Rookie Class of 1971 (HOF)

This is Marcel Dionne in his OHA days with the St. Catherine’s Black Hawks. You could write a book about the 1971 Memorial Cup and the crazy, bloody events that surrounded it. Suffice to say that Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur were bound by history before their arrival in the National Hockey League.

Dionne is remembered now as a great Los Angeles King, but he was drafted second overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 1971. He was an instant offensive success and had a wonderful NHL career. When Dionne arrived in the league he was a fast skater with quick hands and a wide range of offensive skills. His nickname was “Lou” (after Lou Costello) and very early in his career Dionne was painted as a man who could dominate the regular season but faded in the playoffs. At least some of that reputation would have to be blamed on the overall quality of the teams he played for, as his line (Dionne-Simmer-Taylor) was one of the most famous in the league’s history.

1971-72

  • Total Rookies of Interest: 47
  • Best Player As a Rookie: Ken Dryden in a deep class.
  • Second Best Rookie: I’ll go with Rick Martin. 44 goals and he looked dangerous every time he touched the puck.
  • Oldest Rookie: St. Louis had some trouble in net. Glenn Hall had finally retired and although Ernie Wakely was a nice choice for new #1 the club didn’t have much after that. The Blues acquired 34-year old Jimmy McLeod and he performed very well.
  • Oldest Rookie Who Played a Lot: Stan Gilbertson. He’d been hanging around pro hockey forever (Oakland could have had him for nothing in 1967, I think they technically had a right to claim him as a San Fransisco Seal before Boston reclaimed their players) and caught on with the Seals when Tommy Williams got hurt for the 100th time. Playing on a line with a dangerously overweight Wayne Carleton and bullet-man Bobby Sheehan, Gilbertson was apparently just fast enough for Sheehan and just slow enough for Carleton. His up and down, traditional style of LW suited both just right and he landed a career at age 27.
  • Most Unusual Story: There were so many rookies traded during this season it was amazing. Reggie Leach began the season in Boston but ended up in Oakland (for Carol Vadnais who would win the Stanley with the Bruins), and Ivan Boldirev also started in Boston and ended up in Oakland in an earlier trade. Chris Evans was traded by Buffalo to St. Louis in March for a player and a pick, and of course there is the legendary deal that send Gilles Meloche to Oakland. The Seals had traded goalie Gary Smith to Chicago for a package that included goalie Gerry Desjardins but when he showed up for camp it was found he hadn’t recovered from injury. This meant the Seals had no goalie, so they tried to overturn the deal. Clarence Campbell said no but that a deal would have to be worked out in terms of compensation. Chicago ended up sending a pretty useful defender (Paul Shmyr) and young Meloche in return for Desjardins (who was now #3 behind Tony Esposito and Smith). Finally, a rookie was also involved in one of the biggest trades in the history of the NHL. On January 28 1972, rookie defender Jean Potvin was traded to Philadelphia with Eddie Joyal, Bill Flett and Ross Lonsberry. Heading to Los Angeles were Bill Lesuk, Jim Johnson and Serge Bernier.
  • Anything else? Rick Martin’s career was ended by a right knee injury, which he blamed on former Buffalo coach Scotty Bowman for having made him play games when he was hurt until he had surgery on March 3, 1981. Knee was first injured in collision with Washington goalie Mike Palmateer on Nov. 9, 1980. Martin claimed Palmateer deliberately kicked him on the play as he was getting up after being tripped.
  • Longest NHL careers: Marcel Dionne (1348), Guy Lafleur (1127), Craig Ramsay (1070), Ivan Boldirev (1052), Reggie Leach (934), Rick Kehoe (906), Mike Murphy (831), Andre Dupont (810), Gilles Meloche (788, a monster total for a goalie).
  • Most Seasons of High Quality: Lafleur, Dionne, Dryden.
  • Most Seasons of Above Average Play: Craig Ramsay, Andre Dupont, Rick Kehoe, Ivan Boldirev, Rene Robert.
  • Peak Value: Marcel Dionne was an incredibly consistent player and made 4 post-season all-star teams (all between 1977-1981). He had 8 100-point seasons and 6 50-goal season. Ken Dryden was very consistent at an extremely high level. Dryden played 397 regular season and 112 post-season games in the National Hockey League. In the games that did not finish in a tie, his record was 338-89. Guy Lafleur took awhile to find the range but once he did the Flower had a major impact on each season. A stunning player to watch, Lafleur laid waste to the National Hockey League over a 6-season stretch that is probably the third most impressive stretch by one player in the game’s history. Rick Martin was a dominant offensive player and it is reasonable to argue that he would have been one of the all-time great left wingers in the game’s history if not for injury. Martin scored 50 goals in a season twice and was runner-up to Ken Dryden for 1971-72 Calder Trophy. He set the NHL record (since broken) for goals by a rookie with 44 in 1971-72. He became the first player who started his career on expansion team to be named to NHL All-Star First Team in 1973-74. Reggie Leach could score goals. Leach’s 1975-76 may be the finest in NHL history for pure snipers, as his 61 regular season goals and 19 in the post-season were one for the ages.

