THE GREAT EXPANSION, VOL 2

The expansion draft of 1967 allowed 6 American cities to gain entry into the NHL. However, the final rules were punishing for the new clubs.

Sam Pollock was General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens on expansion draft day. 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.

The first modern 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 and set about putting together a plan that would be approved by the board of governors and allow Montreal to retain all of the top flight talent procured over years of painstaking procurement.

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 Tkaczuk. A full list (or close to) is available in volume one of this series.

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 (courtesy Montreal Gazette, June 5, 1967): those who played pro hockey for the first time in 66-67 are exempt from being drafted until the eastern (established) clubs have 2 goalies and 18 other players on their list. Hence the Canadiens do not have to protect rookie Rogie Vachon until they’ve lost a goalie, or players such as Bob Lemieux, Carol Vadnais, Serge Savard and Danny Grant until they are nearing completion of the 18-man roster. 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 all of their veterans and all but one of their first year pro’s.

GOALIES ROUND ONE  
6 Oakland Charlie Hodge MON (1) Rogie Vachon (2)
GOALIES ROUND TWO
8 Minnesota Gary Bauman MON (2) No pullback
SKATERS ROUND THREE
13 Minnesota Dave Balon MON (3) Claude Larose (12)
16 Los Angeles Gord Labossiere MON (4) No pullback
18 St. Louis Jimmy Roberts MON (5) Claude Provost (13)
SKATERS ROUND FOUR
24 Minnesota Noel Picard MON (6) Dick Duff (14)
  SKATERS ROUND SIX
32 Minnesota Jean Guy Talbot MON (7) No pullback
  SKATERS ROUND SEVEN
39 Philadelphia Leon Rochefort MON (8) No pullback
SKATERS ROUND NINE
52 Pittsburgh Keith McCreary MON (9) No pullback
53 Oakland Joe Szura MON (10) Carol Vadnais (15)
SKATERS ROUND TEN
57 Philadelphia Garry Peters MON (11) Serge Savard (16)
59 Oakland Bob Lemieux MON (12) Danny Grant (17)
SKATERS ROUND ELEVEN
61 Los Angeles Howie Hughes MON (13) Jacques Lemaire (18)

It took me years–over a decade to figure this out. It was not until newspapers like the Montreal Gazette came available online that I could piece it all together.

Some of the very best players available in the expansion draft were in this little corridor of talent and were on the Habs list. The Pollock rule allowed Montreal to protect all of their blue chip prospects before they were exposed to the draft after selecting 18 skaters and 2 goalies (specifically designed to keep Vachon).

Did other teams benefit? Yes. I’ll give you the list for each team as we look at their draft strategy. However, no team benefited like Montreal, the team Sam Pollock represented in the draft transaction.

I don’t believe there’s a reasonable argument against the following statement: faced with the prospect of losing some of his quality NHL veterans (Provost, Duff) and exceptional youth (Larose, Vachon, Vadnais, Savard, Grant, Lemaire), Pollock created a scenario where he could keep most or all and stay within the rules by making his own rules. NONE of the other NHL teams needed that kind of protection–none of them had the same level of talent available from the first year pro’s.

The NHL–through its entire history–has left itself open to this kind of criticism simply because there are no checks and balances. Pollock was given the job of creating the expansion rules because the 6 original six owners agreed he was the best man available. Not a board of six men–one from each team–but someone who could benefit directly from tinkering with the original framework (1 goalie and 8 skaters) and steer the course of the league from the desk in his office.

Pollock had effectively hijacked the expansion draft via filthy rules placed by him, but he further cooked the books by trading with the Minnesota North Stars on draft day. Pollock had suggested to the NHL board of governors (basically Clarence Campbell and a few other grey hairs) that the expansion teams be restricted from trading their future draft picks. Pollock–in a rare moment of generosity–told the board that each new team would need to use the universal draft and trading picks would be a disaster. The owners balked, and then Pollock moved in.

Before the draft, Pollock identified Minnesota’s Wren Blair as someone he could do business with to get what he wanted that day. Blair agreed to take a player not named Claude Larose (they took a veteran journeyman winger named Dave Balon) in exchange for various minor league and fringe NHL players.

