THE GREAT EXPANSION VOL 3

For English Canada, the ‘poster boy’ for greatness in the 1960s was Frank Mahovlich. Big, strong, skilled and filled with a sense of wonder for the game. Even as a man, he was a big kid and played the game just that way. Frank Mahovlich–in English Canada–was a giant of the game.

In our continuing series on the 1967 expansion draft, we arrive at the Toronto Maple Leafs. The first two installments are here (covering the protected lists and rules) and here (covering the Habs and Sam Pollock’s mammoth tilting of the playing field).

In order to properly understand how badly Toronto screwed up the expansion draft, I think it might be wise to describe the organization as it stood in the spring of 1967. The Leafs won Stanley in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967–4 in 6 years–entering the draft and could have won more in the following years save for 4 things:

  • Pollock’s grand and public buggering of the league via his expansion rules.
  • Imlach’s insane protected and pullback list, which consisted of old men.
  • The Leafs sold the Rochester (AHL) franchise and their roster players.
  • The Leafs sold the Victoria Maple Leafs (WHL pro) franchise and their roster players.

Now this is in addition to the players lost via the expansion draft. So, an organization that enjoyed such incredible depth they could force a quality defenseman like Al Arbour into the minors for a long stretch of his career would now be reduced to a subpar original 6 squad.

How did the selling of Rochester and Victoria hurt? Well, its difficult to describe but an example might be the trade in May 1969 that saw Toronto send Rene Robert and Brad Selwood to Vancouver (WHL pro league) for Ron Ward. Ward was a player who would have been under the Toronto umbrella at the 1967 NHL expansion draft. The mind boggles in terms of how good this team might have been if not for internal madness.

The NHL would ultimately feature minor league teams who were supplied exclusively by the big league clubs; at this time however, a WHL pro team could have high quality players who were signed to a contract with that team–these men had no NHL parent team in their contract. Toronto’s minor league system was not as good as Montreal’s but it was large all the same. Here’s a quick description of their minor league teams in 1966-67:

  • Rochester Americans (AHL): This was a strong, strong minor league team. Had they gathered in an NHL expansion city in the fall of 1967 and played a big league schedule, it’s a very good bet the Amerks would have made the post-season. Led by Eddie Joyal and Al Arbour, 11 players from this team would be NHL regulars in 1967-68.
  • Victoria Maple Leafs (WHL): The league is long gone, which makes explaining it difficult. Suffice to say it was a small step down from the AHL but a strong league all the same. Victoria missed the playoffs in 66-67 but still managed to deliver 6 players to the NHL in 1967-68.
  • Tulsa Oilers (CPHL): The Central Professional Hockey League was designed as a feeder league for the AHL. 20-year olds fresh from junior who couldn’t handle the AHL pace would settle in here and proove themselves. Tulsa finished last, but did boast three players who would play in the NHL in 1967-68.

Below that, Toronto would also lend out players to various clubs in leagues like the IHL and EHL. This was during the ‘sponsorship’ era, so the Leafs also owned players on junior teams like Toronto Marlboros and London Nationals and were always a major sponsor of the Canadian National Team.

THE EXPANSION DRAFT WAS A DISASTER

Do you want to know how bad it was? I’ll show you. Below are the players Imlach ‘pulled back’ after the beginning of the expansion draft–followed by the men he let go. The games played total is all games after the expansion draft. Hold on to your hat.

IMLACH’S PULLBACKS

  1. Murray Oliver 597
  2. Allan Stanley 128
  3. George Armstrong 223
  4. Duane Rupp 365
  5. Darryl Sly 77
  6. Red Kelly 0
  7. Gerry Ehman 297
  8. Dick Gamble 0
  9. Don Cherry 0
  10. Norm Armstrong 0
  11. Bronco Horvath 0
  12. Les Duff 0
  13. Barry Watson 0
  14. Stan Smrke 0
  15. Milan Marcetta 54

Toronto’s fifteen pullbacks among skaters netted them 1,741 NHL games. I’d argue the Oliver pullback was the only good choice in the group.

