The hockey world is mourning the death Sunday of Hubert "Pit" Martin in a snowmobiling accident near his cottage on Lake Kanasuta near Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. Martin played 1,101 NHL games from 1961 to 1979 for the Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks. He scored 324 goals and 485 assists.
Most retired hockey players would love to be recalled for such a long and productive career, but Martin was forever hung with the tag of being on the wrong end of a lopsided trade. In 1967, the Boston Bruins traded Martin, defenseman Gilles Marotte and goalie Jack Norris to the Blackhawks for forwards Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield.
People say the trade was one-sided because Esposito won five Art Ross Trophys and two Stanley Cups with the Bruins. But Martin got the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup Finals.
If it wasn't for a 70-foot shot by Jacques Lemaire that beat Esposito's brother, Tony, the Blackhawks would have won the 1971 Stanley Cup, with Martin centering their second line of Jim Pappin and Dennis Hull. They lost to the Canadiens in six games in 1973. The Blackhawks dominated the Western Conference in the early 1970s.
Red Fisher, in the Montreal Gazette, recalls that the Bruins thought the trade offer so one-sided that they asked Fisher to contact a friend inside the Blackhawks' organization to find out what was "wrong" with Esposito. Fisher called Stan Mikita, who told him there was nothing wrong with Esposito. The Blackhawks had grown tired of Esposito turning in poor playoff performances and thought he had reached his peak.
Milt Schmidt, 90, recalled that conversation Tuesday. It was a time of intrigue in the Bruins' organization, after a half-decade of languishing at the bottom of the NHL. General Manager Lynn Patrick and coach Schmidt had been bumped out in favor of new GM Hap Emms, who had just guided the Niagara Falls Flyers to two straight Memorial Cups. Emms hired Harry Sinden to coach. Schmidt was moved into the assistant general manager's job. Plus, owner F. Weston Adams was ill.
"My phone rang, and it was Blackhawks GM Tommy Ivan calling from Key Biscayne, Fla., and said he would only talk to me and did we want Esposito," Schmidt said. "The deal had to be done by the end of that day. We started at 3 p.m. and wound up at 8 p.m. Hap was against it and our head scout, Harold 'Baldy' Cotton, was against it. I went to Mr. Adams and he said if I thought it was a good deal, go ahead and do it.
"Emms wouldn't talk to me for two weeks after that. He loved Marotte and didn't want to lose him. Thought he was going to be a big star. We all thought he'd be better than he turned out. Marotte was the key to the deal for the Blackhawks, not Martin."
Emms was gone a year later, and Schmidt moved up to be general manager. In 1970, Schmidt's Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since Schmidt was their on-ice star in 1941. They won again in 1972.
The line of Esposito-Hodge-Wayne Cashman became one of the greatest in NHL history. Schmidt was reminded that Stanfield centered Johnny Bucyk and Johnny "Pie" McKenzie, giving the Bruins another uptempo, clever puckhandling, scoring line.
"Every time we went into Chicago, Stanfield was watching from the press box, and Hodge was at the end of the bench," Schmidt marveled. "Stanfield was a great player for us and that line was hard to handle right after Esposito's line came off the ice.
"I asked Tommy Ivan what was wrong with Esposito, and he said 'bad feelings.' Bad feelings between Esposito and Ivan and Esposito and coach Billy Reay. Ivan said he had to get him out of there."
"Pit was one of the best guys, although I traded him, that I was ever associated with in the NHL," Schmidt said. "I mean it. He was right up there with my linemates, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart. Pit was a very good person who minded his own business, never said anything and just went out and played good hockey every single game. He was as good off the ice as he was on. He played 10 years for Chicago, helped them to the Stanley Cup Final twice and they made him their captain. That right there is a sign that he was a very good person.
"It's very difficult to find the words and that's not because he's gone. I would have said the same things about him if you called me last week."