TORONTO (June 16) — A cynic would contend it is thoroughly emblematic of this city that our three “least–fashionable” sports teams have won championships in the past 6½ months. No disrespect to the Argonauts, Toronto F.C. or the Marlies, but Yonge Street remained open and largely vacant in the hours after each triumph. Car–horns were honking only behind abysmal drivers.
Such would not be the case were any of our ‘Big 3’ clubs to prevail. Though it’s been nearly 25 years since the Blue Jays last won the World Series, I can close my eyes and return to the mob–scene I covered for The FAN–590 as the players (in convertible cars) ambled northward from SkyDome in October 1993 amid 60,000 zealots (a setting the Argos, at their pinnacle, had aroused on Bay Street, ten years earlier, after winning their first Grey Cup since 1952). We can safely assume the Raptors (once LeBron James retires) would spark another gaggle of unhinged followers between Union Station and City Hall. And, let’s not even imagine what might arise in our downtown core were the Leafs to finally negotiate their half–century Stanley Cup drought.
On that whimsical topic, perhaps there is hope. Not only with respect to a line-up that’s been embellished, since 2015, by William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews — immeasurably, Toronto’s most prolific enhancement over consecutive years in the annals of the universal draft — but also knowing that proverbial elephants have been lifted from other languishing clubs in professional sport; none more–recently than the Washington Capitals. Arriving with barely a whimper 44 years ago as the National Hockey League’s worst–ever expansion club, the Caps ended interminable disappointment last week by solving the best–ever expansion entry, the Vegas Golden Knights. En route, and surely as satisfying, was the elimination of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Co. demolished two boulders in one month — enabling infinite possibility.
ALEX OVECHKIN WAS RATHER PLEASED UPON BEING HANDED THE STANLEY CUP BY NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN LAST WEEK IN LAS VEGAS. CBC/ROGERS IMAGE
Within the past 1½ decades, six of the longest droughts in professional sport have been vanquished:
• 2004: The Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years, dating to 1918. Boston followed with baseball championships in 2007 and 2013.
• 2005: The Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros to win their first World Series in 88 years, dating to 1917. Only once since then, in 2008, have the ChiSox made the playoffs.
• 2016: The Cleveland Cavaliers, founded in 1970, won their first National Basketball Association title… and the city’s first pro sports championship in 52 years, dating to the 1964 Cleveland Browns.
• 2016: The Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series to end the most–celebrated famine in North American sport — and the longest of all time — 108 years, dating to 1908.
• 2017: The Houston Astros, founded in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45’s, defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win their first World Series and the city’s first pro title since the NBA Rockets in 1995.
• 2017 (February 2018): The Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, 41–33, in Super Bowl LII to win their first National Football League championship in 57 years, dating to 1960.
Sports karma would therefore suggest the Maple Leafs are favored — at some point in the foreseeable future — to end what is now the fifth–longest drought among North American teams that have at least one championship to their credit. Here’s the current list:
CLEVELAND INDIANS (Major League Baseball) 70 years, dating to 1948.
DETROIT LIONS (National Football League) 61 years, dating to 1957.
LOS ANGELES/SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (National Football League) 55 years, dating to 1963.
BUFFALO BILLS (National Football League) 54 years, dating to 1964.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (National Hockey League) 51 years, dating to 1967.
The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings own the longest famine among North American professional teams that have never won a championship: 57 years. The Vikings began play in 1961 and have appeared in four Super Bowl games, losing them all (to Kansas City in January 1970; Miami in January 1974; Pittsburgh in January 1975 and Oakland in January 1977). Next up is the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL (founded in 1966; lost Super Bowl LI to New England in January 2017), then St. Louis of the NHL (first playoff appearance, 1968).
THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS, BORN 57 YEARS AGO, HAVE NOT YET WON A CHAMPIONSHIP, DESPITE FOUR APPEARANCES IN THE SUPER BOWL BETWEEN 1970 AND 1977. THEIR FIRST CHANCE OCCURRED, ABOVE, IN SUPER BOWL IV AGAINST KANSAS CITY ON JAN. 11, 1970. BUT, THE CHIEFS PREVAILED, 23–7, AT TULANE STADIUM IN NEW ORLEANS.
T–MINUS 15 DAYS
“If I were a betting man, I’d say that John Tavares will re–up with the New York Islanders and spend his prime National Hockey League years playing out of a new arena at Belmont Park Racetrack.”
I wrote the above words in a blog here on Mar. 13 and the loudest NHL whispers of the past week suggest that John Tavares will, indeed, sign a long–term contract extension with the club that drafted him first overall in 2009. Until, however, Tavares and the New York Islanders put pen to paper, speculation will mount as to where he’ll land in unrestricted free agency. The Toronto native, if still un–signed, can begin talking to other teams one week from tomorrow (June 24) and can join a rival club in just more than a fortnight (July 1).
It is rather unusual for an agent, at this time of year, to speak on the record about a celebrated client, yet Pat Brisson told Arthur Staple of The Athletic (on Friday) that “we’ve been having ongoing dialogue with the Islanders for the past three weeks on a daily basis.” Even more bizarre is for Lou Lamoriello to comment about a player, yet the loquacious one also voiced his opinion to Staple, saying “I think everyone in the National Hockey League knows about John Tavares. He’s one of the elite players; a gentleman on and off the ice. He’s just a quality individual, as well as a quality player. I don’t know any better way of describing him.”
One thing we know is that Lamoriello would love nothing more than to keep Tavares away from the Maple Leafs. Brendan Shanahan replaced the Hall–of–Fame executive as Leafs general manager with young Kyle Dubas on May 11, “elevating” Lamoriello to a senior–advisory role. Lou had been similarly “promoted” by the New Jersey Devils on May 4, 2015. Just more than 2½ months later (July 23), he joined the Leafs as GM, replacing David Nonis. This time, it required all of 11 days for Lamoriello to abandon an advisory position. He was hired as director of hockey operations by the Islanders on May 22; subsequently dismissing GM Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight. He then named himself GM and intensified the dialogue with Brisson.
To this point, no one can be sure exactly what Tavares is thinking with respect to July 1; the Islanders captain has prudently remained silent on the subject. Nor are we remotely aware of whether the Leafs will make a pitch for the 27–year-old. It could be that Brisson and Lamoriello are “having dialogue… for the past three weeks” simply because they can; the Islanders maintain exclusivity over such matters until next Sunday. On the surface, it would appear logical for Tavares to absorb what other teams are offering before he commits to his current club. The Leafs — you would think — might present a desirable option, given their ascent through the NHL since 2015. The “Toronto” angle, in my view, is being overplayed. Tavares has been on Long Island for nearly a decade and isn’t likely homesick anymore. He would join the Leafs if, a) the contract terms were at least equal to other overtures, and b) if he believes there is a legitimate Stanley Cup opportunity.
That said, elite free agents in the NHL of the salary cap era have routinely signed contract extensions, rather than moving elsewhere. And, most indications are that Tavares will follow suit with the Islanders.
WORST TEAM… EVER
The phrase “from worst to first” has never rung truer than with the Stanley Cup–champion Washington Capitals — unequivocally, the most inept club in the NHL’s expansion era (post–1967).
The Capitals came aboard with the Kansas City Scouts (later the Colorado Rockies; now the New Jersey Devils) for the 1974–75 season and established futility records that may never be equaled. To this day, Washington’s first–year mark of 8–67–5 in 80 games represents the fewest wins; fewest points (21) and lowest points–percentage (.131) of any club in a minimum 70–game schedule. The 67 losses were somehow eclipsed by the San Jose Sharks (71) and Ottawa Senators (70) of 1992–93. No club has come close to permitting the Capitals’ first–year total of 446 goals (5.58 average/game), which, by bizarre coincidence, is the same number for most goals scored in one season — by Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in 1983–84. During their horrific expansion year, the Capitals allowed 10 or more goals in a game on eight occasions. Twice, they were obliterated, 12–1: by the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. The club went 1–39–0 on the road; defeating the California Golden Seals, in Oakland (Mar. 28, 1975), for its lone triumph.
