Gordie Howe's slow-down during 1979-80

Discussion in 'The History of Hockey' started by The Panther, Jan 1, 2019.

  1. The Panther

    The Panther Registered User

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    It's a miracle that Gordie Howe was even able to play in 1979-80, considering he was 51-and-a-half years old when the season began, and 52 when it ended. It had also been over 8 years since he'd dressed for NHL action.

    In the end, he scored 41 points in 80 games with Hartford, and added another goal and an assist in the Whalers' three playoff games vs. Montreal. Thirteen of Howe's fifteen goals were at even strength, and he went +9, at which he tied for third-best such mark among Hartford forwards (one of three D-men who had a slightly better plus/minus result was Howe's 24-year-old son). Considering that Hartford was a .456 team, that's pretty solid. In total goals for and against, he was +20. The stats show he was on the ice for 11 Whalers' PP goals, and they scored only 42 on the season, so he evidently wasn't on the first PP unit (as you'd expect), but he did see some PP time. Remarkably, Howe finished as the second-highest scoring right-winger on the club.

    But what I find interesting is how much better he was doing early in the season than later. He massively slowed down, in scoring-terms, as the season progressed. Here's how his stat-line looked at various points:

    10 games: 3G + 2A = 5 PTS (+3)
    20 games: 8G + 7A = 15 PTS (+11)
    24 games: 10G + 8 A = 18 PTS (+10)
    30 games: 11G + 10A = 21 PTS (+10)
    40 games: 11G + 11A = 22 PTS (+9)
    60 games: 13G + 18A = 31 PTS (+10)
    80 games: 15G + 26A = 41 PTS (+9)

    So, at the (very early) 20-to-30 game mark, Howe was pacing for a 60 point, +35 type of season. Not surprisingly, he couldn't maintain that level, but it's weird that he scored 10 goals in 24 games and then only 5 more in the remaining 56 games. I think Howe has commented himself on how he had a hot streak early in the season, but then he fell off a lot as the year went on.

    Just wondering if anyone remembers watching Howe play this final season? Any memories? How did he look out there -- like a normal, 2nd-line winger, or did he look slower than most players? I'd imagine it wasn't easy for coach Don Blackburn -- who had coached Howe for a few games prior at the end of the 1978-79 WHA season -- to strike the right balance in using the 51-year-old forward whose son was a rising star on defence.

    Also, is there any particular reason Howe slowed down so much in scoring (I mean, besides the obvious -- age)?

    And does anyone remember Howe's retirement announcement? I guess it was sometime in 1980. Was it a big event? Was it totally expected?
     
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  2. BobbyAwe

    BobbyAwe Registered User

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    I lived one mile from the Nassau Coliseum and saw him there in a game against the Isles in 1979-80. I watched him intently the whole game and I remember making these observations in particular. He was SLOW (understandably), nobody tried to hit him, and when anyone did come near him, you could see him scowling and threatening them - that mouth was going constantly. I guess he was a bit reactionary to the prospect of being run by some bigger, younger player, or maybe that's the way he always had been? Anyway, my take on that was that the opposing players shied off of contact with him out of respect, not fear? I mean nobody wanted to be the one to flatten and possibly injure a 50 year old legend. That's just how it appeared to me?

    Otherwise, he was very instinctive, of course, and made up for his lack of speed somewhat with his experience and natural smarts.
     
  3. The Panther

    The Panther Registered User

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    Nice response, thanks!

    Did you have good seats? Close to the ice?
     
  4. Pominville Knows

    Pominville Knows Induct me allready :/

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    The biggest drop off was between game 30 and 40 where he was scoreless. Still impressive that he was only -1 during that stretch.
     
  5. wetcoast

    wetcoast Registered User

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    This would be my guess as well.

    I also remember this being the case for Lafleur's last game in Vancouver, the Canucks who were admittedly very horrible at the time really gave him extra time and space.
     
