Fifty years ago tonight the National Hockey League opened the 1967-68 season with the first major change in league structure in 24 years. During the summer of 1967 the league doubled in size, adding six new teams in a coast-to-coast expansion program that was the most ambitious in the history of sports.
Today, newspapers across Canada and the United States carried stories about the league and how things were shaping up for the new season. One thing that was noticeable from other years, especially in the established cities, was that the hockey writers generally refrained from trying to pick the order of finish in the league.
In previous years, writers in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York would line up the six NHL teams in the order in which they figured they would finish the following spring. This time, those same scribes wrote up nice little summaries of each team’s lineup, but the prognostications of how they’ll end up are mostly missing. A by-product of the upheaval caused by the extensive changing of uniforms by players throughout the league.
Today we’ll provide a complete preview of each of the 12 NHL teams. This preview is gleaned from the two dozen newspapers we follow around North America and represents a consensus of how the various scribes see the season shaping up.
The perennial league doormats may be showing signs of a bit of a renaissance. Led by the finest hockey prospect to come along in a generation, the Bruins can’t help but be better as Bobby Orr develops and improves his already impressive game. And new general manager Milt Schmidt, a Bruin all-time great, is determined to bring back the glory days to Boston Garden.
When you look at the Bruins, despite a few holes, this team has improved. Schmidt decided at the end of last season that what the team really lacked was size and toughness, especially on the forward line. He took steps to change that dynamic with a couple of off-season trades that have altered the look of the Boston attack.
More than a few observers felt Schmidt gave up too much when he brought in former Chicago forwards Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. Esposito and Hodge are huge, hulking types, and won’t be pushed off the puck easily. But they have never been accused of being too enthusiastic in performing their duties and it remains to be seen if coach Harry Sinden can instil the work ethic necessary for success. Stanfield isn’t small, either, but he’s not been any ball of fire in his trials with Chicago.
The price for this new talent was 22-year-old defenceman Gilles Marotte and 24-year-old centre Pit Martin. Marotte was the key to deal for the Black Hawks, who would not consider the swap without his inclusion.
The other size-enhancing deal Schmidt made brought in Eddie (the Entertainer) Shack from Toronto for Murray Oliver. Oliver is a smallish but skilled forward who played well for Boston, but never seemed to reach the heights to which he was predicted to rise. Shack is well known throughout the league. He’s a whirling dervish, a disrupter and has a mean streak a mile wide. Opponents always have to have their heads on a swivel when he’s on the ice. That’s a facet of the game the Bruins have been sorely lacking over the years.
Schmidt feels the Bruins are solid in goal with young Gerry Cheevers and veteran Eddie Johnston. Schmidt is so high on Cheevers he chose to keep him over the slightly younger Bernie Parent, who went to Philadelphia. Johnston showed in training camp that he’s not ready to give up the starter job without a fight, so it’s likely coach Sinden will alternate the pair until one of them earns the number one job outright.
The Bruins lost some defensive talent in Marotte, Joe Watson and Bob Woytowich, but felt the depth they have on the blue line would compensate. Orr and Terrible Teddy Green are the mainstays on the D, with youngsters Don Awrey and Gary Doak entirely capable of big contributions. Boston still has Dallas Smith, who gets better each year, and Eddie Westfall. Westfall could end up on the forward line if things get crowded on the blue line.
The forward lines could be very good if the three former Black Hawks can mesh with returnees like Johnny Bucyk, John McKenzie, Ron Murphy and Tommy Williams. Former Niagara Falls junior star (and league villain) Derek Sanderson has also made the team and he’s one to watch.
Detroit Red Wings
Ah, the Red Wings. If ever there were a team poised for the big fall, it’s Detroit. Everyone knows defence wins championships and the Red Wings are woefully thin everywhere but up front. General manager-coach Sid Abel has been searching since last season for additional help on the blue line and even went so far this fall to seriously consider moving the great Gordie Howe back to defence.
“Sure, defence is our problem again this season. We’ll just have to hope that one of our kids develops into a major leaguer. Other teams have been able to work rookies into their defence with pretty good success. We’ve got a few to choose from.
Things started to unravel for Abel when veteran Bill Gadsby retired and Doug Barkley’s promising career was ended by an eye injury. Adequate replacements have yet to be found.
