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Hockey

Tuesday 9/19/23

In the 1980s--which is regarded as the worst decade for hockey net minders--Grant Fuhr was the consensus best goalie in the world. At the time, there was no doubt. He was talked about as such in a matter of fact way. Fuhr had a high goals against average most years, but there was always the caveat that he played for the Edmonton Oilers with there run-and-gun style that didn't bother with defense, leaving Fuhr to fend for himself.


I'm not sure about this. Charlie Huddy was responsible defensively on the backline, and the Hall of Fame wants me to believe that Kevin Lowe is a legitimate member because of his ability as a defensive defenseman. (Brad McCrimmon was a much stouter defender than Lowe and will never get in the Hall because Lowe had the connections and lived longer to have those connections pay off in terms of this particular honorific.) No one really challenged Fuhr as the best goalie in the world during that period. I think that's lost on people now, but it was quite clear at the time. I think he was the best over the course of the decade, but a lot of that had to do with his clutch play. When you needed a stop, Fuhr was as good as anyone at making that stop happen. He played the most exciting style of goaltending I've ever seen and was very artistically pleasing to watch. He poeticized the glove save.


I saw a comparison the other day between Pete Peeters and Linus Ullmark and I thought it was apt. They'll likely look very similar when Ulmark is done. Both were poor playoff performers, and both had that one big, Vezina-winning year and played on good defensive teams. Peeters played more during his Vezina season and you could say that he was burnt out by the playoffs, but I just don't believe he was cut out to be a strong playoff goalie. The Islanders picked him apart during that 1983 postseason, but so too did the Buffalo Sabres the round before.


While in Philadelphia--the first time, at the start of his career--there was a writer who called Peeters "Light Bulb Peeters," a reference to the red light going off behind him when a goal was scored. Stan Fischler wrote a book saying that Peeters and some of his Flyers teammates pinned this writer down on a table and sodomized him with a lightbulb. I have no idea if this is true. Peeters had a career coaching after his playing days were over, so it's not like the incident--the violent crime of sexual assault and rape--followed him around. Nothing happened legally. Can you sodomize someone with a light bulb--against their will--without it breaking? But Fischler put it in his book.


One could argue that Bobby Orr should have more than three Hart trophy wins as MVP. Among the Big Four, Wayne Gretzky has nine Harts, Gordie Howe six, with Orr and Mario Lemieux each having three. Should the latter two have as many Harts as Bobby Clarke? The Flyers center had the highest of reputations in the first half of the 1970s, one of those players that everyone elevated and venerated. Sometimes this has to do with a style being in vogue at the time and it can make for someone being overrated historically. I am certain that Mike Trout will be remembered as a "blah" Hall of Famer someday, and Clarke's accolades don't seem like they could have piled up as they did during any other era.


In the 1974-75 season, Bobby Orr, a defenseman of course, won the Art Ross as the league's leading scorer with 135 points and had 46 goals. He actually finished third in Hart voting! Kings goalie Rogie Vachon finished second. Vachon was an excellent goalie--and a future Hall of Famer--but someone who didn't get the notice he should have gotten during his playing career, in part because he spent so much of it with the Kings. Postseason awards voters thought well of him, but he wasn't a big name with the public. Think of him like a rich man's Mike Liut (though I believe Liut also belongs in the Hall of Fame).


Bobby Clarke, a center, had 116 points that year, tying with Orr for the league lead in assists. But here's the key Clarke stat for that season: in 80 games, he was on the ice for 16 even strength goals against. I'm not even sure what to say about that. Basically, the opposition didn't score when Clarke came over the boards. Other players had a hand in that--after all, Bernie Parent--and a prime Parent at that--was the Flyers' goalie. But still, that is a doozy of a statistic.


Game 2 of the 1987 Canada Cup finals between Canada and the Soviet Union gets my vote as the best hockey game ever played--and Grant Fuhr's clutch heroics were a big part of it--but a dark horse game for that title is the Canada-Soviet Union semifinal in the 1984 Canada Cup, which featured Pete Peeters--however incongruously--in net, and a game-winning goal from Mike Bossy.


I have decided that Mike Bossy has come to be the most underrated player in hockey history insofar as great players go. People always make light of his stats because of the era in which he played and when ranking the players of the Islanders dynasty, Bossy is often played third behind Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier. Enough--Bossy was the best player on that dynasty and I have him inside the top twenty of best players all-time. He is first in goals per game average and third in points per game--he's still ahead of Connor McDavid--and he assisted as much as he scored. This was a right winger with an 83 assist season. He scored like crazy in the playoffs, too, netting 17 goals three seasons in a row. He won a Smythe, should have won two, and he was simply a scoring machine who was pretty good defensively. People say his rate stats are misleading because he had to retire when he did, but a lot of guys were done or close to it by age thirty back then, but Bossy also had a game that would have aged well in that it wasn't built on speed but positioning, timing, understanding of space, quick release, and shot. I think he could have had a statistically impressive second act.



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