It hasn’t been a great month for fans of Hall of Fame icons from “Original Six’’ teams.
First, as mentioned here last week, former Chicago Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito died from pancreatic cancer at age 78. And now, just last Sunday, we learned former New York Rangers winger Rod Gilbert, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, had also passed away at 80.
Gilbert spent 19 seasons in New York before retiring in November 1977 and still holds team records of 406 goals and 1,065 career points. The eight-time All-Star “Mr. Ranger” became the first player to have his number retired by the storied franchise.
Gilbert’s early 1970s teams, just like Esposito’s, are often vastly overlooked by history due to never winning a title. Playing on the Rangers’ GAG — Goal-A-Game — line with Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle, Gilbert made his first and only final in 1972 after sweeping Esposito’s team one round earlier.
New York, coached by onetime Seattle Americans goalie Emile Francis, hadn’t won a Cup since 1940 and finished second overall that season with 109 points, boasting future Hall of Famers in Gilbert, Ratelle, Brad Park, Tim Horton — yes, the Canadian doughnut king — and goalie Ed Giacomin. But the Boston Bruins were the only team better at 119 points and took the Cup in six.
The prior year was arguably Gilbert’s best Cup chance, when New York also finished with 109 points and second overall to Boston. The Bruins were upset early by eventual champion Montreal while the Rangers played a riveting seven-game semifinal against Esposito and Chicago.
New York led the series 2-1, lost two straight and was facing elimination at home. Down 2-0 in the second period, Gilbert got the comeback started by blistering a slap shot past Esposito, then assisted on Ratelle’s tying third period goal to electrify the Madison Square Garden crowd.
The game remained tied until 1:29 of the third overtime period, when Pete Stemkowski jammed home the winner to even the series. Alas, New York’s magic ran out in Game 7 in Chicago after Gilbert’s goal midway through briefly gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
The Blackhawks tied it, then won on a third-period goal by Bobby Hull and an empty net marker in the final minute. Chicago had Montreal on-the-ropes throughout the ensuing Cup final and could have won it multiple times before blowing a Game 7 lead.
I’m fairly confident the Rangers would have given the Canadiens an equally strong run and likely ended New York’s Cup drought. Gilbert got one last chance in 1974 when the Rangers, after a lesser 94-point regular season, upset Montreal and took eventual champion Philadelphia to seven games in the semifinal.
Gilbert scored an overtime winner in Game 4.
But the Flyers emerged victorious in Game 7 after Dave “The Hammer’’ Schultz infamously beat up Rangers defenseman Dale Rolfe early on, an ugly thrashing long credited for propelling Philadelphia to victory.
In all, those Rangers made four straight semifinals — losing twice in Game 7 and advancing to the final once. A lucky bounce, or punch here or there, Gilbert and crew are likely far better revered as a group.
OK, let’s answer some questions.
The Kraken is still awaiting the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols before setting policy for its Community Iceplex at Northgate Mall, but that’s more about once players are there. The team announced Thursday its grand opening for the complex is Sept. 10-12 and that everyone inside — as per Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate — must be masked.
But there are no limitations on crowds dropping in for free to see the venue off-ice. There will be $15 public skating at set times all three days — you can bring your own or rent for $5 — and people can register in-advance online at the krakencommunityiceplex.com website, or just show up and hope there’s space.
Training camp opens Sept. 22, on-ice workouts start the following day and the Kraken hopes for some rookie player practices a few days before that.
But until the NHL issues protocols, we won’t know about exact dates or capacity limits. The team hopes to have as many fans as possible at the 1,000-seat rink for all workouts.
You’re right as the Kraken should have center Matty Beniers by then and salary-cap space for major additions. The team still has $9 million in cap space this season and by next summer — with Giordano’s $6.75 million and others coming off — will have roughly $54.5 million committed to 14 roster players.
So, about $27 million to spend. But some might go to keeping unrestricted free agents Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Blackwell. Also, restricted free agents Jared McCann, Mason Appleton and Haydn Fleury could see hefty raises.
Still, the Kraken should have ample room to pursue premium free-agent help down the middle. As a quick example, Aleksander Barkov of Florida and Mika Zibanejad of the Rangers are pending free agents from cap-squeezed teams who would command about $9 million annually. If Zibanejad gets extended, Rangers center Ryan Strome could be had for less. Stay tuned.
A two-way contract means a player earns one salary in the NHL, but much less if sent down to the American Hockey League or ECHL. For new players on mandatory entry-level contracts of up to three years, those are automatically two-way and the minor league portion can’t exceed $70,000 a season.
So, assuming they earn the NHL minimum of $750,000, they’d make 11 times less money in the minors.
Players can negotiate one-way deals once getting beyond entry-level service time. But journeymen without much leverage often find themselves on two-way deals where teams cheaply stash them in the minors until needed.
The Kraken had previously kracked, er, cracked down on suspected ticket brokers securing multiple season-ticket deposits ahead of actual plans being sold.
Two years ago, it culled the deposit list of those with too many seats reserved through multiple linked accounts or who didn’t have a local address. The Kraken also identified, through Ticketmaster software, deposit-holders showing past signs of “broker activity” in buying and resale patterns.
The team didn’t always get it right. But it pared the list to get more people on it who seemed to actually want to attend games. As of now, the team hasn’t moved any further on ticket holders for reselling.
That’s understandable, given the Kraken has yet to play. Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke had said previously the team wasn’t going to be heavy-handed with people reselling seats on any platform they choose. Leiweke understood that with 41 regular season home dates, not every fan can attend every game.
But the cheapest seat on StubHub as of Thursday for opening night Oct. 23 against the Vancouver Canucks was $923 for corner upper deck while the most expensive was $15,000 for premium club-level. Prices were a more earthly $265-$3,125 for the second game against Montreal, so we’ll see.
If the arena is half-filled with visiting fans that opening homestand, it’ll trigger some alarm bells. But you also need to give the more aggressive fan resellers some proverbial rope to hang themselves with.
That’s what happened with the Vegas Golden Knights. They didn’t move on reselling ticket holders right away, but by season’s end, confiscated seats with a vengeance.
I could envision the team by midseason warning folks selling more than half their games. Remember, the Kraken can revoke any tickets it wants, whenever. It’s actually in the fine print all sports teams use. So, if planning to start a basement ticket brokerage, I’d avoid being too obvious about it.