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100 Greatest Players

Ted Lindsay: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Left wing on Red Wings' famed 'Production Line' was fierce competitor for 17 seasons

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

There are the two distinctly different sides of Ted Lindsay, whose 17 remarkable seasons in the NHL spanned three decades.

He was nicknamed "Terrible Ted" for his wrecking-ball style of play; he took on all comers, no matter that at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds -- in thick-soled shoes and after a big meal -- he was dwarfed by many of the foes he challenged.


Video: Terrible Ted' Lindsay took on all comers for Detroit


In 50-plus years of retirement, Lindsay has become much better known as Terrific Ted, a man who has put his giant heart to benevolent use with his endless charity work.

And here is an anecdote that perfectly sews the two men together:

At a charity golf tournament some years ago, Lindsay was introduced to PGA Tour great Billy Casper. The golfer, who was 5-foot-11, looked down at his new friend and said, "You were the scourge of the NHL?" Came the steely eyed reply: "When I put my skates on, I'm 6-foot-5."


Games: 1,068 | Goals: 379 | Assists: 472  | Points: 851


That's exactly how Ted Lindsay played his entire 1,068-game NHL career from 1944-45 through 1964-65, coming out of a four-year retirement in 1964 after three seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks to play one final, excellent season with his beloved Detroit Red Wings, with whom he broke into the NHL.

When he wasn't spending the equivalent of more than 30 games in the penalty box, Lindsay was a gifted left wing who was happiest in the corner of the rink, jousting and fencing and scrapping with opponents.

"My hatred was sincere," Lindsay told in April 2016, discussing his legendary distaste for his opponents on and off the ice.

"I hated everybody. I had no friends. I wasn't there to make friends. I was there to win. It wasn't necessary that I score, but I figured I could be an integral part without scoring. I had ability, I had talent and I didn't have an ego that I thought I was great. I realized I had to earn it. That was my purpose -- to be the best that there was at the left wing position."

Lindsay won four Stanley Cup championships with Detroit, won the Art Ross Trophy in 1950 as the top scorer in the NHL, played in the NHL All-Star Game 11 consecutive times, was selected to the NHL First All-Star Team eight times, and finished among the League's top three in goals four times and points six times.

He grew up one of five boys in the family in the northern Ontario mining town of Kirkland Lake, taking his first strides on local ice at age 9 in skates a neighbor had given him.

The skates were too large, not that the youngster much cared. But seeing how his son had taken to the game, Bert Lindsay cobbled together $4.75, a princely sum during the Great Depression, and bought Ted a pair of Red Horner model skates.

Perhaps that was meant to be; Horner, a rugged Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman of the day, was the undisputed penalty king of the NHL until Lindsay bumped him from the throne in 1957.

You try to imagine Lindsay as a goaltender and of course, you can't. But then, the possibility might have existed in his youth. Bert Lindsay had been a goalie, in the pre-NHL days in the National Hockey Association and Pacific Coast Hockey Association, and in the NHL, playing two seasons for the Montreal Wanderers and Toronto Arenas.

"No, no," Ted Lindsay said with a laugh about putting on goalie pads. "I loved handling the puck. I loved hitting people. And I loved intimidating people, also."

Lindsay played his junior hockey at St. Michael's in Toronto, paying his own way and combining the game with his college schooling, and won a Memorial Cup championship in 1944 with Oshawa. The Maple Leafs had caught wind of this promising young forward, but when Toronto brass attended a game, not knowing his name, they scouted the wrong player; Lindsay was in the hospital for treatment of a calf that had been punctured in a game.

It was Red Wings chief scout Carson Cooper who later dangled the NHL bait, not even certain whether Lindsay was on Toronto's negotiation list. He wasn't, and fate brought him to the Red Wings, a team he had grown to love -- especially Jimmy Orlando and Jack Stewart -- by listening to powerful WJR radio, which had a signal that reached Kirkland Lake from Detroit on crisp, winter nights.