  6. Big Phil

    Big Phil Registered User

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    There is a lot of merit to Howe's fight in 1959 to Lou Fontinato. After that drubbing of Lou, Howe fought (NHL and WHA included) a total of 8 times over the next 20 years to his retirement. Either out of fear or respect from opponents. I would suspect like others have said that Howe got some extra room because no one wanted to fight him or anger him, or no one wanted to fight him because the thought of losing to a 51 year old might be embarrassing. Or they were in awe of him. It could be that as well.
     
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  7. BadgerBruce

    BadgerBruce Registered User

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    Howe did not do the “retirement tour,” and instead waited until June, 1980, to more or less quietly announce the end of his playing days.

    In terms of his production, I do know that in February/March he skated on the Whaler's fourth line with former Washington Capital Greg Carroll and Nick Fotiu.
    Getting much out of those two probably just wasn’t going to happen, and the trio received limited ice time.

    BTW, the other Whalers’ lines at that time had Bobby Hull with Bernie Johnston and Dave Debol, Keon between Jordy Douglas and Tom Rowe, and Mike Rogers between Mark Howe and Blaine Stoughton. Pat Boutette usually had Bernie Johnston’s spot but missed around 35 games due to injury that season.
     
  8. Dennis Bonvie

    Dennis Bonvie Registered User

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    Yes, Howe was very slow, like most 51 year-olds.

    But he still knew what he was doing. He got away with a lot of interference, as did most veterans at that time who knew all the tricks. He still used those elbows in the corners too. And he could still make plays and shoot his backhand as hard as anyone.
     
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  9. Minar

    Minar Registered User

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    According to howe's auto biography it wasn't his idea to retire. He wanted to keep playing. It was the team doctor that told the coach and management Howe should retire cause he was afraid for Gordie's health being in his 50s. Gordie felt quite hurt about it but being a classy guy he went quietly and didn't make it a big deal.
     
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  10. BobbyAwe

    BobbyAwe Registered User

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    It was so long ago that I don't remember exactly where the seats were but I know it was pretty close because I can still see that mouth going and me lip-reading the 4 word expletives that were flying out of it every time any Islander had the "audacity" to invade the 3 foot "no-go zone" Gordie had erected around himself :mad:
     
  11. BobbyAwe

    BobbyAwe Registered User

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    If you had a magic wand and were able to zap Howe, Hull and Keon back into their prime, along with Mark Howe, Stoughton, Rogers, and Lacroix, that would have been SOME high scoring team!
     
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  12. BobbyAwe

    BobbyAwe Registered User

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    I don't mean to downplay his 41 points that year at his age, but I think the fact of how much respect he was shown by other teams made it a bit easier on him? I didn't see him in any other games that year, but I'm guessing, in general, that nobody bothered him much or took any real runs at him?
     
  13. BadgerBruce

    BadgerBruce Registered User

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    You are likely correct, but at the same time we should probably keep in mind that the Big Guy earned that respect many times over — it was bought and paid for, so to speak.

    What I have always found fascinating about Howe is the extent to which his career exposes the myth of linear improvement in the game’s players. As a rookie in 1946, he faced Dit Clapper (that floors me), and in his 1980 swan song he faced Gretzky, Messier, etc.

    By the end of the 1940s he was one of the top 2-3 players in the NHL, he owned the 1950s, was at or near the top in the 60s, retired and came back in the 70s where he was a legitimate star in the WHA, and then left the game for good as a 52 year old who just put up 41 points in 80 games — he’d only managed a meagre 22 points in 58 games as an 18 year old rookie in 1946, playing with and against all of those mythological players who, according to some “new age” analysts, were little more than pylons. Sigh.

    Whenever members of this Board argue about how well different players would have performed in different eras, I always think of Gordie Howe because the discussion can then move from the hypothetical to the concrete. Everything changed during his career except his ability to adapt and shine.
     
  14. Robert Gordon Orr

    Robert Gordon Orr Registered User

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    Playing all 80 regular season games in the NHL as a 51/52-year old, scoring a respectable 15 goals and 41 points is an amazing feat actually.

