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PHT All-Star Time Machine: Gordie Howe’s fight, Sandis Ozolinsh trade

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at a couple of truly bizarre and strange NHL All-Star Game moments.

The NHL All-Star Game has taken on many forms throughout its existence. There is the current 3-on-3 divisional format that we have now. There was the short-lived by sometimes absurd fantasy draft spectacle. We also had more traditional conference vs. conference setup, and the sometimes easily forgotten North America vs. The World format that was held between 1998 and 2002.

Most of those formats have come over the past 25 years as the league has tried anything and everything to spice up a game that really hasn’t had much intrigue on the ice.

In the early days, the game had plenty of spice on its own and a format that was completely different from even any of the modern ones.

[Related: Gretzky to Lemieux, the ‘called shot’, and the ’97 NHL All-Star Game]

The NHL first started playing an annual All-Star game during the 1947-48 season and instead of featuring two teams of the league’s best players going against one another, it featured one team of All-Stars (comprised of the league’s end of season first-and second-team All-Stars that were voted on from the year before) competing against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It was also played before the season, and not in the middle of it.

That format went mostly unchanged until the NHL expanded in 1967 with two exceptions — in 1951 and 1952 the NHL’s first and second team All-Stars from the previous year played against one another. When both of those games ended in a tie (which did not please fans), the league went back to the original All-Stars vs. Stanley Cup champions format.

Those games were interesting, and despite some early dominance from the All-Star side the Stanley Cup winners held their own against the league’s best by winning seven games of the 19 matchups, with three ties mixed in. They were also competitive and physical.

Fights sometimes happened

In today’s All-Star Game there is almost no physical contact, anything even resembling defense is basically frowned upon, penalties are almost unheard of and go years without happening, and the idea of two players actually dropping the gloves and fighting in one is completely preposterous.

But when we’re talking about 1940s and 1950s hockey we’re talking about an entirely different era of sports when players were just simply wired differently. Not better. Not worse. Just different. This game was taken seriously and was played more like an actual hockey game instead of an exhibition of skill and a celebration of the game’s best talent.

Players were sometimes out for blood. Literally.

In the second ever All-Star Game in 1948 (featuring the NHL All-Stars vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs) there was a doozy of a confrontation between Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe and rugged Maple Leafs defensemen Gus Mortson.

Howe’s style of play is well known and his name is synonymous with “old school hockey, but if you are unfamiliar with Mortson just consider that he was the second most penalized player in the NHL between 1946 and 1959 (the span of his career in the league) and was nicknamed “Old Hardrock.”

In the second period the two players squared off in wild fight that continued in the penalty box (there was only one penalty box at the time that both teams shared) until officials decided to have them serve their penalties on their respective benches just to separate them … in an All-Star game.

This was not the only actual fight in an All-Star Game.

A few years later in the 1953 game, a 3-1 win for the All-Stars over the Montreal Canadiens, Bert Olmstead and Red Kelly fought in a game that featured 11 penalties!

 

Eleven penalties!

The Sandis Ozolinsh game

Moving forward to a more recent generation, I think my favorite All-Star Game story might center around the 2003 game (the return of the conference vs. conference format following the North America vs. The World experiment) because of what happened with defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

It is truly one of the most bonkers All-Star stories you will ever get.

The situation: The Florida Panthers were hosting the 2003 game and despite a down year on the ice had two representatives in the game, including Ozolinsh who was voted into the game as an Eastern Conference starter (Olli Jokinen was their other player in the game).

At the time, Ozolinsh was one of the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen and a bonafide All-Star due to his play with the puck. He was tremendous and received more votes than every player in the Eastern Conference that season except for Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux.

Keep all of this mind, because it is worth repeating: A team going nowhere that season, hosting the All-Star Game, with one of the starters voted into the lineup for what might have been one of the few highlights of the year. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Then, just two days before the game, the Panthers traded Ozolinsh to the Anaheim Ducks for a return that included Matt Cullen (who is still playing in the NHL today), Pavel Trnka, and a draft pick.

This, obviously, created an unbelievable storyline around the game. Just look at the sub-head from the Palm-Beach Post during the All-Star weekend.

Of course something like this involved Mike Keenan, who was coaching the Panthers at the time.

Once the trade was completed there was still the matter of what should happen with Ozolinsh who was now no longer a member of the Florida Panthers or the Eastern Conference.

