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Bluelines: Tanking is a Naughty Word in Hockey

Stan Fischler looks at NHL teams and tanking, a special Boston Bruins roster that deserves love, playing hockey in Calgary, Red Kelly, Phil Kessel's future, the McDavid and Makar from over a century ago and so much more.


A precious few of the seers who cover the NHL have a fixation with one naughty hockey word. 


In fact, Ben Pope, writing the other day in the Chicago Sun-Times, called The Windy City's favorite team, "The Tanking Hawks."

Should a team bottom out, and remain in the NHL's subterranean depths, the verbal vultures will then accuse that team of "tanking."

In other words, lose for the sake of eventual winning.

That is, if you lose enough -- and often enough -- you wind up in position to get a high Entry Draft pick and, hopefully, return to Victory Boulevard.

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

During the 1983-84 season all eyes were on an oversized center playing for Laval in the Quebec Junior League. He was regarded as a sure-thing in the manner of a Bobby Orr and Jean Beliveau of bygone years.

Both the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins were the teams most likely to nab Lemieux. There were media types who criticized New Jersey coach Tom McVie for coaxing his players to play to their potential. "I want my team to win," insisted Devils owner Dr. John McMullen.

McVie: "We're here to win hockey games," McVie argued. "It's the honorable thing to do."

And so they did with critical homestretch wins over Pittsburgh and Boston. When the chips were down on the Pittsburgh side, the Penguins -- shall we say -- made some questionable lineup decisions that virtually ensured that they finished three points behind New Jersey. Lemieux would not be a Devil but honor was on the side of McMullen and McVie. And, by the way, still is.



Following the twin exits of Johnny Goudreau and Matthew Tkachuk from Calgary some observers suggested that they were leaving hockey's answer to Devils Island. The fairest city in Alberta took a double gratuitous kick in the pants, image-wise and otherwise.

Critics noted that Johnny and Matty weren't the first to say "I'm outa here." As a matter of fact when Rangers Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox was drafted by the Flames in 2016 he didn't give Stampede Town a tumble. Fox was out of there before he was even in there.

The facts on the ice show that Foxy wanted a big-time bite of the Big Apple and he's been nourished on it ever since.

This is not good news for Brad Treliving's stomach nor his head. After Tums and an aspirin, the next best thing for the Flames GM was a soap box. So he climbed on one to tell the world that Calgary is nothing short of paradise and will get on very well without the deserters.

Apparently, the city's newest immigrants, Jon Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, took the bait and are even thinking about signing a long-term contract with the Flames. For Calgary's sake, they'd better do it before the season's first blizzard.

Then again, my Florida ace, Alan (I Prefer One L) Greenberg flashes a warning signal. "There's no guarantee Huby or Wee will stay in Calgary after this year, or if the Flames will have Cap space to re-sign them."



Veteran Toronto-based columnist Damien Cox wonders out loud about the now exited Flames and particularly the Adam Fox rejection of Calgary six years ago.

"With Fox," wrote Cox, "the team exhausted all avenues in trying to get him signed and eventually dealt him to Carolina."

But the more stunning of Damien's points goes like this: "The Flames have an image problem when it comes to American-born talent."

At the very least, it makes one wonder!



Unlike Adam Fox, who rebuffed both the Flames and Hurricanes because he was determined to play in Manhattan, there was a time when the Rangers were to be avoided.

The classic case took place on February 5, 1960 when Red Wings manager Jack Adams dealt defenseman Red Kelly and forward Billy McNeill to the Blueshirts for defenseman Bill Gadsby and forward Eddie Shack.

At the time, New York was not a coveted landing place for NHLers. The team was mismanaged and lodged at the bottom of the NHL.

Kelly announced his retirement rather than play in The Big Apple. Two days later the deal officially was cancelled.

This was a massive blow to the Rangers image and had a demoralizing effect on New York hockey fans. Even worse, Maple Leafs GM Punch Imlach contacted Kelly and persuaded him to cancel his "retirement." On February 10th, the Red Wings traded Kelly to Toronto in exchange for young, promising defenseman Marc Reaume.

