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Selecting the best NHL “All-Star” team—versus the Leafs—in the 1960s

 Until 1968-‘69, the NHL All-Star game was traditionally played between the previous season’s Stanley Cup champion and a group of selected All-Stars.

The game, as I recall, was played just before the regular season was to begin and acted as the official kick-off to the new NHL season.

During the 1967-’68 season, the Leafs played the last such game, but it was in the middle of the season. (I think Leaf forward Mike Walton had a brief scuffle with Gordie Howe in that one, but that’s a story for another day.)

Since that time, the league has tried different All-Star game formats, most of them unappealing to the fans—no checking and scores like 13-9. It’s tough to have a rooting interest when there is no real East-West rivalry.

Recalling the previous approach (the Stanley Cup winner from the previous spring playing against the rest of the league’s best) got me thinking about the old format and the great Leaf teams that won those 4 Cups in the ‘60s.

Who, I thought, would be on a 1960s “all-star” team—if you excluded the Leafs?

 To determine this, I tried to think of who were the best overall performers at their position specifically in the decade of the ‘60s. Now, someone who had a great career in the ‘50s but whose play was not as stellar as his career wound down in the ‘60s (former Montreal great Doug Harvey comes to mind) might not be on the list. Bobby Clarke, on the other hand, only played briefly in the ‘60s and wasn’t seriously considered for this list, but would likely make my ‘70s list. (I’ll cover the ‘70s and ‘80s in separate posts at a later date.) Jean Ratelle, a great center, did not begin to dominate until the late ‘60s so he doesn’t make it here but may make my ‘70s squad, for example.

 One other aspect of the selection criteria: they may have played for the Leafs, but they had to have primarily played for other teams.

 I’ve selected 20 players—2 goalies, 6 defenseman, and 12 forwards. I’m NOT following the modern-day “top 6, bottom 6” thinking (i.e. offensive guys versus checkers and grinders and classic 4th line guys); rather, I focused on the best overall, all-around players at their positions that I can remember watching. You can imagine it’s not easy paring down the best players of the entire decade (albeit excluding the Leafs) to only 20 players.

 But here goes:

• Glenn Hall
• Gump Worsley

Honorable mention
• Terry Sawchuk (based on his play with the Red Wings in the early ‘60s)

 • Harry Howell
• Bobby Orr
• Pierre Pilote
• J.C. Tremblay
• Jacques Laperierre
• Bill Gadsby

Honorable mention
 • Leo Boivin
• Marcel Pronovost (based on his play with the Red Wings in the early ‘60s)

• Stan Mikita
• Jean Beliveau
• Alex Delvecchio
• Henri Richard

  Honorable mention
• Norm Ullman, based on his play with the Wings before being traded to Toronto at the end of the 1967-’68 season

 Right wing
 • Gordie Howe
• Claude Provost
• Yvan Cournoyer
• Kenny Wharram

 Honorable mention
• Rod Gilbert

Left wing
• Bobby Hull
• Johnny Bucyk
• Gilles Tremblay
• Dean Prentice

Honorable mention
• John Ferguson

 These selections are my choices based on my memories of watching all of those individuals play in the 1960s. As I mentioned, many of their careers began in the 1950s and/or continued into the 1970s. These kinds of all-time all-star “teams” are never perfect, and those who loved hockey in that era will have their own opinions. That’s the fun in doing this.

  I look forward to your comments.

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