joe malone, 1920: a scoring spree unto himself

Sevn-Shooter: Joe Malone in 1945, the year he turned 55.

An icy night in Quebec City; a hot hand, and a cold one.

That was the story , in sum, of a Saturday night 103 years ago last night, January 31, 1920, when, as the Quebec Chronicle put it, “Joe Malone had a scoring bee all by himself.”

Malone, 29, scored seven goals that night as his Quebec Bulldogs bamboozled the visiting Toronto St. Patricks by a score of 10-6; no-one since has scored more in an NHL game.

A review of the night’s events might include a mention that the crowd at the old Arena in Quebec was the smallest crowd of the season across the league in what was the NHL’s third season: just 1,200 spectators showed up.

It was a frigid night, to be fair, outside the rink as well as in. “The cold was so intense,” the Chronicle advised, “that [Corb] Denneny, the Toronto centre, had his right hand badly frozen during the game.”

Both teams made do with just eight skaters, I’ll mention, and while Quebec stuck with Frank Brophy in goal for the duration, Toronto switched out Ivan Mitchell after two periods in favour of Howie Lockhart. Mitchell allowed six goals, four of them by Malone, while reliever Lockhart saw four pass him by, three from Malone.

Malone might have had an eighth goal. Just before the first period expired, a shot of his hit Mitchell on the chest before trundling up and over his left shoulder and dropping down behind him. The goal judge wasn’t convinced that it had crossed the line, so no goal.

The other NHL game on the schedule that night in 1920 had the Senators hosting the Montreal Canadiens at Ottawa’s Laurier Street Arena, and that one ended 11-3 for the home team. Punch Broadbent scored a hattrick for Ottawa on Canadiens’ goaltender Georges Vézina; three other Senators, including Frank Nighbor, helped themselves to a pair.

Joe Malone’s outburst gave him 20 goals in 12 games, setting him up to win the NHL scoring title that season. In 24 games, he finished with 39 goals and 49 points, two goals and three points ahead of Montreal’s Newsy Lalonde.

Lalonde had actually scored six in a game against those same two Toronto goaltenders earlier in January of 1920, while Malone followed up by scoring six of his own on Ottawa’s Clint Benedict in March of that same season. The following year, Toronto’s (thawed-out) Corb Denneny and his older brother Cy (for Ottawa) each scored six of their own. Three other players have repeated that six-goal feat since: Syd Howe (in 1944, for the Detroit Red Wings); Red Berenson (1968, St. Louis Blues); and Darryl Sittler (1976, Toronto Maple Leafs).

Syd Howe’s double hattrick in ’44 came 24 years after Joe Malone’s bonanza, which you’d think might have stuck in the NHL’s historical memory. No. For a little while there, the league forgot all about it.

game of names

Scramblers: New York Americans’ goaltender Roy Worters covers up in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square garden on the night of Thursday, November 20, 1930. Worters made 36 saves on the night to preserve a 0-0 tie through overtime, for his fourth shutout in five games. Helping him out are (by the post) defencemen Red Dutton and (#3) Bill Brydge, with Americans (#8) George Patterson and (in a cap, beyond him) Normie Himes. Searching for the puck for Toronto is Busher Jackson and (in the net) some other unidentified attacker. Circling in the background is Leaf Ace Bailey.

The question of who first put numbers on sweaters in professional hockey remains befogged: while the Patricks, Lester and Frank, are often credited as the first to venture into numerical innovation in their Pacific Coast Hockey League in the winter of 1911-12, we know that the National Hockey Association in eastern Canada put numbers on their sweaters that same season.

When it comes to adding names to go with the numbers, Tommy Gorman led the way in the NHL in 1926.

He was coach and manager of the expansion Americans that year, the team that launched NHL hockey in New York. His line-up was well-stocked with stars, thanks mainly to the demise of the Hamilton Tigers, and with Billy Burch, Bullet Joe Simpson, Jakie Forbes, and the Green brothers, Shorty and Red, taking the ice in star-spangled finery, Gorman was keen to fill Madison Square Garden with fans to watch his fledgling team — and to help keep it afloat financially.

So the idea of aiding New Yorkers in identifying players on the ice seemed like a good one. Names on sweaters had appeared on amateur hockey rinks before this, notably in Stratford, Ontario, in the ’20s, but never yet in the NHL. The New York Sun first mentioned that possibility midway through the season, noting that Gorman’s brainwave was inspired when he watched labelled speedskaters make their rounds at the Garden.

The Look: Goaltender Jakie Forbes’ NY Americans sweater, circa 1926.

A Montreal Gazette report from early 1926 spread the news: names on sweaters, Gorman believed, “might be applied to hockey with considerable success and help to acquaint the fans with the various players, especially those on the visiting clubs.”

That was the thing: while Gorman planned to start with his own Americans “next season,” he intended to lobby the NHL for a league-wide policy. “If the locals start the fad,” the Sun opined, “it is expected other teams will follow suit.”

But why put off the plan for a year? Gorman didn’t delay, it seems: according to a subsequent Gazette report, the team’s seamsters and seamstresses had the players’ names in place for their home game against the Ottawa Senators on the night of Saturday, January 30, 1926. None of the New York papers that I’ve studied took notice of the names in their dispatches from the rink. The New York Times did note that the place was packed: a raucous crowd of 17,000 showed up to see the Senators down the Americans 1-0. Reporter Harry Cross:

The crowd hit a high pitch of enthusiasm for New York hockey. Long before the game time the ticket windows were closed and the galleries were so jammed that there were standees, and many were perched wherever there was a chance to hang on. It was capacity to the last inch.

It seemed quite the proper thing for the folk who fill the arena boxes to come all decked in furs and feathers. Park Avenue and Broadway were all there and made plenty of noise. No one in this big hockey gathering had a chance to be blasé. Every nerve in the house was tingling at one time or other during the fray. The shouting, cheering and the squealing left many of our citizens and citizenesses with alarming symptoms of laryngitis.