    I can not imagine guys like Luc Robitaille, Gary Roberts, Kevin Hatcher, Kirk Muller, Wendel Clark, Eddie Olczyk, Al Iafrate, Shayne Corson and Joe Nieuwendyk suit up for all games in 2017/18 and then retire prior to this season.

    And I agree with you BadgerBruce regarding Dit Clapper. It is absolutely mind-boggling that Howe played against Clapper (three games, including Clapper’s last), a player that made his NHL-debut in 1927, and then played against Mark Messier, a player who retired in 2004.

    There was an interesting article published in Calgary Herald on January 3, 1980 that gave some insight to that last Howe season.

    FATHER HOCKEY:

    Five decades have slowed his legs, but not his enthusiasm

    EDMONTON, Alberta (CP) Gordie Howe skated ever so slowly into his fifth decade of professional hockey Wednesday night...the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and now, the 1980s. An incredible achievement by an incredible athlete, perhaps forever unmatchable.

    "It's something nice to think about, that's a long, long time," said the 51-year-old right wing following Wednesday night’s National Hockey League game that ended in a 3-3 tie between his Hartford Whalers and Edmonton Oilers.

    But even for Gordie Howe, age takes its toll. Gone forever are the nights when one of hockey's greatest winger would dominate a game. Now he's often rested by Coach Don Blackburn, as he was in the third period Wednesday. "I played only about four minutes, two shifts.”

    He played only four or five shifts a period in the first two but that, he says, was mainly because of the penalties. Howe was honored before the game with a plaque that said simply: To Gordie Howe in honor of five decades to the sport of hockey as a player. An amazing achievement never to be equalled.

    Howe had only one shot on net but it was the first one of the game, a 35-foot wrist shot that gave Edmonton goalie Jim Corsi no problem. The rest of the night was typical of the last month. Howe had only five shots on net in the last month and has scored only three goals in the last 20 games - cold, hard statistics that he can't stickhandle past.

    He has only 11 goals and 11 assists this season, figures that pale in comparison to his career statistics: 2,140 regular season games, 971 regular season goals and 1,368 assists. To most observers, Howe has looked his age this season. But he has no plans to quit his 32nd NHL season in mid-stream, even if he is having his problems.

    "I still want to play in the NHL with both Mark and Marty, And I want to have a good second half and help this team into the playoffs." Mark plays alongside Gordie but Marty, a defenseman for whom Howe holds a special affection, was sent to the minors during training camp and hasn't returned.

    "He would probably have been back with us by now, with our injuries, but he broke his wrist. I don't know if he's back skating yet or not. But I think he'll be back up."

    Last season injuries like a broken ankle and fractured thumb held Gordie to 19 goals, the first time in 27 seasons he failed to score 20. He started this year strongly, scoring eight goals in his first 14 games before slowing down. ”He’s wearing down a little,” conceded Blackburn

    As was the case in his prime years, fans throughout the NHL are showing up to see the legend, back in the league after an eight-year absence. And they sense that this, finally, has to be the final hurrah.
    To many of those fans, Howe is perceived as a malicious old man with the sharpest elbows in the world and an instinct to bully those less gifted or less willing.

    But even that reputation is being tarnished this season. Younger players, aware of Howe’s elbows and meanness on the ice, but knowing his limited manoeuvrability, are more willing to take a shot at hockey’s only playing grandfather.

    Wednesday night, even the rookies and mediocre, journeymen players were taking shots. Like Edmonton defenceman Colin Campbell. ”He nicked me in the face, up here,” said Howe, pointing to a small cut on the cheek.

    In his younger days – even at times in the early part of this season – Howe would not allow opponents to take such liberties without paying the price.

    But just like fighting the cold he has had for the last four days, everything gets tougher as one gets older. "I'm having trouble breathing," he says. "But then I have trouble doing that when I'm feeling good."
     
