TORONTO – Martin Brodeur got his Hockey Hall of Fame ring Friday and will earn his formal induction Monday night. Great moment for him and his family, certainly one that was fully expected. The longtime New Jersey goaltender would like to see it repeated someday for a former Stanley Cup-winning teammate who continues to be one of the more notable omissions from the Hall.
You might have heard of the name: Alexander Mogilny.
Mogilny won a Cup with the Devils in 2000 at age 31 after being acquired at the trade deadline from Vancouver and had 43 goals for them the next year when they lost in Game 7 of the Cup final at Colorado. He continued to score the next two years in Toronto.
And all this, of course, was long after his halcyon days in Buffalo, when he hit 30 goals in four straight seasons and broke the stat bank with his 76-goal campaign in 1992-93 – a figure that will likely stand for decades as the franchise record.
"He's a guy that's worthy of being in the Hall of Fame and I think one day he will get to the Hall," Brodeur said when asked about Mogilny by The Buffalo News at Friday's ring ceremony in the Esso Great Hall. "Alex was a great teammate. He was not like a lot of the Russian guys. He really wanted to come to America and be playing in the U.S. He was almost a scratch golfer and really became almost a typical American guy, just with a Russian name."
Mogilny's numbers on their own are impressive – 473 goals and 1,032 points in 990 games – but his resume goes much deeper. He has a legacy component to his career that many current Hall members don't remotely come close to.
You can easily make a case that Mogilny helped change the face of the game forever when he became the first player to defect from Russia and come to North America to play in the NHL in 1989.
With Sabres GM Gerry Meehan and scouting director Don Luce taking the lead, the Sabres worked their clandestine meeting with Mogilny in Stockholm and brought him to North America to open a path for many Russians to join the league.
And then, of course, Mogilny became a star on his own. We will never forget the wondrous games he put up with Pat LaFontaine, many of which came during the incredible '92-93 season that saw Mogilny pile up the goals and LaFontaine finish with 148 points – both setting franchise records that seem unreachable now. Mogilny also spent time in 1993-94 as the Sabres' captain, a first for a Russian player in the NHL.
"Alexander Mogilny was one of the greatest Russian players. Definitely," Hall inductee Alexander Yakushev said Friday. "He didn't play that much in Russia and moved to Buffalo so early in his life but he was a great player. He deserves to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is one of the best players of all time."
Why is Mogilny not in the Hall? Has to be the numbers. He doesn't have 500 goals, largely because of three injury-plagued seasons in Vancouver and missing the 2004-05 campaign due to the lockout, and sits only 53rd overall. But Paul Kariya only had 402 goals and 989 points in a career that was also filled with injuries and he made the Hall. Without winning a Cup.
The Hall is coming around with impact of players to the game as a whole, rather than selecting on just brute stats (think Dino Ciccarelli). This year's long-overdue induction of Willie O'Ree, the game's first black player, is a prime example of that. Mogilny could benefit someday from a similar line of thinking.
With Dale Hawerchuk, Phil Housley and Dave Andreychuk now all honored members, Mogilny stands as the biggest current omission among former Buffalo players.
"He was a really nice guy," Brodeur said. "I've seen him a couple times in Florida after he retired with Ilya Kovalchuk and I had actually forgotten he's not in. I'm sure Alex eventually will get in."
Yakushev recalls drubbing by '76 Sabres
Yakushev, the burly winger of the 1972 Soviet all-star squad from the Summit Series with Team Canada, is still massive at age 71. He was standing with his interpreter when this corner approached Friday and introductions were made.
"Buffalo!" Yakushev said with a big smile and waving his index finger repeatedly in my direction. He knew the subject was obvious.
Perhaps you never heard of it or are too young to remember, but one of the Sabres' most momentous days in their early franchise history came on a Sunday afternoon in Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 4, 1976. It was an exhibition game against the Soviet Wings and Yakushev was their star. By now, he was well-known as an Olympian and as the leading goal scorer for the Soviets in '72.
The Russians were in town for a couple of days after a 7-4 win in Pittsburgh. They watched the Sabres blunder through a 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on New Year's Night in the Aud. They were more worried about their game on Jan. 7 game in Chicago.
Big mistake. The Sabres won, 12-6, stunning a worldwide television audience by handing the Russians their worst defensive beating ever in international competition. It's a record that still stands.
"I remember the game very well," Yakushev said through the interpreter. "We saw the game before, Buffalo vs. Los Angeles. Your team was really bad. They were all crouched on the ice and we were very relaxed. We were thinking, 'We're going to beat them easily.' We were going to have a very good day."
Didn't happen. The Sabres outshot the Russians, 46-21, and 10 players scored, with Rick Martin and Danny Gare collecting two goals apiece. It was 4-2 after the first period and 9-4 after the second.
"We were smashed by your team," Yakushev said. "They were really tough. They played very well. It was very surprising the game went that way. There were four games that year and the only game we lost was in Buffalo."
The Sabres played the next night in the Montreal Forum. In the wake of the victory, Canadiens fans broke decorum when Buffalo came on the ice for warmups. The crowd rose into a standing ovation – for the visiting team.
Xs and Os: Eichel to Skinner
What's a key to Jack Eichel's fast chemistry with Jeff Skinner on the Sabres' top line these days? It's Skinner's ability to find the soft spots in the offensive zone that Eichel likes to look for his wingers, and Eichel's personal preference for a lot of the off-wing work that can cause trouble for opposing defenses.
Eichel, a right-hand shot, works the left side of the offensive zone and Skinner can fly through the slot or even the right circle to collect his passes and create scoring chances.
