16 August 2007

Sam Pollock: 1925-2007

Former Montreal Canadiens' General Manager Sam Pollock passed away yesterday at the age of 81. More than just the architect of the Habs from 1964-1978 - presiding over no less than nine Stanley Cup champion teams - Pollock was the first to understand the nature of the new NHL draft. The draft first came into existence in 1963 but took its modern form in 1969 (for the first six years of the draft the only players who could be selected were those not already claimed by NHL clubs via the draconian "C form" - almost a reserve clause for players signed at age 18 and essentially bound those players to the NHL clubs) when the amateur draft was opened up for all players under the age of 20. As written on habsworld.com:

The sponsorship system consisted of NHL teams sponsoring amateur teams. This system allowed NHL teams to scout pre-junior age players to a C form. Most of the players who signed C forms were young teenagers. By signing the C form that player was bound to his NHL club.
Before the inception of the draft, aggressive scouts would sign young players to these C forms and place them on their sponsored amateur/junior teams, thereby holding onto them for as long as they wished; Montreal had a corner on the entire French Canadian market. As the draft emerged and evolved (to distribute young talent more equitably, a bold concept in those days and one that should be noted to counter nostalgic arguments that claimed the "old days" of sports were better), NHL franchises would have to rethink how to build their teams, and especially Montreal who would lose exclusivity to the fertile Quebec territory.

While most GMs had little foresight in this new method of stocking their teams, Sam Pollock figured it out earlier than anyone else. He was able to craft ridiculously one-sided deals with unsuspecting (and clueless) teams for top draft picks, ones he turned into players such as Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, and Steve Shutt. In other words, the core of one of the most dominant teams in NHL history - the late '70s Canadiens.

The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup the year after Pollock left, and although they remained competitive for much of the next decade - winning the Cup in 1986 (and again in 1993) - their reign of dominance ended when Pollock departed.

Sam Pollock was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

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