Saturday, September 5, 2020

Lane Lambert Autographed Card

Lane Lambert was the 25th player taken in the 1983 NHL draft (Detroit Red Wings, second round), the second by the Wings after a chap named Steve Yzerman, who might be in the market for a head coach soon in his current position as Detroit's GM, although you would think Jon Cooper (should he get fired after failing to win the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning) and Gerard Gallant might be ahead of Lambert on his list.

First, though, here are the facts: Lambert was a checking right winger in his three seasons in Motor City, sometimes also taking face-offs, but the team was loaded at centre with the likes of Yzerman, Ron Duguay, and Kelly Kisio in or about to enter their prime, Dwight Foster occasionally getting reps down the middle, as well as veterans Ivan Boldirev and Darryl Sittler who were in the twilight of their respective careers. There was only John Ogrodnick and Danny Gare ahead of him on the wing. He started off with seasons of 35 and 25 points (and well over 100 penalty minutes), but when his production dipped drastically 1985-86, he was sent to the AHL Adirondack Red Wings to find his game - which he did, with 16 goals, 25 assists and41 points in 45 games.

That was enough for the New York Rangers to add him to the trade that brought them Kisio, Jim Leavins and a fifth round pick for goalie Glen Hanlon and two third-rounders. However, after only suiting up for 18 NHL games (2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points and 33 penalty minutes) and 11 more with the AHL's New Haven Nighthawks (3 goals, 3 assist, 6 points and 19 penalty minutes), he was sent packing to the Québec Nordiques, where he would have an immediate impact.

He closed out the 1986-87 season with 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 15 games after the trade deadline and added another 6 points (2 goals and 4 assists) in 13 playoff games, helping the Nordiques dispose of the Hartford Whalers in 6 games in the opening round and falling to the reigning Cup Champion Montréal Canadiens in 7 games in Round 2, with Brian Hayward tending net for the bulk of the Habs' games in the series after Patrick Roy had taken care of the Boston Bruins in the opening round (both would split the Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers, each outplayed by Ron Hextall).

Lamberts's first full season in Québec would also be a success, posting a career-high 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists), but the team was in disarray, missing the playoffs despite a coaching change from André Savard (with a 10-13-1 record) to Ron Lapointe (22-30-4) and having two 100-point players in Peter Stastny (46-65-111) and Michel Goulet (48-58-106).

It was the beginning of the last downfall for the Little Team That Could (And Did, Only In Denver). In 1988-89, the team finished last overall, tied in points with the New York Islanders, who had one more win, enabling Québec to draft Mats Sundin first overall; Owen Nolan and Eric Lindros would get the same treatment in the following two seasons.

For his part, Lambert only dressed for 13 NHL games that year (2 goals 2 assists, 4 points, 23 penalty minutes), but played a starring role with the AHL's Halifax Citadelles, where his 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists in 59 games) tied veteran defenseman Claude Julien 79-game total for third-best on the team, behind Ken Quinney (90 points in 72 games) and Max Middendorf (80 in 72).

In need of a new oportunity, he joined the Canadian National Team and opted to play in European leagues, playing for Germany's Düsseldorfer EG in 1989-90 and three teams in five seasons in the Swiss League (HC Ajoie, HC La Chaux-de-Fonds and SC Langnau), averaging more than two points per game.

He finally came back to North America to play for the IHL's Cleveland Lumberjacks and Houston Aeros for three years apiece, retiring after the 2000-01 season.

He started coaching in 2002-03, first as an assistant in the WHL for two seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors, then two as head coach for the Prince George Cougars, one season as assistant with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2005-06, followed by a steady climb through the Nashville Predators' organization, with one year as assistant coach followed by four as head coach with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, to being promoted as Barry Trotz' assistant in the NHL for three years, until the Preds didn't renew Trotz' contract.

He then followed Trotz to the Washington Capitals, culminating with the 2018 Cup victory, after which the duo along with goaltending guru Mitch Korn (who'd also been with Trotz since their Nashville days) went to the New York Islanders.

Which brings us to tonight's Round 2, game 7 win over the Flyers and the team's first Conference Final since 1993. Eventually, Lambert will get his shot at being the bench boss in the NHL, possibly even making a return to the Caps now that former fellow assistant Todd Reirden has now been fired after two early exits since Trotz' departure. I must say I would also probably put him ahead of current Predators head coach John Hynes in my list of best bets, but he just got the job, so chances are he'll get another season to cost his GM David Poile his job like he did his former boss in New Jersey.

Yes, Trotz is the best coach in the game, but some of the credit also goes to his assistants, and as Associate Coach, Lambert is first in that line. Well, second, after miracle worker Korn, who is to this generation of goalie experts what François Allaire was to those from 1986 to 2005 - head and shoulders above the rest.

Here is Lambert as I remember him most fondly, wearing the Nordiques' clasic blue (away) uniform, on card #224 from O-Pee-Chee's 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie earlier this season. This allows him to join Robbie Ftorek as #7 in my Nordiques Numbers Project.

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