This is the third edition of NHL Saturday, our new(est) weekly feature. We hit the 1970s today with the final year of the odd league alignment that put the Original Six in one division and the new expansion teams in the other division. We understand why the NHL did it, but still … they only kept it for three seasons! So confusing.
To recap, we laid out our methodology in the first entry in the series, so revisit that when you need to as this year is an interesting one in terms of our decision making with the traditional awards. It is just circumstantial that we didn’t have one player win multiple awards this year, and we are sure it will happen at some point in the future.
Otherwise, on with the greatest show on North American ice …
1970 Hart: Bobby Orr (original), Stan Mikita (revised)
Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr won four trophies this season: the Hart, the Norris, the Conn Smythe, and the Art Ross (for the league’s high scorer). We already noted we’re going to go a different route here, so as a defenseman, Orr can’t win the Hart—since he already has the Norris for his positional greatness.
The Conn Smythe and the Calder are the only awards someone can add to their trophy case, and the Art Ross is a finite award, so it’s not up to us to revise. Hope you caught all that logic flying by right there!
So … five of the top six players in Point Shares were not forwards, which leaves us with Boston center Phil Esposito (11.38 PS) and Chicago Black Hawks center/left wing Stan Mikita (10.17) as the two best options here for “our” Hart. Esposito has won both our prior Hart analyses, by the way, and he could be in line for a third straight. But here’s the deal: Chicago won 45 games during the regular season to finish tied for first in the East Division, while Boston only won 40 games—yet somehow still tied the Black Hawks thanks to a lot of ties (19).
Sabermetrically, Chicago was the better team: Regulation/overtime wins are huge in this sport, and they state a lot more about a team’s quality than points in the standings accrued via the overtime tie (or today’s shootout wins). And five wins is a significant number—so we’re giving this award to Mikita, even though his PS total is lower. He is deserving, since he wasn’t playing any shifts on the ice with a player of Orr’s quality, either.
Mikita’s traditional stats: a league-leading 32 even-strength goals and an NHL-best 8 game-winning goals, in an overall 86-point (39 goals, 47 assists), plus-27 season. He was working harder for his points, and Mikita was also making the difference for the team with the highest win total in the league as well.
1970 Vezina: Tony Esposito (original), Ed Giacomin (revised)
It is a two-horse battle here between Phil Esposito’s brother, Chicago goaltender Tony Esposito, and New York Rangers netminder Ed Giacomin—the winner of our first two Vezinas. Drilling down, Giacomin wins the PS battle by a very slim margin (14.89 to 14.70). There is more to this debate than that, however.
Yes, Esposito probably had a lot to do with Chicago’s win total, as the Black Hawks went from last in the East Division in 1969 to the top of the pile in 1970, and this also was Esposito’s rookie season in the NHL. He was the primary difference, perhaps, between last place and first place. That’s saying a lot.
But we also have to point out the reality that the Rangers finished tied for fourth place in the East with the Montréal Canadiens with 92 points—and won the tiebreak for the last postseason berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The tiebreak then was total goals scored, and New York edged Montréal by two goals. The point is that the Rangers wouldn’t even have been in that position without the top PS goalie in the league.
Here are the raw numbers for the two backstops for a direct comparison.
- Giacomin: 35-21-14, 2.36 goals-against average, .916 save percentage
- Esposito: 38-17-8, 2.17 GAA, .932 SP
We clearly see Esposito was the better goalie, but this is about value, remember? On a fourth-place team with no superstar forward(s) to help out, Giacomin had a lot more to do with his team’s success than Esposito did with his, as the PS mark indicates—even if by the slimmest of margins. The New York goalie also led the NHL in games started (70) and minutes played (4,141), which means he was out there in net a lot more, too.
1970 Norris: Bobby Orr (original, confirmed)
This is not even a discussion-worthy “analysis” for us to attempt. Orr’s 19.53 PS mark was the best in the league by a country mile over Giacomin, so there is not even another player in the conversation here. The Bruins superstar led the NHL in games played (76), assists (87), points (120), plus-minus rating (plus-54), and shots on goal (413) while also notching 125 penalty minutes. This was the first of three different seasons in his career where he scored more than 100 points while registering more than 100 PIMs, too.
He wasn’t just an offensive machine, either, as he finished with the fourth-most defensive Point Shares, too (6.69), less than half a PS behind the leader in that category. Also, this was the first of six straight years for Orr where he scored more than 100 points. This is his second consecutive Norris from us, but we have a feeling there may be many more on the horizon.
1970 Calder: Tony Esposito (original)
Considering Esposito finished third overall in PS among all NHL players, there won’t be another rookie in this discussion. But for the record, the other rookies in the Top 3 were Rangers right wing Bill Fairbairn (5.8 PS) and Chicago defenseman Keith Magnuson (7.8). This does demonstrate the quality of the Black Hawks roster with the two rookies adding much skill to the team’s performances on the ice.
1970 Conn Smythe: Bobby Orr (original), Phil Esposito (revised)
The Bruins defeated the St. Louis Blues with a Cup Finals sweep to claim Lord Stanley’s silver chalice. You may have seen a replay of the title-clinching score in Game 4 overtime. Orr won the Conn Smythe for that moment as much as anything, but did he really deserve it?
It’s debatable, as five Bruins skaters notched at least a point a game as Boston took only 14 games to win the Cup, and goalie Gerry Cheevers posted a 12-1 mark with a 2.23 GAA in the postseason. For the Blues, only goaltender Jacques Plante stands out (1.49 GAA), but he only made six appearances total in the playoffs.
Here’s the rub: Phil Esposito notched 27 points in just 14 playoff games, including team bests in goals, assists, and even-strength goals (9). He also connected successfully on 18.1 percent of his shots on goal. Meanwhile, Orr only scored 20 points in 14 games, and the only mark of his that was a Boston high was his plus-24 rating. Espo even had more PIMs than Orr did in the postseason, while Orr converted just 11.4 percent of his shots.
We understand that in the moment of euphoria postgame, the voters may have been swayed by Orr’s theatrics, but Esposito was the man for the Bruins in the 1970 Stanley Cup playoffs.