'Tough as nails' Detroit Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay dead at 93

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Ted Lindsay, a Detroit Red Wings legend and four-time Stanley Cup winner, has died at the age of 93. 

Lew LaPaugh, 67, Lindsay’s son-in-law, and the president of the Ted Lindsay Foundation, which donates money to autism research and management, confirmed Lindsay’s death Monday morning.

The Lindsay family said in a statement through the Red Wings: "Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay passed away peacefully this morning at his home in Oakland, Mich. He was 93 years old. Ted was a persistent, courageous and determined man both on and off the ice. He was a man of many firsts. We are comforted in knowing that the Ted Lindsay legacy will forever be a part of history and are so proud of the many lives he helped change for the better through his tireless humanitarian work. Arrangements will be announced when they are finalized."

Lindsay, a native of Renfrew, Ontario, who was born in 1925, played 14 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Red Wings, winning Stanley Cups with Detroit in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955. The left wing was nicknamed “Terrible Ted” for his toughness on the ice.

"Ted Lindsay was a Detroit Red Wings legend and icon, a hall of fame hockey player and Stanley Cup champion, and an even better person off the ice," said Christopher Ilitch, Ilitch Holdings president and CEO and Red Wings governor. "He operated with a generous heart and was a great humanitarian, particularly to the Detroit Community and to young disadvantaged children. Ted was a great friend to my parents and to my entire family. He was endeared by legions of Detroit Red Wings fans and to all who played the great game of hockey. 

"On behalf of Marian Ilitch and myself, our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends. While he will be sorely missed by us and many others, his positive impact to the game and to our community will live on."

More:Niyo: Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay lived, gave like he played — to the fullest

The left wing was nicknamed “Terrible Ted” for his toughness on the ice.  Though he was just 5-foot-8, Lindsay never backed down from a challenge on the ice in the rough-and-tumble era of Original Six hockey.

“He was tough as nails,” linemate and fellow Hall of Famer Gordie Howe said of Lindsay during an interview in 2009 for the book, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," written by Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News. Howe died in 2016.

“Mean and aggressive. He would take care of a guy who was trying to go out of his way to get me, and I would do likewise for him. We got along real well.”

Ted Lindsay

Which was helpful and necessary, but not just for hockey reasons.

“Teddy was my landlord for a lot of years,” Howe smiled. “I had to be in his good graces.”

Howe always admired Lindsay’s leadership abilities on those successful Wings’ teams.

“He was real talkative, much more than Alex or I,” Howe said. “He’d get after guys if he felt those guys weren’t playing to their ability. If the team wasn’t playing well, if it was playing badly, Teddy made sure we were aware of it. He was a good captain.”

More: Wings legend Lindsay still going strong near 90

Howe, Lindsay and center Sid Abel formed the Production Line, unquestionably one of the greatest forward units to ever play in the NHL.

Lindsay played in 1,068 NHL regular-season games and 133 playoff games. He had 379 goals and 472 assists in the regular season, and 47 goals and 49 assists in the playoffs. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer with 78 points in 1949-50.

"Ted was the most fearless hockey player of all-time, but his skill level could match up with any player from his era," said Ken Holland, Red Wings executive vice president and general manager. "The Red Wings organization would certainly not be held in the regard it is today if not for his contributions to four Stanley Cup championship teams and later as the team's general manager.

"He was always a regular visitor to the Red Wings dressing room, and there was never a single player who didn't go out of their way to introduce themselves and come away awed by the experience. I will treasure the many conversations we had over the past several decades and would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the Lindsay family."

More:Krupa: Ted Lindsay's legacy leaves indelible mark on hockey

The statues of Lindsay, Howe and Alex Delvecchio stood at Joe Louis Arena and now at Little Caesars Arena.

“You must have done something right if they still remember you,” Lindsay said of the honor during an interview.

Jimmy Devellano, the Red Wings' alternate governor and senior vice-president, views Lindsay as one of the organization's best players.

"I got to see him play a lot in Toronto, and for a player 5-foot-9, I've never seen a guy so ferocious," Devellano said. "He was as tough, and mean a hockey player ... On top of that, he was a great hockey player."

Lindsay helped organize the NHL Players Association in the 1950s and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

His No. 7 sweater was retired by the Red Wings in 1991.

“What a great guy,” said Chris Chelios, a former Red Wing great with similar qualities on the ice, and who shared Lindsay’s passion for the Players Association, during in an interview for the 2009 book. “You listen to the stories he has, and it just amazes you.”

Lindsay always was a frequent visitor to the Red Wings’ locker room, and players from all eras enjoyed talking hockey and swapping stories with the legend.

Always physically fit, players marveled at Lindsay’s grit and tenacity.

“I don’t think a lot of guys in here would like to face him even now on the ice,” former Red Wings forward Darren McCarty said in 2009.

