Sean Leahy, NHL writer: There are so many iconic hockey moments that have been captured by the game’s best photographers. We’ve seen Stanley Cup winners, amazing celebrations, and emotional scenes. We’ve also have been gifted the shot of Gary Bettman getting choked out by Gene Simmons of KISS.
What makes a great hockey photo? Passion, timing, lightning, and sometimes the people in the picture. Or sometimes just the setting of the shot.
I first saw this photo walking through the Air Canada Centre press box years ago. The Stanley Cup caught my attention and then I noticed the rest of the shot, and it’s very, very good.
This is Maple Leafs coach/GM Punch Imlach after the team won the Cup in 1963 — their second of three straight championships. The photo is the perfect encapsulation of a season ending with a title: time to sit back, relax with a glass of champagne and, of course, not have to worry about practice tomorrow.
So, instead, consider a piece of hockey history that was transformative — literally, in some ways. On the fateful night of Nov. 1, 1959, Jacques Plante was bloodied after a puck struck his face. Despite the protestations of coach Toe Blake, Plante refused to return to action unless he could wear a mask he often used in practice.
Plante is remembered as much for that innovation as for anything he did on the ice as a Hall of Fame goalie. Really, though, how can you shake an image like this?
You don’t get much more “hockey” than that, unless you sprinkle in wild hair, robust beards, and missing teeth.
Speaking of robust beards …
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Without a doubt, Lanny McDonald lifting the Stanley Cup in 1989. Aesthetically, this photo is iconic; it shows a grizzled captain with an epic ginger beard, experiencing Lord Stanley ecstasy. But the circumstances behind this moment add even more depth to the story.
McDonald was born and raised a couple hours outside of Calgary and was drafted 4th overall by the Maple Leafs in 1973. He spent the rest of that decade blossoming into one of the league’s top goal scorers for Toronto. After two trades, he ended up back in Alberta playing for the Flames. In 1982-83 he scored 66 goals – still a team record, and more than anyone that season aside from Wayne Gretzky. He became a team captain.
But as his career progressed, team success was harder to come by. He had never reached the Stanley Cup Final until 1986, when at age 33, he and the Flames lost to the Montreal Canadiens, and their star rookie Patrick Roy. The Habs won the Cup at the Saddledome.
Three seasons later, McDonald had a reduced role on a 117-point, Presidents’ Trophy-winning juggernaut. He only scored 11 goals that year, but his 11th in late March gave him 500 for his career. He wasn’t done.
The Flames advanced to the final, and once again they were matched up against Roy and the Canadiens. McDonald had been a healthy scratch for Games 3, 4 and 5, but with a 3-2 series lead, Calgary coach Terry Crisp put him back in the lineup for Game 6 at the Montreal Forum. It paid off, as the 36-year-old McDonald scored his only goal of that postseason – a glove-side snipe, no less – to give the Flames a 2-1 lead that they would never relinquish.
They held on to win 4-2, and are still the only visiting team to clinch the Cup in Montreal.
When McDonald announced his retirement that summer, he also revealed he had made up his mind prior to the start of the 1988-89 season that it would be his last.
The perfect way to conclude a Hall of Fame career, and the perfect image to sum it all up.
Hockey fans have been treated to quite a few one-team legends, including Mario Lemieux saving the Penguins more than once.
Even so, there are plenty of legends who ended spent time in jerseys that just felt wrong. Let’s ponder the hockey answers to Brady leaving the Patriots, Johnny Unitas on the Chargers, Michael Jordan with the Wizards, and Babe Ruth on the Boston Braves.
Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque leave Boston with very different results
At least with Brady, Boston-area fans couldn’t reasonably ask for more. Meanwhile, Bobby Orr’s career concluded with questions of “What could have been?”
Knee injuries ravaged his later career, and after 10 seasons, Orr left the Bruins for the Blackhawks. Between two seasons, Orr could only appear in 26 games for Chicago.
If Orr on the Blackhawks isn’t the Brady comparison you think of for hockey, then it’s probably Brodeur appearing in seven games for the Blues after winning three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, and setting the all-time wins record over 1,259 games with the Devils.
(That contrast still makes me chuckle, to be honest.)
As awkward as Brodeur’s brief Blues stint was, it lacked the angst of how Orr’s career ended. That might make it closer to a 1:1 hockey comparison for Brady, although the QB could easily prove that his tank isn’t empty.
Much of this list shows examples of players trying to prove that they could still play, with most sputtering out after running on fumes.
Hull of a change, and Howe
Bobby Hull already experienced quite a journey going from the Blackhawks to the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets (scoring 303 goals in the WHA alone). Hull’s final hockey and NHL season was especially odd, though, starting with 18 NHL games for the Jets before being traded to the Hartford Whalers, playing nine games for The Whale. Gordie Howe ended up being a Whalers teammate of Hull, which is … yeah, pretty mind-blowing. Bobby Hull also attempted a comeback with the Rangers.
