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Howson blinks, so Leaf fans don’t have Rick Nash's name to kick around anymore

The headline at the top of the column today is for my fellow “old-timers” who may well recall the quote I am alluding to.  The reference is to former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who, of course, left his office unceremoniously after the Watergate scandal in the mid 1970s.

Nixon had been the Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.  He lost an incredibly close Presidential race against Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960.  He then ran unsuccessfully for Governor of California in 1962.  Feeling he had been mistreated by the media for many years, he rather caustically made the famous statement that, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore…” when he announced he was stepping down from politics after his defeat in '62.

Nixon did indeed return to the political world a few years later.  (By all means correct any facts I may have wrong—I was pretty young in the early 60s…)


It’s always too easy to criticize someone when they are down, so I have little inclination to join all the voices abusing Columbus GM Scott Howson today, in the wake of the Rick Nash to New York trade.

I’ll simply make a couple of observations, from a Columbus perspective (at least as I perceive things, albeit from a distance...).

  • They were heavily restricted by Nash’s conflicting demands:  he wanted “out”, yet he only was willing to go to a few markets.
  • Nash was unwilling, evidently, to play in Canada, where the offers might have been better (we’ll never know…).
  • Columbus picked up nice pieces but there was not a single exciting player for the Jackets (or what’s left of their fan base) to rally around.  While this was seemingly the “best” they could achieve, it had to be a disappointment for all concerned—ownership, Howson, the players and fans.  They seemingly could have made this same deal back at the deadline.
  • Howson critics say he "threw Nash under the bus" back around the trade deadline.  I don't know enough about the details to comment, but wasn't Nash the guy (while already making huge dollars, and having not that long ago proclaimed he wanted to be in Columbus) who said he wanted out?  But then told the Jackets he would only play in certain markets?
  • How much longer will Columbus be an NHL franchise?  How much longer will people want to go to games?  Unless Mason rebounds in a big way, they have no goalie to hang their hat on.  No superstar on defense and now, a bunch of no-name forwards.  Who wants to sign and play in Columbus, unless you’re a fringe player just happy to have an NHL job?  It’s joo bad.
From a Maple Leaf perspective, it would appear that Toronto was never in the chase.  Could they have offered a better deal than New York?  Would they have?  I would have liked to see Nash here, but I understand the reluctance on the part of many Leaf supporters to part with anything substantial.  I guess seeing the modest price New York paid—and their not having to give up a single one of their high-end roster players or even prospects—is sobering for a lot of NHL GM’s looking to move name players, including Bob Murray in Anaheim and Mike Gillis in Vancouver.

The new CBA and everything that entails seems to be sending a chill.  Hockey deals are hard to make, eh?


I couldn’t help but think back to a former Leaf great when I heard about the Nash deal on Monday afternoon.  You know, big, talented winger, who can score goals—a true power forward.

The Leaf was Frank Mahovlich (shown at right in early 1960s action against the Habs and goalie Charlie Hodge...).  The trade I’m referring to, though, is not the shocker that sent him out of town in the first place.  (That one saw him head to the Red Wings late in the 1967-’68 season; I’ve written on that Punch Imlach maneuver here before…).  No, I’m thinking about how the Red Wings later flipped the “Big M” to the Habs for quantity, as the Jackets just did with Nash. (Again, I’m not suggesting the new Jackets aren’t good players.  They are all nice pieces, just not the kind of players that will help a lousy team’s fans forget the one superstar player that the franchise has had…)

Mahovlich was a really good player for the Red Wings.  He got away from Imlach’s overbearing and abrasive style of coaching, and thrived in the much more more laissez-faire environment in Detroit, where checking was a bit of a dirty word.  The Wings in the late ‘60s were all about scoring goals.