SET FREE

  1. Bob Baun 362
  2. Kent Douglas 145
  3. Eddie Joyal 345
  4. Brit Selby 277
  5. Larry Jeffrey 122
  6. Al Arbour 231
  7. Don Blackburn 179
  8. Darryl Edestrand 455
  9. Terry Clancy 93
  10. Mike Corrigan 594
  11. Larry Keenan 232
  12. Autry Erickson 66
  13. Lowell MacDonald 460
  14. Bill Flett 689
  15. Mike Laughton 189

Toronto’s fifteen draft losses among skaters totalled 4,439 NHL games. You could argue–correctly–that the NHL games played by expansion picks would dwarf an established team, but none of the other NHL clubs protected so many guys who were at or near the end. It’s incredible, they pulled back Don Cherry but left Corrigan, MacDonald and Flett stay out there so long.

After the draft Toronto had no ability to cover for injuries among veterans aside from brand new pro’s and the old timey AHLers. So, beginning in 67-68 with Duane Rupp and Darryl Sly (AHL vets) plus Mike Pelyk and Jim McKenny (kids) Imlach was trying to plug holes behind the aged foundation of Tim Horton, Marcel Pronovost and Allan Stanley–all 36 or older on expansion draft day. If Imlach had kept Baun and Arbour, and found a way to keep MacDonald, Flett and Corrigan, Toronto’s fall 68-70 would have been much smaller and they could have contended.

Imlach would be gone as coach and GM about the time Allan Stanley told the Flyers he wasn’t coming back–spring 1969. Before ownership punted him, Imlach would create a fracture in the fanbase that continues to this day when he traded Frank Mahovlich. He’d return to create another one a decade later, this time using Darryl Sittler to kill Canada’s team once and for all time.

Holy hell what a disaster for Toronto.

Up next: in the moments before the expansion draft, two trades seal a dynasty.

Also in this series:

  • Part one: The protected lists and the ineligible players.
  • Part two: Pollock steals the 70s.

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24 Responses to "THE GREAT EXPANSION VOL 3"

  1. Mr DeBakey says:

    I was a Leaves fan in those times.
    Yikes.

    The Central Professional Hockey League was designed as a feeder league for the AHL.

    Not to disagree, but my read on the AHL vs the CHL, is that the AHL was filled with NHL spare parts.
    The CHL was the prospects league – the blue chippers were run out against a more select pool [compared to junior] of similar-aged players.

    It was a U23 league with each team allowed a few older guys.

    The WHA really went after the older CHL guys as depth players when they started hiring – Ross Perkins to the Oilers for example. He’d led Ft Worth in scoring the previous season.

  2. Lowetide says:

    Mr DeBakey:
    I was a Leaves fan in those times.
    Yikes.

    The Central Professional Hockey League was designed as a feeder league for the AHL.

    Not to disagree, but my read on the AHL vs the CHL, is that the AHL was filled with NHL spare parts.
    The CHL was the prospects league – the blue chippers were run out against a more select pool [compared to junior] of similar-aged players.

    It was a U23 league with each team allowed a few older guys.

    The WHA really went after the older CHL guys as depth players when they started hiring – Ross Perkins to the Oilers for example.He’d led Ft Worth in scoring the previous season.

    He was 24, though. The original CPHL was as you say an U23 league with one or two ‘veterans’ on each roster as mentors. A few kids skipped the AHL, but most of these guys were selected to play in the CPHL because the more veteran AHL would not have afforded them a regular position.

  3. blackdog says:

    Why did they dump the two minor league teams LT? Just a cash grab?

    And in terms of the lists of protected and unprotected, was there a lot of politics involved there do you think? Or were these just the guys Imlach legitimately thought were his guys?

  4. Lowetide says:

    blackdog:
    Why did they dump the two minor league teams LT? Just a cash grab?

    And in terms of the lists of protected and unprotected, was there a lot of politics involved there do you think? Or were these just the guys Imlach legitimately thought were his guys?

