I’ll often read about a skilled playmaker who could score goals, a quality offensive center who could go up against the opposition’s best.
Those words are accurate but don’t really describe him as a player. Darryl Sittler had a somewhat unusal skating style but was quite fast and had a very effective extra gear. He was skilled and he was gritty and it was an extremely effective combination. He could shoot the puck and pass it effectively and he backed down from no one. Darryl Sittler was a complete player.
Sittler is often remembered as being part of the chaos of Ballard, Imlach and the Devil brigade that made up Toronto’s ownership and management group. It has diminished the memory of his playing career, causing us to lose focus on an elite career spent in the employ of hooligans.
- Total Rookies of Interest: 64 (expansion year).
- Best Player as a Rookie: Gilbert Perreault. He was probably the most exciting rookie of my lifetime.
- Second Best Player as a Rookie: Probably Guy Lapointe. He stepped into the Habs lineup and kept moving up the depth chart because of injuries to Serge Savard and Jacques Laperriere. He did a fine job.
- Oldest Rookie: Cliff Schmautz was 31 but he was pretty much done. Minor league role player who was given a well earned opportunity and hung around awhile.
- Oldest Rookie who played a lot: Gilles Villemure, 30. He had been in the minors since 1958 and had a few cups of coffee in the show. However in 1970-71 he won a job as backup with the Rangers and kept taking playing time away from Eddie Giacomin. Villemure’s .920SP in his rookie season ranked third in the entire NHL.
- Most Unusual Story: Lots of great ones. Ed Hatoum was born in Beirut, Lebanon. That’s pretty unusual. Syl Apps Jr (the son of the HOFer) was also a rookie in 1970 and his daughter Gillian was on the 2006 Canadian Olympic Women’s Hockey Team. Guy Trottier caused a bit of a stir when he climbed to the NHL after stunning seasons in the IHL (68 and 71 goals). The IHL made a big noise about being paid for supplying the NHL with players and talked about getting compensation but it didn’t come to much. Marc Tardif had his career threatened in a horrible incident that may have cost him the Hall.
- Huge Event: Habs traded Ernie Hicke and Montreal’s first rounder to Oakland for D Francois Lacombe and Seals’ 1st rder. I gave up long ago trying to tell people Ernie Hicke was a pretty good player but it’s useless. Since this is my blog I would like to say for the record that he led his team in scoring as a rookie (70-71).
- Longest NHL careers: Gilbert Perreault (1,191), Darryl Sittler (1,096), Jerry Korab (975), Guy Lapointe (894), Don Luce (894), Rick MacLeish (846).
- Longest NHL/WHA careers: Marc Tardif (963), Reggie Houle (849).
- Most Seasons of High Quality: Darryl Sittler, Guy Lapointe, Rick MacLeish, Marc Tardif, Gil Perreault.
- Most Seasons of Above Average Play: Jerry Korab, Reggie Houle.
- Peak Value: This is a stunning rookie crop in terms of peak value. So good in fact that a player like Sittler (who had probably a full decade of high quality) was often overshadowed by the short term brilliance of players like Rick MacLeish, Gil Perreault and Marc Tardif in his own rookie class. We’ll have to wait and see how this rolls out, but among the first 4 seasons I’ve done the “peak value” of the 1970s rookies is the new outer marker. MacLeish was vital to those Flyers teams, a forward so absolutely dominating in the offensive zone that his mastery is remembered vividly 30 years later. Perreault was an artist, a truly sublime talent who raised the level of the game itself with end to end rushes that to this day have not been bettered. He was truly a man for the ages. Tardif was a smooth skater, a dynamic shooter and had a wide range of skills. Despite the Jodzio incident, he was also a pretty gritty player. Guy Lapointe and Sittler deserve mention in both peak and career categories for their continued excellence over a long period of time. Their consistency probably hurt them in terms of season ending awards, since their quality play became an annual expectation.
- Anything else? The rookie class boasted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1970-71 was truly exceptional. Aside from Tardif and Houle, the two kids from Thetford Mines, the Habs had possibly the best player among the group overall in defender Guy Lapointe. They also had some secondary talents debut like Houle, Guy Charron, Pierre Bouchard, Phil Myre, Phil Roberto and Bobby Sheehan. That’s a ton of talent in one season.
- Anything GALLING? Quoting Legends of Hockey: The duo of Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif had made national headlines as the two best junior hockey players in Canada in 1969. The only question was who would be the first pick overall in the draft. And, even that turned out to be rather anti-climactic because as it happened the Montreal Canadiens were the automatic beneficiaries of both picks, thanks to a bizarre clause in the NHL rule books at the time which stated the Canadiens had the option of first right of claim with respect to two players whose fathers are French-Canadians and domiciled in the province of Quebec, at the time of the draft. The Canadiens selected Houle first and Tardif second. Needless to say, this strange form of favouritism did not sit well with the other teams around the league, who felt the draft should be based entirely on league standings. That ridiculous “Habs-clause” closed just after Sam Pollock ran off with the two best amateurs in the land. Those who wonder why the Habs are often despised can add this to the list.
