Friday, November 8, 2013

1978 NHL Waiver Draft

The fall-out from the 1978 Waiver Draft would make this one of the most interesting developments in league politics, Montreal Canadiens history, and relations between the NHL and NHLPA in the late 1970s.

Protected lists this year were 18 skaters, two goaltenders, and two other players with no more than two years of pro experience. I haven't found the entire protected lists but I know Rod Schutt and Pat Hughes were the Canadiens' two young 'additions'.

PlayerPicked byPicked fromPlayer dropped from
protected list
Claim player or cash
Round 1
Pierre BouchardWashington CapitalsMontreal Canadiens?$2,500
Larry GirouxSt. Louis BluesDetroit Red Wings?$12,500
Pierre PlanteNew York RangersDetroit Red Wings?$10,000
Jim LorentzDetroit Red WingsBuffalo Sabres?$2,500
Round 2
Mike KorneyNew York RangersMontreal CanadiensDan Newmanclaim

Although only five players were chosen—two more than in 1977—this draft took over two hours to complete on October 9, 1978. "Why did it take so long," you ask? The Montreal Canadiens.

First, the Canucks tried to claim Cam Connor from the Canadiens. Connor had played in the WHA and never signed a contract in the NHL with the Canadiens. The Canucks reasoned that given he had completed four years of pro hockey in the WHA and was not on the Canadiens' protected list he should have been eligible for selection. The Canucks' move to acquire Connor was deliberated over the conference call and rejected on the basis that Connor was not even on the Canadiens reserve list, had never signed an NHL contract, and was therefore an unsigned draft choice ineligible for selection.

The Rockies pulled the same move as the Canucks, claiming Mark Napier from the Canadiens. Again, despite the fact that Napier had played in the WHA for three years he had never signed an NHL contract so in the eyes of the league and under the terms of the waiver draft by-law had never played 'professionally'. He was an unsigned amateur draft choice, ineligible for selection.

This despite the fact both Connor and Napier had attended the Canadiens' training camp in '78, and it was a foregone conclusion that they would play for the Canadiens in '78-'79. The fact they hadn't signed with the Canadiens was a formality. The Canucks and Rockies protested that the Canadiens were deliberately evading the rules of the waiver draft.

More controversy erupted when the North Stars (who would have normally had the first overall pick due to having finished last in '77-'78; they were moved to last in the selection order as a condition of the merger with the Cleveland Barons) tried to claim Bill Nyrop from the Canadiens. Nyrop grew up in Minnesota, married a girl from Minnesota in August of '78, and abruptly left Canadiens' training camp in September to move back to Minnesota. Nyrop was suspended by the league—at the Canadiens' behest—for failing to report back to training camp. The Canadiens were accused again of trying to evade the rules and use every loophole at their disposal.

(Nyrop was eventually traded to the North Stars in 1980.)

The most controversial outcome of the draft wouldn't come until days afterward. The Capitals used their first overall choice to pick Pierre Bouchard of the Canadiens. The Canadiens didn't have room to protect all of their veteran players so GM Irving Grundman, successor to legendary GM Sam Pollock, left Bouchard exposed and made a backroom deal with the Capitals: if the Capitals chose Bouchard with the first overall choice and traded him back to the Canadiens later the Canadiens would give the Capitals Rod Schutt, a former first-round amateur draft pick who had played two good seasons with the AHL's Nova Scotia Voyageurs.

On October 10 (the day after the draft) they made the trade: Bouchard from the Capitals back to the Canadiens for Schutt.

However, the next day league president John Ziegler voided the deal and cited the league by-laws: Bouchard could not be traded—to the Canadiens or anyone else—without having cleared waivers. Grundman and Capitals GM Max McNab misread the rules. The following Monday, October 16, the Canadiens and Capitals appealed to the Board of Governors to have the waiver draft by-law rewritten to allow the trade. The appeal was unsuccessful, and Bouchard remained with the Capitals.

Bouchard was a native Montrealer, son of former Canadiens captain Émile "Butch" Bouchard, and had no interest in playing hockey for any other team. Rather than report to Washington he quit altogether, announcing his retirement. It was Irv Grundman's first gaffe (first of many...) as general manager of the Canadiens.

Ramsay, Donald. (Oct. 14, 1978). "NHL's legal costs may hit $5-million". Globe & Mail: Toronto. p.S12 accessed online April 7, 2013

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