By: Will Burchfield
The great Ted Lindsay won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings — and would have won a bunch more, he said, “if it wasn’t for stupid Jack Adams, our general manager.”READ MORE: More Water Woes For Benton Harbor After Pipe Rupture
Adams, known in his day as ‘Trader Jack’ for his tendency to swing blockbuster deals, presided over the Red Wings for 36 years, including the duration of Lindsay’s first stint with the team. After Lindsay helped the Wings to their fourth Stanley Cup in six years in 1955, not to mention their seventh consecutive regular season title, Adams shook up the roster.
“One year, we won the Stanley Cup and he traded nine players away from our team. And in those days, you only had 18 players — one goaltender, five defensemen, two or three lines, and two extra players.”
The Red Wings’ streak of regular season dominance came to an end after the 1955 season. So did their penchant for winning the Cup. (They would not win another one until 1997). The Canadiens took control of the league from there, capturing the Cup in each of the next five seasons.
“When (Adams) broke up our team, I tell you, of the five Cups that Montreal won, we should have won all five of them. I’ll give them one, maybe,” said Lindsay. “He screwed us.”
Lindsay and Adams have a bit of a history, of course. The two were on opposing sides in the players’ fight to form a union in the 1950s, a cause for which Lindsay was an outspoken advocate. The Red Wings, angry with Lindsay for leading the charge, stripped him of his captaincy and then shipped him to the Blackhawks in 1957 — after he led the league in assists the season prior, no less.
Adams proceeded to plant stories in the press about Lindsay badmouthing his former teammates – a complete fabrication – and then showed Detroit-area reporters a fake contract that suggested Lindsay’s salary was nearly double its actual amount. His machinations worked. The Red Wings players rejected the union proposal in 1957.
(A year later, the players and owners would reach an out-of-court settlement, forming the foundation for today’s NHL Players’ Association.)
Lindsay went on to play for the Blackhawks for three seasons before retiring in 1960. In 1964, after working for the prior three years as a color commentator on NBC’s hockey broadcasts, Lindsay approached Sid Abel, his former linemate and then Detroit’s coach and GM.
“Sid,” Lindsay said, “I want to be remembered as a Red Wing. I’d like to do color.”
Abel had a different idea for the 39-year-old Lindsay: “Why don’t you come back and play?”
“I laughed at him,” Lindsay recalled, “and then I talked to my wife and my business partner, (former teammate Marty Pavelich). “They didn’t want me to play. But I love the game so I went against their decision.”
The day before the 1964-65 season began, Abel held a press conference in downtown Detroit. Lindsay remembers it like it was yesterday: “He said, ‘I’ve got a real surprise for everybody. We’ve got a young rookie that we’re going to unleash for tomorrow night’s game. His name is Ted Lindsay.’”
But few people took Lindsay’s comeback seriously.READ MORE: Tesla Hits Record Profit Despite Parts Shortage, Ship Delays
“All the press thought I was humoring myself, I guess,” Lindsay said.
Clarence Campbell, then-league President, wasn’t amused.
“It’s the blackest day in hockey,” Campbell said, “when a 39-year-old man thinks he can play in the fastest game in the world.”
Said Lindsay, “He’s entitled to his opinion, he’s the President of the league. I had no trouble with that.”
Here’s what Campbell didn’t know. Lindsay had been staying sharp by playing in a men’s league.
“I had a radio show for CKLW in Windsor, Ontario,” Lindsay said. “When I was doing a show one day, a guy said, ‘We got a hockey team, why don’t you come over and play?’ I said, ‘Well, what time do you play?’”
But the time – between 10 and 11 a.m. – didn’t fit with Lindsay’s work schedule in regard to the company he ran with Pavelich.
“So I said, ‘If it gets moved back to 7:00 in the morning then I’ll think about coming over.’ Long story short, a couple weeks later the guys all decided they’d go on the ice at 7:00,” Lindsay said. “I lived in Birmingham, so I had to get up at 3:00 in the morning to get on the ice in Windsor because there were no expressways back in those days.”
But Lindsay never thought twice about making the pre-dawn schlep across the U.S.-Canada border.
“I love the game. My wife thought I was nuts, but women don’t understand us men sometimes,” he chuckled.
The practice time helped. Lindsay got off to a strong start in his comeback season, quickly proving Campbell wrong. He would finish with 14 goals and 28 points in 69 games as the Wings captured their first regular season championship since trading Lindsay seven years prior.
“I’ll say this for Campbell,” Lindsay said. “About six weeks into the season, he made another press conference across the country and said, ‘Ted Lindsay proved to me he’s a great athlete. He did something that I never thought he could do.’”
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“I wasn’t surprised,” he said.