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When “Toe” Blake was captain of the Montreal Canadiens, he was interviewed previous to the 1944-45 campaign. With discerning insight he responded to several questions about his prognostications pertaining to teams and individual players relating to the upcoming schedule. But when he became bench boss of the same franchise he changed his tune drastically. He would have none of the forecast game, saying that “predictions are for Gypsies!”
Well, at very least it is a dangerous practice—as hockey history can attest. The varying factors, the copious unknowns—to say nothing of unexpected injuries of key players—make it even risky for Gypsy fortunetellers to speculate about the future tense of he world’s fastest game.
Perhaps the only truly safe forecast is credited to Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
It would seem to be a blatant contradiction then for yours truly to dare to chronicle even ten NHL (or equivalent) records that, barring miracles of immense proportions, will never be broken.
**The initial prediction is ridiculously easy. I refer to Frank McGee’s 14 goals during a Stanley Cup game, which will never be equaled or surpassed! On January 16, 1905, the one-eyed marvel blasted the old boot heel past a beleaguered 17-year-old Albert Forest, netminder for the Dawson City Nuggets, 14 times! The road-weary challengers, travelled 4,000 miles (6,000 km), by dog sled, narrow gauge railway, boat, and train, in an attempt to dislodge Lord Stanley’s cherished trophy from the clutches of the Ottawa Silver Seven. They lost both games, 9-2, and 23-2. Eight of McGee’s markers in game two’s lop-sided loss came within the space of eight minutes; three others in 90 seconds; and four in 140 seconds. The blond wonder participated in a grand total of only 22 playoff matches in his career, but tallied an amazing 63 goals.
That this record will never even be close to being bent is a no brainer. The competition for hockey’s most prestigious silver chalice no longer involves any “challenge” series, which circumvents the chances of unqualified squads of skaters being involved. Since the NHL took sole custody of the award back in 1926-27 the post-season competition automatically weeds out the more inferior sextets, one at a time.
As a result, goal-scoring totals follow logically at the same level. For instance NHL records affirm the most goals in single game by ONE TEAM is 13, held by the 1987 Edmonton Oilers. The most tallies by ONE PLAYER in a single contest is 5; and the most markers by a player in an entire series is 19, jointly held by Reggie Leach and Jari Kurri—only five more than McGee’s feat.
Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe hotographed at the Plaza Hotel on July 5, 1978 for The New York Times
**Still with productivity, we move almost a century into the future to zero in on Wayne Gretzky’s regular season career goal-scoring total—of 894. That is 93 goals more than his nearest rival, Gordie Howe, “Mr. Hockey” himself. On October 15, 1989 “The Great One” broke Howe’s total points record—1851 as opposed to 1850. Much was made of that scoring milestone, with Howe himself in attendance in Edmonton, taking part in the 10-minute commemoration at the Rexall Place. The new record holder admitted that it was fitting he should reach this pinnacle of point-getting as a member of the Kings in the arena where he had made so many other marks.
There is a classic photo of the two principals in this drama holding the numbered pucks. Often another picture accompanying it—11-year-old Wayne standing with his idol.
But Gretzky declared on that occasion that it was Howe’s 801 goals that he really wanted to surpass, because “it was easier to get points than goals!” So on March 23, 1994, he did reach that plateau in bulging the twine. In the Forum in Los Angeles he took a pass from Marty McSorley and deposited the disc behind the Canuck’s Kirk McLean. Mr. Howe also acknowledged this accomplishment. He arranged for Wayne to receive print number 99 of a limited edition painting that depicts number 9 throughout his illustrious career.
No one will ever match or surpass that amazing total. It takes nothing away from his incomparable skill level to point out that, nevertheless, “Mr. Waynederful” had the advantage of competing in an era when constant expansion depleted the overall NHL talent pool. The result was an unheralded run of seasons with multi 100 plus point scorers, climaxing in Mario Lemieux’s Art Ross Trophy win with 85 goals and 114 assists in 1988-89. In the season preceding the above feat there were 14 fifty-goal scorers. It required the last eight seasons most recently to match those same collective totals.
His closest current rival who is active, and in the running, is Jaromir Jagr who has notched 746 markers as this is being written. At age 44 time is running out for him to make up for a 148- goal shortfall.
From shooting to stopping we move to a twin-themed topic—namely shut-outs by goalies. **First, matching George Hainsworth’s 22 shutouts in a 44-game schedule is beyond reach.
That would be equivalent to Carey Price chalking up 40 whitewashes in the current 80-game schedule. The Habs’ mighty mite allowed only 43 pucks to elude him in those 44 contests, giving him an unheard-of 0.92 goals-against average. He was a shoo-in for the Vezina Trophy, and had there been All-Star selections in 1928-29, he would have received every vote. But the secret to his secret is no secret. Forward passing was not allowed, greatly curtailing the kind of tip-ins or screened shots from the blueline so common today.
