Crafty Holland plays it safe, smart just before trade deadline

The 36-year-old defenseman arrived in Detroit, a moving piece in one of those NHL trade deadline deals, toting his equipment bag and maybe a bottle of Geritol. It was a chance for another “kick at the can,” as the hockey people like to say about the pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The aging blueliner, booed out of his previous city, had already won two Cups by the time he was traded to the Red Wings in March of 1997. He gained those rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in consecutive years (1991-92).

Larry Murphy was already on his fourth team and was 11 years into his NHL career when he helped lead the Penguins to glory, but that was five years ago and he had added a fifth team to his travelogue when the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs swung a deadline trade.

For whatever reason, the Maple Leaf fans funneled their frustration with the team’s proclivity to spin its wheels on Murphy.

They booed whenever he touched the puck. They jeered him at every turn. If there ever was a player who needed to be moved, it was Murphy from the Maple Leafs in 1997.

The trade is listed on Hockey-Reference.com as Murphy to the Red Wings on March 18, 1997 for “future considerations.”

Murphy was an offensive defenseman who rocked the NHL as a rookie, scoring 16 goals and adding 60 assists for the 1980-81 Los Angeles Kings. He was 19 years old when the season began.

Sixteen years and two Stanley Cups later, Murphy was still known as a good puck-moving defenseman, except that the fans in Toronto used him as a figurative pinata. It is still a mystery as to why the Maple Leaf faithful turned on him so.

Regardless, Murphy jetted into Detroit on March 18, 1997 and there was one mission and one mission only: to win the Stanley Cup for a third time.

I asked Murphy about the treatment he got in Toronto. We chatted as we watched the Red Wings play Anaheim the night Steve Yzerman’s jersey went up into the rafters. It was January 2, 2007.

The brutality he went through in Toronto didn’t seem to have bothered Murphy all that much.

“Fans are fans,” he told me. “They pay their money.”

So it didn’t get to you?

“I thought it was kind of funny, actually,” Murphy said.

Murphy switched his Toronto blue for Detroit red and the results were palpable.

The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup the next two springs. Murphy was again on a team that won two straight Cups, the only player in NHL history to win consecutive Stanley Cups with two different franchises.

The Larry Murphy trade is among the best the Red Wings ever made at the deadline. And they’ve made a lot of them.

Two years after Murphy, the Red Wings made a big splash at the deadline, acquiring forward Wendel Clark, goalie Bill Ranford and defensemen Ulf Samuelsson and Chris Chelios in a whirlwind of trades.

But despite the pomp, the Red Wings were blasted out of the playoffs in the second round in 1999 by their arch nemesis, the Colorado Avalanche.

Sometimes deadline deals make all the difference in the world; sometimes they don’t do a lick for your Stanley Cup chances.

In 2002, Red Wings GM Ken Holland, by that time a five-year veteran of the art of the deal, landed veteran defenseman Jiri Slegr at the deadline. It wasn’t looked at as much more than a move for depth. Slegr wasn’t expected to contribute too much.

Slegr didn’t play in a single playoff game for the Red Wings that spring, except for one: Game 5 of the Cup Finals.

In Game 4, fellow defenseman Jiri Fischer got suspended for a game after taking some liberties in Carolina.

Slegr, who was a healthy scratch for the entire post-season, got the call for Game 5. The Red Wings led the series, 3-1.

Slegr played 17 minutes that night at Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings won their third Cup in six seasons.

You never know.

Holland, who inexplicably has never won an Executive of the Year Award, gathered his scouts and coaches at the Joe on Sunday and Monday. It’s a routine that gets played out every year on the eve of the trade deadline.

The list of potential acquisitions gets bandied about. Holland listens to input, takes notes, asks some questions. His money people are in the room, too, because it’s a salary cap world now and the contracts have to fit, like a jigsaw puzzle piece.

Holland was under no real urgency to do a deal. His team is playing well and while you can never have too much depth, the Red Wings didn’t have to go crazy and mortgage the future. If something made sense, Holland said he would do it. But it was felt that a move wasn’t a prerequisite for this spring’s playoff run.

