Over the course of his career, Lorne Chabot was traded for or with four players who were elected to the Hall of Fame. More than 80 years after his career ended, Chabot hasn’t joined them in earning the game’s highest individual distinction. Perhaps he never will, which would have him go down, in the opinion of many, as the greatest goalie omitted from the shrine.
When it comes to the Hall of Fame, Chabot is a polarizing figure. There is a faction that believes he has the numbers and accomplishments to merit inclusion. The longer time goes by, however, the lesser his chances will be. When The Hockey News published the Top 100 NHL Players of All-Time in 1997, Chabot was 84th, three spots ahead of Johnny Bower. More than 20 years after that list was published, Chabot remains the only Hall of Fame-eligible player on it who hasn’t been inducted. There are those who believe he’s the most underrated goaltender in the history of the game.
Perhaps it’s only fitting, then, that a player who suffered so much misfortune during his career and his short life would be shut out of the Hall of Fame. Chabot died at just 46, when complications of osteoarthritis and progressive nephritis (kidney inflammation) left him bedridden for the last year of his life. When it comes to his NHL career, what often stands out for many is that he was traded five times, which you can look at one of two ways: an optimist would say he was in huge demand, while a pessimist would point out that teams that got him didn’t seem to have much long-term use for him. “You look at the numbers and you think, ‘Holy cow, how is this guy not in the Hall of Fame?’ ” said hockey historian Eric Zweig. “He wins Stanley Cups in a couple of places and he has huge numbers. I once asked (former Toronto Maple Leafs teammate) Alex Levinsky, ‘Why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame,’ and he just flat-out said, ‘Chabot wasn’t that good.’ ” It also seems that even by goaltender standards during a time when the worst skater was placed in the net, Chabot was a very poor skater. “I’ve read accounts that said he couldn’t skate and sometimes could barely stand,” Zweig said. “Sometimes he had to hold onto the goalpost.”
That seems just a tad harsh. After all, Chabot did his fair share of winning, both in and out of the NHL. He won Allan Cups with the Port Arthur Ports in 1925 and ’26 prior to embarking on his NHL career, and he had winning records in nine of his 11 seasons. His Vezina Trophy in 1935 with the Chicago Black Hawks came on the heels of taking over an almost impossible situation, replacing Charlie Gardiner, who had won the Stanley Cup the previous season, then died that summer from a brain hemorrhage brought on by a tonsil infection. Despite winning the Vezina, Chabot lost the starting job in Chicago the next season to Mike Karakas and was dealt to the Montreal Maroons. The one thing Chabot and his legacy can’t escape is the fact he was traded so often – four times in the final six seasons of his career – in an era when teams tended to stick with their goaltenders for a long time. “You do wonder why he gets traded so many times,” said hockey historian Bob Duff. “Every year it seems like he’s getting traded.”
Most of those trades came after he appeared to have settled in with the Maple Leafs, which followed his 1928 swap from the New York Rangers early in his career. Chabot was instrumental in leading the Leafs to the Stanley Cup in 1932, and he helped them reach the final again the next season, only to be dealt to the Canadiens in exchange for George Hainsworth because the Habs apparently wanted a French-Canadian goaltender. He lasted just one season in Montreal before being traded to Chicago along with Canadiens legend Howie Morenz. “He bounces around at the end of his career like nobody else does,” Zweig said.
There is no doubt that, at times, a black cloud seemed to follow Chabot. Take the 1928 Stanley Cup final, for example. Chabot was tending goal for the Rangers when he was struck below the eye in Game 2. He was replaced in that game by 44-year-old coach-GM Lester Patrick, in a tale that has become a rich part of hockey lore, and then Joe Miller finished the series for the Rangers, who won the Cup. In 1936, Chabot was playing goal for with the Montreal Maroons when he gave up one of the most famous goals in the history of the game: Mud Bruneteau of the Detroit Red Wings scored on him at 16:30 of the sixth overtime period to end the longest playoff game in NHL history. The Maroons cut him after that season and he finished his career playing six games for the New York Americans. (Coincidentally, Chabot was also in the net for the second-longest game ever: a 1-0 Leafs victory over the Boston Bruins in 1933 that ended at 4:46 of the fifth overtime period).
One theory is Chabot never returned to top form following the 1928 eye injury, and some historians have suggested Patrick traded him for that reason.
When Chabot was with the Rangers, a public-relations rep suggested that if the team changed the goalie’s name to Leopold Chabotzky it might attract more Jewish fans to the games. The Rangers did just that and billed him as the NHL’s first Jewish star, and there are records in some newspapers of him being referred to as Chabotzky. Problem is, Chabot wasn’t Jewish. Not only was it a deceptive ploy, it also was disrespectful towards Chabot, a man who had a tough time getting his due during and after his career.
Born: Oct. 5, 1900, Montreal, Que.
NHL Career: 1926-37
Teams: NYR, Tor, Mtl, Chi, MtM, NYA
Stats: 200-146-62, 2.03 GAA, 71 SO
All-Star: 1 (First-1)
Trophies: 1 (Vezina-1)
Stanley Cups: 2
DID YOU KNOW?
Chabot insisted on shaving right before every game, and it had nothing to do with superstition or wanting to look good for the female fans in the crowd. He reasoned that if he had a close shave, stitches would go into his face easier, making it less likely to leave a lasting scar on his face. As was the custom among players at the time, he also used cocoa butter to promote quicker healing. Chabot was the first hockey player to appear on the cover of Time magazine, gracing the front page of the publication’s Feb. 11, 1935, edition.