Other mentions of the new-look sweaters from that season are few and far between. Ken Randall played the Americans’ blueline that year, and there is, notably, an image of the name-branded sweater he’s said to have worn against Boston in February of 1926 in the pages of The Pepper Kid, Shayne Randall’s 2017 biography of his grandfather. Otherwise, though, newspapers seem to have taken meagre interest in the revolution.

ID’d: A Boston Globe cartoon of New York captain Billy Burch’s sweater from December of 1926.

It didn’t spread to other teams, either. Toronto Maple Leafs did, eventually, follow Gorman’s lead, but that wasn’t until the 1929-30 season, when Conn Smythe’s team added players’ names to backs of their white road sweaters (I’ve seen no evidence that they wore them on their blues at home). As you can just see in the image of Busher Jackson at the top of the post, the Leafs went with a fancy cursive script. Also apparent here: the Americans had, by now, given up their names.

It’s not clear how long the Leafs continued to show their names in the ’30s. No other teams seem to have followed their example, and for the decades that followed, NHL players were backed by numbers alone.

The Leafs were back in the nominal news in the winter of 1978, when Harold Ballard, the team’s owner and blowhard blusterer-in-chief, decided to resist a new NHL bylaw mandating that all players’ names appear on their shoulders to make them more identifiable on TV broadcasts. It was Philadelphia Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider who introduced the resolution this time, in the summer of ‘77; it was adopted on a vote of 13-5.

Ballard initially agreed to the plan, before he decided to defy it. He was concerned, he said, that the change would hurt the sale of programs at Maple Leaf Gardens, wherein players were listed by number.

With every other one of the league’s 18 teams in compliance as the 1977-78 season went on, Ballard agreed to a compromise whereby the Leafs would wear their names on the road but not at home — promising, at the same time, that the lettering would be so small that spectators would need microscopes to read it.

By February he was calling NHL president John Ziegler “a dictator on an ego trip.”

“Technically speaking,” Ballard railed, “names on sweaters are a property right. I don’t have to put names on the shirts. I sent Ziegler a wire saying he had a lot of nerve doing business this way. I told him I thought he had a lot more sense than that.”

“What Mr. Ballard thinks of me is immaterial,” Ziegler said. “The governors made an agreement and he must live up to it. He said he would put names on sweaters for all road games this year and if the rule was still in effect next year, he would put them on sweaters for home and away games.”

If the Leafs refused to comply for a February 13 road game against the Buffalo Sabres, Ziegler said, the team would be fined $2,000. For their next away game, in Chicago on February 26, they would be docked a further $3,000, with the fines increasing by $1,000 each road game after that, up to a cap of $5,000.

Fined for missing the Buffalo deadline, Ballard then relented — in best bloody-minded Ballard style. Having announced that the Leafs would be duly identified in Chicago, he then saw to it that the lettering that was sewn on in the name of Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, and the rest was the same shade of blue as the Leafs’ road sweaters, making them all but unreadable.

“I’ll never make it as a colour coordinator, will I?” Ballard crowed. “I’ve complied with the NHL bylaw. The names are stitched on, three inches high. It’s a pity you can’t see them.”

“Mr. John Ziegler is just going to have to keep his little nose out of my business,” he sneered. In case anyone was in doubt, he wanted the world to know this, too:  “This move was done to make a complete mockery of the ruling.”

Ziegler kept his cool — outwardly, anyway. “I’ll let Mr. Ballard do the talking in the press,” he said. “Harold likes to see his name in print. The position I’m at will remain a private matter.”

Toronto’s next road game was in early March in New York, at a newer edition of Madison Square Garden than the one Tommy Gorman and his Americans knew. This time out, against the Rangers, the Leafs’ names appeared in white letters, for all the hockey world to browse at their leisure.

 

every streak comes to an end

The current-day Maple Leafs saw several team and individual streaks stopped last night when they lost 3-1 in New York to the Rangers, and you can find out about those elsewhere. In March of 1980, the Leafs were in the middle of a four-game losing slide when a fan shed his clothes, jumped the glass, and vaulted onto the ice near the end of a game against the St. Louis Blues. He kept his socks on, red ones, and brandished a sign: “Leafs are # 1.”

Maybe you recall the reality of the Leafs in the early ’80s: they weren’t. Sitting fourth out of five teams in the old Adams Division, the Leafs fell in the first round of the playoffs that year to the Minnesota North Stars.

A couple of Toronto policemen, Rene Lessard and John Pepper, chased the streaker down. According to one local account, Thomas Enright, 25, got a “semi-standing ovation” as he was taken away to be charged with indecent exposure. Down 3-1, the Leafs took heart and got a late goal from Darryl Sittler, thought that was as close as they came.

“I have never seen something like that before,” said the Blues’ Wayne Babych, who scored a pair of his team’s goals. “”You had to chuckle about it for a while after that and it was a bit distracting.”

“It was a great performance by that guy,” Maple Leaf Gardens president Harold Ballard said, adding that he was pleased to have an attraction in the building that he didn’t have to pay for. Enright’s naked ambition was front-page news in the Toronto Star next day.

A week later in Provincial Court, a fully dressed Enright pleaded his guilt. Judge Sydney Harris wasn’t having it, and dismissed the charge. “Naked in a public place, maybe, but not indecent exposure.”

“I just wanted to liven things up,” Enright told reporters afterwards. “It was just in fun. I’ll never do it again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

a niche for mitch

Toronto Maple Leafs’ winger Mitch Marner scored an empty-net goal in his team’s 3-1 home win over the San Jose Sharks tonight and thereby recorded a point in his 18th straight game, matching the record for the longest point streak in franchise history. Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk each had an 18-game point run in consecutive games for Toronto, in 1978 and 1990 respectively. The portrait here is the work of Toronto editorial designer, illustrator, and endlessly interesting artist Nadine Arseneault. Her work has featured before on Puckstruck: you can find it here and here and here as well as here.

a king, of sweden: would have played all day, if it were possible

Scandinvasion: A 1974 Swedish hocking magazine marks the export of Salming and Hammarström.