  15. BobbyAwe

    BobbyAwe Registered User

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    Good post. I have always imagined also, that the best way to compare the players of different eras is to take the notable stars whose career's spanned 20 years or more and compare their play against the competition of the different era's that their careers covered. The only adjustment required is you'd have to take into consideration the player in particular would not be as at his peak in the last few years of his career due to age, or maybe even in the first few because of inexperience? So it's not an exact science but it can be somewhat revealing. Take Beliveau for instance - he was 39 years old in his last year (1970-71) yet he still led his team in scoring, and that team had quite a few stars. Some guys who played in the 6 team league put up their best seasonal numbers in the 70's - after and during the expansion which had them playing against weaker teams. (Like Bucyk and Hadfield for example)
     
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  16. Pominville Knows

    Pominville Knows Induct me allready :/

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    Regarding that no one bothered him much. I actually can fathom that becouse a fit man at 51 is still very strong, although slow, he might have still been feared enough to scare people away.
    Combined with some of the other variables mentioned in this thread he might have been treated somewhat the same as anyone.
     
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  17. GMR

    GMR Registered User

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    I'm guessing as he got older, nobody wanted to fight a guy in his 40's, who also happened to be the best player in the game's history. It would have been disrespectful.
     
  18. Crosbyfan

    Crosbyfan Registered User

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    Let's not forget that Howe was pretty mean on the ice. There were probably a number of guys that could have taken him out at that point in his long career, but not the average player. The ones that could probably didn't see taking "the lumber", as Howe would call it, to be worth it. He probably managed to convince them there was more to be lost than gained from taking him on.
     
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  19. ted1971

    ted1971 History Of Hockey

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    Imagine being the player who knocked Howe out due to a concussion in a fight? He would be either a target or a running joke in the league.
     
  20. ted1971

    ted1971 History Of Hockey

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    Bobby Clarke once commented on how the first game he played against Howe, Howe caught him with a wicked elbow as soon as Clarke got near him along the glass. Clarke took it as a badge of honor.
     
  21. Howie Hodge

    Howie Hodge I Am The Walrus

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    Watched a few Whalers games with Gordie playing, mostly v Buffalo and v Toronto.

    The hockey sense was very evident, even if the pace wasn't. Still looked like a top line player in his mannerisms.

    He also was well respected, and was given a little more space (some times wisely) than your average forward received.


    Curse my father, Pt II

    Gordie was playing in Toronto v The Leafs. I thought he looked slow, and commented so to my father.

    Dad said, "he's looking for openings, and he's sizing up his chances, he is ready to score." I thought there's no way. 30 seconds later Gordie skates into position, receives the puck, and scores. The release and game recognition still well intact. Dad just looked at me with an 'I told you so' look, didn't say a word.

    As my dad was a soccer guy from Europe, and a guy with mostly a passing interest in hockey, that hurt.

    Humility 101.
    Both the old boys showed me up.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2019
  22. Howie Hodge

    Howie Hodge I Am The Walrus

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    Who was it who said, when asked about not fighting Gordie Howe in his later years, something to the effect of:

    "If I fight him and win, I'd be accused of beating up an old man and looking like a fool. If I lose, I'd look like a bigger fool."

    I'll never forget that - only who said it! lol

    Lou Fontinato nose not to mess with Gordie....
    20090301-232939-g.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2019
  23. BadgerBruce

    BadgerBruce Registered User

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    Nice.

    And as you’ve likely noticed, my avatar picture is also of Leapin’ Lou ....
     
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  24. blood gin

    blood gin Registered User

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    Gretzky too, who idolized Howe. Mentioned how he stole the puck from him during the game and Howe later came back with a crafty elbow. Basically saying "Don't make me look bad kid"

    I had no idea he was still scoring at that rate early in the season. I guess he finally did hit a wall

    I wonder what kind of NHL production he would have if he stuck around 1973-1979.
     
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  25. NickWIHockey

    NickWIHockey Registered User

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    well i tend to think Gordie would have added around 25 goals a season from 73-79, thats another 175 goals or so putting him at around 976.
     
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