One day last May Jimmy Pappin was on a fairway at the Richmond Hill Golf and Country Club in Toronto when he was told there was a telephone call for him at the clubhouse. It was his wife, Karen, and she said Punch Imlach (the coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs) had just called to say that Jim had been traded to Chicago. "Honey," said Pappin, "don't cook dinner. We're going out to celebrate. I'm the happiest guy in the world."
Jim was happy for two reasons. First, he was getting off the elevator that had shuttled him up and down between the Leafs and the minors. Second, he was going to a club that liked to score a lot of goals and wasn't as grouchy about playing defense as Imlach. Last week Jim seemed to have found the perfect niche, for Chicago was matching powerful Montreal win for win in the new NHL season, and Pappin was the league's goal-scoring leader, with eight. Never mind that the Black Hawks were giving up three goals a game to their enemies, on the average. They were putting five goals into the nets.
"We've got some guys that can shoot," says Billy Reay, the dapper little coach of the Hawks. "Bobby and Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita, Pit Martin, Doug Mohns and now Pappin. When guys like that keep cranking the puck at your net it's going to go in sooner or later."
Pappin came to the Hawks in one of several deals that Imlach, the master trader, negotiated after the Leafs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1958. Before the season was even over Imlach swapped Frank Mahovlich, for whom Chicago had once offered $1 million, Pete Stemkowski and promising Center Gary Unger for a complete forward line from the Detroit Red Wings—Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson and Floyd Smith. Pappin was dealt for Pierre Pilote, formerly an All-Star defenseman.
The Hawks are off to their best start in years, defying tight-checking teams like Toronto to spike their high-scoring forwards. Last year the Hawks lost their first six games and made the playoffs only because of Toronto's difficulty with the expansion teams. This year Mikita and Bobby Hull both held out for more money, Mikita finally signing just before the first game and Hull—after "retiring" for 78 hours—dramatically coming to terms 90 minutes before the second game. However, both players were in camp, and when they put down their pens they were prepared to pick up their sticks. Mikita is leading the league in total points, while Hull—playing as if he is out to prove himself all over again—has six goals after seven games.
"Having everybody in shape has been the difference so far," says Reay. "When some are ready and some aren't it's impossible to be consistent." Reay was alarmed about the defense before the season started, and he is still seeking to improve it. (When Howie Young, a talented but temperamental defenseman, refused to report to Oakland after being traded by Detroit, Chicago bought his contract for $30,000.) But with the goals going in the way they are, Reay will do a minimum of tinkering; the object of the game is still to score more goals than the other team.
And Pappin is scoring more goals than anybody. "Before the season began I would have settled for 25," he said last week, "but now I won't, not with this start. Heck, I'd like to score 50. I'm not shooting for a specific number, but I'd like to average about seven or eight a month." (As who would not. That average would make him a superstar.)
In Pappin's best season with Toronto he scored 21 goals and always appeared capable of getting more. He is big (6'1", 190 pounds), he can skate and obviously he can shoot. He is now using a curved stick, which, he says, has made his shot even better.
Pappin's image as a goal scorer, coupled with his occasional tardiness at coming back to help on defense, is probably the reason he never hit it off with Imlach—a man who regards giving up goals as sinful—and why he spent most of his previous eight years as a pro commuting between Toronto and its minor-league affiliate, the Rochester Americans. The Maple Leafs play a tight, clutch-and-grab style; 16 men go out to get one goal and then spend the rest of the night protecting it. Pappin, in Imlach's view, was not a two-way player. "I'm not going to knock Punch," says Pappin. "A lot of people are just waiting for me to do it, but I'm not going to. Really, I don't think I ever fitted into his plans. What burned me up was being sent down when I thought he was keeping players that weren't as good."
Near the end of his 21-goal year—1967—Pappin found himself on his way to Rochester once more, but when the playoffs started he was back up again, and he led the Leafs to the Stanley Cup championship, topping all scorers with 15 points in 12 games. Last February everything was going wrong with the Leafs when Imlach, perhaps in a superstitious move, decided to ship Pappin out again, hoping to light a fire under him. Pappin had heard rumors that the elevator was descending and he blew up. "I know what he's going to say to me," Pappin recalls thinking. "Well, he's out of luck. I'm retiring. That's it." With that, Jim stormed out of the dressing room and took off on a skiing expedition in northern Canada. Eventually he cooled off and reported to Rochester, but Imlach, believing that Pappin had let his teammates down, had made up his mind to unload him at the first opportunity. That opportunity came when Chicago offered to trade Pilote.