They did sneak into the playoffs in the spring of 1970, though, as I’ve posted about here before,  they were embarrassingly (intentionally?) bad on the last day of the 1969-'70 regular season.  Detroit had partied so hard the night before after clinching their playoff spot, that when they arrived for the return engagement the next afternoon at Madison Square Garden, they could barely skate in the first period.  In that famous contest, the Rangers scored 9 goals that day against the hapless and listless Red Wings.  As a result of a peculiar tie-breaker rule (goals for) Montreal missed the playoffs.  Detroit’s play was so bad, I remember that even some Montreal players commented that things didn’t look right that day. (For my part, I loathed the Habs, so I can’t say I was sad to see them finally miss the playoffs in my lifetime…)

In any event, I can’t recall if that had been the season Mahovlich scored 49 goals (one better than his earlier glorious season with the Maple Leafs back in 1960-’61, when he was chasing the then NHL record of 50 goals, established by Rocket Richard).  But by the 1970-’71 season, the Wings had hired a new sheriff in town.  Former Cornell college coach (I think it was Cornell, I may be wrong…) Ned Harkness took over behind the Wing bench, and all hell broke loose.  He brought his “college ways” to a team filled with old guys like Delvecchio and Howe, who quietly shook their heads at Harkness’ approach.  (Harkness was likely ahead of his time.  In later years, Herb Brooks and Bob Johnson, similarly successful college coaches, had great success at the NHL level.)

But Harkness wanted guys like ex-Leaf Garry Unger, for example, to cut their hair and stuff.  It was a mess.  Ultimately, the Wings traded everything that wasn’t tied down, including Unger—and Frank Mahovlich.

Frank went to Montreal (like they needed another superstar at the time…).  I better double check this, but in return, I think the Wings received journeyman Bill Collins, a hard-working winger, along with Guy Charron, a useful forward, and young sharpshooter Mickey Redmond.  Redmond was a gifted offensive player with a great wrist shot, and he had 50-goal years on some terrible Detroit teams in the early-mid ‘70s. 

But while Redmond had some eye-popping numbers, Mahovlich was the missing link (well, Ken Dryden helped) in helping the Habs win two more Stanley Cups.  They had won four championships between 1965 and 1969, and with Mahovlich in tow, they captured two more—in 1971 and in the spring of 1973.

Mahovlich was simply outstanding—and I mean outstanding with a capital “O”—both years in the playoffs as the Habs knocked out the star-laden and seemingly unbeatable Boston Bruins of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in 1971, and then taking out everyone in their path in 1973.  (Jean Beliveau was captain in ’71, retiring after that Cup victory; Henri Richard captained the ’73 squad…)

Mahovlich played out his career in the comfort and stress-free environment of the WHA.  But I will never forget the trade that sent him to Montreal.  He was brilliant with the Habs, and for my money, he maybe played even better and more free-wheeling—and anxiety- free—than he ever did with the Leafs.

If Nash helps the Rangers win the Cup a couple of times in the next few years, I’m sure Il be thinking about the Big M again.

Meanwhile, for those of us with Leaf dreams, I guess wel’ll have to move on to the next big thing—or as many have posted here in recent days, wait patiently for the kids to deliver!


  1. In my infantile state, I missed Nixon's 'unsuccess' in 62 that led to your foundational reference and I do express my hope you're not inferring that (after a few intervening years) Leaf fans will 'elect' to kick around the Nash name.

    Would we now look for him to be acquired from the Rangers after his best days are behind him (a la Gomez)? ...Only to find out, over the ensuing years, that all the tapes of his alleged 'offensive' prowess are missing from every archive!

    Noting the years of unrequited salary returns before a 'congress' of unsatisfied Leaf fans, future Nash is heard to exclaim, "I am not a crook!"

    oops /icegated...
    hmm /iceskated

    I think I'm losing it...

  2. I enjoyed that, InTimeFor 62.

    This is the time of year we should be able to enjoy some light-hearted memories and moments!

    Thanks for sharing...good stuff.