The August news of Börje Salming’s ALS diagnosis was devastating, and the update from his family, earlier this month, was dire: the disease has now robbed Salming, 71, of his ability to speak, and he’s having difficulty eating. “His illness is speeding along very fast,” his wife, Pia, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen. This week, the top men’s and women’s hockey leagues in Sweden announced that on the last weekend of November they will be dedicating Game Day #21 to raising money and awareness for Salming’s new ALS Foundation. Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidström is a member of foundation’s board, which you can find here. The ALS Society of Canada is here.

 A version of the following post was published in August at TVOntario’s TVO Today.

He was celebrated, in his on-ice heyday, as the best offensive defencemen of his generation not named Bobby Orr. Börje Salming was an efficient defender, too, a shot-blocking, tempo-setting, hard-to-daunt mainstay of the blueline. Majestic is a word that crops up in newspaper accounts dating to his long tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And indeed, in the 1970s, his teammates dubbed him the King of Sweden.

When it comes to marshalling the accolades accorded Salming over the course of his 17-year NHL career, the challenge isn’t in finding a place to begin, it’s in making sure the catalogue encompasses the breadth of his achievement. Salming would, after all, become the first European-born NHLer to play 1,000 games in the league, and the first NHLer born and trained in Europe to be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In late 2016, he was ranked the eighth best player in Leafs’ 100-year history.

None of which, of course, quite quantifies the grace with which he operated under pressure and, in the turbulent NHL of the 1970s, in the face of outright attack. It doesn’t really measure the trailblazing he did, either, for European players in the NHL, as he heralded a new skilled and stylish era for the league, and swept North American hockey into its modern age.

Beyond that legacy, Salming, now 71, remains a beloved Leaf three decades after he last played a game in the blue-and-white. It was in a statement released by the team on August 10 that Salming shared the news that he has been diagnosed with ALS, an incurable progressive disease of the nervous system also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Salming’s diagnosis came after he’d begun experiencing symptoms earlier this year and consulted with doctors at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet.

“In an instant,” the former defenceman writes, “everything changed. I do not know how the days ahead will be, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced. I also recognize that there is no cure but there are numerous worldwide trials going on and there will be a cure one day. In the meantime, there are treatments available to slow the progression and my family and I will remain positive.”

“Since I started playing ice hockey as a little kid in Kiruna, and throughout my career, I have given it my all. And I will continue to do so.”

As they absorbed the shock of the news, fans, friends, and former teammates united in sympathy and support. “Börje, I am thinking of you in this tough time,” said a latter-day Swedish Hall-of-Fame defenceman, Nicklas Lidström. “Börje is the player I have looked up to my entire career former Toronto captain Mats Sundin told the Stockholm newspaper Sportbladet. “My role model and idol. He has guided me. … I wish him all the strength in the fight against this terrible disease.”

Salming’s hometown, Kiruna, lies far to the north on the Swedish map, in Lapland, 145 kilometres beyond the edge of the Arctic Circle. Built to serve local iron ore mines, it had a population of just over 10,000 in 1951, the year of Salming’s birth. His father worked at the mine, and died there in an accident when Börje was just five.

He and his elder brother Stig might have followed their father’s hardscrabble career path if it hadn’t been for hockey. The Kiruna that they grew up in, as it turns out, turned them into dedicated athletes. Salming has his own theory on how this happened: there was nothing else to do. “It was hard, cold, and dark,” he proposed in Blood, Sweat, and Hockey, the memoir he wrote with Gerhard Karlsson in 1991. “And if you wanted to have fun you had to make it yourself.”

In early outings, on outdoor ice, he was often assigned to tend goal, where he learned not to flinch. “I have never,” he later wrote, “been afraid to throw myself in front of the puck.” If he wasn’t the most talented player on the ice in those early days, he wrote, “my enthusiasm was unmatched.”

“I would have played hockey 24 hours a day if it were possible.”

Game Day #21: At the end of November, Sweden’s top men’s and women’s leagues will dedicate themselves to raising money and awareness for Salming’s ALS foundation.

Salming worked in a mine workshop as a teenager while he and his brother, also a flinty defenceman, played lower-league hockey for the local team. In 1970,  to Sweden’s top club, Börje followed his brother south to the city of Gävle to join Brynäs IF, one of  Sweden’s best teams.

Two years later, at 22, he was Sweden’s brightest young star, and that fall, he suited up for his country in the two ill-tempered exhibition games that a visiting Team Canada played in Stockholm before moving on to Moscow for the final four games of the iconic Summit Series.

His arrival in Toronto was set into motion later that winter, when (because some things never change) the Leafs were in need of a goaltender. The hunt took Toronto scout Gerry McNamara to Stockholm over Christmas in 1972, where his hopes of assessing the net presence of Sodertalje SK’s Curt Larsson were foiled when Larsson was sidelined by injury.

McNamara made do with a visit to the north to watch an exhibition game between Brynäs and the itinerant OHA senior Barrie Flyers. A left winger named Inge Hammarström scored four goals on the night, with Börje Salming adding one of his own — along with a game misconduct.

“In the midst of one commotion,” Salming confessed in his book, “I threw a tantrum and flattened the referee.”

The official might not have been impressed, but McNamara was. “They ran at him all night,” he later enthused about Salming’s performance. “And he never gave an inch.”

By the spring of ’73, the Leafs had signed Hammarström and Salming.

They arrived on North American ice that fall just as the NHL  (along with its rival, the WHA, too) was exploding into a new and particularly violent era. As the perennially unruly Philadelphia Flyers would soon prove definitively demonstrate, intimidation and outright brawling could win you a Stanley Cup. The Leafs’ newcomers were targeted from the start, taunted as “Chicken Swedes” by slow-skating goons and their baying fans in the stands.

