NHL Legends and the Teams We Forget They Played for
It is hard to determine which is the greater anomaly: An NHL legend who sticks with one organization throughout a lengthy career or a Gordie Howe/Ray Bourque type who applies the savory cherry in another uniform.
In any given collection of all-time greats, both cases are likely outnumbered by those players whose legend was split among one, two or three teams, but who also had momentary stints elsewhere. Specifically, ones that are so brief they are all but impossible to remember.
For his entire NHL career, Toe Blake’s place of employment was always the Montreal Forum, but not exclusively with the Canadiens. Despite his polarizing move to pilot the WHA, Bobby Hull was not exactly banned for life from the NHL, though he did not stay with Winnipeg or return to Chicago for the final weeks of his career.
Can anyone recall Blake’s first team and Hull’s final club without clicking ahead?
In the cases of those players and anything comparable, the only surefire way to remember those fleeting stints is to be a fan of the team in question and be old enough to remember the player. For everyone else, it is akin to the material in a textbook that one highlights and underlines with three different colored pens in advance of the final exam.
Whether it is a revelation or a refresher, here are 30 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame who penned their legendary logs with at least one NHL franchise and added less than 30 regular season games played with another.
Marty Barry: NY Americans
Barry needed to reboot his NHL career when he spent the entire 1928-29 season in the minors after playing six games with the Amerks the year prior. He eventually found a fresh sheet in Boston and spent the better part of the next decade with the Bruins and Red Wings, tallying six straight 20-goal seasons along the way.
Ed Belfour: San Jose
Doug Bentley: NY Rangers
After 11 sound seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Bentley slipped out of The Show in 1951 and spent the next five years with the Saskatoon Quakers.
The only interruption came in 1953-54, when he joined the Rangers for 20 games, the last 20 he would play at the top level.
Toe Blake: Montreal Maroons
Before Blake spent a combined 26 years (13 apiece) as a winning player and coach for the Canadiens, he broke into The Show across town, putting in eight appearances with the Maroons in 1934-35.
Gerry Cheevers: Toronto
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Cheevers is famous for the clever artwork on his facemask, for scooping up two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins and sandwiching four years in the World Hockey Association with his two protracted Boston stints.
All of that notoriety, though, was preceded by six seasons spent largely in the minors and an altogether uneventful two-game twirl with the Maple Leafs in 1961-62.
Paul Coffey: Boston and Chicago
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The three-time recipient of the Norris Trophy was hardly his former self or a replacement for beloved contemporaries Chris Chelios or Ray Bourque when he had 10- and 18-game stints with the Blackhawks and Bruins.
In each case, Coffey pitched in zero goals and four assists while incurring a minus-six rating.
Cy Denneny: Boston
Denneny’s days with the original Ottawa Senators overlapped with the founding and the first decade of the NHL. After the 1927-28 season, he transitioned to a part-time playing (23 games) and full-time coaching role with the Bruins, whom he guided to their first Stanley Cup title in 1929.
Tony Esposito: Montreal
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Ron Francis: Toronto
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Francis was the face of the Hartford Whalers and later the Carolina Hurricanes in the 1980s and early 2000s, respectively. In between, he was a prolific playmaker and two-time Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After all of that, he was a trading deadline import who played 12 games apiece in the regular season and playoffs for the Maple Leafs in 2003-04, his final season.
Grant Fuhr: Los Angeles
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It is all little wonder the relationship between Fuhr and the Kings is hardly remembered. Each party has had brighter moments, Fuhr’s being back-to-back title runs with Edmonton, and L.A.’s being the 1993 and 2012 runs backstopped by Kelly Hrudey and Jonathan Quick.
When Fuhr transferred from Buffalo during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, he posted a 1-7-3 transcript over 14 games played with the Kings. The following year, he became a regular in the win column once more with the St. Louis Blues.
Wayne Gretzky: St. Louis
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Fuhr’s Edmonton and L.A. days both partially overlapped with Gretzky’s, and they were momentarily reunited yet again in St. Louis for the 1996 homestretch and postseason.
Almost symbolically, Gretzky made his stop in America’s heartland between lengthier and more memorable gigs in Los Angeles and New York, the media giants of the country’s two coasts.
Even though Gretzky averaged more than a point per game as a member of the Blues, the brevity of his time in Missouri and the towering size of the other two markets make this a more challenging trivia question.
Doug Harvey: Detroit
Harvey logged three-and-a-half times more Norris Trophies (seven) with the Canadiens than he did games with the Red Wings (two).
