THE 1977 NHL DRAFT AND THE SPECTRE THAT WAS MIKE BOSSY

Howie Mooney
FiredUp Network Sports Writer

@HowieMooney

Sunday, March 6, 2022


   Photo credit – Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

 

THE 1977 NHL DRAFT AND THE SPECTRE THAT WAS MIKE BOSSY

On March 5, 1985, Mike Bossy scored his 50th goal of the 1984-85 season.  It was the eighth consecutive year he had scored 50 goals and he became the first ever National Hockey League player to accomplish that feat.  He was the purest goal scorer of his generation, if not in NHL history.  Bossy had been drafted 15th overall in the 1977 Entry Draft.  

Twelve teams (the Rangers and the Maple Leafs each selected twice in the first fourteen picks) had the chance to select Bossy but did not.  And even so, it seemed like he was the spectre that hung over that day. He was the player that people always think about when they talk about that particular draft to this day.

And so, I thought it might be interesting to examine the first fifteen selections of that draft just to see who was chosen before the Hall of Famer and to give you an idea of the tension in the Islanders’ front office on Draft Day 1977.

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In all of the gin joints in all the world, is there anything as pointless, but as fun, as looking back at a certain draft year and comparing the selections that the different teams made with the players they could have had?  

We all know that the word ‘IF’ is pretty big, but when looking at the players that were available and how they were viewed at the time, and then looking back at their growth curves and how their careers actually went, well, you can’t help but wonder.

The 1977 National Hockey League Amateur Draft was held on June 14 at the Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal.  This draft was somewhat notable because the league had gone back to selecting players who were 20 years old in 1976, but given the fact that they briefly had held an 18-year-old draft in 1974 and 1975, the pickings in 1976 were slim.  By the summer of 1977, there were some excellent players who were on the board and available.

One other thing to keep in mind was that the draft was not held in a big arena with wild crowds watching breathlessly.  It was done mostly by phone.  General managers and their staffs had to monitor the proceedings by getting phone messages from league officials, letting them know who was selected and by whom.

The conventional wisdom of the time had two guys at the top of the selection class.  Dale McCourt was a classy centre for the St. Catharines Fincups.  In his final year in St. Catharines, McCourt scored 60 goals and 139 points in 66 games.  He also played for Canada at the World Junior Tournament where he notched ten goals and eight assists in seven games.  

His 18 points in the tourney are a record that still stands today.  He won the Red Tilson Trophy as the Ontario Hockey Association’s Most Outstanding Player in 1976-77 as well.

Robert Picard was a tough, physical defenseman, with some offensive ability, for the Montreal Junior Canadiens.  In his final year of junior hockey, he scored 32 goals and added 60 assists in 70 games.  He piled up 267 penalty minutes that year.  Over his four years in junior, he totalled 1,182 minutes in the penalty box.  There were comparisons in the newspapers to Denis Potvin because of his skating, scoring and toughness.

At the next level were a couple of big blueliners for the defending Memorial Cup champion New Westminster Bruins.  Barry Beck was a 6’4” 220 pounder who had been named the top defenseman in the Western Hockey League in 1976-77.  He put up 62 points in 61 games that season and was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team. 

His teammate, Brad Maxwell, put up 79 points in 70 regular season contests and was his team’s leading scorer in the WHL post-season.  In fourteen playoff games, Maxwell amassed 22 points.  He was the other defenseman on the Memorial Cup All-tournament team.

One other defenseman was seen as being at that same level.  Kevin McCarthy was a standout for the WHL’s Winnipeg Monarchs in 1976-77.  He was an excellent puck mover and playmaker.  In his last season of junior hockey, he scored 22 goals but he added 105 assists!  In his 17-year-old season, he represented Canada at the World Junior tournament and in five games and he had a goal and four assists.

Another player who had been among the heavily scrutinized was the Sherbrooke Castors’ Jere (pronounced ‘Jerry’) Gillis.  Gillis was a left winger who had a lot of offensive ability.  In 72 QMJHL games, he piled up 55 goals and 140 points.  He had led his team through the Quebec League playoffs and had an excellent Memorial Cup.  He was selected to the All-tournament team at the left forward spot.

Al Strachan, in a pre-draft article for the Montreal Gazette, called this the league’s “annual battle of wits”.  And the hardest thing for teams has always been trying to predict a player’s growth curve and potential given what their scouts have seen of the guy in games against a wide range of opponents’ abilities.  

There are players who continue to improve and develop after they leave junior hockey and there are others whose development seems to stall.  There are players who view the draft as being the end of their journey, seeing the selection as their finish line, having worked all their lives just to be chosen by a National Hockey League club.

And then there are other players who see the draft as one more stop along the way.  They see it as the beginning of their professional career and they continue to work to make all facets of their game better and better.  They look at their weaknesses and they toil day after day to bring those aspects of their game to a higher level.  They look at their strengths and they spend time making those even more formidable as well.

The draft got underway at 9:30 am on June 14.  It was a Tuesday.  There was no television coverage of the festivities.  There was no 24-hour sports (or news) cycle at that time, and the team executives all assembled in a Montreal hotel ballroom or in their respective offices to get their business done.

Ron Caron was the Montreal Canadiens’ head scout and he was of the opinion that this draft was the strongest since the 1971 draft.  The first two picks that year were Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne!

 

1ST PICK – DETROIT – DALE McCOURT, CENTRE, ST. CATHARINES FINCUPS

The Detroit Red Wings held the first overall pick and with that selection they took centreman Dale McCourt.  In his first season with the Wings, the reigning Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year was their leading scorer.  He scored 33 goals and added 39 assists.  It was a great start to his professional career.  Detroit had been a terrible team in 1976-77 finishing the season with just 41 points.

In McCourt’s first year in the Motor City, the team jumped to second place in the Norris Division and made the playoffs.  They won their first-round matchup against the Atlanta Flames but bowed out in the second round against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Montreal Canadiens.

Before the 1977-78 season, Wings’ general manager Ted Lindsay signed the Los Angeles Kings’ restricted free agent goaltender Rogatien Vachon.  An arbitrator ruled that for signing Vachon, Detroit would have to give McCourt to the Kings.  McCourt did not want to have to leave Motown.  He sued the league, the Players’ Association, the Red Wings and the Kings.  While the suit was ongoing, McCourt was allowed to continue playing for Detroit.  

He finished second in team scoring that year with 71 points in 79 games.  He ended up being able to stay with the Wings, but the legal experience seemed to stay with him.  He led the team in scoring in each of the next two years but a cloud hung over McCourt and the team.  That, coupled with the Marcel Dionne free agency scenario, where he left Detroit to sign with Los Angeles, made the whole situation uncomfortable for all parties.

Early in the 1981-82 season, McCourt and Mike Foligno were traded to the Buffalo Sabres.  McCourt never fulfilled his potential there, playing behind Gilbert Perreault.  Foligno, however, thrived in Buffalo, becoming a team leader.  After two seasons with the Sabres, McCourt was released and signed with the Leafs.  The teams he played with seldom made the playoffs so he often played for Canada at the World Championships.

