Lou Nanne was on his last legs as a player in the winter of 1977-78, scoring one goal in 26 games for the North Stars. His skills as a salesman and for seeing hockey’s big picture were as sharp as ever.
The Stars’ original ownership was in deep trouble. The owners went to Nanne and hired him as the general manager in the middle of a lost season. Then Nanne took over as coach with 29 games remaining and brought the art of tanking to Minnesota, proudly directing the Stars to a 7-18-4 finish and the worst record in the NHL.
This guaranteed the opportunity to seize fantastic prospect Bobby Smith with the first choice in the 1978 draft. Before that, there was also the amazing sight of the Cleveland Barons being merged into the North Stars, with the Barons’ Gund brothers taking over as owners.
Smith, the talent acquired in the merger and other astute maneuvering allowed Nanne to have a successful early run as general manager. After missing the playoffs in 1978-79, the North Stars reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1981, had 94, 96 and 88 points (when there were no bonus points for overtime or shootouts) in 80 games in the next three years, and played the most-exciting hockey in Minnesota’s NHL history.
Then, in 1984-85, the North Stars had a 25-43-12 disaster of a season, and I believe that is when Louie first started telling us on a daily basis of the devastating effect of Lost Man Games [LMGs].
I’ve long enjoyed suggesting that Gary Sargent basically had been retired for two years with his unfortunate back injury, and Louie still was calculating him in the LMGs to explain the North Stars’ inadequacies.
The North Stars popped back up with 85 points in 1985-86, the dropped to 70 in 1987. To ignite interest, the Wild hired Herb Brooks as coach for the 1987-88 season. We expected Herbie magic, and wound up with dissension and bitterness -- so much bitterness that Brooks fell out for a time with Nanne.
Brooks also was known to bark at beat reporters for not making enough of an issue of the injuries the North Stars had suffered. Yup, even Herbie had become an advocate of calculating Lost Man Games as an excuse for the North Stars’ 51-point season.
Brooks left with steam coming off his neck, Louie’s duties were restricted to being team president, and Jack Ferreira was hired as general manager after that season. Right off the bat, Ferreira ordered his staff to stop using “man games’’ as an excuse for defeat.
LMGs were such a sacred part of North Stars’ tradition that I’ve always felt this line should be part of Nanne’s resume on any of his Hall of Fame plaques:
“Popularized the calculation of ‘lost man games,’ a tact adopted by many NHL executives to explain away disappointing seasons.’’
Here’s the deal:
I think that Louie, when he gets back from whatever exotic locale he’s hanging out at the moment, should conduct a seminar for Flip Saunders and Timberwolves employees, and Terry Ryan and Twins employees, on how to properly calculate LMGs to account for abject failure.
For instance, with the scores of missed games as the Timberwolves have tanked the season, I insist that Flip and his brain trust still could be counting Brandon Roy as another 82 LMGs.
And, even as Erv Santana misses half the season for taking the old-school steroid, Stanozolol, and as Ricky Nolasco now is likely to hit the disabled list with a sore elbow, the Twins have not yet had much in the way of the injuries for what is going to be a season with much need for a good excuse.
There’s none better than LMGs, of course.
How about Carl Pavano? He had to shut it down after 11 starts in 2012. Our boys could sure use a healthy Pavano right now.
Thirty-two starts, 32 LMGs for Pavano. Sixteen for Big Erv. Maybe 30 for Nolasco, if the MRI on the right elbow turns out unfavorably.
And we haven’t had a pulled quad from a position player, yet.
Lost Man Games are the secret, Mr. Saunders and Mr. Ryan. You have to be creative. Heck, Flip, there’s a good chance that Nikola Pekovic won’t play again, and you still can be counting him for 82 lost man games three seasons from now.