Every day the newspapers set forth in agate type news of immense consequence to the subjects named therein. These are records of sports transactions, and they may signify any of a number of things: a heartbreaking dismissal; a terrific new affiliation; a move to a city the player and his spouse can't stand or, conversely, admire; a transfer from starting lineup to disabled list. In these pages we put flesh on the agate bones of five men whose names (circled at left) recently appeared on the lists.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Acquired center Mike Bullard from ST. LOUIS BLUES for center Peter Zezel.
Mike Bullard was still feeling the lingering effects of the flu that had slowed him down for 10 days. On Nov. 29 his team, the St. Louis Blues, was in Landover, Md., to play the Washington Capitals, and Bullard was hoping to break out of a slump. He had scored only four goals in his first 20 games with the Blues. He got to the Capital Centre early, about 8:30 a.m., so that he would have time for a whirlpool treatment before the morning skate.
At 10 a.m., Brian Sutter, the Blues' first-year coach, phoned him in the training room. Bullard didn't think anything about it at first. Sutter was probably calling to find out if he was feeling well enough to play. Then came the kick in the ribs. "We made a deal, Bully," Sutter told the 27-year-old center. "We traded you."
For Bullard it was the third time in the last two years that he had heard those words; the second time in the last three months. Sutter told him he had been dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for 23-year-old center Peter Zezel. At least it was to a good organization, Bullard thought. A good organization that was off to a 9-16-1 start. The Flyers lacked scoring punch, particularly at center, and Bullard had averaged better than a goal every two games in his seven-year NHL career.
Still Bullard was anything but thrilled with the news. His wife, Linda, was back in St. Louis, house hunting, and she is expecting their first child in February. She had an ultrasound test scheduled for Nov. 30. Bullard liked the Blues' coaching staff, and he had already made some good friends on the team.
Besides he had wanted to stay in one place for a while. Early in his career, Bullard had a reputation for being a bad apple. He had a 1986 DWI conviction dropped after completing an Alcoholics Anonymous program. He also had a well-publicized altercation with former Pittsburgh coach Bob Berry, which led to his being traded to the Calgary Flames in '86. In Calgary, Bullard was anxious to show he now had his priorities in order. " Calgary brought me back to life," he says. "I became a more mature man in that organization. They taught me the game—not just offense, but defense. It was heartbreaking to be traded from there. I'd built a home. I thought I was going to live there the rest of my life."
Bullard scored 51 goals for the Penguins in 1983-84, but playing for the Flames last season, he was even more productive, scoring 48 goals and 103 points and finishing plus-25 in the league's plus-minus statistics, fifth-best on the Flames. But a poor playoff performance against Calgary's archrivals, the Edmonton Oilers, lowered Bullard's stock, and two days before training camp opened he learned he had been traded to St. Louis as part of a seven-player deal that sent two of the Blues' best players, Doug Gilmour and Mark Hunter, to the Flames. "It was too good a deal for Calgary to pass up," admits Bullard.
His brief stint with the Blues was frustrating. Bullard pressed, determined to show that he was worth what St. Louis had given up for him. He had lots of chances—52 shots on goal—but scored on just 7.7% of them, down from a 20.9% goals-per-shot average the year before. And the Blues' system was not exactly tailor-made for the freewheeling Bullard. " St. Louis plays for a 2-1 score," he says. "Their game plan is to throw the puck in every chance they get, and that took away my game."
Bullard was able to brood about all this on the way to Philadelphia. The Flyers had a home game that night against the Boston Bruins, and they arranged for a limousine to meet him at his hotel in Washington. Bullard didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to his Blues teammates. He packed, called his wife—Linda, predictably, was upset—grabbed his skates and sticks and hopped into the limo at 11:30 a.m.