Friday, November 5, 2010

Ed Litzenberger 1932-2010

It is the type of story that immediately grabs your attention when scanning the morning newspaper. You quickly turn the page, but just as quickly turn back to make certain your eyes weren't failing you. Your first impression is, wow - what a treat, an update on one of the players from the Original Six era. Then, it hits you like a ton of bricks - ED LITZENBERGER (1932-2010).

The Toronto Sun (Nov.4) carried a nice obituary on Litzenberger penned by Hall of Fame writer Frank Orr. The 4-time Stanley Cup champion passed away on Monday in Toronto -  Full Story.

The first instance of Litzenberger being recognized for his work in the NHL came in 1955. On April 26, 1955 he was named the winner of the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. For the first time since 1937, a Chicago Blackhawk had captured this prestigious prize. The previous Hawk winner was Cully Dahlstrom who was born in Minnenapolis, Minnesota.

Litzenberger received 128 of 180 votes to beat out Don McKenney of Boston (72votes) and Jacques Plante of Montreal (54 votes). In a unique process, voting for the Calder took place at the mid-point of the season, and at the conclusion of the regular season. In the first half of the voting, McKenney only received 15 votes, however, he made tremendous strides in the second half by registering 57 votes. Litzenberger went 54 and 74 in the voting.

His statistics reflect why he won the Calder. After beginning his rookie year in Montreal, he was traded to Chicago on December 10, 1954 for cash (the waiver price of $15,000). As a result of the trade, Litzenberger played in 3 more games than any other player - 29 with Montreal and 44 with Chicago. The regular season called for each team to play 70 games. He netted 23 goals (9th in the league) and 28 assists for 51 points. In a game against the Boston Bruins on February 23, 1955 he scored all 3 Blackhawk goals in a 3-3 tie.

April 1955
 Now comes the number one question. Why on earth did the Canadiens trade a player with such enormous potential? The roots of the transaction can be traced back to the 1953-54 season.

On December 2, 1953 newspapers were reporting on spectacular news emanating out of Chicago. One headline stated - "Writz Threat to Withdraw Hawks Startle NHL Brass" - had the entire league buzzing.

Arthur Writz in his own words.

"I'd like to pull the Black Hawks out of Chicago. The team has lost $300,000 already and the future isn't bright at all because we can't get players regardless of how much money we are willing to spend...Unlike baseball and professional football, (hockey) is without a draft and it is practically impossible to get young players to rebuild the Hawks."

Over the next year or so, the NHL would respond with the "Help Chicago" program. In the 1953-54 season, the flood of players being sent to Chicago started with Jack McIntyre ( Boston) and Ike Hildebrand (New York). In 1954-55 Toronto sent Dave Creighton and Harry Watson. In addition to Litzenberger, the Canadiens shipped Bucky Hollingworth, Johnny McCormack and Paul Masnick to the Windy City. Down the road, the Chicago roster would be propped-up by Frank Martin, Pete Conacher, Bob Hazzard, Ray Timgren, Red Sullivan, Dick Gamble and Bill Gadsby.

Of all the players destined for Chicago, Ed Litzenberger was by far at the top of the heap. In 1961 he was captain of the Stanley Cup squad.

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