Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It has been a long time since a Toronto Maple Leaf won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. In fact, 51 years have passed since Brit Selby was awarded the prize in 1966. His streak ended tonight when Auston Matthews was named the top rookie at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

No stranger to the Leaf organization, Brit Selby played his pee-wee hockey in the Toronto Hockey League with Shopsy's a club sponsored by Toronto's NHL club.

In November 1961, Selby skated for the Lakeshore Goodyears in the Metro Junior "B" League when he was summoned by the junior "A" Toronto Marlboros to replace an injured Brian Conacher. In his debut as a Marlboro, Selby scored the second goal in a 4-0 victory over St. Mike's.

Selby remained with the Marlboros for the balance of his time as a junior. He became a Memorial Cup champion in 1964. The 1963-64 Marlboros were a powerhouse with many future NHL players in the line-up. In the mix were several teammates that would later join Selby on the Maple Leafs roster. Names of note included Pete Stemkowski, Mike Walton, Ron Ellis, Wayne Carlton, Jim McKenny and Gary Smith.

His big break came in 1964-65, when the Leafs called up Selby on a three-game professional trial. On January 2, 1965, Selby, who played left wing, made his first NHL regular season appearance against the Detroit Red Wings and Gordie Howe. And Howe welcomed the rookie in his usual manner. In his first shift, Selby received what he called a "sort of initiation, I guess" from Mr. Hockey. Right off the bat, Howe planted his stick on Selby's arm and left a large bruise.

The next night, Selby faced the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. In this contest, Selby scored his first National Hockey League goal when he tipped in a pass from Carl Brewer that eluded Rangers goalie Jacques Plante. In the third and final game of his professional trial on January 6, he scored the game-winner in Toronto's 3-1 win at Chicago Stadium. After this tilt in the Windy City, he was returned to the Marlboros.

Brit Selby turned pro in 1965-66 with the Maple Leafs. In an interview several years ago, Selby told me what it was like to negotiate his first NHL deal with Leafs general manager & coach, Punch Imlach. "When I signed my contract with Imlach in 1965, I wasn't allowed an attorney and I wasn't allowed an accountant to help me. My parents weren't even allowed into the meeting. It was just myself, a 19 year-old kid negotiating with Imlach, who was an officer in World War Two and coached three Stanley Cup teams."

Although he was silenced in Imlach's office, Selby did his talking on the ice during his rookie campaign. By February 1966, he netted 13 goals and led at the mid-season point in voting for the NHL's top rookie award. During this era voting for the major trophies took place in the middle and end of the regular season schedule.

One of the highlights during his first NHL voyage was a natural hat trick Selby recorded against Boston Bruins goalie Bernie Parent. With the good, also came the bad, as there were a number of mishaps that held Selby back. These included a groin injury, bruised ankle, influenza and a cracked bone in his right foot. This last physical impediment was kept under wraps to keep the opposition from causing further damage.

At seasons-end, Selby had posted 14 goals and 13 assists in 61 games. These statistics and his overall performance enabled Selby to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.

When the Maple Leafs opened up at home on October 22, 1966, Selby was presented the Calder Trophy by the Honourable John P. Robarts, the Premier of Ontario. To make the moment more special, Selby's dad and a few work pals from a wholesale plumbing company named Cunningham & Hill were in Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the presentation.

While everything fell into place for Selby in year one, the same couldn't be said of year two in 1966-67. In the first six games, Toronto only earned one victory and in this stretch, Selby's production only reached one goal and one helper. Imlach's response to Selby's slow start was to demote him to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. Out west, Selby's season came to a crashing end on December 7, 1966. The Canucks battled San Diego that night and when Selby collided with defenceman Jimmy Watson, he emerged with a broken leg.

Coming off their surprise win in the 1967 Stanley Cup Final, the next order of business for Leaf management was the expansion draft. No longer on the Leafs radar screen, Selby was exposed to the six new NHL franchises and on June 6, 1967, was claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. Determined to show he belonged in the big-show, Selby rejuvenated his game in Philly. In 56 contests, he produced career highs for goals (15) and assists (15).

Over two seasons in Philadelphia, Selby competed in a total of 119 games and soon found himself on the move to several NHL destinations. In March 1969, the native of Kingston, Ontario, was traded back to Toronto. Then, on November 13, 1970, Selby was shipped to St. Louis for former Leaf defender Bobby Baun.

All along, Selby knew his time as a professional hockey player had a limited shelve-life. "As a third or fourth line player, I knew my career wasn't going to last that long. That's when I started going to university. I was helped by people like Carl Brewer. He provided me with some guidance." Ultimately, Selby became a teacher and enjoyed his post-hockey life working for the Toronto Board of Education.

To underscore the importance of preparing for the cold realities after retirement from the game, Selby revealed details of his hockey pensions. "I got thirty-two hundred a year from the National Hockey League. They increased the benefit and called it a gift and I receive an extra eight-thousand. Also, I receive another thousand from the WHA (World Hockey Association). That's all I receive from my hockey wars. I only played for ten years, but for players who depend on it (a hockey pension), they'd be in financial difficulty."

Early in 1971-72, St. Louis sent Selby to the minors to play for the Central Hockey League Kansas City Blues. In the summer of 1972, he decided to change his focus. "I had just accepted a job in Switzerland in August. I must have had my head in the sand as I knew nothing about the WHA. A friend of mine in Philadelphia called me and said there was a lawyer who could negotiate a deal for me in Ottawa."