"When I have it in the 'O' zone working it in the cycle, there's usually some set spots I like to have him in," Eichel said. "I'm a guy that likes to spend a lot of time on that off-side wing, that left wall in the O-zone. And with 'Skins' being a lefty, it's really good. I think I've found him a few times in the slot there. I just want to keep working on it. The more times he can find the slot and I can find him, it's better."
Blackhawks made 'Q' the fall guy
Joel Quenneville won three Stanley Cups in Chicago but it's clear the front office was waiting to pounce at any sign of trouble this year. After a 6-2-1 start, an 0-4-1 slide was the window team president John McDonough and GM Stan Bowman needed to make the jaw-dropping coaching change they pulled off last week that sent the NHL's second all-time winningest coach packing.
If there was any doubt the Hawks were in rebuild mode – even with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook still on the roster – it was put to rest with the promotion of 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton from Rockford of the AHL.
Those close to the scene in Chicago say the tension was palpable between Quenneville and Bowman, all the way back to a a year after the first Cup title in 2010. Bowman foisted Kenmore native Barry Smith on to Quenneville's staff to help the power play and the coach was never happy with the move.
Smith was inducted last month into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. He is a close confidante of the legendary Scotty Bowman, Stan's father and now a Hawks consultant. The Bowmans got Smith back on the bench as an assistant to help Colliton as part of the housecleaning.
Of course, Quenneville didn't trade Artemi Panarin or Niklas Hjalmarsson or Philip Danault, among others. He didn't dump high draft picks at the deadline for the likes of Antoine Vermette or Andrew Ladd. Bowman did. But as usually happens in these cases, the coach takes the fall when the GM doesn't get the job done.
Rutherford losing patience with Pens
Also in the Recent Cup Winner Drama Dept: Penguins GM Jim Rutherford threw down the warnings to his team on his bi-weekly radio show Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
"What I’m seeing I don’t like. Nobody likes it. We’re trying to figure out what’s gone wrong here," Rutherford said. "I’d like to say we have an answer for it. We don’t right now. We’re watching it really close. Certainly if this continues, in short order, we’re going to have to make some changes.”
The Penguins have been particularly poor at home, where three straight games in PPG Paints Arena were losses to the Islanders (6-3), Maple Leafs (5-0) and Devils (5-1). That's a 16-4 count heading into Saturday's visit by Arizona. The Sabres are in Pittsburgh Nov. 19.
"We’re not playing with any energy or determination,” Rutherford said. “We’re just trying to get through the games. These other teams are coming and outworking us. They deserve to beat us. In some of these games, they probably deserve to beat us worse than the score indicates."
The Penguins entered the weekend as one of eight NHL teams with more points on the road than at home but only the Leafs and Flyers had a bigger disparity. When Rutherford spoke, they were 4-1-2 away from home and just 2-4-1 at PPG – where they were 30-9-2 last year and 57-17-8 during their 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup seasons.
Home of the Braves
Allow me to briefly return to a point that has been belabored in this space and other spots before but still bears repeating: When you go to Montreal's Bell Centre and look to the rafters, the history is overwhelming. All those retired numbers of legends and all those "Coupe Stanley" banners. And right next to them is a powder blue Montreal Expos banner.
It lists the years of the city's late baseball franchise (1969-2004) as well as the numbers of its four legends: The 10 of Andre Dawson and Rusty Staub, the 8 of Gary Carter and the 30 of Tim Raines. It's a small tribute and it's perfect.
Speaking of banners, my annual point: If they can have an Expos banner in the sacred rafters of Montreal, we can have a Buffalo Braves tribute banner — instead of hideous sponsor flags — in the rafters of @KeyBankCtr. #Sabres pic.twitter.com/FpqCMHHXvv
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 8, 2018
If the sacred rafters of the Bell Centre can do that, why in the world can't we have a Buffalo Braves banner honoring, say, Bob McAdoo, Jack Ramsay, Randy Smith and Ernie D up top in KeyBank Center? Former Sabres president Ted Black and the Pegulas have long been total deaf-ears on this point, which has been made by fans and media time after time.
Maybe the Pegulas will surprise us next year during the Sabres' 50th anniversary season – which would also be the Braves' 50th. My hopes are still up for it. We have sponsors banners in our rafters instead of what should be there. Sponsors don't belong there. A bad idea from Black that should have been wiped away a long time ago.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 8, 2018
Around the boards
• Thursday's overtime loss to the Sabres marked four straight games of 4+ goals against Montreal goalie Carey Price. It was one of those nights for both Price and Linus Ullmark, who got pulled after 40 minutes. Price's bad night never stopped and Rasmus Ristolainen's short-side slapper that won it in OT is simply a save that has to be made with the game on the line. Folks in Montreal have no idea what's wrong with Price.
• Memo to all bosses and co-workers: I don't discuss any of you with random ride-share drivers on any of these Sabres road trips. The same, of course, can't be said for the Ottawa Senators. Good luck to them moving forward after the secretly taped video of players ripping assistant coach Marty Raymond in a Phoenix Uber van surfaced last week. Good luck patching up those relationships.
• Rivals come together: The Capitals announced that the 50/50 winner at Wednesday's game against the Penguins, whom they identified only as a season ticket holder, waived the $38,570 prize with the direction that the team's foundation donate it to the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. The money will benefit victims and families of those impacted by the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Great gesture.
Story topics: Alexander Mogilny/ Alexander Yakushev/ Barry Smith/ Buffalo Braves/ Buffalo Sabres/ Chicago Blackhawks/ Hockey Hall of Fame/ Jack Eichel/ Jason Pominville/ Jeff Skinner/ Martin Brodeur/ Montreal Canadiens/ Pittsburgh Penguins