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Red Wings great, NHL union pioneer Ted Lindsay dies at 93

Ted Lindsay, one of the most important hockey figures of the 20th century, died at age 93. | AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

DETROIT — Ted Lindsay, the Hall of Famer who provided muscle and meanness on the Detroit Red Wings’ mighty “Production Line” of the 1950s and helped pioneer the first NHL players’ union, died Monday. He was 93.

Lindsay died at his home in Michigan, said Lew LaPaugh, president of the Ted Lindsay Foundation, which raises money for autism research.

Known as “Terrible Ted,” Lindsay was one of the game’s best left wings, a nine-time All-Star who played on four Stanley Cup winners. Lindsay, Sid Abel and Gordie Howe formed an offensive juggernaut of a line that helped make Detroit one of the first of the NHL’s great postwar dynasties.

“The National Hockey League mourns the passing and celebrates the incomparable life of the legendary Ted Lindsay,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “One of the game’s fiercest competitors during his 17-season NHL career, he was among its most beloved ambassadors throughout the more than five decades of service to hockey that followed his retirement.”

The Hockey Hall of Fame waived its three-year waiting period when it inducted Lindsay in 1966. Nine years earlier, he had been elected president of the players’ union he helped organize — and was subsequently traded to Chicago.

“It didn’t matter that they traded me,” he said in 1995. “I have a Red Wing on my forehead and on my behind and on my heart. That will never change.”

He finished his NHL career with 379 goals and 472 assists in 1,068 games, spending 14 of his 17 seasons with Detroit. With Howe and Lindsay centered first by Abel and then by Al Delvecchio, the Red Wings won Stanley Cups in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. The Red Wings retired his No. 7 in 1991.

“The Chicago Blackhawks organization joins the Detroit Red Wings and entire National Hockey League community in mourning the loss of Hockey Hall of Famer, Ted Lindsay,” the team said in a statement. “As Ted suited up for both the Red Wings and Blackhawks, his illustrious playing career contributed greatly to a rivalry that has stood the test of time.

“The game lost an icon today, and his contributions to the sport far exceed his stellar play on the ice. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Lindsay family and all who mourn Ted’s passing.”

Lindsay is credited in 1950 with beginning the ritual in which the championship team skates around rink with the Stanley Cup. Lindsay downplayed his role, saying he simply wanted to bring the Cup closer to the fans.

“I saw it sitting there, and I thought, ‘I’ll just pick it up and I’ll take it over.’ … I just moved along the boards. I didn’t have it over my head. I had it so they could read it,” he said in 2013. “I wasn’t starting a tradition, I was just taking care of my fans that paid our salary.”

In 2010, the NHL Players’ Association renamed its version of the Most Outstanding Player award after Lindsay. The honor, which is chosen by an NHLPA vote, was previously called the Lester B. Pearson Award after the former Canadian prime minister.

“On the ice, Ted Lindsay was one of the best players to ever to put on a pair of skates,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “But his greatest legacy was off the ice. A true trailblazer in seeking to improve conditions for all players, Ted was instrumental in organizing the original players’ association in 1957. All Players, past, current and future, are in his debt. All those who have, and will follow him into the NHL, enjoy improved rights and benefits in large part due to the efforts he made.”

Born July 29, 1925, in Renfrew, Ontario, Lindsay joined the Red Wings in the 1944-45 season. He led the NHL with 33 goals in 1947-48 and won the Art Ross Trophy (most points) in 1949-50 when he had 23 goals and a league-best 55 assists. In 1955, Lindsay scored four goals in a 7-1 victory over Montreal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

During his 14 seasons in Detroit, he led the team in goals only once. But he led or tied for the team lead in penalty minutes 10 times, including his final season of 1964-65 — when he was approaching 40 years old.

Lindsay took his toughness off the ice to organize the players’ association despite opposition from team owners.

“I was led by a feeling of fairness,” Lindsay once said. “All of us who were involved in trying to establish the players’ association weren’t the ones who needed it. It was for the fringe players that were the worst off.

“When I got caught up in this, I was so grateful to the game for all it had done for me,” he said. “But it was a dictatorship on the part of the owners, who didn’t realize any of us had a brain. There we were, sitting there in 1956, these dumb hockey players, and we were going to ruin their game.”

Lindsay retired following the 1959-60 season and focused on his automotive business. He came back for one more season with the Red Wings in 1964-65 and returned to Detroit as general manager in 1977 and remained in that role until 1980. During the 1980-81 season, he coached the team for 20 games. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Lindsay declined to attend the banquet because it was an all-male event. The following year, the banquet was open to men and women.

“That’s amazing,” Edmonton star Connor McDavid said. “That just goes to show what he’s about and he was not afraid to stand up to anyone and stand up for what he believed in.”

Funeral arrangements were pending. The NHL said survivors include his children Blake, Lynn and Meredith, stepdaughter Leslie, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The Chicago Sun-Times added the Blackhawks’ statement to this article.