Custom Search

Bob Nevin scored one of the biggest goals in Leaf history; they sure could use him now after loss in Tampa

We probably overuse the term “under-rated” in sports, but when talking about one-time Maple Leaf winger Bobby Nevin, the phrase fits.

Nevin joined the Leafs on a regular basis for the 1960-’61 season, earning a spot as one of only two rookies on the developing squad.  (Dave Keon was the other first-year player.)  Nevin scored 20 goals that season and could well have been the NHL’s rookie-of-the-year, but Keon won the honor. (We have included a great old Harold Barkley photo of Nevin in action against Montreal's Dickie Moore and Jean-Guy Talbot at Maple Leaf Gardens.)

Nevin’s career with the Leafs was relatively short, but he was a feature performer, despite his youth.  In today’s game, he may be a Kris Vertseeg-type of player—hard-working, smart, a good two-way player who can score, though Vertseeg has struggled in this regard lately and got caught way up ice on Tampa Bay's third goal in Tuesday night's loss. (Ron Ellis, who joined the Leafs a few years later, was in this category too, though he was a much faster skater than Nevin.)

In the 1962 Stanley Cup finals, the Leafs were leading the Chicago Black Hawks three games to two, heading back to Chicago for Game 6.  The game was scoreless until the third period, when Bobby Hull scored for Chicago.  The old Chicago Stadium, 20,000 strong, erupted and the game was delayed for several minutes while the ice was cleared of all the debris.

I was only 8 at the time, but I remember being so nervous watching that game, which started at 8:30 where I lived (across from Detroit).  So it was late, way past my bedtime, but I sure wasn’t going to bed.

The delay caused by Hull’s goal against Don Simmons, who was filling in for the injured Johnny Bower in the Toronto net, seemed to give the Leafs time to regain their composure.  Shortly thereafter Nevin scored on a wrist shot against future Hall-of-Famer Glenn Hall and the game was tied.  Dick Duff then scored the winner  late in the third period (with Dave Keon going to the net, which was an important thing to do fifty years ago, too) and the Leafs earned their first Stanley Cup since 1951.

It could certainly be argued that without Nevin’s critical tying goal in the madhouse that was Chicago Stadium that night, the Leafs would never have gone on to win those four Stanley Cups in the 1960s.

Nevin was his usual quiet but effective self the following season, helping the Leafs earn their second Cup in a row.  That 1962-’63 Leaf squad was one of the best Leaf teams of all time.  They needed only ten games in the two playoff series they played that spring to win the Cup.

The next season, when the team struggled past the mid-way point in the season, GM/Coach Punch Imlach sent Nevin along with Duff and some excellent youngsters to the New York Rangers for Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney, two solid, veteran NHL wingers.  In fact, Bathgate was almost a superstar at the time.

The Leafs went on to capture their third Cup in a row.  Bathgate certainly contributed with a couple of very important goals in the finals against Detroit.  Whether Toronto could have achieved the same result while keeping Duff and Nevin has always been a source of debate within the Leaf community.  By all accounts it was also a discussion at the time in the Maple Leaf dressing room, as Nevin and Duff were young, talented and very popular players who had come up in the Maple Leaf system.

Nevin wasn’t a fast or flashy player, or particularly tough or rugged but he was certainly effective. He became a cornerstone player with the Rangers for seven full seasons after the trade, and a team Captain for many of those years.  He helped lead a resurgence of the long-suffering Broadway blueshirts, as they made the playoffs five years in a row from 1967 to 1971, Nevin’s last season in New York.

I should admit that I’ve never quite forgiven Nevin for scoring another huge goal—but that one was for the Rangers against the Leafs in overtime in Game 6 of the 1971 quarter-finals.  General Manager Jim Gregory had rebuilt the team and it had tons of potential.  Had the Leafs won that night, they would have had a chance to upset the Rangers in Game 7, but it wasn’t to be.

Nevin went on to have some strong years with the LA Kings, and was himself on the wrong end of a major upset in the spring of 1975, when the Leafs, a very low seed, upset Nevin’s Kings (LA had finished second overall that season, I think) in the three-game preliminary round series.  That season, Nevin, at 36, was a +36 with the Kings.

Nevin truly was a consummate professional, the kind of player any team needs.  He finished with over 300 NHL goals and lots of respect from his peers.

Too bad he wasn’t a Maple Leaf a lot longer.  The current Leafs could use a guy like Nevin- a solid, penalty-killing two-way winger who can score- right now.


When a team is struggling, it’s easy for players to get discouraged.  Confidence goes and things can kind of snowball.

Whereas the Leafs looked really fast early in the season, that’s not the case now.  The penalty kill and power play have not come around as fans might have hoped.  Kessel is the sniper but it’s a lonely job when you are the only one, without others to pick up the slack when your shots aren’t finding the mark.  (He went through a rough patch in the middle of last season, but found his scoring groove again later in the season. I believe he’ll find it again soon.)

Sjostom came advertised as an outstanding penalty-killer and he may well be, but they just can’t shut down the opposition consistently when killing a penalty right now.  Something is not working.  Meanwhile, the power play is getting opportunities but there’s no finish.  Is it the old “not getting guys to the front of the net”, guys squeezing the sticks, or shots getting blocked?  Maybe all of the above.

I still feel these guys are working hard for the most part— and they should be.  It’s not like they’re out of contention in the East.  It’s a very long season.  You have to believe things will turn for someone like Vertseeg, who has had his moments.  But as I’ve mentioned before, expectations may well have been way too high for a guy who was a support player in Chicago, and suddenly a first-liner here.

Are they missing Phaneuf?  Well, they were in tough before he was injured.  Is the defense still playing well?  For the most part, they’ve helped the Leafs be competitive despite not scoring a lot lately. But a mistake here, a mistake there, and when the other team capitalizes—and you’re not converting your own chances, well, that’s how you end up losing a lot of games.

Now, we have to expect the Leafs will score some goals.  What you’d like to see is not the occasional game where they score six or seven goals in a lopsided win and then none in close losses, but some fairly consistent production.

I’m still of the view one player will not be the “answer” and that young Kadri should play as long as possible in the AHL and absolutely stand out there before joining the big club.  Hopefully the Leafs won’t feel the need to bring Kadri up in an attempt to “rescue” them from their current scoring drought.




  1. always liked bob nevin