Getty

PHT Time Machine: NHL expansion teams build Montreal dynasty

5 Comments

Throughout the summer we will be taking a look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to when a bunch of expansion teams unintentionally helped build one of the NHL’s great dynasties in Montreal.

You may think of the present day Montreal Canadiens as a dysfunctional mess of a franchise without much in the way of a long-term plan, producing a consistently disappointing on-ice product.

This, of course, was not always the case as the 24 Stanley Cup banners hanging in their rafters illustrate. You don’t get that many championships by being dumb.

Many of those championships are the direct result of a long-term plan by former long-time general manager Sam Pollock that was not only ahead of its time, but feasted on the — let’s say — ignorance of the teams around him.

This is the story of how a bunch of expansion teams helped the Montreal Canadiens build one of the NHL’s greatest dynasties.

The Background

Throughout 1960s the NHL went through several changes that would forever change the look of the league.

Among those changes…

  • The amateur draft: Starting in 1963 the NHL introduced the amateur draft as a means of giving every team equal opportunity to land young, star players. Prior to the draft NHL teams would “sponsor” junior teams and players, limiting which teams they could play for once they were ready to turn pro.
  • Expansion: Then in 1967 the league doubled in size going from six teams to 12 with the additions of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, and Oakland Seals.

The Montreal Canadiens would use these two changes to their advantage to help build one of the greatest teams ever assembled.

Here is how they did it.

The Plan And The Trades

Let’s just start with this: Pollock had a long-term vision for the Canadiens and was often times thinking multiple years in advance. While the rest of the league was playing candy land, he was playing an elaborate game of chess.

Starting in 1968 Pollock began executing a plan that would see him stockpile as many future draft picks — specifically first-round picks — as he could, with those picks usually coming from one of the new expansion teams that were simply trying to make a name for themselves and land some established players. They were not only trying to get established veterans, they also probably did not fully understand the value of draft picks.

Between 1968 and 1973 Pollock traded veteran talent off of the Canadiens roster and acquired 14 future first-round draft picks from other NHL teams, often times multiple years in advance.

A quick run down of those trades:

  • May 21, 1968: Traded Norm Ferguson and Stan Fuller to Oakland for Wally Boyer, Alain Caron, Oakland’s 1968 first-round pick and its 1970 first-round pick.
  • June 10, 1968: Traded Danny Grant, Claude Larose to Minnesota for Minnesota’s 1972 first-round pick and 1973 first-round pick.
  • June 11, 1968: Traded Gerry Desjardins to Los Angeles for Los Angeles’ 1969 and 1972 first-round draft picks.
  • June 12, 1968: Traded the rights to Carol Vadnais in the waiver draft to Oakland for Oakland’s 1973 first-round pick and its 1973 second-round pick.
  • May 22, 1970: Traded its own 1970 first-round pick and Ernie Hicke to Oakland in for Oakland’s 1971 first-round pick.
  • August 22, 1972: Traded Terry Harper to Los Angeles for Los Angeles’ second-round pick in 1974, its first-round pick in 1975, its third-round pick in 1975, and its first-round pick in 1976.
  • May 15, 1973: The Canadiens used the first-round pick it had acquired from Oakland in 1968 (the No. 2 overall pick) to trade back two different times, accumulating future first-round picks from Atlanta/Calgary in 1977 and St. Louis in 1975 as part of the trades.  On this same day they also traded the first-round pick acquired from Minnesota in 1968 to the Vancouver Canucks for Vancouver’s 1974 first-round pick.
  • May 29, 1973: Traded Bob J. Murcoch and Randy Rota to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for the Kings’ first-round pick in 1974. On the same day he traded Chuck Arnason to Atlanta/Calgary for the Flames’ first-round pick in 1974.

As mentioned above, that is 14 future first-round draft picks. How unique was this strategy at the time? Just consider that during the same time period between 1968 and 1973 the rest of the teams in the NHL only traded for four future first-round draft picks, and three of those trades were made by the Boston Bruins.

Nobody else in the league was looking this far ahead or valued draft picks this highly.

Part of the reason the Canadiens were able to make all of these trades for future picks was due to the fact their team was already loaded with talent, and there was always the risk that the WHA could poach some of that talent away from them.

One of the most intriguing trends in all of those moves is the number of future first-round picks Montreal received from the Oakland/California franchise.

Between 1968 and 1970 the Seals were run by Frank Selke Jr., a former long-time employee of the Canadiens. Of the 16 trades he made while in charge of the Seals, six of them involved the Canadiens, far more than any other team in the league at that time.

Those trades involved Montreal collecting five first-round draft picks from the Seals, including four future picks years down the road. Montreal was the only team he traded any draft pick to. If you are a conspiracy theorist that track record of trades is, at the very least, eye-opening given Selke’s history working for the Canadiens.

