Bobby Orr is probably the greatest hockey player I ever saw play.
But apologies to Orr, Eddie Shore, Johnny Bucyck, Raymond Borque and others, Milt Schmidt was the greatest Boston Bruin ever.
Schmidt passed away on January 4 at the age of 98 (Schmidt was the oldest living NHL veteran.)
He was a legendary player and a member of the hockey Hall of Fame, most recalled as a part of the acclaimed Kraut Line. He helped spearhead Bruins’ Stanley Cup wins of 1939 and 1941.
He was a four-time All-Star. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player in 1951. He played 776 games, scored 229 goals, and recorded 346 assists while missing three years during World War II). He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961. He was recently named one of the league’s top 100 players of all time.
But his impact on the Bruins continued long after his feats on the ice as a player ended.
Mr. Schmidt retired in 1955 and next season became the Bruins coach, a position he held until the end of the 1962 season. He returned to the job in 1963, until joining the front office as assistant general manager in 1966. He served as general manager from 1967-73.
He also the only member of the Boston Bruins organization to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup four times.
He is recalled for having been in charge when Bobby Orr was signed.
But it is said that perhaps his biggest impact was a telephone trade that he made. The year was 1967 and as General manager Schmidt pulled off what some like to describe as “one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history”, acquiring future Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks for Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin, and Jack Norris.
“I had no idea how it would turn out for us,” Mr. Schmidt later said. “But at the time I made the trade, I knew that we couldn’t help but improve the team by making it.”
Improve the team it did. Mr. Schmidt’s canny trading added further pieces to the puzzle, such as Johnny “Pie” McKenzie and Eddie Shack. The new acquisitions, joining such standouts as Orr and Johnny Bucyk, helped form the heart of the “Big Bad Bruins” squads that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and ’72.
Perhaps most importantly. though a fierce competitor on the ice, how is recalled as one of the finest individuals the game has known.
“Milt has been one of the most respected and friendly human beings that I have ever met and spent time with,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
Being recalled, Boston President Cam Neely, himself a former player, described Schmidt as ” an outstanding ambassador for the game of hockey, a true gentleman, and that he epitomized what it means to be a Bruin”. Owner Jeremy Jacobs called him “the ultimate Bruin”.
Bobby Orr would probably agree as well.
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