This is not to say the Wings’ rearguard unit is completely devoid of talent. Gary Bergman is developing into a first-class NHL defenceman. Bert Marshall has the size, strength and ability to become a solid defender. Even Howie Young has seemingly reformed and can be an asset. But beyond those three, things get a little dicey. Jim Watson and Bart Crashley are the best youngsters on the horizon, but it’s anybody’s guess how they’ll turn out.
The defence problem is exacerbated by the huge question mark that is goalie Roger Crozier. The slightly-built native of Bracebridge, Ontario was an all-star calibre performer in his first two NHL seasons. Last season however, Crozier regressed to the extent that the Wings felt they could no longer depend on him. But Abel never did fully address the problem, and Crozier remains the Red Wings number one netminder. A summer stint in an Ontario hospital for pancreatitis adds further doubt to the situation. In his defence, Crozier did have a strong training camp.
If Roger can’t do the job, goaltending chores will fall to either young George Gardner or veteran Roy Edwards. Gardner looked good in camp and seemed to respond well to the instruction of assistant coach Baz Bastien, himself a former goalkeeper.
Edwards was picked up in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for another veteran, Hank Bassen. He was outstanding last year with Buffalo Bisons, the AHL’s worst team.
Up front, the Red Wings big three continue to be Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Norm Ullman. Even at 39, Howe skates like a man 10 years his junior, and his enormous skill and determination have not yet gone into decline. Delvecchio and Ullman give the Wings two top pivots. Speedster Paul Henderson has developed into a dangerous attacker and Bruce MacGregor is a more than competent right winger. Rookie Gary Jarrett, who scored 27 for the Pittsburgh Hornets, AHL champs last year, is being tried at left wing on a line with Delvecchio and Howe.
Chicago Black Hawks
The Blackhawks finished first last year for the first time in 41 years. That wasn’t good enough for management, however, and the team underwent a radical reorganization this past summer. General manager Tommy Ivan and coach Billy Reay want a Stanley Cup and they felt that this group wasn’t capable of getting the team over the top.
But the Hawks didn’t go too far in re-jigging the lineup. Superstar forwards Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita remain, and it’s a good thing. Chicago lost some pretty good talent in trades and the Expansion Draft.
First order of business was to improve toughness on defence and to that end the Hawks brought in young defenceman Gilles Marotte from Boston in a six-player deal. Marotte is considered the league’s best defence prospect other than former team mate Bobby Orr.
Speedy centre Pit Martin also came in that deal, but the cost may have been exorbitant. Chicago sent Hull’s centre, big Phil Esposito, along with young forwards Kenny Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston.
The laconic Esposito often frustrated Reay with a perceived lack of speed and motivation. Hodge was a highly touted junior A star with St. Catharines who despite his size and shot has never been able to show that he can reach his considerable potential. Stanfield was a spare part with the Hawks, but also showed promise at St. Catharines just a few short years ago.
Biggest loss in the Expansion Draft was defenceman Ed Van Impe. Van Impe was second to Orr in the rookie-of-the-year voting and it was somewhat of a surprise that Chicago chose to expose him. His toughness will be missed.
The biggest loss, however, could be in goal. The great Glenn Hall was taken by the St. Louis Blues in the Expansion Draft when Ivan decided to protect the younger Denis DeJordy. Dejordy hasn’t yet proven he can carry a team for a full schedule and now he’s refusing to sign with the team. He feels he has the Hawks over a barrel and he could be right. Next best netminder is young Dave Dryden, who will start the season as the number one man. Jack Norris, acquired in the deal with Boston, is the backup for now. Goaltending could be a problem.
If DeJordy finally signs, the Hawks will have no trouble making the playoffs, and could have a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Habs coach Toe Blake is also optimistic going into the season but not for the same reasons as his Toronto counterpart:
“I’m very optimistic, especially when you look at what some of our guys did last year. So many of them had bad years and I don’t think it’ll happen two years in a row.
“They should all have good years. You don’t figure people like Jean Beliveau or Gilles Tremblay to play the way they did last season.
“Take a look at the records. Beliveau had 12 goals, Gilles had 13. Dick Duff got 12 and Ralph Backstrom 14.