In the summer of 1984, he decided to sign with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss League.  He played there for eight seasons and, at the end of his career in Switzerland, his number was retired.  In retrospect, McCourt’s wish to stay with the Wings instead of going to the Kings, and his loyalty to the team that had drafted him ended up costing him what could have been a career filled with success and joy.

McCourt played 532 games in seven NHL seasons.  He scored 194 goals and added 284 assists for 478 points.

 

2ND PICK – COLORADO – BARRY BECK, DEFENSE, NEW WESTMINSTER BRUINS

The Colorado Rockies were next on the clock and they went with defenseman Barry Beck of the New Westminster Bruins.  The Rockies were not a very good team in 1976-77, and they were still not a great team in 1977-78, but luckily for them, they were better than three other teams in the Smythe Division and they ended up being one of the twelve teams that made the postseason that year.

They were swept in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished 25 games over .500.  That said, Barry Beck played well in his first year in the NHL.  He scored 22 goals and added 38 helpers to accumulate 60 points and he came second in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year.

The Rockies would flounder the following year, 1978-79, finishing with just 42 points in the 80-game schedule.  Beck’s point total would drop.  He had 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points.  In the 1979-80 season, the Rockies, with Don Cherry at the helm, finished at the bottom of the Smythe Division again.  The four new teams that had come over from the WHA all finished with better records than the Rockies.

Ten games into that season, Beck was traded to the New York Rangers for five players, including the Rangers’ first selection in the 1977 draft, Lucien DeBlois.  For Beck, going to the Big Apple was a new lease on life.  He would later tell The Hockey News’ Mark Malinowski that that trade was the greatest sports moment in his life.

“I was playing in front of eight or nine thousand in Colorado. As a kid I had hockey cards of players like Bob Nevin, of the Original Six teams. I dreamed of playing with one of the Original Six teams. When I got to New York, I thought: ‘This is what hockey is all about. Playing in a historic arena like Madison Square Garden in a city like New York City.’ You have to be consistently good every night as a player, instead of every other night. The highlight memory was putting on a Rangers jersey and skating out on the Garden ice for the first time."

That would be one of his greatest seasons as an NHL player.  He would finish with 15 goals and 50 assists for 65 points.  Beck would play seven years in New York as a Ranger.  But when he was asked by Malinowski about funny hockey memories, he brought up a moment in Denver in 1979.

“One time, in Colorado, Don Cherry's dog Blue came waddling into our locker room.  He came in and, you know how those dogs do it, he rubbed his butt on the floor - right in front of my locker, in the area I used to do push-ups.  So I gave Blue a little whack with my stick and he ran yelping down the hall back to Don's office.  Then Don came in and asked who did it?  We kind of looked around, said we didn't know.  The next day I got traded to New York."

Beck played in 615 games over ten NHL seasons.  He scored 104 goals, notched 251 assists for a total of 355 points and collected 1,016 penalty minutes.  

 

3RD PICK – WASHINGTON – ROBERT PICARD, DEFENSE, MONTREAL JUNIORS

The Washington Capitals had the third choice in the 1977 draft and they took defenseman Robert Picard.  He signed a five-year $500,000 contract with them moments after the draft.  But as the summer wore on, he learned that he could have made much more with the World Hockey Association’s Quebec Nordiques and, at the beginning of September, signed a five-year $625,000 contract with them.  That caused some problems immediately.

Before either league’s seasons had begun, on September 23, the WHA’s legal people told the Nordiques that the contract they had with Picard was not valid.  Picard and his lawyer launched a lawsuit against the WHA and tried to have the contract with the Capitals nullified.  Picard was quoted, at the time, as saying he would “rather deliver pizzas in Quebec City” than play hockey in Washington.

Realizing that his suit was not going to go anywhere, he reported to the Capitals’ training camp and began his professional career with them.  The situation, though, caused concern for Picard in terms of how it would all be seen by his new teammates and the fans.  The things Picard had said were released to the media, and Capitals’ general manager, Max McNab, acknowledged that the situation would take some careful navigating.

McNab told the Washington Post that there was “some concern on Robert's part about reaction from teammates and fans. We think they'll understand that this is a 20-year-old boy. I think if we can just unwind his feelings, we'll have a good hockey player. There were some things said that will be difficult to undo. They will take discussion.”

Picard played decently for Washington, (he received votes for the Norris Trophy in his second year with the Caps) but the team was, to put it bluntly, miserable.  He had been portrayed as an incoming saviour and there wasn’t any one player that would have been capable of playing a role like that on this Capitals team.  After three seasons, Picard was traded, at the 1980 draft, to the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Tim Coulis and a draft choice for goalie Mike Palmateer and a pick.  

Then, at the trade deadline the following March, Picard was traded by the Leafs to the Montreal Canadiens for goalie Michel ‘Bunny’ Larocque.  His thirteen-year NHL career would see him also make stops in Winnipeg, Quebec and Detroit, but he never fulfilled the promise that was foreseen for him before the 1977 draft.

Picard played parts of thirteen NHL seasons.  He scored 104 goals and added 319 helpers for 423 points in 899 games.  He also added 1,025 penalty minutes.

 

4TH PICK – VANCOUVER – JERE GILLIS, LEFT WING, SHERBROOKE CASTORS

Whenever a team has a top four selection in the entry draft, the hope is that the player they choose will be a mainstay with the team for a lengthy time to come.  Perhaps, he will become a star.  The Vancouver Canucks had such aspirations with the fourth overall pick in the 1977 draft.  Alas, those hopes were never realized.

With their pick, the Canucks took left winger Jere (‘Jerry’) Gillis from the Sherbrooke Castors.  Gillis had an amazing junior career playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.  In his last two seasons in Sherbrooke, he totalled 102 goals and 242 points.  He carried his team to a QMJHL championship and got them into the Memorial Cup. 

But in his first NHL training camp in Vancouver, he was involved in a collision with teammate Ron Sedlbauer and was forced to miss some time at the beginning of the season.  He was put on a line with Rick Blight and veteran Mike Walton.  Walton and Blight ended up the top two point scorers on the Canucks in 1977-78.  Gillis ended the season with 23 goals and 18 assists for 41 points, but his totals paled in comparison with his linemates.

The following season, Gillis amassed just 25 points in 78 games and in 1979-80, he notched 30 points in 67 games.  He missed the end of the season and the playoffs with a neck injury.  Gillis was not in the Canucks’ starting lineup as the 1980-81 season got underway.  

He didn’t get into a regular season game until the team’s fifth contest.  He then played eleven games, collecting four assists, and the Canucks dealt him to the New York Rangers, with Jeff Bandura, for Mario Marois and Jim Mayer.  

Gillis scored on his first shot as a Ranger and totalled ten goals and ten assists in 35 games.  He would play 26 games with the Rangers the following season before being traded in December of 1981 to the Quebec Nordiques for centre/left winger Robbie Ftorek and a draft pick.  The hope was that going back to La Belle Province would revive his career, but sadly, that didn’t happen.

At the end of that season, Gillis was a free agent.  Just before the 1982-83 season started, he signed on with Buffalo.  Then, just before the 1983-84 campaign, he got on with the Canucks where he played 74 games over two seasons. 

