By Kirk Luedeke
As the decade of the 1970s drew to a close, the United States struggled through a sluggish economy, long gas lines, and growing tensions in the Middle East with ominous warning clouds gathering over Iran and Afghanistan. 1979 also marked the year in which the Boston Bruins held the most important and impactful draft in the team’s history.
The Bruins were still reeling after a crushing seven-game defeat at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion and Boston nemesis Montreal Canadiens; the infamous "too many men on the ice" game that not only cost the B's a late lead and the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final series but also sent flamboyant coach Don Cherry packing.
GM Harry Sinden brought in a new head coach in Fred Creighton (who would not last) and was looking to make some quality additions in the late June entry draft, with a pair of first-round picks to add to selections in each of the other five rounds. What Harry Sinden and head scout Gary Darling, along with scouts Bart Bradley, Bob Tindall and John Carlton achieved however, exceeded their wildest expectations.
Even if the fruits of the ’79 entry draft (the first year of the name change after having previously been known as the NHL amateur draft since 1963) did not result in a Stanley Cup championship in Boston, each of the seven players the B’s drafted saw NHL action. In fact, the elements of that hugely successful class of players ensured that the B’s remained contenders throughout the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, with a pair of Stanley Cup final appearances in 1988 and 1990, as well as three more trips to the conference final series between 1983 and 1992.
The fact that the 1979 NHL draft class as a whole is considered to be the greatest of all (though 2003 will challenge that assertion when all is said and done) underscores the importance of Sinden and his scouting staff’s tremendous haul, the centerpiece of which was a defenseman who would go on to be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest offensive producers in NHL history with 1,579 points in 1,612 career games with the Bruins and Colorado Avalanche: Raymond Bourque.
The Bruins could have called it a day alone with the selection of Bourque, but they went on to add a pair of 200-plus NHL goal scorers in Keith Crowder and Mike Krushelnyski, while landing one of the powerhouse Brandon Wheat Kings’ biggest stars in Brad McCrimmon, who would go on to be one of the top stay-at-home defensemen, with more than 1,200 career big league games under his belt.
Although this group was unable to secure hockey’s ultimate prize for Boston, the B’s Class of ’79 is rivaled only by the 1980 and 2006 team drafts as the most critical in franchise history.
Raymond Bourque, D: 1st round, 8th selection, 8th overall (Verdun Black Hawks - QMJHL)
When Sinden dealt spare goaltender Ron Grahame to the Los Angeles Kings in 1977 who knew that the first-round pick acquired for the Denver University grad would become one of the greatest Bruins of all time?
Born in Saint-Laurent, Quebec, Bourque’s father hailed from the Maritimes and young Raymond was a bilingual multi-sport star who took his hockey prowess to another level with the Verdun Black Hawks (now the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles after stops in Sorel and Granby) of the QMJHL. Interestingly enough, although Bourque landed on Boston’s radar, he was not the club's first choice at the targeted eighth spot.
In a franchise-altering twist of fate, the B’s had their designs on Portland Winterhawks star d-man Keith Brown, who was coming off an 85-assist campaign in the WHL as that league's top rearguard. However, when the Chicago Blackhawks scooped him seventh, just one pick ahead of the B’s, Sinden and Co. “settled” on Bourque with the next selection. Brown, who played 876 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Florida Panthers from 1979-1995, was a solid, if unspectacular player who missed considerable time to injuries and never developed anywhere near Bourque’s flair for offense and superstar role as a perennial NHL All-Star.
Chicago fans could only shake their heads and wonder what might have been as Bourque became a legend in Boston, going on to become the team’s all-time leader in games (1,518), assists (1,111) and points (1,506), breaking the previously-thought-unbreakable marks set by John “the Chief” Bucyk, whose 545 goals is the only club record Bourque (395) could not surpass offensively.
