It’s always fun to look back in time. This is Vancouver (Gastown) maybe 50 years ago (I can’t really put a date on it, feel free to tell me if you know) and the subject today is familiar but distant too: the crazy expansion era decisions made by the NHL and its member teams.
This is Mike Nykoluk (someone put color into photo, God bless you). He was traded to Hershey by the Leafs at age 23 (1958) and never left during a playing career that ended 1,000 AHL games later in 1972. In 1967, the year of the great expansion, Nykoluk won the AHL MVP award on the strength of an 84 point season and a league leading 68 assists. He was a PP wizard, considered a quality 2-way center and expert faceoff man. The faceoff abilities and PP prowess were major contributors is his being chosen by Philadelphia’s Fred Shero as the first assistant coach in NHL history in 1972. He was there for the Stanley’s, then moved to NYC and eventually won a head coaching job in Toronto.
My interest at this time is Nykoluk as a player in 1967. He was MVP of a very good league–the AHL at that time would have been the direct supplier of talent to an NHL that employed just over 100 players at any given time. Nykoluk belonged to Hershey, and the Bears were free to trade or keep him just like they were an NHL team: they were not a farm team. An expansion team could have traded for him, but the Flyers and Kings had purchased entire minor league teams and the other 4 were focused on figuring out what they had from the expansion draft. A team like Oakland was ill equipped to make the kind of deal that was typical (Eddie Giacomin for 5 guys) in that era for an NHL-to-AHL swap.
For Nykoluk, it meant NHL opportunity was unavailable. It also meant that the new NHL teams–6 of them–hired 18 or so centers that summer and at least some of them would have been inferior to Nykoluk. Those first expansion teams had little offense and were dull as dishwater, the numbers suggest Nykoluk could have helped someone even if it was for a year or two.
Nykoluk probably doesn’t give a damn, he had a great time in Hershey.
You know, maybe he was so slow it wouldn’t have worked, but even then that doesn’t make sense because they were using ancients like Doug Harvey in the late 60′s expansion division. 68 assists in the 66-67 AHL should have given him a nice number in the new expansion division of the NHL. It’s just that it is so stupid. The NHL and organized hockey must have been run by idiots. And there are other examples, like the NHL’s insane 1-3, 2-4 playoff seedings (finishing first got you the third place team and finishing 2nd was best spot) but that’s more about teams and this is about the individual.
Nykoluk was 31 at the beginning of the 66-67 season. He won the MVP award and should have had (at the very least) an invite to a training camp for one of the expansion teams.
He didn’t get the chance. Idiotic.
I wonder if people will look back on some of the NHL decisions of this era and say the same thing 50 years from now.