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History Proves Anything Can Happen and Usually Does During Expansion

June 22, 1993|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dave Balon, Bob Baun and Earl Ingarfield.

If those names don't ring a bell, try these:

Gord Labossierre, Jimmy Roberts and Ed Van Impe.

Still nothing?

They were the among the first picks in the first National Hockey League expansion draft, conducted June 6, 1967.

With the Mighty Ducks about to go through the process Thursday, it's worth a look back to see which selections worked out, which didn't and why.

If past drafts tell us anything, it's this:

For every Ed Van Impe, who established a strong defensive foundation for the Philadelphia Flyers, there is a Bob Baun, who played one season for the California Golden Seals and was quickly traded for younger blood. And for every up-and-coming goalie such as Bernie Parent, there is an aging Terry Sawchuk just glad to have his career prolonged.

The trick facing the Ducks is determining which available players can best help the team.

Sometimes the trick is simply determining who is eligible, but more on that later.

Once, there were only 120 NHL jobs available on six teams--the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now, the ranks of card-carrying NHL players are about to expand again, the Ducks and Florida Panthers bringing the number of teams to 26. Lineups will shuffle, and familiar faces will return to their old arenas wearing new uniforms. But it will be nothing like the upheaval the league experienced when it doubled in size in 1967.

Representatives from the California Golden Seals, Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues gathered June 6, 1967, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal to draft players from the unprotected lists of the original six teams.

The new teams were guaranteed 18 skaters and two goalies. The old teams could protect 11 skaters and one goalie.

Thursday, the Ducks and Panthers will select, in this order, three goalies, eight defensemen and 13 forwards. The old teams will protect one goalie, five defensemen and nine forwards. They won't need to protect first-year pros.

In other words, Wayne Gretzky or Patrick Roy are protected.

Boston Bruin Vladimir Ruzicka, Chicago Blackhawks Michel Goulet and Troy Murray and Edmonton Oiler Craig MacTavish are available.

Neither Jack Ferreira nor Bill Torrey--general managers for the Ducks and Panthers--is expecting much, though each has been through this routine before. Ferreira was the San Jose Sharks' first general manager in 1991-92, and Torrey was the New York Islanders' first general manager in 1972-73.

Each would do well to follow the routes to success established by the Flyers and the Islanders, the most successful expansion teams in NHL history. The Flyers were the first expansion team to win a Stanley Cup when they defeated the Bruins, four games to two, in the 1973-74 finals. The Islanders won four consecutive Cups from 1979-80 to 1982-83, one short of the Montreal Canadiens' league record of five set from 1955-56 to 1959-60.

To be sure, luck played a large part in the success of the Flyers and Islanders. But each attempted to take a winning mix of youth and experience in their expansion drafts.

Of course, the Flyers had it easier. In the NHL's original expansion, the new teams were placed in their own division, so somebody had to win.

At least, that was the plan.

The Flyers went 31-32-11 and won the first Western Division title with a combination of aging veterans such as Larry Zeidel, a notorious brawler, and unproven youngsters such as Parent, Van Impe, winger Gary Dornhoefer and defenseman Joe Watson.

Zeidel was gone after one season, but the other four formed the backbone of the Flyers' first Stanley Cup winner six seasons later.

Parent was almost unbeatable in the mid-1970s, winning Vezina trophies in 1973-74 and 1974-75, signifying him as the league's top goaltender, and Conn Smythe trophies as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the same seasons.

Van Impe and Watson played suffocating defense, and Dornhoefer always seemed to be around the net.

The Islanders' debut was not nearly as auspicious. They quickly turned into a league-wide joke with a pitiful 12-60-6 record in 1972-73. It remained the worst first season for an expansion team until the Washington Capitals tripped and fell to an amazing 8-67-5 mark in 1974-75.

The Islanders quickly picked up the pieces; the Capitals have reached the conference finals only once.

Ed Westfall and Billy Harris were the Islanders' top scorers in that first season. Phil Goyette coached the first 50 games before he was replaced by Ingarfield, whose playing career was infinitely more successful than his coaching tenure. After 28 games, he was fired, too.

The new coach was Al Arbour, a former expansion pick by the St. Louis Blues who turned the Islanders into Stanley Cup champions by 1979-80.

Suffice to say, the Ducks and Panthers hope to avoid a rookie season the Ottawa Senators endured in 1992-93.

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