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Question about Hartford Whalers in the mid 80's

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12-18-2012, 03:10 AM
  #1
Lead Role in a Cage
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Question about Hartford Whalers in the mid 80's

Looking through the rosters of the Whalers in the mid 80's I see there was quite some potential.

The 84/85 roster saw a 21 year old Ron Francis in his fourth season, a 19 year old Sylvain Turgeon in his second season scoring 31 goals in 64 games coming off a rookie season potting 40, along with rookies Kevin Dineen (20), Ray Ferraro (20) Ulf Samuelsson (20), and Sylvain Cote (18). A 28 year old Mike Liut was added to the team during the 84/85 season.

These were young talented players, who all had long careers with different amount of success, none of which were older than 21 at the time. Young centers, wingers, defenders and a Mike Liut who still had some years left to provide solid goaltending.

I think there could have been plenty of room to improve as a club and franchise with this "core" moving forward so my question is, why didn't they take off?

I figure this is the place to ask this question.

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12-18-2012, 03:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Lead Role in a Cage View Post
Looking through the rosters of the Whalers in the mid 80's I see there was quite some potential.

The 84/85 roster saw a 21 year old Ron Francis in his fourth season, a 19 year old Sylvain Turgeon in his second season scoring 31 goals in 64 games coming off a rookie season potting 40, along with rookies Kevin Dineen (20), Ray Ferraro (20) Ulf Samuelsson (20), and Sylvain Cote (18). A 28 year old Mike Liut was added to the team during the 84/85 season.

These were young talented players, who all had long careers with different amount of success, none of which were older than 21 at the time. Young centers, wingers, defenders and a Mike Liut who still had some years left to provide solid goaltending.

I think there could have been plenty of room to improve as a club and franchise with this "core" moving forward so my question is, why didn't they take off?

I figure this is the place to ask this question.
I mean, they did win the division in 1987.

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12-18-2012, 03:26 AM
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vadim sharifijanov
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the adams was a very competitive division during that time, with montreal, boston, and quebec all being usually stronger teams than hartford. when quebec went into the tank toward the end of the decade, buffalo started improving.

also, other than francis, those guys were solid but none were stars. turgeon had his injury problems derail his development. samuelsson was a very good #2 defenseman. but dineen and ferraro are productive second line wingers, cote is a really good second pairing d-man. hard for me to look at that nucleus and envision it being the core of a powerhouse.

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12-18-2012, 05:51 AM
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Boston Globe writer Kevin Dupont dubbed Hartford the "forever .500's" and the nickname is incredibly apt.

The Whale typically had a good competitive spirit, but the talent level was very ordinary --- especially in goal where a past his prime Mike Liut didn't match up well in a division populated by Roy, Moog, Barrasso, etc.

As Vadim mentioned, one thing that also hindered Hartford in the mid 80's was Turgeon's abdominal injury. He scored 45 goals during his 3rd season, but then badly injured his abs (ala Al Secord during the same era) and never played with the same flowing abandon again.

Depth was always an issue, but Hartford did have that good compete button and also possessed good hockey intelligence with Tippett, Dineen, Quenneville, and John Anderson eventually becoming head coaches.

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12-18-2012, 07:16 AM
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Dennis Bonvie had season tickets to the Whalers for much of the 80's. I would like to hear his insights on this given the back and forth discussions we have had

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12-18-2012, 07:27 PM
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Dennis Bonvie
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I mean, they did win the division in 1987.
That was easily the best team Hartford ever had. 43-30-7.

It was the culmination of the Emile Francis (GM)/Jack Evans (coach) regime.

Francis took over a team that had just finished 19-54-7 on 1983. They had 3 different coaches that year, were 19th out of 21 offensively and 21st defensively. Players were a bit lacking in effort.

The next season they were 13th defensively playing a much more disiplined game under Evans. Francis had added Mike Zuke, a defensive center who was an excellent penalty killer.

The next season they traded for Luit, convinced Greg Millen was not the answer in goal. He immediately became the team leader. Two weeks after being acquired in February, the Whale gave up 2 goals in the last 2 minutes of a game against Vancouver, making the game 6-6. They immediately lost in OT. Luit trashed the locker room, apparently scaring the hell out of his new, complacent teammates.