With a year of junior eligibility left, Lindsay attended his first Red Wings training camp at age 19. Red Wings boss Jack Adams, who had played with Bert Lindsay years earlier, threw him into the mix right away.

"The Red Wings had four players who were working at Ford Motor Company (in Detroit) in wartime jobs," Lindsay said. "So they practiced at night, and Mr. Adams said to me, 'You're going to practice with the veterans.'" 

The NHL wasn't the Grade A experience the teenager expected.

"I'm in the National Hockey League now and I'm putting on wet equipment that the guys wore in the morning," Lindsay said. "I'm putting on this wet underwear that's cold, and I thought, 'This is the NHL? Jeez, I'm going back to St. Mike's.'"

But the Red Wings convinced Lindsay to tough it out and signed him to a pro contract on Oct. 18, 1944, telling him he wouldn't languish on the bench. The signing was historic; Lindsay became the first son of an original NHL player to join the League.

He scored the first of his 379 NHL goals in his second game, against the New York Rangers in a 10-3 victory at the Detroit Olympia on Nov. 2, then fought for the first of innumerable times three nights later on the road against Montreal Canadiens veteran Glen Harmon.

As a fiery 19-year-old rookie, Lindsay finished ninth in the League in penalty minutes.

"A 6-foot-2 guy, he can give me a shiner, he can cut me, I can go in and get stitched and come back out," Lindsay said, distilling his philosophy. "He's not going to threaten me, he's not going to scare me. I'll be back and I'll scare him before the game is over. …

"I loved the corners. That's where you found men. You found more chickens. You knew who the chickens were on the other team because they'd always back off a little bit. If I was coming, they knew they were going to get lumber or elbows or anything. They were going to get into the screen (before there was glass)."

Already a hugely popular figure with Red Wings fans, Lindsay would join center Sid Abel and right wing Gordie Howe on Detroit's legendary "Production Line" of the 1950s. Adams named him captain in 1952, then bitterly stripped him of the honor four seasons later for Lindsay's role in trying to establish a players union.

Then, on July 23, 1957, Adams inexplicably traded Lindsay and goalie Glenn Hall, another future Hockey Hall of Famer (Lindsay was inducted in 1966), to Chicago for Forbes Kennedy, Johnny Wilson, Hank Bassen and Bill Preston.
With Chicago, Hall became the best goaltender in the NHL; Lindsay, with less than a full heart, played three seasons of good but not great hockey before retiring to private business.

"I still had Red Wings tattooed here, and here," Lindsay said, tapping his heart, then his backside.

He wanted to be remembered as a Red Wing, associated with the team that was the center of his hockey universe. So he visited Abel, by now Detroit's general manager, and was convinced to return not as a figurehead, but as a player.

Against all odds, and against the wishes of his wife, business partner and many to whom he spoke, Lindsay returned for the 1964-65 season on a one-year contract, scoring 14 goals with 14 assists in 69 games -- with 173 penalty minutes, the second most of his NHL career -- to help his team to a first-place finish and within one win of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

Lindsay's return to the Red Wings was a closely guarded secret. When he skated out onto the Olympia ice, the place erupted.

"To get the reception that I got when I came back …" Lindsay said, his words trailing off. "The years I was [in Detroit], I produced for the people. I didn't cheat them. That's all. It doesn't mean anything to anybody else, but it means a lot to me."

With that, he pawed at his eyes, dissolving into tears. At this moment, there was nothing terrible about Terrible Ted at all.

In retirement, he is likely the most beloved figure to ever wear a Detroit sweater, after the late Gordie Howe. In his early 90s, Lindsay remains active, running his own charitable foundation to benefit autism research and care, while contributing to many worthy causes.

On Nov. 10, 1991, the Red Wings retired his No. 7, presenting him with a pair of skates nearly seven decades after Bert Lindsay had given his son a pair of Red Horner blades.

"If I had two wishes," Lindsay said emotionally that night, "one would be that my mother and father were here to be part of this because it was their upbringing which made it all possible. 

"My second wish would be that I could put on these skates and don that Red Wing uniform one more time."


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