“I don’t think they like Swedish boys,” Salming noted after a game in which he was lustily speared by Flyers defenceman Ed Van Impe. “They don’t play hard, they play dirty.”

Salming didn’t back down, and he soon earned a measure of respect that may also meant he was mostly left alone. That didn’t mean he’d hold back in his book. “Measured beside the goings-on in the NHL,” he wrote there, “the hockey we played in Sweden was kid’s stuff. I was certainly no angel in Sweden, but any anger I vented was like shadow boxing compared to the bloody violence of the NHL. Some days it was like a parody of sport.”

“The challenge for me was to play as fairly and well as possible and not to sink to the shameful level of the thugs,” he recalled.

In persisting — and outskating, as much as he could, the goonery — Salming would thrive, becoming the highest-paid player in Leaf history. By the time his career in Toronto ended in 1989, he owned a handful of team records, and stood third in all-time Leaf scoring, behind only superstar centremen Darryl Sittler and Dave Keon.

Twice he was offered the captaincy in Toronto, but he turned it down. “I shied away because of the language and all that stuff,” he said, looking back. “I probably should have done it.”

There were hard times, too. In 1986, the NHL  suspended Salming for eight games after he admitted to using cocaine. Later that same season, he was, horrifyingly, cut across the face by an errant skate; 200 stitches were needed to close the wound. Two years later, he was one of several Leafs to feud with a choleric coach, John Brophy.

After playing a final year for the Detroit Red Wings, Salming departed the NHL in 1990, returning to Sweden to play defence for AIK Stockholm in the Swedish Elite League.

Salming’s Leafs, of course, never raised a Stanley Cup. The closest they came was in 1978 when they upset the high-powered New York Islanders to reach the semi-finals.

Roy MacGregor watched and wrote about Salming throughout his career. Writing in 1976, he trusted his perceptive eye to praise the purity of Salming reactions, concluding that while “Orr is easily the purest thinker hockey has produced, Salming may well be the game’s best reflex player. His is not as awesome a hockey talent as Orr’s, but it has its own beauty.”

Voted once to the NHL’s First All-Star Team and five times to its Second, Salming was twice runner-up in the polling for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s outstanding defenceman, falling short of Larry Robinson of the Montreal Canadiens in 1977 and 1980.

Salming was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.

Throughout his NHL career, Salming remained a stalwart for the Swedish national team.

In 2008, he was voted to the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team of players deemed to have had the most influential sustained international, joining a line-up that also included Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Kharlamov, and Wayne Gretzky.

Kitted out in the gold-and-blue livery of the Tre Kronor, Salming might have been playing at his peak when he led Sweden at the 1976 Canada Cup. Going into the early-September game against Canada at Maple Leaf Gardens, Canada’s strategy was all about waylaying and otherwise befuddling Salming.

“He’s too good,” left winger Bob Gainey advised. “If you let him skate, he’s going to hurt you.”

“It’s nothing new, eh?” Canadian captain Bobby Clarke said, once Canada had finalized a 4-0 win. “Just like playing the Leafs in the National Hockey League. Everybody knows you’ve got to control Salming or he’ll murder you. The Swedes built their whole offence around him. He’s the guy who brings the puck out of their zone, and he’s the man they want to get the puck to on the powerplay.”

“Everybody had the same instructions,” added one of Canada’s coaches, Scotty Bowman: “get in there quick and take Salming before he gets underway.”

 

legends woe

Bench Strength: The Leafs laid flowers this afternoon in honour of their departed captain. The legendary Leafs represented here are, from the left, Darryl Sittler, Ted Kennedy, Syl Apps, Wendel Clark, Dave Keon, Armstrong, Johnny Bower, and Turk Broda.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are paying tribute today to former captain George Armstrong, following the announcement of his death early on Sunday at the age of 90. With the modern-day edition of the team in action in Calgary, Armstrong’s likeness is fronting Scotiabank Arena in Toronto this afternoon, and the team laid flowers in front of his likeness on Legends Row. Nobody has played more games for the Leafs than Armstrong, who captained the team for 12 years and led them to four Stanley Cups.

going nowhere: twelve blockbusting nhl deals that almost were (but not quite)

Here’s Your Hat:  With 23-year-old rookie Frank Brimsek having made the Boston net his own in October of 1938, the Bruins were looking to move their 35-year-old veteran Tiny Thompson. The buzz was that Toronto might swap him for defenceman Red Horner, though both teams denied it. In November, Thompson did pack his suitcase and bid Boston bye-bye, headed for Detroit in a deal that brought back from the Red Wings goaltender Normie Smith and US$15,000 cash.

Was Bobby Hull almost a Leaf? What about Rocket Richard? What would he have looked like in blue-and-white? As the rumours wax and wane on this day of the latest NHL trade deadline, what if we ticked off some time ahead of the 3 p.m. EST finish line exploring some potentially epic NHL deals that might have been (though, in the end, weren’t). Some of these unrealized trades and transactions, to be sure, were wishful wisps in the minds of newspapermen; some others, no doubt, were actually entertained by managers with the desire (if not, maybe, the wherewithal) to get a deal done. Either way, they involve some of the biggest names and talents in NHL history.  

October, 1983

It was the Montreal Gazette’s well-connected Red Fisher who heard the word, and shared it, that Montreal was in talks to acquire Paul Coffey from the Edmonton Oilers. The All-Star defenceman was coming off a stellar season in which he’d scored 29 goals and 96 points, but Fisher had it on good, anonymous authority that Oilers’ GM Glen Sather might be interest in taking defenceman Gilbert Delorme and centre Doug Wickenheiser in a swap. Sather was determined, Fisher said, to cut back on his team’s goals against. “His long-time view has been that Coffey is too concerned with offence and not sufficiently with defence.”