A young, 18-year-old Bourque arrived in Boston in the fall of 1979, wearing the No. 29 in training camp, but found himself in a mild controversy when, before the first game of the season on Oct. 11 vs. Winnipeg, a No. 7 jersey hung in his Boston Garden stall compliments of Sinden. From 1979 until Dec. 1987, Bourque wore the number made famous by Phil Esposito during the neon Big, Bad Bruins years, when Esposito redefined single-season goal scoring and points marks, setting the standard for Wayne Gretzky’s ascension to supremacy a decade later.
Bourque went on to set NHL rookie defenseman records in scoring (since broken) and earned the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year (Gretzky, in his first NHL season and who was technically a rookie at 19, was ruled ineligible for Calder voting because of his stint in the WHA with the Indianapolis Racers). He also earned a First Team All-Star selection that year, the first time in history that a rookie non-goaltender had achieved both honors.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to be a phenomenal player,” said Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park in the Bruins 1979-80 Yearbook. “He’s the finest rookie defenseman I’ve ever seen come into the league.”
The grizzled veteran’s words proved prophetic, as Bourque emerged as a star two-way defender who dazzled onlookers with his speed, blistering shot and heady play that belied his youth and relative inexperience.
Bourque cemented his Boston legacy on Phil Esposito Night, Dec. 3, 1987, when in a surprise and magnanimous gesture, he removed his Bruins sweater in a pre-game ceremony to reveal No. 77 underneath and handed it to the then-GM of the Rangers being honored in Boston Garden. As Esposito’s No. 7 was raised to the rafters, a new era of dominance began for Bourque, one that would see him earn four more Norris Trophies to the first he had won at the end of the 1986-87 season.
Although he came close on several occasions, the Stanley Cup eluded Bourque and his Black and Gold mates. In early 2000, with the team stuck in neutral after years of mediocre drafting and poor personnel decisions, he approached the Bruins about a trade that would give him one last shot at a championship. Although Bourque did not land in his requested destination of Philadelphia, the deal to the Colorado Avalanche ultimately saw him go out in style a year later and with Lord Stanley raised over his head, the first Colorado player to touch the Stanley Cup after captain Joe Sakic received it from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bourque remains to this day one of the most popular players in Bruins history and saw his own number retired in Oct. 2001. A 13-time 1st-Team NHL All-Star with six more 2nd Team designations in 22-years, Bourque’s consistency and greatness well past his prime defined his storied hockey career.
And it all happened for Boston because Chicago picked Keith Brown before the B’s could, providing no better example of the art over science of drafting NHL players.
Brad McCrimmon, D: 1st round, 15th selection, 15th overall. (Brandon Wheat Kings - WHL)
Teammates called him “Sarge” and “Beast,” but Brad McCrimmon became synonymous with tenacity and rugged, shutdown defense in his more than 1,200 career NHL games with the Bruins, Flyers, Flames, Red Wings, Whalers and Coyotes from 1979-1997.
The Brandon Wheat Kings captain was a top WCHL and WHL defender, posting seasons of 97 and 98 points for the Wheaties and even leading them to the 1979 Memorial Cup championship (before falling to the OHA’s Peterborough Petes, 2-1).
McCrimmon came to Boston with Bourque riding a wave of high hopes, and beyond being the beneficiary of Bourque’s number switch from 29 to 7, the two rookies saw a good amount of time paired together, a certain oddity that spoke to their raw talent and confidence.
Although McCrimmon spent just three seasons with the Bruins, scoring 17 goals and 54 points in 222 games, he showed enough promise to be the one sent to Philadelphia in exchange for goaltender Pete Peeters in June of 1982. Peeters had a season for the ages in 1982-83, winning the Vezina Trophy and helping the B’s reach the Wales Conference final before bowing out to the eventual New York Islanders dynasty en route to their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
A stalwart stay-at-home defender with the ability to intimidate with his rugged physical game, but also chip in with key offense at critical moments, McCrimmon blossomed with the Flyers, who reached the Stanley Cup Final twice in 1985 and 1987, losing both times to another dynasty, the Edmonton Oilers. Contract squabbles led to McCrimmon being traded to the Calgary Flames before the 1987-88 season and, the following year, he earned his first and only All-Star selection (second team), but more importantly, was a defensive cog in the 1989 Stanley Cup-winning Flames squad.
