Leaf of the Day - Feb 10, 2009 - Red Kelly

Feb 10, 2009 - Red Kelly


When you're trying to put together a championship hockey team, you need a good farm system.  You need good scouting to find hidden gems in other people's systems.  You need to be able to add professional-level talent that fits within your overall team vision, and - oh, if the occasional superstar can unexpectedly land in your lap, that never hurts.

That happened to the Leafs 49 years ago today.

Red's 1959-60 season hadn't been a good one.  He'd been bothered by a leg injury that was slowing him down.  His typical offensive numbers weren't there, and they'd actually been declining the past couple of seasons.  At some point, Jack Adams decided it was time to move his star.  He chose the Rangers.  Kelly and Billy McNeill were sent to New York for Eddie Shack and Bill Gadsby.

There was only one problem.  Red didn't want to go and refused to report.  All of a sudden the Wings had a problem.  Clarence Campbell tried to bully Kelly by telling him he'd be blacklisted if he didn't report.  Kelly politely replied that he'd had a great career, thank you very much, and if this was the end, so be it.  Very Kelly-like.

The league cancelled the trade, and now the Wings were stuck with a player they couldn't (or wouldn't) use.

Enter Johnny Wilson.

The Leaf forward had been a Wings mainstay for years and knew that Jack Adams had been a fan of young Leaf defenseman Marc Reaume.  He mentioned this to Punch Imlach.  Perhaps Kelly could be had for Reaume.

The deal was proposed to Adams and Punch met with Kelly to see if he'd be interested in coming to Toronto.  They had lunch in a Toronto restaurant.  Kelly told Imlach that he'd been off skates for a bit and wasn't sure he was ready to play defense for Toronto right away.  That's when Punch dropped his little surprise. 

He didn't want Kelly to play defense.  He wanted him to play centre and give the Leafs someone to face Jean Beliveau.

Kelly was intrigued, the deal went through and Kelly's first game was played to a huge ovation.

Kelly turned out to be an excellent two-way centre, handling his checking duties as hoped for while at the same time turning young Frank Mahovlich into an explosive goal scorer.  Kelly scored at least 20 goals in each of the next three seasons before settling back into more of a defensive player.  He added four Toronto Cups to the four he'd already won in Detroit, becoming the only player to win four with two different teams.

To put this deal into modern terms, imagine that instead of getting Lee Stempniak, the Leafs had flipped Carlo Colaiacovo for a disgruntled Nik Lidstrom or Scott Niedermayer, then installed him on the number one line centering Antropov and Ponikarovsky (making Antropov a 48-goal-scorer in the process).  This is what happened 49 years ago.

As for the other players in the original Ranger trade, Bill Gadsby did become a Wing.  Billy McNeill stayed with Detroit and assisted on Howe's 545th career goal, passing Maurice Richard.  Eddie Shack never did become a Wing, but did become a Leaf, winning 4 Cups alongside Kelly.

Marc Reaume went on to the Habs and never really reached the potential people saw.

Red's stats:

1943-44 St. Michael's Midgets Minor-ON 8 10 5 15
1944-45 St. Michael's Buzzers OHA-B 11 15 13 28 7 11 16 8 24 6
1944-45 St. Michael's Majors OHA-Jr. 1 0 0 0 0
1945-46 St. Michael's Majors OHA-Jr. 26 13 11 24 18 11 1 0 1 7
1946-47 St. Michael's Majors OHA-Jr. 30 8 24 32 11 9 3 3 6 9
1946-47 St. Michael's Majors M-Cup 9 5 5 10 2
1947-48 Detroit Red Wings NHL 60 6 14 20 13 10 3 2 5 2
1948-49 Detroit Red Wings NHL 59 5 11 16 10 11 1 1 2 10
1949-50 Detroit Red Wings NHL 70 15 25 40 9 14 1 3 4 2
1950-51 Detroit Red Wings NHL 70 17 37 54 24 6 0 1 1 0
1951-52 Detroit Red Wings NHL 67 16 31 47 16 5 1 0 1 0
1952-53 Detroit Red Wings NHL 70 19 27 46 8 6 0 4 4 0
1953-54 Detroit Red Wings NHL 62 16 33 49 18 12 5 1 6 0
1954-55 Detroit Red Wings NHL 70 15 30 45 28 11 2 4 6 17
1955-56 Detroit Red Wings NHL 70 16 34 50 39 10 2 4 6 2
1956-57 Detroit Red Wings NHL 70 10 25 35 18 5 1 0 1 0
1957-58 Detroit Red Wings NHL 61 13 18 31 26 4 0 1 1 2
1958-59 Detroit Red Wings NHL 67 8 13 21 34
1959-60 Detroit Red Wings NHL 50 6 12 18 10
1959-60 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 18 6 5 11 8   10 3 8 11 2
1960-61 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 64 20 50 70 12   2 1 0 1 0
1961-62 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 58 22 27 49 6   12 4 6 10 0
1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 66 20 40 60 8   10 2 6 8 6
1963-64 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 11 34 45 16   14 4 9 13 4
1964-65 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 18 28 46 8   6 3 2 5 2
1965-66 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 63 8 24 32 12   4 0 2 2 0
1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 61 14 24 38 4   12 0 5 5 2
1967-68 Los Angeles Kings NHLMGNT
Leaf Totals   470 119 232 351 74   70 17 38 55 16
NHL Totals 1316 281 542 823 327 164 33 59 92 51

