Friday, September 18, 2015

Detroit Red Wings (NHL, 1971-72)

1971-72 Regular Season--Red Wings vs. St. Louis Blues
     The Detroit Red Wings had a noticeable absence in their locker room heading into the 1971-72 season. Legendary Gordie Howe retired after the 1970-71 season. Only Alex Delvecchio remained from the 1955 Stanley Cup roster, and he would continue until 1974. The times were changing at the Olympia.
     After such a miserable 1970-71 season, the Red Wings could look forward to the second overall pick in the 1971 NHL Entry Draft. (Note: They picked behind the Montreal Canadiens, who won the 1971 Stanley Cup. Montreal got the #1 pick from the California Golden Seals in an incredibly one-sided deal...which probably explains why the Golden Seals no longer exist.). The Wings used that pick on St. Catherines Black Hawks star Marcel Dionne. In a very unpopular move (for both sides), the Wings also sent rising star Garry Unger to the St. Louis Blues for star center Red Berenson.
     Bruce Norris was still owner of the franchise and Harkness was back as General Manager after his nightmarish first season. Doug Barkley also returned behind the bench. He would only last 11 games (with a 3-8-0 record) before being canned in favor of another ex-Wing, Johnny Wilson. Under Wilson, the Red Wings improved their play, going 30-27-10 to finish 33-35-10 on the season. Their 76 points were not enough to qualify for the playoffs in the tough East Division, just four back of fourth place Toronto. On the other hand, it would have been more than enough to comfortably finish in third place in the expansion-heavy West Division. Sadly, this season would be one of the best the Red Wings had in the entire decade!
     Detroit didn't have much of a problem scoring goals that year, as they were the fourth best with 261 goals. Dionne would have an immediate impact on the Red Wings, leading the team with 77 points on the strength of 28 goals. Mickey Redmond proved to be a great acquisition for the Wings, scoring 42 goals to lead the team. Three other players, including the ageless Delvecchio, scored over 20 goals.
     Team defense was improved slightly over last season, as the Wings allowed 262 goals on the year, fifth-highest in the league. Three men tended goal for the Wings that year: Joe Daley, Al Smith and Andy Brown. Smith got the majority of time between the pipes, going 18-20-4 with a 3.24 GAA and 4 shutouts. Daley went 11-10-5 with and even better 3.15 GAA in 29 games. Brown went 4-5-1 with a 3.96 GAA in 10 games.
     As stated earlier, the Wings just missed the playoffs, and were kind of the victim of a lopsided division setup. The West Division only had Chicago and Minnesota with records above .500, and the Wings would have easily qualified in that division. This program is from the October 17, 1971, game against the St. Louis Blues. The Red Wings knocked off the Blues, 5-3, for their first win of the year.
     Lots of wear-and-tear on this program, but all 44 pages are present and accounted for. Similar format to the previous year's program, with mostly black-and-white ads and pictures. There are articles about Red Wing Tim Eccelstone and the Wings preseason tilt with the Blues, their first games against former teammates Garry Unger, Carl Brewer and Wayne Connelly. There's aslo a cartoon called "Sticks and Yuks" by Mackey which points out how the Blues netminders have big nets to fill after Glenn Hall retired. Full page pictures include Red Wing Alan Karlander and Blue Terry Crisp. The Upcoming Events section includes a picture of pro wrestling legend Dick the Bruiser, "The World's Most Dangerous Man". Car ads include the '72 Chevrolet Chevelle, '72 Ford Gran Torino, '72 Buick Riviera and the '72 Dodge Charger. Local ads include Stu Evans Lincoln-Mercury, Michigan Popcorn Company, Carl's Chop House and WKBD Channel 50.

Aftermath: The phrase "Darkness with Harkness" was an understatement. Harkness's complete incompetence as a GM drove the Red Wings into the ground, going through coaches and players like Kleenex. The fans' hatred of Harkness would only be equalled by future Detroit GM flops Randy Smith and Matt Millen. The Wings were far out the playoffs when Norris finally fired Harkness in 1974, replacing him with Alex Delvecchio. The franchise continued to struggle, bottoming out completely in 1976-77, with a disastrous 16-55-9 record. They made the playoffs just once more in the 1970s, making it to the second round in 1978. By then, both Mickey Redmond and Marcel Dionne were long gone, due to injury (Redmond) and trade (Dionne). The Wings would continue to flounder until they were purchased by Mike Illitch in 1982. They would slowly make their way back to prominence throughout the next 15 years, until finally winning the Stanley Cup in 1997. They would win three more since.

National Hockey League Statistics: 1971-72 (from

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