If there was a player who could be called "The Babe Ruth Of Hockey" in the post-World War years it was Maurice (The Rocket) Richard of the Montreal Canadiens.
He was the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games and galvanized the Habs to Stanley Cup victories in 1944 and 1946. He was regarded as the NHL's most explosive scorer and frequent first all-star right wing through the next few seasons.
But when Toronto beat Montreal in the 1947 Cup Final, the already intense Habs-Leafs rivalry bitterly boiled over. In separate battles, Richard angrily high-sticked Leafs forwards Vic Lynn and Bill Ezinicki and was suspended for one playoff game. What's more the collisions became even more intense after Toronto won a second straight Cup in 1948. Only now, even the rival managers -- Conn Smythe of the Leafs and Frank Selke of the Habs -- traded verbal barbs.
Taking the feud to an even higher Fahrenheit, Smythe stunned the hockey world by doing the then unthinkable -- he offered to buy Rocket Richard, from the Canadiens. It was Smythe's version of tossing gasoline on Selke's fire.
Since at that time, I considered myself the most intense Leafs fan in Brooklyn -- and a subscriber to the daily Toronto Globe and Mail -- I was stunned to read the Globe's story about Smythe's outrageous bid and Montreal's angry response.
As you can see here, the Globe's headline says it all:
RICHARD WITH CANADIENS FOREVER, BUT SELKE WANTS FOUR MAPLE LEAFS.
Perhaps the accompanying sub-head puts the story in a more realistic perspective: WHO'S KIDDING WHOM?
But, just in case Smythe was being serious and that Selke was truly interested, the Globe and Mail's art department went to work and put a Maple Leafs uniform on a picture of Richard just to show readers what The Rocket might look like in Royal Blue and White. Tale my word for it, that was one gripping sight. (How about Connor McDavid in a Leafs sweater today?)
All these machinations only served to infuriate the Habs high command even more Globe hockey writer Al Nickleson caught up to Selke for a comment and Selke shot back, all verbal guns blazing.
"All the money in Toronto wouldn't buy him," snapped Selke. "In other words, no matter what Leafs offered, Rocket is not for sale. I don't know how anyone can afford to sell a hockey player today. What good is money?"
But that wasn't the end of it. Leafs coach Hap Day got into the fray by telling three Toronto reporters that he had "heard" that Maurice was in disfavor with Montreal fans. Hearing that, Selke counterattacked, charging that "four Leafs players were in disfavor in the Queen City" and Selke offered to buy them.
Gathering the repertorial trio in a circle prior to a Leafs-Canadiens game at The Forum, Selke let loose another barrage -- and his own offer designed to anger Smythe.
Selke (to three Toronto reporters); "I'd like to make a deal through (any of) you and I'll pay you a bonus of $1,000 for the signed contract of any or all of Max Bentley, Bill Ezinicki, Harry Watson and Garth Boesch. It would be a straight cash deal with no Canadiens players involved.
"Leafs could sell us a few players and bring some up from their (AHL) Pittsburgh farm team. They'd probably be just as good a team with the Pittsburgh reinforcements and we'd find good use for the Leafs who would come here."
Meanwhile, Smythe refused to muzzle his mouth, and said he'd offer Selke $50,000 for Richard but would up the price to $100,000 "if he became a back checker."
The verbal punching and counterpunching extended to all Toronto and Montreal newspapers both in English and French. The Montreal Daily Star printed a picture of Richard in his traditional bleu, blanc et rouge uniform with the caption: HE'S STILL WITH US, FOLKS.
Perhaps the best coda on L'Affaire Richard came via the Montreal Star which aptly concluded: "From all angles it looks like a question of who is kidding whom?"
The Globe and Mail also supplied its own postscript: "Ah, yes, Leaf fans all can watch the Rocket in a Montreal sweater on every Maple Leaf Gardens visit. Back to the ice, men!"