Lindsay relished the physical style of play, and facing bigger, stronger opponents.

“I never worried about big guys,” Lindsay told The Detroit News last year. “Big, big guys fall farther than little guys. That’s all.”

Ted Lindsay shakes hands with Henrik Zetterberg after performing a ceremonial puck drop before a game at Joe Louis Arena in 2016.

Lindsay scored 335 of his 379 goals in a Red Wings sweater, ranking sixth all-time in team history behind Howe (786), Steve Yzerman (692), Alex Delvecchio (456), Sergei Fedorov (400) and Henrik Zetterberg (337). 

Lindsay is revered among players past and present for beginning what is now the NHL Players Association in the 1950s.

"Anytime he'd come down to the locker room the last couple of years, we haven't seen him as much the last couple of years but we would see him quite often, he'd always come down," said defenseman Niklas Kronwall after Red Wings' practice Monday in Arizona. "Regardless of what we were going through, tough times or great, he'd have the same attitude, extremely positive, and cared so much about the Red Wings organization.

"Anytime you had a chance to be around him, you felt better about yourself."

As great a player as Lindsay was, Kronwall praised Lindsay for his off-ice work.

"What he did off the ice, forming the players association and what he has done for autism awareness, that really stands out," Kronwall said.

Since its inception in 2001, the Ted Lindsay Foundation has raised more than $4 million for autism research.

More:Ted Lindsay's generosity reflected in battle to help those with autism

The NHLPA renamed the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the “most outstanding player” in a season in  as voted by his peers, as the Ted Lindsay Award in 2010.

Don Fehr, the NHLPA Executive Director, praised Lindsay's competitiveness and his work with the players' association.

“All current and former NHL players lost a true friend with the passing of Ted Lindsay," Fehr said. "Terrible Ted” was one of the fiercest competitors to ever play in the NHL, and he enjoyed great success on the Detroit’s fabled “Production Line,” helping lead the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships. On the ice, Ted Lindsay was one of the best players to ever to put on a pair of skates.  

"But his greatest legacy was off the ice. A true trailblazer in seeking to improve conditions for all players, Ted was instrumental in organizing the original Players’ Association in 1957. All Players, past, current and future, are in his debt. All those who have, and will follow him into the NHL, enjoy improved rights and benefits in large part due to the efforts he made. 

"The players are much better off today thanks to Ted Lindsay. His passing leaves a significant void, and he will be greatly missed by the entire hockey world and beyond. On behalf of all current NHL players and the NHLPA’s staff, I pass along heartfelt condolences to Ted’s family and friends.”  

Legendary player Wayne Gretzky shared his feelings about Lindsay in a tweet.

"Terrible Ted” was one of the nicest men in hockey," Gretzky tweeted. "Every player should be thankful for his courage to create the Players Association, which has grown into partnership between the players and owners of the NHL. He was a true champion on and off the ice and will be deeply missed."

The most popular Lindsay story may be the first round of the 1956 playoffs as the Wings were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Wings were leading the best-of-seven series 2–0 and it was headed back to Toronto.

But, as the teams were heading to Toronto, a death threat was phoned to the hotel the Wings were staying. The caller said Lindsay and Gordie Howe were going to be shot if they took the ice for Game 3 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Instead of being timid and being preoccupied with the threat, Lindsay and Howe excelled in the game.

Lindsay, in fact, scored the game-tying goal in the third period and the winning goal in overtime.

Further, with Maple Leafs fans booing, Lindsay went to center ice after scoring the winning goal, made his stick like a rifle, and began to pretend shoot it into the rafters at Maple Leaf Gardens.

“Nearly the entire arena was booing because it was all Leafs fans,” Lindsay said of the incident. “But after I went to center ice and did what I did, they started clapping. They figured, ‘This Lindsay guy isn’t that bad.’”

(From left) Emma Andersson, Love Zetterberg, Ted Lindsay, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Justin Abdelkader take part in a pre-game ceremony honoring Henrik Zetterberg for his 1000th game.  April 9, 2017.

The Wings traded Lindsay and goalie Glenn Hall after the 1957 season to Chicago for Johnny Wilson, Hank Bassen, Forbes Kennedy, and Bill Preston.

The Wings traded him, the belief is, for beginning the Players Association. The trade devastated Lindsay.

“It was difficult to leave,” Lindsay said. “I was a Red Wings through and through.”

Lindsay was preceded in death by his wife, Joanne, and is survived by his children Blake, Lynn and Meredith, his stepdaughter Leslie, as well as six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

The funeral service for Ted Lindsay will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Andrew Catholic Church, 1400 Inglewood Avenue in Rochester. It is not open to the public.


Twitter: @tkulfan

Public visitation will be held Friday from 9:07am-7:07pm at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Memorial tributes can be sent to: Ted Lindsay Foundation, 1819 E. Big Beaver Road, Troy, MI 48083.