THE RED KELLY FILE:
Born: July 9, 1927
NHL games played: 1,316 (846 with Red Wings)
1954-55 stats: 70 GP; G: 15; A: 30; 28 PIM
CAREER: GP: 1316; G: 281; A: 542; PIM: 327
Bobby Orr is often credited with changing the way the game of hockey was played, or at least the way the position of defense was regarded.
Orr, the quintessential “rushing” defenseman, burst onto the scene in 1966 with the Boston Bruins and, well, you know the rest.
But before Orr, the Red Wings employed a defenseman who possessed unique offensive skills and who greatly helped the team move the puck up ice from the defensive zone.
Red Kelly doesn’t get the accolades that have been bestowed upon Orr, but for his time, Kelly was a rarity: the blueliner with puck-moving skills and speed.
Most defensemen in Kelly’s day, before Orr, planted their skates in front of their team’s net and moved forwards away from the goalie. Then when the action moved up ice, the defensemen would lumber ahead, not really participating in the offensive rush.
Hence the term, still used today, “stay-at-home” defenseman.
But Kelly eschewed that style, and his skills with the puck resulted in 15 goals during the 1954-55 season, which was an almost unheard of number from a defenseman—unless you were talking about Red Kelly.
Kelly’s goal totals with the Red Wings in the 1950s were always in the teens, with a peak of 19 in 1952-53.
But things eventually soured for Kelly in Detroit. He hurt his ankle in 1959 and the Red Wings tried to keep the injury a secret. When Kelly let the cat out of the bag in February, 1960, Red Wings GM Jack Adams was infuriated and immediately traded Kelly to the New York Rangers.
Kelly refused to report, threatening to retire instead. The trade was canceled. That’s when Toronto’s coach and GM, Punch Imlach, stepped in and coaxed Kelly into playing for the Maple Leafs. On February 10, 1960, Kelly was dealt to the Leafs for fellow defenseman Marc Reaume.
Stanley Cups followed Kelly no matter where he went. With Detroit, he won four of them. With Toronto, he won four more.
In Toronto, Imlach decided to use Kelly’s puck skills as a forward, and with the Leafs, Kelly became one of the best centers in the league.
His eight Cups as a player are the most in NHL history for anyone who didn’t play for the Montreal Canadiens.
Kelly was a first-team All-Star on defense six times in the 1950s.
Kelly retired after his last Cup win in 1967 and became coach of the expansion L.A. Kings for two seasons. He also coached Pittsburgh for three seasons and Toronto for four.
Part of Kelly’s effectiveness was his ability to stay out of the penalty box. He won four Lady Byng Trophies (gentlemanly play) as a result.
More fun trivia about Red Kelly: He won the first-ever Norris Trophy for best defenseman, in 1954. And while still a player, Kelly got involved in Canadian politics, being elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1962.
He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.
NEXT WEEK: Tony Leswick, who once scored one of the most famous goals in Red Wings history.