Who built at least a portion of a HOF career while still falling well short?
- Rick MacLeish: Injuries affected his career in the middle and end, and it took him some time to find the range. In between, from say 1972-1977 he simply ripped it up. He was a beautiful skater, probably the worst defensive forward in the NHL during his career.
- Don Luce: When we get better at evaluating the game, I think players like Don Luce and Butch Goring will get their due. The facts are that during the Sabres run of the mid-70s it was his job to shadow the other team’s best center and he did it to the tune of +61, +37, +38, +32, +20 and +22 in the same seasons Perreault went +1, +17, +10, +18, +12, +32.
- Reggie Houle: An underrated player who was quality from the time he arrived in the NHL until he retired. Houle was an excellent two way player overshadowed by others but had a very good career and contributed heavily to one of the strongest teams in the game’s history.
From the 70-71 group, who belongs in the HHOF?
- Darryl Sittler: I think Sittler built the foundation of a HOF career from 1975-78 and the only real argument against his inclusion (didn’t lead his team to a Stanley) needs an asterisk the size of Harold Ballard’s ample ass. Sittler was skilled, had good size for the day, speed, plus shot, could pass and played a physical style. I find the way his career is remembered today (as somehow being a victim of Ballard and Imlach, a helpless, stupid hockey player) to be offensive and a lie. Darryl Sittler was a man and one hell of a hockey player. He deserves any Hall of Fame.
- Guy Lapointe: I’ve always liked the players who had a wide range of skills and boy did Lapointe have them. He had a hard slapshot, usually came in just above the ice and always on net and it found the mark more often than not. He could dish out checks, manhandle forwards, dish the puck and carry it with authority. He had plus size for his time and was an excellent skater which I think maybe people have forgotten. Lapointe played in an era of great defensemen (Orr, Park, Potvin) and on a team with a few (Robinson, Savard) plus he played for a team I despised but there’s no doubt in my mind he was a Hall of Famer. Guy Lapointe was one of the best of all-time.
- Gilbert Perreault: You have to be a very good one dimensional player to make my HOF. There aren’t going to be many, but keeping Perreault out is like keeping Rembrandt out of the Louvre. I was always amazed at how closely he carried the puck to his skates. It’s a little thing really, we’ve all seen thousands of hockey players carry the puck. However, with Perreault it was so obvious it always struck me as being something of a weapon: how do you poke check the guy without tripping him? I don’t know if there’s a Perreault rush on youtube but if there is have a look, it’s uncanny. Perreault’s end to end rushes were works of art, he was simply the finest one on one player of his era. There were long stretches when Perreault played like he was in another time zone but when he was on you paid attention and most of the time you were rewarded with plays no one else on the planet could accomplish. He could make everyone else look ordinary, and often did.
Final Question: What one player would you argue is closest to being HOF worthy without meeting the requirements?
- Marc Tardif: I cannot put Tardif in my Hall of Fame. It isn’t an easy choice, as I believe the reasons he ranks outside (the WHA years need to be factored in but not at a level that allows a HOF career, and the devastating injury from the Calgary Cowboys’ goonery) Hall requirements are difficult to measure. Having said that, if we make 500 NHL level goals a “line in the sand” and ask Gabriel Desjardins to do the math for the WHA years we arrive at a total NHLE goal total of 426 goals.
- We are then left with the one big season. In 75-76 Marc Tardif scored 71-77-148 which in NHLE terms equals 62-68-130. That’s a mammoth season, but there was no other season close to equal and Tardif’s career value doesn’t give him enough traction to earn the Hall. It is all the more difficult when taking into account what happened in the spring of 1976.
- Quoting hockeydraftcentral “Jodzio was suspended for remainder of 1976 WHA playoffs for intentionally injuring Marc Tardif, the 1975-76 WHA scoring leader, during the first period of Calgary’s April 11, 1976, playoff game (Game 2 of series) at Quebec. Jodzio came off the Calgary bench just 6:10 into the game and raced across the ice to charge Tardif with a high stick to the face. While Tardif was still reeling from the hit, Jodzio began to pummel him with punches. The beating gave Tardif a concussion, knocked out several teeth and left him in shock with brain trauma. He was removed from the ice on a stretcher.” Had Tardif had anywhere near another season like 75-76 it wouldn’t be a question. His Desjardins NHLE for 76-77 was 62gp, 27-33-60.