A visual aid may be in order here. The list clipped from the Regina Leader Post (June 7, 1967) shows the pullbacks in order (man, that’s a helluva list) and then a large number of pullbacks with ‘x’s’ to denote they had been traded.

The trade by Montreal and Minnesota–in order to stay away from Larose and choose a player the Habs were willing to offload, went like this:

  • Montreal trades C Andre Boudrias, L Bob Charlebois and Bernard Cote to the North Stars for Minnesota’s 1st rd pick in 1971 (it was #7 overall).

Boudrias was an undersized but skilled C who ended up having a solid career but was not long for Minnesota.

Pollock’s opinion of the expansion teams is perhaps best expressed by this quote from Frank Selke Jr (at the time GM of the Oakland Seals) in the book BEHIND THE MOVES:

  • Selke Jr: Sam Pollock offered me Carol Vadnais before the 1968 Intra-League draft (note: this was one year after the expansion draft we’re discussing here). He was playing for Sam in the minor leagues. Sam said “I can leave him off the protected list on the proviso that when I want him back, whether it is next year or two years or what, I get him.” Bill Torrey and I were together at this time and we figured ‘how can we lose?’ So we said “sure, we’ll take him, Sam.” So we got Carol and he played like gangbusters. Sam comes to us at the end of the year and says “I can use him now.” I said “well Sam, we can’t just return him. We’ve got to get something for him. He’s our best player, he’s what we’re selling in Oakland.”
  • Selke Jr continues: Well Sam was in our suite at the annual meetings and he’s……chewing on his tie……“well, what would you want?” “We’d need someone like Bobby Rousseau” “You can’t have Rousseau” “Well, we need somebody like this” “You can’t have that.” So then I said to Sam “Well I guess that being the case  you can’t have Carol.” Sam said “You made a deal!” I said “would you like me to go to Mr. Campbell and tell him that we colluded with you to hide a player?” He (Sam) said “you wouldn’t do that” and I said “well, I’d do it before I’d lose Vadnais.”
  • Selke Jr concludes: He got up and walked out and that was it, but those were the kinds of things Sam did.

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 teams 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 watching a 15-year romp to the Stanley by the Montreal Canadiens.

Up next: Punch Imlach belly flops the expansion draft and kills the farm system, with a giant assist to Stafford Smythe. Stay tuned.

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42 Responses to "THE GREAT EXPANSION, VOL 2"

  1. Dave Casselman says:

    One word: Fantastic!

  2. justDOit says:

    I love NHL history – another great one, LT.

    LT: Regarding that topic, I wonder if you could shed some light on something for me. My Dad, who is well into his 80s, has always talked about how the Habs always had an ufair advantage in that they were able to select players out of the Quebec leagues before any other club could.

    I’ve always attributed his statements to the fact that he has always hated the Habs, but is there any truth to it?

  3. Lowetide says:

    Dave: Thanks! Wait for the one on the Leafs!

    Bohologo: Thanks, and certainly. NHL owners and execs of the day deserved what they got. However, there’s more care taken in the average roto baseball league rules than the NHL showed then and today. Honestly, its just bloody crazy. I love hockey, the NHL is the best league on the planet.

    But the owners don’t deserve that mantle. None of them. They run the league like a Texaco on the highway. Assholes.

  4. Lowetide says:

    justDOit:
    I love NHL history – another great one, LT.

    LT: Regarding that topic, I wonder if you could shed some light on something for me. My Dad, who is well into his 80s, has always talked about how the Habs always had an ufair advantage in that they were able to select players out of the Quebec leagues before any other club could.

    I’ve always attributed his statements to the fact that he has always hated the Habs, but is there any truth to it?

    Oh yeah, for sure. Marc Tardif and Reggie Houle would be the best example, right at the top of the 1969 entry draft. Best description here:
    http://www.hockeydraftcentral.com/1969/69facts.html

    Quoting the link:
    Irregularities: Montreal had option to take first two French-Canadian players and used picks in place of regular picks in the first two rounds. There was no set number of rounds, but Original Six teams were not allowed to pick after the sixth round until all of the 1967 expansion teams had finished picking. Teams had the right to pass in any round, and the draft continued until all teams were done selecting.

  5. justDOit says:

    Lowetide,

    Thanks, LT. I guess the only thing I can really argue with my Dad, is his notion that the Oilers were the dirtiest team ever.

