The Hutchinson Curse

TORONTO (Jan. 28) — Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas keeps bringing back Michael Hutchinson as insurance… for insurance… against insurance in goal. And, Hutchinson keeps finding his way onto the roster. Does Michael cast a spell over the Blue and White? Or, is he a mortal boomerang Dubas cannot evade?

Whatever the answer, young Kyle must be feeling sorry for himself right about now. He has twice pulled off exceptional swaps with the Los Angeles Kings. The first (on Jan. 28, 2019) brought solid defenseman Jake Muzzin to Toronto. Just more than a year later (Feb. 6, 2020) came the acquisition of Jack Campbell, providing the Maple Leafs (at long last) a legitimate No. 2 goalie — a young, enthusiastic chattel with good numbers on a bad Los Angeles team that would allow coach Sheldon Keefe to pace aging starter Frederik Andersen. And, perhaps a stopper that could replace Andersen, whose contract expires after this season.

So much for the best laid plans. Again.

For whatever it’s worth, the Leafs, in the early going, appear to be as predicted: the best team in the all–Canadian (or North) division… Campbell largely responsible for two of the club’s six wins. But, we aren’t likely to see Smilin’ Jack in the foreseeable future; not after he sustained a lamentable groin injury at Calgary on Sunday afternoon. Which severely handcuffs the Maple Leafs… on the ice and at the Decision Desk. Andersen being deployed more frequently isn’t the prime issue, though neither is it immaterial. Nor will Hutchinson likely see a lot of playing time with the Leafs not having consecutive–night games until Feb. 17 and 18 (at home to Ottawa). In fact, after a doubleheader in Edmonton, tonight and Saturday, the club is idle until Thursday — quite a luxury in this 56–game schedule. So, Andersen probably won’t be sucking air.

The larger issue is Campbell’s ailment. A goalie injuring a groin muscle is the equivalent of a surgeon maiming his hand. There are compulsory requirements for both. Groin maladies are worrisome in hockey, given the push against skate–blades needed for propulsion, both central (back and forth) and lateral (side to side). Goaltenders are particularly dependent on such areas of the body working comfortably. Moreover, it requires minimal explanation as to why groin pulls are easily aggravated. So, the magnitude, timing and healing potential of Campbell’s affliction are rather unpredictable. Which isn’t good news for the Leafs.


THIS CANADIAN PRESS PHOTO OF MATTHEW TKACHUK “RESTING” ON JACK CAMPBELL COULD BE AN EPITAPH FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS IN 2021. THE CLUB WAS COUNTING ON SMILIN’ JACK’S PRESENCE. 

Again, it may not impact how the club fares in its remaining 48 matches, providing Andersen can navigate another heavy workload. It will, however, put extra strain on the 31–year–old veteran before the playoffs; fans of the Maple Leafs need no reminder of Andersen pooping out early in the Stanley Cup tournament.

Were Campbell healthy and performing as exhibited through 58 career starts in L.A. and Toronto, the Leafs may have split goaltending chores quite evenly — and done so by design — for the first time since way back in 1973–74, when the late Red Kelly rotated three stoppers: Doug Favell, Eddie Johnston and Dunc Wilson. In every ensuing year, the Leafs have either relied disproportionately on one man or resorted to a committee of goalies, hoping that one might grab the reign. This season figured to provide Sheldon Keefe an opportunity to alternate Andersen and Campbell. And, as mentioned, to determine whether he can move forward with the latter in the No. 1 slot. Now, given Campbell’s groin injury, that may require a longer look.

Alongside whom is the big question.

Campbell’s ailment, even if it lingers, should not pressure Dubas into extending Andersen’s contract beyond this year. Not until minimally proven the big Dane can ditch the soft–goal dilemma that has plagued him. If, however, Campbell isn’t healthy enough to provide the Leafs an appropriate indication of his ability as a starter, where does Dubas turn? Among the free agent possibilities next summer are Tuukka Rask of Boston (remember him?), age 35; Jordan Binnington of St. Louis, 28 and Annti Raanta of Arizona, 31. Heck, for old time’s sake, any of James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, Curtis McElhinney, Calvin Pickard, Antoine Bibeau or (gulp!) Kasimir Kaskisuo may also be had. Either of the homegrown prospects, Joseph Woll and Ian Scott, would thrill the Leafs if ready for the big time. Otherwise, Dubas will again explore the trade market.

