Terry Sawchuk – How the Maple Leafs Snagged the Hall of Fame Goalie

The following is one of our many posts written as if it were 1964, as the events unfolded.

It’s a slow hockey news day this 27th of September, 1964, so we thought we’d inform you of a little intrigue that took place at the NHL’s Intra-league draft during the annual June shin-dig in Montreal. Some astute maneuvering by Toronto Maple Leafs’ General Manager George (Punch) Imlach resulted in Toronto acquiring not one, but two veterans destined to be members of the Hockey Hall of Fame when their playing days are over – Terry Sawchuk and Dickie Moore. And what isn’t well-known, it might have been three, if NHL prexy Clarence Campbell hadn’t intervened.

Is Gump Worsley on the Move?

In the days leading up to the draft, which took place on the third day of the meetings, there was the usual speculation making the rounds about which players might be left unprotected by various teams and who might make a claim. The Montreal Canadiens were unhappy with goalie Gump Worsley‘s work in his first season with them and let it be known they would be amenable to trading the little fellow for any kind of warm body.

Bobby Hull tests Montreal goalie Gump Worsley (THW Archives)

They tried to peddle him to Detroit for Larry Jeffrey, but the Wings wouldn’t bite on that bait, so they turned their attention to Toronto. Imlach, knowing that Worsley would be available for a mere $20,000 if unprotected, wasn’t about to give up a live asset for him.

Leafs Wanted a Backup for Johnny Bower

The Leafs were looking at Worsley as a viable alternative if anything happened to Johnny Bower, who was coming off an outstanding season and playoff. Imlach wasn’t losing faith in Johnny, who is nearing his 40th birthday according to popular belief. He was just hedging his bets,  fully aware that goaltenders getting long in the tooth benefit greatly from a lighter workload. Worsley would presumably be the perfect man to provide just such a relief valve. Punch was not convinced that the incumbent backup, lefty Don Simmons, was going to be able to provide Stanley Cup-winning netminding on a prolonged basis.

Ageless Johnny Bower (THW Archives)

As draft day approached, the Leafs indicated they would protect Bower and young Gerry Cheevers as their two goaltenders, leaving Simmons available. Cheevers was a star at Rochester in the American Hockey League last season and although inconsistent, most scouts feel he has the stuff to be a pretty fair regular in the NHL when he matures. Imlach figured that the Rangers would take Simmons and the money he would receive for him could be spent on claiming Worsely. The Gumper would make a fine backup for Bower until young Cheevers was ready for prime time. Punch had already budgeted $20,000 for taking Dickie Moore from Montreal.

Punch Imlach – The Plan Unfolds…

When the draft finally did begin, it went off pretty much as most pundits had forecast. The New York Rangers opened festivities by claiming forward Jim Mikol from the Boston Bruins. Bruins’ GM Murray Patrick, brother of the Rangers GM Muzz Patrick, was livid with Muzz, claiming he had promised the Bruins that he would pass on Mikol if left unprotected. The Bruins had just acquired Mikol in the minor league draft the previous day. Most people felt that this slice of sibling rivalry would end up being the subject about which the day’s headlines would be written.

At Toronto’s slot, Imlach did the expected and called the name of Dickie Moore, selecting him from the Montreal list. To make room for Moore on Toronto’s protected list, the Leafs dropped forward Gerry (Tex) Ehman.

Dickie Moore with the Canadiens. (THW Archives)

This is where it started to get interesting as Imlach began pulling strings. Punch, you see, had calculated that the hard-working Ehman would subsequently be claimed by the Rangers. Imlach would then use the $20,000 he netted from Ehman to purchase Worsely in the next round. Taking Worsely would necessitate dropping young goaltender Cheevers, but Punch had that angle covered as well. He knew Detroit wanted to get younger and he also knew of the Wings’ interest in fine young Boston goalie George Gardner.

He reasoned that if Cheevers weren’t available, the Wings would have grab Gardner if they wanted another young netminder. So, once the Wings did that, he would be free to drop Cheevers, whom it was thought would not be a target of any other club. Detroit, however, didn’t grab Gardner in first round, opting instead for defenseman Gary Bergman of Montreal.

Gerry Cheevers (left) (THW Archives)

Serendipity can be a wonderful thing. Perhaps there were unseen forces at work, or maybe Punch just got lucky. Whatever it was, the Rangers threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the Leafs’ GM’s plans by not drafting Ehman as the second round opened. Imlach hadn’t considered this possibility and was briefly at a loss as to what course to follow next. Toronto President Stafford Smythe simply advised Punch “Wait and see what happens this round.”

Round 2 1964 Intra-League Draft

The second round progressed with Detroit making yet another skater selection, this time taking forward Murray Hall from Chicago. With one round to go, Imlach realized that if he took Worsely in round two, he would have to drop Cheevers and Detroit would probably grab him in round 3. Things started to come together in Punch’s mind. He decided if he didn’t take the Gumper, he could keep Cheevers, and the Wings would have to go for their young goaltender in round three, just before Toronto’s last pick. Imlach knew that if they took a young goalie, the only one available that was a worthwhile pick was Boston’s Gardner. If the Wings were to take Gardner, Punch knew they would have to drop a goalie, and he knew it wasn’t going to be Roger Crozier.

Round 3 – Terry Sawchuk on the Move

Round three unfolded exactly as the Leaf mentor had envisioned. The Red Wings GM Sid Abel, perhaps feeling confident that since Toronto hadn’t gone after Worsley they were no longer interested in a veteran puckstopper, decided to take a calculated risk. He took Gardner from Boston and dropped Sawchuk from his protected list. Abel barely had the words out of his mouth before a gleeful Imlach announced that Toronto was selecting the former all-star and Stanley Cup winner. Punch was free to drop Cheevers, since neither Chicago nor Montreal, picking after the Leafs, had room for the St. Catharines native. Terry Sawchuk was now a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower
Johnny Bower (right) and fellow Leaf Terry Sawchuk. (THW Archives)

Reaction around the room was swift and mainly unprintable. The only management type to go on record was Chicago’s coach Billy Reay.

If they wanted to go with Crozier, why didn’t they try and trade Sawchuk? They would have to have got something better than $20,000.

Abel, for his part, crowed about having two great young goaltenders. He denied reports that he already had a deal in place to obtain Worsely from Montreal. He dismissed that report by saying that he could have had Worsely for the draft price if he had wanted him. Sam Pollock, Montreal’s GM said that the Wings were going to go with young goaltenders to start the season, they would likely calling for a veteran goaltender around November. He would be more than happy to send Worsley to Detroit for Larry Jeffrey at that time.

Boom Boom Geoffrion?

And after all those shenanigans had taken place, Imlach had yet another gem he revealed post-draft. He had originally planned on drafting recently retired Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion from Montreal, along with Moore. Punch had a long-time affinity for the Boomer and had often vowed he would eventually pry him out of Montreal. Clarence Campbell got wind of the plan, apparently let slip by a Leaf official after a few cocktails on the eve of the draft. Campbell informed Leaf management that there were no provisions that would allow a team to draft a player who had filed voluntary retirement papers, so that if Toronto were to select Geoffrion, the pick, and the draft fee, would likely be wasted. It is thought that  Samuel Pollock was the little birdie that whispered Imlach’s plan into Campbell’s ear.

So as they say, two outa three ain’t bad. No matter how the 64-65 season unfolds for Toronto, it’s obvious that from the start, they will be solid in goal, thanks to the Machiavellian machinations of one George Imlach.


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