There have been some shocking trades in the history of the National Hockey League. No trade was bigger than the Wayne Gretzky trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles. But in 1968, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings shocked the hockey world with the trade of The Big M - Frank Mahovlich.
The Leafs dynasty days of the 1960s were officially behind them with this trade. The Leafs had won the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967, thanks in large part to a cast of veterans. Father time had finally caught up with those oldtimers, but the true star of the 1960s Maple Leafs still had plenty of hockey left in him. Frank Mahovlich was the handsome superstar of Leafs. Though he was at-times maligned by the Leafs fans and especially coach Imlach, the trade of The Big M was, at the time, nearly as shocking as the Gretzky trade 20 years later.
The Leafs moved Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to Carl Brewer for Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Norm Ullman.
The Leafs move was a desperate attempt to extend the dynasty one more spring, according to The Hockey News as seen above. It did not work. Though Ullman and Henderson in particular went on to solid careers in Toronto, the Maple Leafs began an awkward slide down the standings.
Mahovlich, meanwhile, enjoyed some of his best years personally in Detroit. Playing on a line with Alex Delvecchio and Gordie Howe, he scored 49 goals the next season. But the Wings were never a Stanley Cup threat. Mahovlich did enjoy two more Stanley Cup championships in Montreal, as he was moved to Les Canadiens in 1971, reuniting him with his younger brother Peter.
Here's a great YouTube clip featuring Punch Imlach announcing the trade and the reactions of Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and King Clancy.
And here's a YouTube video clip of the first match between Detroit and Toronto following the big trade.
And, of course, who can forget this monstrosity of a hockey card - the badly cropped head of Frank Mahovlich pasted onto a generic Red Wings player's body!