Protests from Rangers GM Muzz Patrick were dismissed by NHL President Clarence Campbell and Kelly became a Leaf. Imlach immediately converted him to center and Red wound up helping Toronto win four Stanley Cups. Reaume failed as a Red Wing.

Gadsby eventually was traded to Detroit and, like Kelly, wound up in the Hall of Fame.

One big difference: Kelly played on Stanley Cup-winners in both Detroit and Toronto. After 20 valorous years in the NHL, Gadsby retired, never a Cup-winner.



When Alan Eagleson founded the NHL Players' Association, he also doubled as an agent for top stickhandlers, most notably Bobby Orr. Eventually others became big-time reps including, by the way, Mr. Orr, himself.

Hockey players are so well-paid these days that major all-entertainment agencies have moved in on the stickhandlers. One of them, The Wasserman Media Group, has offices world-wide. And if you're wondering about their NHL clients, start with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.



* Angst over Johnny Gaudreau bypassing Newark has dissipated in North Jersey. Devils fans who I know are pleased with GM Tom Fitzgerald's moves so far.

* Even Gorgeous George Falkowski has simmered down. "Call me crazy," says George, knowing I'd never do that, "but I consider not getting Johnny Hockey a blessing. He might have been nice for a couple of years but, long-term, forget it!" (So,I have forgotten it.)

* Mike Marson turned 67 the other day. He was the second African-Canadian in the NHL after Willie O'Ree. He arrived in the NHL via the Capitals training camp in 1974. Over six pro seasons he spent most of the time in the minors.

* Nice to see Craig Wolanin's kid, Christian, getting another NHL shot. I watched Craig on D for the Devils; solid as a rock and a good guy, to boot.

* Craig -- as a Devils D-man -- scored the longest "clean" goal I ever saw. He released a laser-slapper from center ice and cleanly beat an unscreened Bob Mason in the Chicago goal.

* I'm sure hockey fans in Denver will be just delighted to hear Zach Hyman's very learned comment on spectating: There are no fans better than Canadian fans.

* No matter where Phil Kessel plays, he remains one of my favorites; partly because he looks less like a hockey player than any other NHLer.

* But Phiery Phil is at a crossroads. His active iron man streak is at a healthy 982 consecutive games played. He's now 35 and a player without a team.

* I'm creating a "Help Wanted" classified ad for Kess. Two-time Stanley Cup champ; only seven games away from Keith Yandle's record. And has a sense of humor. (Except with Toronto media.)



The answer is simple if you happen to be super-historian Eric Zweig of Owen Sound, Ontario.

In 1907 the Kenora Thistles won The Stanley Cup. And in 2022 Zweig wrote a book, "Engraved In History: The Story Of The Stanley Cup Champion Kenora Thistles."

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

"Their star center was Billy McGimsie; at 27, ,the oldest member of the team." Eric reports. "He was known for his speed -- as all the Thistles were -- and his zig-zag rushes. He was a big scorer and even though assists weren't tabulated it's obvious he set up a lot of goals.

"But the team's biggest star and top scorer was Tommy Phillips who played pretty much every position but goaltender. During his time the debate was over who was the best player in Canada, Phillips or Frank McGee of the Ottawa Silver Seven."

And who was the early-day Cal Makar when Kenora won The Cup?

"It was Art Ross," says Zweig who wrote an entire book about Ross. "That's the same Art Ross of Boston Bruins and NHL trophy fame. Art was borrowed by the Thistles from his team in Brandon, Manitoba for the 1907 Stanley Cup series."



When choosing the "Greatest Teams," analysts generally point to dynasties such as the Islanders and Canadiens. And that's reasonable enough. But historian-author Pam Coburn of Ottawa says nix to that.

In her book, "Hitch, Hockey's Unsung Hero," Coburn picks the 1929-30 edition of the Boston Bruins. And what makes her claim so fascinating is the fact that the B's didn't even win The Stanley Cup that season; it was the Montreal Canadiens. (Boston had won Stanley the previous campaign.)