He spent a couple of years in the American Hockey League and then went over to Europe and finished his playing career in England.  He became a coach in the league there and that was where he completed his professional hockey life.  His career was indeed inauspicious, but one might wonder how things may have been different had he not collided with Ron Sedlbauer in his first training camp in Vancouver.

Gillis played 386 games in parts of nine seasons in the NHL.  He scored 78 goals and totalled 173 points over that time.

 

5TH PICK – CLEVELAND – MIKE CROMBEEN, RIGHT WING, KINGSTON CANADIANS

The Cleveland Barons chose fifth and their selection could have been viewed as a surprise.  They took Mike Crombeen, a right winger, from the Kingston Canadians.  The Barons had begun their existence in the NHL as the Oakland Seals and then they became the California Golden Seals.  Their time in the Bay Area had been far from successful and they eventually moved to Cleveland.

The Barons wanted a right winger and were looking at Laval’s Mike Bossy as well, but when it came time for their selection, they placed a call to Pierre Lacroix, Bossy’s agent, and asked what it would take to sign his player.  Remember that in 1977, there was no ceiling on what teams could pay their draft choices.  Lacroix responded that it would require a $100,000 signing bonus and $100,000 per year for three years.  The Barons balked at that price and chose Crombeen.

Crombeen has been looked at as one of the best players to have ever played in Kingston.  His best season with the Canadians was his 17-year-old year.  He managed 56 goals in 69 games in 1974-75.  He added 58 assists to that for a total of 114 points.  The next two seasons, his numbers dipped but over the four years he spent with Kingston, he totalled 160 goals and 322 points.

He was sufficiently touted coming out of junior that he was selected fourth overall in the WHA draft by the Edmonton Oilers.  He did consider going to the Oilers but instead opted to play with the Barons.  Just because a player is a top five pick guarantees nothing.  Crombeen played 48 games with Cleveland that year and split his time with the Barons, their AHL affiliate, the Broome County (Binghamton) Dusters, and the CHL’s Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

After that 1977-78 season, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars and they had to choose which players they would keep and which they would allow to be selected in a special dispersal draft.  Crombeen was not protected and he was picked up by the St. Louis Blues.  He eventually established his place with the Blues and played there for the next five seasons.

Crombeen saw some significant action in the 1980-81 playoffs with St. Louis.  In the first round of the postseason, the Blues and the Pittsburgh Penguins were tied at two games apiece.  The opening series back then were best-of-five affairs and that fifth game went to overtime.  The first twenty minutes decided nothing.  Just over five minutes into the second extra frame, though, Crombeen took a pass from Mike Zuke and deposited the puck past Pens’ goalie Paul Harrison for the series-winning tally.  

After the 1982-83 season, St. Louis placed Crombeen on waivers and he was snapped up by the Hartford Whalers.  He played parts of two seasons with them and finished out his hockey career with the Whalers’ AHL team in Binghamton.  That summer, Crombeen and his wife welcomed a son, B.J., into the world.  B.J. would end up playing with the Dallas Stars, the Blues, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Arizona Coyotes.

Mike Crombeen played 475 NHL games over eight seasons.  He scored 55 goals and finished his career with a total of 123 points.

 

6TH PICK – CHICAGO – DOUG WILSON, DEFENSE, OTTAWA 67s

The Chicago Black Hawks selected next and they took the captain of the team that had lost a month before in the final game of the Memorial Cup.  Doug Wilson was a defenseman but he was also a quiet leader on the Ottawa 67s team that had come back from a three-goal deficit in the final game to tie it up at 5-5.  Barry Beck’s New Westminster Bruins scored a late goal to take a 6-5 victory.  

Wilson and the 67s’ Bobby Smith tied for the scoring lead in the seven games their team played in the tournament.  Each had twelve points.  In three seasons patrolling the Ottawa blue line, Wilson amassed 254 points.  An Ottawa Citizen article after the Memorial Cup stated that, with the NHL draft on the horizon, “for Wilson, the only question is how soon he’ll be picked in the first round”.

Not only was Wilson chosen sixth overall by Chicago, but he was also selected fifth overall in the WHA draft by the Indianapolis Racers.  His coach when he played with the 67s was Brian Kilrea and what the Hall of Fame bench boss first noticed about Wilson were his cannonading shot and his combativeness.  Kilrea loved the shot and, though he didn’t mind the feisty play, he felt that Wilson could tone that down a little bit.

“He’s one of the few guys ever that could score from a non-screened blue line,” Kilrea told the San Jose Mercury News in 2021.  “He just had a tremendous shot as well as – which I didn’t realize until after a few games – that he had a pretty good temper, and he didn’t mind dropping the gloves if he had to, either.  Once he started doing that, I said ‘we don’t need you breaking your hand’.  He was our power play.  He just did everything.  His passing was unbelievable, quick and accurate.  I don’t take any credit for his development.  He was just great.”

Wilson joined the Hawks as a 20-year-old kid and stepped into a team that still was laden with star veterans but may not have been heading in the right direction.  Players like Tony Esposito and Keith Magnuson were still in Chicago.  His first roommate was Stan Mikita.  “The team was a much older team,” Wilson told the Mercury News.  “I was one of the few young guys on the team.  Whatever they did or told me to do, I was going to follow in their footsteps.”

“But Stan Mikita was one of the smartest people and one of the greatest givers when it comes to helping other people.  I’m not an academic, but you learn by osmosis and you just watch him and how he treated situations and how he treated people is of great value to me.”

Bob Verdi was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and he was wondering what kind of a person and player Wilson would become.  “He’s a fresh face kid and he’s a high draft choice and everybody is wondering, ‘Well, is he going to pretend that he’s the saviour?’  The team was very down when he was drafted.”

“It was about a day or two , I was like, ‘Oh, this guy is really good and he’s really respectful and he’s a really good guy.  He just fit in.  Never acted like he was special, and the veterans appreciated that.”

Wilson joined the Hawks right away and played 77 games in his first year.  His performance improved every year and by 1981-82, he was at the top of his game.  He earned Hart Trophy consideration that season and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.  He played 938 games over fourteen years in Chicago and scored 225 goals and managed 779 points over that span.

Mike Keenan took over behind the bench in Chicago before the 1988-89 season as the front office decided that some change was needed in The Windy City.  Wilson was still around a point-per-game player.  But after three years, with Keenan, and Bill Wirtz wanting to make the team younger, he gave some of the veterans a chance to move other locations.

Wilson had a decent number of opportunities in other NHL cities.  Teams like the Flyers, the Rangers and the Red Wings held some cachet for Wilson, but he got together with his family and they made a decision together to go to the newly minted San Jose Sharks.

“There was a group of teams involved,” Wilson told The Mercury News.  “And it was a family-type of determination and that’s how we made the decision.  With Mr. Gund (George Gund III) and (Sharks’ inaugural general manager) Jack Ferreira, it was just a unique opportunity.”  Wilson became a member of the Sharks.

He would play two seasons in San Jose and the team was by no means any good during that time.  They won 28 games over those first two years and by the time the 1992-93 campaign ended, Wilson was 35 years of age.  His physical condition would no longer allow him to play.  “My body was done,” said Wilson.  “I played a lot of hockey, put a lot of miles on my body and I was just breaking down.  The back and the neck were pretty much done.”

