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Inside the NHL | Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Fuhr's Value More Than Numbers

November 04, 2003|Helene Elliott

In today's NHL, a 3.38 goals-against average would keep a goalie on the bench. For Grant Fuhr, it meant induction into the Hall of Fame on Monday. Joining him were Pat LaFontaine, Detroit Red Wing owner Mike Ilitch and longtime junior coach Brian Kilrea.

Of course, Fuhr's goals-against average doesn't reflect his full worth. He won 403 games -- seventh all-time -- won the Vezina Trophy once and the Jennings Trophy once and played on five Stanley Cup winners in Edmonton. He was also formidable in pressure games, which he first showed when the Oilers stunned the four-time defending Cup champion New York Islanders, 1-0, in the opener of the 1984 finals after they'd been swept out of the finals by the Islanders a year earlier.

Fuhr and the Oilers won the Cup in 1984 and dominated the NHL with a high-tempo, freewheeling style that has become a fond memory in this era of stifling defensive systems. Fuhr, who coaches 11- and 12-year-olds in Edmonton and analyzes games for HD Net TV when he's not golfing, misses those days when a 3.00 goals-against average was respectable.

"We had a lot of fun with the way we played," he said during a conference call with reporters. "You knew you were going to be busy and knew that you were going to have lots of nights of work. It's a fun style to play in and it was fun to be a part of all that.... Obviously, I'd like to see the offensive systems back. I was brought up in that era, and I really enjoy that kind of hockey. It's kind of what I coach with kids right now."

Fuhr is the first black player elected to the Hall, and he credited Willie O'Ree for breaking the race barrier in 1958.

"Growing up in Canada, you don't really realize that there's kind of a black-white thing," Fuhr said. "In Canada, you're a hockey player first and foremost, and that's the way you're treated."

Fuhr's career included a brief and forgettable stay with the Kings. Then-general manager Sam McMaster, unhappy with Kelly Hrudey, acquired Fuhr from Buffalo with Philippe Boucher and Denis Tsygurov for Robb Stauber, Alex Zhitnik, Charlie Huddy and a draft pick on Feb. 14, 1995; Fuhr was 1-7-3 with a 4.04 goals-against average in 14 games and left as a free agent after the season.

LaFontaine, in a 14-season career, scored 40 or more goals for six consecutive seasons. A clever, skillful center whose megawatt personality endeared him to fans, he finished with 468 goals and 1,013 points, one of only five U.S.-born players to surpass 1,000 points. He retired in 1998 at 33 after suffering several concussions.

Ilitch bought the Red Wings in 1982 from the Norris family and enlisted his wife and kids to sell tickets to see what had become a sorry team. Under Ilitch, the Wings have won the Cup three times, routinely packing Joe Louis Arena and turning Detroit into "Hockeytown."

Kilrea has won two Memorial Cup junior championships with the Ottawa 67s. He was also a member of the 1967 expansion Kings.

Media Award Winners

Edmonton play-by-play announcer Rod Phillips received the Foster Hewitt Award for excellence in broadcast journalism and Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber received the Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in print journalism at the HOF ceremony.

What's in a Name?

NHL executives, no doubt tired of using the term "cost controls" instead of the dreaded "salary cap," have a new euphemism.

Speaking last week to The Times' Chris Foster, Bill Daly, the league's chief counsel, said labor talks must produce "a system that has an absolute circuit breaker" to apportion revenues.

"If you talk about negotiating a percent of the gross, what goes to the players and what goes to the owners, you have your absolute circuit breaker," Daly said.

He added that the NFL had flourished under such a system.

"The NFL has never been at risk on an overall basis of more than 64% of the revenues going to the players," he said. "That's what you have to have. You need that absolute certainty element that provides the insurance against something going awry."

The players' association gave the league a lengthy proposal at a meeting Oct. 1 in Toronto, but the NHL rejected it and made a one-page counteroffer, sources said. Luxury taxes were discussed, but the union contends that calculations are complicated because owners don't disclose all their revenues. The NHL contends that 76% of revenues go to salaries.

Daly said owners were "100% unified in respect to what our objectives are in collective bargaining. That includes big markets and small markets alike."

Players are no less united. Bob Goodenow, the NHLPA's executive director, spoke with many high-profile agents last week in Toronto, and the upshot was that although players might agree to modify entry-level salaries and accept a luxury tax, they'll reject a cap by any name.

"Based on the last meeting, we're heading for a lockout, in my opinion," said Pat Brisson of IMG. "It's unfortunate.... A cap is not in our vocabulary. This meeting really opened our eyes. I was very impressed with Goodenow."

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