For 14 seasons, Ted Lindsay was a member of the Detroit Red Wings, helping lead the team to four Stanley Cup Championships while scoring 379 goals and 851 assists. In the process, Lindsay engrained himself with the city of Detroit before spending the next 70 years of his life as beloved as any local athlete. On Monday, Lindsay passed away at 93-years-old as important a National Hockey League player as there ever was, though many outside of Detroit might not be aware.
Born in a small Ontario town in 1925, Lindsay began his professional hockey career in 1944 at the age of 19. Eventually, he got the opportunity to play alongside fellow Hall of Famers Gordie Howe and Sid Abel and the trio quickly earned the nicknamed the “Production Line,” scoring at an astonishing pace. Lindsay and his cohorts each had their own unique style – and for No. 7, it was a toughness and ferocity, which earned him the nickname “Terrible Ted” from the media. In fact, the Detroit Free Press once wrote that hockey fans saw Lindsay as a cross between Al Capone and Jack the Ripper. There was little Lindsay hadn’t accomplished when he decided to retire, for the second and final time, following the 1964-65 campaign at the age of 39 but while achievements are great, it’s Lindsay’s trailblazing moments that truly left a mark on the league.
CREATING A NEW STANLEY CUP TRADITION
For the first six seasons of his career, Lindsay had, on three different occasions, made it to the Stanley Cup Final, coming up short each time. In 1950, things went a little differently when the Red Wings managed to edge past the New York Rangers in seven games to secure the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup, thanks to a thrilling double-overtime win in Game 7. Elated afterwards, Lindsay took the trophy over to the boards, holding it so that those in the stands were able to read the names inscribed on it.
“I saw it sitting there, and I thought, ‘I’ll just pick it up and I’ll take it over,'” Lindsay said in a 2013 interview with The Associated Press. “I just moved along the boards. I didn’t have it over my head. I had it so they could read it. I wasn’t starting a tradition. I was just taking care of my fans that paid our salary.”
He might not have planned it but, almost immediately, a tradition was born.
In the years since, countless players have ceremoniously hoisted the Stanley Cup in the air and skated it around the ice for all the fans to see and today every member of the winning team does it – a tradition unlike any in North American sports.
FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHTS OF FAMILY AND COWORKERS
“Terrible Ted” was anything but his namesake off of the ice, focusing on the needs of those around him.
A year following his retirement, Lindsay was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, however the former Red Wings great refused to attend the men-only celebration banquet. Lindsay was adamant about wanting to bring his family to the event as he believed families should be included because, often, those closest to the players were partially responsible for their success. Because of Lindsay’s stand, the following year the Hall of Fame opened up the banquet to wives and children and it’s been that way ever since.
Lindsay’s stand against the NHL brass began long before that.
Throughout his playing career, Lindsay was the player representative for the Red Wings players, attending the annual pension plan meetings. Lindsay would eventually discover that the conditions in both professional football and baseball far exceeded that of the NHL. While teams owned players for their entire careers and paid very little, players began to fight back on a proper minimum salary and adequate pensions. Lindsay was at the forefront of this push back and with the help of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey, the two led the group that would ultimately organize the National Hockey League Players’ Association in 1958.
Lindsay was stripped of his captaincy and shipped out of town to the rival Chicago Blackhawks, which came with defamatory remarks by his coach, Jack Adams, who even went as far as to show the press a fake contract that show an inflated salary for No. 7. The newly-formed Players’ Association then filed an anti-trust lawsuit, claiming the league had been monopolizing since 1926. In the end, the NHL opted for an out-of-court settlement, agreeing to a majority of the players’ demands, including a $7,000 minimum wage, increased hospital benefits and a limit on the number of exhibition games.
Though it wouldn’t become a permanent union until 1967, the NHLPA would lay the foundation for how players should be treated by ownership.
For his role in establishing the NHLPA, Linsday was honored with his own trophy in 2010, renaming the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the NHL’s most outstanding player during the regular season as voted by the members of the NHLPA, the Ted Lindsay Award. Notable winners have included Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Phil Esposito. It just shows that while his play on the ice was impactful and worthy of celebration, it was what Lindsay accomplished for those around him off the ice that truly made him a legend. And everyone, not just Detroit, should know that.