Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Two of the three big moves by the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer involved their coaching staff and front office. The first came when they inked Mike Babcock to become their head coach. Then, last week, Brendan Shanahan announced the hiring of Lou Lamoriello as the Leafs new general manager.

Sandwiched between these two off-ice acquisitions was the trade of Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A three-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey, Lamoriello comes to Toronto with solid credentials and a city hoping he can turn their beloved team into contenders.

In the Original Six era, the Leafs made one of their biggest and most successful GM appointments when George "Punch" Imlach was promoted to run the historic franchise.

On Friday November 21, 1958, Imlach, then serving as assistant general manager since joining the Leafs in the summer of '58, had the word 'assistant' removed from his job title.

He became the Leafs first general manager of substance since Hap Day walked away from the job following the 1956-57 season. When Day left the organization, Howie Meeker got the nod to replace him, but the former Leaf forward and Calder Trophy winner was fired prior to the next campaign getting underway.

Once Meeker split the scene, a hockey committee, known as the Silver Seven (Stafford Smythe, John Bassett, George Mara, George Gardiner, Jack Amell, Bill Hatch and Ian Johnston), became involved in the hockey operations side of the Maple Leaf Gardens Limited, with Stafford Smythe holding the post of chairman.

While Lamoriello's surprise hiring generated significant media coverage, including the front cover and 8 pages in the Toronto Sun sports section, news of Imlach's elevation to general manager pales in comparison.

The two local newspapers - Toronto Daily Star and The Telegram - along with Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, each ran a single story on Imlach taking over from the Silver Seven.

The Globe and Mail

The Telegram

No matter the era or generation, little has changed when it comes to the expectations of a new commander when taking control.

Here are some quotes attributed to Imlach upon named general manager.

"This team can make the playoffs, but some changes will have to be made. Now that I'm responsible, I intend to make them."

"Our club has proved before that it thrives on a lot of work and it is going to be getting it in the next few weeks."

"...There won't be any ducking of the issues. If I'm going to be shot I'd rather sooner be shot as a lion than a lamb."

And the following comment made for public consumption by Stafford Smythe, representing the ownership, is as applicable today as it was in 1958.

"Imlach has full authority to make whatever changes he sees fit. His main objective is the playoffs. I have dumped the whole building on his shoulders."

How often have we heard ownership sing a similar tune when bringing in a new Admiral to correct a ship that is off course?

In addition to being general manager, Punch Imlach became the Leafs coach late in December of 1958. Unhappy with his clubs performance, only 5 wins in the first 20 games of the 1958-59 schedule, Imlach dismissed Billy Reay and moved behind the bench.

As Stafford Smythe stated when Imlach took over a team that had little success since Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup winning goal in 1951, "It will be Imlach's problem to correct this."

Punch Imlach, in his dual role, made an immediate and lasting impact. While wearing two hats, he brought the winning tradition back to Toronto and captured four Stanley Cups.

Hopefully, for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lou Lamoriello will join Imlach as a four-time Cup winner in his new job of reshaping the Blue & White.

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