After he concluded his playing career, McCrimmon moved on to coaching, first with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades for two seasons, before returning to the NHL as an assistant with the Flames and Atlanta Thrashers. Although named associate head coach with Bob Hartley’s dismissal in 2007-08, McCrimmon turned down an offer by the team to be head coach when he could not secure assurances that he would remain in the position beyond season’s end. McCrimmon subsequently signed on with the Detroit Red Wings and Mike Babcock in 2008 to be an assistant coach.
Three years later, he joined Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, and tragically lost his life along with almost the entire team when the club’s plane crashed on Sept. 7, 2011. He had not coached a single game for Lokomotiv, as the flight was taking the team to the first game of the 2011-12 regular season.
Brad McCrimmon was 52 years old when he died and left behind a wife and two children. His legacy as one of the most dependable and toughest defenders to play against remains intact, however.
Doug Morrison, C/RW: 2nd round, 15th selection 36th overall. (Lethbridge Broncos - WHL)
If there was a swing and a miss by the B’s in the ’79 draft, this prolific junior scorer was it.
Coming off a 56-goal, 123-point season, the average-sized pivot from Prince George, B.C. had all the looks of an NHL scoring forward, but was not able to translate the production in junior to the big league. He skated alongside Duane Sutter in junior, which has led some to speculate that Morrison’s numbers probably benefited from the talent around him.
After being drafted by Boston, Morrison returned for one more year in the WHL, where he potted 58 goals and made his NHL debut at the end of the 1979-80 season with Boston. Morrison split his first pro season between Boston and the Springfield Indians of the AHL, where he racked up 49 points in 42 games. The bulk of his short NHL career was 18 contests with the B’s that same year in 1980-81, where he scored seven goals and 10 points.
He suffered a series of injuries, including a concussion in 1984 derailed what might have gotten him more of a look with the big club. After winning the IHL’s Turner Cup with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Morrison left North America for Germany’s pro league In Munich.
Morrison’s younger brother, Mark, was a Rangers farmhand before starring for years in Italy and the United Kingdom, while former NHL defenseman Garth Butcher married Morrison’s sister.
If the Bruins had a crystal ball, they could have selected none other than Mark Messier at 36th overall. Messier was not picked until the early third round (48th) by the Edmonton Oilers. Montreal star (and former Bruin) Mats Naslund was also drafted one spot after Morrison at 37th overall.
Keith Crowder, RW: 3rd round, 16th selection, 57th overall (Peterborough Petes - OHA)
Sinden and his scouts hit pay dirt in the third round with this Peterborough Petes star, who was 20 and played five games in the WHA with the Birmingham Bulls when the B’s picked him.
A gritty, north-south style right wing with a sublime release, Crowder went on to establish himself with the Bruins during the 1980-81 season, posting six seasons of 22 goals or more through 1986-87. More talented than older brother Bruce, who also saw time on the Bruins for a shorter stint, Crowder beat the odds to become a 30-goal man in the NHL, given his modest skills.
A hard-worker who crashed the net and gained a reputation for hard-nosed play and a willingness to drop the gloves, Crowder reached his zenith in 1985-86 when he potted 38 goals and 84 points to lead the team in scoring, along with 177 penalty minutes, which was second only to Nevin Markwart’s 207 in the sin bin.
With his offensive numbers steadily going south, Crowder signed with the Los Angeles Kings after the 1988-89 season, finishing his NHL career with part time bottom-six duty and only four goals in 55 games.
Crowder currently remains inside Boston’s top-20 all-time
scoring list at 15th with 219 goals and 477 points
in 607 career games for the Black and Gold. He tallied
more than 100 penalty minutes in every season he played for the
B’s and his 1,261 minutes are second only to Terry
O’Reilly (2,095) in Boston’s top-20 ledger.
Crowder also holds the Bruins team record for most penalty minutes in one game, 43, set on Feb. 26, 1981 vs. the Minnesota North Stars.