  3. I can't help but wonder how Tricky Dick would have fared under today's media scrutiny...not a pretty thought.

    The Frank Mahovlich reference brought back a lot of memories. Frank was signed at a very young age (14?) by the Leafs and brought to Toronto (he was from Timmins,Ont) at the age of 16. He was enrolled at St. Michaels where he played junior hockey under Father David Bauer. I don't know the particulars but his whole family came with him. His father (Peter Mahovlich Sr.) used to sharpen our skates at Leaside Arena.

    Back then NHL teams sponsored OHA JR A teams. The leafs sponsored the Toronto Marlboroughs and Toronto St Michaels Majors. They used to play Sunday doubleheaders (1st 2 periods running time with stop time in the last minute and the third period normal stop time). We spent many a Sunday afternoon watching future NHLers (the majority of players in the NHL came from the OHA at that time).

    Mahovlich had us licking our chops in anticipation. In his final year of junior he scored 52 goals and 88 points in 49 games. His first three seasons were were mediocre amid accusations of laziness (his effortless skating stride led some people to think he was dogging it). Frank's career took off after the Red Kelly trade and Kelly's conversion to centre.

    Sometime in the 60's Jack Adams offered a million dollars for Mahovlich, an enormous amount at the time, and maybe a precursor of the eventual trade.

    I always felt that Frank could have done so much more under a different coach. He and Imlach did not get along and at one point, if I remember correctly, he was hospitalized for severe emotional stress.

    By the way Ned Harkness was a successful NCAA head coach of ice hockey and lacrosse at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Cornell University before his unsuccessful half season with the Wings.

  4. Great memories of the "Big M", PeteCam!

    Those "sponsorship" days were something special, as you point out.

    His breakout season with Kelly as his centre was wonderful, for sure. I was awfully young at the time, but until he slowed down in the final weeks of the 1960-'61 season, it felt like he was scoring almost every night. (Fellow "oldsters" like us will recall that Montreal's "Boom Boom" Geofrrion surpassed Frank in the last week of the season to reach the 50-goal mark- and tie the Rocket...)

    I could be wrong, but I think Frank was actually hospitalized twice for nervous exhaustion...

    I have no doubt that Mahovlich could have done much more in Toronto under a different coach. Whether the franchise would have had as much success without Imlach, though, who knows?

    Maybe they would have won even more Cups!

    Great to wake up to your comments. Thanks PeteCam.

  5. Hi Michael, I'm sorry to be writing this here, but the mobile version of you site doesn't seem to allow me to send you a private message. Or, if it does, I can't find it. Sorry.
    My idea is: how about doing a regular feature on 'classic leafs' starting with jersey number 1 (there have been so many!) and then the guys who have worn 2, 3, etc... It might make for a great weekly feature. Especially as the Leafs don't retire jersey numbers. Thanks, Mike Stroud, Johannesburg, SA

  6. St. Paddy's Day '61. Dear old Dad scrounges a pair of ducats and takes his six year old son to the game. King Clancy adorns the front of the program (still have it!). Dad's team, the Hawks, are on the verge of a Grail and send the young boy home distraught by the way of a 3-1 victory. There was a silver lining; The Big M , a hero of heroes to a six year old, pots the lone Buds marker on a brilliant set up from Red. I remember when he was the most dangerous guy on the ice , so many years ago.

    The Nash deal? I am filled with anticipation at watching Torts turn on Nash and bench him during the most critical of moments .

    Gillis take note. Trading a very good, but not great , player who carries a huge, long cap hit and will only accept a move to a handful of markets doesn't garner one a single top line player. Some 'nice pieces' maybe but a front line guy or two or an early round one pick absolutely not.

    Nash is younger and his contract isn't as burdensome as that of The World's Most Interesting Goalie. Gillis and every interested GM now know what the market might give up for Roberto and it ain't near what Gillis was hoping.

  7. That last line of your article spurred me to comment on the subject; exactly how grand would it be to see one of the kids to deliver? Since Wendel Clark, there has not been a single one of our own draft picks that actually has delivered the goods for the Leafs. Some of them have delivered elsewhere, yes, but our own inability to make our prospects work has been sickeningly bad. And that's putting it mildly.