He spent four years as the NHL Players’ Association’s coordinator of player relations and business development.  He was also a management consultant for Team Canada’s gold medal-winning teams in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.  In May of 2003, he became the Sharks’ general manager.  He remained in that position until he stepped away in November of 2021 for medical reasons.

While he was still the GM of the Sharks, news came in 2020 that he would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  It had been a long wait but one that Wilson’s former teammate Denis Savard said was no surprise.  “He’s a Hall of Fame hockey player, but he’s a Hall of Fame guy too.”

“There’s no other way to put it.  He was a great teammate to all of us who played with him.  So proud of him.  So happy.  It’s been a while, a long time.  But it’s never too late.  He’s not the only one that waited that long and we all felt, as teammates and friends, that he should be in there.”  Wilson joined Denis Potvin as the second player from the Ottawa 67s in the Hall.  He was the second player from the draft class of 1977 to be inducted as well.

 

7TH PICK – MINNESOTA – BRAD MAXWELL, DEFENSE, NEW WESTMINSTER BRUINS

The New Westminster Bruins of the Western Hockey League were a powerhouse in Junior Hockey in the mid 1970s.  Coached by Ernie ‘Punch’ McLean, the Bruins made it to the Memorial Cup, as the WHL champions, in 1975, 1976 and 1977.  It wasn’t until that third appearance that they actually won the whole thing as they edged the Ottawa 67s 6-5 in the final game on a beautiful end to end rush by defenseman Brad Maxwell.

His performance with the Bruins over his three years there made him very attractive to a lot of NHL teams and he was taken seventh overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1977 draft.  With ‘New West’, Maxwell played a role as a hard-skating, puck-carrying defenseman.  He had an accurate shot and the fact that he shot from the right side made him an asset as a blueliner.

But in making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL, the thing that was missing was speed.  He was a good skater with the Bruins, but the step from the WHL to the NHL is a big one and while he had a productive rookie year with the North Stars, he had to learn how to play defense at the higher level.  He scored 18 goals and had 29 assists, and he led all NHL defensemen in power play goals with 12, which for a rookie, is quite decent, but his plus/minus of -56 was somewhat glaring.

He was a coachable player though and a student of the game and he learned quickly how to grow as a player at the highest niche of hockey.  As the Stars merged with the Cleveland Barons and Maxwell got to play with better players, his level of play and that of his teammates improved and by 1980-81, fans in Minnesota got to see a team that had become very good.

In October of 1980, Maxwell tore knee ligaments and in February, had his foot cut by a skate blade and he developed a blood infection.  He missed a good part of the season but made it back before the year ended and he would play a major role as his club would go on a major roll in the playoffs.  The North Stars swept the Boston Bruins in the first round, then dumped the Buffalo Sabres in five games in the second.  

In the third round, they faced the Calgary Flames and dispatched them in six games.  Their magical ride ended though as they faced the juggernaut that was the New York Islanders losing the Stanley Cup final series in five games.

Goaltender Gilles Meloche was a big reason for the Minnesota run, but Maxwell was a big contributor as well.  In 18 postseason games, he had three goals and eleven assists for 14 points.  In his career, Maxwell played in 79 playoff contests and he collected 61 points on 12 goals and 49 helpers.

Maxwell’s best year was 1983-84 when he scored 19 goals and added 54 assists for a total of 73 points in 78 games.  He also was assessed 225 penalty minutes.  That was also his last full season in Minnesota.  18 games into 1984-85, he was sent to the Quebec Nordiques with Brent Ashton in exchange for Bo Berglund and Tony McKegney.  

After that season, he was traded from Quebec to the Toronto Maple Leafs for John Anderson.  Then, just before the 1986-87 campaign started, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for a fifth round 1988 draft pick.  In January of 1987, he was put on waivers by the Canucks and was picked up by the New York Rangers.  A month later, he was dealt back to Minnesota and his  career ended there that spring.  

Maxwell’s hockey career was summed up reasonably well by hockey historian and writer Joe Pelletier.  “All in all, he was a standout junior player, and a pretty good NHL player.  He is a strong candidate for the best defenseman in Minnesota North Stars history.”

 

8TH PICK – N.Y. RANGERS – LUCIEN DEBLOIS, CENTRE, SOREL ÉPERVIERS

John Ferguson, Sr. was the general manager of the New York Rangers when they drafted eighth overall in 1977.  He was looking for a slick forward for his team.  His top two choices were a centreman who was the QMJHL’s Most Valuable Player in Lucien DeBlois and a high scoring right winger over in Laval who averaged 77 goals in each of his four seasons in junior hockey in Mike Bossy.

In the end, Ferguson chose the 5’11” 200 pound DeBlois because, as he was quoted in Andrew Podnieks’ 2003 book Players: The Ultimate A-Z Guide of Everyone Who Has Ever Played In the NHL, “Bossy didn’t check enough for the NHL”.  Ferguson didn’t want to select a player that would have to be taught how to check or play defense.  He wanted a player he could plug right into an NHL lineup and play right away.

And none of this is meant to be disparaging to Lucien DeBlois.  Whenever you have a guy who played almost 1,000 games in his NHL career, that’s a wonderfully impressive statistic.  This was a player who was on the QMJHL’s first All-Star team and had been chosen to represent the league in their series against the Soviet Union’s junior team during the 1975-76 season.

But when it came to the NHL, DeBlois was never the player that he appeared he might be when he played in ‘the Q’.  He played two seasons in the Big Apple with the Rangers and then six games into his third season, he was traded in a package with three other players and a draft pick to Colorado for defenseman, Barry Beck.

After two seasons in Denver, he was sent to Winnipeg for Brent Ashton and a third-round draft pick.  DeBlois’ best NHL years were in Manitoba and he played three seasons with the Jets before being dealt to Montreal in exchange for Perry Turnbull.  He played two years in Montreal and was a part of their Stanley Cup winning team in 1986.  DeBlois played in eleven games during the postseason in their Cup run.

After playing on a Cup winner, he was a free agent and he went back to a place with which he was familiar.  He signed with the Rangers.  He would last three years with the Blueshirts before becoming a free agent once again.  In the summer of 1989, he signed on with the Quebec Nordiques.  He would play there for a full season and then in November of 1990, he was traded with Aaron Broten and Michel Petit to Toronto for Scott Pearson and a couple of draft picks.

His playing career would finish in Winnipeg with the Jets at the end of the 1991-92 season.  In all he played in 993 NHL games and he scored 249 goals and added 279 assists for 525 total points.  

 

9TH PICK – ST. LOUIS – SCOTT CAMPBELL, DEFENSE, LONDON KNIGHTS

In the 1976-77 season, the St. Louis Blues were far from great.  They had fallen from the heights they had reached just a few short years before when they had been to three consecutive Stanley Cup finals and they really needed some help on their back end.  They were getting no offense whatsoever from their defense corps and they saw their big need as being on their blue line.

So, with their pick in the 1977 draft, they chose defenseman Scott Campbell from the London Knights.  Campbell had played decently well for the Knights in his final year of junior hockey picking up 23 goals and 67 points in 60 games.  Couple that with the fact that he was 6’3” and 205 pounds and that made him attractive to the Blues.