Though the deal with Ottawa didn't materialize, Selby was signed by Quebec. "We started out in Quebec and "Rocket" Richard was the coach. He was so positive with the players. He was a good guy." However, Richard's time behind the bench didn't last long. "One night I was coming home and there was a moving van. "Rocket" and I lived in the same apartment building. The next day, I found out he had quit. Around two weeks later, I was shipped to the New England Whalers. I ended up playing with Tommy Webster and Terry Caffery. I had more fun than any other season and we won the Avco Cup (1973). For some reason, they traded me to the (Toronto) Toros."

He hung up his skates in 1974-75 after playing 17 games with the Toros.

Looking back to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, Brit Selby has fond memories. "It was exciting. Punch Imlach didn't inform me (about the Calder). A sports reporter from the Toronto Star, Red Burnett, phoned me and told me I won the Calder. They can't take it away and I'm proud of having the distinction of winning the Calder in 1965-66."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


For the past while, the 30 NHL teams have been busy preparing for the Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. The Knights general manager, George McPhee, will select one player from each club. On Sunday, the teams submitted their protected lists to the National Hockey League and the Knights. They will reveal their selections on Wednesday.

While the final make-up of a protected list is the responsibility of the general manager, he has a staff of thousands to assist him. In a way, it takes a village to run an NHL franchise. And this village includes assistant general managers, a senior advisor and a director of player evaluation to name a few. All those working in these positions contribute to evaluating the talent in their organizations. When an expansion draft takes place, their collective input is of major importance.

And when it comes to player evaluation, times certainly have changed. I came across this fascinating document that clearly drives this fact home.


It was prepared for Toronto Maple Leafs boss, Conn Smythe, by his assistant, Frank Selke. In his own handwriting, Selke provided Smythe with his evaluation of the players on the Leafs roster. Written on Maple Leaf Gardens stationary, the document contains numbers alongside each player, but there is no explanation as to the meaning or relevance of the figures.

 Although the document is not dated, there are a number of clues that help establish the 1935-36 season as the applicable period. For example, when writing about "King" Clancy, the Leafs assistant manager noted he "has very good since Hollett left." This refers to defenceman Flash Hollett, who was traded to the Boston Bruins on January 15, 1936. Another clue pertains to centre, Bill Thoms. "All things considered our best forward," Selke informed Smythe.

Looking at Thoms' entire body of work, there is little doubt that only the 1935-36 campaign would cause Selke to write such a glowing report of the Newmarket, Ontario native. Thoms' 23 goals in 48 games represented a career year for him and he would never come close to matching this number. Thoms and Charlie Conacher shared identical stats with both scoring 23 goals and 15 assists for 38 points. The only difference being that Conacher played in 44 contests. Selke wrote of Conacher "best forward in league with some bad nights."

Besides emphasizing a players hockey talent, Selke paid attention to work ethic. He revealed of Joe Primeau "he has done a lot of useful work." The 1935-36 season was Primeau's last year as a Maple Leaf before he hung-up his skates. As though looking towards the future, Selke compared second year pro, Bob Davidson, to Primeau. "Like Joe an honest worker doing his bit."

Selke wrote positive comments on several other Leafs. On Nick Metz he stated "at times looked like our best forward." Andy Blair, who usually played up the middle, took a turn as a defender in '35-'36 and his performance didn't go unnoticed by Selke. "Our best defenceman overall," Selke wrote of Blair.

One of the most critical reviews written by Frank Selke was of Red Horner. A rugged defenceman during his time in the National Hockey League, Horner's game was usually judged by his penalty-minutes. In 1935-36, Horner led the league in this category having spent 167-minutes in the penalty box. Horner's job was to protect his teammates when the opposition took physical liberties with them.  His high PIM was an indicator that Horner was up to the task. Unfortunately, Selke didn't elaborate when he wrote beside Horner's name that he "has had a disappointing year."

It is interesting to read Selke's evaluation of  Harvey "Busher" Jackson and his younger brother, Art Jackson. Selke knew his boss wasn't fond of Harvey Jackson's flamboyant lifestyle away from the rink, but in all likelihood this didn't influence Selke's scathing analysis as he observed that Jackson "has been very bad all year." It could be argued expectations were greater for Jackson since he was a proven veteran and First Team All-Star in 1932, 1934 and 1935. Also, his goal production dropped in half from the previous year. In 1934-35, Jackson connected for 22 goals and reached only 11 the next season. By contrast Selke offered this summary of Art Jackson's first full year with the Maple Leafs. "Started slowly improved steadily," Selke proclaimed of Jackson, who went on to win a Stanley Cup with Boston in 1941 and returned to the Leafs to capture his second Cup in 1945.

There were numerous circumstances that caused Selke to provide a reason for a players slip in performance. The most common one was injuries. "Wonderful form until injured," Selke explained of Hap Day. "Started brilliantly bad since injured," Selke noted of Pep Kelly. "Great work till hurt at Montreal fair sense," Selke declared of Buzz Boll. In the case of Frank Finnigan, who was in his thirteenth year in the NHL, Selke raised his age. Finnigan would turn 33 in July 1936. Still, Selke gave a fair appraisal of Finnigan's abilities as he described that he was "steady all the time has aged considerably."

All of the above makes this one amazing document.