Max Bentley came from a large family, so it’s not surprising that his family of all families was one that produced three NHL players. Max Bentley was of average height at 5’10” but always a slender player, weighing in at 155 to 160 pounds throughout his NHL career. In fact, the Boston Bruins sent him home after a tryout for their junior team at the age of 16 because he was so undersized. The Chicago Black Hawks took a flier on Bentley despite his size issues.
Throughout his career, Bentley was often plagued with sicknesses and injuries, but rarely sustained anything serious. Bentley began the 1940-41 season in the minors, but was called up to Chicago mid-season due to injury problems and never played in the minors for the rest of his career. He finished that season with 17 points in 36 games, proving that he was capable of playing in the NHL. He stepped up his game the following season, scoring 30 points in 39 games, good for third on the team. Remarkably, he had only one minor penalty, resulting in just 2 PIM.
The 1942-43 was one of offensive explosions around the league, but Bentley erupted more than others. Max surged to 26 goals, 44 assists, and 70 points in just 47 games, good for third in the NHL, surpassed only by Bill Cowley and his older brother, Doug. While Max didn’t lead the league in any single stat, he did finish the season with again, just one minor penalty in all 47 of his games, earning him the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Following the 1942-43 season, Bentley missed two seasons to serve in World War II.
In the 1945-46 season, Bentley returned to the NHL with a bang. Despite missing three games, Bentley led the NHL in points by a lead of 9 points, with 61 points himself. With Bill Moseinko now centering the Bentley line, Max was free to score more goals, pushing his personal best to 31 goals, adding 30 assists. The 1946-47 season featured a tight race for the NHL point lead. During the last game of the season, Bentley was sitting just one point above Maurice Richard. The Black Hawks and Canadiens were playing in separate games, but Bentley was getting reports about the Rocket’s game. The Canadiens’ leading scorer had two points in the first two periods, to Bentley’s 0, giving him the lead. Going into the third, Richard’s offense was stifled and Bentley managed a goal and assist to regain the lead over Richard and claim the title for the season with 29 goals, 43 assists, and 72 points, a new personal best.
Bentley had played well with the Black Hawks, but aside from him and a few other bright spots, the team was far from being competitive. Early into the 1947-48 season, Bentley was part of a blockbuster trade to the Maple Leafs in which Conn Smythe gave up many assets, thereby pressuring Bentley to perform. The Maple Leafs were a much stronger team than Chicago and had won the Stanley Cup the season prior. Bentley immediately became one of Toronto’s best players, leading the team in points with 54 points, one ahead of veteran Syl Apps, who was in the last season of his career. The Maple Leafs had a strong season and finished as Stanley Cup victors, winning Bentley his first Cup. Bentley himself finished 4th in Hart voting for the season.
For the next two seasons, Bentley had solid seasons as a key forward on the Maple Leafs, winning another Cup in 1949. Still, going into the 1950-51 season, it seemed like Bentley was being outplayed by the younger Ted Kennedy at centre and Bentley was starting to play less. Bentley regained his throne as the star of the Leafs during the season, however, finishing third in points among the NHL behind only Richard and Gordie Howe. Bentley finished with 62 points in 67 games and led the NHL in assists (11) and points (13) during the 1951 playoffs as the Leafs won another Stanley Cup.
Bentley slipped down the depth chart of the Leafs again in the 1951-52 season and it didn’t help that the Leafs had a plethora of skilled centremen. Bentley being 31 and not getting any young also didn’t help his case. Despite all the minor sicknesses and injuries during his career, Bentley didn’t sustain anything serious until the 1952-53 season when he had a back injury that limited him to 36 games on the season. Despite playing alright, he chose to retire at the end of the season. He was sold to the New York Rangers where he chose to play one more season in 1953-54. While still an adequate NHL player, he wasn’t the star he once was and retired for good at the age of 33 at the end of the season.
Max Bentley was 5th all-time in points when he retired, surpassed by only Cowley, Milt Schmidt, Elmer Lach, and Richard. He finished with one point more than his older brother, Doug. Though his career was pretty evenly split between the Chicago Black Hawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bentley did play more of his career in Toronto, though his most productive seasons were early in his career in Chicago. Interestingly, he scored exactly 256 points for both teams, though did it in many less games in Chicago. Bentley was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. Pretty good for a player who was once judged to be too frail and small to play in the NHL.