TML Captains is a series that profiles the men who ‘wore the C’ for one of the NHL’s charter franchises. Previously featured were Hap Day, Charlie Conacher, Red Horner and Syl Apps. All profiles can be found here.
“Rugged” Robert Earl Davidson
#9, 10, 12 Left Wing
b: 10 Feb 1912, Toronto, ON
d: 26 Sep 1996, Toronto, ON
Among Maple Leaf captains, Bob Davidson is sometimes overlooked. He was not a star player like Hap Day or Charlie Conacher. He wasn’t a fighter who defended teammates like Red Horner. If not for World War II, he’d likely not have been named captain, because Syl Apps was already the leader of the team. Yet Bob Davidson was an integral and important part of the Maple Leaf organization for more than 40 years.
Davidson began playing junior level hockey in Toronto with the Toronto Canoe Club team and later the Toronto Marlboros before turning pro at age 22. He suited up for the Maple Leafs’ farm team, the IHL Syracuse Stars, in 1934-35, notching 16 points in 28 games and played another five games with the Leafs that season. He split time between the IHL and NHL again in 1935-36, playing 13 games in Syracuse and 35 with the Leafs (getting eight points). In 1936-37 he became a full-time Maple Leaf.
“Rugged Robert,” as he was sometimes known, played left wing. In his time with Toronto, the Leafs employed a number of offensively-gifted left wings, including Harvey “Busher” Jackson, Frank “Buzz” Boll, Dave “Sweeney” Schriner, Nick Metz and Gaye Stewart. Davidson would settle into a defensive forward’s role, using a “clutch-and-grab” style that made him one of the top defensive forwards of his era. He was often charged with covering some of the best in the game.
Davidson was a member of the 1941-42 Stanley Cup-winning Leafs that stormed back from a 3-0 series deficit against Detroit in the final. He won another Cup in 1944-45 as captain, filling in while Apps was away at war. Davidson was one of seven Leafs over the age of 30 by then and Bob led them against Montreal and Detroit to capture the second Cup in four seasons. It was during the war years that Davidson enjoyed his best NHL totals, in part because so many players were serving in the military. His career year was 1943-44, in which he scored 19 goals and 47 points. Unfortunately, despite Davidson’s best efforts, the Leafs could not completely contain “Rocket” Richard and the Habs, who eliminated them that year in the semi-finals.
Bob retired from playing in 1945-46. He moved to coach the Marlboros, then coached in the AHL with Pittsburgh Hornets (a Toronto farm team) and St. Louis Flyers. But by 1951, he was made chief scout with the Maple Leafs. In those days, under the old “sponsored team” system, Davidson was responsible for, or at least played a major role in, developing and building the Toronto Marlboro and St. Mike’s Major hockey programs. As such, Bob had likely scouted and helped develop many players who comprised the Leaf dynasty of the 1960s, including George Armstrong, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Bob Baun, Bob Pulford, Ron Ellis and Tim Horton.
Davidson remained with the Leafs as chief scout and director of player personnel until he was made victim of one of Harold Ballard’s famous stunts. Ballard was often erratic, making management decisions haphazardly, and often implementing those decisions in ways that he hoped would disguise his intentions. Shortly before Christmas 1978, rather than fire his chief scout, Ballard decided he would allow Davidson to resign. To ensure he did, Ballard cut Davidson’s salary by two-thirds. After 44 years in the organization, Bob Davidson was so insulted, he did exactly what Ballard hoped; Davidson resigned his position.
In 1995, the Maple Leaf organization honoured Davidson with the J.P. Bickell Award. Bickell was a Toronto businessman who’d been part of the group that helped Smythe purchase the old Toronto St. Pats and create the Maple Leafs. The award is given by the board of directors “to a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization who performed with a very high standard of excellence over a single season or several years either on the ice as a player or within the executive office or a combination of both.” Certainly Bob Davidson was a deserving recipient of such an award, for over four decades of service to the Maple Leafs organization.
Awards (with Toronto)
Stanley Cup: 1941-42, 1944-45 (2)
J.P. Bickell Award: 1995 (1)