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Tom Webster, former hockey player and coach, dies at 71

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Tom Webster, the former NHL and WHA forward who went on to coach the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, died Friday. He was 71.

The Carolina Hurricanes announced Webster’s death. Webster scored 53 goals and helped the franchise – then the New England Whalers – win the World Hockey Association’s first title in 1972-73. He also was an assistant coach in Carolina, and son-in-law L.J. Scarpace was the team’s video coach.

”Tommy was down here a lot, over the past couple of years, just visiting,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”He talked to our group a lot, just telling old stories. He was a great man, that’s the best way to describe him.”

From Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Webster had 33 goals and 42 assists in 102 career NHL games with Boston, Detroit and California. He had 30 goals and 37 assists in 78 games for Detroit in 1970-71, then played only 12 games for the Red Wings and Golden Seals the following season.

Webster then jumped to the WHA, where he had 220 goals and 205 assists in 352 WHA games in six seasons with the Whalers. He was inducted into the World Hockey Association’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

Webster was hired in 1986 to coach the Rangers, but developed an inner-ear infection that left him unable to fly. He resigned in April 1987.

He took over the Kings in 1989, and led them to their first division title – topping the Smythe in 1991. He was 115-94-31 in three seasons with the team.

”It is very sad news for our organization,” Kings President Luc Robitaille said. ”Coach Webster was a great man and my head coach for three seasons. He was also a tremendous part of a lot of the success our team enjoyed when Wayne Gretzky was playing in Los Angeles in particular.”

Webster also was known for his temper. In November 1991, he was suspended 12 games and fined $10,000 for throwing his stick and hitting referee Kerry Fraser in the foot, drawing the largest suspension ever for an NHL coach.

Webster coached three minor league or junior teams titles, co-coaching Adirondack in the American Hockey league in 1980-81, then directing Tulsa to the Central Hockey League crown in 1983-84 and Windsor to the junior Ontario Hockey League championship in 1987-88 He also was an assistant coach with Philadelphia and worked an amateur scout for Calgary.

”Webby was one of the best hockey men that our game has ever seen and I am honored to have known him,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. ”More importantly, Webby was even a better man.”

With Brady leaving Patriots, remember these hockey legends in places you forgot

Hockey legends like Brady leaving Patriots Orr Howe Hull Brodeur
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As mind-blowing as it is to type this, it’s true: Tom Brady said goodbye to the Patriots on Tuesday. It’s something that’s difficult to process, even if you’re not a Patriots or even a football fan. Yet, as Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra chronicles for baseball, legends donning strange uniforms late in their careers is no new phenomenon, and certainly not limited to the land of pigskins. So what about hockey and the NHL, then?

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.

Orr down hockey Brady comparison
(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

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.

In something of a sequel, the Bruins traded Ray Bourque during his 21st season with the team, setting the stage for Bourque to eventually win a Stanley cup inspiring enough to essentially demand a parade in Boston.

Brodeur Blues Brady leaving Patriots hockey comparison
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Brodeur finishes with the Blues

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.

(Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

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.

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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.

Lightning round, sometimes involving Lightning

  • 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?

(Hopefully we won’t ever get that “Halloween Olajuwon as a Raptor vs. Patrick Ewing with the Magic” feeling from Brady’s final act.)

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.

Meet the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class

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The 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class is unique in the contributions the six inductees gave to the game. 

There’s the leader and two-way dynamo; the defector who left a successful career at home to come to North America and pursue his hockey dream; the dominant force in the women’s game who led Canada to great international success; the consistent offensive threat from the blue line wherever he played; the GM who after a long playing career established himself as a successful team builder, helping to lead two different franchises to Stanley Cups; and finally, the college coach who has over 1,000 wins on his resume and five national championships.

Let’s take a look at the 2019 class that will be inducted Monday night in Toronto.

CarbonneauGuy! Guy! Guy! It was worth the wait for the three-time Selke Trophy winner. After nearly two decades of eligibility, the skilled defensive forward got the call.

After scoring the lights out in junior with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Carbonneau reinvented himself into a steady two-way presence with the Canadiens. Following in the footsteps of another Selke winner, Bob Gainey, Carbonneau helped Montreal to two Stanley Cups while recording scoring at least 15 goals in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. He would play one year in St. Louis before ending his career with five seasons in Dallas. It was with the Stars that he would win another Cup

Nedomansky – The first player to defect from Eastern Europe to play professionally in North America, “Big Ned” arrived in Toronto at age 30 to play for the WHA’s Toronto Toros. By the time he arrived here, Nedomansky had won nine medals representing Czechoslovakia and helped his country to silver and bronze medals at the Olympics.

Nedomansky made an immediate impression in his first two seasons in the WHA. He would score 97 goals and record 179 points with the Toros. He would play two more seasons in the league after the franchise moved to Birmingham, Ala. before being traded to the NHL — yes, an inter-league trade. (Included in the deal to Detroit was Dave Hanson a.k.a. “Jack Hanson” of Slap Shot fame.

