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Bluelines: Tanking is a Naughty Word in Hockey

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Very few visionaries who cover the NHL are fixated on one mischievous hockey word.

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In fact, Ben Pope, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times the other day, called the Windy City’s favorite team the “Tank Hawks.”

If a team sinks to the bottom and stays in the underground depths of the NHL, the verbal vultures will accuse that team of “refuelling.”

In other words, lose for the sake of a possible win.

That is, if you lose enough – and often enough – you are in position to get a high draft pick and hopefully get back on Victory Boulevard.

The precedent for this was set four decades ago by the Pittsburgh Penguins; or so the legend goes. Take it or leave it.

In the 1983-84 season, all eyes were on the oversized center playing for Laval in the Quebec Junior League. He was considered a reliable person, like Bobby Orr and Jean Beliveau of yesteryear.

Both the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins were the teams most likely to capture Lemieux. Some members of the media criticized New Jersey coach Tom McVie for urging his players to reach their potential. “I want my team to win,” insisted Devils owner Dr. John McMullen.

McVie: “We’re here to win hockey games,” McVie protested. “It’s an honorable thing.”

And so they did with critical home stretch victories over Pittsburgh and Boston. When things were going awry for Pittsburgh, the Penguins — shall we say — made some dubious roster decisions that practically put them three points behind New Jersey. Lemieux wouldn’t be a demon, but honor was on McMullen and McVie’s side. And, by the way, still.


After the double departures of Calgary’s Johnny Goudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, some observers speculated that they were leaving the hockey answer to Devils Island. The most beautiful city in Alberta has received a double unjustified kick in the ass, both in terms of image and in everything else.

Critics noted that Johnny and Matty were not the first to say “I’m not here”. In fact, when Rangers Norris trophy winner Adam Fox was drafted by the Flames in 2016, he didn’t lose to Stampede Town. Fox left before he even got there.

Facts on the ice show that Foxy wanted to take a big bite of the Big Apple, and he’s been feeding on it ever since.

This is bad news for Brad Treliving’s stomach and head. After Tams and aspirin, the next best thing for the GM Flames was a soap dish. So he climbed one of them to tell the world that Calgary was nothing short of heaven and would do just fine without deserters.

Apparently, the city’s new immigrants, John Huberdeau and Mackenzie Vigar, have taken the bait and are even considering signing a long-term contract with the Flames. For Calgary’s sake, they’d better make it before the first snowstorm of the season.

Once again, my Florida ace Alan (I prefer one L) Greenberg is sounding the warning. “There is no guarantee that Hubie or V will stay in Calgary after this year, or if the Flames have room in the cap to re-sign them.”


Veteran Toronto columnist Damien Cox wonders aloud about the now-departed Flames and, in particular, Adam Fox’s abandonment of Calgary six years ago.

“As for Fox,” Cox wrote, “the team exhausted every avenue trying to sign him, and eventually gave him to Carolina.”

But Damien’s more stunning point is: “The Flames have an image problem when it comes to American-born talent.”

At least it makes me wonder!


Unlike Adam Fox, who turned down both the Flames and the Hurricanes because he was determined to play in Manhattan, there was a time when the Rangers had to be shunned.

The classic case occurred on February 5, 1960, when Red Wings manager Jack Adams traded defenseman Red Kelly and forward Billy McNeil in the Blueshirts for defenseman Bill Gadsby and forward Eddie Shaq.

At the time, New York City was not a desirable landing spot for NHL players. The team was poorly managed and ended up at the bottom of the NHL.

Kelly announced his retirement instead of playing for the Big Apple. The deal was officially canceled two days later.

This dealt a serious blow to the Rangers’ image and demoralized the New York hockey fans. To make matters worse, Maple Leafs managing manager Punch Imlach contacted Kelly and convinced him to cancel his “retirement”. On February 10, the Red Wings traded Kelly to Toronto for up-and-coming young guard Mark Reom.

Rangers CEO Muzz Patrick’s protests were fired by NHL President Clarence Campbell and Kelly became Leaf. Imlach immediately turned him into a center, and Red helped Toronto win four Stanley Cups. Reome failed as Red Wing.

Gadsby was eventually traded to Detroit and, like Kelly, was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

One big difference: Kelly played Stanley Cup winners in both Detroit and Toronto. After 20 glorious years in the NHL, Gadsby retired without ever winning the Cup.


