If you follow VLM at all you know that I have very little interest in rumours. By that I mean I don’t try to start them—there’s plenty of that happening elsewhere, and in many cases by reporters who have legitimate connections to NHL people who help start a lot of the speculation that gets cranked up. Also, I don't report on rumours or focus on them here.
But as we wait for (as I posted yesterday) that first Maple Leaf “shoe” to drop this summer—in terms of serious roster movement—I’ve been wanting to write about an olden-days summertime trade that really rocked the hockey world, but current Leaf intrigue keeps nudging me to write about what might happen this week, as opposed to something that happened 50 years ago. However, that "yesteryear" trade involved two of the best goalies of all-time, when they were still in their prime (I’ve no doubt written about that deal before, but hey, I’m getting older and I repeat myself a lot…) so I don't want to neglect a great old personal memory.
But before I get to that story, I do wonder what is going on right now in any Leaf-Vancouver negotiations about the much-discussed Roberto Luongo. It’s obvious teams that want Luongo are acting like they're doing Vancouver a favour by being willing to take his large salary off Gillis' hands, while offering only bad contracts in return. Meanwhile, the Vancouver GM himself wants actual useful (preferably young, I’m guessing) assets in return. In short, he wants a hockey trade, while his competitors, including Burke, are offering cap dumps.
If Toronto is in the mix, we’ll see who blinks first.
I’m just wondering if Gillis has asked for Reimer, a Western kid who is still under contract at a “reasonable” annual amount. Why do I mention Reimer? Well, he could serve as a back-up to Schneider while he regains his confidence without the pressure of fighting to be a number-one again in the Toronto spotlight.
Just a thought.
Just a thought.
In any event, whoever might go the other way, getting Luongo would be a huge deal for the Leafs. It’s not a move that I support, but many Leaf backers would dearly love to see it happen, because they feel Luongo would be an instant upgrade and would, at minimum, get the Leafs to the playoffs in the somewhat weak Eastern Conference.
But I’m not sure any deal (to any team) for the tall veteran netminder would shake the hockey world quite like the one that occurred in the summer of 1963. That off-season, the then ever-struggling New York Rangers sent Gump Worsley, a short, round but ultra-talented goaltender, to the Montreal Canadiens for many-time Vezina Trophy winner (and end-of-season All-Star), Jacques Plante.
It was, to say the least, a shocker. I remember it so well. I was a huge hockey fan and while it didn't involve the Leafs, I hated the Habs so, at the age of 10, I was keenly aware of the potential impact on both franchises (well, as much as a 10 year-old could be....)
Both teams wanted to shake things up. The Rangers likely looked at Worsley as a guy who, yes, faced a lot of rubber behind a bad defensive team, stopped tons of shots, but also a goalie who wasn't winning enough games for them. (I've included a great old picture above of Gordie Howe scoring his NHL record-tying 544th regular-season goal against Worsley in Detroit, early on in Worsley's first season with the Habs. Rocket Richard held the all-time record for career goals until Howe passed him. A quick side note- Worsley also gave up Howe's 500th and 600th regular-season NHL goals.) The Habs had come off three years in a row without a Cup, which, in those days, was hockey misery of massive proportions in hockey-mad Quebec.
The Rangers had only made the playoffs once in the previous half dozen or so years, and were looking to re-make the roster somewhat. The major pieces in the deal were indeed the two goalies, Plante and Worsley (seen at right in action with the Rangers at the old Madison Square Garden- that's Hall-of-Famer Harry Howell on the right), but the Rangers also acquired some skill in young forwards Donnie Marshall and Phil Goyette, while the Habs picked up a tough winger in Dave Balon and the similarly feisty Leon Rochefort.
Everyone involved in the deal were good players, but the real story was the swapping of the two goalies who were both on their way to the Hall-of Fame.
Ironically, both struggled at first after the trade. Worsley spent time in the minors while Charlie Hodge assumed the number-one mantle in Montreal for part of two seasons, while Plante started OK on Broadway but eventually ended up in the minors as well (Baltimore in the AHL, I believe) before retiring.
Plante had kind of worn out his welcome in Montreal. He was a sensitive soul, and a very proud and intelligent individual, by all accounts. Coach Toe Blake felt he couldn't count on Plante (left- that's Donnie Marshall on the far left of the picture) because of his mood swings and health issues. At first, Jacques welcomed the trade as a fresh start but he never really settled in well in New York. (After the big trade, he made some public comments that suggested the Rangers were a team on the rise, which they turned out to be, while the Habs were not. He was very wrong about that.) He left the game, seemingly for good, after two off and on seasons bouncing between New York and the minors.
Worsley also needed time to find his form with the Habs, but he ultimately did, helping to backstop them to Stanley Cups in 1965 and ‘66, and also in 1968 ad 1969, before finishing his career with the Minnesota North Stars.
For his part, Plante (shown with the Rangers at right) made a truly remarkable comeback after being away from the game for several seasons. In fact, after three full seasons away from the ice, he signed with the expansion St. Louis Blues and was marvelous for them for two seasons, teaming with the great former Chicago ‘keeper Glenn Hall to lead to the Blues to the Cup finals in 1969 and ’70.
Plante then was sold to and played for three seasons with the Leafs, and he was very, very good in his time here. Already in his 40s, he teamed with Bernie Parent for the last half of the 1970-’71 season with the Leafs and again in 1971-’72, both playoff seasons for the blue and white. They were a wonderful tandem—until the WHA lured Parent away.
Plante went on to play briefly with the Bruins (Jim Gregory traded him for a first round pick which was very smart; I think that turned out to be the talented but rather enigmatic Ian Turnbull…) and then in the WHA when he was 46 years old, which was amazing.
Both were incredibly successful goalkeepers. Plante was the refined, innovative, sensitive, “roaming” goalie who changed the game. He was the first guy to really leave the net, for example, and stop the puck behind the net for his defensemen. And we all know he “invented” the modern-era goalie mask, first wearing it in a game after being hit in the face by an Andy Bathgate slapshot in the fall of 1959.
Worsley, on the other hand, was the non-athlete (at least by appearance), a slightly overweight, beer-drinking goalie who refused to wear a mask until his years in Minnesota, when he was already into his 40s.
They were two generational players, truly great goalies—traded for one another in the summer of 1963. Will we ever see that kind of trade in the NHL again?
Well, I suppose if Luongo was traded for Tim Thomas, it would be close…..but it still wouldn’t quite be the same.