Red Wings’ “Terrible” Ted Lindsay: Honoring a Lasting Legacy

Ted Lindsay, one of the Detroit Red Wings’ all-time greats died on Monday, March 4, 2019. He was 93.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ President and former Red Wings player Brendan Shanahan said it well: “We used to walk by this photo in Olympia room at Joe Louis Arena every day. It served as inspiration and brought many of Ted’s stories to life. If they play pick-up hockey in heaven, I’d like to think everyone is nervously doing up their chinstraps today. You were a giant, Ted.”

Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel
‘The Production Line’ of Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay (THW Archives)

Lindsay was known as a viciously tough hockey player on the ice, but a wonderfully gracious person off the ice. He gained his nickname “Terrible Ted” because, in his day, he was a physical force. In fact, Lindsay was one of hockey’s great enforcers and villains – if you weren’t a Red Wings fan.

Ironically, Lindsay’s physical presence did not belie his actual physical size. In today’s hockey, he would have been diminutive. He was only 5-foot-8 and 163 pounds. But, my, was he a fierce competitor.

Lindsay’s Red Wings Legacy

Detroit Red Wings Ted Lindsay Stanley Cup
Detroit Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay hugs the Stanley Cup (AP Photo/File)

Lindsay spent 14 of his 17 seasons with the Red Wings. And, he helped the team win four Stanley Cups. In total, he played in 862 games, and he ranks sixth in Red Wings history with 335 goals and ninth in total points with 728.

Lindsay was one-third of the Red Wings’ historic “Production Line” during the 1950s, playing alongside Gordie Howe and Sid Abel. In 1966, Lindsay was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His No. 7 is one of only eight jerseys hanging from the rafters at Little Caesars Arena.

Lindsay and teammate Howe played a violent style of hockey. As a result, the duo was hated by opposing teams and their fans. One iconic Lindsay story occurred during the 1956 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Toronto Maple Leafs-Red Wings rivalry was at its peak.

During Game 3 in Toronto, after the Red Wings had won the first two games in Detroit, Lindsay and Howe were threatened by a Maple Leafs fan, who called local newspapers to boast that no one should “worry about Howe and Lindsay tonight. I’m going to shoot them.”

It didn’t scare Lindsay nor Howe, but it did scare Howe’s mother who heard of the threat back home in Saskatchewan. That upset Howe and teammate Lindsay. After falling behind 4-2, Howe scored to make it 4-3, then Lindsay scored two goals to win the game in overtime. But, that wasn’t the end of the story. After his overtime goal, Lindsay skated around the ice holding his stick like a machine gun making loud machine-gun noises.

Obviously, neither Howe nor Lindsay were intimidated.

Lindsay’s Player Association Legacy

Nor was Lindsay intimidated by ownership. Lindsay, with former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey, started the movement to form the NHL Player’s Association. It wasn’t an easy task. Lindsay filed an anti-trust lawsuit against NHL owners in the 1950s, but he stood firm that he didn’t want to change hockey. However, he did believe hockey players should have basic rights.

Lindsay’s support for players’ rights prompted Red Wings coach and general manager Jack Adams to strip him of his captaincy and trade him to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1957, the season after he collected a career-high 85 points.

Chicago Blackhawks Stan Mikita Detroit Red Wings' Ted Lindsay
Chicago Blackhawks Stan Mikita pulls away from Detroit Red Wings’ Ted Lindsay during an NHL game in Chicago, Feb.24, 1965. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP)

“Don’t ask me why I did it,” Lindsay declared. “I was one of the better hockey players in the world and I was having one of my best years as a Red Wing at the time. I felt a responsibility, because I saw fellows being sent down. The clubs could send you home — they could send me home — and they didn’t owe you five cents. That’s not right.”

Ownership hated him for that stand. That his own coach and general manager would weaken his own team by trading Lindsay to the Blackhawks shows the level of disdain and fear management had for a players’ union.

Current Red Wings senior vice-president and alternate governor Jimmy Devellano noted: Lindsay “never wanted to get traded to Chicago (in 1957); he was shuffled off to a poor team because he had the audacity to try to unionize the players.” Devellano added, “In those days, teams were run by dictatorship, you did what the general manager told you to do. Jack Adams ruled the roost. Ted was never comfortable in Chicago because he was a Red Wing at heart.”

According to a YouTube video tribute to Lindsay, the trade broke his heart. But he persisted, and the NHLPA was formed. In 2010, the NHLPA named its MVP trophy after Lindsay. Lindsay confessed, “I’ve never had a greater day in my life.” About the award, he believed it was a “beautiful thing” because the players voted for it themselves.

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Lindsay noted, “I’m very honored that they (players) are the ones who decide who wins my trophy. There are no politics involved. It tells you the whole story. Whoever wins it is entitled to it.”

Former NHL player Kelly Chase commented, “If you played in the NHL and you don’t fully understand what this man has done for your quality of life, then spend the rest of the day reading up on him please. Thank you Mr. Lindsay for caring about the players.”

Lindsay’s Legacy with Other Players

Fortunately, Lindsay was able to return to his beloved Red Wings. Although he left hockey after the 1959-60 season, he came back for one more season as a Red Wing in 1964 when asked to by his former linemate and then-Red Wings head coach Sid Abel. When he retired as a player, he never strayed far from the team. He became a TV commentator for a while, and became Red Wings’ general manager from 1977 to 1980 and interim coach in 1980-81. His return to the team came with the news “Aggressive hockey is back in town.”

Many players and coaches took time to reflect on their meetings with Lindsay over the years.

Current Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill noted, “What a great person, huge impact on me as a person.”

Red Wings star Dylan Larkin added, “He was someone that embodies everything it means to be a Red Wing, not only a player but a person.” Larkin remembered, “all the work he’s done through his charity, interaction with his fans, just a class act, someone I really looked up to and who paved a great path for guys like myself and other players to follow.”

Larkin noted his pride in joining the Ted Lindsay Foundation as a board member and spokesperson. The foundation was created in 2001 to fund research into a cure for autism and has raised more than $4 million. Larkin noted, “I’m really humbled and excited to carry on what he started and continue his legacy.”

A couple of good Northern Ontario boys – Gus Mortson and Ted Lindsay. (THW Archives)

Finally, Wayne Gretzky recalled, “‘Terrible Ted'” was one of the nicest men in hockey. Every player should be thankful for his courage to create the Players’ Association, which has grown into partnership between the players and owners of the NHL. He was a true champion on and off the ice and will be deeply missed.”

A Final Memory for Lindsay

Lindsay was a four-time Stanley Cup winner and part of one of the greatest forward lines in Red Wings’ and perhaps NHL history – the Production Line. But his largest legacy rests in what he did off the ice as an impetus for founding the National Hockey League’s Players Association (NHLPA). His commitment to players helped hockey become the game it has become and will help NHL players for generations to come.

Related: ‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe

Lindsay was aggressive, both off and on the ice. His statue resides in the concourse of Little Caesar’s Arena, and his jersey hangs in the arena’s rafters. He will be remembered and appreciated.

Hall of Famer Al MacInnis wraps up Lindsay’s contribution simply: “Had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lindsay last summer at the Hockey Hall of Fame. His contributions to the game, and to us as players, were beyond measure.”