The goals kept coming for Nedomansky in Detroit, where he would play five seasons. He would finish his career splitting the 1982-83 season with the Rangers and Blues. He spent the last two seasons working as a pro scout for the Golden Knights.

Wickenheiser – The legend owns four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, plus seven more golds from the World Championships. She was the Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006 and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally. 

While playing professionally in Finland, she became the first women to record a point in a men’s league. Wickenheiser also participated in two rookie camps with the Philadelphia Flyers and acted as a guest coach in camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. She is currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Maple Leafs, but is also attending medical school at the University of Calgary. Hall of Fame chairman Lanny MacDonald was unable to reach her after her selection was announced in June because she was in a class and unable to use her phone. Eventually, she saw the missed calls from Toronto and learned of the good news.

Zubov – An offensive stalwart, his 771 points puts him in the top 20 all-time among defensemen, as does his 0.72 points per game average. He finished his NHL career with the 12th-most playoff points for defensemen with 112. Only Sergei Gonchar has more goals and points than Zubov among Russian blue liners. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time All-Star, and gold medalist at the Olympics and World Junior Championship.

His best offensive season was his most memorable one as a player. Zubov led the 1993-94 Rangers in points with 89 (12 goals) and helped lead the team to the Presidents’ Trophy. Quarterbacking the NHL’s top power play (23%), the blue liner was fourth in the entire league with 49 points with the man advantage. That team would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season, with Zubov, Alexander Karpotsev, Alex Kovalev, and Sergei Nemchinov becoming the first Russian-born and trained players to get their names engraved on the trophy.

BUILDERS

Rutherford – After Peter Karmanos secured the purchase of the Hartford Whalers in 1994, Rutherford, then a part-owner, was put in charge as general manager. Having worked together in the past running junior teams, the tandem would remain in charge of the franchise long after its move to North Carolina when they became the Hurricanes in 1997. 

Five years after the move the Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Four years after that they were finally champions. In 2014 Rutherford stepped down from his GM role and later as team president after Carolina missed the playoffs seven out of eight seasons. He wasn’t out of work long as he would quickly join up with the Penguins. Over the next two seasons he would build a roster that would win back-to-back Cups, the first time an NHL team had achieve that feat since the 1997-98 Red Wings.

York – With nearly 1,110 wins under his belt, York is the winningest active coach in NCAA hockey history. He’s won five NCAA titles with Boston College and Bowling Green and reached the Frozen Four 12 times. York’s teams have also won nine Hockey East titles and nine Beanpots. A four-time Hockey East coach of the year winner, he was also named 1977 Spencer Penrose D-I coach of the year, and was named recipient of the 2010 Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to the game in the U.S.

Also honored this weekend at the Hall of Fame were longtime NHL PR man and former beat writer Frank Brown, who is the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, given “in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and to hockey,” and Sportsnet broadcaster Jim Hughson, who is this year’s winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, for “outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of ice hockey during their broadcasting career.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: History of top-two picks facing off for first time

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are always going to be compared. Not only because they were the top two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, but because they are now going to be the centerpieces on each side of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

They will meet head-to-head for the first time on Thursday night when Hughes and the Devils host Kakko and the Rangers at Prudential Center in Newark.

With that in mind let’s take a little trip in the time machine and recall some of the more notable first-ever meetings between top-two picks in the same draft class.

2016-17: Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets) vs. Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Date: October 19, 2016
Result: 
The No. 2 overall pick (Laine) ended up stealing the show in this game as the Jets overcame a 4-0 deficit to beat Matthews and the Maple Leafs in overtime thanks almost entirely to the play of Laine. He was outstanding on the night, scoring three goals — including the overtime winner — and giving Jets fans one of their first glimpses of his ability to take over a game and dominate it. Both teams have become contenders in the years since, but only Laine and the Jets have gone on any kind of a playoff run to get close to a championship to this point.

2015-16: Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) vs. Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres)

Date: March 1, 2016.
Result: The Sabres spent the entire 2014-15 season losing hockey games — to the delight of their fans and front office — in a quest to finish with the league’s worst record to put them in a position to secure one of the top two picks in the draft where McDavid and Eichel would be waiting. The ultimate prize was McDavid, and the one that the entire season-long tankfest was inspired by. But instead of going to Buffalo, the league’s worst team over the previous two years, the Oilers snuck in to win their fourth draft lottery in six years to steal McDavid away from Buffalo. Eichel turned out to be a fine consolation prize, but in their first head-to-head meeting McDavid single-handedly drove the Oilers to a win by scoring both goals in a 2-1 overtime win. Neither team has found much sustained success in the years since, but both are off to great starts this season. 

