In the next instalment of our look back at some of the significant trades that have taken place at the NHL’s Annual Meetings, we focus on the September, 1952 session. This gathering of NHL brass would determine the direction and shape of the National Hockey League for the next 15 years. And just to make things more interesting, the Leafs and Blackhawks engaged in a blockbuster trade.
There were many unique things taking place at this meeting. It began on September 11, about three weeks earlier than usual. The business that was carried out ended up taking place over two separate meetings in different cities.
Hawks ownership / management switch
The September 11 meeting was held in Chicago and opened with major news about the ownership of the Blackhawk franchise. Bill Tobin, who was a shareholder and acted as president and general manager of the club on behalf of a group of shareholders that formed a majority, sold his interest in the team to the main group. He would stay, for the time being, as president.
The main group then sold their shares to James Norris Jr. and Arthur Wirtz. Norris was the son of James Norris Sr., who was the owner of the Detroit Red Wings. Norris Jr., Wirtz and brother Bruce Norris all worked for Norris Sr. with the Red Wings and all moved to the Chicago organization. The move was no surprise, as Norris Jr. was commonly known as the driving force behind the syndicate for whom Tobin had been working.
James Norris Jr. was named Chairman of the Board, while Wirtz took over as vice-president of the team, and was put in charge of the stadium operations. Bruce Norris’ title was not initially determined, but the story was that he was being groomed to take over from Tobin as general manager. Bruce would later succeed his father as owner of the Detroit Red Wings.
With the Norris family’s interests in NHL teams now becoming clearly defined, scribes around the league would often refer to the circuit as “the Norris House League.”
First NHL draft slated for October 3
In another decision that would define the focus of the annual meetings for years, the league adopted president Clarence Campbell’s proposal to hold a player draft before each season to strengthen the weaker teams and more evenly distribute player talent. The inaugural draft was to be held the first week in October when the NHL governors were to reconvene in Detroit.
Campbell’s proposal was not approved without considerable discussion. Some governors were vehemently opposed to the idea, while others felt that it was too generous to the league’s weak sisters. Campbell’s idea was for each team to submit a list of 16 players, including one goalkeeper, by the first of October every year. Teams could then take, for a $10,000 per player fee, as many players from the list as they felt they needed.
Toronto’s Conn Smythe led the opposition to Campbell’s plan. He lobbied successfully to have the limits changed so that clubs would protect 20 skaters and two goaltenders. Caveats were added that stipulated that a drafted player could not be traded, sold or otherwise moved by the drafting team for one year. If a drafting team wanted to get rid of a player, they had to first place the player on waivers, where he could be claimed by any other NHL for $7,500.
The draft was held on Sunday, October 3. No players changed clubs, as none of the teams felt that the list of players available was worth the $10,000 fee. Campbell was nonplussed about his project, which looked like a giant waste of time. He felt that the team executives were intimidated because there were far too many players available for choosing. He suggested that by increasing the number of players each team could protect, managers may be more inclined to find a bargain on the list.
Leafs net Lumley in blockbuster with Hawks
The Toronto – Chicago deal of September 11 was one of the biggest off-season deals of the past decade. The Leafs picked up goalie Harry Lumley, who was rated by many observers the second-best goaltender in the NHL. In order to convince Chicago general manager Bill Tobin to give up the pudgy netminder, Toronto owner Conn Smythe had to fork over four players. Going to the Blackhawks from the Leafs were defenceman Gus Mortson, centre Cal Gardner, goalie All Rollins and farm hand Ray Hannigan, who was with the Leaf farm club in Pittsburgh of the American Hockey League.
Lumley a veteran at only 25
At the time of the deal, Lumley was 25 and already a veteran of nearly eight NHL seasons. He began his career with the Red Wings in the 1943-44 season at age 17, playing two games and giving up 13 goals. He also appeared in one game for the Rangers, on loan from the Red Wings. He played one period in that game filling in for the injured Ken McAuley, and did not surrender a goal.
Lumley was dealt by Detroit to Chicago in July of 1950 in a huge nine-player exchange. It was a curious deal by the Wings, who couldn’t have been terribly unhappy with Lumley’s play. He was coming off a season where he led the NHL in wins with 33, and followed up with a Stanley Cup victory, winning eight of 14 playoff games, including three shutouts. Detroit officials claimed that Lumley was moved to make room for a youngster named Terry Sawchuk.
Lumley had a rough time behind a porous Chicago defence during his two seasons in the Windy City. Even though he was named to the NHL First All-star team in his second year, Lumley made it no secret that he would welcome a trade, especially to Toronto. After months of haggling, Smythe was finally able to pry Lumley loose when James Norris Jr. and friends took over the ownership of the team.
“Old Apple Cheeks” , as he was known by his team mates, played four seasons for a rebuilding Toronto club that was never able to achieve great success. He was sold back to Chicago, along with Eric Nesterenko, for $41,000 in May of 1956. He went immediately to Buffalo of the AHL, before resurfacing with the Boston Bruins for parts of three seasons between 1957 – 1960.
Traded Leafs popular but underachieving
The trade was described by one Toronto writer as dealing four Jacks for an Ace. Gus Mortson was a popular Maple Leaf, a six-year veteran of the team. Even though Smythe described him as a valued member of the Toronto club, there were stories of strained relations between Mortson and Smythe, and it was thought that Smythe had ulterior motives for moving the veteran defenceman.
Cal Gardner was the other full-time Maple Leaf skater sent to the Hawks in the deal. Gardner had originally been acquired from the New York Rangers as a replacement for the retiring Syl Apps in 1948. Gardner never attained the legendary status that Apps had enjoyed and had slumped during the 1951-52 season. That made him expendable as Smythe began to re-tool an underachieving club.
Rollins was a much-maligned netminder who was better than his record indicated. He had the misfortune of trying to replace Toronto’s goaltending icon Turk Broda. The native of Saskatchewan was not nearly as colourful nor as skilful as the flamboyant Broda, and Toronto fans never quite took to the tall, lanky westerner. Despite the fact he won the Vezina Trophy in 1951, Smythe never did have full faith in Rollins, using an out-of-shape and sharply declining Broda in goal for several playoff games.
Rollins played well for a weak Chicago team and was even named the winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1954. He played for Chicago until the 1956-57 season, after which he was replaced by Glenn Hall. Rollins left the NHL at that point, returning only briefly for a 10-game stint with the Rangers in 1959-60.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a couple of trades in the 1950’s that involved future Hall of Fame superstars.