From my collection, here are reminders of the NHL’s worst team… ever:
COVER (TOP–LEFT) AND CONTENTS FROM THE CAPITALS INAUGURAL MEDIA GUIDE.
POOR MILT SCHMIDT (TOP–LEFT). HE WAS A HALL–OF–FAME PLAYER WITH BOSTON IN THE 1930’s AND 40’s. HE ALSO, AS GM OF THE BRUINS, PULLED OFF THE MOST LOP–SIDED TRADE IN NHL HISTORY — ACQUIRING PHIL ESPOSITO, KEN HODGE AND FRED STANFIELD FROM CHICAGO IN MAY 1967. AS FIRST GM OF THE CAPITALS, HOWEVER, SCHMIDT WOULD ONLY SUFFER. A REFRESHING ANGLE (TOP–RIGHT) IS THAT SCHMIDT DEPLOYED TWO BLACK PLAYERS (MIKE MARSON AND BILL RILEY) WHEN THE NHL WAS EXCLUSIVELY WHITE. ON THE FLIP–SIDE, DEFENSEMAN BILL MIKKELSON FAMOUSLY COMPILED THE WORST PLUS–MINUS MARK OF ANY PLAYER IN LEAGUE ANNALS: MINUS–82 IN THE 1974–75 SEASON.
THOUGH HE PLAYED ONLY 21 GAMES IN THE NHL, ALL WITH THE ’74–75 CAPITALS, SASKATCHEWAN NATIVE JIM HRYCUIK (PRONOUNCED H–RYE–CHUCK) WILL ALWAYS BE THE SUBJECT OF A GREAT TRIVIA QUESTION AFTER SCORING THE FIRST GOAL IN FRANCHISE HISTORY (MORE BELOW).
IN THE CAPS’ MINOR LEAGUE SYSTEM WERE A COUPLE OF PROSPECTS THAT WOULD BECOME BETTER–KNOWN OFF THE ICE. JOHN PADDOCK (TOP–LEFT) PLAYED 87 NHL GAMES WITH WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA AND QUEBEC BEFORE LATER COACHING THE WINNIPEG JETS (1991–95) AND OTTAWA SENATORS (2007–08). HE IS CURRENTLY COACH OF THE REGINA PATS, MEMORIAL CUP FINALIST THIS SEASON. BOB GOODENOW (TOP–RIGHT) NEVER APPEARED IN THE NHL, BUT WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN SALARY ADVANCEMENT DURING HIS TERM AS HEAD OF THE NHL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION (1992–2005).
FOR STARTERS (OCTOBER 1974)
FROM THE OCT. 26, 1974 ISSUE OF THE HOCKEY NEWS (ABOVE), HIGHLIGHTING MIKE MARSON’S UNIQUE PLACE IN THE NHL. MARSON, A NATIVE OF SCARBOROUGH, ONT., WOULD PLAY 196 GAMES WITH WASHINGTON AND LOS ANGELES FROM 1974 TO 1980, SCORING 24 GOALS.
