The headline at the top of the column today is for my fellow “old-timers” who may well recall the quote I am alluding to. The reference is to former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who, of course, left his office unceremoniously after the Watergate scandal in the mid 1970s.
Nixon had been the Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. He lost an incredibly close Presidential race against Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. He then ran unsuccessfully for Governor of California in 1962. Feeling he had been mistreated by the media for many years, he rather caustically made the famous statement that, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore…” when he announced he was stepping down from politics after his defeat in '62.
Nixon did indeed return to the political world a few years later. (By all means correct any facts I may have wrong—I was pretty young in the early 60s…)
It’s always too easy to criticize someone when they are down, so I have little inclination to join all the voices abusing Columbus GM Scott Howson today, in the wake of the Rick Nash to New York trade.
I’ll simply make a couple of observations, from a Columbus perspective (at least as I perceive things, albeit from a distance...).
- They were heavily restricted by Nash’s conflicting demands: he wanted “out”, yet he only was willing to go to a few markets.
- Nash was unwilling, evidently, to play in Canada, where the offers might have been better (we’ll never know…).
- Columbus picked up nice pieces but there was not a single exciting player for the Jackets (or what’s left of their fan base) to rally around. While this was seemingly the “best” they could achieve, it had to be a disappointment for all concerned—ownership, Howson, the players and fans. They seemingly could have made this same deal back at the deadline.
- Howson critics say he "threw Nash under the bus" back around the trade deadline. I don't know enough about the details to comment, but wasn't Nash the guy (while already making huge dollars, and having not that long ago proclaimed he wanted to be in Columbus) who said he wanted out? But then told the Jackets he would only play in certain markets?
- How much longer will Columbus be an NHL franchise? How much longer will people want to go to games? Unless Mason rebounds in a big way, they have no goalie to hang their hat on. No superstar on defense and now, a bunch of no-name forwards. Who wants to sign and play in Columbus, unless you’re a fringe player just happy to have an NHL job? It’s joo bad.
From a Maple Leaf perspective, it would appear that Toronto was never in the chase. Could they have offered a better deal than New York? Would they have? I would have liked to see Nash here, but I understand the reluctance on the part of many Leaf supporters to part with anything substantial. I guess seeing the modest price New York paid—and their not having to give up a single one of their high-end roster players or even prospects—is sobering for a lot of NHL GM’s looking to move name players, including Bob Murray in Anaheim and Mike Gillis in Vancouver.
The new CBA and everything that entails seems to be sending a chill. Hockey deals are hard to make, eh?
I couldn’t help but think back to a former Leaf great when I heard about the Nash deal on Monday afternoon. You know, big, talented winger, who can score goals—a true power forward.
The Leaf was Frank Mahovlich (shown at right in early 1960s action against the Habs and goalie Charlie Hodge...). The trade I’m referring to, though, is not the shocker that sent him out of town in the first place. (That one saw him head to the Red Wings late in the 1967-’68 season; I’ve written on that Punch Imlach maneuver here before…). No, I’m thinking about how the Red Wings later flipped the “Big M” to the Habs for quantity, as the Jackets just did with Nash. (Again, I’m not suggesting the new Jackets aren’t good players. They are all nice pieces, just not the kind of players that will help a lousy team’s fans forget the one superstar player that the franchise has had…)
Mahovlich was a really good player for the Red Wings. He got away from Imlach’s overbearing and abrasive style of coaching, and thrived in the much more more laissez-faire environment in Detroit, where checking was a bit of a dirty word. The Wings in the late ‘60s were all about scoring goals.
They did sneak into the playoffs in the spring of 1970, though, as I’ve posted about here before, they were embarrassingly (intentionally?) bad on the last day of the 1969-'70 regular season. Detroit had partied so hard the night before after clinching their playoff spot, that when they arrived for the return engagement the next afternoon at Madison Square Garden, they could barely skate in the first period. In that famous contest, the Rangers scored 9 goals that day against the hapless and listless Red Wings. As a result of a peculiar tie-breaker rule (goals for) Montreal missed the playoffs. Detroit’s play was so bad, I remember that even some Montreal players commented that things didn’t look right that day. (For my part, I loathed the Habs, so I can’t say I was sad to see them finally miss the playoffs in my lifetime…)
In any event, I can’t recall if that had been the season Mahovlich scored 49 goals (one better than his earlier glorious season with the Maple Leafs back in 1960-’61, when he was chasing the then NHL record of 50 goals, established by Rocket Richard). But by the 1970-’71 season, the Wings had hired a new sheriff in town. Former Cornell college coach (I think it was Cornell, I may be wrong…) Ned Harkness took over behind the Wing bench, and all hell broke loose. He brought his “college ways” to a team filled with old guys like Delvecchio and Howe, who quietly shook their heads at Harkness’ approach. (Harkness was likely ahead of his time. In later years, Herb Brooks and Bob Johnson, similarly successful college coaches, had great success at the NHL level.)
But Harkness wanted guys like ex-Leaf Garry Unger, for example, to cut their hair and stuff. It was a mess. Ultimately, the Wings traded everything that wasn’t tied down, including Unger—and Frank Mahovlich.
Frank went to Montreal (like they needed another superstar at the time…). I better double check this, but in return, I think the Wings received journeyman Bill Collins, a hard-working winger, along with Guy Charron, a useful forward, and young sharpshooter Mickey Redmond. Redmond was a gifted offensive player with a great wrist shot, and he had 50-goal years on some terrible Detroit teams in the early-mid ‘70s.
But while Redmond had some eye-popping numbers, Mahovlich was the missing link (well, Ken Dryden helped) in helping the Habs win two more Stanley Cups. They had won four championships between 1965 and 1969, and with Mahovlich in tow, they captured two more—in 1971 and in the spring of 1973.
Mahovlich was simply outstanding—and I mean outstanding with a capital “O”—both years in the playoffs as the Habs knocked out the star-laden and seemingly unbeatable Boston Bruins of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in 1971, and then taking out everyone in their path in 1973. (Jean Beliveau was captain in ’71, retiring after that Cup victory; Henri Richard captained the ’73 squad…)
Mahovlich played out his career in the comfort and stress-free environment of the WHA. But I will never forget the trade that sent him to Montreal. He was brilliant with the Habs, and for my money, he maybe played even better and more free-wheeling—and anxiety- free—than he ever did with the Leafs.
If Nash helps the Rangers win the Cup a couple of times in the next few years, I’m sure Il be thinking about the Big M again.
Meanwhile, for those of us with Leaf dreams, I guess wel’ll have to move on to the next big thing—or as many have posted here in recent days, wait patiently for the kids to deliver!