    Pure cash grab, Imlach’s book makes it clear (Hockey is a Battle). In the same book, he makes it clear that he felt a need to stay loyal to guys like Stanley and Pronovost. Stafford smythe and the other members of the Leafs hockey committee argued with him at length–Imlach lost a battle over Mike Walton who they protected over Baun–but the overall list was Imlach’s.

  5. russ99 says:

    Good stuff LT…

    Maybe for the next series you could go into the Gund brothers running both the Seals/Barons and North Stars into the ground then getting sweetheart terms with the Sharks dispersal/expansion draft, then overexpansion to add the Wild back to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

  6. pboy says:

    blackdog,

    I can’t remember which book I read it in but everything Imlach did after 1966 was a cash grab. He owned parts of their other teams, so he would keep kids who were ready to make the big team down in the minors to inflate the value of those teams, then he sold out his shares. He passed it off as loyalty to his older players in Toronto but it was money in his pocket to make the minor teams as good as possible.

  7. wheatnoil says:

    I’m enjoying this series immensely. Excellent writing LT! I’ve been reading this blog for a couple years now and I’m continually impressed with the quality of material you produce on such an insanely regular basis. It’s much appreciated!

    I feel like the events surrounding this expansion series would make a great a) book and b) TV series.

  8. blackdog says:

    Thanks LT, PBoy

  9. Lowetide says:

    wheatnoil:
    I’m enjoying this series immensely. Excellent writing LT! I’ve been reading this blog for a couple years now and I’m continually impressed with the quality of material you produce on such an insanely regular basis. It’s much appreciated!

    I feel like the events surrounding this expansion series would make a great a) book and b) TV series.

    The 1967 expansion draft has been a passion of mine since childhood. The events in this post had an enormous impact on my life as a fan. As an example, we were a Leafs house–English Canada, non-Catholic. I’d still be a Leaf fan save for Imlach’s trading my Dad’s favorite player (Mahovlich) and then my Dad’s decreasing interest in the Leafs as a team.

    It allowed my passion (Bobby Orr) to flourish–you’ll find many guys my age who consider Bobby Orr pretty much the pinnacle–and by the time the Bruins won Stanley twice in the early 70s I was a Bruins fan. when the Big M won in Montreal, my Dad was happy about it.

    THAT would have been impossible just a few short years previous.

  10. Chunklets says:

    I just (like, yesterday) finished reading As the Puck Turns, the autobiography of Lionel Conacher’s son Brian. Brian was a Leaf in the mid-60s, and argues that Punch Imlach essentially set out to rid the team of players who sided with the newly-fledged NHLPA. Might that explain some of Imlach’s bizarre choices at the expansion draft?

    Conacher’s book, by the way, is a fun read. He’s nursed a deep and occasionally irritating grudge towards the NHL for a long time, but he also had a Forrest Gump-like habit of being on the scene in some capacity or other whenever anything interesting was happening in North American hockey for about 40 years. He also had an Oilers connection, as he was working for the team when the WHA-NHL merger occurred. Anyway, I’d recommend the book!

  11. Lowetide says:

    chunk: He kept Pulford in the expansion draft, Pulford was the first player’s rep iirc. He didn’t like Baun, who was the guy who told Howe he was screwing every player in the league at a legendary lunch.

  12. Chunklets says:

    Lowetide,

    Ah, I did not realize that. Perhaps Conacher is guilty of some selective memory – as I mentioned, he’s not entirely unbiased. Definitely a tumultuous period in the history of the game, and I’m very much enjoying your series about it!

  13. Lowetide says:

    Conacher is an interesting character. I wrote a thing inspired by him here.

    http://lowetide.ca/blog/2008/12/farm-workers-3.html

    The book referenced in that article is a brilliant one, available only in libraries (that I’ve ever seen).

  14. Chunklets says:

    I checked Amazon, just on a whim, and they have Hockey in Canada listed, but the link went to a self-help book on “how to regain your lost energy.” Nor does the local public library seem to have it. I shall have to hunt further afield!

    It’s Conacher’s contention, in his autobiography, that writing Hockey in Canada essentially got him blacklisted by Clarence Campbell and the NHL, to the point where the league was very unhappy about him doing colour commentary for the Summit Series.

