The bicentennial year for the United States also marks a strange trend in professional hockey, which we will explore on NHL Saturday over the next few months: Only three teams won the Stanley Cup between 1976 and 1988. A definite era of hockey dynasties began when the United States turned 200, and it would be the guys north of the border that would get it going. But how many of the majors awards will they claim this time out?
We shall see, as many changes are afoot in our weekly exercise …
1976 Hart: Bobby Clarke (original), Guy Lafleur (revised)
Philadelphia Flyers center Bobby Clarke took home a third Hart Trophy via the vote at the time, and in this season, he actually was the third-best forward according to the Point Shares system. Of course, we stripped Clarke of his Harts in both 1973 and 1975. Will we do it again? Montréal Canadiens right wing Guy Lafleur—our Hart pick last year—again topped NHL forwards (13.80 PS), this time followed closely by Flyers left wing Bill Barber (12.30) and then Clarke (11.67).
Toss in right wing Reggie Leach, and the Flyers had the second-, third-, and fourth-best forwards in the league; hence, Philadelphia posted 118 points in the standings as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. However, the Canadiens topped the NHL with 127 points, and Lafleur was carrying a strong load up front on his own—in comparison to Clarke, let alone Barber and Leach.
Lafleur tallied 56 goals and 69 assists on his way to an NHL-high 125 points, while also leading the league with 12 game-winning goals. His plus-67 rating was not too shabby, either. This is two consecutive seasons now we have taken Clarke’s hardware away, only to give it to Lafleur—but it is the right thing to do.
1976 Vezina: Ken Dryden (original, confirmed)
The Canadiens definitely benefitted from having the best goaltender in the league on their side, as Ken Dryden topped all netminders with 16.49 PS, to easily outdistanced the next-best goalie—the Flyers’ Wayne Stephenson, who stepped in for the injured Bernie Parent and notched 14.66 PS. We will confirm Dryden’s award here, giving him three Vezinas (1972, 1973) from us in five years, with Parent winning the other two (1974, 1975).
Dryden’s traditional numbers: 42-10-8 with a 2.03 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage while notching 8 shutouts as well. In addition to topping the league in PS, his win, GAA, and shutout marks also led the NHL.
1976 Norris: Denis Potvin (original, confirmed)
With Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr injured and his career all but over, we finally get some actual discussion for this award. Sort of. New York Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin—the 1974 Calder vote winner that we stripped of the award—was the top blueliner in the league (14.30 PS), followed by Montréal d-man Guy Lapointe (13.32).
The Isles finished 11 points behind the Flyers in the standings, and with Lafleur and Dryden creating a nice set of “triplets” for the Canadiens, it’s easy to see that Potvin had more value to the Islanders than Lapointe had with Montréal. That’s no knock on Lapointe, of course; it’s just contextual reality.
We confirm Potvin’s award here, based on his tradition stats as well: 31G, 67A, and 100 penalty minutes. Lapointe did lead the NHL in defensive PS (7.71), but again, overall Potvin was the better blueliner and the more valuable one as well.
1976 Calder: Bryan Trottier (original), Glenn Resch (revised)
Our three best rookies were Islanders goalie Glenn Resch (11.6 PS), his teammate and center Bryan Trottier (8.6), and California Golden Seals center Dennis Maruk (5.3). Trottier won the vote, mostly because he posted 95 points (32G, 63A). Meanwhile, Resch brought more value to his team with his stat line (23-11-8, 2.08 GAA, .928 S%). The save percentage was tops in the league, in fact.
Since the Golden Seals posted just 65 points and finished last in the Adams Division while missing the playoffs, it’s easy enough here to see that Resch was the deserving winner of this award instead of Trottier.
1976 Conn Smythe: Reggie Leach (original), Ken Dryden (revised)
Montréal ended the Flyers’ run of playoff dominance by sweeping Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Finals, but Leach won the Conn Smythe from the voters for posting 24 points (19G, 5A) in 16 games with a plus-14 rating. Leach also managed 4 points (all goals) in the 4 games against the Canadiens, too, the best on the Flyers. Meanwhile, the top Conn Smythe candidates from Montréal were Lafleur (7G, 10A, plus-10) and Dryden (12-1, 1.92 GAA, .929 S%).
With all due respect to Leach, you have to dominate the Finals a bit more on the losing side—especially when your team got swept—in order to win this award, and he didn’t come close to doing that. Yes, Philadelphia lost the first three games by one goal each, but maybe Leach needed to notch some assists as well in order to truly deserve this award.
Meanwhile, Dryden’s goaltending was stellar throughout the postseason. Therefore, even though we took Dryden’s 1971 voted Conn Smythe away, we give him this one which was well deserved. The Canadiens lost just one game in three rounds on their way to the NHL title, and Dryden was the primary reason for that impressive dominance.