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

  • Reggie Leach: He never quite managed to get the confidence of NHL coaches as an all around player but his ability to shoot the puck made him invaluable and eventually a Stanley Cup Champion. Arriving in the NHL with the Boston Bruins, he struggled with the aimless California Seals until finding his way the Philadelphia on a line with his junior center Bobby Clarke.
  • Rene Robert: A fine two-way player who was a key element on one of the most explosive lines in NHL history (the French connection), Robert’s accomplishments seem to have faded over the years but he was quality.
  • Rick Kehoe: He won a Lady Byng and scored 55 goals in a season, but Kehoe played for teams that didn’t manage to do any damage in the post season and his career is almst forgotten.

From the 71-72 group, who belongs in the HHOF?

  • Guy Lafleur: Inner circle, no doubt. On a team full of Hall of Famers he stood out every night and delivered on the big stage. One of the very best to every play the game. Two things stand out about his career: the move from center to right wing and his lifestyle. In regard to the move in position, it impacted two players worthy of the Hall. Lafleur found the artistic freedom that allowed him to no longer give a care and create without regard to positioning, and it gave Jacques Lemaire the ideal role to play (responsible forward) on that all-world line. As for his lifestyle, Lafleur had some habits that one doesn’t normally associate with elite athletes, including car accidents.
  • Ken Dryden: There’s just too much. He certainly played on great teams with probably the finest group of blueliners ever. However, his record (mentioned above) and excellence in regular and post-season are more than enough to get him into the Hall.
  • Marcel Dionne: He had a wide range of offensive skills instead of one outstanding area and that may be part of why he is not remembered well. He had terrific speed and although he gained weight later on he was a terrific athlete who played big minutes for LA. A wizard with the puck, he also had a quick release. Outstanding player over a very long period of time, he was overshadowed early by Lafleur and later by 99, but there’s not much doubt that he belongs in the HOF. A “pure offense” player.

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

  • Craig Ramsay: Tremendous 2-way winger for a long time. For much of his (and Don Marcotte’s) career, Ramsay was in the shadow of Bob Gainey on the list of quality checking left wingers. Although Gainey was more “famous” because of the teams he played on, Ramsay was every bit the player and better with the puck on his stick. Craig Ramsay was a quality NHL player for a long time and played on his team’s de facto #1 line (Luce-Ramsay-Gare) in terms of heavy lifting. If “tough minutes” and “heavy lifting” had been measured in the 1970s the way they are today there’s little doubt in my mind Ramsay would be a lot closer to the HOF than he is today.

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16 Responses to "Rookie Class of 1971 (HOF)"

  1. Bohologo says:

    Outstanding, as usual. One comment, vieled as a question:

    If this is true, “Lafleur laid waste to the National Hockey League over a 6-season stretch that is probably the third most impressive stretch by one player in the game’s history”, which of Orr, Gretzky, and Lemieux don’t make your top three? Presumably Mario, given his injuries, illness, and retirements, no?