Best player available after Crowder’s selection: Glenn Anderson, who was drafted 69th overall (fourth round) by Edmonton and finished his NHL career with 498 goals and 1,099 points in 1129 games.
Larry Melnyk, D: 4th round, 15th selection, 78th overall (New Westminster Bruins - WHL)
This rugged, physical stay-at-home defender came out of the WHL’s New Westminster Bruins, where his teammates included future NHL scoring star John Ogrodnick and Vancouver Canucks captain and gritty forward Stan Smyl.
Melnyk, a bruising rearguard with limited skills, might have played more than his 432 career NHL games if not for a rash of injuries that led to chronic back injuries, which forced his retirement at age 30.
Melnyk played 75 scoreless games with the Bruins, split between the 1980-81 and 1982-83 seasons before being traded to the Oilers for John Blum. Although Melnyk did not appear in Edmonton’s victorious Stanley Cup final series against the Islanders that spring, his name appears on the Cup because he appeared in six playoff games (one assist).
Melnyk’s best NHL season came with the Rangers in 1986-87 when he posted three goals and 15 points in 73 games.
Other players available when Melnyk was selected by Boston: Anton Stastny (Quebec, 83rd overall, 636 career points) and Dirk Graham (Vancouver, 89th overall, 219 goals, 489 points).
Marco Baron, G: 5th round, 15th selection, 99th overall (Montreal Juniors - QMJHL)
The quirky, eccentric Montreal native played 86 career games for the Bruins, Kings and Oilers, going 34-38-9 with a 3.63 GAA and one shutout.
Baron was a workhorse netminder in junior, playing 67 games for the Montreal Juniors in his draft year, and after spending the majority of his first two pro seasons in the minors, played a career-high 44 games for the Bruins in 1981-82, sharing the crease with aging veteran Rogie Vachon.
However, in the 1982 playoffs, with Vachon injured and unable to go, the B’s went with unproven rookie Mike Moffat, who became somewhat of a cult legend before he himself flamed out (more on Moffat in the forthcoming Bruins 1980 draft flashback).
Traded to Los Angeles for Bob Laforest in Jan. 1984, Baron played just 22 more games with the Kings and Oilers before retiring in 1985.
The B’s could have drafted Thomas Steen at Baron’s spot. Steen, who went four spots later to Winnipeg, played his entire 950-game career with the Jets, scoring 264 goals and 817 points. Steen’s son, Alex, was a first-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2002 and currently plays for the St. Louis Blues.
Mike Krushelnyski, C/LW: 6th round, 15th selection, 120th overall (Montreal Juniors - QMJHL)
The Bruins closed out the 1979 draft in style, selecting the underrated Quebec-born centerman of Ukrainian descent and Marco Baron’s junior teammate.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder converted to wing earlier in his
Boston career, skating on a fabulous offensive line alongside Rick
Middleton with Barry Pederson at center.
After seasons of 23 and 25 goals with the B’s, Sinden traded him to Edmonton on June 21, 1984 for Ken Linseman – a deal that worked out for both clubs. Krushelnyski brought his grinding but skilled two-way game to the Oilers, where he racked up 43 markers and 88 points in 1984-85 en route to his first of three Stanley Cup championships in Edmonton.
“Kruser” Krushelnyski joined Gretzky in Los Angeles as part of the Aug. 9, 1988 mega-deal that sent the Oilers captain to Tinseltown, and later finished his 897-game NHL career with the Maple Leafs and Red Wings.
He was a head coach in the CHL with Fort Worth, and the German Elite League and KHL with Chekhov Vityaz, lasting just one 18-33-5 season in that league in 2009-10.
Krushelnyski credited coming to a strong organization in the Bruins with assisting his transition to the Oilers and later the Kings, where he prolonged his NHL career. Recently, he told the L.A. Kings Insider Jon Rosen: “Well, fortunately I was brought up with the Boston Bruins. Brad Park, Terry O’Reilly, Ricky Middleton. Ray Bourque was there. Stan Jonathan. Gerry Cheevers. So I got to know the process.”