“We had injuries also. Beliveau hurt his eye. Duff and Harper were out for quite a while and so were Henri, Laperriere, Gilles and J.C. Tremblay. Our goaltending was spotty. When it was good we did pretty well.
“Gump played only 18 games because of injuries.”
If Worsley is healthy, and young Rogatien Vachon proves to be as skilful as he showed he might be as a rookie last year, Canadiens will indeed be very good. And they will be playing behind the best defence in the NHL.
Jacques Laperriere, J.C. Tremblay, Terry Harper and Ted Harris form as good a rearguard corps as can be found on the planet. Add youngsters Carol Vadnais and Serge Savard to that mix and you have the ultimate in defensive protection for your goaltenders.
They say strength down the middle wins championships and Montreal has Beliveau, Henri Richard and Ralph Backstrom. If these three are healthy, no team can boast that kind of depth. The left side has John Ferguson, Gilles Tremblay and Dick Duff. The right is equally as strong with Bobby Rousseau, Claude Provost, Yvan Cournoyer and Claude Larose.
Montreal lost very little in the Expansion Draft and it makes you wonder how they could retain the players they did. It must have helped that general manager Sam Pollock was the man who crafted the Expansion Draft rules.
New York Rangers
The Rangers emerged from the Expansion Draft relatively unscathed. Only Al MacNeil was lost (to Pittsburgh) from the regulars on defence. Up front, veteran Earl Ingarfield also departed for the Penguins.
Young Rod Seiling was drafted by the St. Louis Blues, but Rangers general manager Emile Francis brought him back right after the draft in a trade for several hitherto unknowns.
Rangers are solid in goal with all-star Eddie Giacomin back. He’ll be spelled off occasionally by Gilles Villemure, who has enjoyed great success in the AHL and WHL and may be ready for prime time. The well-traveled veteran Don Simmons will be at AHL Buffalo if needed.
New York has last year’s Norris Trophy winner in Harry Howell leading the blueline unit. With Seiling, Jim Nielson, Wayne Hillman and Arnie Brown, Rangers defensive depth is outstanding.
It’s up front where Francis may have to tinker. The number one unit of Phil Goyette, Bob Nevin and Don Marshall returns intact. But Goyette is a year older and has had some injury worries. Marshall also was bitten by the injury bug in training camp and he’s no spring chicken either.
Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield need a centre for the second line. Orland Kurtenbach might fill that role although Jean Ratelle would be the ideal choice. But Ratelle has had to endure similar back problems to those that have plagued Gilbert and it’s possible that neither can be counted on long-term. Right now Francis has Ratelle centring a line with Reggie Fleming and Boom Boom Geoffrion.
Like we said, F will likely tinker a bit. And he has some spare parts with which to work. Larry Jeffrey, a former Toronto winger, was picked up in a trade with Pittsburgh, who grabbed him in the Expansion Draft. All it cost was another group of players that you likely aren’t ever to hear of. Camille Henry was finally reacquired from the Chicago organization and he’s determined to make it back to the big leagues, where he feels he belongs.
You get the feeling with the Rangers that they could be on the verge of something very good if all the chips fall into place.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach bristles at the thought that his Stanley Cup champions would enjoy anything less than the success the team realized last spring when they defeated the Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Canadiens. He feels the loss of a solid group of players due to expansion isn’t a factor:
“I don’t care, I say we’re a little stronger this year, especially at the beginning. I must admit I was a little worried at the start of last year.
“But not this year. I’m of the opinion we’ll finish first. Of course, this is usually my philosophy about anything.
“Of all the people I lost, only Sawchuk and Kelly were out there consistently. Sure, we lost a lot in Sawchuk and getting a man to replace Kelly will be tough.”
Imlach feels that a goaltending tandem of Johnny Bower and Bruce Gamble will be more than adequate. The truth is, they will have to have Bower play more than he has in the past couple of years to have any real chance at the top spot. And Gamble, an honest journeyman who has battled inconsistency his entire career, with have to be far more reliable than he’s shown in the past.
Toronto’s defence lost Bob Baun and Kent Douglas, but still boasts a foursome of Tim Horton, Allan Stanley, Larry Hillman and Marcel Pronovost. Duane Rupp has won the fifth spot with a fine training camp.
