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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Team Checklists: Norris Division

For the third of four team checklists posts we will head to the Campbell Conference and the Norris Division.

The Campbell Conference is named after Clarence Campbell, the NHL's third president, who served from 1947 to 1977. Campbell never played hockey professionally, but began his career with the NHL as a referee from 1933 to 1939. After retiring from refereeing, Campbell began working in league president Frank Calder's office, and then served in the Canadian Army during WWII, earning the rank of lieutenant colonel. Calder would pass away while Campbell was serving overseas, but once he returned to Canada, Campbell would take over as NHL President from care-taker president Red Dutton.

In his time as president Campbell dolled out the only two lifetime suspensions, to Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger for betting on games. He is most famously remembered for suspending Maurice Richard for the balance of the 1955 regular season and playoffs after a stick-swinging incident between The Rocket and Boston's Hal Laycoe. Campbell, perhaps foolishly, decided to attend the Habs game at The Forum a few days after suspending Richard, leading to a full scale riot both inside and outside the arena. Campbell would serve as president until his health began to fail, retiring in 1977. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and passed away in 1984.

The Norris Division itself is named after James E. Norris (or James Norris Sr.). Norris was a substantially rich man, involved in the grain and cattle commodities in the early 20th century. He entered the NHL in 1932 when he purchased the Detroit Falcons, renamed them the Detroit Red Wings, and adopted the famous winged-wheel logo. His business acumen spread through the NHL, as we would end up owning Chicago Stadium and effectively controlling the Black Hawks, and his wheeling and dealings would leave him significant sway with the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. Norris would die in 1952; after his death he would be honoured with the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenceman, in 1954 and he would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958. The Wings would win five Stanley Cups under his ownership.

Card # 82: Detroit Red Wings - Sergei Fedorov

The Red Wings were exiting the Dead Things era but not quite into their dominance in the 1990-91 season that saw the team finish third in the Norris Division, losing in the division semi-final in seven games to the St. Louis Blues.

1991-92 would see the Wings win their first Norris Division title since 1989, finishing with a 43-25-12 record. The team was led in scoring by captain Steve Yzerman (45-58-103) and coached Bryan Murray. Goalie Tim Cheveldae would lead the league in games played (72) and wins (38), while posting a 3.20 GAA and .886 save percentage.

In the playoffs the Wings would beat the previous years’ conference champion, Minnesota, in seven games in the division semi-final. The Wings were almost the victims of another North Stars upset, as they trailed 3-1 in the series, and were saved in Game 6 by a Sergei Fedorov OT goal in a 1-0 victory. The division final would be a different story, as Detroit would be swept by Chicago, with three of four games decided by one goal.

With Cheveldae playing 72 of 82 games, the Wings backup goalies were rather irrelevant. However, it turns out to be a bunch of guys I never realized were Red Wings: Greg Millen (10 games), Vincent Riendeau (2 games) and Allan Bester (1 game).

YouTube clip: all of the Wings playoff goals from the 1992 playoffs. Watching how Jon Casey played the first three goals, I think I could have scored a few in that series.

Card # 81: Chicago Blackhawks - Ed Belfour

Behind Belfour’s record-setting rookie season, the Hawks finished the 1990-91 season as the Norris Division champs. However, they were upset by the Minnesota North Stars in six games in the division semi-final, a team that finished a full 38 points behind them in the standings.

Coached by Iron Mike Keenan, the Hawks would finish second in the Norris Division in 1991-92, with a 36-29-15 record. Their leading scorer was Jeremy Roenick (53-50-103) and they were led in goal by two future Hall of Fame goalies: Ed Belfour (21-18-10, 2.71 GAA) and Dominik Hasek (10-4-1, 2.60 GAA).

The Hawks would exorcise their playoff demons from the previous season, beating the Blues in six in the division semi-final, sweeping the division-winning Red Wings and the Edmonton Oilers in the division final and conference final respectively. Their 11-game winning streak going into the Cup finals would be ended in a rough way, as the Hawks would be swept by the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team made several moves during the season to bolster their roster, acquiring veterans Brent Sutter, Stephane Matteau, Steve Smith and Rob Brown. They also traded franchise mainstay Doug Wilson to the expansion San Jose Sharks prior to the start of the season.

YouTube clip: someone has uploaded to YouTube a one-hour highlight video of the Hawks from 1991-92. It appears to be a VHS recording that was sponsored by Coors. It’s worth watching for the Coors promo commercial at the start alone.

Card # 94: St. Louis Blues - Adam Oates

1990-91 saw the Blues finish second the Norris Division, and second overall in the NHL with a 47-22-11 record. They would defeat Detroit in seven games in the division semi-final, but fall to the Cinderella Minnesota North Stars in six games in the division final (St. Louis finished 37 points ahead of Minnesota in the regular season).