Coffey stayed in Edmonton, of course, celebrating by finishing the regular season with 40 goals and 126 points, good enough to stand him second in NHL scoring, behind teammate Wayne Gretzky. Also, that spring: Coffey and the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup. He won two more with Edmonton before he was finally traded, in 1987, to Pittsburgh, where he won a fourth, in 1991.

August, 1980

The fact that no-one had scored more points as a Toronto Maple Leafs than Darryl Sittler didn’t matter much to the team’s owner, Harold Ballard, in 1979, as he did his best to make his star centre miserable. Trading away Sittler’s winger and good friend Lanny McDonald was part of the program. By the end of a season that saw Sittler tear his captain’s C from his sweater, Ballard was vowing that Sittler would never again wear the blue-and-white.

In August of 1980, Ballard told reporters that he’d phoned Calgary Flames’ owner Nelson Skalbania to tell him that he could have Sittler in exchange for a pair of centres, Bob MacMillan and Kent Nilsson. “So far Skalbania has not replied,” Canadian Press noted, “and Cliff Fletcher, general manager of the Flames, says he knows nothing about it.”

Sittler and Ballard did subsequently broker a peace that saw the former return to the captaincy and play on in Toronto, until … the next breakdown. Early in January of 1982 he walked out on the Leafs hoping to prompt a trade, which duly came mid-month. Sittler went to Philadelphia in exchange for centre Rich Costello, a draft pick (that eventually hooked Peter Ihnacak), and future considerations (that, in time, resolved into left winger Ken Strong).

May, 1973

Defenceman Denis Potvin of the Ottawa 67s was the consensus first pick ahead of the 1973 NHL Draft in Montreal, and nobody doubted the GM Bill Torrey of the New York Islanders would select him when he got the chance.

Well, nobody but Montreal GM Sam Pollock, who held the second pick in the draft. Rumour had it that Pollock was offering the Islanders two prospects, wingers Dave Gardner and Steve Shutt, if they bypassed Potvin, leaving him for Canadiens. “I’ve spoken to every general manager in the National Hockey League here this week,” Torrey said, “trying to improve my hockey team in any way I can and what a lot of people forget is that I could conceivably draft Denis Tuesday and then trade him to Rangers or Boston, and yes, even Montreal, on Wednesday, if I wanted to.”

Draft Denis is what Torrey did, while Montreal had to settle for dropping down to select Bob Gainey, eighth overall. Pollock pushed hard for that Wednesday trade, reportedly upping his pre-draft offer for Potvin to five prospects, including Shutt and Gardner. Torrey’s answer was the same: no go.

April, 1970

Chicago’s playoffs came to a skidding halt that year: the Black Hawks lost in the Stanley Cup semi-finals, falling in four straight to the eventual champions from Boston. The Black Hawks had barely packed up their sticks for the year when Bill Gleason of Chicago’s Sun-Times broke the story that the team’s management was intent on shipping out one of the team’s — well, Gleason’s word was superplayers, which is to say left winger Bobby Hull or centre Stan Mikita.

This had been decided before the playoffs, Gleason said. Hull was the likelier to go, he maintained: he was not only the more marketable, but “had given management more trouble.” Gleason and his Chicago hockeywriting brethren agreed: Hull was headed to Toronto. “That’s a natural trade,” Gleason felt. “Bobby is an Ontarioan and he would restore the glamour that has been missing from Maple Leaf Gardens.

Speculative or not, this news caused something of a stir thereabout. At 31, Hull had been a Black Hawk for 13 seasons. In four of those, he’d scored 50 goals or more. He’d won a Stanley Cup, three Art Ross Trophies, two Harts, and a Lady Byng. Nine times he’d been voted to the NHL’s 1st Team All-Star.

Toronto Daily Star columnist Milt Dunnell couldn’t confirm or deny the rumour, but he thought a trade for Hull made sense. Hull was a superstar, and popular in Toronto, and the Leafs were interested in shaking up their roster. Centre Mike Walton was available. The Leafs might even be willing to deal their star, Davey Keon, who was in line for a big pay raise, and didn’t get along with coach John McLellan.

And Chicago GM Tommy Ivan wasn’t exactly denying … well, anything. “I can’t make any comment now on trades,” he said. “Is the report about Bobby far-fetched? Well, nothing is far-fetched these days.”

A reporter who tracked Hull down heard this: “I’ll play hockey as long as I can and it doesn’t much matter where. After 13 years, if they want to jack me around like this, it’s their prerogative.”

Subsequent dispatches from Chicago described a conversation between the GM and his star. “Should I pack my bags,” Hull asked Ivan. Answer: “Don’t be silly.”

And so Hull remained a Hawk: he played two more seasons in Chicago before making his million-dollar leap to the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets. As a writer wrote in 1970: “His hatchet with the Chicago management was buried, perhaps in a shallow, well-marked grave.”

May, 1963

It was a near run thing in 1963 when Kent Douglas of the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Calder Trophy to become the first ever defenceman to win the award for the NHL’s best rookie. When the balloting showed that Douglas had pipped Detroit blueliner Doug Barkley by 100 points to 99, the Red Wings asked for a recount. The verdict the second time around? The NHL found that though Douglas’ victory was slimmer than originally thought — 99.4 points to 99.2 — he’d still won.

That same off-season May, Douglas found his way back into the news when, talking to a reporter about rumours that Montreal’s 32-year-old star left winger Boom-Boom Geoffrion was on the trading block, he spilled what seemed like surprising beans. “It looks like he’ll be joining us,” Douglas said. Montreal was interested in several Leafs, Douglas added, though he wouldn’t which of his teammates he thought might soon be Canadiens.

For his part, Geoffrion was on what was being touted as a “goodwill tour” of Canada. He’d already addressed the trade rumours in Saskatoon, before Douglas spoke up, saying that, yes, he was aware that he was supposed to be upping stakes for Boston or Toronto but, no, he hadn’t heard anything from Canadiens’ GM Frank Selke. Geoffrion seemed to think that it might be Montreal’s management spreading the gossip.