The Kings were the other team that seemed to have no problem trading future assets to Montreal.

The long-term results would prove to be disastrous for those teams and forever change the NHL.

The Aftermath

Not all of those future draft picks amounted to anything of significance, but the ones that did were certainly impactful.

So what did Montreal get out of those picks?

A future scoring champion and MVP: The trade that worked out the best was May 22, 1970 trade that saw Montreal get Oakland’s 1971 first-round pick. The Seals finished the 1970-71 season with the NHL’s worst record, meaning that draft pick would be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The top prospect that entered the NHL that year was Guy Lafleur. Lafleur would go on to be one of the NHL’s best players, win three scoring titles, and be one of the key building blocks for the Canadiens’ run of five Stanley Cups throughout the 1970s, including the four-peat between 1976 and 1979.

The 1970 first-round pick that Oakland received in return was used to select Chris Oddleifson, who would never play a game for the team. Instead he was traded to Boston for Ivan Boldirev who would have two okay seasons with the team before being traded to Chicago. Hicke, the other asset acquired for that pick, also had two decent seasons before being lost in the 1972 expansion draft.

It is also worth nothing that along with getting Lafleur with the top pick in 1971, the Canadiens also used a second-round pick that they had acquired a year earlier from the Kings (in exchange for Dick Duff) to select Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson.

Robinson and Lafleur were two of the best players of all-time.

The game’s best shutdown forward: May 15, 1973 was also a big day for Pollock and the Canadiens when they used the No. 2 pick (acquired five years earlier, also from Selke Jr.) to move back to No. 8 thanks to a pair of trades with Atlanta and St. Louis. Along with acquiring the future draft picks in 1975 and 1977 they used the No. 8 overall pick to select Bob Gainey, who would go on to be one of the best defensive forwards of all time, winning four Selke Trophies as well as a Conn Smythe award as playoff MVP.

The initial return on the trades and the pick already had Montreal looking ahead to maybe use its future picks to trade up for Mark Howe (never happened) and how good Gainey already was defensively.

From the Montreal Gazette:

Gainey won five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens (including four in the 1970s) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

This sequence of trades also landed them Mark Napier (No. 10 overall in 1977, one of the picks acquired from Atlanta in the trade for the No. 2 overall pick in 1973) who would go on to play six years in Montreal, including as a member of the 1979 Stanley Cup winning team.

Another Hall of Famer: The Canadiens used the No. 4 overall pick in 1972, acquired as part of the 1968 trade that sent Gerry Desjardins to Los Angeles, to select Steve Shutt. Shutt would go on to play 14 seasons with the Canadiens, scoring 424 goals, including a league-best 60 during the 1976-77 season. He won five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in the 1970s and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.

Another four-time champion The 1973 trade that saw Montreal trade Murdoch and Rota, two marginal NHLers, to the Kings for their 1974 first-round pick resulted in the Canadiens selecting Mario Tremblay, who would go on to score 258 goals in 12 years with the team before suffering a career-ending injury 1986. He was a part of all four Stanley Cup winning teams between 1976 and 1979.

On a team level, the Canadiens were the most dominant team of the decade.

Between 1971 and 1980 their 508 wins were the most of any team in the NHL, and were one of just two teams (Boston being the other) to win at least 425 games and one of only three (Boston and Philadelphia) to win more than 400.

They also won six Stanley Cups, including the four in a row between 1976 and 1979.

Probably none of it happens with Lafleur, Robinson, Gainey, Shutt, and Tremblay, a core of players that were only acquired due to long-term outlook and plan of Pollock, and the lack of foresight by some of the NHL’s newest expansion teams.

(Stick tap to NHL Trade Tracker for much of the trade information)

More PHT Time Machine:
Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Previewing the 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs

2 Comments

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, but things could have been much worse considering their cap crunch — and also the rather obvious need for Nazem Kadri to get a change of scenery.

Ultimately, it’s still a step back to replace Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, etc. with Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jason Spezza, and so on. That doesn’t mean that the end result has to be a step backward, but it’s a minor stumble on paper.

Strengths: Yes, the Maple Leafs are paying top dollar for Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and now Mitch Marner. It just so happens that they’re more or less worth that money; fans of NHL teams have just become conditioned to see these types of guys making less than they should, thanks to the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sidney Crosby.

With Morgan Rielly and now Barrie, the Maple Leafs have some pretty potent options as far defensive scoring goes, although things get sketchy once you reach beyond the best options.

Frederik Andersen is also one of the best goalies in the NHL, and can sometimes will the Maple Leafs into games when their defense is cratering and their offense is cold.

