Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Perhaps you’ve seen it on TV or read it in print in the last week or so.  The San Jose Sharks, off to a stunning 22-3-2 start (the 2 stands for overtime losses, not ties, of course), are being compared on an almost nightly basis, record-wise, to some of the best teams ever.  The one I’ve consistently seen is a comparison to the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens, who rolled to a Stanley Cup (only two playoff series back then), after going an amazing 38-5-7 (the 7 stands for ties, no regular season OT back then) in the (then) 50-game regular season.

 As you hockey fans know, the point world changed in the NHL back in 1999-2000 when the NHL decided to allow three potential points in a game (if tied after regulation, a team could get an extra point by winning in OT) rather than the forever two points in a game (two points to the winner or one point to each team for a tie).  Eventually, the NHL would go to a system that required a mandatory three points to be given out during a game tied in regulation by introducing the exciting (dreaded?, but that’s for another time) shootout, where each team would get one point for the tie and the winner, after OT or the shootout, would get another point.




So, right away, you have to be careful when you compare teams of today with teams of yesteryear.  At 22-3-2, nobody can deny that this is one of the greatest starts in the history of the NHL by San Jose.  But to compare them to a team (or teams) that couldn’t get more than one point in an NHL tie game is simply unfair and, frankly, incorrect.  In the modern-day NHL, every team has two chances to get two points, once in regulation and once in the overtime/shootout.  In the “good old days” of the 43-44 Canadiens, you could either win, lose or tie – two points total per game (for you hockey historians, regular season OT was eliminated in the NHL the season before, only to be reinstated in 1983-84).  And that was it.




So, What about the 1943-44 Canadiens?  Well, it was the beginning of the Rocket Richard era (he would score his staggering 50 goals in 50 games the next season).  The line of Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake formed the Punch Line, one of the greatest lines ever.  The Canadiens would be 38-5-7 (ties) that season.


But 1943-44 was a strange season in the NHL.  The red line was introduced to increase offense and the goal scorers went crazy.  Candiens goaltender Bill Durnan won the Vezina Trophy (for giving up the fewest goals), as the Canadiens allowed 109 goals in 50 games (65 less goals than runner-up Toronto).


The league, however, was decimated with the loss of numerous stars who were in the military during World War II.  So, remember, while the Canadiens were great that year, it was a new world in the NHL and the Canadiens had no chance to get an overtime or shootout victory in their seven ties.




Well, obviously, they’re a legitimate Stanley Cup threat and must be considered the favorite as of today.  They have a superstar in Joe Thornton, top defensemen in Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, as well as other top players like Patrick Marleau and 21-year-old Devin Setoguchi (who?).


Their goaltending has been excellent and, even when starter Evgeni Nabakov (15-2 with 1 OT loss) went down, Brian Boucher (7-1 with 1 OT loss) was tremendous.


But it’s a very long regular season and an eternity playoff system in place today.  Because of those two factors, especially the latter, it’s much harder to win the Cup today than it was in the six-team NHL.




“Experts,” if they find it necessary to compare then and now, would do better to compare the Sharks, record-wise, with the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.  Without question one of the top teams ever, that Canadien team went 60-8-12 (ties, no OT) in an 80-game regular season.  Guy Lafleur led the league in scoring, Steve Shutt scored 60 goals, Larry Robinson won the Norris Trophy and rookie Ken Dryden and Bunny Laroque were stunning in net.


While you can paint the picture that the Sharks can rival that Canadiens team record-wise, it says here that it’s unlikely.  But the wild card here is that the Sharks, every time they are in a tie game, get a chance to get another point, something those Canadiens didn’t have (how many of those 12 ties do you think the Canadiens would have won in OT or the shootout? – we’ll never know the answer, but you can bet it would have been at least half of them).




Well, it leaves us with the same caveat:  be careful.  Will this San Jose team be as good or better than the classic Montreal teams (and we haven’t even talked about the late 1950s Canadiens and other great teams)?  Of course, that remains to be seen but it says here that it’s unlikely.  Having said that, the point here is to be wary of TV or print comparisons you see where the team of today, with a maximum of a potential THREE points being given out in EVERY game, is compared with the great teams of yesterday, when those teams could only play in a game where a maximum of TWO points could be given out EVERY game.


I’m sure you get the point.


© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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