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.
- 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.