The next season they traded for a 24 year-old Dave Babych. The trade seemed to shake him up and he started playing up to his potential. They also added Doug Jarvis to replace the aging Zuke. The Whale made the playoffs with a 40-36-4 record and then stunned the Nordiques in the playoffs, 3-0. They then took eventual Cup-winning Montreal to OT of game 7.

That team scored 332 goals, 5th in the league. Their top 4 scores were Turgeon (21), Ferraro (21), Francis (22) and Dineen (22).

The next year they won the division. 3rd in the league defensively. But with Turgeon hurting, they were not the offensive powerhouse of the previous season. Ferraro fell off also. Babych reverted to inconsistent play. But they put together a great 2nd line with 3 young speedsters in Dean Evason, Stew Gavin and Paul Lawless. No one seemed to be able to contain them. Lawless was the key, but the next season he got hurt and was never the same.

Alas, the Nordiques avenged their playoff collapse from the previous season, simply out-offensing the Whalers. Confidence shattered, the next season the offense went completely dry. Larry Pleau replaced Evans in the second half of the season and the Whale would never be as good again in Hartford.

Turgeon, Lawless and Ferraro fell off. Babych was a temporary answer, but never was the Dman he could have been. But poor coaching was really the biggest problem in Hartford. Mark Howe once said he never learned a thing about playing defense until he went to Philly.

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12-18-2012, 08:44 PM
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Originally Posted by vadim sharifijanov View Post
the adams was a very competitive division during that time, with montreal, boston, and quebec all being usually stronger teams than hartford. when quebec went into the tank toward the end of the decade, buffalo started improving.

also, other than francis, those guys were solid but none were stars. turgeon had his injury problems derail his development. samuelsson was a very good #2 defenseman. but dineen and ferraro are productive second line wingers, cote is a really good second pairing d-man. hard for me to look at that nucleus and envision it being the core of a powerhouse.
Exactly and just look at their drafting in the 80's

In 80 they get 3 decent guys, 81 and 82 Francis and turgeon but pretty much squat for the rest of the decade and certainly no star pieces to build around.

http://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/CAR/draft.html

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12-19-2012, 08:16 AM
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I appreciate the responses.

Additional question. What was the reasoning for trading franchise center Ron Francis to Pittsburgh?

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12-19-2012, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Lead Role in a Cage View Post
I appreciate the responses.

Additional question. What was the reasoning for trading franchise center Ron Francis to Pittsburgh?
Coach Rick Ley stripped Francis of the captaincy. He made Pat Verbeek captain. Never got the story (that I can remember) of the Francis-Ley feud. Maybe Ley just wasn't happy with Francis' style (soft?) compared to Verbeek. Whalers also needed offense badly and John Cullen was having a career year. Zalapski (known as Collapski to Whalers fans) was a wonderful offensive Dman and a true wonder in his own end.

Rick Ley was fired in the off season.


Last edited by Dennis Bonvie: 12-19-2012 at 09:10 AM.
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12-19-2012, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Lead Role in a Cage View Post
Looking through the rosters of the Whalers in the mid 80's I see there was quite some potential.

The 84/85 roster saw a 21 year old Ron Francis in his fourth season, a 19 year old Sylvain Turgeon in his second season scoring 31 goals in 64 games coming off a rookie season potting 40, along with rookies Kevin Dineen (20), Ray Ferraro (20) Ulf Samuelsson (20), and Sylvain Cote (18). A 28 year old Mike Liut was added to the team during the 84/85 season.

These were young talented players, who all had long careers with different amount of success, none of which were older than 21 at the time. Young centers, wingers, defenders and a Mike Liut who still had some years left to provide solid goaltending.

I think there could have been plenty of room to improve as a club and franchise with this "core" moving forward so my question is, why didn't they take off?
The in depth answer is to go into all the small details.

The easy answer is two key trades and an injury:

Dec 27th, 1980
Mark Howe, one of the league' elite offensive defensemen (who back then played a much more offensive, rushing style akin to Paul Coffey, but more solid defensively) end up on the ice sliding into the goal net. The goal nets at the time were shaped differently, as many ere remember, and had what amounted to a spike in the middle. Howe received a severe laceration on his thigh and was never the same wicked skater he had been.

August 19th, 1982
Mark Howe and Hartford's 3rd rounder in 1983 (Derrick Smith) traded to Philadelphia for Greg Adams, Ken Linseman, and Philadelphia's 1st (David Jensen) and 3rd (Leif Karlsson) rounders in 1983.