  2. Lowetide says:

    Bohologo: Yeah, that would be my thoughts on it. I mean Rocket Richard might have something to say about it but among the seasons we’re talking about here (1967-90 among rookies) I think Orr and Gretzky are the standard.

  3. Shawn says:

    Great stuff LT. The Dionne/Lafleur question has always facinated me. What happens if they switch teams? Who is the legend and who is the playoff goat? One of the great “what if” questions in hockey history.

  4. Lowetide says:

    Shawn: Agreed. There were lots of stories in the early 1970s that implied the Red Wings had acquired the better man and the raw numbers suggested it.

    Lafleur wasn’t the feature player early on (Frank Mahovlich and Yvan Cournoyer were the gunners) and when Lafleur did make an impact it was with two outstanding players (Shutt and Lemaire).

    Put Dionne with those two and you never know. Either way, both of them were not complete players by any stretch and so they’d get nicked on an all-time list (as would Perreault from the 1970 rookie group) but there’s just way too much to keep them out.

  5. Shawn says:

    Not even put Dionne with them, but put Dionne onto those Hab teams and Lafleur onto those Kings teams. However, that’s the nature of the beast. The status of a player’s legend is highly, highly impacted by his ability to get it done in the playoffs. However, even the great one himself couldn’t get those damn Kings a taste of Lord Stanley.

  6. Lowetide says:

    I always thought that Kings team would eventually win but they never did, kind of like the Rangers teams mid-70s.

    On a similar note, I’ve always wondered if Gilles Meloche could have won a few witht that Habs D in front of him. Probably just an old Seals fan wishful thinking, but he was a fine goalie.

  7. Shawn says:

    Circumstance is a big part of success I would think. Right place, right time and having the talents and hard work to take advantage of that. Are Fuhr and Dryden Hall of Famers on other teams? Who knows, but they got the job done when they had the chance. It makes for good conversation though.

  8. Bohologo says:

    What’s interesting to me about Lafleur is that after some staggering Jr. numbers, he spent 3 years in the NHL underwhelming expectations:
    http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid%5B%5D=2902

    Then, suddenly he morphed into the most dangerous forward on this side of the Iron Curtain. Would love to know what prompted this:
    -cutting down to two packs a day?
    -getting more & better ice time?
    -finally getting past Cournoyer and/or Henri Richard?

  9. Lowetide says:

    Bohologo: Somewhere in there he also moved to wing fulltime and that had an impact.

    Also, the Habs went to two scoring lines around that time as well. They were the only team in the league with enough depth to do it but if you look at the scoring totals for the top 6F in say 72-73 and then 5 years later it’s obvious Montreal (under Bowman) spent most nights pressuring the other guy.

    Here, let’s do that. From 72-73, these are the F’s over 60 points:

    1. Lemaire 95
    2. F Mahovlich 93
    3. Cournoyer 79

    Now from 74-75:

    1. Lafleur 119
    2. P Mahovlich 117
    3. Lemaire 92
    4. Cournoyer 74
    5. Lambert 67
    6. Shutt 65

    Plus that season they had 3 defenders with 60 or more points. And the rest of the decade continued that way, with two lines that ran high octane.

    I think Bowman was the one who did that btw, he decided that to beat Boston and the Rangers there was a need for two dedicated offensive lines.

    Of course it helped that Bowman could send Lemaire and Shutt over the boards with the Flower and then follow that up with Peter Mahovlich, Cournoyer and the lucky bastard playing LW that night.

  10. Black Dog says:

    Great stuff LT.

    Wasn’t Dionne golden in the ’76 Canada Cup or one of those early best on bests?

  11. CrazyCoach says:

    Ah Lafleur! As a kid there was no other player in my hockey world. He could do it all and when the money was on the line, he was the guy stepping gingerly onto the ice.