“Maybe they are trying to needle me to try to get back into form,” Geoffrion told Eric Wesselby from the local Star-Phoenix. “I fell off in production after the 50-goal season of 1960-61, but 23 goals a season isn’t a bad record. I think that scoring 20 goals in an NHL season is equivalent to batting .300 in the majors. And how many players hit .300 for a season?”

Geoffrion had reached British Columbia by the time he heard what Kent Douglas was saying back on the east coast. “I’ll believe it when I hear it,” he said in Vancouver, “— from the Montreal officials.” Of Douglas, he had this to say, in Victoria: “He’s only been in the league one year and he knows more than I do.”

At the NHL’s summer meetings in June, Canadiens’ personnel director Sam Pollock didn’t deny that Geoffrion might be on the move. Maybe he would have been, too, if the right deal had come along. As it was, Geoffrion played one more season with Montreal, scoring 21 goals, before retiring in 1964. When he unretired, in 1966, it was with the New York Rangers, for whom he played a further two seasons.

February, 1952

Toronto won the 1950-51 Stanley Cup with Al Rollins and Turk Broda sharing the net, but by early 1952 Leafs’ GM Conn Smythe, unhappy with that pair, was pursuing Harry Lumley of the Chicago Black Hawks. His first offer to Hawks’ GM Bill Tobin: Rollins, centre Cal Gardner, and defenceman Bill Juzda. When that didn’t take, he proffered a couple of defencemen, Gus Mortson and Hugh Bolton, along with minor-league goaltender Gil Mayer.

That didn’t work, either. Smythe did eventually get his man, in September of ’52, with Lumley heading to Toronto in trade for Rollins, Mortson, Gardner, and right winger Ray Hannigan. Lumley couldn’t help the Leafs win a Stanley Cup, but he did earn a Vézina Trophy in 1954, along with a pair of selections to the NHL’s 1stAll-Star Team, in 1953-54 and 1954-55.

January, 1950

Toronto coach (and assistant GM) Hap Day was categorical in quashing a rumoured deal by which the Stanley Cup champions would have sent wingers Howie Meeker and Bill Ezinicki to Chicago for left winger Doug Bentley: no. Two years earlier, in 1948, Montreal coach Dick Irvin went out of this way to deny that his team was trying to send defenceman Kenny Reardon to Chicago for Bentley.

February, 1949

Conn Smythe was in Florida for a winter’s respite when the rumour reached him — just how it travelled, or with whom it originated, I can’t say. At the time, reporters on the Leafs beat didn’t seem to know, either. What mattered was that the chief Leaf believed that Montreal might just be willing to sell the great Maurice Richard and that if so, Toronto needed to be at the front of the line. With Toronto headed to Montreal for an early February meeting with the Canadiens, Smythe told his coach, Hap Day, to take his cheque-book and wave it at Frank Selke.

Sounds incredible, not to mention implausible, but the Leafs were all in. “Maple Leaf Gardens has never been close with a buck,” Day told The Globe and Mail’s Jim Vipond, “and I have explicit instructions to meet any price mentioned for Richard’s hockey services. We consider Richard the greatest right winger in the major league, if not the greatest player.”

Dream On: While it lasted, Toronto newspapers enjoyed the idea that Richard might be lured to the blue-and-white.

He’d called Selke to set up a meeting. His last word before he climbed the train for Montreal: “I hear that Selke told Montreal newsmen he would not consider any kind of deal for Richard, yet he has not barred the door to further discussions with me.”

Toronto’s interest in Richard met with nothing but derision in Montreal. “Toronto’s retarded bid,” Gazette columnist Dink Carroll called it in the not-so-sensitive parlance of the day. “All the money in Toronto wouldn’t buy him,” Selke scoffed, in unwitting echo of other scorn, in another time — you’ll get to it, if you keep going to the end. “In other words, no matter what Leafs offered, he’s not for sale.” If, on the other hand, Toronto was interested in selling, Selke announced a spoofing interest in buying Max Bentley, Bill Ezinicki, Harry Watson, and Garth Boesch.

“Propaganda,” Canadiens’ coach Dick Irvin proclaimed. “All this is merely an attempt to upset my boys on the eve of a game.”

The Leafs ended up winning that one, 4-1 — so maybe it worked. Montreal management continued to ridicule the Leafs’ presumption. The following week, after the teams tied 2-2 in Toronto, the Gazette was only too pleased to report a phone conversation between Irvin and Selke. Richard had played an outstanding game, the coach reported. “The Rocket got two goals last night. Ask Conn Smythe how much he’ll pay for him now.”

Selke’s reply: “Don Metz got two goals, too. Ask Smythe how much he wants for Metz.”

November, 1947

The deal that sent centre Max Bentley and winger Cy Thomas to Toronto was the biggest in NHL history at the time, with Chicago getting back a full forward line in Gus Bodnar, Bud Poile, and Gaye Stewart along with defencemen Ernie Dickens and Bob Goldham. Later, Leafs’ GM Conn Smythe confided that just before getting Bentley, he’d been trying to pry defenceman Doug Harvey away from Montreal, offering Stewart straight up in a one-for-one deal.

October, 1933

The Boston Globe reported that there was nothing to the rumour that GM Art Ross was angling to trade swap right wingers and send captain Dit Clapper to Toronto for Charlie Conacher. Victor Jones was on the case: “Charlie, a great athlete, has a stomach ailment which doesn’t make him an A-1 risk.”

April, 1929

Reports had Montreal’s superstar centre Howie Morenz heading to Boston, with defenceman Lionel Hitchman and US$50,000 coming north; Canadiens’ GM Cecil Hart sharply denied it. “It looks like a deliberate effort to create discord in the team,” Hart said. “Put this down: Morenz won’t be sold to anybody. He will finish his professional hockey career where he started it, with the Canadiens.”

