Sunday, July 29, 2012

Steve Maltais

There is a fine line between a great minor league player and decent NHL player.

Case in point: Steve Maltais.

During the late 1990s, NHL scoring fell dramatically, reaching the lowest average production since the early 1950s. Teams were desperate to find goal scorers, yet Steve Maltais never got a sniff.

Maltais was a goal scoring machine with the IHL's Chicago Wolves. The big left winger lit up the International Hockey League with 219 goals in four seasons with the Wolves, an average of 55 goals a year!

Think anyone could use a guy who averages 55 goals a year in the minors? "You'd like to think so," said the Arvida, Quebec native. "You put up numbers like that, you'd think you could chip in with 15 or 20 at this level (the NHL)."

Maltais wasn't a stranger to the NHL. The Washington Capitals drafted him in the second round back in 1987 after he scored 114 goals in 124 junior games. Since then, he has played 94 games in the NHL, 610 in the minors. His longest NHL stint was 63 games with Tampa Bay in the 1992-93 season. He had seven goals and 13 assists. He's been traded three times.

Despite Maltais' prodigious minor-league numbers, Maltais could never find a NHL home. He had the size, a bit of grit, maybe his skating and defensive play were below NHL standards but he knew how to find the back of the net.

Maltais thinks he is the victim of bad rap. "Once you put up numbers in the minors, I think you maybe get labeled as a one-way player," Maltais said. "I don't think that's fair. There's so much pressure having to score, night in, night out."

Bob Rouse

March 7th, 1989. One of the bigger trades in NHL history sees the Washington Capitals trade Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy to the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse.

What a trade! In essence it broke down as Gartner for Ciccarelli, the two goal scoring faces of each organization now swapping teams. Both were destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame, as was the defenseman Larry Murphy. But Bob Rouse? Who was he?

Well, make no mistake, Bob Rouse was not a Hall of Fame defender like Larry Murphy. In fact, he was not like Murphy in most respects. He had little offensive upside, with not much of a finesse game to speak of. He was a rock solid physical defender. He kept the front of his net neat and tidy, using his size and strength to his advantage. He lasted a long time in the NHL (well over 1,000 NHL games) as a very tough and honest defenseman.

Rouse, who was often paired with Craig Hartsburg in Minnesota, was perhaps best described as the prototypical stay at home defender in the modern game. He wasn't a great skate, but he excelled when playing within his limitations. He handled the puck nicely and had enough vision to calmly make a strong play to get the puck out of his zone. But he never made much of an offensive contribution.

Rouse would play 3 seasons in Washington before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs (with Peter Zezel) for another dynamic offensive defenseman in Al Iafrate. Rouse would play a nice role with a strong Leafs team, though he may be best remembered for a nasty stick fight with Detroit's Bob Probert.

Rouse joined the Red Wings in 1995 and was part of the Wings back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998. He later finished his career in San Jose.

All told, Bob Rouse played in 1061 NHL games, scoring 37 goals and 181 assists for 218 points. He added  1559 penalty minutes, and administered probably just as many bruises.

In the playoffs Rouse added 7 goals, 28 points, and 198 PIMs in 136 Stanley Cup contests.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bob Babcock

There was no mistaking Bashing Bobby Babcock's role on the ice. After all, he went from 1987 to 1993 without scoring a goal in the OHL, AHL or in his only two career games in the NHL. In that same 225-plus game span Babcock picked up over 800 minutes in penalties, most of them very aggressive in nature.

As a member of the Washington Capitals Babcock played in one game in each of the 1990-91 and 1992-93 season. The Agincourt, Ontario native picked up no points and just a single minor penalty in that time.

A broken leg in 1993 was the beginning of the end for Babcock's career on the ice.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Michel Belhumeur

October 23rd, 1974. Washington goaltender Michel Belhumeur stops not one but two(!) penalty shots in the same game. He stopped both of Chicago's Jim Pappin and Stan Mikita. Yet despite the two big saves, somehow the Capitals lost that game 3-2 to Chicago.

Washington lost a lot of games that year. 67 of them in total. They won just 8, and tied 5. They were one of the worst teams in NHL history. They were so bad that when the season mercifully ended the players celebrated by hoisting an aluminum garbage can as if it was the Stanley Cup.

Washington, an expansion franchise, had hope Belhumeur could be their go-to goalie in their inaugural season. He had previously wallowed in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, buried in the minor leagues while Bernie Parent was leading the Broad Street Bullies to the Stanley Cup. Belhumeur toiled in the minor leagues mostly, playing for the Quebec Aces and Richmond Robins.

The Caps grabbed Belhumeur for the 1974-75 season, but let's just say it did not work out too well. Belhumeur's personal record was 0-24-3 in 35 games - a NHL record for most games played in season without a victory. He had a GAA of bloated 5.36. Ron Low, the other Washington goalie, won all 8 games for the Caps, but his record of 8-36-2 is nearly as horrific. But don't blame the puck stoppers. The goalies had no chance with that poor Washington team in front of them.

Belhumeur returned the next season for 7 more games (0-5-1) before disappearing to the minor leagues until he retired in 1979.

By the way, Belhumeur did get to taste victory in the National Hockey League. He did pick up 9 wins in 23 games with the Flyers in 1972-73.