Toronto’s strong suit is the forward unit. Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich have been flying this fall and if they are up to having good seasons, Leafs will be very tough. The other forward units are shaping up well with Pete Stemkowski between Jim Pappin and Wayne Carleton, and Murray Oliver at centre with Bob Pulford and Ron Ellis on the flanks. When Mike Walton and Brian Conacher are your spare forwards, your team is in pretty good shape.
If nothing else, the California Seals should be a disciplined, hard working team. That’s if tough coach Bert Olmstead has anything to say about it, and you know he will. The former Montreal, Chicago and Toronto forward has earned a reputation as a stern taskmaster in his minor league coaching assignments since his retirement as a player, and he’s no different with the new NHL expansion club.
Olmstead has already gone on record saying he thinks there is a lack of enthusiasm with the Seals and you know he won’t tolerate that for long. The Seals problem may be that if the coach has a higher profile than the players, there might be a good reason for that…these players may not be all that good.
The Seals should have adequate goalkeeping. Little Charlie Hodge and huge Gary Smith should make a fine duo. Hodge is the former Montreal veteran who always seemed to end up being the number two man behind either Jacques Plante or Gump Worsley. At the ripe old (for hockey) age of 34 he has the chance to prove he’s a bona fide number one netminder.
Backing Hodge up is 23-year-old Gary Smith. Plucked from the Toronto system, Smith is flamboyant, standing 6-4 and covering about twice the net area that Hodge does. He has excellent reflexes and should grow into the position with the Seals.
Defence is where the Seals should shine. Three former Toronto Maple Leafs will anchor the blue line unit. Bob Baun, Kent Douglas and Larry Cahan are all veterans who know their way around the rink and they should provide the goaltenders with adequate protection. Former Toronto farm hand Autry Erickson and Gerry Odrowski, who played for the WHL version of the team last year, will be on hand to help.
Up front, there are a couple of familiar names, but none of those will bring fear into the hearts of opponents. Billy Harris is another former Toronto player who was with AHL Pittsburgh last year. Bill Hicke, who was once billed as the next Rocket Richard in Montreal was drafted from New York where he never was able to get established. Another workmanlike forward is Wally Boyer. Boyer’s been around a couple years in the NHL as a third-line guy, but he’ll have a bigger role with the Seals.
Olmstead brought in some veteran firepower just this week when he sent winger Jean-Paul Parise and centre Bryan Hextall Jr. to Rochester of the AHL for 35-year-old Gerry Ehman. Omstead likely recalls Ehman from some fine playoff performances when they were team mates at Toronto. He should be good for around 20 goals with the Seals.
Like the rest of the new expansion clubs, the Seals don’t boast a lot of front-line talent. They should be competitive within their own division, but it’s hard to see them being anywhere other than in the middle of the pack.
Los Angeles Kings
Like their California NHL neighbours, the attention the Kings often receive centres more on their flamboyant owner, Jack Kent Cooke, or coach Red Kelly. Many observers have the Kings residing at the bottom of the Western Division standings in their first season.
Kelly, who was nicked from the Toronto Maple Leafs to become the Kings first coach, has retired as a player and insists he won’t lace up the skates this year. You can bet he’ll be tempted when he sees the day-to-day lineup he has run out there.
In goal the Kings have one of the all-time greats. Terry Sawchuk put on a goaltending display for the ages last spring when he led the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup. But Terry is 37 now, and played in only 28 games for Toronto during the regular season last year. Expecting him to suit up for 45 or 50 games seems to be a bit optimistic. It will also be much different playing behind the likes of Jacques Lemieux and Bob Wall rather than Tim Horton and Allan Stanley.
Backing up Sawchuk is Wayne Rutledge, 25. He comes from the Rangers system, having played at Omaha in the CPHL last term. He led the CPHL in wins last year, but has no NHL experience.
As far as skaters go, the Kings draft choices were generally panned by most hockey people. But they did pull off one move that may be their saving grace. Cooke purchased the AHL Springfield Indians from Eddie Shore and along with the franchise, the Kings received the rights to 29 professional players. A few of those players, some quality AHL veterans, might buy some time for the kids the Kings drafted to mature.
