Two entities achieved tremendous prestige in this era:
- Gordie Howe
- The Montreal Canadiens
I placed them in that order because that summarizes the chronology in which they propelled themselves into the mythology of the NHL. Howe led the Red Wings to 4 Stanley Cup titles in the first 6 years of the decade and personified what a prototypical power forward should play like.
The Montreal squads of this decade were the first of the organization’s many dynasties and were the first team in league history to win four consecutive titles. They also have the most players mentioned on this list.
It must also be noted that the very first broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada hosted by the legendary Foster Hewitt was aired in 1952.
It is the oldest sports-related program still on the air.
Left Wing – Ted Lindsay (Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks)
‘Terrible” Ted was an absolutely dynamic hockey player. When his name is brought up, common observers tend to rattle off how feisty he was and how liberal he was at applying the lumber to an opponent’s skull, but that was just one aspect of Lindsay’s skill set. In the decade of the fifties, he led all left wingers in total points and was named to the All-NHL first team 7 times. Lindsay also captained 2 of the 4 Detroit Cup-winning squads in this era and, while linemate Gordie Howe was the superstar of the Detroit dynasty, Lindsay was the heart and soul of the bunch.
Center – Jean Beliveau (Montreal Canadiens)
Beliveau did not play a full season in the league until the 1953-54 season, but that did not prevent him from being the highest scoring center of the decade. He would be named to the All-NHL first team 4 times and the second team once. He would also collect both the Hart and Ross trophies in 1956 en route to leading his Canadiens in points during the postseason as the franchise would start a run of 5 straight Stanley Cups to finish out the decade.
Right Wing – Gordie Howe (Detroit Red Wings)
He could make a play, score goal at a remarkable pace and he could clean up the corners and bang on the boards. Never before had the league witnessed a player as versatile or as consistent as Howe. For the first half of the decade, Howe was a major factor in the Wings four Stanley Cup runs. He collected 5 scoring titles, 4 Hart trophies and 6 All-NHL first team selections. There was not a more dominant player in this decade and it was in this decade that Mr. Hockey began to separate himself from the rest.
Defenseman – Doug Harvey (Montreal Canadiens)
The greatest blue-liner of the era and in my book still remains a top 5 defender of all-time. After Red Kelly won the inaugural Norris Trophy in the 1953-54 season, Harvey claimed the honor 5 out of the next six times. He also had a stranglehold on All-NHL first team honors in this decade getting the nod from 1952-1958. In 1959 he was named to the second team. More importantly, he revolutionized the position. Before him, it was unheard of for a defenseman to dictate the tempo of a game. With his ability to responsibly join the rush, keep his visitors to his zone honest and quarterback the man advantage, Harvey was the most versatile blue liner of the era.
Defenseman – Red Kelly (Detroit Red Wings)
The first blue liner to garner James Norris Trophy honors and leader of the Red Wing defensemen corps in their 4 Cups in 6 years title run. He was Harvey’s partner on the All-NHL first team as he was selected six times in the decade and twice to the second team.
Left Wing – Dickie Moore (Montreal Canadiens)
Moore took pride in his reputation as the workhorse grinder of the fabled Canadiens top line of the decade that included the Richard brothers. Playing injured was the norm in his career, so much so that when he won his first scoring title he insisted on playing the final three months of the season with a cast on to protect a broken wrist.Not only did his 96 points in the 1958-59 campaign garner a second consecutive scoring crown, but it also eclipsed Gordie Howe’s mark for most points in a single season. (Bobby Hull would break Moore’s record 7 years later.) Of the mighty Habs dynasty of the 50’s, Moore was the only member of the organization to claim consecutive scoring titles.
Center – Alex Delvecchio (Detroit Red Wings)
When Detroit traded away center Sid Abel to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1952, the organization left a void in the famed Production Line that also comprised of Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe. Delvecchio, in his second season, won the job and excelled, winning All-NHL second team honors at his position. He would go on to center the Wings top line in their Cup runs of 54’ and 55’ and finish the decade out third among all centers in scoring.
Right Wing – Maurice Richard (Montreal Canadiens)
While the 50s were when the Howe legend began, the Richard legend was solidified. It was in this decade that Richard reached the apex of goal scorers. In 1952, he collected his 326th goal, hurdling Nels Stewart as the NHL all-time leader in goals. Five years later, he became the first NHLer to tally 500. Of the five Stanley Cups Richard won during this decade, the 1952 road to the Finals is the most memorable. After a collision with a Bruin defender in the Semis, Richard suffered a concussion and played the rest of the game with his head bandaged, crusted in blood in a daze. This did not stop him from scoring the series-winning goal and extending the Rocket mystique.
Defenseman – Bill Gadsby (Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers)
This guy nearly ended Hall of Famer Tim Horton’s career in the 1955 season with a body check that shattered Horton’s jaw and snapped his leg. It was no cheap shot but a clean hit that had implications from toes to the nose…. in short, my kind of blueliner! He could skate to score as well and in 1959 he set the league record for assists in a single season by a defenseman with 48. He was also the third highest scoring defender placing behind — you guessed it — Kelly and Harvey.
