Orr And Gretzky Were Almost Leafs

Bob Davidson may have been Chief Scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and no doubt was responsible for guiding many great players to the Leafs, particularly in the 1960’s when Toronto was winning four Stanley Cups, but he made the odd big error in judgement in his scouting career, and I mean big.

A 1972 Davidson faux pas is well-documented. It occurred when he and John McClellan travelled to Russia prior to the 1972 Summit Series to scout the Soviet squad, and came back with the report that the Soviets weren’t great shooters and their weakest spot was in goal. Of course, the squad turned out to be a powerhouse and the goalie’s name happened to be Vladislav Tretiak, who wasn’t a weak spot by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he stood on his head in that historical series and continued to stand on his head for the next decade or so.

The other big Davidson boo boo happened much earlier than 1972 and if he’d followed up on a simple letter, the course of Leafs, Bruins, and NHL history as a whole would have been drastically altered.

In 1960, a minor hockey organizer in Parry Sound wrote to Leafs coach and GM Punch Imlach about a 12 year old player named Bobby Orr and how good the little guy was, but Imlach thought little or nothing about it and simply passed the message on to Davidson. But Davidson, without checking the kid out, decided that young Bobby was indeed too young and maybe in a few more years they’d have a look again and see how he was progressing at that time.

The Orr family was disappointed. Bobby’s father Doug and grandpa Robert were both big Leafs fans and loved the idea of Bobby eventually playing in Toronto, but it wasn’t to be because Imlach and Davidson couldn’t be bothered.

Shortly after the Leafs passed on the kid, Boston brass saw the young fellow play in a tournament in Gananogue, Ontario, began making trip after trip to Parry Sound to wine and dine the Orr clan, and the rest goes without saying.

And while we’re talking about the Leafs, Wayne Gretzky almost played in Toronto following his brief St. Louis stint in 1995-96.

Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher was on the verge of having the deal sealed. Gretzky wanted badly to play in Toronto, it was his dream to finish his career there, and he was ready to sign for around two or three million. He’d even passed on an eight million dollar offer from Vancouver because he was so eager to play for the Leafs. Gretzky told Fletcher he’d do whatever it took to get it done, but Fletcher’s bosses decided they wanted to cut back on payroll and use any extra money to the building of the Air Canada Centre.

So Gretzky signed with the Rangers instead.

(The Gretzky and Orr information comes from the Damien Cox/Gord Stellick book – ’67 The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire. The wording in this post is mine).

2 thoughts on “Orr And Gretzky Were Almost Leafs”

  1. milt schmitt tells a great story about the bruins coming to ontario to see 2 other players on orr’s team named higgins and heaton but when they saw orr they soon forgot about the other guys. bobby orr and i share the same birthday. it’s the closest i’ve come to hockey prestige.

  2. Hobo, I looked it up. March 20th. Happy birthday! Only a month and a half late. And only about two weeks before we came to see you guys.

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