**Secondly, it is resolved that Martin Brodeur’s amazing 125 career shutouts is completely safe (Mind you, 10 years ago this “seer” would have banked on Terry Sawchuk’s 103 career goose eggs never being matched). From a strictly practical point of view, the emphasis on shot-blocking often gives the blue paint area the appearance of the end of a ten-pin bowling lane. A new emphasis on defense-first strategy makes the alley through which the puck may sneak to be smaller and smaller. In simple terms, the goal crease area is becoming as cluttered as an untidy teenager’s bedroom.
From a statistical angle, the number of zeros required to catch the recently-retired backstop makes it a “mission impossible” scenario. Robert Luongo is the only current cage cop who is within shouting distance of that mark. And he is 37 years old with only 71 shutouts to his credit. Probably Johnathan Quick has the only extremely remote chance to catch up. At this stage of his career he has accomplished barring the door to his cage every 11 games. At age 30, if he continues that average, playing until he is 40, he might make it.
**No defenseman will ever again complete a full NHL season with 0 minutes in the penalty box. Bill Quackenbush toured the league’s bluelines for 14 seasons. His penalty minute total for those 774 matches was only 95. As the 1948-49 schedule came to a conclusion he set that amazing bench mark—not one single visit to the sin bin in 60 games. Winger Harry Watson matched that total, but because of what most modern shinny scribes seem to overlook (it’s harder NOT to be penalized guarding the blueline than playing forward) the nod was given to the Detroit rearguard for the Lady Byng Trophy.
The blond four-time All Star himself admitted it would be almost impossible in today’s run and gun style of play, with heavy forechecking, to duplicate that accomplishment. With net-crashing, cross-checking, crowded defensive zones, plus the prevailing high speed action, even accidental fowls seem inevitable.
In 2002 Tomas Kaberle was guilty of but a single rules violation. Yet he came in a bizarre 6th in Lady Byng voting. Ron Francis, a forward totaled 18 P.I.M, yet was chosen the winner. In 2011 Jared Spurgeon also incurred only 2 minutes in the cooler, but received not a single vote for this award. As worthy as Martin St. Louis was, as a forward he still totaled 12 P.I.M. (At least Brian Campbell, with three penalties called against in 2012, was honoured as he should have been.)
**Bill Mosienko’s three goals in 21 seconds record in forever safe. On March 23, 1952, the Blackhawks were completing their schedule in New York against the Rangers. They were a whopping 16 points behind their hosts that evening when the first puck was dropped. At 6:09 of the third frame “Wee Willie” took a pass from Gus Bodnar, deeked the Blueshirt’s defenders, and whipped the disc into the net for the fifth time behind Lorne Anderson. The next two markers also came on passes from Bodnar, in both cases right off the faceoff. The two plays took only 10 seconds. What is even more amazing is that he hit the goal post a few seconds later.
His mark is untouchable for at least two reasons. First and foremost, in today’s close-checking approach to the game, he never would have gotten near the goal crease the second time, let alone the third. If he had not been tackled, he would have been cross-checked senseless eliminating him from further action. Secondly, because now pro hockey assures that back-up cage cops (they were simply called “subs” then) are more than amateur stand-ins—like the home team’s trainer. Mosie’s victim who was filling in for the injured Chuck Rayner, had been guarding the twine for the amateur New York Rovers, and his NHL experience totaled three outings—of which this was his last.
A decade and a half later, another landmark achievement was chiseled into the league’s archives.
And as daring as such a forecast may seem…..**Darryl Sittler’s 10-point total in a single match will not be successfully challenged. On February 7, 1976, a stormy winter night in Southern Ontario, the Maple Leaf pivot obliterated all existing point totals for a single NHL game. Boston was in town, riding a seven-game winning streak, confident in walking over a club that had only managed one tie in three games against them all season.
With the bombastic Harold Ballard’s insulting accusation still burning in his memory (“If only I could find a centre for Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams”), he rushed to the Gardens, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in his car on the way.
He doesn’t recall that criticism giving him added incentive, but rather that it was “just one of those nights” when everything went right—that is, everything that he shot—including one from behind the net—went in. Six goals and four helpers gave him his grand total. The fact that an inexperienced Dave Reece was between the pipes, combined with Don Cherry’s determination not to pull him regardless, only added to the one-sided 11-4 slaughter.
For much the same reason as stated above regarding Mosienko’s bonanza—better back-up netminders, and double-teaming on scoring threats, means the long-time Leaf Captain’s milestone will not be duplicated.