Of course, none of these options may have been applicable if Smilin’ Jack were still groin–worthy.

THE CHIEF ON THE COVER

Given that George Armstrong played 20 seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I’m surprised that I have only four programs with his image on the cover. The Chief, as he was known, died last Sunday in his 91st year. His first season with the Leafs (playing 20 games) was 1951–52; his final NHL campaign (59 games), 1970–71. In between, Armstrong captained the Blue and White to four Stanley Cup titles in the 1960’s. As a tribute to this great man, I share with you, here, several programs from my Maple Leaf Gardens collection: 

 
The first Armstrong cover (above) dates to early 1959 and a 3–1 victory over Detroit. Among the Leafs in this game, Armstrong, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, Dick Duff, Ron Stewart, Billy Harris, Bert Olmstead, Carl Brewer, Bob Pulford, Bob Baun, Allan Stanley and Frank Mahovlich would win at least one Cup with the team in the 60’s. Pulford, at 18:55 of the third period, beat future teammate Terry Sawchuk to break a 1–1 tie with the Red Wings on Jan. 7, 1959. Duff iced the win with an empty net goal. It was Punch Imlach’s first season as coach of the Leafs. Frank Udvari officiated the match with linesmen George Hayes and Neil Armstrong.


The Maple Leafs were the three–time defending champion when this program (above and below) was issued on Jan. 2, 1965. Again, Detroit fell, 3–1, at Maple Leaf Gardens as Tim Horton scored twice for the Leafs. Ron Stewart had the other Toronto goal; future Leaf Norm Ullman scored for the Red Wings. Terry Sawchuk earned the victory in his first season with the Leafs. Roger Crozier took the loss. The referee was Vern Buffey; the linesmen, Matt Pavelich and John D’Amico. The Toronto triumph broke a five–game winless streak (0–4–1) and started a hot run of 13–4–4 in the next 21 games that vaulted Imlach’s team into fourth place and the 1965 playoffs. But, Montreal would end the Leafs’ string of championships.  




GEORGE ARMSTRONG ACCEPTS THE STANLEY CUP FROM NHL PRESIDENT CLARENCE CAMPBELL AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS ON APR. 25, 1964. THE LEAFS HAD JUST WON THEIR THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE, DOWNING DETROIT.


The Leafs were in the midst of another solid run when this program (above and below) appeared, showing Armstrong and teammates in action at the Detroit Olympia. With Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk both hobbling, Bruce Gamble took over in goal for Imlach and famously registered four shutouts in a six–game span. This was among them. Frank Mahovlich beat Roger Crozier on the powerplay at 17:24 of the first period and the Leafs blanked  the Red Wings, 1–0. The Big M scored only four seconds after Detroit blue–liner Gary Bergman went off for hooking. Gamble stopped all 35 Detroit shots for the win… four nights after repeatedly stoning Bobby Hull at Maple Leaf Gardens, thereby preventing the Golden Jet from becoming the first player to break the 50–goal barrier (it would happen three nights after this, on Mar. 12, 1966). John Ashley refereed the Leafs–Detroit game of Mar. 9 with linesmen Neil Armstrong and Matt Pavelich.




After an 11–3–2 streak that vaulted them into third place in the NHL, the Leafs ended the 1965–66 season winless in their final four matches. This game (program above and below) resulted in a 3–1 loss to Montreal — the Canadiens doing all their damage against Johnny Bower in the third period. Goals by Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard and Gilles Tremblay offset a first–period tally by Bob Pulford of the Leafs. Gump Worsley stopped 38 shots for the win. In the playoffs, just more than a week later, Montreal would sweep Toronto in four games; then rebound from an 0–2 deficit against Detroit to win the Stanley Cup. Frank Udvari officiated this Leafs–Habs encounter of Mar. 30, 1966 with linesmen Neil Armstrong and Matt Pavelich. 