Coached by Brian Sutter, whose twin brothers Rich and Ron played for the Blues, St. Louis finished third in Norris in 1991-92, with a 36-33-11 record. Brett Hull would lead the team in scoring (70-39-109) and a young Curtis Joseph had his breakthrough season in goal, sporting a 27-20-10 record, 3.01 GAA and .910 save percentage.

In the division semi-final the Blues would match up against the Chicago Blackhawks The Blues held a 2-1 series lead, but would end up losing three straight games to lose the series in six to the eventual conference champs.

Prior to the start of the season the Blues acquire their missing Sutter twin, Ron, from Philadelphia for Rod Brind’Amour and Dan Quinn. In February they would trade Hull’s centreman, Adam Oates, to Boston for Craig Janney and Stephane Quintal. I’ve always wondered why the Blues would trade the setup man for the game’s most deadly sniper at the time - turns out it was about money.

YouTube clip: technically its from the 1990-91 season, but this brawl between St. Louis and Detroit shows how nuts the early 1990s Norris Division was.

Card # 86: Minnesota North Stars - Dave Gagner

The 1990-91 season saw the North Stars go on one of the ultimate Cinderella runs in NHL history. Finishing fourth in the Norris Division with a losing record (27-39-14), Minnesota boasted the second worst record of any team to make the playoffs. They would end up beating the President’s Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks in the division semi-final (6 games) and the second best team in the NHL, St. Louis, in the division final (6 games), and finally the Edmonton Oilers in the conference final in 5 games. The run would end in the Cup Final, as they would lose in six games to Pittsburgh, however the North Stars did take a 2-1 series lead at one point

For 1991-92, the team would do no better in the regular season, again finishing in fourth in the Norris Division, with a 32-42-6 record. Led by former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey, the team boasted three 70 point scorers in MIke Modano (33-44-77), Brian Bellows (30-45-75) and Dave Gagner (31-40-71). Goaltending duties were split between Jon Casey (19-23-5, 3.40 GAA, .882 save percentage) and Darcy Wakaluk (13-19-1, 3.28 GAA, .881 save percentage).

There would be no playoff magic in the 1992 playoffs, as the North Stars would lose in seven games in the division semi-final to the Detroit Red Wings. It looked like another upset was brewing as the North Stars took a 3-1 series lead, but Detroit was able to complete the come back.

The off-season of 1991 was a bizarre one for Minnesota. The team was involved in the dispersal draft with the expansion San Jose Sharks, where 24 of the North Stars’ players were selected by the expansion team. Both teams then participated in the ‘expansion draft’, where each team was able to select 10 players, for a total of 20 players, one each from existing NHL rosters.

This is how Minnesota acquired Guy Lafleur, selecting him from the NY Rangers. They then shipped Lafleur to Quebec in exchange for Alan Haworth. They also selected Dave Babych from Hartford, and then traded him to Vancouver in a three way trade involving the New York Islanders, which resulted in Minnesota landing defenceman Craig Ludwig.

To top off the dispersal draft zaniness, Minnesota traded their 1st and 2nd round picks to San Jose to keep San Jose from selecting Mike Craig in the dispersal draft. Craig would go on to record 3 seasons of 30+ points for the North Stars, while the Sharks would use the first round pick to select defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh, who would play in seven All-Star games and be a first team NHL all-star in 1996-97.

YouTube clip: if the Blues clip from their brawl with Detroit wasn't enough, watch this one from Minnesota and Chicago, with Stu Grimson completely losing it.

Card # 96: Toronto Maple Leafs - Dave Ellett

The late 1980s/early 1990s were not kind to the Leafs, at least not until partway through the 1991-92 season. In 1990-91, the Leafs finished fifth in the Norris Division (23-46-11), second last the NHL ahead of only Quebec.

For 1991-92, their record would improve to 30-43-7, but they would still finish in fifth place, albeit only three points out of the playoffs. Their leading scorers were Glenn Anderson (24-33-57) and defenceman Dave Ellett (18-33-51), as captain Wendel Clark would miss half of the season due to injury. Grant Fuhr led the way in goal, posting a 25-33-5 record, 3.66 GAA and .881 save percentage. A young Felix Potvin would make his first four NHL appearances this season, posting a 0-2-1 record.

1991-92 for the Leafs is notable because of two massive trades involving a grand total of 18 players. In September, the Leafs acquired Anderson, Fuhr and Craig Berube in exchange for Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing, Luke Richardson and Scott Thornton. January 1992 would bring the trade that would turn the Leafs franchise around in a hurry, a 10 player swap with Calgary. The Leafs shipped out Berube, Gary Leeman, Alexander Godynyuk, Michel Petit and Jeff Reese for Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville, Ric Nattress and Rick Wamsley.

YouTube clip: analysis of the Doug Gilmour trade the day after it happened. Marvel at Dougie's fantastic mullet.

The next post will cover the final division of four, the Smythe Division.

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