**Doug Jarvis’ 964 consecutive games, earning him the new “iron man” crown, is out of reach for duplication. Starting out with the Canadiens, after seven years he was traded to Washington, where he won the Selke Trophy for the best defensive forward. Midway through his fourth campaign in DC, he was sent to Hartford. All the while, he remained healthy and injury-free. He maintains that he didn’t approach each game with the intent “to break this record” (held by Garry Unger—914 games); he just “took one match at a time, and waited to see what happened!” He did have one close call, however, shortly after hooking up with the Capitals. He got a concussion playing in Detroit one night, with a St. Louis tilt looming the next night. He was a little shaky for a while; but doctors gave him the OK before game time.
According to the HNIC crew on Saturday March 18, Andrew Cogliano is the current “iron man”, with his total consecutive games at 696. (That surely must warrant an asterisk, since he played only 49 games with Anaheim in 2012-13, taking a breather with Klagenfurter in Austria). But, IF he actually qualifies, and manages six more campaigns of 80 contests each—then, he will have passed Jarvis. The likelihood of that in today’s version of hockey’s elite circuit is slim indeed. Jarvis, Unger, and Larmer knew what hitting was in their day. But the New Millennium promises a 50/50 chance of a headfirst bash into the dasher by some loose cannon (like Zac Rinaldo or Gabriel Landeskog), whose philosophy is “take ‘em out anyway you can!”
**”Grandpa Howe” was an active player in the NHL until he was an amazing 52 years old. No future puckster will ever be able to duplicate that feat. After his initial retirement from the NHL in 1971, Gerrald Eskenazi wrote: “Twenty-five years is an absurd length of time to be playing a game…..”
It would have been interesting to discover his reaction when, at the age of 52, Gordie finally hung up blades for good. In fact, an anonymous scribe, thinking along the same line, opined: “….to be playing in the big leagues at age 50 alone may be the greatest achievement of any pro athlete!”
On April 20, 1980, shortly after he had reached that birthday milestone, an observer at a Hartford Whaler’s practice said: “One of the last to leave an optional skate……he skates like a prancing colt…..” He added that some of the younger members of the team failed to show because they were too tired.
The one who declared that Gordon Howe “may be the finest athlete of our times”, very succinctly revealed why no other NHL’er will reach that tender age of 52 and still be an active player. Jaromir Jagr has more than once declared that he intends to attempt playing until he is 50. That’s six more years attempting to keep up with the hyped-up pace of the world’s premium loop, where “speed” is now the primary requirement to survive . It says here, that he can’t make the grade (the only real subjective argument in this essay).
**To match the five-years of consecutive Stanley Cup Championships by the Montreal Canadiens is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. From 1955-56 through 1959-60 the Habitants dominated the league at every turn. Four out of those five campaigns saw them finish in first place during the regular season. When the voting was complete for All Stars at the end of each season, the “Flying Frenchmen” never had less than four, and as many as six, of those twelve elite positions nailed down. Three of the five scoring championships were claimed by the Mount Royal City skaters—in addition to all of the Vezina Trophy honours. It was during that time frame that the rule to have penalized players return to the ice if a goal was scored was enacted.
The roster of the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge was enough to give any opposing coach an instant ulcer attack: Plante, Harvey, Johnson, Moore, Geoffrion, Beliveau, Henri and “Rocket” Richard, for a start. The amateur draft, multiple expansions, and the salary cap (which prevents stacking the decks of line-ups) ensure that, unless there is a reversal of policies and procedures, no one team will ever again be able to dominate as the Habs did—at least not for any appreciable period of time.
“Parity” was the buzz word for years—the “haves” helping the “have nots” to spread the glory around. During this transition to equalization the Canadiens again (4 times), and the Islanders (4 times) came the closest to imitating Montreal’s dynasty. But only Detroit, in 1997 and 1998—just two championships in a row—managed at least starting to build a foundation of prominence!
**It would be an insult to those brave men who stand in the box behind the players as bench bosses, not to acknowledge their contribution to the world’s fastest game. So, lastly: Scotty Bowman’s 1,244 wins as an NHL coach is beyond reach, forever more, amen! Number 10 on this list is another no brainer. Little thought needs to be given to why that is so. The underlying reason is well summed up by Glen Sonmor’s estimate of this position: “Good luggage is what is needed to accept a coaching job in hockey.” Yes! Coaches are hired to be fired. Joel Quenneville has done well arriving at 798 victories on March 30th of the current campaign. But to presume that he can win 446 more contests without either retiring or being fired is a pipe dream. “Nuff said!”
It is said that “records are made to be broken”—but some are shatterproof.
Today as I finish this column I am a few days away from my 81st birthday. Most of these prognostications will not be able to be affirmed or contradicted for half a decade. And, if I am still around when I am 86, I will be happy to be corrected, and to eat a healthy helping of crow (with or without ketchup).
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