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Trade deadline frenzy: the summertime deal that won the 1967 Stanley Cup for the Leafs

Nowadays, it’s an annual happening: NHL teams make a big splash on trade “deadline” day, hoping that adding that extra piece of the puzzle will put them over the top and into Stanley Cup contention.

Sometimes it helps right away; sometimes it works down the road. (A few years ago, Ray Bourque helped the Avalanche win a Cup, the season after he joined them at the trade deadline.)

Then again, sometimes deadline-day deals backfire completely. You rent a player for a month, lose in the first round of the playoffs, and also give away top draft picks that may have helped down the road.

Some of the biggest and best trades, though, are consummated in the summer time, when fans’ minds are on other sports—such as baseball.

Some of the biggest moves I recall as a boy in the ‘60s did indeed occur in the summer time, while the sports media focused on other things. One that stands out from 1963 was the deal that sent Montreal great Jacques Plante to the Rangers along with Donnie Marshall and Phil Goyette. In return, the Canadiens received Gump Worsley, Dave Balon, Len Ronson and Leon Rochefort. Worsley won four Cups while with Montreal, though he struggled there for a while and actually pent time in the minors early on in his tenure with the club. I’ll write more about this deal another time.

After the 1967 playoffs, the Bruins made a move that built their franchise for a decade, acquiring Phil Esposito, Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris. Martin was a wonderful player for the Hawks, but Boston won 2 Cups largely because of that trade—and Bobby Orr, of course.

To me, the deal that made the 1967 Cup victory possible for the Maple Leafs was actually made not at the trade deadline in ’67 but in the summer of 1965. The Leafs sent veterans Andy Bathgate, Billy Harris and young Gary Jarrett to Detroit in return for Marcel Pronovost (pictured at right, in action for the Red Wings in the early 1960s against Bill Hay and the Black Hawks), Larry Jeffrey, Eddie Joyal, Lowell McDonald and Autrey Erickson.

There is no question that Bathgate had been a difference maker in the 1964 playoffs, after being acquired in a stunning deal in February of that year that sent popular Leafs Dickie Duff and Bob Nevin to the Rangers. He scored two huge goals in the ’64 finals against the Red Wings, including the game-winner in Game 7.

However, he was on the down side of his career as an impact player, though he had some decent offensive numbers in the early expansion years with Pittsburgh. He slumped badly in his time with the Red Wings and while the Wings made it to the finals in 1966, Bathgate really struggled in his two years in Detroit.

Harris had been a nice player with the Leafs for the better part of a decade, a player with slick stickhandling skills and a nice touch. For whatever reason, he never really fit in while with Detroit.

Nevertheless, Toronto gained some valuable pieces in that ’65 trade. While both McDonald and Joyal didn’t really play in Toronto and had their best years offensively with expansion teams years later, Pronovost was a major contributor to the ‘67 Cup victory. Early in his career, Pronovost and Red Kelly were two of the best offensive defensemen in all of hockey. Pronovost could rush the puck, but by the time he joined the Leafs, he was primarily a tough, smart, experienced, stay-at-home defenseman.

Paired with Larry Hillman, they were Toronto’s top defensive duo in the playoffs against both Chicago and Montreal in the spring of ‘67.

For his part, Jeffrey was never quite the offensive threat he had been in Detroit, but he played a role for Toronto that spring as well, an effective checker against a high-octane Chicago offense before he was injured in Game 6 of the semi-finals.

So while I have long felt the Leafs gave up too much in the original Bathgate trade (not only Duff and Nevin, both top forwards, but outstanding youngsters Arnie Brown and particularly Rod Seiling) GM Punch Imlach did win that last Cup, I believe, because of the Pronovost - Jeffrey acquisition.

While the Pronovost - Bathgate deal was considered significant but not earth shattering in its day, it nonetheless proved to be important for the Leafs. One can only hope the recent Phaneuf acquisition (much higher-profile, of course, in this media age) can help bring similar results in the years to come.

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