Sat Jun 07 04:01pm EDT
Disgruntled yet blissfully delusional Whale fan Jon Baum, an editor at Yahoo! Sports, is the proud owner of a Hartford Whalers trash can and isn't embarrassed to have Brass Bonanza as his ringtone.
This was a big week in the NHL.
Sure, the Red Wings won their 11th Stanley Cup by surviving the Penguins' last-gasp rally in Pittsburgh, but the real news came out of Philly and Raleigh.
OK, so these might not be on the level of, say, a Dominik Hasek calling it quits (again), but they still are plenty notable. Not because the 34-year-old Kapanen, a pretty good winger and two-time all-star over his 12-year career, has decided to go back to his native Finland and perhaps play a couple more years. And not because Wesley, the 20-year vet who ranks sixth in NHL history among defensemen in games-played, is moving to a front office job.
No, the reason Kapanen's and Wesley's retirements truly are significant is because it means two fewer former Hartford Whalers are still lacing up the skates in the NHL. And there are some rather famous names on that dwindling list.
The Forever .500s left the Nutmeg State and moved somewhere or other (I've blocked it out; same goes for that franchise's Stanley Cup win back in 2006) after the 1996-97 season; sending thousands of Connecticuters into a prolonged hockey depression from which they have yet to rise.
Many of us refused to shift allegiance to that team down south. Rather, it became rewarding to continue following the former Whalers throughout the league -- a practice which became more palatable after most of the team was disassembled within a couple of years of leaving Hartford -- and/or drown our sorrows by blasting "Brass Bonanza" while downing some pints at Mayor Mike's and cursing names like Karmanos, Bettman, Weicker and Rowland.
(Incidentally, this explains how I briefly became a Columbus fan -- yes, I'm the one -- as Kevin Dineen, Geoff Sanderson, Andy Cassels and Robert Kron all donned Blue Jackets sweaters.)
Whaler die-nevers -- those of us to proclaim to be one Powerball ticket away from bringing the NHL back to the largest American TV market currently without a non-WNBA professional sports franchise (yep, that would be Hartford/New Haven) - can't help but notice when the Sami Kapanens and Glen Wesleys of the world hang 'em up.
My unofficial (and perhaps slightly inaccurate) count reveals that 10 seasons later, there now are nine former Whalers in the league. Here are their rankings, based a little on sheer ability and accomplishments but mostly on their places in Whalers' lore. They're listed with their current or most recent NHL team.
8. Michael Nylander, Washington Capitals: A couple of somewhat productive if not unmemorable seasons for the Whale; Nylander, who had some good years in Chicago, arguably has benefited from the more open NHL.
7. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Ducks: He played just eight games for the Whale, but being a first-round pick and going on to have a slightly notable career (obvious understatement) resonates among Hartford fans with a "what might have been" tone.
6. Marek Malik, New York Rangers: The defenseman didn't set the world afire in his few seasons with the Whale, but the plus-minus master has had a pretty solid career -- a somewhat tumultuous 2007-08 season in New York, notwithstanding.
5. Brendan Shanahan, New York Rangers: OK, probably the best player on the list. But the only reason he's not No. 9 here is that Giguere barely played for the team, Nylander and Malik didn't have enough time to make much of an impact, and I have no memory whatsoever of Pratt in the Civic Center. Otherwise, Shanahan's great production for Hartford was completely overshadowed by his trade demand.
4. Jeff O'Neill, Toronto Maple Leafs: Another Whaler pick who went on to greater success elsewhere, though O'Neill did become a productive scorer while still technically with the franchise -- which, we suppose, does earn him some points here. He now may be on the cusp of retirement. But he was pretty good in Sega's NHL '97.
3. Chris Pronger, Anaheim Ducks: See Giguere, Jean-Sebastien. The overall No. 2 pick in 1993 played two years for the Whale, which was long enough to show a little of his all-star promise -- along with some bad barroom habits. Then he was dealt to St. Louis -- where he blossomed (Hart and Norris Trophy winner) before eventually winning a Cup in Anaheim -- for Brendan F'ing Shanahan. But what is Pronger's legacy?
2. Bobby Holik, Atlanta Thrashers: A first-round pick for the Whale in '89, Holik had a couple of solid seasons before being shipped off to New Jersey (Hartford got Sean Burke in the deal, who turned out to be a pretty good Whaler himself), where the center won some Stanley Cups. He had been a very consistent producer over the course of his career, though the Rangers perhaps weren't too happy to have him. Still, does he deserve to be No. 2 here? It's really too bad Burke, Cassels and Keith Primeau are out of the league.
1. Geoff Sanderson, Edmonton Oilers: Possibly the team's last big star, along with the beloved Kevin Dineen. The mighty C-V-S line of Cassels, Pat Verbeek and Sanderson was the most hyped troika in the Northeast outside of Pulsipher, Wilson and Isringhausen. But Sandy was an All-Star Super Skills Competition hero, broke the 40-goal mark twice in Hartford and scored 34 or more two other times. Unlike pretty much every other player on this list, Sanderson's best seasons came in Connecticut.
Honorable mentions: The various former Whalers who are or recently were involved in management, coaching and/or scouting (Dineen, Verbeek, Joel Quenneville, the Wings' GM Ken Holland, etc.); Zarley Zalapski, because he has one of the coolest names ever and was awesome in Sega's NHL game back in the mid '90s (let's forget about him coming to the Whale in one of the worst trades of all-time, one which probably did irreparable harm to the franchise); the Hartford Whalers logo, which is one of the best of all-time in sports; and Brass Bonanza, as the Whaler theme still can be heard at various arenas -- including the Civic Center during UConn Huskies basketball games.
And to all you Whale faithful: Keep buying those Powerball tickets ...