On Defence, there isn’t much to write home about. Former Red Wing Bob Wall and Indians Bill White, Larry Johnston and Dale Rolfe look to be the best of a bad lot. Wall is a versatile guy who can take a turn at left wing as well. Former Norris Trophy winner Kelly would be better than just about any of the players from which he has to choose.
On the forward line, it’s a mixed bag there as well. Gordon Labossiere has been a fine minor league scorer but that has never translated to the NHL in several trials. Eddie (the Jet) Joyal, Bill (Cowboy) Flett, Lowell MacDonald and Howie Hughes were about the best bets based on training camp.
Minnesota North Stars
The North Stars have a strong general manager-coach in Wren Blair. He has a solid plan for his new club and seems to be executing it well. Blair is best remembered as the coach and architect of the 1958 World Champion Whitby Dunlops, who were a senior A team in Ontario. But he knows it will be a tough row to hoe for the expansions teams in this first season in the new-look NHL:
“Some nights this winter I can see us playing in Montreal when the Canadiens are flying. That night I’m going to pull my collar up around my ears so nobody will know who I am and dress three goalies. I’ll take each of them out of the games as they get shell-shocked.”
Blair was perhaps the most active general manager at the Expansion Draft. He engineered a couple of side deals with Montreal that enabled Canadiens to retain the services of Claude Larose in exchange for lesser players who will give the North Stars some depth.
Blair still hasn’t figured out who will be his team’s goaltenders. He has three in camp – Cesare Maniago, Gary Bauman and Carl Wetzel. Maniago has the most NHL experience among the three, but it will be Bauman between the pipes for the North Stars first game against St. Louis.
On the blue line, the North Stars have some familiar names in Jean-Guy Talbot and Elmer Vasko. Vasko sat out last year in retirement and has had a tough time getting back into shape this fall. Some knee injuries and the flu have slowed his progress.
Another problem on defence has been the absence due to contract difficulties of Pete Goegan, the former Red Wing. He’s currently under suspension until he agrees to a new pact with Blair.
There are a couple of bright lights on defence. Mike McMahon has shown a very good shot from the point and is adept at lugging the puck out of the defensive zone. Bob Woytowich, only 26, was a steal from Boston in the expansion draft and he will become the leader of the blue line corps.
The North Stars have done a good job of building forward depth despite the lack of a minor league franchise like Philadelphia or Los Angeles. The deals with Montreal brought in several good young skaters like Andre Boudrias, Bob Charlebois and Leo Thiffault. Blair also has made the Canadian national team his personal farm club, working to sign some of their players. He’s been negotiating with getting Marshall Johnston, Danny O’Shea, Gary Dineen and goalie Ken Broderick to get them turn pro in Minnesota. He has the rights to several other Nats as well.
Forwards who will make a difference with the North Stars include Dave Balon, Ted Taylor, Billy Collins, Bill Goldsworthy and Wayne Connelly. Blair has particularly high hopes for Connelly, whom he remembers from the Boston system. Always a prolific minor league sniper, if Wayne figures out the major-league game, he could be a big scorer.
An interesting player in the Minnesota camp has been Lou Nanne, a native Minnesotan. Nanne is 26, and is a naturalized American citizen, having been born in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. He spent the past couple of years with the U.S. National team and if he doesn’t turn pro immediately, he likely will end up with the North Stars after the Olympics. He can play right wing or defence.
If the North Stars can sort out the goaltending they should be right in the playoff mix for the new division.
The Flyers are all set to open a brand new arena, The Spectrum, in south Philadelphia and hope both the rink and the new team it will house can make an immediate good first impression. It will take some doing, because the Flyers need a walk-up crowd each and every night – they’ve sold only 2,000 season tickets.
General manager Norman (Bud) Poile and coach Keith Allen know what’s at stake and ran a spirited training camp with an eye to building a tough, fast club. Because of the acquisition of the Quebec Aces AHL club, there was a high degree of competition for spots on the big team.
The Flyers have strength in goal in a couple of 22-year-olds plucked from the Boston Bruins in the Expansion Draft. Bernie Parent and Doug Favell were netminding partners when they played junior in Niagara Falls and they hope to continue that partnership in the big leagues.
Parent has the higher profile of the two. He led Niagara Falls to a Memorial Cup championship (with Favell as his backup) in 1965. He came up to the Bruins the next season and impressed with a bad team. Last year was an up and down season for him as he split time between the Bruins and the Oklahoma City CPHL team.
