Posts Tagged ‘NHL’

The Trade That Shocked the Hockey World

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

1975 was a year of shocks in popular culture.  M*A*S*H killed off Henry Blake, the lovable, goofy, and semi-competent lieutenant colonel in charge of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077; Jaws injected fear into filmgoers thinking about going to the beach for summer recreation, lest they be shark attack victims like the ones portrayed on screen; and the Boston Bruins traded Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers.

Esposito going to New York was not, to be certain, a global event.  Or even a national one.  For Bostonians whose devotion to sports knows no boundaries of faith, though, it was an upset of the natural order of things.  Sure, Esposito started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he flourished in Boston—milestones include two Stanley Cup wins, a perennial NHL All-Star selection, and two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, which honors the player most valuable to his team.  Not since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season had betrayal pervaded the city, from Beacon Street to Boston Harbor.

“I’m crushed.  I thought I had found a home in Boston,” lamented Esposito, quoted by Tom Fitzgerald in the Boston Globe.

Esposito emerged as a New York City icon, much like his fellow Boston transplant.

Boston sent defenseman Carol Vadnais to the Rangers with Esposito, who played center.  In return, New York let go defenseman Brad Park, center Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanuss—a defenseman for the Providence Reds, the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Boston Globe sports columnist Leigh Montville ascribed the term “garbageman” to Esposito because he scored goals that were neither flashy nor dramatic, thereby igniting a touch of scorn.  But when Esposito journeyed down I-95 toward his new home, scorn gave way to unease.  “One difference already has surfaced here,” wrote Montville.  “The people—the same people who were cold toward Esposito and his records—now seem worried.  They see a big hole in the scoring totals.  They see a lot of goals that aren’t going to be scored.  They see a lot of things that might not be done.

“That is the way it is with a garbageman.  You never miss him until he’s not around.”

Esposito led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup—the marauders of Madison Square Garden lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

Still, decades later, the trade causes angst for Esposito.  Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons chronicled Esposito’s viewpoint in 2013:  “I didn’t choose to leave Chicago.  I didn’t choose to leave Boston.  I signed a contract in Boston for less money than I could have gotten from going to the WHA.  I could have made millions doing that.  And you know how they repaid me?  Three weeks later, they traded me (to the New York Rangers).”

Retiring after the 1980-81 season, Esposito transitioned to being an assistant coach for the Rangers—his post-retirement duties also included general manager, head coach, and analyst for televised games on MSG Network.

Esposito spearheaded the founding of the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with his brother, Tony, a fellow NHL standout; in 1992, the Lightning débuted in a 7-3 victory against the Blackhawks.  Phil Esposito and Tony Esposito are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted in 1984 and 1988, respectively.  Notably, the former’s biography page on the Hall of Fame web site depicts him in a Boston Bruins uniform.  And so it is in the memories, imagination, and Bruins lore for fans of a certain age.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2017.

The Great Holdout of 1966

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

In March of 1966, Bobby Hull set an NHL scoring record for a single season, Gemini 8 brought NASA one giant leap closer to a manned moon landing by completing the first docking with another space craft, and Julie Newmar set hearts of males from eight to eighty beating faster when she débuted as Catwoman in a skintight outfit on Batman.

For Dodger fans, however, there was not much to cheer about.  Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had a standoff against Walter O’Malley and Buzzie Bavasi—the Dodgers’ owner and general manager, respectively—just a few months after the Dodgers won the 1965 World Series in seven games against the Minnesota Twins; Drysdale had a 1-1 record in the series while Koufax went 2-1 and won the seventh game.

Drysdale and Koufax negotiated as a team, arguing that their combined 49 wins of the team’s 97 in 1965 warranted a boost in salaries; Koufax led the major leagues with 26 victories.

Prospects looked dire on the morning of March 30th.  Readers of the Los Angeles Times got a jolt when they read an article titled “Koufax, Drysdale reject $210,000 by Charles Maher and Frank Finch.  It quoted O’Malley:  “While I am sorry the incident is closed, I am pleased that it is ending on a note that is without any hard feelings.  They leave baseball with our very best wishes.”

Bavasi expressed a similar sentiment, though he noted a contrasting O’Malley viewpoint.  “Walter still thinks the boys are going to play.  But I don’t.  And I know these boys a little better than other people,” said Bavasi.

Later that day, the men with the power of the Pacific Ocean in their pitching arms resolved their contract dispute with the suits at Dodger Stadium.  Drysdale and Koufax signed for $120,000 and $105,000, respectively, for the 1966 season.  These figures were, according to Maher, “authoritative estimates” and quite a jump from each pitcher’s reported 1965 salary in the $75,000 range.

A summit of sorts took place at Nikola’s, a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, where Drysdale and Bavasi met.  “Don told me what he thought it would take to get both boys.  I came up with a figure.  Don talked to Sandy and they accepted,” explained Bavasi.

Drysdale and Koufax had the counsel of J. William Hayes, a prominent sports and entertainment attorney.  “There’s no telling what we would have done without him,” praised Drysdale.  “We’ve really got to thank him.  From a business standpoint, he didn’t need us at all.  This was just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the business negotiations he handles.”

In his 1966 autobiography Koufax, written with Ed Linn, the legendary left-hander concurred with Drysdale.  “And then something happened which, I think showed the value of having a third party involved in this kind of emotional dogfight,” wrote Koufax about the status of the negotiations on the day that the parties achieved resolution.  “Buzzie was quoted as having said that if only one of us signed—while the other presumably held out or quit—the player who signed would have to accept the original offer.

“Bill Hayes called early in the morning to warn Buzzie that if he made that kind of proposition to Don, he had very little chance of signing either of us.”

1966 was the last season for Koufax, who proved his worth by leading the major leagues in:

  • Wins (27)
  • ERA (1.73)
  • Games started (41)
  • Complete games (27)
  • Innings pitched (323)
  • Strikeouts (317)

Drysdale did not fare was well—his win-loss record was 13-16.  Three years later, the overpowering right-hander retired with a 209-166 career win-loss record.

It was a glorious season for the champions of Chavez Ravine—the Dodgers won the 1966 National League pennant.  Alas, they did not repeat as World Series victors; the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers in four straight games.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 30, 1966.