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As we wait for the Kaberle move, Vintage Leaf remembers the big Plante-Worsley trade of the summer of ’63

It’s summertime and while hockey is a twelve month of the year business, there is not much for most fans to get excited about these days. The Kovalchuk saga aside, we haven’t had that huge stunner of a trade that keeps hockey on the front page of the sports section.

Big trades have always been a fun part of hockey for fans. They build plenty of debate —and hope. Nowadays we tend to focus on the media hype surrounding trade deadline “day”, though the salary cap has dulled our enthusiasm somewhat.

But way back when, major deals were often taken care of in the summer, when GM’s felt bold and had the time required to fully assess roster needs and whether a shake-up was in order. In particular, I well remember the summer of 1963. It was a good time to be young and a Leaf fan. It was on the heels of two consecutive Cups (and little did we know there was even more to come). The deal I’m thinking about didn’t have to do with the Leafs, but it did impact them in a big way for years to come.

Here was the deal: Montreal sent six-time Vezina trophy winner Jacques Plante (pictured above with the Habs against Detroit, with Claude Provost, J.C. Tremblay and Jean-Guy Talbot in the background), with young forwards Phil Goyette and Donnie Marshall to the lowly New York Rangers for Gump Worsley, Dave Balon, Leon Rochefort and Len Ronson,.

Now, the trade of two future Hall-of-Fame goalies still in the relative prime of their careers was big enough in and of itself. (Can you imagine an in-his-prime Martin Brodeur being dealt for Roberto Luongo or Ryan Miller?) But Goyette and Marshall were also solid players who ended up helping the Rangers for years while Rochefort and Balon became useful, gritty forwards for Montreal who helped them win some Cups.

But the thing I remember most about the deal was comments and predictions Plante made after the trade was announced. He vented against his former team, saying the Habs had no leadership (though the highly-regarded Jean Beliveau was team captain) and the club wouldn’t even make the playoffs with Worsley (pictured at right in early '60s game action with the Rangers) as his replacement.

Both teams needed a shot in the arm at the time. Montreal was coming off three early playoff exists in a row (after five consecutive Stanley Cups); the Rangers had only made the playoffs twice in the previous several seasons. New York had former Montreal teammate Doug Harvey on the back end, along with All-Star Harry Howell, tough guy Lou Fontinato and a very young Jim Nielson. The Rangers also had had some solid forwards like Andy Bathgate, but overall were a small team with little offensive depth past the first two lines.

Montreal still had Beliveau, Richard and Backstrom in the middle, and were revamping their defense, relying on Talbot and youngsters like Tremblay and Jacques Laperriere.

Remarkably, both Worsley and Plante ended up spending a good part of the 1963-’64 season in the minor leagues. Plante started well, then faded behind a struggling Ranger squad that was still a few years away from being a solid team. Worsley actually lost his job to long-time Montreal back-up Charlie Hodge.

Plante’s career really went off the rails in 1964-’65. By then, he was in the AHL full-time and eventually retired. Amazingly, after years away from the game, he came back to play with the expansion St. Louis Blues in 1968-’69. He launched an inspiring comeback which took him to two Cup finals appearances with St. Louis. He then went on to play three more solid seasons in Toronto/Boston, followed by a stint in the WHA at the age of 45. While he never won another Cup after playing with those great Montreal teams in the 1950s, he had a second hockey life that was stunningly good after people like myself thought his career had ended on a sour note in the mid-‘60s.

Worsley never fully reclaimed his first-string status until the 1965 Stanley Cup finals, after he helped beat the three-time defending Cup champion Leafs in the semi-finals. Coach Toe Blake chose Worsley for Game 7 of the Montreal-Chicago final series and “Gumper”, as he was sometimes called, responded with a shutout. He was also instrumental in the Habs winning the Cup in 1966 against the Red Wings, after leading Montreal to a 4-game sweep of the Leafs earlier that spring.

Worsley was injured through much of the 1967 playoffs, but was magnificent in the famous Game 6 of the finals against Toronto, though the Leafs won 3-1.

In 1968 and ’69, Worsley again helped (with Rogie Vachon) backstop the Habs to back-to-back Cup championships, before being traded to Minnesota during the 1969-’70 season. There, he played until he was 42, including a great 6-game series against his old club, the Canadiens, in the playoffs in 1970-’71, though I recall that former Leaf and Hab Cesare Maniago was pretty much the top guy in goal for Minnesota at that point.

All in all, both guys started very slowly after the trade, but had many marvelous seasons after the shocking deal. Both were all-time greats, both were champions, traded for each other in one of the biggest—and most impactful—summertime deals in hockey history.

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