There have been rumblings that Parent could be a bit of a problem child He agreed to a contract with the Flyers midway through the summer, agreeing to put his name on the dotted line at training camp in September. However, once at camp, and after a conversation with controversial player adviser Alan Eagleson, Parent withdrew his agreement and demanded to renegotiate the pact. He eventually signed for the amount previously agreed to in the summer.
Favell spent the entire season last year with Oklahoma City and attreacted enough attention to cause Poile to spend his second goalie pick on him. He has actually outplayed Parent in training camp and right now the starter job is a toss-up.
For most of training camp it appeared that the Philly defence would be their weak spot. That was mainly because their first two draft picks from among the skaters, blueliners Ed Van Impe and Joe Watson, held out for all of September and the early part of October. Fortunately both eventually agreed to terms and turned a liability into huge asset.
Along with the two holdouts, the Flyers have some solid rearguards upon whom they will rely heavily. John Miszuk, Jean Gauthier and John Hanna are dependable defensive performers.
The Quebec club has provided the Flyers with some added depth on the forward line. Players such as Wayne Hicks, Andre Lacroix, Claude Laforge and Bill Sutherland by their mere presence should push the Flyers draft choices to greater heights. Sutherland earned such respect in training camp that he was named one of the team’s three alternate captains.
Other Flyers who should be offensive leaders include Leon Rochefort, Lou Angotti, big Gary Dornhoefer, Brit Selby and the surprise of training camp, Ed Hoekstra.
This is a better team than it appears on paper and should challenge for the Western Division title.
If preseason results are any indicator, the Pittsburgh Peguins will run away with the Western Division title this season. The Penguins finished with a 8-1-1 record and gave every indication they are ready for a fast National Hockey League debut.
General manager Jack Riley and coach Red Sullivan went for a veteran roster in assembling their squad. NHL veterans such as Andy Bathgate, Earl Ingarfield, Leo Boivin, Val Fonteyne and Al MacNeil give the Pens an air of legitimacy, as far as major league experience is concerned. The only problem is, most of these guys might be well past their expiry dates.
Riley and Sullivan realize that the Pittsburgh hockey fans will not respond to a team that loses early and often. So they brought in a bunch of players whose names will be familiar to Steel City hockey fans. Many of the Penguins have a history with the AHL Hornets.
Coach Sullivan had the pleasure of watching a four-way duel for his two goaltending spots. Joe Daley, 24, took on veterans Les Binkley, Hank Bassen and Marv Edwards and acquitted himself quite well. Daley was the Pens first choice in the goalie phase of the draft and the decision was finally made to send him to Baltimore of the AHL where he can play regularly and gain experience without the pressure of an NHL job.
It looks like Bassen will be the number one man in goal. He was picked up from the Detroit Red Wings prior to training camp in a trade for number two Expansion Draft choice Roy Edwards. The main backup will be Les Binkley, whose rights were purchased by Riley a year ago from Cleveland. He spent last season with San Diego of the WHL.
The surprise of camp was amateur Marv Edwards, who tended goal for the EHL Nashville Dixie Flyers for the past several seasons. He stayed with the big club right to the end and earned a pro contract from Riley. It looks like Marv will end up somewhere in the American or Western leagues.
There is lots of veteran leadership on the Pittsburgh blue line as well. Leo Boivin, Al MacNeil and Noel Price are reliable veterans who know how to defend. Bill Speer, George Konik, Dick Mattiussi and Dunc McCallum all are long-time minor leaguers who will do everything they can to crack the big time.
Earl Ingarfield was the first Pittsburgh choice in the skater portion of the draft. He will be reunited with Andy Bathgate, with whom he played in New York. Bathgate was amazingly still available in the 17th round. Ab McDonald is a veteran left winger who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 1961. He will be the first captain of the team.
Bob Dillabough was a highly-touted youngster in the Detroit organization who ended up with Boston last season. He has been bothered by a knee problem in training camp but is hopeful of being in the Penguins lineup soon. He’s a swift skater with superior defensive ability. He won’t offer much offence, though.
Other veteran minor leaguers who should contribute are Ken Schinkel, Art Stratton, Paul Andrea and Billy Dea. All will be familiar to Pittsburgh fans thanks to their AHL histories.