Defenseman – Marcel Provonost (Detroit Red Wings)
Provonost was revered for his reckless abandon style of play, getting his nose broken on 14 separate occasions. He would take a hit to make a play and, no matter how big an attacking forward was, he was always willing to play the body. It is this type of sacrifice never mentioned in the box score that helped the Red Wings dynasty in the early part of the decade.
Left Wing – Bert Olmstead (CHI Blackhawks, MTL Canadiens, TOR Maple Leafs)
One of the early power forwards to play the game, “Dirty Bertie” from Sceptre, Saskatchewan was a revered hitter and a highly feared entity along the boards. He could score too — in fact, his point total ranked second only to Ted Lindsay’s for all left wingers in the decade. It didn’t hurt that he played on the same line with Bernie Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau, though both are on record admitting that Olmstead was the catalyst to the line’s great success.
Center – Teeder Kennedy (Toronto Maple Leafs)
The only team to win a championship in the decade besides the Red Wings and Canadiens was the Toronto Maple Leafs. The captain of that team?… Teeder Kennedy.
Kennedy was a renowned three-zone player, great on the face-off, and excellent on the forecheck. He did not put up monster numbers in the decade but he did manage to capture All-NHL second team honors 3 times and he was awarded the 1955 Hart Trophy.
Right Wing – Bernie Geoffrion (Montreal Canadiens)
“Boom Boom” has laid claim to being the originator of the slap shot. While that may be arguable, there is no denying that he put the art form to great use in the 50s. It helped him collect the 1952 Calder trophy and it made him the third highest scoring right wing of the decade. Coming third behind Howe and Richard is nothing to be ashamed of. Geoffrion also claimed the point title in 1955 by edging out Richard by one point. Sure, Richard was out with an injury, but the people of Quebec were so outraged with Geoffrion’s gall to pass Richard on the points list that he actually received death threats. To Geoffrion’s credit, he ignored the threats, went out and did his job and won the title. He also took a spot on the All-NHL second team, making it the first time in 7 years that a right wing not named Howe or Richard received the honor.
Sid Smith-Toronto Maple Leafs
Smith earned a place in Leafs lore after only playing one regular season tilt. He was called up for the Leafs 1949 playoff run and collected a hat trick in Game 2 of the Finals against the Red Wings, prompting Gordie Howe to ask the press after the game, “Who’s Sid Smith?” Howe would find out soon enough as the Leafs would sweep the Wings for the Cup and Smith would go on to have a splendid run in the 50s as one of the NHL’s premier goal scorers, collecting 20 or more goals in 6 consecutive seasons. Though he would only play until the 1957-58 season, he retired as the fourth highest active goal scorer in the league.
Center – Tod Sloan (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Sloan is certainly one of the forgotten Maple Leaf legends. It was Sloan’s third period goal in the final minute of play in the 1951 Finals against the hated Habs that gave the Leafs an extra lifeline en route to an overtime victory and the Stanley Cup. His resume in the decade is not limited to that one goal — he was the second highest scoring center of the 50s.
Right Wing – Andy Bathgate (New York Rangers)
Though he did not become an NHL regular until the 1954-55 season, Bathgate managed to collect the fourth highest points total among all right wingers of the decade. He hit the 40 goal plateau in the 1958-59 season and led the league in assists which was good enough for Hart Trophy honors.
Defenseman – Tom Johnson (Montreal Canadiens)
Johnson was the defensive anchor of those great late 50s Canadiens squads. He never worried about scoring or joining the rush, but was quite happy with his role as a stay-at-home defenseman. He played the part well and even captured the 1959 Norris Trophy.
Defenseman – Fern Flaman (Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs)
All the guys who played in this decade were tough but when you talk about THE toughest, Flaman’s name must be present in the argument. I mean, when someone as rugged as Gordie Howe says, “He was the toughest I ever played against,” you know Flaman could mix it up. He was one of the most celebrated hitters of the period and when the gloves came off Flaman was considered by many to be the best. Far form a cementhead, Flaman was named to the All-NHL second team 3 times in the decade.
Terry Sawchuk (Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs)
For the first part of the decade, there was not a better netminder in the NHL. In his rookie season of 1951, he led the league in wins and shutouts and was awarded the Calder trophy along with All-NHL first team honors. He would be named to All-League first team 2 more times in the decade and to the second team 3 times. Sawchuk would collect the Vezina trophy 3 times as well.
Jacques Plante (Montreal Canadiens)
You can pin the success of the Canadians title run on the stacked bunch of forwards and defenders they had but anyone of those guys will tell you otherwise. Jacques Plante had just as much to do with the dynasty as anyone else on that team. He also revolutionized the position in this decade in adapting the habit of wearing a goalie mask and leaving the crease to play the puck.