Ted Lindsay never had it easy. At just 5’8″, Lindsay was smaller than most NHL players and knew that he would be pushed around if he didn’t assert himself. So he began to do so and did so to such a degree that began to be called “Terrible Ted” for his aggressive and intense play style.
Lindsay was an Ontario boy born in 1925 in a hockey family. His father played professionally as a goalie so Lindsay had the background already set. Lindsay excelled so much in his minor and junior hockey days that he eventually earned an invitation to the Detroit Red Wings training camp where he earned a two-year contract starting in the 1944-45 season. Linsday had a strong rookie season as a 19-year old with 17 goals in 45 games, but only added 6 assists. Still, his performance was enough to finish third in Calder voting. Lindsay’s 1945-46 season was unimpressive and Lindsay started to look like more of a secondary player for the Red Wings.
But then, in the 1946-47 season season, things changed. Lindsay was placed on a line with veteran Sid Abel and a young rookie right winger named Gordie Howe, and the three of them took off. The Production Line was born. In the new 60-game format, Lindsay played 59 games and scored an impressive 27 goals and 42 points, the goal total being good enough for 8th in the NHL and 2nd on the Red Wings. The trio improved even more for the 1947-48 season, with Lindsay finishing at 9th in points with 52 and leading the entire NHL in goals with 33. Linsday was awarded with a spot on the first all-star team.
Despite the marked improvements that Lindsay had made over the past two years, he improved again for the 1948-49 season, managing 54 points, but this time while missing 10 games to total just 50 games on the season. Lindsay also rounded his game out by breaking his previous best with a 28-assist season. Lindsay tied Abel for the team lead in points and finished third in the NHL despite missing 10 games. Lindsay finished fourth in Hart voting at the end of the year.
Against all odds, the diminutive Lindsay improved yet again for the 1949-50 season. Now a 70-game league, Lindsay played in 69 games, scoring 23 goals and adding an impressive 55 assists to total 78 points. His assist and point marks both led the NHL and the 55-assist mark set a new single season NHL record, beating Elmer Lach‘s 54-assist season from five seasons prior. Lindsay also reminded everyone that he wasn’t to be messed with, totaling 141 PIM in the season as well. To top it all off, Lindsay and his team helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup, the first of Lindsay’s career. The following year, Lindsay finally saw a dip in production, but Lindsay still finished 7th in the NHL with 59 points while his teammate Gordie Howe stole the show with an incredible season.
In the 1951-52 season, Lindsay snapped back to form, finishing 2nd in points behind only Howe with 30 goals and 69 points in 70 games. The Red Wings also snapped back to form and took home another Stanley Cup at the end of the season. Lindsay was awarded the top left-wing spot on the All-Star Team for the fourth time in his career. By the 1952-53 season the aging Abel had left the team and it was primarily up to Howe and Lindsay to carry the offensive load with newcomer Alex Delvecchio offering support. Lindsay was named the team captain to replace Abel. The Red Wings continued to be an offensively dominant team and Lindsay improved to 32 goals, nearly matching his career best and 71 points, again finishing 2nd behind Howe. Lindsay’s offense slipped up every so slightly in the 1953-54 season, just enough for Maurice Richard to beat him for the second place spot that now seemed to be owned by Lindsay, sliding Lindsay to third in the NHL with his 62-point season. However, to make up for that minor loss, Lindsay was rewarded with his third Stanley Cup as the Red Wings continued their dynasty.
Lindsay’s aggressive style hurt him in the 1954-55 season and he missed out on 19 games, playing only 49 in a decent, but uneventful regular season. Lindsay was available for the playoffs however and led the NHL with 12 assists in 11 games as they won a second consecutive Cup and their fourth in six years. Lindsay was back to a full season for the 1955-56 season, but only barely managed to hit 50 points in his 67 games, not bad by most standards, but 12th in the point race was a far cry from the consistent top 10 finishes that Linsday had previously experienced.
As Lindsay entered his 30s, he began to become more involved in the idea of a player’s association of sorts and tensions between Jack Adams and Lindsay began to rise up. However, that didn’t stop Lindsay and Howe from exploding back to the top of the league for one final time in the 1956-57 season, with Linsday setting a new personal best of 85 points and tying his career best 55 assists, nearly reaching the new assist record that had just been set a year prior by Bert Olmstead, who had hit 56 assists in the 1955-56 year with the Canadiens. Lindsay finished in second, one point above the great Jean Beliveau, who by this time was regularly battling for the Art Ross trophy at the top of the scoring charts. After being named to the First All-Star Team for the 8th time in his career, Lindsay was traded by Adams in a rather lopsided trade in favour of the Chicago Black Hawks, who happily took the star left wing.
Unlike Lindsay’s old line mate Abel, who’s play quickly dropped off after leaving Detroit, Lindsay still played some solid hockey with the Black Hawks and helped them return to respectability in the NHL. His first season was a significant drop off, but the following year he scored 22 goals and added 36 assists for 58 points, good for 14th in the NHL and third on the Hawks. After a fairly poor 1959-60 season, Lindsay retired at 34 years of age to focus on other career pursuits, but continued to play hockey recreationally. In 1964, Lindsay’s former linemate Sid Abel, who was now the coach and general manger of the Red Wings, contacted Lindsay to see if he wanted to make a comeback to the NHL at the age of 39. Lindsay agreed and performed admirably in the 1964-65 season scoring 14 goals and adding 14 assists for 28 points, impressive totals after a five-year break. The Red Wings finished first in the NHL, but weren’t able to capture the Stanley Cup.
Lindsay retired for good in 1965 and though he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966, he declined to attend the ceremony as women weren’t invited and he felt that his family, including his wife, had played too significant a role in his life to be absent from such an event. The NHL began allowing women to the ceremonies the next year.
Lindsay was a rough man who wasn’t afraid to be abrasive on and off the ice. His contributions to the development of the NHLPA eventually resulted in the Lester B. Pearson award, awarded to the most outstanding player as judged by the members of the NHL Players Association, being renamed to the Ted Lindsay Award in 2010. When Ted Lindsay retired for the final time in 1965, he was third all-time in points with 851 points and fourth all-time in games with 1068. Perhaps more noteworthy, Lindsay finished first all-time in PIM with 1808 PIM, almost 350 more than Bill Gadsby, the player closest to him. Lindsay’s No. 7 was retired in 1991 on the same day that Delvecchio’s No. 10 was. Both on and off the ice, Lindsay’s contributions to NHL hockey left a substantial mark.