This is the fourth edition of NHL Saturday, and we’re getting in a groove with this one now—even if the NHL was a bit confused with its first realignment since expansion for the this season. How did Vancouver end up in the East Division, even though it is literally on the West Coast? Good question. Meanwhile, two expansion teams in Pennsylvania ended up in the West Division. Whacky!
Remember, we laid out our methodology in the first entry in the series, so revisit that as needed. Otherwise, on with the greatest show on geographically confused ice …
1971 Hart: Bobby Orr (original), Phil Esposito (revised)
Since defensemen are not eligible for our Hart analysis, the best forward in terms of Point Shares this season was again Boston Bruins center Phil Esposito (18.48 PS). The next-best effort came from Boston left wing John Bucyk (12.22). Throw in Hart vote-winner Bobby Orr at defenseman, and the Bruins had the top three skaters in the NHL for Point Shares. That makes sense as they also won 57 games to post the best record in the league by 12 points. This was basically an All-Star team.
Yet it’s hard to deny Esposito this award was he was over 6 PS better than every other forward in the league. Here is a list of the categories where he topped the NHL: goals (76), points (152), even-strength goals (51), power-play goals (24), game-winning goals (16), and shots on goal (555). That is a very strong offensive season. For the third time in four seasons, we award the Hart to the Boston center.
1971 Vezina: Ed Giacomin & Gilles Villemure (original), Tony Esposito (revised)
Ironic that New York Rangers goaltender Ed Giacomin would win the Vezina from the league this year, after we awarded it to him the last three seasons when the system did not. To wit, the top three goalies in PS were Chicago Black Hawks netminder Tony Esposito (13.23), Giacomin (10.96), and Toronto Maple Leafs legend Jacques Plante (10.63)—who we gave the Conn Smythe to in 1969. For the record, Plante was 42 years old.
The Rangers finished with 109 points, while the Black Hawks posted 107 points. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs nabbed the last playoff berth in the East with 82 points. In fact, while New York and Chicago made the playoffs the prior year, Toronto was dead last in the division with 71 points in the season before this one, when Plante was with the St. Louis Blues still.
Esposito had two skaters in front of him posted double-digit PS, while Giacomin had three skaters above 8.0 PS to help him out. Plante saw two skates over 8.9 PS in front of him. Therefore, all three goalies did have some help in front of them, and with Esposito posting such a distinct edge in PS, the award should go to him. His raw stats: a league-best 35 wins, 2.27 goals-against average, and a .919 save percentage.
1971 Norris: Bobby Orr (original, confirmed)
Orr topped the league in both overall PS (22.83) and defensive PS (9.34)—but he was merely second in offensive PS (13.50), behind Phil Esposito (16.20). Shame on him, right? Orr was clearly the best player in the league and the key cog in leading Boston to the best record in the NHL. We all know how he redefined his position in hockey with numbers like these: 102 assists, 139 points, plus-minus +124, and 91 penalty minutes. It is pretty insane to see that plus/minus rating, in truth: It is still the all-time record.
1971 Calder: Gilbert Perreault (original), Gilles Villemure (revised)
The three best rookies even out along position lines: Rangers goalie Gilles Villemure (8.0 PS), Buffalo Sabres center Gilbert Perreault (6.5 PS), and Minnesota North Stars defenseman Jude Drouin (5.7 PS). Villemure split the awarded Vezina with Giacomin above, while Perreault won the Calder vote. The Sabres posted just 24 wins, so the value of Perreault’s play is diminished. Minnesota won just 28 games, but that was good enough for the final postseason slot in the West Division. We know how well the Rangers did.
It can’t be understated, though, how Villemure stepped in to help out Giacomin: While the veteran goalie had carried the Rangers for years—winning our first three Vezinas on his own—Giacomin started 25 fewer games this season than last, simply because Villemure offered quality play at the position. And that value is reflected both in common sense and in the PS total above. His raw numbers: 22-8-4, 2.30 GAA, .919 S%.
1971 Conn Smythe: Ken Dryden (original), Frank Mahovlich (revised)
The Montréal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup Finals, 4-3, over the Black Hawks, and despite playing just six regular-season games, Montréal goalie Ken Dryden won the voted Conn Smythe (12-8, 3.01 GAA, .928 S%). His stable presence for all Canadiens postseason games can’t be understated, but those numbers are not truly dominant or anything close to it: Eight losses is a lot for a goalie in the postseason, especially with that GAA. The save percentage tells us that Montréal had a defensive issue even with the goalie stabilization.
The Canadiens had the fourth-best record in the regular season, so it’s easy to see how Dryden’s presence helped carry his team to the Cup—ousting the Bruins in the division semifinals over 7 games. But were there any other candidates here who played “better”? Left wing Frank Mahovlich posted 27 points in 20 games for Montréal to lead the team in scoring by 5 points, while Chicago goalie Tony Esposito had better numbers than Dryden did: 11-7, 2.20 GAA, .928 S%.
To us, Dryden was outplayed in the postseason by Esposito, and usually, we want the Conn Smythe to go to a member of the winning team when at all possible, baring a crazy, dominant effort by a member of the losing team. That leaves us with Mahovlich: he added 18 PIMs during the playoffs to go along with his point total, playing a two-way game that helped Dryden—and helped the Canadiens overcome Dryden’s rather bad GAA for the 20 playoff games. We get the sentiment for Dryden, but we prefer hard numbers here instead.