Small trades with big results is a series that looks at trades throughout NHL history that seemed small or insignificant at the time but turned out to be much, much more. In this installment, we look at how Larry Robinson ended up with the Montreal Canadiens.
Small NHL Trades with Big Results: Larry Robinson
Montreal Canadiens then General Manager Sam Pollock had a unique skill when making trades. He understood when to move on from an ageing player and how to manipulate the NHL draft at a time when few teams did. Pollock also was not afraid to be patient when it came to draft picks. Always with an eye to the future, it was not uncommon for Pollock to trade for picks two years down the road. He was especially adept at fleecing some of the expansion teams by dangling players with name recognition past their primes for a quick spike in fan interest. One of his many moves that set up the Canadiens for years to come involved trading a future Hall of Fame player.
January 23rd, 1970, the Los Angeles Kings trade Dennis Hextall and a 1971 second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Dick Duff. The Kings were a struggling team. Sam Pollock always liked to take advantage of a desperate GM or owner, looking for a quick turnaround.
Dick Duff broke into the NHL in 1954-55 with the Toronto Maple Leafs after a standout junior career with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors. Duff played nine seasons with the Leafs, winning two Stanley Cups. Duff had a quick stopover with the New York Rangers before being traded to the Canadiens. He played six seasons in Montreal winning four more Stanley Cups. While never a superstar player, Duff was a very solid and reliable player. He was also a six-time Stanley Cup winner.
Dennis Hextall played two years at the University of North Dakota before playing three seasons between the ECHL, CPHL and AHL. He made his NHL debut for the New York Rangers in the 1968 playoffs. Hextall would bounce between the Rangers and the AHL for the 1968-69 season. In the off-season, he was traded to the Kings. Again he bounced between the Kings and the AHL before his trade to the Canadiens in January of 1970.
Larry Robinson (1972 second-round pick)
Larry Robinson was a tall (6’4”) hulking defenceman from Winchester, Ontario. He played his junior “A” hockey with the Brockville Braves of the CJHL. He put up 22 goals and 51 points in 51 games for the Braves. The following season, Robinson played for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHA. Robinson scored 12 goals and 51 points for the Rangers in 61 games. Robinson’s unique skillset and his large frame were almost unheard of during the late ’60s. While he still had some developing to do, his combination of size, skating and skill made him an intriguing prospect, and the Canadiens took him in the second round of the 1971 NHL draft.
Dick Duff played a total of 39 games with the Kings before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres early in the 1970-71 season. Duff would play 61 more games with the Sabres before retiring eight games into the 1971-72 season.
Dennis Hextall was with the Canadiens organization for a grand total of 29 games before being traded to the California Golen Seals for cash. He never played a game for the Habs.
Larry Robinson joined the Habs AHL affiliate in Nova Scotia in 1971-72. He was a key member of their Calder Cup-winning team. Mid-way through the 1972-73 season, Robinson was called up by the Canadiens. He would stay up with the Canadiens for the next 17 years. Robinson developed into one of the best players in NHL history. He had the size to play a physical game and the skating and skill to play offence as well.
Robinson anchored the Habs blueline with his big three teammates Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe that won five Stanley Cups between 1973 and 1979. He won two Norris Trophies and the 1978 Conn Smyth. In his career with the Habs, Robinson played in 1384 games scoring 207 goals and 958 points. His career +/- is +730, an NHL record. In 1976-77 alone, Robinson was an astounding +120. As all the great ones do, Robinson elevated his game in the post-season. In 278 playoff games, Robinson scored 28 goals and 144 points, including two overtime goals and was a career +100. Larry Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.
Big Things can have Small Beginnings
Sam Pollock had a brilliant hockey mind. He seemed to be playing 3-D chess while the rest of the league was finger painting. He defiantly took advantage of the expansion teams and their desperation for players with name recognition and a quick fix to set up the Canadiens for a VERY long time.
Dick Duff is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, unfortunately for the Kings, he had spent the previous 19 seasons establishing that resume. So by the time he got to the coast, he was no longer an effective player. And while a second-round pick (at the time) didn’t seem like a high price, the Canadiens turned around and drafted one of the greatest players to ever play in the NHL.
Robinson left the Habs after the 1989 season and signed with the Kings where he played for three seasons before retiring in 1992. Robinson signing with the team that (kind of) traded him is a nice little cherry on the top of this trade. While this won’t be the last time we see the Habs and Sam Pollock in this series, but it’s time to jump a little bit into the future.