a img { display:none; } a:hover img { display:block; } -->

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lost Rookies: 1988-89 OPC Ken Baumgartner

   Ken "Bomber" Baumgartner was one of my favourite players when I was a child.  I was an Islanders fan and they didn't have much on go other than Lafontaine and the truculence of Baumgartner and Mick Vukota.  Looking back, it's shocking to see that Baumgartner was an Islander for only about two seasons.

  Ken played his junior hockey with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL.  He was selected as the Scholastic Player of the Year in 1984 and won a Memorial Cup in 1985, which included a fight with Bob Probert that spilled into the penalty box. The Sabres used their last pick, 245th overall, in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft to draft Baumgartner.  

  Baumgartner never played for the Sabres as he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in January of 1986 as part of a five player deal.  Ken finished his junior career in 1986, and like many young adults, visited Europe.  Ken was a dual-citizen of Canada and Switzerland.  He played the 1986 season in the Swiss league.  It was a change of pace for Baumgartner as fighting was not part of the European game.  Although he still managed to rack up 85 PIM in 36 games.  He attributes his time in the Swiss leagues as key to him making the NHL.  Instead of focusing on fighting, he had to focus on playing a complete game.  He returned to North America at the end of the Swiss season and began his career in the Kings organization.

  Ken made his NHL debut on January 4th, 1987 and immediately went to work, earning the first penalty of the game, then later starting a line brawl after a elbowing New Jersey Devils' captain, Kirk Muller.  For his first career game, he accumulating 19 PIM, including a game misconduct.  He scored his first career goal on March 19, 1988 against Glen Hanlon of the Detroit Red Wings.  In the 1988-89 season, Ken set a career high with 286 PIM, while only playing in 49 games.  In two seasons and a bit, Ken played 91 games for the Kings, notching 10 points and 501 PIM.  That's an average of more then 5 PIM per game!

1989-90 OPC Ken Baumgartner

  The Kings traded Baumgartner and Hubie McDonough to the New York Islanders for struggling sniper, Mikko Makela on Novermber 29, 1989.  The trade jumpstarted the Islanders.  The Isles were 5-18-3 before the trade but went 23-6-3 after the trade was made.  The momentum wore off as the Isles went on a 1-14-5 run and found themselves in last place in the division.  The team rallied for the last two games of the season, winning both, including against the Philadelphia Flyers in their last game of the season.  The final standings in the Patrick Division had the Flyers last with 71 points, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 5th with 72 points, and the Islanders with the last playoffs spot at 73 points.

  Although the first place New York Rangers made quick work of the Islanders in five games during the first round, game one at Madison Square Gardens was a memorable, and controversial, one.  With a little over a minute to play, the Islanders leading scorer Pat Lafontaine, 54 goals and 105 points, was the recipient of a shoulder to head check from James Patrick.  A clean hit in 1990; a game misconduct in 2020.  Lafontaine suffered a concussion and was carried off the ice on a stretcher.  The Rangers fans cheered, as John Cougar Mellencamp's Hurts So Good was played in the arena while Lafontaine laid on the ice.  Outside the arena, Ranger fans rocked the Ambulance that Lafontaine was in.  Inside, it was still a one goal game, with the Rangers leading 2-1 with a minute and change to play.  

  After an Islanders icing with two seconds left to play, and still down by one, Islanders coach, and HHOFer, Al Arbour, sent a message.  He sent his top 4 PIM leaders onto the ice, Baumgartner, Vukota, Gerald Diduck and Gary Nylund, as well as Bryan Trottier (No wonder Trottier was bitter at the Islanders when he left).  The Rangers countered with their heavyweights including Chris Nilan, Kris King, and Mark Janssens.  The Rangers lined their players up near the blue-line instead of the face-off circle to show they weren't looking to fight.  Instead of lining up for the face-off, Baumgartner skated in circles like a caged animal waiting for the puck to drop, getting wound up to charge the Ranger players.  The brawl was a black-eye for hockey, as well as for Al Arbour.  The NHL suspended Vukota for 10 games, and Baumgartner for one.  The Islanders were fined $25,000.  Lafontaine would miss three games before returning to play in the series game 5 finale. 

1991-92 OPC Ken Baumgartner
  Baumgartner played another season and half for the Islanders before being traded.  His career totals as an Islanders were 175 games played, 13 points, and 678 PIM.  He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 1992 trade deadline.  On December 9, 1995, Baumgartner scored a goal against the Dallas Stars.  He did not score again until, two franchises later, October 10, 1998.  He had a goalless drought of 194 games, which just outside of the top 10 all-time in the NHL.  In 1997-98, while playing for the Boston Bruins, Baumgartner had zero goals and one assist in 82 games.  Baumgartner retired following the 1998-99 season.
  Baumgartner's career numbers, 54 points, 2242 PIM in 696 games, and on-ice actions scream GOON!  Juxtapose that with his off-ice accomplishments.  He was the 1984 WHL Scholastic Player of the year.  During his playing days he attended Hofstra University and earned a degree in business.  He was the Vice-president in the NHLPA union.  After retiring he earned a MBA at Harvard and works in Finance.  Not the type of guy who basically fought for a living or dying his skin yellow and with a mohawk.
  Baumgartner's first NHL card was during the 1990-91 junk wax boom.  He never did have one as a Los Angeles King other than a team-issued card.  So here is Ken Baumgartner's 1988-89 OPC rookie card with a picture from this fight with McSorley.

1988-89 OPC #276 Ken Baumgartner (RC)

1988-89 OPC #276 Ken Baumgartner (RC)


  1. That 1991-92 OPC custom card would have been hugely popular back then, had it actually come in packs. Nice work!

    I met Mr. Baumgartner during his tenure with the Islanders. I was a little guy attending a summer hockey camp on Long Island, and he visited the camp for a couple of days and skated with us. He was really great with all the kids. Fun memories, for sure.

  2. Awesome customs. The 91-92 is my favorite