Weaknesses: If Andersen gets hurt or struggles, the Maple Leafs’ backup options sure seem pretty dicey. Such a thought might prompt the team to wear Andersen out even if he plays well and stays healthy.

Depth on defense is a bit of a challenge, too.

Frankly, it’s tough to ignore Mike Babcock as someone who might be holding the Maple Leafs back. It’s not always huge decisions, but the conservative leaning can be a death by a thousand cuts. Not giving Auston Matthews enough minutes. Falling in love with old-school defensemen who, frankly, aren’t very good. It all adds up to a Maple Leafs setup that sometimes doesn’t feel fully optimized. I’m not convinced Babcock is a “bad” coach, yet like a lot of others, he has some bad habits.

[MORE: X-factor | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It’s usually not the best sign when you end a season needing a vote of confidence from your GM. Babcock came to Toronto with a big reputation and an even bigger contract, making it slightly awkward to fire him, but despite all of the personnel improvements the Maple Leafs have made, they still haven’t won a playoff series since 2003-04. Some of that comes down to facing tough opponents, including being tormented by the Boston Bruins, but patience is wearing thin. Put Babcock at a 9.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Tyson Barrie.

Marner got his wish with a contract that carries close to an $11 million cap hit; now it’s time for him to silence his doubters by showing that he’s worth that asking price. Fair or not, any cold streak will be magnified.

Nylander’s near-$7M AAV looks a whole lot better months later, but that doesn’t mean that Maple Leafs fans have totally “forgiven” him for a bumpy 2018-19 season once he actually signed. His hair choices will also be fascinating to watch.

Barrie brings a lot of skill to the table, and should have plenty of motivation in a contract year. That said, he also has his warts on defense; Maple Leafs fans and media tend to fixate on such mistakes, and it remains to be seen if Barrie will finish 2019-20 with a high standing among hockey folk.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and another Round 1 exit won’t be acceptable. That might mean finally scaling the mountain that is the Boston Bruins. Even if Toronto draws someone like the Lightning or revamped Panthers, chances are it won’t be an easy challenge, yet people won’t be very interested in excuses — even good ones — if this season ends just like the last few.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Previewing the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning

3 Comments

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, and objectively, with far fewer former Rangers. It’s tough to shake the impression that the Lightning’s fixation on Rangers was an Yzerman thing, as Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller, Ryan Callahan are all out.

Some losses hurt more than others, of course, and some change was inevitable. Really, the biggest omission would be Brayden Point if he misses any regular season games waiting for a new contract.

Also, the Lightning did mitigate some of their losses with another former Ranger: Kevin Shattenkirk. The Bolts lost some firepower this offseason, but still made savvy moves, especially if Curtis McElhinney continues to be a diamond in the rough as a strong veteran backup goalie.

Strengths: With Point, Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning deploy some of the most powerful offensive players in the NHL, and Victor Hedman provides elite offense from the backend. They’ve also done a marvelous job unearthing overlooked talents to buttress those more obvious stars, with Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph being the latest examples. It’s pretty easy to see why Miller was expendable, even beyond cap reasons.

The Lightning also figure to have a dependable, if not outright fantastic, goalie duo in Andrei Vasilevskiy and McElhinney.

Weaknesses: That said, there have been times when Vasilevskiy has been a bit overrated, although last season’s Vezina win was fair enough.

 

The Lightning remain a bit weak on the right side of their defense, and some would argue that this team is too small to stand up to the rigors of the playoffs. I’m more concerned with the former issue than the latter, personally speaking.

Generally, you have to strain a bit to emphasize the negative with this team, though.

[MORE: Cooper under pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Jon Cooper is one of the NHL’s brighter coaches, but he’s not perfect. Could he have settled the Lightning down during that sweep, particularly to maybe keep Kucherov from losing his cool and get suspended? Either way, expectations are high, and blame will skyrocket if the Lightning fall short again. Let’s put it at a seven.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Sergachev, Shattenkirk, and Point.

Remember when people constantly teased the Canadiens about the Sergachev – Jonathan Drouin trade? That mockery has died down as Sergachev’s been brought along slowly in Tampa Bay. Could this be a year of big progress for a defenseman with intriguing offensive skills?

Shattenkirk was a flop for the Rangers, but deserves something of a mulligan for at least 2017-18, when he clearly wasn’t healthy. If handled properly, he could be a budget boon for the Lightning; that said, his potential for defensive lapses could also make it awkward to hang with Cooper.

Whether Point enters the season with a contract or finds his negotiations linger into when the games count, there will be more eyes on him than ever.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and lofty expectations for a deep run.