The problem for St. Louis was that Campbell was also liked by the WHA’s Houston Aeros who chose him first overall and, undoubtedly, offered him the money that would be commensurate with the status of a first overall pick.  Ergo, Campbell signed with Houston and played there in his first professional season.

In his first season with the Aeros, Campbell had eight goals and 29 assists for 37 points.  By 1977-78, the WHA was now just an eight-team league and Houston finished third in the standings.  The Aeros lost in the first round to the Quebec Nordiques.  The Winnipeg Jets ended up winning the Avco World Trophy, by the way.

More importantly for the Aeros and the rest of the league, the WHA had been in talks with the NHL to try to negotiate a merger between the two leagues.  But any talk of the two organizations getting together was contingent on the NHL owners being able to agree and ratify the entire notion.  There was talk of six WHA teams joining the senior loop.  Then four.  The NHL executives could not come to any consensus, so the idea was shelved, at least for the time being.

The Aeros’ ownership, led by principal owner Kenneth Schnitzer, then tried to buy into the NHL but was again rebuffed.  Schnitzer tried to then buy the Cleveland Barons and move them to Houston but that was rejected by NHL owners as well.  Eventually, in July of 1978, Schnitzer and the Aeros pulled out of the WHA ahead of the 1978-79 season.

Campbell then joined the Winnipeg Jets and, though his point totals were not as good as they had been the previous year, he led the league in penalty minutes with 248.  The following season, 1979-80, four of the WHA teams, the Jets, Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers and the New England Whalers joined the NHL.  

Immediately, the Blues tried to reclaim Campbell, but the new clubs had the legal ability to protect three of their players from the previous season and Campbell was one of those protected skaters.  Morris Lukowich was another.  He played that first NHL season with the Jets garnering three goals and twenty points.  

In November of 1980, Campbell separated his shoulder in a game against Philadelphia and ended up missing most of the season.  That and a chronic asthma condition that combined with severe headaches, caused him to seek a trade out of the colder climes of Winnipeg at the end of the campaign.

He missed training camp that September due to the headaches and played only three games in November.  His NHL career was over before it barely began.  He played 80 NHL games over parts of three seasons and scored four goals and managed 25 points.  In 149 WHA contests, he amassed 55 points with eleven goals.  His Jets won the final WHA championship in the spring of 1979.

 

10TH PICK – MONTREAL – MARK NAPIER, RIGHT WING, BIRMINGHAM (WHA)

There is always a dilemma when it comes to a draft day in Montreal and that is, do they pick the best player available or do they pick from need AND, is the player they select from La Belle Province.  The Canadiens were well set up having won the two previous Stanley Cups.  They were well equipped in goal and on defense and they were also stocked on their forward lines.

According to Stan Fischler, both Scotty Bowman and Claude Ruel were enamoured with the scoring abilities of Mike Bossy, who had been quite a prolific goal scorer with Laval in the Quebec League.  But the team’s scouts preferred a guy from Toronto who played junior hockey with the Marlboros and was already doing well in the WHA with the Birmingham Bulls as an underager.  Mark Napier.

In the end, it was the scouts who won out and the Canadiens chose Napier.  The fact that he was already playing against men and playing well, and his ability to play what was seen at the time as more of a two-way game, moved the needle in his favour.  As Ken Dryden wrote in his book Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other, “Scotty says of Napier, ‘He was really a pro.  He was playing in the World Hockey Association.’”

A couple of years later though, Bowman may have been having second thoughts as expressed in a Sports Illustrated piece on Bossy.  “Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman, whose Canadiens passed up a chance to draft the Montreal-born Bossy, says, ‘There's no way he should have escaped us, especially when he was picked so low. You can't teach a kid—any kid—how to score goals, but you can teach him how to cover his wing on defense.’”

Napier was no slouch, though.  In his first season with the WHA’s Toronto Toros, Napier scored 43 goals and added 50 assists for 93 points.  Those totals allowed him to win the league’s Rookie of the Year Award.  He followed that up with a 96-point season on 60 (!) goals and 36 helpers after the team had moved from Toronto to Birmingham.  He was even named captain of that team.

After he was drafted by Montreal, and looking at the Habs’ lineup (and trying to figure how he would fit into it), he chose to stay for one more year with the Bulls.  He scored 33 times and notched 32 assists for 65 points.  It was then that he moved up north to play in Montreal.  He would play a role in the Canadiens’ last of four consecutive Cup-winning teams.  He played 54 regular season games and a dozen more in the playoffs to get his first Cup ring.

His first NHL game was the team’s second of the 1978-79 season.  It was at the Forum against the Colorado Rockies and Napier scored his first big-league goal on his first shift.  Napier deflected a point shot from Gilles Lupien past Bill Oleschuk at the 3:27 mark of the opening period of that October 14 game.  

When asked the differences between the WHA and the NHL by reporters after the game, Napier was matter-of-fact.  “The real difference is in the checking.  It’s a lot tougher in the NHL.”  Napier also told the writers that he had struggled a bit in adjusting to the style of play in Montreal.  “With Birmingham, I was more of a robot-type player.  But here, they want you to be skating, anticipating and thinking all the time.”

Napier played five full seasons with the Canadiens.  His best stretch of hockey was between 1980-81 and 1982-83.  In ’80-81, he scored 35 goals and added 36 assists in 79 games.  The following year, he scored 40 goals and assisted on 41 others over 80 matches.  In ’82-83, he again scored 40 and finished the season with 67 points in 73 contests.  

He began the 1983-84 season in Montreal, but after five games, he was packaged with Keith Acton and a draft pick and sent to Minnesota in exchange for Bobby Smith.  After about a season and a half with the North Stars, he was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers for Terry Martin and Gord Sherven.  He would win a Cup while playing with the Oilers in the spring of 1985.  

In March of 1987, Edmonton sent Napier, Lee Fogolin and a pick to Buffalo for Normand Lacombe, Wayne Van Dorp and a draft choice.  Napier played the rest of that season and two more in Buffalo.  But that was it.  

He had played eleven NHL seasons and had won two Stanley Cups.  He played 767 regular season games, scored 235 goals, added 306 assists for 541 points.  He also played in 82 NHL playoff games.  That is a fine and fulfilling career for any player. 

There was one memory from Napier’s career that was crystallized in his mind well after the final horn had sounded.  He remembered back to a couple of different nights while he was playing for the Bulls as he talked with Rob Hindi from CKLW in Windsor.  

“I was 18 when I first played against Gordie Howe,” said Napier.  “He was playing with his two sons down in Houston and Gordie was probably 45 or 46 back then.  He hadn’t played in a couple of years and he was dominant.”

He also flashed back to the night of December 7, 1977.  “It was down in Birmingham, Alabama and Gordie was going for his 1000th goal and there was two or three games when he didn’t get it and there was a bunch of media following him around and sure enough they get a power play and Gordie tips one past Johnny Garrett and he got his 1000th goal.  And I was on the ice supposedly killing the penalty.”

That’s quite the memory to take with you when it’s all said and done.