  6. spoiler says:

    I always remember Vadnais as a Bruin and then being a big chunk of that soul-crushing trade (little did I know that I would go through a bigger soul-crusher a decade later, followed by all my men getting Marlined out of town). Forgot that he came from SoCal and did not know of the intrigue behind his beach boy days.

    The Bernie Parent thing wouldn’t piss me off till a couple of years later, Best performance by a goalie in a playoffs that I have ever seen. He was killer in Showdown too, best netminder by a country mile.

  7. Lowetide says:

    spOILer: Until Hasek, I felt the best goaltending of my lifetime was Parent and Dryden during the 70s. Parent in the seasons Philly won the Stanley was as good as anyone ever imo.

  8. justDOit says:

    Love those Seals jerseys.

  9. spoiler says:

    Lowetide:
    spOILer: Until Hasek, I felt the best goaltending of my lifetime was Parent and Dryden during the 70s. Parent in the seasons Philly won the Stanley was as good as anyone ever imo.

    I’d agree with that–especially since you didn’t say “until Patrick Roy”. Could maybe throw Tretiak in there though.

  10. Lowetide says:

    Bohologo: Well, okay, but you still think Dryden is a pompous windbag, right?

    Oh God. I hated him since the Russians.

  11. gd says:

    This is one reason I will never understand why people think dynasties are good for a sport. Behind almost every dynasty I can think of there is a evil genius, who cares only about winning and not about the sport. Whether its Red Aurebach, the Yankees, Belichek or even Sather, they seem to exploit the fact they are more willing to do anything to win, and leave 75 percent of the sport worse off.

    I don’t know much about European soccer, but from here it seems silly that the same four teams are always at the top of the Premiership, and the rest seem to operate as glorified farm teams. I don’t know how anyone can be a fan of a team like Sunderland unless you are a mascocist.

    The one dynasty that seems pretty clean were the Islanders. They were the Rangers poor cousins, with little influence, and they appear to have just done 5 amazing years of drafting, having the right coach at the right time, and peaking right between the Habs of the 70s and the Oilers dynasty.

    Thanks LT for making me realize my youth of cheering against the Habs was basically setup to be cheering against the Harlam Globetrotters. I’m now retroactively hating my Hab fans friends and family even more.

  12. DSF says:

    Jeff Angus has an interesting look at which teams benefit or not because of a lockout:

    http://bit.ly/NTDKza

  13. justDOit says:

    gd,

    True, dynasties do nothing to help the league in general, although it can be argued that they are good for the media. Much like the super-rich, or big name celebrities, dynasty teams offer great stories for viewers/readers, whether they love or despise them, cheer them on or hope for a great fall.

    Having said that, I can’t fault the people behind them. If you’re not cheating (or at least looking for interesting ways to interpret the rules), you’re not trying. One of Sather’s tricks was flying in a Euro player at the end of the season for added depth. Like him or hate him, Sather was effective, as evidenced by the rule brought in to stop the late season additions.

  14. gd says:

    justDOit,

    I’ve always thought the only people who like dynasties are the media and fans of the particular team. I think the media like it, because it is easier and a bigger market to write a book about the 70s Habs than the 2006 Carolina Hurricane. Personally I have always enjoyed when leagues have parity and any team can win. My favourite baseball era was the 80s when teams like Kansas City and Montreal could compete with the Yankees, and I have really enjoyed the balance of the NHL in the post lockout period. I love seeing teams and their fans win a championship for the first time in a generation. (Except for the Maple Leafs, I am saving up for a three month Australia trip if there is ever a chance they might win a cup)

  15. justDOit says:

    gd,

    I had never thought of that before – the Leaves winning the cup would unleash a media tsunami unlike anything we’ve seen. Historical perspectives, ‘inside the Cup’ docs, and so on. You might want to make that trip to down-under 3 YEARS, if the unthinkable happens.

  16. stevezie says:

    I don’t understand the pullback rules at all, but I take some comfort that clearly most of the GMs at the time didn’t either.

  17. Lowetide says:

    I should have explained the pullback rule. Every time a team lost a player they could pull an eligible player back. Exceptions were rounds 2,4, 7, 8 and 9. for those rounds, when a team lost a player they had no pullback option.