    Lafleur blossomed when he started playing without a helmet. Call it the Sampson Effect. He said it was too heavy anyway.

    One of the greatest tragedies was when I brought my mom and my sisters to the NHL Oldtimers game, where Guy was playing. As part of the festivities when ever the NHL’ers scored they would pick up the puck and drop it over the glass.

    To cut a long story short, Guy scores, skates over to our section and drops the puck over the glass where my mom and sisters were sitting. I hold back thinking three sets of hands would catch it, but they totally miss it and some kid dekes in and takes the puck. I would have chased him down for the puck, but I’m standing there with my mouth wide open in shock.

    I have never forgiven my mother, and my sisters are no longer the beneficiaries of my life insurance policies.

  12. Rick says:

    Does anyone else think it’s a shame that so much talent got wasted on a pompus ass like Dryden?

    You can’t argue with his numbers but there seems to be something unpure and anti-Canadian about heaping such accolades on a guy that almost seemed to treat playing the game at it’s highest level as a secondary priority.

    Good on him for having other aspirations but from a purely hockey standpoint I don’t think the guy is a real great representative of what we like to believe makes up the typical Canadian hockey player.

  13. Alice says:

    Whereas if his hockey was eclipsed by women and booze, we’d have no problem with that, right?

  14. Alice says:

    And of the what-ifs:
    Put the whole 70′s Habs in LA – Lafleur, the cups, and all. Still call them the Kings, though. Then what of Dionne? Or Lafleur?

    In other words where would the legend of Lafleur’s team live outside the legend of the Canadiens? In Tinseltown, no less. It would have been a great hockey story, but it would also resonate a lot less 30 years on, without the context of the storied franchise – and fan base – to support it.

    Flying down the wing, hair loose, famous insignia of Monarch Margarine on his chest. I don’t know.

  15. Bruce says:

    Outstanding work again, LT, I am delighted to see the return of your Hall of Fame series which rates among the best hockey stuff I have read anywhere recently. To highlight a single paragraph:

    Oldest Rookie Who Played a Lot: Stan Gilbertson. He’d been hanging around pro hockey forever (Oakland could have had him for nothing in 1967, I think they technically had a right to claim him as a San Fransisco Seal before Boston reclaimed their players) and caught on with the Seals when Tommy Williams got hurt for the 100th time. Playing on a line with a dangerously overweight Wayne Carleton and bullet-man Bobby Sheehan, Gilbertson was apparently just fast enough for Sheehan and just slow enough for Carleton. His up and down, traditional style of LW suited both just right and he landed a career at age 27.

    … which is absolutely chock-full of interesting little tidbits about several different bona fide NHLers of that era. I followed hockey pretty closely back then, but the Bay Area Seals were so far off the radar it’s still possible to learn new things about them 40 years on. Especially if one frequents “Lowetide”.

    Sheehan and Carleton on the same line almost defies the imagination. Both later spent time, but not the same time, as WHA Oilers and about the only thing they had in common was that both were one-way players. Carleton was a floater who was nicknamed “Swoop” for his good moments. 8 inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter, Sheehan could flat out fly, albeit to no apparent purpose much of the time. It’s easy to imagine they would need a transition guy, in much the manner that I remember once serving as an English-to-English interpreter in a conversation involving a Louisianan and a Newfoundlander. :D

    Gilbertson somehow held it together and posted a respectable -6 that rookie season, before plummeting to -34, -41, -50 and -28 his subsequent four seasons, split largely between the Seals and the expansion Washington Caps, two of the sorriest teams in NHL history. As a Cap Gilbertson played 56 games over parts of two seasons and posted a staggering -62.
    ***

    Lafleur laid waste to the National Hockey League over a 6-season stretch that is probably the third most impressive stretch by one player in the game’s history.