 

11TH PICK – TORONTO – JOHN ANDERSON, RIGHT WING, TORONTO MARLBOROS

It’s perhaps completely unfair to look at John Anderson and try to compare him to the players that the Toronto Maple Leafs could have taken with the 11th pick in the 1977 draft.  Yes, they chose him over the likes of Mike Bossy, Ron Duguay, Rod Langway and John Tonelli.  But, to be fair, he had great credentials coming out of the Ontario Hockey Association after playing with the Toronto Marlboros.

In the 1976-77 season, he was the junior league’s top scoring winger when he tallied 57 goals and added 62 assists for 119 points over 64 regular season games.  He had won a Memorial Cup with the Marlies in 1975 and in that tourney, he led all players in points and assists.  He had been named an OHA’s first-team All-Star in ’76-77 as well.  

Anderson spent a good chunk of his first pro season in the Central Hockey League with the Dallas Black Hawks.  He played 55 games in ‘Big D’ and scored 22 goals and added 23 helpers for 45 points.  He also set a then-CHL record for most goals in a playoff season when he potted eleven goals for the Hawks in the spring of 1978.

In his first training camp with the Maple Leafs he had been tried on a line with Jack Valiquette and Tiger Williams.  He played in 17 games with the big boys and notched three points.  That year in the minors turned out to be good for Anderson, because he was able to stick with the Leafs later in the fall of 1978.  He played 71 games with Toronto and in limited ice-time managed to put up 26 points.

The next couple of seasons with Toronto, he was put on a line with Laurie Boschman and Rocky Saganiuk and he began to find his stride.  He scored 25 and 17 goals in the respective years and totalled 96 points over those two seasons.  

By the 1982-83 season, Anderson was ready for prime time.  He was placed on a line with Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago and the trio began to light up opposing goalies.  Anderson went on a streak of four thirty goal seasons.  At the same time, the 23-year-old captain of the team, Rick Vaive was on a stretch of three 50-goal seasons.  Derlago was also playing the best hockey of his career and in that time, he had three seasons with thirty goals and one season of forty!

The last great season for that line was the 1984-85 season.  Anderson had 32 goals and 32 assists.  Derlago had 31 and 31 while Vaive had 35 and 33.  The year was not good, however, for the Maple Leafs as they finished last in the five-team Norris Division.  The Leafs finished well outside the playoffs. 

Anderson would then be gone, traded in August of 1985 to the Quebec Nordiques for defenseman Brad Maxwell.  One game into the ’85-86 season, Derlago was gone as well.  He was traded to the Boston Bruins for Tom Fergus.  Derlago, somewhere around that time, joked that “the worst thing I could have done was score 40 goals because then people expected it every year”.

“It was supposed to be funny,” Derlago tells people now.  

With the Leafs out of the playoffs in the spring of 1985, Anderson went across the ocean to represent Canada in the World Championships and immediately felt a sense of relief.  “Over there, I realized how much the pressure in Toronto had hurt me,” he told hockey writers after the tourney.

“The fans at the Gardens are demanding, as they have every right to be, but it seems as though your problems are magnified.  You try harder and that makes things worse.  When I got to Europe, it was like having a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Anderson played 65 games with the Nordiques scoring 21 goals and assisting on 28 others.  Before the deadline in March, he was dealt to Hartford for defenseman Risto Siltanen.  In the last fourteen Whalers’ games of the 1985-86 season, Anderson got eight goals and added 17 assists for 25 points!  The following year, he scored 31 times and notched 44 helpers for 75 points.  He played two more years in Hartford before calling it a career.

In all, Anderson played twelve NHL seasons and got into 814 games.  He scored 282 goals, added 349 assists and totalled 631 points.  

And no account of his career would be complete without mentioning that John Anderson was once an aspiring restaurant magnate.  He was in his early 20s in the late 1970s when he and family friend Peter Atsidakos started John Anderson Burgers near the corner of Victoria Park and Van Horne Avenues.  

The restaurant sold flame-broiled burgers and marinated souvlaki on a bun.  Anderson told the Toronto Star, in 2019, that Atsidakos marinated the souvlaki and made the tzatziki himself.  “The garlic was so strong, it would hit you when you opened the fridge.  It was the best.  You had to have a great product and he made sure of that.”

At the burger restaurant’s greatest heights, there were nine John Anderson’s franchises around the Greater Toronto Area.  One of the locations on Yonge Street in North York would have been seen in David Cronenberg’s 1986 film, The Fly.  Over time though, the restaurants have closed one by one.  As of 2019, there were three still remaining.  A quick Google check showed that the three still exist to this day.

 

12TH PICK – TORONTO – TREVOR JOHANSEN, DEFENSE, TORONTO MARLBOROS

Think about the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 1977.  Harold Ballard was the owner and he wasn’t a guy who enjoyed spending money.   He also owned the Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association.  He skimped on his scouting system and staff.  He hated the fact the WHA was outspending NHL teams for players and he was really not in the mood to negotiate with players that he feared might use the rival league for leverage.

This partially explains why, with picks #11 and #12 in the 1977 draft, his Leafs chose winger John Anderson and defenseman Trevor Johansen, both of whom had played for Ballard’s Marlboros in junior hockey.  It also explains why Leaf fans were so frustrated watching players rise to success only to be driven away when their accompanying price tag got to be too high for the owner’s frugal tastes.

Mark Ascione, a scribe for thehockeywriters.com expressed every Leaf fan’s angst when he posed the scenario in a 2011 piece talking about the Leafs’ drafts of the 1970s – especially when a player like Mike Bossy was still available in 1977.  Ascione wrote, “Now speculate how different NHL history might be had Jim Gregory thought to select him and iced a team that included Sittler, MacDonald, Williams and Bossy against the Islanders in the spring of 1978.”

Bossy had a pretty good idea, though, that the Leafs would not be selecting him with either first-round pick in that draft in 1977.  “Toronto had picks 11 and 12,” Bossy remembered, in a 2018 piece with Stan Fischler, “but we weren't surprised that they ignored me twice. The Leafs were afraid I might hold out for too much money and jump to Quebec of the WHA.”

Again, it’s unfair to Johansen to have the expectations that being a first-round draft choice placed on him when the fault really lied with ownership’s inability or unwillingness to spend any money of any kind on real talent or on a system to look at or evaluate or assess or attract real talent.

That said, Johansen did possess some talent.  With the Marlies, he played on a Memorial Cup winner in 1975.  He was an OHA first-team All-Star in his draft year, 1977.  When he played at the 1979 World Hockey Championships, he was named Canada’s top defenseman.  He could play a physical style, as his 177 penalty minutes in his last year of junior hockey would indicate.  But there was nothing in his experience that would have indicated that he should have been a first-round draft pick.

Johansen played reasonably well in his first pro season when he was paired with Ian Turnbull in 1977-78.  He scored two goals and had fourteen assists and finished the season with a plus/minus of +2 over the course of 79 games.  He accumulated 82 penalty minutes as well.  He also played in 13 playoff games as the Leafs surprised the Islanders in the first round.

The following season, however, before the trade deadline, Johansen was gone in a trade.  He was packaged with centre Don Ashby and dealt to the Colorado Rockies for Paul Gardner.  Johansen would play the remainder of the ’78-79 season in Denver.  He would also be with the Rockies the next two full seasons.  But before 1981-82 would begin, he would be placed on waivers.

