Okay, here is another revelation of mine.
Back in 1989, I really thought that the doomed music duo Milli Vanilli was the real deal. Turns out that they lip-synced their way to stardom, were stripped of their Grammy Award, and one of them went into depression and died of an overdose. I was laughed at in school because I simply liked a fake twosome group. Even after all this time, I don’t care: I liked them. So what about how fake they were? The songs were catchy. There were the forefathers of auto-tune.
Since the Gretzky Trade, the NHL had seen some notable changes, mainly when it came to salary. It was the negotiation between then-Kings owner Bruce McNall and newly acquired Wayne Gretzky that really catapulted player salaries. When Gretzky got a hefty pay raise, other stars followed: Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Mark Messier, and so on. Small market teams like Edmonton and Winnipeg were slowly feeling the pinch. Player salary demands were getting so out of reach that many teams had to either trade top players away or let them go to free agency.
The result of the salary jump was a lot of instability in the 1990s. While new teams spruced up in unexpected places like San Jose, Tampa, Anaheim and Nashville, other cities suffered due to financial constraints. The North Stars would pack up from Minneapolis to Dallas, the Nordiques moved to Denver to become the Avalanche, the Whalers moved from Hartford to North Carolina, and the first Winnipeg Jets went down to Phoenix where they’re still having financial troubles to this day.
1988-89 Campbell Conference Review
Detroit Red Wings – Calling the Norris Division very weak is an understatement. Detroit was first place with only 80 points in the 80-game schedule. Steve Yzerman was a notable rising star, scoring 65 goals for 155 points, good for third in individual scoring behind Lemieux and Gretzky. In the first round however, the Wings fell hard to their rivals from Chicago four games to two.
St. Louis Blues – The Blues had a steal of a deal trading for Brett Hull from Calgary in the previous season. In his first full season, he tallied 41 goals. After improved conditioning over the next summer, Hull responded in a big way with 72, 86 and 70-goal seasons.
Minnesota North Stars – They sat in the middle of the weak division. Despite getting Mike Gartner from Washington, the North Stars didn’t fare any better in the postseason, winning only once in their first round defeat against St. Louis. The next season would be the start of a major turnaround for Minnesota, when a Michigan kid named Mike Modano would make his NHL debut.
Chicago Blackhawks – Although they finished fourth, Chicago stunned the Red Wings and the Blues in the first and second rounds respectively before losing in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions from Calgary. Like Minnesota, the Blackhawks had not one but two rookies up their sleeves that would make a long term impact on the NHL for many years to come. They were goalie Ed Belfour and centreman Jeremy Roenick.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Like many seasons, one word could only sum up this one: Disaster. Coach John Brophy was fired, fan favourite Russ Courtnall was traded to Montreal for John Kordic, and goalie Ken Wregget was traded to Philadelphia. What’s worse was that Toronto had a chance to grab the final playoff spot from Chicago, when this happened…
Calgary Flames – Hockey in Alberta shifted from the north to the south, and it was apparent that Calgary was on the rise. After a stunning sweep by the hands of Gretzky and the Oilers in 1988, the Flames dominated in the 1988-89 season with a league-leading 54 wins and 117 points, just one win or two points better than second-place Montreal who they would eventually meet in the Final. Al MacInnis shined that year, winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP and Joe Mullen won the Lady Byng award for scoring 51 goals with the fewest penalties. Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Gary Roberts, Gary Suter and Mike Vernon had stellar seasons together. And to top off that great season, Captain Lanny McDonald retired a champion.
Los Angeles Kings – Rebranded in the Silver & Black that made the Raiders famous, the new Kings headed by Wayne Gretzky would take the NHL in southern California by storm. Since the Trade, the Kings improved from 68 points last season to 91. Gretzky led the way with 54 goals and 168 points, and was awarded the Hart Trophy for season MVP, an award that maybe should have gone to Lemieux depending on who you ask.
Edmonton Oilers – Without Wayne, the Oilers was slowly becoming a shell of its glorious self. While the team still had the likes of Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr, the Oilers’ main challenge in 1989 was to stop their former captain. The first round between the Kings and the Oilers would be the most watched series of the playoffs. For Edmonton, it didn’t end well.
Vancouver Canucks – A young kid from Medicine Hat named Trevor Linden emerged at the new sensation in Vancouver. Although they finished fourth in the Smythe, the Canucks played with some grit, thanks to acquiring Paul Reinhart from Calgary, and reacquiring fan favourite Harold Snepsts. In a grueling seven game series against the Flames, the Canucks came up short in overtime thanks to Joel Otto’s series winner.
Winnipeg Jets – The 1988-89 season was a forgettable one. They finished with only 64 points. Not much to explain here, except that Evander Kane’s Number 9 was retired by a hockey legend over 25 years ago at the old Winnipeg Arena…
A former novice/atom player, timekeeper and fan of the game, Peter has lived and breathed hockey throughout his life, covering hockey happenings in Edmonton, Vancouver, and currently in Saskatchewan. He is now a contributing writer for the Hockey Writers.