Red Wings star left winger Ted Lindsay, kissing the Stanley Cup in 1954, was instrumental in founding the NHL Players Association. (The Detroit News)
At some grand moment during the coming 10 days, a hockey player wearing red and white, or black, white and gold, will hoist a 35-pound silver trophy above his head and skate a victory lap around Mellon Arena or Joe Louis Arena.
It will be the traditional Stanley Cup waltz. And it began, spontaneously, because Ted Lindsay 50-plus years ago wanted to share the moment with all those commoners sitting behind the Olympia's chicken wire (rinkside glass was a few years away).
"I wasn't looking to start a tradition," Lindsay said from his home along a golf course in northern Oakland County. "I took it over there because I felt obligated to those people that they see the Cup, this Stanley Cup. I just went around the ice with it, and the next year one of the players grabbed it and took it around the ice in the same way, and the next year, too. I did it only because I wanted to repay the fans who paid our salaries. I felt I owed it to those loyal people."
Note the emphasis on "loyal people." On "fans." On those "who paid our salaries."
Words meant something
They are significant words to Ted Lindsay, the great left wing during the Red Wings 1940s-50s heyday. The man they called "Terrible Ted" because he wielded his elbows and knees like scythes. The left flank on the greatest line in Red Wings history, the Production Line that had Gordie Howe at right wing and Sid Abel at center, left his mark on the NHL in more ways than would be detected from his 800-plus career points and NHL Hall of Fame plaque.
Lindsay begot the NHL Players Association, and every man who has slipped into an NHL jersey since should send Lindsay at the very least a hand-written thank you.
Lindsay and his cohorts were making as little as $7,500 and not a great deal more in the 1950s when Lindsay said "enough" to Red Wings owner James Norris and to then-GM and coach, the mighty Jack Adams. Players had to work during offseasons just to keep the creditors away. They were donating blood and teeth and early retirements (this was the prehelmet, pregoalie masks, pre-everything era of the NHL), and too many of them were ending up broke or unemployed once they got their pink slips from teams that no longer had need to exploit them.
The Mike Ilitch era of Red Wings ownership, this was not.
Lindsay began asking questions about a secret pension plan that the players didn't seem to know details about. He checked the NHL players' salaries and benefits against those in the NFL and in big league baseball and found the hockey players might as well have been selling aluminum siding.
And, so, Lindsay became active. The NHL Players Association was born. Anti-trust suits threatening to break up a certifiable monopoly were filed. And that didn't go over so well with Norris, or with Adams, who in 1957 ripped captain's status from Lindsay and traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lindsay, 32, was banished in a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite his face, which should have been deduced from the fact the Wings never won a Stanley Cup during those years when Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Red Kelly, Terry Sawchuk, Norm Ullman and Marcel Pronovost remained.
Back in Detroit
The cold war warmed later on. Adams was gone and Lindsay came out of retirement to play once more for Detroit during the 1964-65 season, when the Red Wings won the regular-season championship for the first time since '57 but lost in the Stanley Cup semifinals in seven games.
A dozen years later, Lindsay was named general manager and coach and the franchise's 1970s desolation began to wane.
Lindsay is appreciated by Red Wings fans today in one context only: excellence as a player.
It's why there is a statue of him crafted by Omri Amrany in the Joe Louis Arena concourse, as there is of Howe.
It's why he and Howe dropped the ceremonial puck Saturday during the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Lindsay is awed by the current team.
He marvels at Pavel Datsyuk and his stickhandling and two-way play; at Marian Hossa's "tremendous" skills; at the way they get help from a kid like Justin Abdelkader; at the astonishing absence of egos.
"It's a credit to the Ilitches for their great support, but also a tremendous credit to Ken Holland (general manager) and Jim Nill (assistant GM) and the scouting staff, and to Mike Babcock (coach) and his crew.
"Once on the ice," Lindsay said, "they know what they should be doing, and they follow the rules."
Well, they follow the rules the way Terrible Ted followed the rules. Which is to say, they're good at what they do, no matter whom it ticks off.