The Los Angeles Kings claimed him and he played 46 games there before being waived again.  The Leafs then grabbed him and he finished out the 1981-82 season by playing thirteen games.  His NHL career was done at that point.  He was 24.  He played six games with Springfield of the American Hockey League the next year, but that was it.  

After his hockey career was over, Johansen had the opportunity to join his father’s sheet metal business up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, but he chose, instead, to move to Arizona and start up a soil remediation company.  He played 286 NHL games over the span of parts of five seasons.  He scored eleven goals and 46 assists over that time while accumulating 282 penalty minutes.

 

13TH PICK – NY RANGERS – RON DUGUAY, CENTRE, SUDBURY WOLVES

With the 13th pick of the 1977 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Rangers chose centreman/right winger Ron Duguay.  And the Big Apple was never the same.  On the ice, he was a more than adequate player, but off the ice, he was a Hall of Famer, at least when it came to living ‘The Life’!

Duguay grew up in Val Caron, Ontario which is about 15 kilometres north of Sudbury.  He got to play for his local OHA team when he joined the Wolves for the 1973-74 season.  He became one of the greatest hockey players in team history.  

In 1975-76, when he was 18, he set a team record when he collected 92 assists to go along with the 42 goals he scored for a total of 134 points.  The next year, his draft year, he scored 43 goals and had 66 helpers for 109 points.

That was good enough to get him selected by the Rangers.  In his first year in New York, he split his time on a couple of lines.  He played at times with Ken Hodge and Pat Hickey and then at other times with Greg Polis and Rod Gilbert.  He played 71 games in 1977-78, missing several games with a strained groin.  But he managed 20 goals and 40 points.

His play hit a plateau for a couple of seasons after a decent second season.  In 1978-79, he scored 27 goals and added 36 assists for 63 points.  But after seasons of 50 and 38 points, there were some concerns about his ceiling.  Duguay then represented Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup and that seemed to give him a boost of confidence.  

He rejoined the Rangers after the tournament and scored 40 goals in 1981-82.  His 36 assists gave him a total of 76 points.  But then he fell off again the following season totalling just 44 points in 72 games.  As the season wore on, Duguay and his coach, Herb Brooks, had many discussions and differences about Duguay’s lifestyle, in particular his predilection toward the partying and the nightlife.

In June of 1983, just after the draft, Duguay, goalie Eddie Mio and Eddie Johnstone were sent to Detroit in exchange for Mark Osborne, Mike Blaisdell and defenseman Willie Huber.  Moving to Detroit seemed to revitalize Duguay’s career.  In 1983-84 and 1984-85, he played a full 80 games in each campaign.  And, he also posted the only two 80-point seasons of his NHL career.

But his time in Detroit would not last much longer.  Before the trade deadline in March of 1986, Duguay was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Doug Shedden.  Then, in January of 1987, the Penguins dealt the winger back to the Rangers for Chris Kontos.  A little over a year later, in February of 1988, he was sent from the Rangers to the Los Angeles Kings for Mark Hardy.  He was a King until the summer of ’89.  Then his NHL days were over.

He had a decent and colourful career as an NHLer.  He played in the league for twelve seasons.  Over that time, he played 864 games and he scored 274 times with 346 assists for 620 points.  Add in 89 playoff games and one can argue that they would have traded places with Duguay quite readily.  Oh, who am I kidding?  A lot of guys would have traded places with him regardless of what he did on the ice.

There are a ton of ‘Doogie’ stories floating around out there.  Here is just one that is ‘suitable for work’.  He told this story on the New York Post’s Rangers’ podcast entitled “Up In The Blue Seats”.  Justin Tasch wrote the story about it in the Post.

It was the night of January 20, 1982 and the Rangers had just defeated the Islanders 3-2.  Duguay had an assist on the first Rangers’ goal by Pat Hickey.  The win put the team a game over .500 and he wanted to head out and unwind a little bit, so he did what he often did which was to head over to Studio 54.  His visits there were one of the things that grated on his coach, Herb Brooks, so very much.

Duguay was 24 at the time and he said that he was in the club ‘minding his own business’ when he saw a woman pointing at him and urging to come over to her with the universal, ‘come over here’ hand signal.  It turned out to be Liza Minnelli.  She was there with her husband, Mark Gero.  She said that she wanted to tell him that she was a Rangers’ fan and that she had always wanted to meet him.

Duguay stood there and was chatting with her husband at the time.  Minnelli told him that she would be having a little party that night and that she had a friend she would like him to meet.  It turned out to be Cher, who was 35 at the time.  She had been up on the dance floor.  Duguay tells the story from that moment.

“If you know Cher, if she wants something, she goes after it,” Duguay says.  “Grabs me by the arm and says, ‘You dance?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’  So we go and start dancing, we’re dancing to all this fun stuff back then — the Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel.  To this day, if you Google ‘Ron Duguay and Cher,’ it breaks down to a slow song.  Her head’s on my [shoulder].  She’s looking very comfortable.  And you look at my face, and the expression on my face is like, ‘Oh my God, I’m dancing with Cher.’  I look like I don’t feel comfortable because I’m not comfortable, because I grew up as a Canadian watching ‘Sonny & Cher.’”

So, Cher and Ron went back to Minnelli’s table and Liza told them all that they were going back to Liza’s.  Cher and Ron went separately to Minnelli’s and arrived before their hosts.  After waiting about a half hour, Cher became impatient.  Cher then told Duguay, “Come on, we’re going.”  Ron asked her, “Where are we going?”  “Just come with me, son,” Cher responded.

They got into a cab and they went about six blocks to what Duguay described as a ‘beautiful townhouse’.  Cher walked up to the front door and before she could turn the key, she turned to Duguay and said to him “By the way, I don’t (insert expletive here) on the first date.”  Duguay said that he replied “Hey, I’m just happy to be here”.

They entered the home and he saw all these gold records on the walls.  But he noticed that they weren’t Cher records.  They were KISS records.  Cher then told him they were at Gene Simmons’ house.  “So I’m in Gene Simmons’ townhouse, not sure why I’m there. Next thing I know, she told me, ‘We’re not doing anything tonight,’” Duguay recalls. “Next thing you know, we’re sitting on his bed. And that’s where the story stops.”

Ron Duguay has some stories.....

 

14TH PICK – BUFFALO – RIC SEILING, RIGHT WING, ST. CATHARINES FINCUPS

Going into the 1977 draft, Punch Imlach had a bunch of things on his mind regarding his team.  The Sabres had a great pair of forward lines in their top 6.  Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert formed the first line, the French Connection line.  Don Luce, Craig Ramsay and Danny Gare formed a very strong second line.

“The last thing we needed was another guy who could score goals,” Imlach wrote in his 1982 book Heaven and Hell in the NHL.  “What we needed was to make the team more defensive-minded. That's why I chose Ric Seiling over (Mike) Bossy. Seiling had a checking ability and a willingness to mix it up.”