SCORING SUMMARIES FROM THE CAPITALS’ FIRST TWO NHL GAMES: AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN AGAINST THE NEW YORK RANGERS (OCT. 9, 1974) AND THE MET CENTER IN BLOOMINGTON (OCT. 12) AGAINST THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS. AS MENTIONED, JIM HRYCUIK SCORED UNASSISTED AT 5:06 OF THE FIRST PERIOD IN NEW YORK FOR THE CAPITALS’ FIRST–EVER GOAL. JUST 37 SECONDS LATER, GREG POLIS OF THE RANGERS NETTED THE FIRST OPPOSITION GOAL. BILL MIKKELSON TOOK THE FIRST MINOR PENALTY FOR WASHINGTON (AT 6:49 OF THE OPENING FRAME). ED GIACOMIN (NEW YORK) AND RON LOW (CAPITALS) WERE THE GOALIES. VETERAN CESARE MANIAGO STOPPED 30 SHOTS IN THE CAPS’ SECOND GAME TO RECORD A SHUT–OUT FOR THE NORTH STARS (TOP–RIGHT). JOHN ADAMS PLAYED GOAL FOR WASHINGTON.
JIM HRYCUIK WAS FEATURED IN THE HOCKEY NEWS FOR HIS HISTORIC TALLY.
SUMMARY (TOP–LEFT) FROM THE CAPITALS’ FIRST HOME GAME (OCT. 15, 1974) AND FIRST POINT IN THE STANDINGS. YVON LABRE SCORED THE INITIAL FRANCHISE GOAL AT THE OLD CAPITAL CENTER IN LANDOVER, MARYLAND. DAN MALONEY REPLIED FOR THE LOS ANGELES KINGS. RON LOW AND ROGIE VACHON WERE THE GOALIES. AND, SUMMARY (TOP–RIGHT) FROM THE CAPITALS’ FIRST NHL VICTORY — AT HOME TO CHICAGO ON OCT. 17, 1974. JACK EGERS NETTED THE DECISIVE GOAL AT 8:46 OF THE THIRD PERIOD. LOW AND MIKE VEISOR WERE BETWEEN THE PIPES.
YES, IT WAS UGLY
WITH THE CAPITALS AT 1–15–2 AFTER 18 GAMES, THE DEC. 6, 1974 ISSUE OF THE HOCKEY NEWS FEATURED A UNIQUE, YET JUSTIFIABLE HEADLINE IN BRIGHT RED. STORY, BELOW.
FIRST TORONTO VISIT
THE CAPITALS WERE 2–17–3 AFTER 22 GAMES WHEN THEY MADE THEIR FIRST–EVER VISIT TO TORONTO ON NOV. 30, 1974 (A SATURDAY NIGHT) AND WERE ROUTED, 7–1, AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. SUMMARY (TOP–RIGHT) FROM THE DEC. 13, 1974 ISSUE OF THE HOCKEY NEWS. DARRYL SITTLER SCORED TWICE FOR THE LEAFS. DAVE (TIGER) WILLIAMS, DAVE KEON, INGE HAMMARSTROM, CLAIRE ALEXANDER AND BILL FLETT HAD THE OTHER TORONTO GOALS. VETERAN TOMMY WILLIAMS (EX OF THE BRUINS AND NORTH STARS) HAD OPENED THE SCORING FOR THE CAPITALS. DOUG FAVELL AND DUNC WILSON SPLIT THE TORONTO GOALTENDING CHORES WITH FORMER LEAF, LOW, IN NET FOR THE VISITORS.
THE WORST DEFEAT…
IN 1974–75, THE BOSTON BRUINS FINISHED WITH 32 MORE WINS AND 73 MORE POINTS THAN THE CAPITALS. AS SUCH, IT WAS ONLY MILDLY SHOCKING WHEN THE BRUINS DESTROYED THEIR EXPANSION VISITORS AT THE BOSTON GARDEN ON DEC. 14, 1974 (SUMMARY FROM THE DEC. 27 ISSUE OF THE HOCKEY NEWS). BOBBY ORR HAD TWO GOALS AND TWO ASSISTS FOR THE BRUINS. EX–LEAF DENIS DUPERE SCORED FOR WASHINGTON. RON LOW AND MICHEL BELHUMEUR SUFFERED BETWEEN THE PIPES FOR THE CAPITALS; ROSS BROOKS HAD AN EASY NIGHT FOR BOSTON. THE CAPS WOULD AGAIN LOSE 12–1 — AT PITTSBURGH ON MAR. 15, 1975.
…AND, AN IMMEDIATE CURE
IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE THAT THE GOOD OL’ MAPLE LEAFS CONTRIBUTED TO THE MEAGER SUCCESS OF THE EXPANSION CAPITALS… AND IT HAPPENED THE NIGHT AFTER WASHINGTON’S HUMILIATION IN BOSTON. AT THE CAPITAL CENTER ON DEC. 15, 1974, THE LEAFS DROPPED A 3–1 DECISION (SUMMARY ABOVE). RON ELLIS SCORED FOR TORONTO. MIKE BLOOM, PAUL NICHOLSON AND JIM HRYCUIK (55 COMBINED NHL GOALS) REPLIED FOR WASHINGTON. RON LOW AND DUNC WILSON WERE BETWEEN THE PIPES. THE NHL STANDINGS AS OF DEC. 17, 1974 (BELOW) INDICATED THE STRUGGLE OF THE EXPANSION TEAMS. WASHINGTON AND KANSAS CITY WERE A COMBINED 8–45–7.
FIRST CAPITALS HOCKEY CARDS
From the 1974–75 O–Pee–Chee NHL set, also in my collection:
PIE IN THE SKY
I was saddened to learn about the passing, last weekend (June 9), of former NHL winger Johnny (Pie) McKenzie — a key figure on the Boston teams of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito that won Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. McKenzie was a truculent skater, lining up on an effective forward unit with Johnny Bucyk and Fred Stanfield. After toiling in obscurity with Chicago, Detroit and the New York Rangers for eight years, McKenzie went to the Bruins (from New York) for Reggie Fleming on Jan. 10, 1966. He had seasons of 77, 70 and 69 points in Boston, scoring a career NHL–best 31 goals in 1970–71. “Pie”, as he was known, jumped to the new World Hockey Association in 1972–73 and finished his playing career in the WHA with the Philadelphia/Vancouver Blazers, Minnesota Fighting Saints, Cincinnati Stingers and New England Whalers, retiring after the 1978–79 season. He compiled 474 points and 917 penalty minutes in the NHL; 413 and 619 in the WHA. John was 80 when he died after a long illness last weekend at home in Wakefield, Mass.
JOHN McKENZIE, PICTURED ABOVE IN ACTION WITH DEFENSEMAN KENT DOUGLAS OF TORONTO AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS IN THE 1965–66 NHL SEASON. AND, BELOW, AT THE TD GARDEN IN BOSTON ON MAR. 18, 2010 AS THE 1970 STANLEY CUP–CHAMPION BRUINS WERE HONORED.
MR. HOCKEY GONE TWO YEARS
LAST SUNDAY (JUNE 10) MARKED THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF GORDIE HOWE’S DEATH. THIS TERRIFIC PHOTO FROM THE DETROIT AT OAKLAND GAME OF NOV. 13, 1968 (2–1 SEALS) SHOWS MR. HOCKEY (9) LINING UP BESIDE TEAMMATE KENT DOUGLAS (5) AND NEXT TO FORWARD GERRY ODROWSKI (11) OF OAKLAND. JOE SZURA OF THE SEALS LEANS IN TO FACE OFF AGAINST ALEX DELVECCHIO. THE EXPANSE OF EMPTY SEATS AT THE OAKLAND COLISEUM–ARENA WAS ENDEMIC TO THE CLUB THAT JOINED THE NHL IN THE GREAT EXPANSION OF 1967; THEN DEPARTED IN 1976 TO BECOME (FOR TWO SEASONS) THE CLEVELAND BARONS.
AND, FINALLY, ON A PERSONAL NOTE…
More than seven months after joining Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel here in Toronto as a Funeral Director’s Assistant, my friend Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star profiled me in the newspaper.
Here’s the story link… http://bit.ly/2LupqC7