Legends of Hockey -- NHL Player Search -- Player -- Ralph Backstrom
Ralph Backstrom was a swift skater with a deft scoring touch whose defensive and team-oriented play earned him accolades throughout his career. The most significant years of his pro tenure were spent with the Montreal Canadiens, with whom he won the Stanley Cup six times between 1959 and 1969.

Backstrom spent two seasons with the Montreal Junior Canadiens before graduating to the Ottawa-Hull Canadiens, the Habs' top minor affiliate in Eastern Canada. He captained the team to the Memorial Cup in 1958, when he was arguably the top junior skater in the country. The Canadiens planned to send Backstrom to the Rochester Americans of the AHL for a year of minor pro seasoning, but his performance at training camp was so impressive that the Habs brain trust decided to give him a shot at the big league right away. Backstrom rewarded Montreal by scoring 40 points and earning the Calder Trophy. His freshman season was so laudable that he received more than double the votes of runner up Carl Brewer of Toronto. The following year he impressed coach Toe Blake by approaching his sophomore training camp with increased dedication and enthusiasm. His production dropped to 28 points, but he solidified his place as a key defensive forward on the club.

Although he was overshadowed by Montreal's top two centers, Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard, Backstrom became an important two-way forward on six Stanley Cup-winning teams. He and teammate Claude Provost garnered reputations as two of the most dogged forwards in the game. Even though he often drew checking assignments, Backstrom produced five 20-goal seasons, including a personal high of 27 in 1961-62. Years later, Backstrom reflected on this period: "There were times in my career that I felt I could have played better statistically if I would have played on another team besides the Canadiens. But there was nothing like the team successes that the Canadiens had during the time I played with them."

By the end of the 1960s, Backstrom sensed that he had accomplished all that he could in a Canadiens uniform. Two prolonged scoring slumps underscored his frustration. One in fact lasted 20 games in 1968-69. A high point occurred on April 10, 1969, when he scored the first overtime winner of his career in the opening game of the semifinals against Boston.

During the 1970 off-season, it became apparent that Backstrom wanted a change of scenery, preferably on the West Coast. The thought of returning to Montreal as a role player was so discouraging to him that he notified the team that he'd likely retire. Backstrom had a change of heart and reported for training camp but his uncertainty remained and came to a head when he left the Canadiens on the eve of their 1970-71 season opener. He eventually returned to the team but was used sparingly.

Backstrom received his requested move when he was involved in a notorious transaction between Montreal and Los Angeles. In May 1970 Habs general manager Sam Pollock acquired the Oakland Seals' first-round pick with the hope that they'd finish last overall and give him a chance to draft junior star Guy Lafleur. Halfway through the 1970-71 season, it was clear that the L.A. Kings were having a sufficiently bad season to challenge for the first pick in the draft. Consequently, Backstrom was sent west in a move that gave him a new lease on life and boosted the Kings in the NHL standings.In February 1973 he was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks, for whom he scored the last six of his 278 regular-season NHL goals. That year also represented the seventh time in his career that Backstrom reached the 20-goal mark.

Prior to the 1973-74 season, Backstrom signed with the crosstown rival Cougars of the World Hockey Association. That first year he scored 83 points and won the Paul Deneau Trophy as the WHA's most gentlemanly player. A few weeks later, he was invited to join the WHA All-Star Team that was being assembled to represent Canada in the 1974 series against the USSR. Skating on a line with Gordie and Mark Howe, Backstrom performed superbly and was one of the top forwards in the competition with eight points in as many games. Backstrom registered a disappointing 39 points for the Cougars in 1974-75 and was left exposed in the off-season WHA Expansion Draft. He was claimed by the Denver Spurs but spent only half the season there before a trade brought him to the New England Whalers. Backstrom's last pro season was a 48-point effort for the Whalers in 1976-77.


REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
Season Club League GP G A TP PIM +/- GP G A TP PIM
1953-54 Kirkland Lake Lion Cubs NOHA
1954-55 Montreal Jr. Canadiens QJHL 21 7 6 13 2 5 2 1 3 4
1955-56 Montreal Jr. Canadiens QJHL 18 10 8 18 4
1955-56 Montreal Jr. Canadiens M-Cup 10 5 4 9 6
1956-57 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens OHA-Jr. 18 10 8 18 4
1956-57 Montreal Canadiens NHL 3 0 0 0 0
1956-57 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EOHL 18 7 10 17 4
1956-57 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens M-Cup 15 17 11 28 19
1957-58 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens OHA-Jr. 26 24 27 51 64
1957-58 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EOHL 33 21 25 46 13
1957-58 Montreal Royals QHL 1 0 1 1 0
1957-58 Rochester Americans AHL 2 0 0 0 0
1957-58 Montreal Canadiens NHL 2 0 1 1 0
1957-58 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens M-Cup 13 17 9 26 24
1958-59 Montreal Canadiens NHL 64 18 22 40 19 11 3 5 8 12
1959-60 Montreal Canadiens NHL 64 13 15 28 24 7 0 3 3 2
1960-61 Montreal Canadiens NHL 69 12 20 32 44 5 0 0 0 4
1961-62 Montreal Canadiens NHL 66 27 38 65 29 5 0 1 1 6
1962-63 Montreal Canadiens NHL 70 23 12 35 51 5 0 0 0 2
1963-64 Montreal Canadiens NHL 70 8 21 29 41 7 2 1 3 8
1964-65 Montreal Canadiens NHL 70 25 30 55 41 13 2 3 5 10
1965-66 Montreal Canadiens NHL 67 22 20 42 10 10 3 4 7 4
1966-67 Montreal Canadiens NHL 69 14 27 41 39 10 5 2 7 6
1967-68 Montreal Canadiens NHL 70 20 25 45 14 +4 13 4 3 7 4
1968-69 Montreal Canadiens NHL 72 13 28 41 16 +20 14 3 4 7 10
1969-70 Montreal Canadiens NHL 72 19 24 43 20 +4
1970-71 Montreal Canadiens NHL 16 1 4 5 0 0
1970-71 Los Angeles Kings NHL 33 14 13 27 8 -7
1971-72 Los Angeles Kings NHL 76 23 29 52 22 -22
1972-73 Los Angeles Kings NHL 63 20 29 49 6 -12
1972-73 Chicago Black Hawks NHL 16 6 3 9 2 0 16 5 6 11 0
1973-74 Chicago Cougars WHA 78 33 50 83 26 18 5 14 19 4
1974-75 Canada Summit-74 8 4 4 8 10
1974-75 Chicago Cougars WHA 70 15 24 39 28
1975-76 Denver/Ottawa Civics WHA 41 21 29 50 14
1975-76 New England Whalers WHA 38 14 19 33 6 17 5 4 9 8
1976-77 New England Whalers WHA 77 17 31 48 30 3 0 0 0 0
NHL Totals 1032 278 361 639 386 116 27 32 59 68


Calder Memorial Trophy (1959)
Paul Deneau Trophy (WHA - Most Gentlemanly Player) (1974) Played in NHL All-Star Game (1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967)
Hull-Ottawa played partial schedule against OHA-Jr. teams that counted for opposition only. Traded to Los Angeles by Montreal for Gord Labossiere and Ray Fortin, January 26, 1971. Selected by New England (WHA) in 1972 WHA General Player Draft, February 12, 1972. Traded to Chicago by Los Angeles for Dan Maloney, February 26, 1973. WHA rights traded to Los Angeles (WHA) by New England (WHA) for cash, June, 1973. Traded to Chicago (WHA) by Los Angeles (WHA) for cash, July, 1973. Selected by Denver (WHA) from Chicago (WHA) in WHA Expansion Draft, May, 1975. Traded to New England (WHA) by Denver-Ottawa (WHA) with Don Borgeson for cash, January 20, 1976.