When Alan Eagleson founded the NHL Players Association, he also became an agent for top handlers, most notably Bobby Orr. Over time, others have become major representatives, including, by the way, Mr. Orr himself.

Hockey players are paid so well these days that the big entertainment agencies have turned to stick holders. One of them, The Wasserman Media Group, has offices around the world. And if you’re interested in their NHL clients, start with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.


* angst Johnny Gaudreau, bypassing Newark, dispersed into North Jersey. The Devils fans I know are pleased with the performance of general manager Tom Fitzgerald so far.

* Even Gorgeous George Falkowski froze. “Call me crazy,” George says, knowing I’ll never do it, “but I think No receive Johnny Hockey’s blessing. He could be good for a couple of years, but in the long run, forget about it!” (So, I forgot about it.)

* Mike Marson recently turned 67 years old. He was the second African Canadian in the NHL after Willie O’Ree. He arrived in the NHL through the Capitals’ training camp in 1974. During his six professional seasons, he spent most of his time in the minors.

* It’s great to see Craig Wolanin’s kid, Christian, get another shot in the NHL. I watched Craig on D for devils; tough as a rock and a good guy, too.

* Craig, as a Devils guard, scored the longest clean goal I’ve ever seen. He fired a laser shot from the center of the ice and cleanly beat an unshielded Bob Mason in the Chicago net.

* I’m sure Denver hockey fans will be just delighted to hear Zach Hyman’s very scholarly comment about the spectators: There are no better fans than Canadian fans.

* Wherever Phil Kessel plays, he remains one of my favorites; partly because he looks less like a hockey player than any other NHL player.

* But Fieri Phil is at a crossroads. His active Iron Man streak is 982 consecutive games. Now he is 35 and he is a player without a team.

* I’m creating a “Help Wanted” ad for Kess. Two-time Stanley Cup winner; just seven games short of Keith Yandl’s record. And has a sense of humor. (Excluding Toronto media.)


The answer is simple if you are superhistorian Eric Zweig of Owen Sound, Ontario.

In 1907 the Kenora Thistles won the Stanley Cup. And in 2022, Zweig wrote the book Engraved in History: The Story of Stanley Cup Winner Kenora Thisles.

So I asked Pal Zweig to name the Thistles version of King Connor.

“Their star center was Billy McGimsey, at 27, the oldest member of the team.” Eric reports. “He was known for his speed – like all the Thistles – and his zigzag shots. He was a good scorer and although assists were not counted, it is clear that he scored a lot of goals.

“But the biggest star and top scorer on the team was Tommy Phillips, who played almost every position except goalkeeper. In his time, the debate ended over who was the best player in Canada, Phillips or Frank McGee of the Ottawa Silver Seven.

And who was Kal Makar in the early days when Kenora won the Cup?

“It was Art Ross,” says Zweig, who has written an entire book about Ross. “This is the same Art Ross from the Boston Bruins and NHL trophies. The art was borrowed by the Thistles from his team in Brandon, Manitoba for the 1907 Stanley Cup series.”


Analysts tend to point to dynasties like the Islanders and Canadiens when picking the “greatest teams”. And that’s reasonable enough. But Ottawa-based history writer Pam Coburn says that’s not the case.

In his book Hitch, the Unsung Hero of Hockey, Coburn selects the 1929-30 Boston Bruins edition. And what makes her claim so exciting is the fact that the Bs didn’t even win the Stanley Cup that season; it was the Montreal Canadiens. (Boston had won Stanley in the previous campaign.)

But Coburn makes the right point, given what the Causeway Street Crew has achieved. Learn this:

In a 44-game season, the Bs finished with 38 wins, five losses and one draw for 77 points. Playing in the NHL American Division, Boston completed 30 points ahead second place Chicago. And 26 points ahead of the leader of the Canadian division “Montreal Maroons”.

How about a win percentage of 0.875; absolute record.

Coburn makes two key findings and provides a wealth of evidence.

This Bruins team has surpassed: 1. Point Percentage: 2. Total Points, 77 out of 88; 3. Wins at home in a row – 20; 4. Fewest games lost in a single season,

Similarly, her story proves that her grandfather, Lionel Hitchman, was not only one of the best defensemen of all time, but also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Whether you’re a Bruins fan or not, you’ll find this damn good hockey book.

WHO SAID THIS? “I had a lot of letters. I heard from agents, brothers-in-law, uncles and fans. Everyone has an answer.”



Editor’s Note: Starting with this…


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