First All-Star Team Defense (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957)
James Norris Memorial Trophy (1954)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1951, 1953, 1954, 1961)
Second All-Star Team Defense (1950, 1956)

- Traded to NY Rangers by Detroit with Billy McNeill for Bill Gadsby and Eddie Shack, February 5, 1960.
- Kelly and McNeill refused to report and transaction was cancelled, February 7, 1960.
- Traded to Toronto by Detroit for Marc Reaume, February 10, 1960.
- Rights traded to Los Angeles by Toronto for Ken Block, June 8, 1967.

the HHOF take on Red:

Red Kelly was a unique player - versatile and talented enough to be one of the National Hockey League's best-ever defensemen early in his career and a high-scoring center at the end. The red-haired gentleman was cool and calculating on the ice and never swore, but there was no doubt about his ability to take care of himself. He had been a championship boxer at Toronto's St. Michael's College, skills the four-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy wouldn't often display during his 20-year NHL career.

Born in Simcoe, Ontario, in 1927, Kelly was 20 years old when the Detroit Red Wings brought him up to the big league directly from St. Michael's. A solid but mobile and skilled defenseman, he quickly found a home on the team playing with such superstars as Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel. Kelly was an effective checker, at home on the blue line or on the left wing, where he was sometimes used due either to injuries or to add a little muscle on the offense.

Kelly earned enough All-Star votes in 1950 to win a spot on the NHL's Second Team and the chance to play in the All-Star Game. The Red Wings, well on their way to being the league's dominant team, won the Stanley Cup that year, as they would in three of the next five seasons. And Kelly was an integral part of Detroit's winning formula. His puck-carrying ability allowed the Wings to move from their own zone quickly and provided them with a quick transition game.

Kelly was an All-Star for eight consecutive seasons with the Red Wings, six times on the First Team, and won the Lady Byng Trophy three times. In 1954 he was chosen as the first recipient of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the outstanding defenseman in the league. In 1956 he was named team captain, a job he held until the end of 1957-58 season.

In 1960 the relationship between Kelly and Detroit management began to sour when complaints about his play became public. Kelly had been playing with a broken bone in his foot, a fact only the top executives of the club knew. The Wings announced a trade, sending Kelly to the New York Rangers for Eddie Shack on February 4, 1960. Kelly, upset with his treatment, refused to report to New York and announced his retirement the next day. Toronto coach Punch Imlach attempted to talk him out of it and managed to acquire his rights from Detroit for Marc Reaume. NHL President Clarence Campbell gave Kelly a week to rescind his retirement. Red had been a Toronto fan all his life but soured on the team after a few visits to Maple Leaf Gardens as a junior player. He didn't like the building and was further put off when his team lost some important games there.

His alienation was a throwback to his early playing days, when a Toronto scout proclaimed that Red would never play more than 20 games in the NHL and went so far as to bet a hat on his prognostication. Despite all this, Kelly decided to take Imlach up on his offer and join the Maple Leafs, though not as a defenseman. Imlach moved him up to the center position and, days after retiring, he began what could be called a second career as a successful full-time forward. Any of Kelly's bad memories were quickly forgotten when the Toronto fans gave him a rousing welcome in his first game with the Leafs.

Frank Mahovlich played on the left wing in Kelly's first full season with the Leafs and set a team record with 48 goals, many of them due to the veteran's playmaking skills. In addition to his talent, Kelly brought his winning ways to the Leafs. In his eight years with the team, Toronto won the Stanley Cup four times. He won even when he entered the world of politics in 1962. He was elected to the Canadian Parliament, where he served for three years until retiring in 1965 to concentrate on hockey again. In 1967, after winning his last Stanley Cup - and the Maple Leafs' last championship as well - Kelly was traded to the expansion Los Angeles Kings, where he was named head coach. As a coach, he proved to be a winner yet again, guiding the Kings into two consecutive playoffs. After a three-year stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he returned to Toronto and took the Leafs to four straight quarterfinal appearances.


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