  18. art vandelay says:

    Hard to believe NHL owners wouldn’t be worried about the integrity of the game.
    /crickets chirping

  19. Lucinius says:

    Always hated the Habs (and always will, same with the Leafs). Though the expansion draft was well before my time (17 years, in fact), I remember stories about it and other ‘dirt’ like it that my grandfather regaled me with as a kid. You have to appreciate the thirst for winning above all else, but it does make those personality types easy to hate.

    Slats was a great example of this. Especially as a coach he was outright ruthless in gaining any edge over an opposing team. I have no idea if they’re true, but my grandfather often explained about what Slats was pulling as a coach/gm to get a win while I was growing up. He hated the man, but admired the ability.

    Also, I’m with the others who’ve said it, but stuff like this is one of the big reasons why this place is my favourite, and first, stop for reading.

    Except the baseball talk. I’d rather watch paint dry while dying of thirst; I can appreciate the math and enjoyed playing the game, but watching it? Ugh.

  20. Spydyr says:

    Dryden may be a pompous windbag but his book The Game is one of the best ever books on hockey.

  21. RexLibris says:

    This is merely fantasy, I know, but I would have loved to see what Glen Sather (circa 1986) would have drawn up if the NHL had ever given him such carte blanche. (“No first round picks for teams whose cities’ names start with a ‘C’”, “teams can sign and import European talent as late as the 7th game of the SCF”, “players whose surname begins with a ‘G’ are sacrosanct”).

    Reading over this series I think it only makes more clear how incredibly fortunate the Oilers were to enter the NHL under often rapacious terms and retain much of their talent. Sometimes the myopic vision of the league’s caretakers can work for you, I guess.

  22. leadfarmer says:

    Bravo LT, (slow clap).

  23. vishcosity says:

    NHL Network (US listing):
    September 10, 6:00 AM (EST I think):
    A Day That Changed The Game: June 5, 1967 – Expansion of 1967-68 Season

    September 14, NHL Network (Canada)
    9:00 PM: A Day That Changed The Game: Expansion

    I’ve only ever seen the Curved Stick episode, I didn’t know it was part of a series until I looked at the listings today. I think these are the same episode of the same series, though I don’t really know.

    LT your ability to find new and interesting material has never ceased to amaze me. Thanks so much for what you do.

  24. Reg Dunlop says:

    RexLibris,

    Rex, I must disagree with your take that the oil retained much of their talent. Reclaimed players included Berry, Hughes, Sobchuk, Shmyr, Langevin, Siltanen and Michelleti while other WHA squads got to keep 4 players the oil only got to keep 3 as Bengt Gustafsson was ruled ineligable for protected status. Your original rapacious comment was accurate.

  25. Reg Dunlop says:

    Also, Rex, the only reason the oil kept Gretzky was because his rights were not owned by a NHL team as he was never drafted.

    Mr. Lowtide: with all due respect this slagging of the greatest sports franchise in history must stop. Any true hockey fan recognizes and admits Habs superiority. If you release your anger and admit to your envy you will be set free, free to marvel at le Bleu Blanc et Rouge.

  26. Lowetide says:

    Reg: That’ll be the day. :-)

  27. Lowetide says:

    I read the Game when it came out (I’m old), don’t recall much. Really 2 things: hurry up and wait, which is what he called flying into a city and then waiting for the next game, and then his ‘post no bills’ description of Toronto.

    I wouldn’t read it again, but don’t recall it being fabulous. On the other hand, his speech at the closing of MLG is actually still going.

  28. "Steve Smith" says:

    I’m violating my own rule against discussing politics here, but I found a fair bit to admire in Dryden’s 2006 Liberal leadership bid.

    (I am not a Liberal, and if I was Dryden would not have been my first choice in 2006. But still.)

  29. "Steve Smith" says:

    On the subject of his MLG speech still going, it was during the 2006 leadership race that the inimitable Paul Wells nicknamed Dryden “Treebeard” for his speaking style, in a blog post that was tragically lost in the great Maclean’s-Blog-Post-Loss of two-thousand-something. Regrettably, I don’t think it stuck.

  30. Lowetide says:

    treebeard. Damn, that’s good.