(Howe’s legendary career featured quite the second [and maybe third?] acts after his Red Wings days, including playing with his sons, and somehow managing 15 goals and 41 points with the Hartford Whalers at age 51.)
Bobby’s son Brett Hull experienced a journeyman career of his own. Brett convinced the Coyotes to unretire Bobby’s number 9, but that story ended with a whimper (five games) as Brett realized he couldn’t adjust to the post-lockout style of play in 2005-06.
Random Red Wings
If you’re playing trivia and “This player finished his career/briefly played for this team …” comes up, blurting out Detroit Red Wings isn’t the worst bet.
Mats Sundin stunned Maple Leafs fans by joining the Canucks. There was some Alfredsson-like logic of linking Sundin with fellow Swedes Henrik and Daniel Sedin, yet the experiment lasted just 41 games.
Brian Leetch playing for the Maple Leafs was a little strange, but Leetch in a Bruins sweater will never look right.
Guy Lafleur, Montreal Canadiens legend, as a Quebec Nordique? Yes, that happened. Jacques Plante bounced around quite about post-Habs, too, including eight games with the (gasp) Bruins.
Like Plante, Grant Fuhr pinballed around the NHL quite a bit after parting ways with the Oilers, but joining the Flames? Wow. Fuhr didn’t just play for the Calgary Flames, either, as he suited up twice for the Saint John Flames.
File Ed Belfour and Igor Larionov under “people you might not have known played for the Panthers.”
Olaf Kolzig was persistent in Washington as Godzilla could be in Tokyo, playing 711 of his 719 games for the Capitals. The eight other games came with the Lightning. (Vincent Lecavalier playing for the Kings was strange, but softened by his years with the Flyers.)
Feel free to mention other fish-out-of-water memories in the comments. Also, if you had to guess, which hockey legend will Brady mirror the most?
It’s felt like the Golden Knights haven’t had the greatest luck at times so far this season, and Marchessault fits into that argument, carrying what would be a career-high 5.3 shooting percentage into Wednesday’s game. It’s now at 7.7 percent after Tuesday.
While Marchessault crept into Tuesday a little cold, Carlson has been ghost pepper-hot for basically all of 2019-20. Carlson scored one goal and two assists during Washington’s win against San Jose, pushing the defenseman to a whopping 40 points in just 29 games. No other defenseman has reached 30 points yet (Dougie Hamilton is second with 28).
Carlson isn’t quite hanging with the absolute top scorers in the NHL any longer, but he’s still holding up pretty well, standing at sixth right now.
For more context on just how special Carlson’s start has been, check the factoids. To help his cause for a strong Tuesday, both of Carlson’s assists were primary assists, and his goal was the game-winner.
NHL PR has some impressive John Carlson stats. Carlson is the first defenseman to reach 40 points in 29 games or less since Al MacInnis did so in 1990-91. Also, only three other defensemen beyond Carlson and MacInnis managed to generate at least 40 points in 29 games or less: Bobby Orr (who absurdly did so six times), Denis Potvin (twice), and Paul Coffey once. Yeah, pretty solid, Carlson.
The Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Islanders on Tuesday, ending an eight-game winless streak. The Boston Bruins were the last team to beat the Habs, and after blanking the Hurricanes, the Bruins are now on an eight-game winning streak. The Flyers are on a smaller-but-still-impressive five-game winning streak, which is notable also because of how sore the Maple Leafs were about it.
It’s a pretty comfortable lead, too, at least considering how early we still are in the 2019-20 season. David Pastrnak and Connor McDavid are tied for second place with 17 points, making Carlson’s five goals and 15 assists that much more impressive.
This post aims to dig a little deeper on this red-hot start.
Before we delve into the esoteric, let’s take a moment to ruminate on just how special this start really is. A factoid like this helps it sink in a bit:
Fewest games by a defenseman to record 20th point of a season, NHL history:
Carlson’s five goals come on 23 shots on goal, which translates to a 21.7 shooting percentage. That would be too high of a shooting percentage for most non-Mario Lemieux forwards to maintain, let alone a defenseman. Carlson’s career shooting percentage is 6.1, although he’s been higher the past two seasons (7 percent in 2018-19, and 6.3 in 2017-18).
Even Carlson was laughing at some of his luck lately, including after an empty-netter, one of his two goals from Tuesday’s 5-3 Caps win against the Flames:
Still, one cannot ignore that Carlson’s shown plenty of scoring ability over the years. Carlson scored 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18 and 13 goals and 70 points in 2018-19, so he’s obviously been able to fill up the scoresheet as his role has become more and more prominent with Washington. He finished just short of being a Norris Trophy finalist in 2018-19, as he finished fourth in voting.