Frankly, I’d argue that the Lightning should have been more aggressive in resting their stars when it was abundantly clear that they were about 20 steps ahead of everyone else. If they’re in a similar position in 2019-20, maybe they’ll try that out? For many, anything less than a Stanley Cup win will be perceived as a failure for the Lightning. Few teams carry such expectations, but then again, few teams are this loaded in an age of salary cap parity.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Salary cap economics squeezing out NHL’s middle class

3 Comments

Stanley Cup-winning experience isn’t worth what it used to be. Neither is experience of any kind.

As NHL teams move toward paying their stars more money and relying on young players to fill the gaps, hockey’s middle class is being squeezed out. Veterans like 2018 Washington Capitals playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly are finding it increasingly difficult to land guaranteed contracts and are often forced to go to training camp on professional tryout agreements, which cover potential injuries at camp and not much else.

Hockey perhaps more than any other professional sport has put a premium on veteran players over the years. Guys who have been there before, have some grey in their beards and are valued at least as much for team chemistry in the locker room as they are for what they do on the ice.

Adding the salary cap in 2005 began the process of devaluing these so-called ”glue guys” because there is only so much money to go around. This year, that cap is $81.5 million for a team and there is no wiggle room – teams are not allowed to play if they are over the limit.

”It’s sad because these veteran players are monumental to the team,” St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Especially these guys that have won, too, like Devante Smith-Pelly. He’s been in every situation. He’s a guy that you’d want to have because he’s going to help and he’s been in these situations. When it comes around again, it’s not going to faze him.”

Smith-Pelly and Andrew MacDonald in Calgary, Troy Brouwer in Florida, Matt Read in Toronto and Drew Stafford in Minnesota are among the experienced NHL players on camp tryouts this year. Even more are settling for one-year, prove-it contracts like 2019 Cup winner Patrick Maroon (31 years old) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (30) with Tampa Bay, Derick Brassard (31) with the New York Islanders, defenseman Ben Hutton (26) with Los Angeles and forward Riley Sheahan (27) with Edmonton.

Shattenkirk went from making $7 million last season with the Rangers to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million.

”There’s something for me to prove,” Shattenkirk said. ”I think I have a huge chip on my shoulder right now.”

This is all related to how the salary cap is managed.

Across the league, there are 32 players who chew up 10% or more of his team’s $81.5 million salary-cap space – with more potentially on the way when Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine sign deals. For example, Connor McDavid accounts for over 15% of Edmonton’s cap space.

It is a trend that shows the value of elite talent but it means there is less money to go around for complementary players who are not on entry-level contracts. A handful of players also have expressed concern that restricted free agents are making more out of their entry-level contracts than ever before, further scrambling available money for support players.

”Teams, they want to take a shot on a young guy that has got an upside they see,” O’Reilly said. ”It’s tough because there’s so many good players out there that aren’t getting jobs because of it.”

Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, 31, and Patrick Kane, 30, eat up almost 26% of the Blackhawks’ cap space. They combined to win the Stanley Cup three times, but their deals and rich ones given to defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook tend to be blamed for a lack of depth in Chicago, which has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Toews said he understands the economics of the league aren’t getting any easier for players as they get older.

”It’s tough,” Toews said. ”It just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted, even though you’ve been in the league or you’re a proven player at this level. You start getting into your 30s … you realize that the league’s only going to get younger, it’s only going to get stronger, it’s only going to get better.”

It’s not just older players, either. Smith-Pelly is 27, Joe Morrow is 26 and trying to make the Rangers and fellow defenseman Alex Petrovic is 27 as a long shot to get a contract with Boston.

Grinding forward Garnet Hathaway played the past two seasons on one-year deals in Calgary making under $1 million each year. He went into free agency a bit nervous but was able to land a four-year, $6 million contract and some security with the Capitals, who also signed Brendan Leipsic to a one-year deal and Richard Panik for four years after each player had bounced around the league.

”Contracts are hard to come by in this league,” Hathaway said. ”It’s such a competitive league. Guys I know personally that have gone through it, they’re some of the most competitive guys. It’s guys who have played in this league a long time and have great careers. You wish them the best of luck, but it’s competitive.”

Sabres’ Brandon Montour out rest of preseason with hand injury

Leave a comment

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour will miss the remainder of training camp because of a hand injury and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be ready for the start of the season in two weeks.

The Sabres released no details of Montour’s injury on Thursday.

The team said it will provide an update on his status at the end camp. It’s unclear when Montour was hurt after he logged more than 17 minutes in a 4-1 preseason loss at Columbus on Tuesday.

Montour is a fourth-year NHL player and projected to play a top-four role on Buffalo’s blue line. He was acquired in a trade with Anaheim in February.

Buffalo will start the season minus defensemen Zach Bogosian and Lawrence Pilut, who are recovering from offseason surgery.

The Sabres also announced forward Scott Wilson and defenseman Casey Fitzgerald are listed day to day with lower body injuries.