  15. Lowetide says:

    He printed his Leafs contract, that was probably a no-no. I may have it somewhere, let me look.

  16. danny says:

    Hey guys. Just poured a drop of beer on the deck for the lost games.

    I highly recommend searching for the 1997 and 1998 Oil vs Stars/Avs series on youtube. The NHL network (canadianclassics) broadcasts are on there. Saw a link on HF (first visit since sugartits went to europe). Was a great way to spend an hour and see Weight / Cujo / Guerin / Marchant / Grier / Bobo et all

    It reallly was a jolt to see how amazing the russian tank was in the ’97 series. He was incredible. As was seeing Bob Bassen in beast mode.

    There was really something special about those Ron Low teams though. Hockey in general seemed to have more character and heart in those days. The clutching and grabbing just let me know they cared ;)

  17. Chunklets says:

    Gerta Rauss,

    Wonderful! Thank you!

  18. Doogie2K says:

    Just checked out the first three parts of this series, I’m loving the perspective it provides. With respect to this post in particular, it’s frankly shocking just how badly the Leafs botched this. I think you’ve actually undersold how stupid this was. They pulled back a career minor-league defenceman with one (1) NHL game to his credit, twelve years earlier, in Don Cherry. They pulled back the coach of the LA Kings, for Christ’s sake. I mean, wouldn’t Kelly have been sitting at the Kings’ draft table that day? What the hell, Punch?

    That said, I do think your (fully justified) anti-Pollock bias got in the way of things a tad when discussing the Habs’ French-Canadian priority rule in the comments of the last post:

    Lowetide: 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

    What isn’t noted here is that they are also the only examples. The Habs had priority in two eras: the 1930s (when the team was set to fold), and the 1960s (when Sam Pollock held the rest of the League spellbound somehow). Because all the good players had mostly been nabbed due to sponsorships already, the Canadiens got no meaningful NHL time out of any player taken in either era until that final year, 1969. (I think one of the kids from ’63 or ’65 got a cup of coffee in Boston after the Dryden deal, but don’t quote me on that.) As for those two, Houle was a career bottom-sixer in Montreal (minus a three-year stint in WHA Quebec’s top six), while Tardif buggered off to the Rebel League for good after four years.

    Obviously, it was a bullshit rule, and the fact that the Habs got very little out of it is somewhat beside the point. But for how often the Francophone priority rule is cited as part of the Habs’ post-expansion dominance, its role is vastly overstated, something this series itself proves. Hell, the manipulation of the 1971 Amateur Draft is a much more salient example of Pollock’s magnificent-bastardism.

  19. Chunklets says:

    Doogie2K,

    I think the third guy from the French-Canadian priority draft to make the NHL was the late Michel Plasse, a goalie picked in 1968. He actually ended up breaking into the league with the Blues, before having a journeyman career with 5 other teams, including a brief stint with the Habs.

  20. Lowetide says:

    I think Houle and Tardif were outstanding players and that might be our disconnect. Without Rik Jodzio Tardif probably has a plaque at the HOF and Houle was an exceptional 2-way winger who was an underalded part of that 1971 victory and played on the dream teams of the late 70s.

    Both had impact careers, no doubt in my mind.

    I can’t find the quote, but John Ferguson retired after the 1971 Cup, saying he knew it was over because a kid (Houle) was saving his ass every night and carrying the line.

  21. Mr DeBakey says:

    Without Rik Jodzio Tardif probably has a plaque at the HOF

    Starring Rick Jodzio
    Directed by Joe Crozier

    I’ve read Crozier’s comments on the treatment Ulf & Anders received in the WHA .
    If I had a Rocket Launcher…..

  22. Bruce McCurdy says:

    More great work, LT. This series is outstanding.

  23. Reg Dunlop says:

    Punch Imlach was one of the last true dictators. My favorite Punch story:
    Returning from a road trip, in the parking lot Punch can’t start his car, dead battery. Jim McKenny drives past Punch waving jumper cables out the window, laughing. Punch sent him down to Tulsa the next day.

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