There would be no 1999-like splash.

On Sunday, Holland got on the phone with former assistant Jim Nill, now the GM in Dallas. Two good friends talked trade.

When the cell phones closed, Holland had acquired 36-year-old forward Erik Cole for some lower level prospects. Cole can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. His future in Detroit beyond this season is uncertain to say the least.

On Monday, Holland fulfilled coach Mike Babcock’s wish for a right-handed shooting defenseman with some offense, getting Marek Zidlicky from the New Jersey Devils for a conditional draft pick. Zidlicky is 38 and he, too, is unrestricted come July 1.

These were old school Holland moves but with a new school team: bring in veteran guys who might be considered “rentals.” Only this time, the core of the Red Wings is more young than old, a reversal from the Cup-winning years.

But the price for Cole and Zidlicky was hardly steep, and in today’s NHL, these moves might be good enough to catapult the Red Wings.

The NHL post-season is a two-month roller coaster ride. It’s hockey’s version of March Madness, in that the eventual champion could be one of half a dozen (or more) teams. It’s not the NBA, where only a select few teams have a legitimate shot at the championship. You never see any six or seven seeds make it very far in pro basketball’s playoffs.

Whether you call it parity or just plain unpredictable, the NHL’s post-season is a crap shoot, like baseball and football’s.

For that reason, why unload a bunch of high-level prospects and front line players for someone who likely won’t improve your team’s Cup chances all that much?

This was Ken Holland at his best—accurately gauging his team’s current state and making smart, prudent moves without giving up the farm, literally.

Will Cole and Zidlicky do for the Red Wings, in their own way, what Larry Murphy did for them in 1997?

No one knows for sure, but again Holland has seemed to have improved his team without weakening its core.

One of these days, those who determine such things will name Holland the NHL’s Executive of the Year. It might be like when Paul Newman finally won a Best Actor Oscar for a movie that wasn’t his best work. But one day the voters are going to get smart.

1954-55 Red Wings: Vic Stasiuk

THE VIC STASIUK FILE:

Born: May 23, 1929

Position: Left wing

NHL games played: 745 (330 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats (Detroit): 59 GP; G: 8; A: 11; PIM: 67

CAREER: GP: 745; G: 183; A: 254; PIM: 669

When he first entered the NHL, Vic Stasiuk wasn’t really a goal scorer. Then, in the middle of his career, he was. Then, toward the end, he wasn’t again.

Stasiuk’s up-and-down playing career, goal-scoring-wise, is a little misleading, however, because he was actually known as one of the league’s best two-way players during his 14 years in the NHL.

Stasiuk, a left winger from Alberta, was originally a Chicago Black Hawk, but he found playing time hard to come by in the Windy City. For that reason, Stasiuk was no doubt excited when he was dealt to the Red Wings on December 2, 1950.

Stasiuk only scored three goals in 50 games with the Red Wings in 1950-51, but offense wasn’t his job. He was happy to be a checker and a grinder, and why not? He got plenty of ice time in Detroit fulfilling that role.

But while Stasiuk’s hard-nosed style of play was appreciated by the Red Wings, he again found ice time hard to come by because of all the depth those Red Wings teams of the early-to-mid 1950s possessed.

In 1952-53, for example, Stasiuk played just three games with the Red Wings, spending most of the season with the team’s Western League affiliate in Edmonton.

But it was in Edmonton in ’52-53 where Stasiuk found his goal scoring touch. He netted 37 pucks, by far the most goals he’d ever scored in organized hockey up to that point.

The 37 goals raised eyebrows in Detroit and it led to Stasiuk spending more time in the NHL and less in the minor leagues over the next several seasons.

But Stasiuk didn’t really become a goal scorer in the NHL until after his trade to Boston in 1955, the summer after he was on the roster of his third Stanley Cup-winning team in Detroit.

Stasiuk was part of the multi-player, blockbuster trade that also shipped legendary goalie Terry Sawchuk to the Bruins.