March 4th, 1991
Ron Francis, Grant Jennings, and Ulf Samuelsson for John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski, and Jeff Parker.

Without the Howe injury (and subsequent short-sale of a Norris contender due to his "damaged" state) Hartford would have been a consistent division threat in the 1980s, and might even still have the Whalers today.

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12-19-2012, 02:48 PM
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Too bad. I would much rather have a world with the Hartford Whalers than the Carolina Hurricanes.

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12-20-2012, 11:49 AM
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Too bad. I would much rather have a world with the Hartford Whalers than the Carolina Hurricanes.
i am inclined to think, with the way the NHL is structured now, that a team in Hartford would do better than in Raleigh. but who knows. i do miss those green uniforms and classic logo.

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12-20-2012, 11:53 AM
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Completely off topic but this thread just reminded me I had some weird dream last night that I was the guy that convinced the Howe's to get together to play in Hartford.

Not sure why I would even dream that.

Pointless interjection of the day.

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12-20-2012, 02:54 PM
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Too bad. I would much rather have a world with the Hartford Whalers than the Carolina Hurricanes.
Yes Brass Bonanza is the best song ever

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bwZbWZhAaM

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12-20-2012, 04:36 PM
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Yes Brass Bonanza is the best song ever

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bwZbWZhAaM
Still played occasionally at Red Sox games.

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12-20-2012, 04:44 PM
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i am inclined to think, with the way the NHL is structured now, that a team in Hartford would do better than in Raleigh. but who knows. i do miss those green uniforms and classic logo.
Hartford reminds me a lot of the Montreal Expos: a team that had a very small and dedicated fanbase (including quite a few relatives: my family is from CT) that struggled in the face of difficult geography, a difficult political situation and business apathy.

Geography: The Whale made themselves feel good for far too long by imagining that nobody in Fairfield and New Haven would root for them. UCONN showed that is possible. Marshal those fans and you might have enough interest to keep a team around.

Politics: Rowland thought he was gonna get the Patriots and ignored the Whalers. Plus, it's difficult to finance stadiums in parts of the country and Connecticut is in one of those parts.

Business apathy: The insurance agencies never really stepped up for the team.

But hey, downtown Hartford's a graveyard, the Whale are probably never coming back, and Connecticut continues to be a bunch of rich suburbs and poor cities. Good job, guys!

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12-20-2012, 05:07 PM
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Hartford reminds me a lot of the Montreal Expos: a team that had a very small and dedicated fanbase (including quite a few relatives: my family is from CT) that struggled in the face of difficult geography, a difficult political situation and business apathy.

Geography: The Whale made themselves feel good for far too long by imagining that nobody in Fairfield and New Haven would root for them. UCONN showed that is possible. Marshal those fans and you might have enough interest to keep a team around.

Politics: Rowland thought he was gonna get the Patriots and ignored the Whalers. Plus, it's difficult to finance stadiums in parts of the country and Connecticut is in one of those parts.

Business apathy: The insurance agencies never really stepped up for the team.

But hey, downtown Hartford's a graveyard, the Whale are probably never coming back, and Connecticut continues to be a bunch of rich suburbs and poor cities. Good job, guys!
Actually, the insurance companies (Aetna in particular, the majority owners) are what brought the Whalers to Hartford. Many season ticket holders like myself got a sizable discount from Aetna (where my wife worked). The real estate collapse of the late 80s took Aetna and other partnering companies away from their normal support.

As more fans had to pay for rising ticket prices with no discount, attendence dwidled.

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12-20-2012, 05:42 PM
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i am inclined to think, with the way the NHL is structured now, that a team in Hartford would do better than in Raleigh. but who knows. i do miss those green uniforms and classic logo.
I like green Whalers jersey over the blue one. Why'd they change it? Ownership switch?

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12-21-2012, 07:36 AM
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Actually, the insurance companies (Aetna in particular, the majority owners) are what brought the Whalers to Hartford. Many season ticket holders like myself got a sizable discount from Aetna (where my wife worked). The real estate collapse of the late 80s took Aetna and other partnering companies away from their normal support.

As more fans had to pay for rising ticket prices with no discount, attendence dwidled.
I recall a big, big yawn from the insurance agencies when it came to putting up some real dough for a new arena. Ticket deals seem pretty small fry in comparison, though my aunt (CNA) got to go to a lot of games through ticket pools.

They really went out with kind of a whimper and it was sad.

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