Syd Howe: Toronto
No relation to Mr. Hockey, who incidentally broke into the NHL immediately after he left, the Ottawa native established himself as a Red Wing in 1934-35. That followed stints with his hometown Senators, the Philadelphia Quakers, the St. Louis Eagles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the last of which went a mere three games.
Bobby Hull: Hartford
While Hull is famous (or infamous) for defecting from the Blackhawks to help the Winnipeg Jets launch the WHA, he would land back in the NHL, along with the Jets, after the competing league imploded in 1979.
The first season of the post-WHA era was the last season in Hull’s professional career, and he split it between Winnipeg and Hartford, suiting up for nine regular-season and three playoff contests with the Whalers.
Brett Hull: Phoenix
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Jari Kurri: NY Rangers
A multitude of the dynastic Oilers from the 1980s―Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish―spread the championship wealth to the Rangers in 1993-94. Another one, the aforementioned Gretzky, came to Manhattan for the final three years of his career from 1996-97 to 1998-99.
Kurri was not a part of either moment, but he did don the Blueshirt for 14 regular-season and 11 playoff games in the spring of 1996.
Newsy Lalonde: NY Americans
Lalonde’s productivity plummeted in 1921-22 after five prolific years with the Canadiens, before and after the NHL’s inception. He was subsequently relegated to Saskatoon in the West Coast League, where he remained for four years before a one-game comeback attempt with the Amerks in the 1926-27 season.
Igor Larionov: Florida
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Considering the role Larionov played in the Red Wings’ championship campaigns of 1997, 1998 and 2002, a check of his career stats is all but a requirement to confirm that he was briefly a Panther in between.
Larionov made his Florida debut on Oct. 6, 2000 and ventured into Joe Louis Arena as a visitor on Dec. 13. But the Panthers’ last game before Christmas was also their last with Larionov, who was wearing the Winged Wheel yet again by Dec. 29, 2000.
Brian Leetch: Toronto
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Almost a career-long Ranger, Leetch joined Francis in going to the Leafs before the trading deadline in March 2004. He tallied exactly a point per night over a 15-game homestretch and then rode along on a 13-game playoff run.
After the subsequent lockout, Leetch played his final NHL season with Boston, putting in 61 appearances during the 2005-06 campaign.
Sylvio Mantha: Boston
A reliable defenseman for his hometown Canadiens from 1923 to 1936, Mantha wrapped up his career in 1936-37 when he played five games for the Bruins.
Dickie Moore: St. Louis
The NHL’s first major round of expansion in 1967 allowed Moore to briefly return from retirement and join the Blues for 27 games after two years out of the game. Before that, he had furnished his Hall of Fame resume with Montreal and Toronto.
Howie Morenz: NY Rangers
Morenz was displaced from the Canadiens for two seasons in 1934-35 and 1935-36, splitting the latter between Chicago and New York.
After 19 games with the Rangers, he returned to his familiar haunts in Montreal at the start of the 1936-37 season but would suffer a tragic career-ending injury later that winter.
Frank Nighbor: Toronto
Another key member of Ottawa’s original NHL franchise who won the 1924 Hart Trophy, Nighbor split his final campaign in 1929-30 between the two Ontario teams, playing his last 20 career games for the Leafs.
Adam Oates: Philadelphia
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A homestretch and playoff rental in the spring of 2002 when he dressed a cumulative 19 times for the Flyers, Oates played more than three times as many games with each of his other six NHL teams.
Bobby Orr: Chicago
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Orr’s first of three seasons with the Blackhawks was easily the most eventful, with all 20 games played. He sat out the entire 1977-78 campaign and then dressed six more times before retiring.
Jacques Plante: Boston
Plante followed his best-documented decade in Montreal with multiple-year stays in New York, St. Louis and Toronto. He followed that with an eight-game gig in Boston to conclude his NHL career in 1973.
Eddie Shore: NY Americans
At age 37, Shore’s game declined to the point where he split the 1939-40 season between the Bruins, Americans and minor-league Springfield Indians, where he would remain for each of the subsequent three years. His NHL career outside of Boston lasted all of 10 games.
Billy Smith: Los Angeles
Peter Stastny: St. Louis
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The Slovak pioneer was a Blue for a combined 23 regular-season and four playoff games over the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. He logged almost 10 times as many games with the New Jersey Devils and, naturally, is best remembered as a Quebec Nordique.
Roy Worters: Montreal
Of the 485 NHL games Worters logged, only one was with a franchise that still exists. He spent the rest of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Americans.
For what it’s worth, in his one twirl with the Canadiens, he confined the opposition to two goals and won.