In Boston, Stasiuk flourished over the next five seasons, scoring 120 goals, including four straight campaigns with 20-plus markers.

Stasiuk landed back in Detroit thanks to a January, 1961 trade and he retired as a player after the 1962-63 season.

Then it was off to the world of coaching, and Stasiuk eventually landed back in the NHL after some years in the minors, coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, California Golden Seals and Vancouver Canucks between 1969 and 1973. Sadly, none of those three teams were very good at the time, so Stasiuk’s won/loss record in the NHL was a dismal 88-153-66.

Trivia: While in Boston, Stasiuk combined with Johnny Bucyk (another former Red Wing) and Bronco Horvath to form the “Uke Line”, thus named because all three players had Ukrainian roots. In 1957-58, the Uke Line became the first line in NHL history to have all three members score at least 20 goals.

NEXT WEEK:  Johnny Wilson, the Lou Gehrig of the NHL for his “Iron Man” status.

1954-55 Red Wings: Glen Skov

THE GLEN SKOV FILE:

Born: January 26, 1931; Died: September 10, 2013

Position: Center/Left wing

NHL games played: 650 (301 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats (Detroit): 70 GP; G: 14; A: 16; PIM: 53

CAREER: GP: 650; G: 106; A: 136; PIM: 413

Hockey ran in the Skov family, but two brothers landed on opposite sides of the fence.

Art Skov started as a player, but when his NHL dreams went unrealized, he put on the zebra stripes and became a linesman in the late-1950s. He was promoted to referee in 1960 and officiated over 1,000 NHL games.

Glen Skov was three years younger than Art but the younger brother outdid big brother when it came to playing.

Glen Skov made the NHL as a forward in 1950, playing two games for the Red Wings in the ’49-50 season following several years playing in the Ontario Hockey Association for the nearby Windsor Spitfires, where he put up some outstanding numbers, including scoring 51 goals in 47 games before his promotion to the NHL.

In the NHL, the younger Skov was known as a competent player who excelled with the puck and without it. Skov wasn’t a big goal scorer (his career high was 17) but his durability was a huge asset; he played every game for five straight seasons between 1951-56 (the first four with Detroit).

In the summer of 1955, Skov was part of a blockbuster, eight-player trade that shipped him to Chicago, where he played five seasons, missing just four games total with the Black Hawks.

Skov finished his NHL career by playing three games for Montreal in 1960. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, all with Detroit.

Skov was part of two brother combos with the 1954-55 Red Wings, where one of the brothers was an on-ice official and the other was a player; Marty (player) and Matt Pavelich (linesman) were the other pair.

NEXT WEEK: Vic Stasiuk, who in addition to playing, authored a rather lengthy coaching career, both in the minors and at the NHL level.

Maple Leafs Latest Original Six Team to Play the Fool

The two goalies were 79 years old between them. Their captain was 36. Their best defenseman was 36 as well. One of their top centermen was 39 years old. Another defenseman was 40 years old.

The 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t a hockey team, they were a senior center. The official team drink was Geritol.

This gang of grizzled veterans surprised the hockey world 48 years ago and won the Stanley Cup.

It was the last season of the Original Six before expansion doubled the size of the NHL for the 1967-68 season.

The ’67 Maple Leafs, with their aging legs, managed to plow through the Chicago Black Hawks in six games in the semi-finals before dispensing of the defending Cup champions, the Montreal Canadiens, also in six games.

Terry Sawchuk (37) and Johnny Bower (42) shared goaltending duties. Captain George Armstrong (36) didn’t contribute much offensively (nine goals, 24 assists) but he was practically Mr. Leaf. Marcel Pronovost (36), a former Red Wing, led the Toronto blue liners in savvy and smarts. Another former Red Wing, Red Kelly (39), who was a defenseman in his Cup-winning days in Detroit, had turned into a center in Toronto and chipped in 14 goals. Allan Stanley (40) was a defenseman who did the team’s dirty work in a very clean way (20 penalty minutes).

