“What a Debut!”

This is Jim Dorey. He was a fine hockey player with a wide range of skills. Tough, could move the puck, block shots, hit like a jackhammer and maybe a half bubble off plumb. He was terrific. 

After the Stanley runs of the 1960’s, Punch Imlach decided to work a bunch of kids into the lineup. From Hockey is A Battle (Imlach):

  • I moved in a lot of guys, especially on defence. I knew I was going to give Mike Pelyk a lot of work, Jim Dorey was a real tough egg from Tulsa and he was going to get a shot at it. Another tough guy was Pat Quinn, and a real surprise in camp was Rickey Ley, a junior from Niagra Falls with no pro experience. So we had all those guys, plus Tim Horton, Marcel Pronovost and Pierre Pilote.

Imlach wrote what I believe to be the two best hockey books in the game’s history (Hockey Is a Battle, Heaven and Hell in the NHL) and offered an amazing amount of insight into the reconstruction of that post-1967 team. The crazy thing is that history showed he was pretty much right on target: if Stafford Smythe had left it alone, the Leafs could have overcome the Imlach craziness. The trading of Mahovlich, the offloading of Pappin, hanging on to the veteran blue during the 1967 expansion draft. All of it.

By 1971, Toronto’s Maple Leafs had a strong group of youngsters on the big league roster (20-year olds Darryl Sittler and Errol Thompson, 21-year old Brian Spencer, 22-year olds Rick Ley, Brad Selwood, Rene Robert, 23-year olds Jim Harrison, Jim Dorey and Mike Pelyk) along with a strong veteran group that included Bernie Parent, Normie Ullman, Dave Keon, Paul Henderson, Ron Ellis and a few other good hockey players.Now they weren’t on a level with the Bruins, Habs or Rangers, but they had some good young talent and were getting better (picked up a fine scorer in Rick Kehoe in 1971’s Amateur Draft).

What happened? The WHA came along and kicked them hard. Jim Dorey was rumoured to be jumping to the new league (he did) and so Toronto dealt him to the Rangers for Pierre Jarry (a mid-level scoring forward). Damn shame. If the Leafs had kept Dorey and even one of the other youngsters, a couple of years later they might have formed a tough blueline with the help of Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull (among others).

During that time, the Leafs management did a pretty nice job of finding talent on the fly (sometimes in obscure places, as in Claire Alexander and Dave Dunn) and by the late 1970’s had another team that was close to championship calibre. The problem was ownership. I’m not telling you anything that’s news, just acknowledging that hockey men like Punch Imlach, Jim Gregory, Gerry McNamara were doing good work and did in fact find quality talent.

Somewhere back there (say between 1973 and 1982) there was a Stanley for Jim Dorey, and Toronto. So, if you’re a Leafs fan who didn’t live through that era and perhaps dismiss it as a down period or a period without much happening, I encourage you to watch the old video and read a little about the era. Hey, Punch Imlach was a pissy little man who wouldn’t be able to run a grocery store in today’s world. But he knew talent, and so did Bob Davidson and John Andersen too (plus, Andersen knew the hockey business backwards but left for the coast when Imlach was blown out).

I think the Leafs could have won during the Fletcher era and during the Quinn era and could certainly win during the Burke era. When they do win, it’ll mark the end of a long drought made longer by ownership and mule stubbornness. Damn shame, for you and for Jim Dorey. 

  • How the hell could the Leafs have kept the rights Jim Dorey? No one knew how long the World Hockey Association was going to last. It could have lasted a month…it lasted seven years.

    When Dorey bounded to the New England Whalers, hanging onto his NHL rights would have been insane. The Leafs had to get something for him. Every single day he spent in the WHA he diminished as an asset.

    Could the Leafs have been a great team in the 1970s with Dorey and other WHA defectors in the line-up? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have mattered how good they were. Challenging Scotty Bowman’s Montreal Canadiens would have been a losing battle.

    • 1967ers

      True, but I think they’d have been better served signing Bernie Parent.

      As it was, bottoming out in ’72-73 put them in the position to draft Lanny McDonald and gave them the push to move Plante for the pick that became Ian Turnbull.

  • Lowetide

    The WHA paid Bobby Hull a ton of money, but many of the men who jumped afterwards went for significant (but not outrageous based on their value) dollars.

    Toronto could certainly have signed their best young players. The Rangers did.