Nicknames sometimes say a great deal about the person they are attached to. Ted Lindsay's moniker - "Terrible Ted" - tells only half of his story. Lindsay was indeed a rough, often mean competitor who spent more time in the penalty box than any player in his time. He was only 5'8" and 160 pounds but could hold his own in fights and in the corners with much larger opponents. But Lindsay was also a gifted offensive player, a natural goal scorer who set records for a left wing and made up one third of Detroit's famous Production Line in the 1940s and 1950s. Nine times he was an All-Star, eight of those selections to the First Team. Such a combination, in such a small, powerful package, hadn't been seen in the National Hockey League before the arrival of Terrible Ted Lindsay, and it hasn't been seen since.
Ted Lindsay was born in 1925 in Renfrew, Ontario, a small town that once boasted one of the great teams of early professional hockey, the Renfrew Millionaires. Ted's father, Bert, starred with the Millionaires, among other teams, as a goaltender. Ted was a standout in minor hockey in Kirkland Lake before moving to the St. Michael's College junior team in Toronto. St. Michael's was defeated in the Ontario junior championship by the Oshawa Generals in 1943-44, but teams at the time were allowed to take four players from other clubs as wartime replacements. The Generals coach, Toronto Maple Leafs great Charlie Conacher, chose four from St. Michael's including Lindsay and Gus Mortson, and Oshawa, bolstered by the imports, went on to win the Memorial Cup. Lindsay was so impressive that he was invited to the Detroit Red Wings' training camp. He was offered a two-year deal by Detroit that included a no-minor-league clause guaranteeing he'd play in the NHL, and Lindsay decided to turn professional for the 1944-45 season.
Lindsay spent two quite ordinary seasons in Detroit until 1946-47, when he was put on a line with veteran center Sid Abel and rookie right wing Gordie Howe. In 1948 the threesome was dubbed "the Production Line," partly because they plied their trade in Detroit, the automotive manufacturing centre of the U.S., and partly, of course, because they produced goals, assists and wins. At the end of the 1947-48 season, Lindsay was in the top 10 in scoring for the first time. In 1949-50, the line placed 1-2-3 in the league scoring race with Lindsay leading the way and the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, as they did in 1952, 1954 and 1955, the latter two with Lindsay replacing Abel as team captain.
In 1957 Lindsay had what could arguably be called his best individual season, leading the league in assists and finishing with a career-high 85 points. With the help of other high-profile players including Montreal's Doug Harvey, Chicago's Gus Mortson, New York's Bill Gadsby and Jim Thomson of Toronto, Lindsay organized the NHL Players' Association. They were intent on ensuring that the league dealt fairly with the players on such issues as the pension fund, covering expenses after trades and instituting a minimum salary for first-year players. Lindsay and Jack Adams, Detroit's general manager, hadn't spoken for three years prior to 1957 even though the rugged winger was captain of the Wings. Lindsay's role in the NHLPA certainly didn't help their relationship. Before the 1957-58 season, Adams traded Lindsay, at the time the league's third all-time goal scorer, and goalie Glenn Hall to the lowly Chicago Black Hawks in a move that was more a punishment than a sound hockey move.
Lindsay spent three seasons in Chicago, helping the Black Hawks return to respectability after almost a decade of poor results. He retired following the 1959-60 season, having played 999 games in the NHL. He devoted himself to his business interests in the automotive industry but continued to play hockey and stay in shape, often practising with the Red Wings. In 1964 Sid Abel, the Detroit bench boss and general manager, offered Lindsay a chance to make a comeback. The feisty winger agreed, though reaction to the news was mixed, to say the least.
It was an amazing year for Lindsay and the Red Wings team, which finished first in the league for the first time since Lindsay's initial departure. At the end of the year, Lindsay left the playing grind behind for good. In 1966 he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Lindsay politely declined to attend the ceremonial banquet since it was an all-male affair and he felt he owed a debt to his family for its support over his long career. Not coincidentally, the next year the banquet was opened up to include both sexes.
Lindsay returned to the league and to the Red Wings as a general manager in 1977 and later as an interim head coach. As a GM, he was also a tough man to get along with, battling with Alan Eagleson of the players' association and making roster moves involving 41 players in his first year. As in his playing days, his toughness had winning results, as the Wings rebounded as a franchise and Lindsay was awarded several executive of the year honours.