Perfect storms are so 2000. By definition, they’re meant to be rare, yet they arise in our exchanges daily, overused and abused, literally, ironically and tragically. Give me a break. Give me an imperfect storm. Give me 1992-93.
In this issue, in which we toast champions and identify the best seasons for each NHL team, I’m saluting the most wonderfully irregular and entertaining NHL year in my lifetime, 1992-93. The NHL’s 76th year was one of experimentation, great successes and spectacular failures. There was expansion and relocation. Veterans, rookies and teams were making history for offense and awfulness. Scandals erupted. Davids took down Goliaths. A savior got traded. Twice. At the same time. A woman tended goal. And one icon accomplished a feat so rare, unique and unreal, it will never be equalled.
Lemieux missed 24 games while undergoing radiation treatment for cancer – and returned to win the scoring title by 12 points. Top that. Anybody.
Goals, goals, goals
Perhaps Lemieux inspired his brethren, as 21 players had 100 or more points, 14 had 50 or more goals, both bests. Cripes, a journeyman goalie, Jeff Reese, had a record three assists in one game. Goals-per-game spiked to 7.26, a number reminiscent of the roaring 1980s.
Teemu Selanne obliterated the freshman goal standard, connecting 76 times – 23 more than the previous best frosh total established by Mike Bossy.
The Big Entrance
Selanne was the best rookie, but Eric Lindros was the most hyped. After spurning Quebec, Lindros got his wish and was traded at the 1992 draft to the Flyers and Rangers. An arbitrator sided with Philly, and Lindros enjoyed a good first year on the ice, scoring 41 goals in 61 games. He was nearly as famous for an off-ice incident, charged with common assault following a beer-spraying he-said/she-said encounter in a bar, fittingly named Koo Koo Bananas. Lindros was ultimately found wet, but not guilty.
Room for Rheaume
Tampa Bay GM Phil Esposito was guilty of roughing up reporter (and former THN editor in chief) Bob McKenzie following a game in Toronto. Seems Espo didn’t like negative coverage about his first-year club. He didn’t mind the press he got when he used Manon Rheuame in a pre-season game, making her the first woman to suit up for an NHL team.
They had a (still) record 17-game win streak, the Presidents’ Trophy and a roster loaded with future Hall-of-Famers. A three-peat was imminent.
The Islanders disagreed. They finished 32 points behind the Pens in the regular season and were minus their best player, Pierre Turgeon, for virtually the entire series but knocked off the champs in overtime of Game 7 in Round 2. Eight-goal man David Volek got the winner. Naturally.
Turgeon missed all but a few moments of Round 2 due to a separated shoulder he incurred in Round 1 on one of the most notorious cheap shots in league history. Dale Hunter, the perpetrator, was assessed a record 21-game suspension to start the next season by yet another prominent NHL rookie, Gary Bettman.
NBA whiz Bettman was unveiled as the NHL’s first commissioner mid-season, and two expansion clubs, the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, followed. Among the group of candidates Bettman beat out was incumbent, interim and injudicious president Gil Stein.
Stein’s whirlwind year in charge included the introduction of neutral-site games, contests with no home team. They didn’t gain traction but did beget 84-game seasons, which in turn allowed Jimmy Carson to play in a record 86 games following a mid-year trade. Later that season, it was learned Stein shamefully engineered his own induction into the Hall of Fame.
Another soon-to-be ex-Hall-of-Famer, Alan Eagleson came under scrutiny in 1992-93. The FBI and RCMP ramped up investigations of financial impropriety by the former director of the NHLPA. Eagleson insisted he was not a crook.
North Stars owner Norm Green wasn’t a crook, but he was a villain. He became public enemy No. 1 in Minnesota after declaring the franchise would, at season’s end, be leaving the state of hockey for the state of hickory sauce – Texas.
From head-scratching to head-shaking, helmets became optional again in 1992-93. Seriously. All one had to do was sign a waiver. The theory: see pretty faces, get more fans. Only one player, pugilist Greg Smyth, took up the offer, and he abandoned the trial after a few games.
Referee Kerry Fraser’s perfect coif was on frequent display, though Maple Leaf fans were more interested in his head, on a platter. Long story short, Fraser didn’t see a Wayne Gretzky high-stick in overtime of the Western Conference final and The Great One scored a pivotal goal soon after. Sadly for Toronto fans, it’s the closest they’ve been to the Cup since 1967, and they still moan about it.
Sadly for Kings fans, Gretzky’s stick couldn’t do as much damage as teammate Marty McSorley’s in the final. McSorley was caught using an illegal curve, was assessed a penalty, and the Habs tied the game then won it in overtime. That extra-time triumph was one of an astounding 10 OT wins that Patrick Roy and mates amassed on their Cup run. Fun fact: all four conference finalists in 1993 placed third in their divisions during the regular season. Less fun fact: the ’93 Habs are the most recent Canadian team to win a Cup.
Stop Making Sens. A slightly less successful Canadian team, the expansion Senators, gave losing a bad name. They won 10 games, just one on the road, and finished with the second-fewest points in modern history (24). The silver lining for Ottawa in this imperfect storm of a season was the No. 1 overall pick, the next Lemieux, Quebec’s latest perfect product, Alexandre Daigle.