He was right, though Morenz did go on a bit of an odyssey in the mid-1930s, returning to Montreal for one last season before his career came to its sudden end in 1937.

A rumour in 1933 had Morenz going to Chicago for goaltender Charlie Gardiner, whom Canadiens’ GM Leo Dandurand admitted to coveting in a bad way. Like Hart before him, Dandurand vowed that Morenz (and teammate Aurèle Joliat, too) would never play for any team but Montreal. The following year, Montreal’s Gazettelearned from “a reliable source” that Morenz was Chicago-bound in exchange for right wingers Mush March and Lolo Couture. The actual deal took a few more months to consummate saw Morenz go to Chicago with goaltender Lorne Chabot and defenceman Marty Burke for right wing Leroy Goldsworthy, and defencemen Lionel Conacher and Roger Jenkins.

January, 1929

Howie Morenz had a bad knee, and Eddie Shore an ailing ankle, so when Canadiens visited Boston early in 1929, both teams had to do without their marquee players. The game ended in an underwhelming 0-0 tie with press reports noting that Montreal appeared “weakened” while the Bruins lacked “their usual dash.” The crowd of 15,000 did get some good news on the night, which they seem to have received, extraordinarily, via the Garden PA announcer. We’ll leave to John Hallahan of the Globe to pass it on:

It was announced that a rumour had been spread about that Eddie Shore had been sold to the New York Rangers. The management declared such a report ridiculous, adding there was not enough money in New York to buy him.

A great cheer went up at this statement.

It was also announced if the fans in the upper balcony did not stop throwing paper on the ice that means would be taken to screen the sections.

make way for the leafs

standwitness

Toronto’s upstart Maple Leafs head into tonight’s game with the Washington Capitals with a five-game winning streak in hand, but the real news may be the optimism and glad-heartedness attending the team in the wake of Sunday’s outdoor overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings feels like something of a new commodity in the city. The surging Leafs have their fans talking about making the playoffs for the first time in four years, even as they bask in the lustre of the bright youth of Connor Brown, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and the incandescent Auston Matthews.

Toronto has, in fact, seen the hope before. It was this very time of the year in 1992, for instance, when GM Cliff Fletcher orchestrated the ten-player trade that brought in Doug Gilmour from the Calgary Flames.

A new day dawns for the team that forgot how to win

was the headline in Toronto’s Financial Post on this day 25 years ago, while in The Windsor Star, columnist Lloyd McLachlan wrote about the notion of Gilmour as, “if not the second coming of Dave Keon, at least a playmaking Moses possibly capable of helping inspire a miracle escape from the wilderness.”

Twenty years further back, Stan Fischler’s 1975 book Make Way For The Leafs outlined an end for another era of Toronto hockey woe. Once, he wrote in opening his thesis, the Leafs had been Canada’s own New York Yankees: “the supreme professional sports organization.” By the end of the page, he’d outlined the glories composed by Conn Smythe, emphasized the success of his teams, the colour of its characters, the team’s toughness, his material proof of which cited Bingo Kampman,

a defenceman of such herculean strength he would win bets that he could lift heavy dinner tables just by placing a side of the table top between his teeth and then hoisting the table using sheer mouth power.

Fischler’s quick sketch of Toronto’s downfall centred mostly on GM Punch Imlach. His account of the team’s ongoing resurrection got going in chapter two with Imlach’s sharp young successor, Jim Gregory, along with the savvy coach he hired in Red Kelly, and a cadre of “youthful skaters” like Darryl Sittler, Rick Kehoe, and Lanny McDonald.

Fischler pegged the start of the Leafs’ “rebirth” to the opening of the NHL’s 1973-74 season — just as, it so happens, team president Harold Ballard was getting out of prison after serving a sentence for theft and fraud.

Ballard isn’t everyone’s idea of a hero, of course. Fischler called him “the most intriguing and one of the most engaging personalities in Toronto sports,” framing him as “a hard man in what he feels is a hard world.” In ’73, Fischler said, Ballard believed the Leafs were three years away from establishing a Stanley Cup-winning team.

They did get to the semi-finals in 1978, losing there to the eventual champions from Montreal. That was as good as it got, though: what the Leafs had to look forward to beyond that were the grim ’80s. Was the team’s wilderness ever so deep and dark as it was in that decade in which they traded away McDonald and Sittler, and squandered one draft pick after another?

The legacy of those years under the Ballard regime lingered a long time. It’s what Cam Cole was alluding to in ’92 as Doug Gilmour arrived from Calgary, and it’s something that Leaf-loving hearts trust is history of a kind that doesn’t repeat itself.

Players turn to mush in Loserville North

Cole’s Edmonton Journal column that January morning was headlined, and it carried on in a key that even, now, still, in these heady times of Marners and Matthewses, can send a shudder through a city:

For reasons not clearly understood to this day, good players turn to mush instantly upon contact with Toronto. It may be the acid rain. Veteran star, proven role player, promising draft pick — you name it, the Leafs can ruin it.

post captains

Canada Post launched its newest line of hockey stamps this week with six sticky-backed forwards. “The 2016 NHL® Great Canadian Forwards stamps highlight some of the greatest goal-scorers ever to play in the NHL,” the press release touts, and yes, it is an impressive cadre: Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Darryl Sittler, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, and Sidney Crosby.

Hard to fathom how the crown corporation came up with this particular group. Crosby, of course, is a natural — who wouldn’t want Canada’s own captain on their lettermail? But if it is indeed meant to reflect distinguished goal-getters, then why no Wayne Gretzky, best of them all? He already got on a stamp, of course, in 2000, so maybe that’s all he gets. Same with Gordie Howe and Marcel Dionne, the next ones down the all-time list of high-scoring Canadians. If that’s how the choosing was done, statistically, then, yes, Phil Esposito is deserving. But what about Mike Gartner, who outscored both Messier and Yzerman? Nothing against Lafleur, but he’s way down the list, well below Mario Lemieux and Luc Robitaille. Is that really fair? And what about Dave Andreychuk? How do you think Andreychuk feels knowing that Sittler got in ahead of him having scored 170 fewer career goals? How would you feel, philatelically speaking?

