Pollock Tracer

In my newspaper this morning comes an article from Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette with regard to Sam Pollock’s passing. Fisher is that rarest of all things in hockey, a reporter who has asked questions that made his subject’s uncomfortable over his long career. He’s also a great writer, so it stands out when he quotes Clarence Campbell and does not take the time to get it right for history: “Despite the enormous input he had into the creation of what were deemed to be improvements, I’m not aware of a single situation where he (Sam Pollock) designed it for his own benefit.”

Not so quick there, Mr. Sky Shops.

The 1967 NHL Expansion Draft was a thing of beauty, rigged not only for the original 6 clubs but designed specifically for the Montreal Canadiens in order to protect their very best young players.

Let me explain. The 1967 NHL Expansion Draft consisted of 20 rounds, and took place on June 6, 1967. Pollock was the man in charge of putting together the draft rules (no conflict there!) and he did a wonderful job for Montreal that day. At first each of the established teams were going to be permitted to protect 8 skaters and 1 goalie, but the original 6 teams felt it was too harsh and they moved the bar to 11 skaters, 1 goalie, and any junior aged players signed the previous season. ALL of the NHL teams benefited from the junior age rule, Boston didn’t need to protect Derek Sanderson or Bobby Orr, Toronto had no need to protect Jim McKenny, New York didn’t have to find a slot for Billy Fairbairn or Walt Tkazcuk.

Montreal was still very vulnerable though, owing to the rich junior and minor league system they had built up over time (the Habs had two AHL teams and a couple in the old WHL they would send extra prospects to like the Seattle Totems) and Pollock came up with a plan that went like this: no player who had just completed his first year pro (and fell outside the “junior” rule) could be drafted until after the 10th round. This may be one of the smartest moves by a General Manager in the game’s history, and here’s why:

Because the Habs had such a deep and rich system, they were losing more than one player per round. So, whereas a team like Boston was unable to protect a HHOF goalie like Bernie Parent because the rules made it so, and Chicago was unable to pull back any of their kids because no one was drafting any of their players, Montreal was able to protect (in order) Carol Vadnais, Serge Savard, Danny Grant and Jacques Lemaire and run zero risk that they be exposed to any of the 6 incoming teams. Plus they kept all their veterans like Claude Larose (they made a deal with the North Stars so Dave Balon was taken first and sent Andre Boudrias and others over after the draft), Claude Provost (an outstanding two-way winger) and future HHOFer Dick Duff (although his qualifications for the Hall are once again called into question: he was exposed to the expansion draft at age 31!).

The list of fine young players given up in the 1967 Expansion Draft goes like this:

  • Boston: G Bernie Parent, LW JP Parise, LW Ted Irvine, RW Bill Goldsworthy, D Joe Watson
  • Chicago: D Ed Van Impe
  • Detroit: D Bob Wall, RW Real Lemieux
  • Montreal:
  • New York: D Rod Seiling
  • Toronto: LW Lowell MacDonald, RW Bill Flett, G Gary Smith

Mighty curious. Sam Pollock was a great General Manager, and I’m very sorry he has passed away. However, when we say things like Clarence Campbell did we’re re-writing history to make someone into something they are not, and changing the story after the fact.

Sam Pollock was a ruthless administrator who would stop at nothing to protect his empire: can anyone really argue with that? And further, would Sam Pollock argue with that?

I think he’d be proud of it. The culprit here is the NHL, who have time and again approached the game itself with little care and respect in terms of keeping things credible and fair. Giving Sam Pollock a pen and blank pages to fill in for the expansion rule book contributed directly to massive problems with expansion in many cities. It created the desperation that caused team’s like the Oakland Seals to send away their first round draft picks for Norm Ferguson and Ernie Hicke.

And it doomed 5 of the original 6 to a 15-year romp to the Stanley by the Montreal Canadiens. Put that in your column, Mr. Fisher.

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5 Responses to "Pollock Tracer"

  1. Nelson88 says:

    LT.

    one of your best on an already stellar resume. bravo zulu!

  2. D says:

    Dude – you are amazing!

  3. Art Vandelay says:

    You expect Mr. Burns to write objectively about the Habs? The guy was at Auriel Joliat’s first game.
    Not that I needed any reminding of why I hate the Habs, or the fact that the league was tilted in their favor for decades, but I appreciate that someone took the time to point out how the dead genius was playing with a stacked deck. Well done.

  4. Dennis says:

    The funny thing is, I read that this morning and I was like, “has LT lead me wrong.? I know he was wrong about the Pronger trade, for instance;) but I didn’t think he was wrong about Pollock hedging his bets.”

    Good job, LT

  5. Bruce says:

    (18 months later)

    LT: That’s a wonderful post, worthy of many more than 4 responses! Make it 5, with thanks for posting the link.

    Sam Pollock was a cut-throat son of a bitch. He also was the greatest general manager in NHL history, with no apologies for A —> B.

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