  31. D says:

    Lt,

    Reading how much Pollock rigged the expansion game in favour of the Habs can be infuriating. Didn’t the NHL try to shorthand the four WHA merger teams in 1979 as well? I’m so glad the Oilers came in and put a boot in everyone’s a**.

  32. Lowetide says:

    D: NHL screwed the WHA teams sideways, Winnipeg especially. Oilers got a break when (as mentioned correctly above) 99 was never drafted, but they still had to hold out and make Gretzky part of the deal (or not merge).

    Maybe I’ll do a WHA one after this expansion. What a nutty crew.

  33. D says:

    Looking forward to it LT. I hear the backroom dealings on the WHA expansion/merger were very interesting – including issues with the age of players for the draft, legalities surrounding the teams (I was told that technically, all four of the WHA teams legally folded, and then were granted an expansion slot by the NHL, and then re-established as new legal entities), etc. Can’t wait for your take on 1979 LT – I learned more in this article about 1967 than from any other sources prior.

  34. Lowetide says:

    One item I remember from 1979 that screwed the Oilers was the Gustafsson item (also mentioned above). Oilers planned and counted on having him at TC that fall, he might have even shown up. And then the league gives him to Washington.

  35. Reg Dunlop says:

    Sometimes a forward thinking GM can maneuver in ways that take time to make sense. For example, Sam Pollock identified Guy Lafleur as a future all-time great and did so years before his draft year. He started by accumulating 1st rounders for 1971(getting 2 extra) but then supplied veteran help to teams like Det, Minn, and LA to make sure the Golden Seals would finish below them. The end results, Montreal’s 1970 1st rounder to the Seals (they took Chris Odliefson) for the Seals 1971 1st rounder, a 1st overall because Pollock fed talent to the Seals competition, with which Montreal used to take Guy. Brilliant. So,please don’t hate the Canadiens organization for just being … better.

    Sometimes I wonder how the Pens managed to get the 2 most recent ‘franchise’ players, Lemieux and Crosby. Did they pull strings unknown or did they just get lucky? At any rate, if Sam Pollock was in charge they both would have been Habs.

  36. blackdog says:

    Fantastic work LT, just great.

    Man I hated the Habs growing up in the 70s. They never lost. Pollack was a stone cold killer though.

  37. Bruce McCurdy says:

    Wonderful work, LT, just a terrific read. Beautifully researched and argued.

    Lowetide: Every time a team lost a player they could pull an eligible player back. Exceptions were rounds 2,4, 7, 8 and 9. for those rounds, when a team lost a player they had no pullback option.

    2, 4, 7, 8, 9 is not exactly a logical sequence, I wonder if Pollock had specific pullbacks in mind at each interval. Surely he knew he’d run out of veterans worth protecting after a few go-rounds (Vachon, Larose, Provost, Duff) and wanted to leave enough dudes like Szura, Peters et al still available so that they would then be able to “pull back” their new pros like Vadnais, Savard, Grant and Lemaire in the late going. (All excellent players, two of them future HHoF). What would have happened to Lemaire had L.A. not claimed the immortal Howard Hughes in the 11th round?

    The whole thing was a masterstroke from Pollock’s perspective and a shit show from pretty much everyone else’s. Just leaves me nodding my head in agreement while shaking it in frustration at this statement:

    The NHL–through its entire history–has left itself open to this kind of criticism simply because there are no checks and balances.

  38. Dalton says:

    gd: The one dynasty that seems pretty clean were the Islanders. They were the Rangers poor cousins, with little influence, and they appear to have just done 5 amazing years of drafting, having the right coach at the right time, and peaking right between the Habs of the 70s and the Oilers dynasty.

    Step 1: Get you’ some Sutter brothers
    Step 2: Dynasty

  39. uni says:

    Reg Dunlop: Sometimes I wonder how the Pens managed to get the 2 most recent ‘franchise’ players, Lemieux and Crosby. Did they pull strings unknown or did they just get lucky? At any rate, if Sam Pollock was in charge they both would have been Habs.

    Sometimes I wonder how the Pens managed to get the 2 most recent ‘franchise’ players, Lemieux and Crosby. Did they pull strings unknown or did they just get lucky? At any rate, if Sam Pollock was in charge and he wrote the drafting rules and the lockout lottery rules and half the league (16 teams) were incredibly weak recent expansion teams they both would have been Habs.

    There fixed it for you.

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