Fri 29 Oct 2010
Halloween is supposed to be a time when grown men look back fondly at the fun (and mischief) they had at a time when their only worry was making sure they reeled in an A-1 stash of candy and goodies. However, as a diehard Ranger fan (as if there is any other kind), my Halloween thoughts drift back to October 31, 1975, when as an 11-year-old I endured the horror of having my favorite player released and my second favorite player traded just days later.
The following article (updated to the present time) first appeared in “Blueshirt Bulletin” back in 2005 in (lack of a batter term) “celebration” of the beginning of the end of the Emile Francis Rangers.
It is definitely a scary Halloween tale for me!
Can it really be 35 years?
During an eight day stretch in 1975, General Manager Emile Francis ripped the heart out of his team and then ripped the heart out of every Ranger fan. Within those eight days, Eddie Giacomin was placed on waivers (and eventually claimed by the Detroit Red Wings) and then the hockey world was stunned as the Rangers dealt Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Joe Zanussi to the hated Boston Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.
The best way to describe it to younger Ranger fans is to ask them to remember back to March 4, 2004 and remember how it felt when Brian Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now multiply that by three, and you come close to realizing the shock and despair Ranger fans felt when their worlds were rocked starting on that halloween night.
In reality, the Rangers’ house cleaning began three days prior when Francis traded veteran goaltender Gilles Villemure to Chicago for defenseman Doug Jarrett.
Two days later, Francis dealt Derek Sanderson to St. Louis in exchange for a 1977 first round draft pick. Little did Ranger fans know that there would be no treat from that trade as Francis’s replacement, John Ferguson, would use that draft pick to select Lucien DeBlois – as Fergy would pass on Mike Bossy for the first time. He did again later in the first rpound when he drafted Ron Duguay.
The beginning of the end for the legendary Rangers’ trio really began at the conclusion of the 1974-75 season. More specifically, it began with the Rangers first round playoff ouster at the hands of the New York Islanders. J.P. Parise’s goal just 11 seconds into overtime in the third and deciding game signaled the rise of the Islander Dynasty and spelled the end of a Rangers’ run that began during the 1964-65 season when “The Cat” assumed control of the Blueshirts.
Francis took over an organization that was in the midst of missing the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. Under Francis, the Rangers made the playoffs from 1967-68 through 1974-75 (a then record-tying nine straight seasons) – including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1971-72 where they were stopped by Esposito’s Bruins.
Giacomin’s age (36) and subpar 1974-75 season (13-12-8-3.48 GAA) was a contributing factor to Francis’ acquisition of John Davidson during the summer. A combination of events – Eddie’s slow start (0-3-1-4.75), the Rangers slow start (3-5-1) and three straight embarrassing losses (9-1, 7-1 and 7-2) – gave Francis an unexpected opportunity to not only read his team the riot act, but at act upon it.
The bloodletting began when Francis played the cruelest of Halloween tricks by placing Giacomin on waivers. Detroit claimed him on Halloween Night. It was one thing to dismantle a team past its prime, but it was another to coldly waive the heart of the Rangers revival.
“Am I Shocked? That’s a calm word. I did everything I could to help this club for eleven years,” a bitter Giacomin related to Hugh Delano in the book Eddie: A Goalie’s Life. “I had one more year on my contract. I would have retired if they didn’t want me. Why wouldn’t they let me go out gracefully as a New York Ranger?”
Delano relays a prophetic quote from Ratelle via Walt MacPeek of the Newark Star-Ledger. MacPeek contacted Ratelle in Montreal to get his view on the “trade”. Ratelle thought MacPeek was referring to the Sanderson deal and was stunned to find out the news about Giacomin.
“Don’t fool me like that,” Ratelle replied to MacPeek. “It can’t be true. We knew Eddie was not on the team bus or the plane but we thought he was coming up the next day. I’m shocked they got rid of Eddie. It wasn’t his fault. Maybe I’m next to go.” Less than a week later, he was the next to go.
Giacomin and legions of Ranger fans got the last laugh when he played his first game as a Red Wing on November 2, 1975 – at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Even though he was wearing Red Wings jersey #31, Giacomin was still number 1 in the hearts of Ranger fans as the Garden once again rocked to chants of “Eddie!” Eddie!” The national anthem was drowned out and the start of the game delayed. In a fitting end, Giacomin and the Red Wings prevailed 6-4.
It was no surprise that the Garden crowd cheered the Red Wings and booed the Rangers. What did come as a surprise was the almost reverent treatment Giacomin received from his teammates. Wayne Dillon even apologized for scoring on his former teammate.
“I was glad to see Eddie get the tribute from the fans that he deserved,” Davidson said.
“He didn’t just beat us with his goaltending; he beat us with his very presence in the building,” Park related.
Five days later, Francis dropped the other shoe when he consummated the deal with the Bruins. While the Islanders had stunned their older brothers a few months previous, Ranger fans still pointed to the Big Bad Bruins as their most hated foes – with Esposito playing the part of Denis Potvin.
Ranger fans hated the thought of Esposito coming to the Rangers and the former Bruins’ superstar shared the repulsion. In an excerpt from The Hockey News’ “The Lighter Side of Hockey”, Glen Goodland relates the following story.
“One day early in 1975-76, after years of glory with Boston, Phil Esposito was called in to meet with infamous coach Don Cherry. Cherry reluctantly told Esposito he was being traded. ‘OK,” Esposito replied, “but if you say it’s to New York (Rangers), I’m going to jump out that window.’ Cherry’s reply? ‘Bobby,” he said, turning to an assistant, ‘open the window.'”
The outrage over the deal was not limited to those coming to New York. For very personal reasons, Park contemplated retirement.
“My first instinct was to refuse to go; to say, ‘To hell with it.’ That didn’t last long. I knew I had responsibilities as a professional and as a family man,” the former Ranger captain told Kevin Shea of LegendsofHockey.net. “For a player who had never been traded before, it was definitely an experience. The thing that bothered me most was uprooting my four-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy. He had just started going to a fine facility in New York and I worried about finding similar facilities in Boston. But I didn’t have to worry for long. Boston had a fine school. Once I got there, everything fell into place.”
Despite all of the deals, the end was near for Francis as well. He remained in control of the Rangers until January 6, 1976 when former Rangers tormentor and Montreal tough guy John Ferguson assumed control of the team.
Giacomin ended his Hall of Fame career after playing 70 more games with the Red Wings posting five shutouts among his 23 Detroit victories.
Park and Ratelle would help lead the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 1977 and 1978 – only to be the middle victims in the Montreal Canadiens four consecutive championship run.
After missing the playoffs for two years, Ferguson led the Blueshirts back to the playoffs in 1977-78 where they were defeated by the Buffalo Sabres two games to one. Following the defeat, Ferguson was shown the door and replaced by Fred Shero who promptly led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season as GM/Coach – with Esposito and Vadnais playing prominent roles.
As for J.P. Parise, the man whose goal was the beginning of the end of an era, the Parise Curse is alive and well and continues to this day. President/GM Glen Sather passed on the chance to draft J.P.’s son Zach in the 2003 NHL Draft in order to select Hugh Jessiman – still the only player from that Draft to never play in an NHL game.
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