Yes.  The Buffalo Sabres had the 14th overall choice in the 1977 draft and they selected Ric Seiling from the St. Catharines Fincups with that pick.  Seiling had a pedigree – his older brother was Rod Seiling and he had played more than 800 games in the league by the time Ric was about to be drafted.  

Ric had won a Memorial Cup with the Fincups when they were located in Hamilton in 1976 and he had been chosen to the tournament’s first All-Star team.  In his last year of junior hockey, he had scored 49 goals and totalled 110 points.  Add to that his 103 penalty minutes and it gave him just enough of a feisty streak to make him an attractive pick.  

Seiling’s career was one of consistency and durability.  In each of his first six seasons, he scored at least 19 goals and in four of those years, he scored at least 20 and as many as 30.  He had 135 goals over those first six campaigns.  He played at least 73 games in seven of his first eight years as well.  In the one season he didn’t, he had been struck in the eye with an errant stick and almost had his career ended.  He participated in 57 games in that 1981-82 season.

He was such an outstanding two-way player that he also received votes for the Selke Trophy in five straight years in Buffalo.  He played nine full seasons with the Sabres and then he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for cash before the 1986-87 season.  At the time of that deal, he held the Sabres’ team record for the most games played by a right winger with 664.  That record has since been eclipsed, but it is still a prodigious mark.

In his final NHL season, Seiling played 74 games with the Wings.  In his ten years in the league, he took part in 738 total games and scored 179 goals.  He added 208 assists for 387 points.  He also played in 62 postseason games.  Seiling’s career was absolutely a positive one.

 

15TH PICK – NY ISLANDERS – MIKE BOSSY, RIGHT WING, LAVAL NATIONAL

When it came to the Islanders’ wish list, it had a single name on it.  That is, of course, an exaggeration, but Mike Bossy was the guy they had wanted above all others.  They never figured that he would fall to them though.  They fretted throughout each of the first fourteen picks that the player that they most coveted would never be available to them.

“It was hard to figure Mike would be passed fourteen times,” said coach Al Arbour.

Torrey had often described the player that he envisioned.  “We needed a sniper; somebody along the lines of Guy Lafleur.”  There was no other ‘sniper’ in the draft like Bossy, but for whatever reason, no one seemed to want to select him for their team.  Torrey didn’t want any other general manager to know the player that he was focusing on.  He did not want to give anyone else any idea of what he was thinking.  This was high-stakes poker and Torrey wanted to come out a winner.

Bossy had come out in public about how he did not like the way hockey had been played in the mid-1970s.  He was not a fan of the Broad Street Bullies’ style of hockey or the way that fighting had been glorified in popular culture.  In the minds of some scouts and front offices, that meant that Bossy lacked toughness.  Bossy scoffed at that view of his game.

“I felt good about the way I played hockey and always thought that it may not be the way they wanted me to play,” Bossy stated well after the fact. “But it was the way I was going to play.  Some scouts said I wasn't tough enough to play in the NHL. That sounded crazy to me, but I guess a lot of teams bought into that line of thinking. They were labeling me a one-way player but I knew I could adjust.”

One of the Islanders’ top scouts, Harry Saraceno, knew of Torrey’s wish for a sniper and he really admired the way that Bossy scored goals consistently for Laval.  That opinion was not shared by everyone in the Isles’ braintrust.  There were a few who were very concerned about how his game would translate to the NHL.  If his ‘offense first’ and ‘defense second’ mentality could be somehow altered to fit a pro game.

When they asked coach Al Arbour his thoughts, he was succinct in his response.  “You get him and I’ll teach him defense,” Arbour told Torrey.

Complicating the matter of the teams picking ahead of the Islanders was the looming presence of the WHA.  Bossy had been selected by Indianapolis, who would also acquire Wayne Gretzky the following year.  (Imagine the thought of that combination for a moment, if you will.)  Bossy and his agent, Pierre Lacroix, were on the same page though that when it came to where he wanted to play, it was the NHL or nothing.  They would keep that to themselves though.  No point in giving away any bargaining chips before the negotiating even got underway.

Bossy and Lacroix were on pins and needles and they were both over at the office of Lacroix’s friend Denis Gauthier.  Meanwhile, Torrey and his scouts were in one office while Arbour and Saraceno were together in another office at the Nassau Coliseum.  With each pick, it felt like the tension was ratcheted up tighter and tighter.  

When Cleveland was picking fifth, they called Lacroix to see what the price would be for Bossy.  When Lacroix told him, they chose Mike Crombeen instead.  When Minnesota took Brad Maxwell, there was a breath of relief.  The Rangers were picking eighth and thirteenth.  There was no way that Torrey, Arbour, Saraceno et al wanted to see their man go to their heated rival.  

When the Rangers took Lucien DeBlois with the eighth choice, and the Blues took Scott Campbell, and the Habs took Mark Napier, the excitement and the tension were rising on Long Island simultaneously.  Al Arbour was feeling it but he was also enjoying watching the reactions of Saraceno.

“Every time a team didn’t take Bossy, Harry would get more excited.  Still, never in our wildest dreams did we think we’d get him.”

“Toronto had picks 11 and 12,” Bossy remembered to Stan Fischler in a 2018 piece for nhl.com, “but we weren't surprised that they ignored me twice. The Leafs were afraid I might hold out for too much money and jump to Quebec of the WHA.”  The Maple Leafs took a couple of players from the Toronto Marlboros Junior team, right wing John Anderson and defenseman Trevor Johansen.

When the Rangers selected Ron Duguay, there was only one more team picking before it was the Islanders’ turn.  The Sabres took Ric Seiling.  All the dominoes fell the way that Torrey and Saraceno wanted them to.  Torrey called a time-out.

Arbour was watching the top scout, Saraceno.  “Harry almost had a coronary,” Arbour said.

Torrey wanted to be sure that every member of his team was on the same wavelength.  There were other members of the Islanders’ group to have input.  Torrey wanted to get the final thoughts of Gerry Ehman, Jimmy Devellano and Harry Boyd.  The other player that the Islanders were considering, in the event that Bossy was gone by the time they were picking, was Dwight Foster of the Kitchener Rangers.  

Foster had been the leading scorer in the Ontario Hockey Association in 1976-77.  He was big, had a rugged streak and he could play defense.  Everyone consulted.  Everyone had a very quick moment to have their say.  Bill Torrey then got on the phone and said “I’m picking Michael Bossy.”  The tension was broken.  The Islanders had their man.

For his part, Bossy had heard the critics.  He had heard the naysayers.  He had ultimate confidence in his strengths and in his ability to play at the highest level.  “I can be a better player with the Islanders than I was in Junior.”  In the end, he was so right.

Every hockey fan is aware of who Mike Bossy is and what he did on the ice with the Islanders.  He was one of the ’purest’ goal-scorers in the history of the game.  Of all the players chosen in the 1977 Entry Draft, only Bossy and Doug Wilson are in the Hall of Fame.  The strangest thing is that Bossy fell to the Islanders the way he did.  It’s a good thing for Torrey, Arbour and Saraceno that he turned out to be better than Dwight Foster.

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You can listen to Howie and his co-host Shawn Lavigne on The Sports Lunatics Show, a sports history podcast, right here on the FiredUp Network, or on 182 different platforms wherever you find your podcasts, including Alexa.