Legends of Hockey -- NHL Player Search -- Player -- John Tonelli
When the World Hockey Association began operations in 1972, it made no attempt to hide the fact that it wanted to draft and sign 18-year-old players, even though the NHL's limit was 20. Signing teenagers was a problem because any good 18-year-old was playing junior hockey in Canada, and every junior was under contract to that team for the duration of his career?that is, until he turned 20 and was drafted by an NHL team. However, the WHA argued that the junior contracts were null and void when a player turned 18, the legal age in Canada, and that any contract signed by a minor wasn't financially beneficial to him and therefore inapplicable in a court of law.

Tonelli turned 18 near the end of the 1974-75 season with the Marlies, and his agent, Gus Badali advised him, to stop playing by his birthday. At the same time, he was being pursued by the Houston Aeros of the WHA, and all hell broke loose when Tonelli did in fact leave the Marlies and signed with the Aeros on his birthday. The Ontario Hockey Association sued him for breach of contract, and a bitter battle was fought in the courts over the summer. In the end, Tonelli was ruled an 18-year-old adult and free to do as he chose.

That fall, Tonelli played pro in Houston with linemates Gordie and Marty Howe. The Aeros, however, folded after three more years in Houston, and the New York Islanders signed Tonelli in the summer of 1978. He worked hard on his game every day and quickly established himself as a necessary piece of the Islanders' Stanley Cup puzzle.

Tonelli established himself as a digger, someone who could go into the corners and come out with the puck. But as he gained confidence, he also became more aggressive in open ice and began to score more. Not coincidentally, the Islanders also started to win. Tonelli was part of the four Cup victories the team won from 1980 to 1983, but in some ways his career culminated in the fall of 1984 when he played for Canada in the Canada Cup, an invitation he almost turned down.

He not only made the team, he had nine points, including a key assist on Mike Bossy's goal in overtime of the semifinal. Canada won the championship and Tonelli was named the tournament's best player. He then rejoined the Islanders and had his best season ever, scoring 42 goals and 100 points.
Midway through the 1985-86 season, he was traded to Calgary and two and a half years later he was in Los Angeles, far removed geographically and psychologically from the Cup-winning teams of New York. He finished his career in 1991-92, playing a handful of games with Chicago and Quebec, and then retired after having played 1,028 NHL games.


REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
Season Club League GP G A TP PIM +/- GP G A TP PIM
1973-74 Toronto Marlboros OHA-Jr. 69 18 37 55 62
1974-75 Toronto Marlboros OMJHL 70 49 86 135 85
1975-76 Houston Aeros WHA 79 17 14 31 66 17 7 7 14 18
1976-77 Houston Aeros WHA 80 24 31 55 109 11 3 4 7 12
1977-78 Houston Aeros WHA 65 23 41 64 103 6 1 3 4 8
1978-79 New York Islanders NHL 73 17 39 56 44 +29 10 1 6 7 0
1979-80 New York Islanders NHL 77 14 30 44 49 +8 21 7 9 16 18
1980-81 New York Islanders NHL 70 20 32 52 57 +8 16 5 8 13 16
1981-82 New York Islanders NHL 80 35 58 93 57 +48 19 6 10 16 18
1982-83 New York Islanders NHL 76 31 40 71 55 +30 20 7 11 18 20
1983-84 New York Islanders NHL 73 27 40 67 66 +21 17 1 3 4 31
1984-85 Canada Can-Cup 8 3 6 9 2
1984-85 New York Islanders NHL 80 42 58 100 95 +50 10 1 8 9 10
1985-86 New York Islanders NHL 65 20 41 61 50 +22
1985-86 Calgary Flames NHL 9 3 4 7 10 -1 22 7 9 16 49
1986-87 Calgary Flames NHL 78 20 31 51 72 -2 3 0 0 0 4
1987-88 Calgary Flames NHL 74 17 41 58 84 +10 6 2 5 7 8
1988-89 Los Angeles Kings NHL 77 31 33 64 110 +9 6 0 0 0 8
1989-90 Los Angeles Kings NHL 73 31 37 68 62 -8 10 1 2 3 6
1990-91 Los Angeles Kings NHL 71 14 16 30 49 +3 12 2 4 6 12
1991-92 Chicago Blackhawks NHL 33 1 7 8 37 +2
1991-92 Quebec Nordiques NHL 19 2 4 6 14 -7
NHL Totals 1028 325 511 836 911 172 40 75 115 200


OMJHL First All-Star Team (1975)
NHL Second All-Star Team (1982, 1985)
Canada Cup All-Star Team (1984)
Named Canada Cup MVP (1984) Played in NHL All-Star Game (1982, 1985)
Signed as an underage free agent by Houston (WHA), March, 1975. NHL rights reclaimed by NY Islanders after Houston (WHA) franchise folded, July 6, 1978. Traded to Calgary by NY Islanders for Richard Kromm and Steve Konroyd, March 11, 1986. Signed as a free agent by Los Angeles, June 29, 1988. Signed as a free agent by Chicago, June 30, 1991. Traded to Quebec by Chicago for future considerations, February 18, 1992.