Had a lot of fun on the ‘Marek vs Wyshynski’ podcast Friday afternoon with the Brian Burke story of challenging Kevin Lowe to a barn fight (and isn’t there just something delicious about the term ‘barn fight’?) which got me to thinking a couple of things:
1 – Who do you think the toughest GM in the NHL is?
Hmmm, good one.
I think it comes down to two: Philadelphia’s Paul Homlgren and Washington’s George McPhee. McPhee is also, pound for pound, one of the toughest players to ever suit up in my estimation. Garry Howatt would top that list, but I digress.
2 – Has something like this ever happened before where two rival GMs roll up the sleeves and brush up on their Marquees of Queensbury rules?
Well, we’ve seen coaches go at it before or at least try to go at it. Jacques Demers and the late Herb Brooks tried to mix it up during a spirited Detroit-Minnesota game. Also, Pat Burns infamously tried to get at Kings bench boss Barry Melrose during the Los Angeles/Toronto 1993 semi-finals.
But those four gentlemen never actually came to blows.
Washington Capitals GM George McPhee however, was involved in one such altercation. After a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks, he stormed into the Hawks room and belted Chicago coach Lorne Molleken in the face. McPhee, ironically was incensed over Molleken’s use of “goon tactics” against the Caps in the game. Molleken dressed seven tough guys for the game forcing the Caps to scratch Peter Bondra and Adam Oates from the contest for fear they would get hurt. Dave Manson cross-checked Steve Konowalchuk in the head and received a one game suspension in a game that featured several fights. Washington forward Trevor Halverson suffered a career-ending concussion after fighting three times in the game. McPhee was suspended for 30 days and fined $20,000.
Another such scuffle occurred in 1957, when Maple Leafs General Manager Howie Meeker punched owner Stafford Smyth “between the eyes” after a heated exchange between the two men.
A little known story involves an owner and a skater, as former Detroit Red Wings owner Bruce Norris confronted Parker MacDonald at a team function. Apparently, Norris tried to strangle the winger before players separated the two. It is believed that Norris may have been over-poured that evening.
Brian Burke, by the way, has seen a couple of GMs almost come to blows over a player. As documented in John Farris’ excellent book “Behind the Moves: NHL general managers tell how winners are built”, Burke tells the story of a Montreal and Minnesota GM came close to slugging it out.
“In my first year with the league, I think it was 1993, we had a GMs meeting at The Ritz on Dana Point in California. I thought Bob Gainey and Serge Savard were going to have a fight. Montreal had signed a contract that Gainey, who was the Minnesota GM at the time, didn’t like. Gainey started giving it to Serge and the next thing you know they were face to face…yelling in French and English. I remember Gary Bettman saying, ‘What are we going to do? It looks like they’re going to fight.’ I said ‘we’re going to watch’. I was actually looking forward to it. (Laughs). People were pushing tables out of the way because it looked like they were going to go. Then, Bob Gainey called a (GM) meeting and kicked everyone (who wasn’t a GM) out of the room except me and Bettman. In that meeting, Gainey went right back at Savard. He felt Savard had overpaid one of his own players and (screwed) up the salary structure. To this day I’m amazed they didn’t fight.”
On a side note, this GMs book by Farris is one of the most fascinating hockey reads I’ve had in a long time. We’ve all read plenty of books about players, coaches, referees but there is very little if anything written about the craft of assembling and running an NHL team from a GM’s point of view. “Behind the Moves” is an enormous undertaking that transcribes just about every aspect of putting a hockey team together, told by the men who’ve done it. We’ll have Farris on the podcast very soon.