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Five teams passed on Allan Stanley; the Leafs won four Cups as a result

Leaf fans often bemoan the occasions when a player selected in the NHL entry draft after the Leafs make their selection turns out better than the player the Leafs chose.

In fairness, that happens to every team. Even in his Montreal “hey-day”, the man considered a hockey genius, Hab General Manager Sam Pollock, routinely “missed” on picks over the years. It’s the nature of the scouting process.

In the same way, every once in a while, a player is picked up or lost on waivers, and turns into a pretty fine NHL player. Sometimes a player is placed on waivers, no one picks him up, and he plays great hockey for the team that was ready to let him go.

Something along those lines happened to a Maple Leaf all-time great—Allan Stanley.

In my previous post I recommended a number of “vintage” games that are absolutely worth watching if you ever get the opportunity.

Well, last night, Leafs TV showed about two periods of the very first game of the 1958-’59 season (ex-Leaf star Tod Sloan scored twice against Johnny Bower in Bower’s first game as a Leaf).

What was also important about that game is that a future Hall-of-Famer, Stanley, made his debut with the Leafs.

Now, Stanley had been a decent defenseman with a few NHL teams to that point in his career, specifically Chicago, New York and Boston. But days before the season-opener, new Assistant-General Manager (they had no actual GM at the time) Punch Imlach traded Jim Morrison, a good offensive defenseman, for Stanley, more of a classic defender.

The Leafs lost on that opening night, and floundered in the first few weeks of the season. Imlach fired Billy Reay (read our earlier post on Grey Cup firing led to the ’62 Cup) as coach and ended up taking over himself. Reay had been an excellent NHL player, winning several Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. He later had an outstanding run as coach of the Black Hawks. But Reay was already coach when Imlach was hired, so he wasn’t Imlach’s “guy” and was an easy scapegoat when the team struggled in the early going.

In any event, that ’58-’59 the Leafs turned things around under Imlach, made an unbelievable run down the stretch to secure a playoff spot, and went all the way to the finals before losing in 5 games to Montreal.

Stanley (pictured in our story in action against Jean Beliveau in the late 1950s at the Montreal Forum) excelled in the playoffs, but that summer of 1959, when it came time for the intra-league draft, he was not protected by Imlach. Imlach had become the full-fledged GM, and was making all the personnel decisions. Imlach had a number of young defensemen he felt he needed to protect in the draft- Bobby Baun, Carl Brewer, Marc Reaume and the young veteran, Tim Horton. Stanley was already 33—considered pretty old at that time in the NHL.

Interestingly, perhaps amazingly, not one NHL team claimed Stanley. He had been, as I mentioned before, with three teams already in his career, and it’s likely he was seen as a journeyman—not a player with much upside and certainly not a future Hall-of-Famer.

Stanley went on to team with Horton as his defense partner for the next decade. In that time, as we all know, the Leafs won four Cups.

Stanley was several times an end-of-season NHL All-Star with Toronto in the 1960s, and he became one of the most dependable defensemen in hockey. (Perhaps he was just more recognized and appreciated in Toronto than he had been with other teams.) Without him, I doubt the Leafs would have won all four of those Cups.

And to think he was left unprotected after his first season with Toronto, available for a waiver fee of, in those days, probably a few hundred dollars.

The ever-shrewd Imlach was smart to obtain Stanley in the first place—and lucky that he didn’t lose him for next-to-nothing.

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