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.

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