Ozolinsh considered sitting out the game entirely but opted to play, but only after skipping the skills competition the previous night.

Again, from the Palm-Beach Post

 

The other factor in skipping the skills competition is that he would have had to have worn a team jersey, and since he was still a member of the Eastern Conference team and voted in as a member of the Panthers he would have had to have worn a Panthers jersey. He did not want to wear a jersey of a team he was no longer a part of. That was not an issue during the game when teams simply wore uniforms with the NHL emblem and not their team.

When Ozolinsh was introduced before the game he received a thunderous applause from the crowd and ended up playing more minutes than any other player in the game.

More fallout:

Adding to the mayhem was the fact that Ozolinsh and his wife had just closed on a house in Florida … the morning of the trade.

It the end, it ended up working out well for Ozolinsh as he went to Anaheim and played a huge role on a Ducks team that made a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

As for the Panthers and Iron Mike? They won 24 games that year and Keenan was fired 15 games into the 2003-04 season, ending what was a mostly disastrous run with the team over parts of three seasons.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen
• The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame introduction ever
• When the Detroit Red Wings’ Russian Five was not celebrated
• Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Philadelphia Flyers blockbusters
Remembering the Nassau Coliseum Santa Brawl

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.

Russ Conway, writer who brought down hockey union boss, dies

NHL
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LAWRENCE, Mass. — Russ Conway, a hockey writer who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1992 for his stories about corruption in the NHL Players Association that helped bring down union head Alan Eagleson, has died. He was 70.

His death was reported by the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he had started at the age of 18 and later served as sports editor.

A longtime Boston Bruins beat writer, Conway published a series of articles that exposed Eagleson’s lucrative conflicts of interest as the union boss, player agent and organizer of international tournaments. Conway’s reporting spawned investigations in both the United States and Canada that resulted in Eagleson serving six months in prison and forfeiting his Order of Canada.

The Hockey Hall of Fame kicked Eagleson out and gave Conway its Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1999 for bringing honor to journalism and hockey.

Can Henrik Lundqvist bounce back for Rangers?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Let’s tackle three questions for the Rangers in 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in (and how many new guys will fit in)?

Don’t blame head coach David Quinn if he uses phrases like “learning process” a lot next season, as there are a ton of new faces in New York, including players who figure to be top scorers and minute-eaters.

It’s not just about getting the most from Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Really, it’s not even about integrating likely rookie impact-makers like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

The Rangers must also decide if prospects like Vitali Kravtsov will make the team out of training camp, and if they’ll stay long enough to eat up a year of their rookie contracts. Quinn must decide if players like Lias Andersson are ready to take another step forward.

From a forwards and defense level, this is a very different-looking team, something that was cemented by the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout. As far as chemistry experiments go, the Rangers are basically mad science.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. Is Henrik Lundqvist washed up?

If you had to choose one Ranger to forget all about last season, it would be Lundqvist.

The Rangers’ defense was abysmal in 2018-19, and Lundqvist buckled under the pressure of trying to carry that sorry bunch, suffering through a season where he had a very un-Hank-like .907 save percentage.

When you look a little deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that his 2018-19 season wasn’t that far from normal, or maybe a “new normal.” Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his even-strength save percentage has been nearly identical for the last three seasons, as it was .919 in both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and .918 in 2016-17.

Before that, prime Lundqvist was regularly beyond .930 at even-strength, and so frequently above .920 overall that you almost set your watch to his elite play.

Considering that he’s 37, maybe the window for his elite play has finally closed, but maybe Lundqvist can squeeze out one or two more great years? Let’s not forget that Lundqvist wasn’t exactly protected in Alain Vigneault’s latter years with the Rangers, as those teams were often horrendous from a possession standpoint.

If Quinn can create more of cocoon for Lundqvist (and Alexandar Georgiev), might the Rangers improve at keeping pucks out of their own net? Even with Panarin leading a big boost in offensive punch, you’d think they’d need a lot more than they got from their goalies last season, Swiss cheese defense and all.

3. Will the playoff picture be an open road or treacherous path?

The Rangers aren’t the only team in their division that should be tough to gauge once prediction time rolls around, making it difficult to tell if the Metro will compare to what was a mighty Atlantic Division last season.

The Devils are just about as wildly different as the Rangers, and the Flyers made bold moves in their own right.

