Underrated Nation: Eddie Shack
By Bill Kallett
“Clear the track for Eddie Shack.”
This was the phrase uttered by many a broadcaster during Eddie Shack’s heyday. Not many players in NHL history have a poignant nickname and catchphrase, but Eddie had both, and both fit his playing style to a tee.
Shack was never the most prominent scorer and could rarely be relied on in key situations, but the man they named “The Entertainer” did just that. No one ever came away from game he had been in without feeling they were enlightened in some way,
Edward Steven Phillip Shack was born February 11 1937 in Sudbury Ontario. He got his start in Junior with the Guelph Biltmores where he gained a reputation for being a bit “different”. Back in those days there was no NHL draft and after a breakout year in 1956-57 where Shack scored an amazing 47 goals and added 57 assists, he caught the eye of the New York Rangers, who signed him as a free agent. he spent his first season split between New York and their AHL affiliate at the time the Providence Reds.
Shack would get his shot in 1958-59 with the Rangers and didn’t disappoint. Though only scoring 7 goals in that first season, he had slowly become a fan favourite, mostly due to his unusual antics. Shack would quite often take a penalty then bow to the crowd before entering the box. He had been known on several occasions to blow kisses to his opponent as they entered the penalty boxc after scrapping, and on one occasion legend has it that he actually kissed a referee who did not penalize him for an infraction. All of this was typical of Shack, a man who was often seen as the sideshow clown rather than a NHL pro.
During the 1958-60 season one of the biggest trades in NHL history took place, the oddity of it was that the deal would never go through. Shack was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings along with future Hall of Fame defenceman Bill Gadsby for Red Kelly and Bill McNeill. In those days the Rangers were not exactly a destination of choice, and if you were traded there it was considered a purgatory. Kelly, deciding he didn’t want to move at this late stage in his career refused to report and instead retired, voiding the transaction, Shack would remain a Ranger… For now.
The following season of 1960-61 Shack would once again be up to his old tricks and the Rangers once again in the cellar. In November of that year the Rangers traded Shack to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Pat Hannigan and Johnny Wilson. This is where the lore of Eddie Shack would become prominent.
The Leafs were always in the market for someone who would complement their talented blend of players, but where Shack fit in was unknown. He wasn’t exactly a goal scorer, couldn’t kill penalties (because he was usually serving them), and his skating could be likened to a drunk albatross, yet he had a charm about him that endeared him to fans, especially in the hotbed of Toronto.
Shack did earn himself a respectable 14 goals that first season in Toronto. Though not a great fighter, he nonetheless did several times. Often coming out on the losing end, he would get up, bow to the crowd then take his spot in the sin bin, His antics often angered other players, feeling he was mocking them, but in truth that was the only way Shack knew how to play. He would play seven seasons in Toronto and score 26 goals in 1965-66, but still found himself demoted to the Rochester Americans of the AHL, The aura that was Eddie Shack was beginning to wear off, but not before one final hurrah in Hogtown.
In 1966-67 Shack would be one of the players on the last Stanley Cup winning Maple Leaf teams. Despite playing in only 4 playoff games, Shacks name resides on the greatest of all trophies, and it will be a memory he would cherish to this day.
During the following summer, Shack would be dealt to the Boston Bruins, this kicking off a series of moves that would see him bounce around for the next eight seasons.
Boston was much more powerful team than the Leafs and sported a dominant young man named Bobby Orr. Shack would fit right in to the Bruins ‘Big Bad” nature. He would also register 23 goals in his first season. Shack would spend one more year in Boston before a deal sent him to the Los Angeles Kings. Shack would continue an odd trend there, it seems he had gotten into a habit of scoring 20+ goals after being dealt to a new team, and his trade to LA was no exception. He potted 23 in 1969-70.
Though LA was a perfect place for Shacks flakey personality, the team wasn’t very good, and Shack once again found himself on a team that was horribly mismanaged at the time., He would be dealt in 1970-71 season to the Buffalo Sabres, and once again would continue his odd trend, garnering 25 goals during his first season.
Shack had become somewhat of a joke by this time. Yes he was still entertaining and always good for a laugh, but his purpose was becoming increasingly moot. The game was changing and scoring was opening up and many felt Shack would be lost in the shuffle. Even his penalty minutes had been in decline and the wear and tear was starting to show. The Sabres would make one of the best deals in their history after this, dealing Shack to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Rene Robert. Robert would go on to form one third of the famed “French Connection” line with Rick Martin and Gilbert Perrault that would dominate the league for years to come. Shack would go on a mini tear in Pittsburgh, scoring 14 points in 18 games. The following season he would do you know what… yes score 25 goals, it was the last real output of his career.
On July 3 1973 Shack was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, for no other reason than nostalgia. His legs were going, his abilities were gone and his antics had almost subsided. He would spend 2 seasons with the Leafs in his second go round, but in the end he found himself demoted to Oklahoma City of the AHL, The message came through loud and clear, and Shack retired after that season. He briefly unretired to play a season for the Whitby Warriors in 1976-77 but lasted only 9 games before packing it in for good.
In all Shack would earn 465 points in 1047 games played, but the staggering statistic would be his whopping total of 1437 penalty minutes. Among his achievements Shack would become the first player to score 20 or more goals with Five different teams. One of the more surprising facts that would be revealed after his career was done is that Shack was illiterate most of his life, often signing only an “X” when an autograph request came up. He battled this for many years before his wife helped him to learn to read and write.
He became a spokesman for many different companies post playing career, and has always been front and centre at Old Timers games, often donning a cowboy hat while playing. In the spirit of one of his former teammates, Shack also opened a small chain of doughnut shops in the Ontario area; they never met the success of Tim Horton’s but served him well in their own niche.
Shack will likely never reach the Hall of Fame and will undoubtedly never be mentioned in the same sentence of the greats, but one thing he will always be remembered for is his colourful blend of hockey and comedy. Shack will forever be the ultimate clown of sports, and for that will always be welcomed in the Underrated Nation.