If healthy, Carlson seems like a strong candidate to win his first Norris if he plays the rest of the season at “only” a 70-ish point pace. That’s especially true since he’s improved as an all-around player with better possession stats since 2017-18.
So, yeah, Carlson will cool down … but there are elements of his game, and the system around him, that could help him be a dangerous defensive scorer for an extended period of time.
Not only might that result in goals, but also the sort of rebounds and chaos that can help generate assists. As J.J. Regan notes for NBC Sports Washington, the Capitals have been more focused on shot volume from defensemen under Todd Reirden, and it only makes sense that such a mentality would benefit a gifted scorer like Carlson.
“We’re switching more to shooting the puck whenever you have a chance or a lane,” Jonas Siegenthaler said. “A couple years ago, you were always looking for the next play or a green shot.”
Chalk it up to being fresher earlier in the season, the Capitals typically being comfortably placed atop the standings late in seasons, or some combination of such factors, but either way, Carlson’s career split stats indicate that he’s generally been a strong starter.
His best months tend to be in October, November, and December. If you believe that “recency bias” creeps into awards voting, than it’s something to think about for Carlson’s Norris push if he once again winds down a bit toward the end of the season.
Carlson’s 20 points stand as a considerable lead among NHL defensemen, as Nashville’s Ryan Ellis is a distant second with 12. For all we know, Carlson might break the Capitals’ single-season points record for a defenseman, which Larry Murphy set with 81 in 1986-87.
Even if Carlson slows down close to that 70-point range (or gets injured), it’s been really impressive to watch, to the point that sometimes you watch his numbers go up and start laughing to yourself just like Carlson after his empty-net goal.
Two weeks before Christmas 1969, Wayne Carleton was informed he was traded to the Boston Bruins. The 23-year-old winger, nicknamed “Swoop,” had spent the past four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, mostly shuttling back-and-forth between the minors. In Boston, he got an opportunity, playing 42 games the rest of that season, the second-most of his career.
Carleton ended up on the left wing of Harry Sinden’s “checking line” with Derek Sanderson and Ed Westfall. The trio were so good together that the Bruins head coach put them on the ice to start overtime in Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Lous Blues.
Sinden’s reasoning? He believed that most overtime’s ended early and with Blues head coach Scotty Bowman throwing out Red Berenson, Larry Keenan and Tim Ecclestone — a line that had combined for 17 goals and 32 points in 16 playoff games — it was the Bruins’ threesome’s job to keep them off the board.
“We were quite efficient,” Carleton told NBC Sports. “We had two good lines and then our line, the checking line, and we dominated that series. There was no question. That’s why we started the overtime, because we had dominated St. Louis in every shift of all four games. That’s why Harry [Sinden] picked us to go out in the overtime. Proved him right.”
Sinden’s thinking was that his checking line could withstand whatever the Blues would start with, then he could get his big guys — Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge — out there to ice the series and win the Cup.
Overtime didn’t last very long. 40 seconds, in fact. The Blues could not muster an attack as the Bruins kept pressing. Orr would dump the puck in deep from center ice and it was Carleton who out-skated Ecclestone and centered a pass out in front of Glenn Hall’s net, but Sanderson couldn’t get good wood on it. The puck would remain in the St. Louis zone as Boston attempted three more shots to no avail.
That third try, off the stick of Sanderson, rung around the right boards to a pinching Orr, who kept it in and dished it off to Sanderson, who was parked behind the net. As soon he fed Sanderson, Carleton circled around and headed toward the slot as a second passing option.
History has shown us repeatedly who Sanderson chose to receive his pass. But Carleton likes to joke that the legend of “The Goal” wouldn’t have been the same if he were the hero.
“I was right behind [Blues defenseman Noel Picard],” Carleton recalled. “People say ‘If the rebound had come out, you’d have probably scored it because everybody was turned the other way.’ I said, ‘If I’d have scored [the goal] wouldn’t have been famous.'”
After Orr scored and flew threw the air — thanks to some help from Picard — Carleton was the first one to grab him as the celebrations inside Boston Garden began.
“He landed and I was right there,” said Carleton “It was fun. Great memories. It was certainly a signature event and the right guy scored it.”
Derek Sanderson’s arms were raised in celebration, but he still needed to take a quick peek in the direction of the referee. The Bruins forward was ready to celebrate his first Cup victory but just wanted to be sure there was no penalty about to be called to negate the goal.
Referee Bruce Hood’s arm was raised, but he was pointing toward the Blues’ net, signaling a good goal.
In the build up to the Orr goal, it was Sanderson who had two chances to be the Game 4 hero, but his two shots in overtime failed to beat Hall.
