TWO CLASSIC NHL SEASONS COMING SOON
By Glenn Guzzo
Two National Hockey League dynasties, one from the Original Six era and one from the expansion era, are the class of Strat-O-Matic’s two classic seasons to be released this summer.
The 1953-54 Detroit Red Wings finished first in the regular season for the sixth consecutive time (en route to seven straight). In ’53-54, they won the third of four Stanley Cups in that span. The 1982-83 New York Islanders won the last of their four straight Stanley Cups.
1953-54: Howe, Lindsay, Kelly and Sawchuk look good in red
The 88-point Wings were seven points better than Montreal in a well-balanced league where only seven points separated Montreal and fourth-place Boston, which was six points better than New York in the race for the final playoff spot.
But Detroit dominated with an all-star cast of core players. It had four of the top seven scorers, led by Gordie Howe, whose 33-48-81 in a 70-game season gave him his fourth straight scoring title. Red Kelly, sixth in league scoring during an era before offensive defensemen, won the NHL’s first Norris Trophy. Goalie Terry Sawchuk’s 12 shutouts and 1.92 goals-against average were close seconds to Toronto’s Harry Lumley, who had 13 and 1.91. All are Hall of Famers, as is Howe’s line mate, Ted Lindsay, who was third in scoring at 26-36-62.
The season featured other milestones:
- Goaltender Al Rollins was under such duress with the woeful, last-place Chicago Blackhawks (12-51-7) that, even after giving up the most goals in the league, by far, he was crowned the league MVP.
- King Clancy began his legendary career as coach of the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Rookie Jean Beliveau made his celebrated debut for Montreal. But he did not place among the league’s top scorers after being limited to 44 games. The Canadiens’ Rocket Richard (2nd), Bernie Geoffrion (4th), Bert Olmstead (5th) and Ken Mosdell (10th) were among the leaders on the NHL’s top-scoring team.
1982-83: Islanders win it all with Gretzky Gang ascending
The Islanders’ superstar corps of Mike Bossy (60 goals, 118 points), Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith hoisted the Cup for the fourth consecutive season. But their 96-point regular season was not good enough to win their division and was the poorest record of the six teams Strat-O-Matic will card.
Boston, led by Barry Pederson’s 46 goals and 107 points and Rick Middleton’s 49 goals, had the league’s best mark at 110 points. And the Bruins had Vezina-winning goalie Pete Peeters. But they fell to the Islanders in the Conference Finals. Somehow, Ray Bourque’s 22 goals, 51 assists and +49 were not enough for a Norris Trophy.
Philadelphia won the Islanders’ division with 106 points but was swept out of the playoffs in the first round. Bobby Clarke’s 85 points led a squad with 43-goal scorer Darryl Sittler, 40-goal Brian Propp and seven others with at least 18 goals.
Edmonton also had 106 points and broke its NHL goal-scoring record with 424. League MVP Wayne Gretzky won his third straight scoring title with a league-best 71 goals, an NHL-record 125 assists and the widest scoring margin ever (72 points better than Quebec’s Peter Stastny). Mark Messier (48-58-106), Glenn Anderson (48-56-104) and Jari Kurri (45-59-104) also were among the NHL’s top scorers. Paul Coffey was the league’s highest-scoring defenseman (29-67-96).
But in the lower-scoring playoffs, the slick-skating Oilers’ were no match for the Islanders’ league-best defense. Isles’ goalie Smith won the Conn Smythe award as playoff MVP and the defending champs swept the younger Oilers, whose appearance in the finals previewed four Edmonton Stanley Cup victories over the next five seasons.
Chicago’s divison-winning 104 points featured the NHL’s third-best scorer in flashy center Denis Savard (35-86-121) and Rookie of the Year Steve Larmer (43-47-90). Their line mate, LW Al Secord, led the Hawks with 54 goals. Chicago won two playoff rounds but lost to Edmonton in the Conference Finals.
Montreal’s 98 points were second to Boston in its division and its scoring was second to Edmonton’s. Mark Napier’s 40 goals led a balanced offense with nine forwards who scored at least 25 goals, including Guy Lafleur, who lead the Habs with 76 points.
As always, the computer rosters will feature all of the teams. There’s Quebec, with Stastny and Michel Goulet (57-48-105) triggering the NHL’s third-most-potent offense. Washington swept Philadelphia in the playoffs with Norris Trophy winner Rod Langway and three 30-plus goal scorers (Mike Gartner, Dennis Maruk, Bob Carpenter). Los Angeles had 56-goal, 107-point Marcel Dionne. And the relocated Colorado Rockies made their debut as the New Jersey Devils.