Welcome back to the second edition of NHL Saturday, our newest weekly feature. The 2021 hockey season kicked off this week, and we’re closing out the 1960s with the second year of the “modern” NHL here—once the Original Six were matched by six new expansion teams all across the United States.
Remember, we laid out our methodology in the first entry in the series, so revisit that when you need to. Otherwise, on with the ice show!
1969 Hart: Phil Esposito (original, confirmed)
Boston Bruins center Phil Esposito led the league’s skaters in Points Shares by almost 2.5 points (15.07) over his former teammate, Chicago Black Hawks left wing Bobby Hull (12.66). The Bruins also finished with the second-best record in the NHL (42-18-16, 100 points). This makes it easy to confirm his MVP vote from 1969.
We didn’t confirm a single award in our debut column, so this is a positive sign that maybe voters then did know a little bit about the game they were covering. Esposito’s traditional statistics included 49 goals, 77 assists, 126 points, and plus/minus 55. Those last three numbers topped the league, and he also added 79 penalty minutes. This is an outstanding, all-around season, for sure.
1969 Vezina: Glenn Hall & Jacques Plante (original), Ed Giacomin (revised)
The St. Louis Blues improved to 88 points (37-25-14) in their second year, fueled by their two goaltenders, Glenn Hall and the legendary Jacques Plante at age 40. The latter came out of retirement after four years to play again for the expansion Blues, and the duo combined for 18.65 PS.
But the best individual goalie was the same guy as it was the prior year: New York Rangers stalwart Ed Giacomin (13.90 PS), who guided his team to 91 points and third place in the East Division behind Montréal (103 points) and Boston. The next-best individual goalie compiled 10.58 PS on the season (Philadelphia’s Bernie Parent).
While neither Hall nor Plante won 20 games in the regular season, Giacomin played in an NHL-high 70 games and posted an NHL-best 38 victories while playing an NHL-most 4,109 minutes. That is some serious usage, and his statistics—2.56 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage—weren’t too bad, either. Giacomin was a “better” goalie in 1968, but this season, he was still the best one in the sport, playing almost every night. He did post 7 shutouts as well, to finish seventh in the Hart voting.
1969 Norris: Bobby Orr (original, confirmed)
The only defenseman in the league’s Top 10 for Point Shares was Boston’s Bobby Orr (12.38 PS). That was the fifth-best total in the NHL, and Orr also finished fifth in defensive PS as well (5.88). Just 20 years old, he already was establishing himself as a force in the league as he tied Esposito with the league-best plus-55 rating. He contributed 64 points in 67 games to along with 133 PIM. We took this award away from him last year, but this time he definitely earned it.
1969 Calder: Danny Grant (original), Norm Ferguson (revised)
The top 3 rookies were Minnesota North Stars right wing Danny Grant (6.8 PS), Rangers defenseman Brad Park (5.9), and Oakland Seals right wing Norm Ferguson (5.5). Minnesota finished dead last in the West Division, with a league-low 18 wins. Meanwhile, Oakland finished second in the West with 29 victories. In addition, Grant had played 22 games with Montréal the prior season, making his rookie status dubious.
Yes, he was “rookie” under the rules at the time, but with 22 games in the NHL with the Stanley Cup champs in 1968, that certainly gave Grant a bit of an edge on the ice—and with the voters. He even played 10 games in the playoffs to get his name engraved on the Cup! That’s no rookie.
We know Park was playing on a much better team than Ferguson, too: He also played in just 54 games, and while his PS total was slightly higher, that has a lot to do with his team being a lot better. Park posted the ninth-best PS mark on his team, while Ferguson was the fifth-best contributor on the Seals, a second-year expansion team. That is more value right there.
Ferguson’s numbers—54 points and 31 PIM—were good enough for second in the vote at the time, and once we remove Grant from serious consideration based on the realities above, it’s clear Ferguson was the most impressive rookie in the league. Sadly, Ferguson would never be as good again in his NHL career.
1969 Conn Smythe: Serge Savard (original), Jacques Plante (revised)
Once again, we saw the Canadiens sweep the Blues in the Cup Finals, as five of the seven postseason series were sweeps. St. Louis had swept its way to the championship round, meaning the Blues played just 12 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Montréal played just 14 games itself. The Canadiens split time with both their goalies—Rogie Vachon and Gump Worsley, the Vezina vote winners from 1968—while two of the skaters tossed in at least a point a game: center Jean Beliveau (15 points) and left wing Dick Duff (14 points).
The issue here is that there were so many good candidates on the Canadiens this time around, none of them stand out from the pack. Meanwhile, the Blues had a clear dominant force behind their charge to the Cup Finals: Plante posted an 8-2 record in net with a 1.43 GAA and a .950 SP. Those are insane numbers, even if he did give up six goals in two Finals starts against his old team that he won six Cups with from 1953 to 1960.
Consider that Plante went 8-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, giving up just 5 goals in 4 games in the West Division finals against the Los Angeles Kings and a mere 3 goals in 4 games against the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round. Plante posted three shutouts in those first 8 playoff games, so despite his struggles against the dominant champions in the final round—at age 40!—he is still going to get our nod for the Conn Smythe here.
We are not sure why Canadiens defenseman Serge Savard would have won the award vote at the time, since he didn’t lead his Montréal teammates in any statistical categories during the postseason, but it’s hard to deny that Plante was the story of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1969.