2009-10: John Tavares (New York Islanders) vs. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning

Date: Dec. 5, 2009
Result: This was an intriguing one because you could start a debate on what type of player you would rather build your team around — a star No. 1 center or a No. 1 defender. The Islanders ended up going with the center (Tavares) leaving the Lightning with the defender (Hedman) at No. 2. In their first meeting it was Hedman that got the better of it, playing 22 minutes and recording an assist in a 4-0 Lightning win. Tavares was a great player for the Islanders, but the team managed just one postseason series win before he left in free agency to return home to Toronto. Hedman is one of the best defenders in the league and remains a focal point of a Stanley Cup contender for a Lightning team that has been one of the league’s best over the past five years.

2006-07: Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) vs. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Date: Dec. 11, 2006
Result: The top two picks in the 2004 NHL draft had to wait two years to face off due to an NHL lockout and Malkin not immediately making the jump to the NHL. When they finally met it was a hectic game with Malkin and the Penguins overcoming a 4-0 deficit to beat the Capitals, 5-4. Malkin scored the game-winning goal and added an assist, while Ovechkin had two helpers. The Penguins-Capitals rivalry always focussed on Crosby and Ovechkin, but the Malkin-Ovechkin dynamic was almost even more interesting because they were the top two picks in the same draft (with both teams rebuilding the year before trying to position themselves for Ovechkin), were from the same country, and for a while seemed to have a genuine dislike for one another.

[MORE: Hughes, Kakko unfazed ahead of first Devils-Rangers game]

1997-98: Joe Thornton (Boston Bruins) vs. Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks)

Date: October 11, 1997
Result: 
The intrigue here wasn’t necessarily what happened in this game (Marleau had one assist in a run-of-the-mill Sharks win), but what happened years later when Thornton and Marleau ended up becoming teammates in San Jose. The Bruins traded Thornton to the Sharks in the middle of the 2005-06 season, uniting him with Marleau where the two of them would be the focal point of the franchise more than a decade (they were reunited again earlier this season when Marleau returned to San Jose as a free agent).

1993-94: Alexandre Daigle (Ottawa Senators) vs. Chris Pronger (Hartford Whalers)

Date: Nov. 10, 1993
Result: The Senators were so bad at the end of their inaugural season 1992-93 season that they were accused of intentionally losing games in order to secure the top pick in an effort to select Daigle, ultimately helping to lead to the creation of the draft lottery. The Senators ended up picking Daigle No. 1 overall and hindsight would not be kind to this pick. Not only because Daigle was a bust, but because the player selected immediately after him (Pronger) went on to become one of the all-time greats on defense and one of the most impactful players in league history. In their first matchup Daigle actually got the better of it, scoring a goal (already his seventh in his first 13 games!) in a 4-3 win over Pronger and the Whalers.

1984-85: Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux) vs. New Jersey Devils (Kirk Muller)

Date: Oct. 24, 1984
Result: The Penguins and Devils were two historically bad teams during the 1983-84 season and there was a huge prize waiting for the worst of the two in the 1984 draft — Mario Lemieux. The Penguins succeeded in being just a little bit worse and selected Lemieux. It was a franchise-altering moment that ended up saving the team for the first time. Muller and the Devils ended up winning the first game and it was one of the few times during Lemieux’s rookie season that he was held off the scoresheet.

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Thursday with analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones. Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Whalers Night brings back fond memories, beautiful threads

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It’s been over 20 years since the Hartford Whalers took the ice for a hockey game in the National Hockey League. On Sunday, their spirit was resurrected one more time on Whalers Night at PNC Arena in Raleigh.

The Carolina Hurricanes — who moved from Hartford for the 1997-98 season — paid homage to their former selves by donning their old threads and green helmets as they faced off against former Northeast Division foes in the Boston Bruins.

And my, oh my, did those sweaters look great on the ice once again.

“The motivation was primarily around [the fact that] it’s interesting, it looks great and it’s a way do something different,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon told NHL.com. “It’s a long season and we’re in the entertainment business and this is going to make this night different and enjoyable and connect with fans whether it’s in Hartford or anywhere else. So, I hope they enjoy it.”

Of course, no Whalers game would be complete without that iconic goal song, the Brass Bonanza.

Teuvo Teravainen did the honors, scoring at 12:55 of the first period to get fans into the groove.

And then it happened three more times in succession as the Whalers… err… Hurricanes battled back from being down 2-0 to lead 4-2.

The Hurricanes went on to win 5-3. Teravainen added another goal for a two-goal night, and Sebastian Aho had two of his own in the win.

Petr Mrazek, who had a beautiful special mask made to mark the occasion, made 27 saves.

Other highlights included the return of Pucky the Whale, Hartford’s old mascot (who was never a physical mascot during their time in Conneticutt.

There, of course, was a ceremonial puck drop to be had, too.

Whalers legend Mike Rogers was on hand to do the honors.

The Whalers have quite the history and a who’s who of some of the greatest ever to play the game in their lineage — from their days in the World Hockey Association to their integration into the NHL.

Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Dave Keon are among the legends to wear Whalers green.

The Whalers uniforms will be back on the backs of the Hurricanes in March when they face Boston at TD Garden.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck