At the start of every hockey season there is a certain hopeful newness about the look of the National Hockey League. This year—as the six teams swept out to do battle in a campaign that would last over half a year and involve a total of 210 games—the look of the NHL was newer and brighter than ever. It has been customary during recent years to discover the strength of the league centered in three cities: Detroit, Montreal and Toronto. These "have" clubs had been taking it out unmercifully on the "have-nots" ( Boston, New York and Chicago) with such classic regularity that it became plainly evident that a certain amount of personnel reshuffling was required to preserve the structure of the circuit and bring some measure of contentment to a vast audience of American hockey lovers.
The most startling off-season moves were made by Detroit, which won the NHL title for the seventh successive time last spring, and by Chicago, which finished a gloomy last with only 13 victories over the 70-game grind. Jack Adams, general manager of the champion Red Wings, has never been known to stand pat with any team for very long. Now he has moved again, trading off all but nine members of the world champions. The departed ones fortunately have wound up in the have-not cities—which, on paper at least, gives the league more well-proportioned strength. Chicago, in addition to gaining some fine players, has lured Coach Dick Irvin away from Montreal—where the Canadiens finally look ready, nonetheless, to end Detroit's long victory streak.
Coach and player changes have taken place on other clubs, too, but when the bruising season comes to a close next March 18 it will come as a distinct surprise to most hockey fans if the two traditionally strongest "have" teams, Montreal and Detroit, are not right back on top again.
The most colorful team in hockey, after virtually throwing away its championship chances when Maurice Richard spent the final week of the 1954-55 season under suspension, is back again completely intact and with a promise from the fiery Rocket that he'll try to curb his temper. Happily for rookie Coach Hector (Toe) Blake, the Rocket is only one of many stars on the club. Boom Boom Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau approached the 40-goal mark a year ago. If oldtimers Mosdell, Curry and Bouchard slow down a bit, Blake can expect improvement from such eager young skaters as Gamble, St. Laurent, Marshall, Moore and a rookie named Henri (The Pocket Rocket) Richard-Maurice's younger brother. Goalie Jacques Plante rang up consecutive shutouts in his first two games.
Detroit Red Wings.
Although he has already been criticized for overplaying a usually successful trading hand, General Manager Jack Adams insists the Wings will be stronger than ever. He has two reasons: still on hand and going strong is a four-man star nucleus of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly and Marty Pavelich; and both Adams and Coach Jim Skinner believe the infusion of new blood to a championship s`quad is the best preventive for general complacency. Key man in the trades—which leave Detroit with nine holdovers, five transfers and five rookies—was Goalie Terry Sawchuk, who went to Boston. His replacement is Rookie Glenn Hall, up from Edmonton. The Red Wings lost all three opening-week games, but they have the sort of class which usually tells.
In the opinion of Bruin General Manager Lynn Patrick, "getting Sawchuk [All-Star goalie from Detroit] means the difference between fighting for fourth place and being a contender for the championship." Not many people are as optimistic as Patrick, but even Coach Milt Schmidt, who has finally hung up his skates, says: " Sawchuk should be the difference between 10 games won or lost." In addition to his new goalie, Schmidt has received from Detroit Forwards Vic Stasiuk and Marcel Bonin, but the price Boston paid was to part with such regulars as Chevrefils, Sandford, Godfrey and Corcoran. Gus Bodnar has retired, but the Bruins have obtained a good rookie in Left Winger Orville Tessier from the Montreal farm system. If the forwards find the scoring range in support of Sawchuk, the Bruins could move up.
Toronto Maple Leafs.
General Manager Hap Day has given his team the new slogan "Guts, Goals and Glamour" but neglected to toss in what was needed most: a player to fill the shoes of Captain Ted Kennedy, one of the great centers of the decade. With Kennedy retired, Day is more or less forced into the big gamble of relying heavily on kids up from the farm system. Two established All-Stars, Winger Sid Smith and Goalie Harry Lumley, will have to carry a tremendous load, and such experienced players as Armstrong, Stewart, Sloan and Morrison will have to improve if the Leafs hope to make the playoffs. Of the newcomers, much is expected from rookie Center Billy Harris. But if he and the other youngsters don't come through, there'll be many a sad winter night in Toronto.
Chicago Black Hawks.
Some $400,000 has been spent in two years to give Chicago a contending hockey team. Some of the money is going into the pocket of canny 63-year-old Coach Dick Irvin, who in 26 years as a NHL coach has failed only once to put his team in the playoffs. Irvin has inherited some good hockey players, such as Rollins, Sullivan, Watson, Stanley and Litzenberger. In a trade with Detroit he has acquired Benny Woit, Tony Leswick, Glen Skov and Johnny Wilson, and from the juniors he has promoted a highly promising center named Hank Ciesla. This clearly is no overpowering hockey team, yet it has won two of the first three games. It will win many more, too, for the simple reason that Dick Irvin may be the best coach in the business.
New York Rangers.
A team of great disappointment to loyal fans for so long, the Rangers can only hope to move in one direction: up. They too have a rookie coach in Phil Watson, and four new faces: Bronco Horvath, Dave Creighton, Guy Gendron and Andy Hebenton. Three of the newcomers were big scorers in the minors, but too many recent Ranger imports from the minors have unhappily discovered that New York actually does play in the big time. Back in action is star Winger Wally Hergesheimer, and Coach Watson learned in New York's first two games (which the Rangers won on foreign ice) that he may get some useful mileage and marksmanship from Ron Murphy and Andy Bathgate. Gump Worsley is back in goal. The Rangers could surprise, for when they are hot they can be very hot.