The 1966-67 Maple Leafs averaged over 28 years in age, by far the oldest team in the league. Yet they wheezed and gasped their way to the Cup.

The story of the ’67 Maple Leafs comes to mind because they are still the last Toronto team to win the Stanley Cup, and that 48-year drought doesn’t seem to be nearing an end anytime soon.

Today’s Maple Leafs are stumbling through the NHL. They recently experienced a 12-game winless streak, which is almost unheard of in today’s NHL of parity.

Toronto, at the time of this writing, is 23-29-5 and seventh in the eight-team Atlantic Division, ahead of only the wretched Buffalo Sabres, that once-proud franchise on the other side of Lake Erie from Toronto.

The nearly half century that has elapsed since the Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup is grating on the nerves of fans in Toronto. The only other NHL teams that have a Cup-less streak nearly that long are the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres, still looking for their first Cup since becoming members of the league in 1970.

But the Canucks and Sabres are relative NHL newbies compared to the Maple Leafs, who started playing in the league when ice was something folks used to keep their refrigerators cold more so than skated on.

The Maple Leafs not only haven’t won the whole thing since those old men did it in 1967, they haven’t really come close.

The Leafs made the NHL’s Final Four in 2002, losing to Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals. And they made it that far in 1993, bowing to the Los Angeles Kings, but aside from those two years, the Stanley Cup has been as elusive for the Maple Leafs as the Nobel Peace Prize has been to Al Qaeda.

From the slapstick days under the ownership of Harold Ballard in the 1970s and 1980s to the futility of today, the Toronto Maple Leafs long ago supplanted the Red Wings as Original Six team-turned-laughingstock.

In the 1970s it was the Red Wings that couldn’t get out of their own way, missing the playoffs every year but once between 1970 and 1984.

Today the Maple Leafs are that Original Six team with the iconic logo that have become the Chicago Cubs of hockey.

The Maple Leafs and their fans are finally getting sick of having snow sprayed in their faces by the rest of the league.

As each day passes with Red Wings coach Mike Babcock not signing a long-term contract extension (his current deal expires after this season), Toronto’s hockey fan base and media gets more sugar plums dancing around their heads with the thought of Babcock bolting Detroit and coaching the Maple Leafs.

Babcock, for all the success he has had in Detroit, is a borderline hero in Canada, from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia.

The hockey fans in Canada love the Olympic Gold Medals (two) Babcock has won for their country. He’s also won a World Junior Championship gold medal while coaching Team Canada, as well as an International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship for the country with the Maple Leaf on its flag.

And, of course, Babcock is a Stanley Cup champion coach and a three-time Finalist.

Nowhere is Babcock more idolized from afar than in Toronto, a city whose hockey fans would be delighted to see Babcock not only coach a team wearing the red-and-white Maple Leaf flag, but also one sporting the blue-and-white Maple Leaf on the jersey.

The Toronto media is perhaps even more smitten with the idea of Babcock coaching the Maple Leafs than the fans.

Column upon column has been written, touting the benefits of a Babcock-coached Maple Leafs team. The Leafs fired Randy Carlyle after a 21-16-3 start and his replacement, Peter Horachek, has gone 2-13-2 since taking over.

Babcock is the one man, the scribes in Toronto think, who could deliver the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1967. The fans mostly agree.

But Babcock’s tardiness in re-upping with the Red Wings shouldn’t be confused with a desire to coach elsewhere. He has it good in Detroit and he knows that. He works for a terrific owner, has a good relationship with his GM and his family has firm roots in Northville.

In Toronto, Babcock wouldn’t be hired to just make the playoffs a few times. He’d be brought in to win the whole shebang, and sooner rather than later. Patience is already razor-thin in Toronto; even someone with Babcock’s name and resume wouldn’t be given a very long leash. It would be the shortest honeymoon since Cher and Gregg Allman’s.