    Hmmm, interesting. Leaving aside some pre-expansion stars like Charlie Conacher (1930-36), Gordie Howe (1950-56) and Bobby Hull (1963-69), here’s a short list for a superior sixpack of seasons:

    Wayne Gretzky 1981-87: 473 GP, 437-946-1383, +456
    Bobby Orr 1969-75: 214-520-734, +484
    Phil Esposito 1968-74: 460 GP, 357-428-785, +277
    Guy Lafleur 1974-80: 465 GP, 328-441-769, +378

    … with Mario never putting together 6 consecutive healthy seasons. Dom Hasek’s 6-year run as Sv% king (cumulative .930 !) probably ranks somewhere up there on the Domination list too.

    It’s funny that Lafleur’s greatness extended for just that 6-year run, when he notched 50+ every year; he never exceeded 30 at any other point in his career. While his mystique lived on, perhaps that lifestyle caught up with him; by 30 he looked like an old man.
    ***

    Craig Ramsay: Tremendous 2-way winger for a long time.

    No shit. It’s interesting to compare Ramsay and his fellow rookie wingers Robert and Martin, one of the more spectacular rookie crops ever seen on one team.

    Robert (1971-82): 744 GP, 284-418-702, even
    Martin (1971-82): 685 GP, 384-317-701, +15
    Ramsay (1971-85): 1070 GP, 252-420-672, +328

    So the French Connection guys scored slightly more points in significantly fewer games. However, not only did they get to play with Perreault at all times, they got enormous powerplay opportunities. Martin scored 115 PPG in his career and 0 shorties; for Robert it was 73 and 0. Ramsay meanwhile scored more shorthanded goals (27) than PPG (17) in his career. Put in the context of opportunity, Ramsay’s offensive numbers look pretty darn impressive. He was simply more valuable to the Sabres at evens and on the PK than he was on the PP, where the French Connection boys really had it going.

    Excluding PPGF/A, here are the GF/GA per GP for the threesome:

    Martin : +1.01 / -0.99 = +0.02
    Robert: +0.87 / -0.87 = 0.00
    Ramsay: +0.84 / -0.53 = +0.31

    … proving Ramsay was no slouch offensively and a defensive stalwart.

    Although Gainey was more “famous” because of the teams he played on, Ramsay was every bit the player and better with the puck on his stick. Craig Ramsay was a quality NHL player for a long time and played on his team’s de facto #1 line (Luce-Ramsay-Gare) in terms of heavy lifting.

    Ramsay: 1070 GP, 252-420-672, +328
    Gainey: 1160 GP, 239-262-501, +196

    Ramsay: +0.84 / -0.53 = +0.31
    Gainey: +0.73 / -0.56 = +0.17

    Ramsay was every bit the player, and better with the puck on his stick.

    If “tough minutes” and “heavy lifting” had been measured in the 1970s the way they are today there’s little doubt in my mind Ramsay would be a lot closer to the HOF than he is today.

    When it comes to tough minutes, it seemed like any time I saw the Sabres Ramsay was covering the opposition’s top guns – Lafleur, Leach, Lanny McDonald. Throughout he was a plus player every single year of his career, and that cumulative +328 is almost other-worldly given his responsibilities. One of the finest two-way players to ever grace the NHL, a powerful case can be made that he should be not just close but in the Hall.

  16. Art Vandelay says:

    Does anyone else think it’s a shame that so much talent got wasted on a pompus ass like Dryden?…there seems to be something unpure and anti-Canadian about heaping such accolades on a guy that almost seemed to treat playing the game at it’s highest level as a secondary priority….I don’t think the guy is a real great representative of what we like to believe makes up the typical Canadian hockey player.

    While I’m in the sparsely populated “Dryden was under-worked and over-rated” camp, I can’t get behind the un-Canadian thing. Check out his post-game interview/speech/epilogue/coda in the documentary of the ’72 Summit Series. Still dripping sweat from that glorious Game 8 victory, he articulates – better than any other human probably could have – what the entire country must have been feeling at that very moment. Even decades after the event, it makes you want to cry, hug a Newfie and join the Canadian Army, in no particular order. It’s a beauty.

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