OTHER NOTABLE LINE–UPS…


The oldest MLG program I have that includes Armstrong: wearing No. 20 in his first full season. It was after Toronto had won a fourth Stanley Cup in five years (1947–48–49–51); franchise legend Joe Primeau was behind the bench. In Toronto’s last home game of 1951–52, Chicago pulled off an upset, 3–2. The Black Hawks were solidly in the NHL basement, with a record of 16–44–9. But, two goals by Bill Mosienko and another by Pete Horeck offset a pair of Leaf tallies by Cal Gardner. Harry Lumley got the win in net for Chicago; Al Rollins the loss. Frank Udvari was the referee; George Hayes and Douglas Young, the linesmen. 


By the 1953–54 season, Armstrong had donned his familiar No. 10 jersey. And, Detroit was the class of the NHL — winning, on this night, 3–1 at the Gardens. All goals were scored in the first period: Alex Delvecchio with two and Glen Skov the other for the Red Wings; defenseman Jim Morrison replying for Toronto. Terry Sawchuk (Detroit) and Harry Lumley were the goalies. Armstrong and Ted Lindsay fought in the first period, drawing majors from referee Bill Chadwick, who worked with linesmen Jim Primeau and James Dunn. The Red Wings would win their third Stanley Cup in four years under GM Jack Adams and coach Tommy Ivan.


For captain Armstrong, it was still early in the 1967 playoffs when this program (above and below) made the rounds at Maple Leaf Gardens. Toronto and Chicago were deadlocked after two games of the Stanley Cup semifinals; the Black Hawks still heavily favored to prevail, despite losing at home in Game 2. But, the worm began to turn on this night when the Leafs were victorious, 3–1. Not again would they trail in the best–of–seven series. Ron Ellis, Frank Mahovlich and Jim Pappin scored unanswered on Glenn Hall in the first two periods. A powerplay goal by Bobby Hull with 3:30 left on the clock spoiled Terry Sawchuk’s shutout attempt (Pete Stemkowski was off for tripping). Each club registered 36 shots on goal in a mostly tame affair refereed by Art Skov, with linesmen Matt Pavelich and Brent Casselman. The Leafs would oust Chicago in six games, then do the same with Montreal to win their most–recent NHL championship.   



THE CHIEF AND HAROLD BALLARD ARRIVE AT TORONTO CITY HALL IN MAY 1967.


The NHL doubled in size to 12 teams for the 1967–68 season, adding the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. Armstrong and the Leafs clashed with an expansion team for the first time on Oct. 25, 1967, when the Kings arrived at the Gardens (program above and below) with the winning Toronto goalie in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final less than six months earlier. Terry Sawchuk, chosen by L.A. in the expansion draft, stopped 30 of 34 shots against his former ‘mates but lost, 4–2. Jim Pappin and Ron Ellis had the Leafs in front, 2–0, by 12:00 of the first period, but Bill Flett and Eddie Joyal evened the match for the visitors, clad in gold uniforms with purple pants. A powerplay goal by future Kings player and coach Bob Pulford at 15:55 of the middle frame proved the difference (with defenseman Bill White off for interference). Armstrong set up Frank Mahovlich for the insurance marker, also with an extra man, late in the third. Leafs goalie Bruce Gamble stopped 29 shots for the win. Vern Buffey officiated the match with linesmen Neil Armstrong and Claude Bechard.


 
Armstrong was three games from retirement on Apr. 11, 1971 when the Leafs and New York Rangers met in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals (program above and below). The clubs had split the first two encounters at Madison Square Garden; a wild, bench–emptying brawl ensuing late in Game 2 during which Vic Hadfield of New York famously yanked the mask off Toronto goalie Bernie Parent and tossed it amid the Garden faithful. The Leafs won the third match to assume their only lead of the best–of–seven series. It was the last victory of Armstrong’s career. In this fourth game, the visitors built a 4–0 lead by 18:10 of the second period on goals by Bob Nevin, Hadfield, Dave Balon and Ron Stewart. Nevin and Stewart had won Stanley Cups with Armstrong in the 60’s. Rookie Darryl Sittler scored both for Toronto, his first two of 29 career playoff goals with the Leafs and Philadelphia. Ed Giacomin stopped 27 shots for the victory in the New York net; Parent took the loss. The referee was Bill Friday; the linesmen, Neil Armstrong and Willard Norris. The Rangers would eliminate the Leafs with Nevin’s overtime goal on Jacques Plante in Game 6 at the Gardens.   



THE CHIEF OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS… IN HIS FINAL NHL SEASON, 1970–71.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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