    It was probably good for Tyler Seguin to go to Boston instead of coming to the Leafs, but that just speaks of how much has been done wrong here in the past, and really, how little someone like Kadri has developed here, or how few steps Schenn managed to take here towards being consistently good. Well, Seguin was the highest-scoring Bruin the last season, and Schenn will get the chanche to learn from the likes of Timonen and Pronger in the future, and that's good for him. But what are the prospects for JvR to reach new heights in a franchise that, in all appearances, seems like a burial ground of player development. And the last time JvR played centre was in college hockey, which, in all due respect, doesn't seem to compare favourably with Canadian Major Junior Hockey. Carlyle has always, to me, seemed the kind of coach who has little time for growing pains and who expects immediate results. JvR is years removed from his central days, and even then the competition was by far lesser and the pressure a hell of a lot lower. And he won't have access to a mentor.

  8. Thank you for checking in, Mike- I like the idea. Let me think on this.

    I'm trying to think back ...the only time I have done a "series" was when I developed my "Leaf Legacy" Series, where I shared memories from each of the decades from the 1950's to the present. I enjoyed that.

    Your notion is a really good one so I'll certainly think more on it. Thanks Mike, I appreciate the suggestion.

  9. Thanks for sharing that personal memory from 1961, Bmaximus. It must have been such a thrill that night to see Mahovlich and Kelly playing together, in person with your Dad.

    As you mention about Nash, the die is now cast, it would seem, for Gillis. Many have posted here over the past few weeks insisting Gillis will not be able to make an old-fashioned hockey deal.

    They may be proven correct!

  10. Great post, CGLN. Interesting that you mention the Leafs as being a burial ground for prospects.

    People keep saying Burke has done a great job building up the system and the Marlies with outstanding young prospects/assets.

    Dallas Eakins may well be a fine teacher (I think he is), but somewhere along the way the players you acquire/draft and show potential have to be able to realize that potential in your big team's line-up.

    I posted here recently that I thought Schenn and Gustavsson were examples of poor development. For where Schenn was drafted and what he seemed to show, he needed to be a lot better than what he was last season. Was that him- or a product of the environment that he works in?

    Same with Gus. For all the expectations, why did he leave town as a player with zero value to the organization? Again, development.

    I like your point about mentors- none to be found here.....

    Thanks CGLN...

  11. Good point bringing up Gustavsson, Michael. Most Leafs fans seem to universally agree, that he was an atrocious goalie. And granted, things didn't work out for him in Toronto. But an atrocious goalie wouldn't put up the kind of numbers he did in Swedish Elitserien, where he excelled. It's a tough, highly competitive league, and success there is no accident. It's possible that NHL hockey is out of his comfort zone, but the jury is still out there, I think. Detroit saw something there, and their scouting has been brilliant in the past.

    As for Dallas Eakins, it's pretty hard for me to judge his ability as a "teaching" kind of coach. But his merits in making a team work seem pretty convincing. AHL is a league full of players who are more interested in taking the step upwards than they are in playing for the team. The two-way contracts alone make the internal competition very intense, as everyone who has one wants their chance upstairs. And the possibility of that chance upstairs might affect your projected lineups at any given moment, as one of your players might get called up at any moment. And that is what impresses me most about Eakins; he has gotten results in an environment that has no guaranteed continuity.

  12. I don't know if Gus will ever reach his potential in Detroit, or in the NHL, but I know he was excellent back home, as you mentioned, so we know he can play. To me, he had way too many people giving him way too much information in Toronto. I wish they had just let him play.

    Regarding Eakins, I don't doubt he is a fine coach and teacher. I guess my point is that development kind of breaks down into different components. The Leafs seem to do the acquisition and AHL teaching part pretty well, but I'm not sure that they do a good job at the NHL level- witnessed by the poor development of Schenn, Gustavsson and how they have handled (mis-handled) Kadri...Just my view.

    Thanks CGLN.