Head scout: Gary Darling
Team scouts: Bart Bradley (Vancouver), Bob Tindall (Toronto), John Carlton (Boston)
The Grade: A+
Although there were misses, when talking pure and sustained impact, they don’t come much bigger than Ray Bourque. Add in McCrimmon, Crowder and Krushelnyski who all not only were impact players for Boston, but who brought in continued legacy performers like Peeters, Linseman and Poulin, the 1979 draft class is the greatest in Boston Bruins franchise history.
1st Ballot HHOF career; Calder Trophy, 7th Player Award, 5 Norris Trophies, King Clancy Award, 19-time NHL All-Star; retired number 77; 19 playoff appearances
Trade: To Colorado with Dave Andreychuk for Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier, 1stround pick in 2000, March 6, 2000
Brian Rolston (right), C/LW 2000-04, 2011-12; GP: 359 G- 104 A- 147 PTS- 251 PIM- 144
Samuel Pahlsson, C 2000-01; GP: 17 G- 1 A- 1 PTS 2 PIM 6
Martin Samuelsson, RW 2002-03-03-04; GP- 14 G- 0 A- 1 PTS – 1 PIM- 2
Andrei Nazarov, LW 2000-01-2001-02; GP; 110 G- 1 A- 6 PTS- 7 PIM- 364
Patrick Traverse, D 2000-01; GP- 37 G- 2 A- 6 PTS- 8 PIM- 14
Erich Weinrich, D 2000-01; GP- 22 G- 1 A- 5 PTS- 6 PIM- 10
Martin Grenier, D; Did not play for Boston
Brad McCrimmon 1979-82: GP- 228 G- 17 A- 37 PTS- 54 PIM- 325
Traded for G Pete Peeters; June 1982
Pete Peeters 1982-83-1985-86 GP- 171 GAA- 2.99 91-57-16, 9 SO; 1983 Vezina Trophy, 1st Team All-Star
Keith Crowder 1980-1989: GP- 607 G- 219 A- 258 PTS- 477 PIM- 1,261
15th all-time leading Bruins scorer with 477 points.
Larry Melnyk 1980-1983: GP- 75 G-0 A- 12 PTS- 12 PIM- 123
Traded for D John Blum; March 1984
John Blum 1984-86, 1988-90; GP- 169 G- 5 A- 22 PTS- 27 PIM- 443
Marco Baron 1980-83: GP- 64 GAA- 3.40 31-24-5 1 SO
Traded for G Bob LaForest; January 1984
Bob LaForest: Did not play for Boston
Mike Krushelnyski 1981-84: GP- 162 G- 51 A- 65 PTS- 116 PIM- 100
Traded for C Ken Linseman; June 1984
Ken Linseman 1984-1989: GP- 389 G- 125 A- 247 PTS- 372 PIM- 746
Dave Poulin 1989-92: GP- 165 G- 34 A- 68 PTS- 102 PIM- 117
U.S. President: Jimmy Carter
Prime Minister of Canada: Pierre Trudeau, succeeded by Joseph “Joe” Clark (June 4, 1979- March 3, 1980)
Average cost of gallon of gas: $0.90
Minimum wage: $2.90/hr
Average hourly wage: $6.19
Cost of a single Boston Bruins loge (lower bowl) ticket: $11.00
Stanley Cup Champions: Montreal Canadiens
Super Bowl Champions: Pittsburgh Steelers
World Series Champions: Pittsburgh Pirates
NBA Champions: Seattle SuperSonics
Wimbledon Champions: Bjorn Borg (right) & Martina Navratilova
NCAA Hockey Champions: University of Minnesota (Herb Brooks)
NCAA Football Champions: Alabama
NCAA Basketball Champions: Michigan State
Kentucky Derby Winner: Spectacular Bid
#1 Pop Single during 1979 NHL Draft: Hot Stuff- Donna Summer
ESPN had first broadcast on September 7, 1979