Whether Babcock would choose to turn his cozy home and hockey life upside down to work in the pressure cooker of Toronto, which is Canada’s New York when it comes to hockey, is highly debatable. In fact, it’s worse—it’s damned unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs continue to wander around, lost in the NHL’s frozen tundra with no Saint Bernard in sight to rescue them.

The Original Six have taken turns acting the fool over the last 20 years or so.

First it was the New York Rangers, who went 54 years (1940-94) between Cups. Then the Red Wings took over, going Cup-less from 1956-96. The Boston Bruins didn’t win a Stanley Cup between 1973 and 2010. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup in 1961 but not again until 2010.

Even the venerable Montreal Canadiens haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993.

But the Toronto Maple Leafs are now firmly entrenched as the Original Six team with the most ignominious past.

Babcock joined the Red Wings when the team was rich with talent, very used to winning and was a Cup champion as recently as three years prior to his hiring.

If he went to Toronto this summer, none of the above would apply to the Maple Leafs. Not even close.

The Maple Leafs need help, no question. But they’d better look elsewhere than Joe Louis Arena’s coaching room for it.

1954-55 Red Wings: Terry Sawchuk

THE TERRY SAWCHUK FILE:

Born: December 28, 1929; Died: May 31, 1970

Position: Goalie

NHL games played: 971 (734 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats (Detroit): GP: 68; MIN: 4040; GA: 132: GAA: 1.96; ShO: 12

CAREER: GP: 971; MIN: 57,194; GA: 2,389; GAA: 2.51; ShO: 103

When discussing the “best ever” at any position in any sport, certainly the arguments are subjective.

Anyone can crunch numbers to support their viewpoint.

Was Babe Ruth the best ever baseball player because of those 714 home runs and that .342 BA, plus all his other amazing statistics?

Or was it Ty Cobb for his .367 career BA and those 4,191 hits, plus the 892 stolen bases?

And so on.

Terry Sawchuk, however, seems to be widely recognized as the best goalie in NHL history. Period.

And this isn’t just coming from Red Wings fans.

Sawchuk played in nearly 1,000 games, which by itself is mind-boggling. He posted 103 shutouts, which was a league record for nearly 40 years before Martin Brodeur broke it.

But beyond raw numbers, impressive as they are, Sawchuk is considered the best because of the good old-fashioned “eye test.”

Sawchuk’s exploits exist today on grainy footage that can be found on YouTube, but the folks who actually saw him play in person—players, coaches and writers—readily rattle Sawchuk’s name off when asked who was the best goalie in NHL history.

But for as talented and blessed as Sawchuk was on the ice, he was equally as tormented off it.

He battled depression for years. He was, for all intents and purposes, an alcoholic. He was by far his own harshest critic. He didn’t smile very much, according to teammates.

Sawchuk did three separate stints with the Red Wings, but he also played for Boston, the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Such was the greatness of his longevity that he won his first Stanley Cup in 1952 at age 22 and his last in 1967 at age 37.

Perhaps no greater goaltending will ever be seen as what Sawchuk did in the 1952 playoffs.

There were only two rounds back in those Original Six days, and the Red Wings swept both series to capture the Cup.

Sawchuk was unbelievable that spring.

In going 8-0, Sawchuk posted four shutouts and had a tiny goals against average of 0.63.

A native of Manitoba, Canada who was of Ukrainian descent, Sawchuk’s mental darkness started when he was a youngster. A younger brother died of scarlet fever, but even worse, Sawchuk’s older brother, an aspiring goaltender who Terry idolized, died of a heart attack at age 17.

It is believed by many that the tragic death of Sawchuk’s older brother had ramifications for the rest of Terry’s life.

Another blow came in the spring of 1955, when the Red Wings traded Sawchuk to Boston not long after Detroit won the Stanley Cup. Already hyper-critical of himself, Sawchuk took the trade very hard. The Red Wings wanted Glenn Hall to be their new full-time goalie, and Sawchuk saw the trade as an insult to his abilities.

Sawchuk hated it in Boston. The fans’ criticism was relentless. He suffered a nervous breakdown and briefly retired from hockey.

