One thing we will never see again, ever, in professional sports, is what happened in 1967.
The National Hockey League doubled, overnight, the size of its entire league—from six teams to twelve teams.
Now, as Jean Beliveau told me when I had the opportunity to interview him in 1976, the NHL couldn’t stay where it was, if it wanted to be taken seriously. All the other major professional leagues—NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball—had expanded and grown.
So, the NHL, with Clarence Campbell as its President, embarked on a bold initiative, even though the quality of play was clearly going to be diluted.
Keep in mind that, back in 1967, no Europeans (one, Ulf Sterner, had tried, earlier in the 1960s) were playing in North America. There was one American-born player in the entire NHL. Canada was now going to be feeding 12 teams, so while there were some excellent players not getting a chance in the 6-team league; it was not possible for 12 teams to suddenly fill their rosters with NHL-caliber talent.
However, when the NHL expanded to twelve teams in the fall of 1967, the good news from the players’ perspective is that it obviously created dozens of new jobs for individuals who may otherwise have been buried in the minors forever in the old “Original Six” set-up.
I can’t remember the exact regulations at the time, but I think each team was allowed to protect 11 skaters and 1 goalie for the expansion draft, and then pull back a player each time someone on their roster was selected by an expansion team.
A number of former Leafs (some who were regulars on the roster, others who bounded back and forth to the minors) found a life in the expanded NHL, either in that very first year of expansion, or shortly thereafter. Here are a few names that come to mind (readers may be able to add others):
1964 playoff hero Bobby Baun (pictured at right) was selected by Oakland and was their captain in that first year. He was later traded to Detroit and re-united with Carl Brewer (who came out of retirement to play for Detroit, then St. Louis). Eventually, Baun returned to Toronto during the 1970-’71 season. An injury ended his career somewhat prematurely two seasons later.
Playmaking center Billy Harris, a part of 3 Stanley Cup teams, played briefly for Oakland, too, as well as the Penguins. He had earlier been traded to the Red Wings, but he never found a comfort zone like had all those years in Toronto.
Tim Horton played with the Leafs until the middle of the 1969-’70 season, but ended his career with the Buffalo Sabres.
After years going up and down between Toronto and Rochester, shot-blocking specialist Al Arbour, a rarity because he wore glasses while playing, found a home as the eventual captain of the St. Louis Blues.
Kent Douglas, a rookie of the year in 1963 with Toronto, played in Oakland.
Wally Boyer played center for Toronto in 1965, and had some success in Pittsburgh.
Duane Rupp took Bob Baun’s place in the first year after expansion, but later played with Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
Former rookie-of-the year Brit Selby played with the Flyers before returning to Toronto.
Future Hall-of-Famer Terry Sawchuk was selected by Los Angeles in the expansion draft, and finished his career in New York with the Rangers.
Allan Stanley stayed with the Leafs in 1967-’68, but finished his career the next season in Philadelphia.
Bob Pulford played two more seasons with the Leafs after expansion, but retired an LA King.
John Brenneman, who played a fair bit with the Leafs in the 1966-’67 season, later played for Oakland.
Eddie Shack was traded to the bruins after the ’67 Cup win, then played with LA and Buffalo.
Larry Keenan, who played two games with Toronto in the early 1960s, later played with St. Louis, Buffalo and the Flyers.
Jim Morrison, who played for the Leafs in the 1950s, spent almost a decade in the minors before playing two solid seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Defenseman Darryl Sly played with Minnesota and Vancouver.
Mike Byers and J.P. Parise were Leafs briefly, in 1967-’68. Byers played with Philadelphia and L.A., while Parise starred with Minnesota and played for Team Canada in 1972.
Gerry Ehman who helped the Leafs win the ‘64 Cup, played several years with Oakland.
Orland Kurtenback, a Leaf in 1966, became captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
Marc Reaume was a Leaf in the late 1950s and like Morrison spent almost a decade in the minors after playing in the NHL. He was picked up by Vancouver when they joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1970-’71.
Larry Hillman, so stellar with the Leafs in the 1967 playoffs, later played for the Sabres and Flyers.
Bert Olmstead, who helped the Leafs in the Stanley Cup in 1962, coached Oakland in 1967-’68, while another ex-leaf, Larry Regan, was GM (and coach, for a time) of the LA Kings. Red Kelly, after an NHL career which included 8 Stanley Cups (four with Toronto) coached the Kings and later Pittsburgh and Toronto.
Not surprisingly, like every other Original Six team, a lot of ex-Leafs joined new teams when expansion came, or a season or so thereafter. Some—Stanley, Horton, Duff, Pulford and Sawchuk—were Hall-of-Famers, as were Olmstead and Kelly. That said, it would be hard to argue that expansion caused the dip in Leaf fortunes, as then General Manager Punch Imlach did have some youngsters like Ron Ellis, Mike Walton, Jim Pappin and several young defensemen in the pipeline ready to assume bigger roles with the club.
Unfortunately, every time the Leafs looked like they may be poised for a breakthrough in the years to come, something happened. The WHA combined with Harold Ballard’s thrift in the early ‘70s; the dominance of the Canadiens in the late ‘70s; the awful ‘80s; Wayne Gretzky’s high stick in 1993; losing to underdog Carolina in the 2002 semi-finals, their most recent shot at making it to the finals.
In any event, it’s interesting to look back at when the league expanded, and the players who had been Leafs, at least for a time—and where they ended up.