When the dust settles and the disappointment fades a little more, it’s pretty much a given that Jaromir Jagr will want to play in the NHL again next season. And it’s also pretty much a given that the Florida Panthers will happily take him back.
But watching one of the greatest players in the history of the game labor through the Panthers’ first-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders, some very, very uncomfortable questions have to be asked. Because, folks, this is not a one-off. Jagr has struggled to keep up to the pace of the playoffs for a couple of years now. He has gone 37 playoff games without putting a single puck in the back of the net and when the Boston Bruins made their run to the Stanley Cup final in 2013, he had no goals in 22 games and by Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, he had been demoted to the fourth line and played just 6:27, the second-lowest total on either roster. If you include his hometown Kladno team he joined during the 2011-12 lockout, Jagr has played for five teams since he last scored a playoff goal.
Thursday, April 21, marks the 65th anniversary of Bill Barilko scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which technically means we can commemorate that memory with a senior moment or two.
Back in November, I wrote a feature in the print edition of The Hockey News telling the tale of the Hamilton, Ont., family who claimed it had possession of Barilko’s Cup-winning puck. Harry Donohue was a 16-year-old in attendance at that 1951 game against the Montreal Canadiens and he hopped on the ice after the overtime goal and fished the puck out of the net. Here’s a link to that story entitled Harry’s Puck.
The gist of the feature is the Donohue family were preparing to loan that puck to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 when they found out the Hall already had a puck designated Barilko’s Cup-winning puck. But, as was pointed out in the November story, the Hall of Fame’s Barilko puck was a Spalding-made puck, used in NHL games from 1920 to 1942. The Donohue Barilko puck has an emblem that was used in NHL games from 1950 to 1958, which fits the time period of that seminal moment in hockey history.
It’s almost as though it’s out of Slap Shot, a last-place minor pro team in the northeast plays out the season amid news the team will be sold to new owners in the sunbelt. Except there are no Hanson Brothers and no Federal League championship for one of the most iconic cities in the history of the American League. It could, however, face the same fate as the fictional Charlestown Chiefs.
It’s hard to believe that Springfield, Mass., could be without an AHL presence for the first time in 60 years and that one of the charter members of the league could be out of the loop starting next season. But that has come one step closer to reality with the news that the Arizona Coyotes, a team that couldn’t even support itself a couple of years ago, now ‘hones’ the Springfield Falcons, with plans to move the team to Tucson as early as 2016-17. The Coyotes announced Tuesday they had signed a purchase agreement with Falcons owner Charlie Pompea and hope to move into the Tucson Convention Center next season.
A ship bombing that killed 128 people the day World War II broke out could not kill Bill Gadsby. Polio gave Gadsby its best shot in the 1950s, but not only did he recover from the affliction, he played in the NHL for another 14 seasons. Bobby Hull once hit him right in the heart with a slapshot. It knocked Gadsby unconscious, but could not keep him from jumping over the boards for his next shift.
They did not make them much tougher than Gadsby, who died Thursday morning at the age of 88. He cheated death a number of times in his life, but Gadsby will be remembered from being one of the greatest players in NHL history to never win a Cup. And as difficult as it was to make the NHL during the six-team pre-expansion era, it was even tougher to play 1,200-plus games and not win at least one Stanley Cup.
If Jaromir Jagr decided he wanted to hang up his skates after this season, he’s going out in style, and as an all-time great.
On Thursday night, Jagr added to his list of career achievements by notching point No. 1,850 to tie Gordie Howe for third place all time. The milestone point came on a first-period assist on a goal by Panthers teammate Erik Gudbranson against the Avalanche.
It was only fitting that when The Hockey News was writing a book on the Top 100 NHL Players of All-Time in 1997, Andy Bathgate was ranked 58th. That meant he did not have a chapter devoted to him in the book, instead being relegated to the players ranked Nos. 50 to 100 at the back of the book with a four-paragraph capsule devoted to his career.
Bathgate, who died on Friday at the age of 83, was underrated before the term even became in vogue in hockey. One of the greatest players of his era, Bathgate will be remembered as an unappreciated player who toiled for a conga line of really godawful teams, capturing his only Stanley Cup when he got traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964. He did get some individual recognition with a Hart Trophy and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he spent most of his career with bad teams. In his 15 full seasons in the league, his teams missed the playoffs eight times and were beaten out in the first round five times.
It took a little-known Swiss goaltender named Joren Van Pottleberghe to bring together the two principal characters of one of the most infamous incidents the game has ever seen.
It was shortly after the draft and the Detroit Red Wings had just selected Van Pottleberghe in the fourth round. Kris Draper, an executive with the Red Wings, was in the lobby in his hotel in South Florida and he was approached by Claude Lemieux, the agent for Van Pottleberghe. The two had a rather awkward conversation about Lemieux’s client for a couple of minutes and Lemieux went on his way.
“I wasn’t going to bring it up,” Draper said, “and he wasn’t going to bring it up. It was basically him as an agent and me as a Red Wings executive talking hockey.”
I’ve been to the arena in Lake Placid where it all went down. You can feel the vibe, see where the ghosts might hang out on weekdays. But to modern eyes, it’s incredible how small everything appears. Peer out the window and you can see where the opening ceremonies were held – it had to be closer to a high school graduation than the Beijing overdose at the 2008 Summer Games – and the concessions are spartan, as if that really ever matters.
But that’s why the Miracle on Ice was special, wasn’t it? The Americans were the little guys, taking on the Big, Red, Soviet Machine. The Yankees weren’t supposed to hang with Viktor Tikhonov’s army, but they did. And 36 years ago today, the final score was 4-3 for the locals.
How far has hockey in America come since that victory? Light years.