The National Hockey League turns 100 this year.
There’s a snazzy logo, some chest puffing, but considering the significance that this league is older than the NFL, older than the NBA, and has familial lines going back into the 1800s, one would think there’d be more hoopla about it by now.
How to do it right? Historical montages of each team with a common graphic theme, being rolled out at all the arenas on the video boards. Perhaps fan voting for the best player of all time. Celebrity appearances by legends across the spectrum of the sport. Memorializing teams and franchises long since departed, due to relocation or franchises even folding, but nonetheless teams that made their impact on the game, and could be a part of the league’s future. (Hello Quebec Nordiques. Kansas City Scouts? Not so much.)
Nonetheless, the NHL did do one thing right, and it all happened at the All Star festivities out in Los Angeles late last month. Presented at the Microsoft Theatre in the glitzy L.A. Live District in downtown Los Angeles, out came the “NHL 100”, showcasing the best of the best of the best players to ever don the uniform in the sport. The event was showcased as big and stupendous as any Hollywood premiere or entertainment awards show.
The “Big Reveal”, if you want to call it that, actually had its rollout at in Toronto earlier in the year, staged as part of the Centennial Classic on New Years Day. That is when we learned the names of the players long departed, who built the league and played from 1917-1966. The rest of the names were announced in Los Angeles, and immediately sparked debate as to some of the “bubble” names on the list, and some of the greats who were snubbed.
Think bubble as in the annual announcement of the NCAA brackets… inevitably RPI numbers are rolled out, marquee matchups and results are compared, and the debate rages on. Jonathan Toews made the cut, but Evgeni Malkin did not? Oh, the horror.
Five players who wore the Buffalo Sabres uniform did make the list, a significant number when you think of the fact that 30 teams are currently in the league, and as mentioned, many more franchises and cities that were are a part of the NHL at one time or another. Four of the five have their banners and numbers hanging high in the rafters at KeyBank Center. Here are the enshrinees:
Buffalo’s first draft pick in 1970 had a distinguished 17 year career, all with the Sabres, notching 512 goals and centering the signature “French Connection” line which vaulted the team to its first appearance in the Stanley Cup finals in 1975. Perreault’s stick handling, speed changing and deking maneuvers, all presented with is end to end rushes, captivated fans, talent and moves which are all too absent in today’s game of forechecking and dump and chase.
Today’s young generation of hockey fans match the name with donuts and coffee, but this legendary player made his mark as a bedrock of two teams, long time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and then two final seasons with the Sabres, before his life was tragically cut short in a horrific car crash in 1974. Horton was comparatively a small defensemen, but all muscle, hard as a rock, and could lead rushes up the ice along with the forwards. He helped the Leafs win four Stanley Cups in the 60s, and when his name popped up on the interleague draft wire in 1972, Sabres coach and GM Punch Imlach, who coached Horton on the Leafs, snapped him up to add depth and experience to the young Sabres lineup.
What is easy to remember is that this prolific goaltender was the mainstay for the Edmonton Oilers as they went on to win five Stanely Cups during that franchise’s heyday in the 80s. What might be less memorable is that Fuhr went on to play for several teams, and one of them was the Buffalo Sabres, where he backed up an up and coming goaltender named Dominik Hasek. Fuhr appeared in 63 games with the Sabres, in an era where the team was trying to break out of its opening playoff round flameouts and take the next step towards the Stanley Cup.
The most beloved and revered of ex Sabres players, Lafontaine came to Buffalo via trade from the New York Islanders, and immediately established himself as one of the elite centers in the game. In 1992-93, he and teammate Alexander Mogilny were an offensive juggernaut, Mogilny getting 76 goals and Lafontaine netting 53 goals of his own along with 148 points, astonishing numbers compared to this day and age. Lafontaine was beset with numerous concussions, however, and retired in 1999.
He won the Vezina trophy six times, and the Hart trophy twice. He was that good, and his butterfly style of stopping pucks make for an incredible highlight reel of jaw dropping saves that are remembered to this day. Hasek took the team to the elite rungs of the league and to the Cup finals in 1999, where the infamous and illegal “No Goal” by Dallas’ Brett Hull dashed Buffalo’s championship hopes. Hasek finally won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings before retiring.
News hit this week of the acquisition by Pegula Sports and Entertainment of the Hi Temp building on the corner of Perry and Illinois St, at a whopping purchase price of $7-MM. What is long forgotten (but not by Taro) is that the McKendry family, who owned the building, joined with a tiny, shrill group of preservationist do-gooders in 2012 to try and derail the HarborCenter project, then citing that the structure would obstruct their views of the sunset and the Buffalo River, more than a half mile west of their location. In the end HarborCenter got built, the McKendrys didn’t lose out in terms of the property values, and the sunsets along the river are still beautiful. Win, win all around.
Looking forward to seeing what PSE plans to do with their new property.