It’s easiest to imagine the Rangers falling in the wild-card range, so a lot may hinge on how other teams perform, both in the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. If the Panthers and Sabres take big strides — as they’re paying to do — then the Atlantic teams could gobble up as many as five playoff spots, forcing the Rangers to break into the top three of the Metro. That might be asking too much, so the Rangers have to hope for a little bit of a buffer when it comes to the playoff bubble.

(You know, unless they end up being far better or far worse than expected.)

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.

Rangers put Quinn under pressure to show spending was worth it

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are Broadway’s NHL team, so consider the 2018-19 season a “dress rehearsal” for head coach David Quinn.

Expectations were low for a team that telegraphed a rebuild to the point of sending out a press release, but you can take the training wheels off after the Rangers invested huge money and resources into the likes of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko, and Adam Fox.

If this was a video game or fantasy hockey, you’d seamlessly improve with seemingly more skilled players without much fuss. Actually making it all work in reality isn’t always so simple, though, putting Quinn under pressure to make it all come together in 2019-20.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | X-factor]

Let’s consider some of the challenges ahead.

Manufacturing a Bread Line, and managing young guns

The first question falls under “good problems to have,” as Quinn should ponder how to get the most out of Panarin.

As PHT’s Scott Billeck discussed here, one likely combination would involve Panarin lining up with top center Mika Zibanejad, and rookie Kakko. There are plenty of other ways to experiment with Panarin, though, and a lot of those possibilities hinge on which younger forwards can earn significant reps, or even spots on the roster at all.

One could imagine Panarin setting the table for someone like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, or Vitali Kravtsov, much like Panarin undoubtedly helped Pierre Luc-Dubois become a quick study in the NHL during Panarin’s days with the Blue Jackets. It could end up working out best if Panarin and Zibanejad power one line apiece, or it may be better to concentrate that high-end, more experienced NHL scoring talent on a first line.

Along with Kravtsov and others fighting for roster spots, there are also players with something to prove, from Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich to someone coming off of a rough stretch like Vladislav Namestnikov.

It’s up to Quinn to mold this intriguing, but somewhat unshapen group into something cohesive. Unlike last season, the raw materials are there for something, even if this group isn’t necessarily primed to be explosive out of the gate.

Getting some stops

The good and bad news is that the Rangers’ defense basically had nowhere to go but up. It won’t be easy to generate the sort of gains that can help the Rangers contend, though.

Jacob Trouba’s getting his wish: he’s the man on that New York defense, no question about it; we’ll see if this is a “careful what you wish for” situation, because if this unit’s going to be any good, it will probably come down to Trouba being the minutes-eating top guy.

Adam Fox has been drawing hype for a while, but what can he be right off the bat? Considering the Rangers’ personnel, they might not be able to ease the 21-year-old into the NHL fray as much as would normally be ideal.

Even with considerable gains, the Rangers will probably continue to do what they’ve done for more than a decade: ask a whole lot from Henrik Lundqvist.

The 37-year-old is coming off of the worst year of his NHL career, as he languished with a .907 save percentage behind that lousy defense. Lundqvist can’t be asked to patch up the same mistakes as he did during his prime, but if the Rangers are going to take a big step forward, they need King Henrik to return somewhere close to form.

If not, that presents another hurdle for Quinn. Can he manage Lundqvist’s ego — and placate those around him — while getting results in net, particularly if it becomes clear that Alexandar Georgiev would be the superior option most nights? That’s a potential instance where problems become as much political as tactical, and answers rarely come easily.

***

Change can come quickly in the NHL, yet even by those standards, the Rangers have undergone a dramatic makeover. Quinn is charged with making sure that things don’t end up looking ugly.

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.

Grade the Hurricanes’ new road uniform

Carolina Hurricanes
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On Tuesday morning Carolina Hurricanes unveiled a new road uniform for the 2019-20 NHL season, ditching their primary storm logo on the front for some diagonal lettering that spells out “Canes.”

It is a rather simplistic design, but it is clean and pretty sharp.

Along with the wording across the front, they also brought back the warning flags along the waistline of the jersey.

Have a look.

Other features as part of the new uniform: The new secondary logo (the hockey stick with the warning flags attached to it) appears on both shoulders, while the helmet will feature a raised 3-D sticker of the primary logo which you can see here.

You can check out all of the features at the Hurricanes’ website.

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look? Does the diagonal lettering work for a team that is not the New York Rangers? What is your grade for the Hurricanes’ new road uniform?

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

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.