Interestingly, before Belhumeur left Philadelphia he actually sued the Flyers. He was a minor league call up for the 1974 playoffs. His role was a practice/emergency goalie, but he never dressed for a game even as back up. Still, Belhumeur felt he deserved to get paid for his contributions. The issue was settled out of court.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sylvain Cote

How good of a prospect was Sylvain Cote? In his last year of junior he was named as an all star and the top defenseman in the entire QMJHL even though he played in only 26 games!

Drafted 11th overall in 1984, Cote was a naturally gifted skater right from an early age. To this day many will argue he put on the best showing of any player at Quebec's famous pee-wee international tournament, with none other than Guy Lafleur also getting a lot of support.

Cote grew up playing minor hockey in the same neighborhoods as Mario Lemieux. The two were clearly the best prospects in Quebec by their draft day. Of course everyone knows all about what Mario Lemieux accomplished in the NHL. But not many people remember Sylvain Cote, which is somehow par for the course as he inexplicably flew under the radar much of his NHL career.

Though he started his career with 6 seasons with the Whalers, he blossomed in Washington where he played in two stints for over 9 seasons. The Caps were deep on the blue line back then, with the likes of  Kevin Hatcher, Calle Johansson and Al Iafrate stealing much of the spotlight. Cote settled in nicely behind Hatcher as the 2nd pairing right defender, quietly providing solid play at both ends of the ice.

Offensively he was highly underrated, except in 1992-93 when he tallied 21 goals. The Capitals set a NHL record that season with three defensemen topping the 20 goal mark with Hatcher and Iafrate also reaching the mark.

Cote had a strong and accurate shot, making him a perfect candidate to take a lot of power play minutes. At regular strength he was a strong skater and carried the puck well under pressure. He was also a confident breakout passer. But after his big breakout campaign in 1992-93, Cote took more of a two-way role, allowing others to concentrate more on the offensive side of the ice.

Defensively Cote improved over the course of his career into a very solid and capable defender, although he was always best suited on the 2nd pairing. Not unlike most defensemen it took him a few years to really be able to process the offensive attack heading his way. The league's best superstars, namely Lemieux, could exploit Cote from time to time.

He was not very big (5'11" and 185lbs) but was a solid hitter who finished his checks, though with no malice.

All in all Sylvain Cote was a solid NHL citizen for 1171 NHL games. He scored 122 goals and 313 assists for 435 points. He added another 11 goals and 33 points in 102 playoff games, but he never did get a chance to sip champagne from Lord Stanley's Mug.

A passionate fisherman, Sylvain Cote later opened his own fishing charter business in Maryland.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lou Franceschetti

Lou Franceschetti made himself a good living as a hard working third or fourth line player His game was based on total heart and dedication, not necessarily skill.

"I was somebody that was going to go out and create a little bit of energy for your teammates, create a little bit of havoc and just want to keep the other guys on the other team honest at all times knowing that when I was out there I was there to make things happen and the game could get a little physical," he said.

Franceschetti was drafted 71st overall in the 1978 Amateur Draft by the Washington Capitals, the team he spent the majority of his career with. More accurately he split most of his career between the American capital and the American league. In fact he spent 3 full seasons in the minor league level before finally getting a shot at a taste of NHL life in 1981-82, when he appeared in 30 games. But Lou would spend most of his season in the minors. The next three seasons were almost carbon copies of 1981-82. Solid minor league season hi-lighted with a peppering of NHL action.

Lou finally made the Caps on a full time basis in 1984-85 when the 6' 200lb right winger participated in 76 NHL games. He would be a mainstay on Washington's right wing for the next three seasons with the exception of 16 minor league games. He was never much of a goal scorer or playmaker, but he was a fan favorite as they loved to chant his name. He was a valued fourth line plumber, which is quite fitting considering he supplemented his minor league income by working as a plumber during the off-seasons.

In the summer of 1989 the Caps traded Franceschetti to Toronto in exchange for a draft pick. Lou surprisingly exploded in his first season with the Leafs, scoring 21 goals and 36 points, both career highs, in 80 games.

Lou would be traded to Buffalo 16 games into the 1990-91 season, but he struggled terribly with the Sabres, scoring just once in 35 games. To make matters worse, Lou faced the pressure of knowing the Sabres traded Mike Foligno - one of the all-time favourites in Buffalo in order to get him and defenseman Brian Curran.

Aside from 1 game during the 1991-92 season with Buffalo, Lou would played 5 years of minor league hockey before retiring in 1996. He would later become involved in Roller Hockey International, including competing for the Buffalo Stampede and Buffalo Wings.

Lou played hard and with good speed. His determination and willingness to sacrifice impressed all. He used his body effectively as he hit purposefully rather than recklessly. A good and willing fighter, Lou left the NHL with career totals of 59 goals and 141 points in 459 regular season games.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pete Laframbois

This is Pete Laframboise. Check out those, umm...colorful California Golden Seals sweaters.

Laframboise spent a couple of seasons in Oakland, remembered best  for a 4 goal outburst in an 11-3 whitewashing of the Vancouver Canucks on January 3rd, 1973. He was described as a talented player who did not apply himself often enough. A likeable teammate known for his constant joking around, he was known to enjoy himself a bit too much off the ice, undoubtedly affecting his play on more than a few nights.

As a result he bounced around the league after leaving Oakland. He briefly appeared in Washington, Pittsburgh and, in the WHA, Edmonton.

In 227 NHL games Pete Laframboise scored 33 goals, 55 assists and 88 points.

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