Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alan May

Do you know which NHL player was traded the most times on NHL trading deadline day?

According to an official NHL press release the answer is Alan May, who was traded 4 times (1988, 1989, 1994, 1995). That is one more time than Dan McGillis, Mark Jannsesn, Mike Gartner and Steve Konroyd.

Who?

Other than famed goal scorer Gartner, why would NHL teams be so interested in these already all but forgotten names at the trading deadline? In May's case in particular, why would teams in the heat of a playoff drive be so interested in a pugilist who in his best season scored just 7 goals and a scary 339 penalty minutes?

Alan May was a hard working and hard nosed hockey player. He showed little promise in junior hockey, rarely playing in the WHL and never being drafted by the NHL. After a 1986-87 season in the lowest of the minor leagues, an old "Slap Shot-like" league called the ACHL, he signed with the Boston Bruins before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers, who were known for stockpiling goons as well as superstars.

To his credit May worked his butt off to get on to the NHL's radar. A rugged kid from the industrious farms and forests of Barrhead, Alberta - about 75 miles northwest of Edmonton - May was never shy of hard work. Over the next couple of seasons he took on all comers in the AHL, but also worked on his skating, defensive coverage and puck skills. A bit of a late bloomer, he was beginning to show he could play the game some, as well as being as tough as nails.

And the NHL noticed. The Oilers gave him a three game audition, and he even scored a goal.

But it was not until the 1989-90 season that May arrived in the NHL. The Washington Capitals had acquired May from Edmonton via Los Angeles in a draft day trade. May would become the Caps resident tough guy for the next 4 and 1/2 seasons.

Make no mistake, the 6 foot, 205 pound winger was in the NHL for his ability to throw punches. Though maybe not a true challenger for hockey's heavyweight title, he handled his own, surprising many by punching with both hands.

May was an intelligent goon in that he knew when and when not to fight, in terms of impacting the flow of the game. If his team was going well, he would not interrupt the trend. But if his team needed a pick-me-up, he was more than willing to look for a way to fire up the bench.

And despite his high penalty minute totals, it was rare that he left his team shorthanded. He usually took someone from the other team to the penalty box as well.

While he was there to fill the goon role, he brought more to the table than just fists of fury.

First and foremost, he was an excellent teammate. He was universally loved on the bench and in the room. This allowed him to take on a leadership role, whereby his devotion and intensity rubbed off on teammates of much higher skill levels. He worked hard on every shift and in every practice, setting the tone for every player.

He also was a decent role player, able to play a few minutes each game and contribute more than just glove-dropping intimidation.

With a decent amount of quickness and balance on his skates, May's skating allowed him to launch himself into opponents when bodychecking, maximizing his physical game. When forechecking he was like a heat seeking missle, zeroing in on defensemen who were anxious to get rid of the puck. He did some nice work along the wall and in the corners, too, often freeing pucks from those heated scrums.

Unfortunately, May had next to no skills with the puck once he freed it. He had no vision whatsoever, and no creativity other than to immediately fire it on net with his heavy shot, or to put back along the boards and fight for it again.

Still, May was able to carve out a nice 393 game career, toiling with Dallas and Calgary late in his career. In that time May scored 31 goals, 76 points and registering an unforgiving 1346 penalty minutes. Unlike some goons, he played in the playoffs, too. He got into 40 post season games, contributing 1 goal, 3 points and 80 PIMs.

Upon retirment May opened up his own physical training business in Dallas after dabbling in coaching in the minor leagues.

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