But Coburn makes a valid point when one considers what The Crew From Causeway Street accomplished. Consider this:

Over a 44-game season, the B's finished with 38 wins, five losses and one tie for 77 points. Playing in the NHL's American Division, Boston finished 30 points ahead of second place Chicago. And 26 points ahead of the Canadian Division leader, the Montreal Maroons.

How about an .875 winning percentage; an all-time record.

Coburn makes two key points and with an abundance of evidence.

That Bruins team exceeded at: 1. Points percentage: 2. Total Points, 77 out of 88; 3. Successive home wins, 20; 4. Lowest number of games lost in one season,

Likewise, her history proves that her grandfather, Lionel Hitchman, not only was one of the all-time competent defensemen but belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Whether you're a Bruins fan or not, you'll find this one heck of a good hockey book.


WHO SAID IT? "I've had a bagful of letters. I've heard from agents, brothers-in-law, uncles, and fans. Everyone has the answer."




Editor's Note: Starting with this issue, I'll periodically zero in on ice personalities whose love for the game is apparent -- but not generally known. This opening character, Dr. Esther Silver, is an Edmonton native who spent years in Calgary, is pals with Hall of Famer Vladislav Tretiak and now lives in Israel where she practices medicine and coaches hockey.

Growing up in Western Canada, Esther started out as a goalie, attended the Tretiak goalie camp and later became a practicing physician.

Her most recent gambit was managing Team Israel's Women's sextet in the recently-completed Maccabi (Jewish Olympics) Games in Jerusalem.

Dr. Silver -- her specialty is attention deficit disorder -- is a pioneer in the female hockey world with significant accomplishments.

Until now they've been achieved with remarkable secrecy.

"I created a Canadian women's national team more than 15 years ago," she explains. "It was a group of Toronto women for an international tourney and we got the national team jerseys."

Since then, Esther moved to Israel where last winter she managed Israel's first Israeli national women's team. She orchestrated their trip to Serbia when the gals skated in their first international tournament against national teams from Belgium, Bosnia and Serbia.

That same roster took the ice against Team USA and Team Canada in the recent Maccabi event and even though they went winless, Dr. Silver was far from dismayed.

Esther: "Being involved with this year's Maccabi was a very emotional and exciting experience for me.When I got the call to become manager I was thrilled. And one thing I learned is that we need women hockey coaches in Israel. Right now, I'm working on that."

Although she's 70, Esther acts half her age and that's at least partially due to her hockey passion which keeps her young at heart.


While still living in Canada she played in the B'nai B'rith Men's Hockey League and the Ontario Hydro Hockey League, among other circuits.

"The level of hockey was good," she says, "and I loved it. Once I developed an interest in the game, it became an addiction. Then, when my son got old enough I took him to play. Like me, he was a goalie."

Now a resident of Kfar Vradim in Northern Israel, Esther's home arena is the Canada Centre in the town of Metula. The rink became a "story" when then Philadelphia Flyers coach Roger Neilson began running summer hockey schools there.

"I've seen some really good skaters come out of Metula," Dr. Silver adds. "They're basically kids who started young and continued through the years.

"We're limited to ice time and practices so the rate of improvement is very slow. We need funding and we need to schedule more games and participate in more tournaments. It's all about training young girls in hockey skills."

If Esther's current plans jell, she'll shepherd her female Team Israel to Toronto in December to participate in a tourney or two. Participation in the recent Maccabi event has her adrenaline bubbling for more action.

"It was historic for us to be in the Maccabi games. And when we go to Canada, our Israeli women will acquire a sense of the hot hockey culture that we've not yet developed here in Israel."

Hockey always will be in Dr. Silver's blood. After all, her father played and encouraged her brothers to play. And when I asked her to name her NHL rooting interest, she answered on the short hop:

"Of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs!"


ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Montreal coach Pat Burns on a Canadiens losing streak.


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