The Penguins are a team that will rely almost exclusively on experience and veteran savvy. Riley and Sullivan had better hope that the players don’t wear down because of the rigors of a longer NHL schedule. Then it will be a long year in more ways than one.
St. Louis Blues
For a city that didn’t even apply for a National Hockey League franchise, the St. Louis Blues look to have gone about building their new team the right way.
When the NHL solicited applications for expansion franchises, no one from St. Louis applied. But the league was adamant that they wanted to place a team in St. Louis and awarded the city a franchise even though there was no owner in place. That was because Chicago Black Hawks co-owners Jim Norris and Arthur Wirtz would not support expansion unless a team was placed in St. Louis so they could unload the ancient St. Louis Arena, which they owned. Since a vote on expansion had to be unanimous, the NHL governors had no choice.
This, of course, infuriated prospective owners in cities like Vancouver and Buffalo, who made great presentations. But this is the way of the National Hockey League.
Sidney Salomon eventually surfaced and was awarded the franchise. He wasted no time getting started. He purchased the Arena and immediately began renovations to bring the building up to NHL standards. And, he hired former Boston Bruins general manager Lynn Patrick, as smart a hockey man who was available. Patrick will generally manage the Blues as well as being the coach.
Patrick brought in young Montreal executive Scotty Bowman as his assistant and the Blues had in place a management team that was eager, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The result is a team with a good mixture of youth and experience.
As the goaltender phase of the draft unfolded, Patrick and Bowman were astounded to find that the great Glenn Hall of the Chicago Black Hawks was still available when their turn came up at number three. Bowman said that he expected Hall to be one of the first two netminders to go, and so when he was there for the taking, the Blues didn’t hesitate to call his name. That was an unexpected bonus.
Patrick is a big believer that veteran depth in goal is important, so he went out and signed Seth Martin. Martin is 34 and a long-time member of Canada’s national team. He has been described as the best goalkeeper outside the NHL. He should work well with Hall, who is now 36. The Blues will have goaltending to rival any NHL team.
If the Blues have a weakness it could be on defence. There are a couple of solid veterans like Al Arbour and Fred Hucul, long-time minor league performers. Arbour has been with Toronto’s farm club in Rochester the past few seasons, but has a lot of NHL time with Chicago, Detroit and the Leafs. He’s a great leader and will be the team’s first captain.
Patrick brought in some toughness when he drafted defenceman Rod Seiling from New York and then traded him back to the Rangers for three players, one of who is Bob Plager. Plager is one of three hockey-playing brothers from Kirkland Lake who is as tough as they come. He won’t miss many games due to injury, but you could see him sidelined more often by suspensions. He’s a nasty piece of work.
The Blues don’t have a lot of depth and likely will be forced to use former Leaf and Bruin Ron Stewart as a rearguard, at least to start the season.
Jimmy Roberts, the Blues first skater pick, was an all-purpose player for Montreal and will assume the same role in St. Louis. He will take turns up front on the penalty kill, but should see a lot of work, possibly paired with Arbour on the backline.
Patrick has high hopes for Stewart, whom he had planned to employ in the right side. Larry Keenan, who was with Toronto’s WHL team in Victoria last year, had a great training camp and showed a very nice touch around the net. He’s been injury prone throughout his career and if he’s healthy he will be a real asset.
Other forwards from whom large contributions are expected are centres Gerry Melnyk and Terry Crisp, and wingers Bill McCreary, Don McKenney and Wayne Rivers.
Just a couple of days ago, Patrick swapped winger John Brenneman, drafted from Toronto, to Detroit for youngster Craig Cameron. The Wings thought enough of Cameron to protect him in the Expansion Draft. Cameron is a right winger with good size who needs to improve on his skating, but he should be with the Blues from the start.
The Blues are not afraid to think outside the box in search of success. Patrick and Bowman originally planned the innovative move of having both men work behind the bench. One would change the forwards while the other would work with the defence. After experimenting with the setup for several games, it was decided that Bowman would move to the press box and advise Patrick from there.
It’s this spirit of leaving no stone unturned that will make the St. Louis franchise successful. Bownman is one of the brightest young executives to come along in a long while and he could be running the team before too long.