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Exposing one injustice at a time.
One and only one of the Original Six has not retired No. 1, and that team is the Bruins, who apparently are laboring under the misapprehension that Mr. Zero, Frank Brimsek, wore 0 on his uniform.
Because the snub makes no sense. Brimsek, a Hall of Famer, was the preeminent goaltender of his time — winning the Stanley Cup twice in 1939 and 1941, named to the first- or-second All-Star team in each of his first eight seasons of his career, and winner of the Calder and two Vezina Trophies while finishing in the top five of Hart voting three times.
It does not line up. The Bruins aren’t one of those franchises to ignore anything that happened in the NHL’s formative, pre-World War II days. They have retired No. 2 for Eddie Shore (1926-40), No. 3 for Lionel Hitchman (1925-34) and No. 5 for Dit Clapper (1927-47).
Brimsek, born in Eveleth, Minn., was the first American goaltender to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was among the inaugural class of players inducted into the U.S. HHOF. So what gives?
A trusty well-informed observer in Boston reports that upon returning to the B’s following his service for the Coast Guard in WW II, Brimsek had personal issues and repeatedly clashed with management before he was sent to Chicago for his final season in 1949-50, so he could be closer to home.
Art Ross, yes, Mr. Trophy himself, was GM for three decades into the mid-’50s and oversaw the number retirements of the three vintage Bruins. But not Brimsek. When the goaltender’s longtime teammate, the beloved Milt Schmidt, served as GM for the five seasons that included the 1970 and 1972 Cup championships, he did nothing to rectify the wrong.
It is time for current club president Cam Neely, steeped in the tradition of his franchise, to make matters right and put No. 1 up in the rafters in Boston.
We’re hearing that it is no sure thing at all that Alain Vigneault will return for his third season in Philadelphia next year. Hasn’t 2020-21 in Philly smelled a lot like 2017-18 in New York? And if not Vigneault, who in the organization is going to answer for the debacle that became Carter Hart?
Told too, but we can’t cross our heart and swear on it, that the Devils might be seeking a younger man than Lindy Ruff to shepherd the flock of youngsters flowing through the organization.
Meanwhile, Brimsek wasn’t just the first U.S. born goaltender inducted into the HHOF, he remains the only American netminder to be enshrined. Which brings us to the announced retirement at the end of the season of Ryan Miller, whose 390 victories rank first in NHL history among Yanks and has a great claim to the best of the group.
Miller had a remarkable career at Michigan State and is the last goaltender to win the Hobey Baker as the country’s best collegiate player. He was the backbone of those contending Sabres teams of the 2000s and earned tournament MVP honors for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver in which the USA brought home silver in the Sidney Crosby golden goal final defeat to Canada.
I was hoping to make a HHOF case for Mike Richter off his 1994 Cup win, 1996 World Cup win and 2002 Olympic Silver Medal. But just 301 career victories and not a single vote in any season for a major award, though he most certainly could have won the Conn Smythe that instead went to Brian Leetch and he most certainly could have been named MVP of the World Cup instead of, again, Leetch. So though the heart says yes, the head knows it’s no.
But Tom Barrasso, unpopular fellow though he was, won 369 games, was on three postseason first- or second- All-Star teams, won a Calder, won a Vezina, won a Jennings Trophy, placed sixth one year in Hart voting and won back-to-back Cups with the Penguins.
So a strong case can be made for Barrasso as a Hall of Famer. A case could be made for Jonathan Quick with two Cups, a Smythe, a pair of Jennings, 335 wins (and counting). But the selection committee that operates in secret behind closed doors, has a thing about goalies. That thing is, they don’t let them in.
Ranking the Americans: 1. Keri Russell. No, no, wait.
Ranking the Americans: 1. Brimsek; 2. Barrasso; 3. Richter; 4. Miller; 5. Quick; 6. John Vanbiesbrouck.
So when you’re talking about General Manager of the Year, the conversation starts with Billy Guerin of the Wild, am I right?
And though Winnipeg’s Kevin Cheveldayoff has done meritorious work in repairing the defense that lost righties Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers within three months of 2019 with only Neal Pionk (and first-round selection Ville Heinola) to show for it, the conversation pretty much ends with Guerin, too.
So Connor McDavid just went through a stretch in which he recorded 14 points in 14 periods and Auston Matthews is scoring goals at a per-game clip (.783) that hasn’t been reached since 2007-08 when Alex Ovechkin was at a .793 clip, and what a time to be alive.
McDavid and Matthews, this generation’s Gretzky and Lemieux. Except at warp speed.
Remember when the common wisdom regarding the top two prospects entering the 2016 draft was that Matthews was probably the better all-around player at center but that Patrik Laine was definitely the better goal-scorer?
Finally, the ongoing omission of Stan Fischler from the writers’ wing of the HHOF is as much a stain on the PHWA voting body as the indefensible snub of Pat Burns until after the coach’s death was on the members of the Hall’s selection committee.
OK. Exposing two injustices at a time.
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