This photo comes from a very famous game. Final day of the 1969-70 regular season, Rangers needed a win to make the playoffs and send the Montreal Canadiens home.
It’s a long, incredible story that we’ve talked about before, but suffice to say the Rangers won 9-4 after firing 65 shots at goalie Roger Crozier. Rangers in photo are Arnie Brown (a defenseman, #4) and the great Jean Ratelle (#19).
It’s Ratelle I’d like to talk about a little today. Ratelle and Rod Gilbert were quality prospects for the New York Rangers in the early 1960s (they came with the Guelph Biltmores during the sponsorship era) and both were highly touted. Gilbert scored 54 goals in 47 games in his final junior season, and Ratelle had 101 points in 47 games the same season. Ratelle was a stylish center, a wonderful passer and playmaker and spent much of his career as one of the two or three most respected players in the game. Despite the tremendous numbers and consistent success, his hockey career almost ended when he suffered a serious back injury at age 23 and had to undergo major spinal cord surgery. He also had at least one contract squabble that saw him come very close to walking away from the game.
Rod Gilbert’s injuries were even more severe. On Marc 3, 1961 Gilbert suffered a back injury in a game and missed all of the following season recovering. Gilbert once told Stan Fischler (and this is courtesy Joe Pelletier) “during a home game I tripped over a cardboard lid from an ice cream container and wound up breaking my back. From that point on I went through hell – trips to the Mayo Clinic, spinal fusion and doubts that I’d play again .”
Ratelle and Gilbert spent several seasons in stop-and-go fashion trying to get traction in the NHL. When they finally emerged, both had terrific careers at the very top of the game.
The Edmonton Oilers signed Marc Pouliot and Jean-Francois Jacques today. I’m not suggesting that these players are going to have careers that rival Ratelle and Gilbert but they certainly have had injury troubles along the way and are taking longer than normal to establish themselves at the NHL level.
I think Pouliot (and his agent) made a very wise decision today. When the Oilers qualified Pouliot earlier this summer it meant that he could be getting a raise on a 1-year deal ($942,000 plus I believe a 5% increase). However, teams and players are free to negotiate with each other and this two year deal gives the Oilers some cap help (cap hit is $825,000 which gives the Oilers about $150,000 a season in leeway) and makes certain Pouliot stays in the NHL (it’s a one-way deal) unless they decide to put him on waivers. It’s unlikely Pouliot will clear, and obviously if he did the Oilers (or any team) would be paying him full price even if he were in the minors. For all intents and purposes, Pouliot is an NHL player as of today.
Jacques’ contract is even more unique. It’s also a two-year deal, the first year is a two-way contract and the second season is a one-way deal. When the Oilers send Jacques out (he’s got back problems) a team plucking him off waivers would have to honor that second season at NHL dollars no matter where Jacques plays. It’s a clever ploy and suggests that the Oilers do have some worry about losing a quality (if flawed) prospect to the waiver wire.
I’m not going to lie, these are two of my favorite prospects. Pouliot’s passing skills are top drawer and it’s my belief he will eventually spend his NHL time with skilled two-way players and be an outscorer. He’s not there yet, but he’s going to get his shot in the next 12 months and if he can stay healthy and keep playing at the level he managed in his final 15 NHL games of 07-08 his contract will be a bargain for the Oildrop.
Jacques is a beast, if you’ve seen him live you know he’s very impressive due to the size/speed combination. I can imagine NHL defenders “hearing footsteps” for a decade or more if this guy can get it together. His AHL numbers suggest he has enough offense to survive at the NHL level, maybe a little better than that. He remains the most intriguing of the Coke Machine drafts of the early 00′s.
For the fall, I’d think this means Pouliot is on the roster either as a 4line center or a utility forward, and Jacques is probably on IR until Christmas when he’ll be sent out to get in shape. My guess is the Oilers won’t expose him to waivers unless they’re certain he’ll slide through.