Friday, February 10, 2012
Conn Smythe gets one wrong, sort of.
Conn Smythe acquired a player he had long coveted in Max Bentley for a very high price, but was his assessment of Gaye Stewart prior to the trade correct? In the new biography of Smythe by Kelly McParland, Smythe is quoted "Stewart scored too many goals against teams that weren’t a threat or in games that weren’t in doubt”. A fairly harsh statement indeed. Apparently Smythe was able to accurately come to this conclusion with the help of compiling ahead-of-it’s-time statistical and film evidence. Without access to game films from 1945 (I wish) I will try to prove Smythe's thinking true or false by looking at the only thing available, game by game records.
For this one I had to do my own "googling" of old Montreal Gazette sports pages as my usual go-to site the hockey summary project has no individual game records for this time period. It didn’t really take long to find the box scores that were needed.
First thing I did was narrow down games that did not match Conn Smythe’s original statement. He firstly said that Gaye Stewart scored too many goals against teams that weren’t a threat. We’ll, only one team in Stewart's big year of 1945/46 finished behind Smythe's Leafs, the other four finished with at least a .500 record. The New York Rangers can really be the only squad considered “not a threat” to Toronto or any other team for that matter as they finished with a 13-28-9 record. I found box scores for every game that the Leafs played the Rangers that year and Gaye Stewart counted only 7 goals in the 10 games. This means that he had 30 goals in 40 games against the other four “threatening” teams.
Stewart's goal rate was actually slightly less against the putrid Rangers than against the rest of the league. Smythe’s other point was that Stewart scored too many of his goals in games that weren’t in doubt. For this one I looked for games that were decided by two or more goals. The Leafs played in 15 games that season decided by two or more goals for either team and Stewart scored 11 goals in those games. This goal scoring rate was practically identical if not minimally less than in closer games.
Combined then, in games that were either against New York or of a margin wider than two goals, the Leafs had a total of 23 such games. (only two of the games met both of these criteria with Toronto and New York winning one of these blowouts each). In these 23 games that Smythe insisted Gaye Stewart did too much of his scoring, he scored 17 times. Therefore in his other 27 “close games against better teams” he scored 20 goals. These translate into goals per game of 0.739 in the “Rangers/ Blow-out” games and 0.741 in the tighter games. Stewart actually scored at a very slightly higher rate in tighter games against tougher teams.
Even if we consider these to be even, Smythe’s statement is about as false as can be.
Stewart actually re-found his scoring touch after the trade with 26 goals in the 54 games with Chicago. He followed that up with back-to-back 20 goal seasons before being traded to Detroit and the next year, the Rangers. He would play two full years in the AHL with Buffalo before retiring at age 31. Max Bentley of course helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup the year he was aquired and two additional Cups in the next three seasons. Because of this fact, the trade would have to be considered a success for Smythe even if his thinking on Gaye Stewart's production was entirely false.