27 x 10 (+ 40)

Embed from Getty Images

It’s 40 years tonight that Darryl Sittler, 65 now, went on his famous bonanza at the expense of the Boston Bruins and their permeable goaltender, Dave Reece. Sittler, as Lance Hornby of The Toronto Sun put it so delicately, made Reece “look silly” on the night of February 7, 1976 as he compiled six goals and four assists in an 11-4 Leaf routing.

1970s me, harshly reviewed by the passport office

1970s me, harshly reviewed by the passport office

I was there with my dad that night, a not-quite-ten-year-old. As I’ve written before, here, it was a noisy occasion on which I did not too badly on the quiz in the back of the Maple Leafs program. I don’t remember much more than that. I can recall the general outlook from our seats — reds, maybe? — looking down on the ice from the southwest corner of the rink. There’s no doubt that I would have been thrilled just to be in the building for an NHL game, and that I would have repeated the names of favoured players — Salming, Turnbull, Ratelle — as though to work a spell. I think I remember standing up for all the ovations we gave Sittler and, being small, having my view swamped by all the joyous Leaf-loving adults around us.

The Leafs are the road today, so the team celebrated Sittler’s feat early, in word online and in deed ahead of their home game last Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. Dave Reece was in on the celebrations, invited up from his home in Vermont to pay tribute to the man who tormented him out of the NHL all those years ago. For a man whose NHL fame is fixed on his worst night in the net and who never played another game in the league, he seems to have a kept his sense of humour about him. He told Lance Hornby that he wasn’t aware at the time that a record was in the making. “All I knew was the fans were going berserk and this guy keeps scoring. I’m thinking: How many goals does he need?

A couple of other anniversary notes:

• Bert Olmstead’s name seems to have gotten a little lost in this week’s excitement. Maurice Richard was the first, it’s true, to establish the record that Sittler broke in 1976: the Rocket scored five goals and added three assists in a 9-1 Canadiens win over Detroit on December 28, 1944. But as much of the media coverage has failed to acknowledge, Olmstead, who died in November, matched that mark in a 12-1 Montreal win over Chicago on January 9, 1954. The long, lean winger, The Globe and Mail called him that night: he had four goals and four assists. Richard couldn’t get a goal, but he did contribute five assists, and managed to tint if not entirely overshadow Olmstead’s feat of scoring.

Richard had published a newspaper column that week criticizing NHL president Clarence Campbell and the Forum crowd showed up prepared to voice their support of the beloved winger. Fifteen plainclothes’d policemen were on duty to help keep the peace. When the president showed up (late) to take his regular seat, Dollard St. Laurent had just scored to make it 3-0 Habs, but the cheers turned to boos as fans saw Campbell.

The Canadian Press:

The crowd of 13,930 booed the league president lustily between cheers for goal after goal, gaped at him between periods and at the end gave up a few yells of “go home, Campbell, go home.”

Occupying his usual box-seat in the south end of the Forum, Campbell took it all in stride and didn’t appear in the least flustered. He was not molested personally and the crowd, happy over the mounting score, was not openly belligerent.

• I’ve wondered, as the Februarys have passed, whether my memory had made up or exaggerated the brass blare from the Gardens’ loudspeakers that heralded Sittler’s goals in 1976. Milt Dunnell’s Toronto Star column from the Monday following suggests I didn’t. A great night it may have been in Leafland, but remember who ruled the kingdom: Harold Ballard. Maybe the owner was trying to channel the call-to-arms of British cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo, Dunnell mused:

Ballard’s bugler assaulted the eardrums of friend and foe alike with a canned version of “Charge” that had been wired into the sound system. No one seems to know who the bugler is. Maybe it’s just as well. This town has enough homicides already.

Dunnell also recounts that only that morning, Sittler had invited his parents to the game — Leaf teammate Greg Hubick had extra tickets — and while the Sittlers thought they were too busy to get to  Maple Leaf Gardens, they did in the end make the trip from St. Jacobs, Ontario.

It’s not surprising that Harold Ballard was largely scrubbed from this week’s commemorations of Sittler’s big night — why sour the celebrations? — but the Leaf despot’s pre-game rant is worth a mention all these years later. A day before Sittler ran amok, Ballard had told reporters of his determination to find “a sensational centre” to play between wingers Lanny McDonald and Errol Thompson. “We’d set off a time bomb if we had a hell of a centre in there,” he said.

Sittler, of course, was asked about this after the Boston game. The Star’s Frank Orr took down his answer:

“Undoubtedly, Mr. Ballard will figure his little blast inspired me to set the record but it just isn’t that way,” Sittler said.

“Maybe now he won’t have to hunt quite so hard for that centre he wants.”

trademarked

Deal Him Out: Trades made Phil Esposito depressed and angry.

Brett Hull grinned when he was traded from Calgary to St. Louis in 1988. “Yesssssss,” he said, and I quote. A few months later and a little to the north, Wayne Gretzky departed for Los Angeles amid a storm of tears, anger and accusations. That, the latter, is probably closer to the norm when it comes to what hockey players go through when they’re swapped, one team to another. A lot of the time they feel what Arnie Brown felt when the New York Rangers sent him to Detroit in 1971: “depressed, bitter, and shocked.”

Dave Schultz was dazed. His head felt heavy. He never thought it would come to this. Traded for draft choices! This was in 1976 when Philadelphia sent him south to do his hammering in L.A. He was angry. He blamed Bobby Clarke. After all he’d done for the Flyers in the way of punching their opponents! Not to mention them punching him! Humiliating. He said some things, which a reporter heard and published. There was a furor. “It’s dislocation pure and simple — and rejection,” he’d wax later. “You don’t think that someone else wants you; you think that somebody doesn’t.” Continue reading