Friday, February 24, 2012

Tick, tock

The lead-up and anticipation to the trade deadline makes one recall Christmas when they were young. Nothing but questions dominated the time prior to the big event. Would Santa bring new skates? A hockey sweater (insert the name of your favourite team here!)? Gloves? Stick? Hockey book?

It was endless.

Trade talk and speculation is no different. It is part of being a fan. It's the time when armchair quarterbacks can scrutinize what moves are necessary for their GM to make prior to the clock striking three.Will they trade for a scoring winger? Will they give-up the hot-shot prospect? How about a new starting goalie?

Again, it is endless.

Below are three trades made in the Original Six era which are significant. They not only had an impact on the ice, but off the ice as well.

Ted Kennedy traded to Toronto for Frank Eddolls on September 10, 1943. The beginning of the end.

As a team, Conn Smythe and Frank Selke worked together in the early years of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both made a huge contribution to the building of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.

During World War Two, Smythe ventured over to Europe to assist in the conflict with Germany. While he was away, Selke and coach Hap Day were put in charge of the store. On September 10, 1943 they completed the trade to obtain a young Ted Kennedy. Upon getting word of the transaction, Smythe exploded. It wasn't so much the players involved, but the fact he was left out of the loop.

"My anger was entirely at not being consulted," wrote Smythe in his memoir, "If You Can't Beat 'Em in the Alley."

The tension between Smythe and Selke escalated when the Leaf boss returned from military service. A power struggle developed concerning if Smythe or Selke should be named president of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.. On one side was Ed Bickle and Bill MacBrien supporting Selke. On the flip side, Smythe had the backing of Jack Bickell and Percy Gardiner. As the history books show, Conn Smythe prevailed.

Frank Selke resigned from his position with Maple Leaf Gardens in May 1946. The cause for this divorce from Selke's point-of-view? Smythe sent him a memo advising if Selke left the building at anytime, he should first check with Smythe.

On July 10, 1946, Selke became the managing director of the Montreal Canadiens, following the departure of Tommy Gorman. He went on to have major success with the Habs winning a number of Stanley Cups.

Ed Litzenberger traded to Chicago from Montreal for cash on December 10, 1954. Saving the Chicago Black Hawks.

On December 2, 1953 a newspaper headline brought into focus the trouble brewing in Chicago. It read, "Writz Threat To Withdraw Hawks Startle NHL Brass."

The text of the report was even more disturbing. "I'd like to pull the Black Hawks out of Chicago, " said Arthur Writz. "The team has lost $300,00 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," commented Writz on the predicament his club was facing.

Over the next year the National Hockey League put their collective resources together to help the Black Hawks. Their efforts became known as the "Save Chicago" program.

As part of their campaign, the Montreal Canadiens traded prospect Ed Litzenberger to Chicago for cash on December 10, 1954. Of all the players shifted to Chicago, Litzenberger turned out to be the most important. This group included the likes of Dave Creighton, Harry Watson, Johnny McCormack and Bill Gadsby.

Litzenbereger proved to be a hit right off the bat with Chicago. On April 26, 1955 he was named winner of the Calder trophy (top rookie). He was the first Black Hawk to be recognized in this manner since Cully Dahlstom won the Calder in 1937.

In 1961, as captain of the Chicago Black Hawks, he lead his teammates to a Stanley Cup victory. The Hawks and Litzenberger came a long way since they were joined at the hip following the "Save Chicago" plan being put into action.

Ted Lindsay traded from Detroit to Chicago with Glenn Hall in exchange for Johnny Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, Hank Bassen and Bill Preston on July 23, 1957. Fighting for a cause and the future, but paying a high price.

On February 12, 1957 NHL players formed the first National Hockey League Players' Association. Lead by president Ted Lindsay, the group fought to gain rights for their rank and file. Serving as vice president was Doug Harvey; Fern Flaman and Gus Mortson as second and third vice presidents; Bill Gadsby as treasurer.

Being ignored by the owners, Lindsay and company launched a $3,000,000 suit against the National Hockey League.

As a result of their actions, the executive of the NHLPA were inflicted with a full-out assault from their employers. Lindsay, being considered the ring leader, was the main target.

Detroit's general manager, Jack Adams, immediately went to work on Lindsay. His goal was to conquer and divide. By attacking Lindsay, Adams hoped his teammates would see him in a different light. Reference was made to Lindsay's life away from hockey. The game which allowed him to own a nice home and start a business.

Adams set-up a meeting with the Detroit hockey press for a private conversation concerning Lindsay. He told the media Lindsay was "a bad apple", "a cancer", "the ruination of the team."

The final blow in Adams fight with Lindsay was delivered on July 23, 1957. A trade to the lowly Chicago Black Hawks sent a message to Lindsay and others considered to be trouble-makers.

There was little question that Lindsay and Hall were the best assests exchanged. The value coming from Chicago was no match. Looking back, one has to wonder if that wasn't the intention of Jack Adams. The real value was sending the message to Lindsay and every player in the league. And the message was clear - Adams controlled the Detroit dressing room, not Ted Lindsay. Also, if Lindsay could be shipped-out for his upsetting the owners, what would happen to a player with lesser skills who dared to join the NHLPA.

How else do you account for trading a player who was second in league scoring with 30 goals and 55 assists (85 points). Also, a player named to the First All-Star Team at left wing.

Another driving force to kick the players to the curb was Conn Smythe in Toronto. The player rep for the Maple Leafs was defenceman and team captain Jimmy Thomson.

Smythe unloaded on Thomson from every direction.

On the Leafs final road trip of the season, Smythe instructed Hap Day to keep Thomson at home away from the team. Smythe referred to his captain as being a "traitor" and "communist". Following the 1956-57 season, Thomson was placed on waivers, but no other team put in a claim. Another joint message being delivered from high above.

In August 1957, Smythe followed the same path established by Jack Adams in Detroit - he traded Jimmy Thomson - sending him to, you guessed it, the Chicago Black Hawks.

Three trades depicting the era of Original Six hockey. The good, the bad, and the ugly all wrapped-up in deals where power struggles, personality conflicts and survival were just as important as goals and assists.

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