“It pissed me off,” Sanderson joked. “I said [to Bobby] ‘Why didn’t you pass the puck to me?’ He said, ‘You got a couple shots. Don’t blame me, you hit the post, it came to me, you went into the corner and I passed it to you.'”
Sanderson’s pass capped off a memorable season for Orr, who won the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy (120 points), Norris Trophy, and Conn Smythe Trophy (nine goals, 20 points) that season. The Bruins defenseman was playing on a different level than the rest of the NHL. His teammates knew he couldn’t be stopped, which is why when one of Sanderson’s missed overtime shots went around the boards to Orr’s side, he knew Orr would be there to get the puck while he went and set up behind the Blues net.
“I was an out for somebody [in that position] and then Bobby went by Ecclestone,” Sanderson recalled. “He jumps past Ecclestone. Ecclestone’s waiting for the puck to come around the boards. Bobby doesn’t wait that long. That was the genius of it. He jumped past him. But if he misses it, or I missed the pass, there’s nobody but St. Louis Blues going the other way. But Bobby didn’t miss.”
Ecclestone’s decision was the first of two bad decisions by Blues players in that sequence. The second came from defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot, who left Orr to defend Sanderson as the Bruins blue liner was left all alone as he moved to the front of the net. With Picard stuck in his spot between the faceoff circles, that gave Orr plenty of room to complete the give-and-go play with Sanderson, something the pair did a lot while on the ice together.
“[Talbot] should have never have come to me behind the net. He reached his stick out and that made him absolutely dead in the water,” Sanderson says. “I know it was a mistake because I’ve made it. … When he came to me, his odds were he couldn’t stop Bobby, he was out of position and so he went and tried to stop me, which was fool-hardy. He should have taken me from the front of the net when I missed the shot. That’s where he missed his opportunity.
“That’s the difference between [other players] and Orr. Orr didn’t stand still. He was always anticipating.”
When you look at Ray Lussier’s famous photo Orr, obviously, stands out, and your eyes might focus in on Picard’s assist on Orr’s leap or even shift over to Hall, who was crumbling back into his net. But if you peer to the right side of the image, squint your eyes a tad, you’ll notice Ed Westfall covering the right point.
Westfall was a winger, but he actually started his NHL career as a defenseman, and found himself in that position later in his career while with the New York Islanders. Two-way play was one his strengths, so it was an instinctive decision when Westfall raced to cover for Orr after he pinched in as the puck rung around the boards to right side.
“We did that regularly,” recalled Westfall. “It was a normal reaction when Orr went offensive, which was a great deal, then I just automatically fell back to cover.”
With Orr’s defense partner, Don Awrey, covering the left point and Westfall on the right, the Bruins would have been well-prepared if Sanderson’s pass to Orr was intercepted and the Blues transitioned the other way.
But Westfall’s defensive needs weren’t needed in the moment and he had a clear view of the famous goal from his place on the ice. But even if the pass failed and sent the Blues the other way, Orr’s extraordinary skating ability would have allowed him to get back in time to help prevent a scoring chance.
“What’s the primary fundamental in hockey? It’s skating,” Westfall said. “He was one of the greatest skaters I ever saw. Not only for speed, but for power and ability to be able to think as quick as you’re moving. That’s the hard for a lot of us was if I could move that fast would my brain be able to keep up? Probably not.”
Don Awrey doesn’t have a presence in any of the two famous photographs of Orr’s Cup-winning goal. The 26-year-old stay-at-home defenseman was afraid of getting caught up ice, so he focused on his defensive responsibilities and let Orr work his magic all over the ice.
“I’m not in that picture. I’m back in my position that I should have been,” Awrey said “I was back there. Bobby was out of position, but thank goodness he was out of position.”
The self-described “most defensive defenseman there ever was” knew his role and played it well. So when Sinden started the overtime in hopes of keeping the Blues’ quiet offensively, Awrey was the perfect guy to have out there.
“You didn’t start me to score the winning goal,” he joked.
The pairing of Awrey and Orr was a perfect one. They complemented one another, and Awrey quickly got used to seeing Orr out of position all over the ice.
“I knew he had [No. 4] on his back because that’s all I saw,” said Awrey, who’s worked as an off-ice official tracking shots for last 20 years with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. “He was up the ice all the time. All I did was see No. 4 go whizzing by me. Sometimes he’d pass me between me and the boards on my side of the ice.”
To Awrey, Orr was the best hockey player he ever played with, and Awrey was a member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team and the 1975-76 Cup winning Montreal Canadiens. As the rest of the NHL discovered Orr’s skating ability, hockey sense and knowledge of the game was second to none.
Forty-nine years after that series, Awrey’s memories isn’t what it used to be, but it’s impossible to forget “The Goal.”
“I would have liked to have scored the winning goal, then I would have had all those accolades that Bobby got,” Awrey joked. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”