On November 7th 1975, Emile Francis and his Boston Bruins’ counterpart, GM Harry Sinden pulled off a blockbuster trade. The Rangers sent Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and minor leaguer Joe Zanussi to the Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.
It was one of the biggest deals in Ranger history and so when I had the opportunity to ask Emile about the deal, I didn’t pass it up.
Emile Francis: We were both playing like horse(bleep). And I had brought in Ron Stewart to coach, because I was at the point that I couldn’t do both jobs and remember we were in a war with the WHA back then too. So we both got off to a bad start. And we would have never made a deal with Boston or Montreal or Philadelphia. But Harry Sinden and I were at a meeting So I said, ‘Harry we’re both going bad. Have you ever thought of making a trade?” He said really? But I said there’s no sense talking about the deuces and the threes in other words the 17th or 18th players. If we’re going to make a trade lets talk about some key players. So he said lets talk in a couple of days and we talked for about a month. We were probably both really hoping that the teams would straighten out and start playing better. But it didn’t happen. So I remember saying to him ‘Harry, we’d be willing to talk about trading a couple of key guys Ratelle and Park if you put in Esposito and Orr.’ Oh no way he said, I’d never trade Bobby Orr. So I said, lets keep talking and eventually neither team straightened out and we had to do something so we did. We kept talking and eventually we made the trade. I sure as hell didn’t want to trade Park and Ratelle and he didn’t want to trade Esposito and he sure as hell wouldn’t trade Orr but the thing was neither team was getting any better so we had to try to do something to straighten things out.
I knew we had our shot at winning the Cup and didn’t make it so now we had to do something. That’s why you’re the General Manager you’ve got to make those decisions.
Same as when you win you’ve got to know when to move people because if you stay with the same team eventually it’s gonna catch up to you and then you’ve got nothing because you’ve gotta keep rebuilding. That’s what happened with the Islanders, they won 4 in a row but then they all got old and hurt they were done.
But I’ve never had any regrets. They were the best years of my life. We were good enough to win two or three Stanley Cups but you’ve got to be good and you’ve got to be lucky. You’ve gotta be healthy. You’ve got to stay away from injuries. The Islanders wouldn’t have won those Cups if Potvin or Trottier or Bossy was hurt. If you remember they couldn’t win when Potvin was hurt, but that was always during the season. They were always healthy for the playoffs. Any game, baseball, football, you’ve gotta stay healthy.
We lost Brad Park twice for crissakes. I remember it was March, past the trading deadline and they had a track meet at the Garden. And we had to play an afternoon game. We’re beating Vancouver 10 – 1. the puck’s shot into Brad Park’s corner, he turns to go back steps on the ice that hadn’t frozen properly from the track meet, slid into the boards and tore up his knee.
He came back and tried to play in the playoffs with a brace like Joe Namath wore but he couldn’t turn. It happened to him twice. and he was our key guy on defense and on the power play. Two out of three years it happened to him.
And then one night we’re playing at the Garden and Dale Rolfe goes behind the net to pick up the puck. Now Dale Rolfe could skate. He goes down the left side of the rink across from the Rangers bench and all of a sudden, there’s nobody near him and bingo he goes right into the boards. He stepped on a piece of ice that had broken away. They put him on a stretcher and I’ll tell you I was sick. His foot was turned backwards. He had a compound fracture and never played another hockey game.
So now after the game I was so pissed off. This was the third time it happened, We lost Park twice and now Rolfe all on account of the goddamn ice. So I go to the press room and I said, you know I come from Saskatoon Saskatchewan and we’ve got better ice on the highways up there than we have at Madison Square Garden. So the next day I come back from practice and get a call from (Madison Square Garden Chairman) Irving Mitchell Felt, and he says, ‘I’m really disturbed by the statements you’ve made’. I said, Oh really! Let me tell you something, I’ve lost Park twice and now Dale Rolfe, key guys on account of that goddamn ice because you people won’t put ice in there and leave it down. And if you don’t think that I’m right, you go out to Saskatchewan in January, February or March and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You can skate down the highway. And he hung up on me!
We always had the worst ice in the league because (MSG President and Knick EVP) Ned Irish would never let us put a floor down on the ice, He’d say ‘I don’t want my basketball people sitting on cold ice’. I said what the hell are you talking about. We put people on the moon for crissakes. They’ve got insulated floors. Call Chicago or Boston they leave their ice in. I liked Ned Irish, but he was a basketball guy. Basketball was more important to him than hockey.
I’ll have more from my interviews with Emile in upcoming editions of Retro Rangers. Stay tuned.