicago .920
- Gilles Villemure, New York .920
- Gerry Cheevers Boston .918
- Rogie Vachon, Los Angeles .926
- Bernie Parent, Philadelphia .918
- Daniel Bouchard, Atlanta .914
- Phil Myre, Atlanta .909
- Ken Dryden, Montreal .906
- Tony Esposito, Chicago .905
- Glenn Resch, NYI .928
- Ken Dryden, Montreal .928
- Daniel Bouchard, Atlanta .911
- Wayne Stephenson, Philadelphia .908
- Billy Smith, NYI .908
- Tony Esposito, Chicago .905