The Red Wings rescued Sawchuk in 1957, reacquiring him from the Bruins for Hall of Fame forward Johnny Bucyk.

Sawchuk played in Detroit until 1964, at which point the Red Wings left him unprotected in the intraleague waiver draft because they wanted to go with the younger Roger Crozier in net.

The Toronto Maple Leafs snatched Sawchuk up on June 10, 1964 and the Leafs won the Stanley Cup three springs later with Sawchuk teaming with veteran Johnny Bower in goal.

Then it was off to Los Angeles to play for the expansion Kings in 1967.

The Red Wings brought Sawchuk back to Detroit yet again in an October, 1968 trade.

In June of 1969, the Red Wings dealt Sawchuk to the Rangers, where he finished his magnificent career.

Sawchuk was just 40 years old when he got into a scuffle with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart in late-May of 1970. The two fought over outstanding bills for an apartment they shared and planned to vacate for the summer. In the rumble, Sawchuk fell into a barbecue and suffered internal injuries. He passed away on May 31, 1970. No charges were filed against Stewart, as the death was ruled accidental.

In fact, on his deathbed, Sawchuk emphasized that Stewart was not to blame for the tragic incident.

“It was a fluke,” Sawchuk told Shirley Fischler, wife of legendary hockey writer Stan Fischler. “A complete, fluke accident.”

Sawchuk is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Pontiac, MI.

The Red Wings retired Sawchuk’s no. 1 in 1994.

Sawchuk once summed up his career thusly.

“The day they put me in the net I had a good game. I’ve stayed there since.”

NEXT WEEK: Center Glen Skov, whose older brother Art was a longtime NHL referee.

1954-55 Red Wings: Dutch Reibel

THE DUTCH REIBEL FILE:

Born: July 21, 1930; Died: January 3, 2007

Position: Center

NHL games played: 409 (306 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats (Detroit): 70 GP; G: 25; A: 41; PIM: 15

CAREER: GP: 409; G: 84; A: 161; PIM: 75

Between the 1950 and 1964 seasons, only one player surpassed Gordie Howe as the Red Wings’ leading scorer, and that man was Earl “Dutch” Reibel.

In 1955, Reibel’s 66 points eclipsed Howe’s 62 as the Red Wings captured the Stanley Cup that spring.

Scoring was not unfamiliar to Reibel, starting in juniors.

In 1949-50, Reibel, a center, played hockey across the Detroit River for the Windsor Spitfires of the (then) Ontario Hockey Association (it’s OHL now). His numbers in Windsor were phenomenal: 53 goals and 76 assists in just 48 games.

He turned pro in 1950 and played in 32 games for the Omaha Knights of the United States Hockey League in 1950-51, where he scored 38 points.

The following year, Reibel was off to Indianapolis of the American Hockey League, tallying 33 goals and 34 assists in 67 games.

In 1952-53, Reibel stayed hot, pouring in 34 goals and 56 assists in 70 games while a member of the Red Wings’ farm team in Edmonton of the Western Hockey League.

That performance in Edmonton finally earned Reibel a shot at the NHL, where he dressed in 69 of the Red Wings’ 70 games during the 1953-54 season and scored 15 goals while adding 33 assists.

Reibel’s scoring prowess continued the following year, when he unseated Howe as the team’s leading point-getter.

But just when it looked like Reibel was going to have a long and productive NHL career, the goals and the points mysteriously stopped coming.

After scoring 30 goals over the course of the 1955-56 and 1956-57 seasons, Reibel only managed 14 goals over his next 132 games and his NHL career was over by 1959 at age 28.

The Red Wings dealt Reibel to Chicago in a multi-player deal midway through the 1957-58 season, and the Black Hawks lost him to Boston in June 1958 in the intra-league waiver draft. Maybe there was something in the Detroit River water, because once Reibel left Detroit, he was never the same.

To this day, Dutch Reibel still holds the NHL record for most assists in his first league game (4).

Reibel won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play in 1956.

NEXT WEEK: The greatest goalie who ever lived, Terry Sawchuk.