Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Gordie Howe
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One on One with Gordie Howe
The Production Line -
Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and
Ted Lindsay
(May 27, 2002) -- It was Tommy Ivan who put together the greatest scoring line in the history of the Detroit Red Wings. Ivan had been coaching in Indianapolis, the Detroit farm team, but to start the '47-'48 season he was behind the Red Wings' bench in place of Jack Adams, whose health was better served as GM of the team. Ivan's strategy was brilliant in its simplicity. He put the best two young players on the team-and inseparable friends-on a line with the aged and iconic centreman, Sid Abel.

Abel was Hall of Fame material, and a member of the 1943 Cup-winning Wings team. He was in the twilight of his distinguished career, but Ivan knew that Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay could both bring out the best in Abel and also cover for his slowness by having two bolts of lightning on his sides.

Gordie Howe receiving the Hart and Art Ross from NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell
Howe and Lindsay spent their every waking minute together, and Howe idolized Abel to extraordinary degrees. The three men stayed after practise on a regular basis and fooled around with the puck, eventually perfecting one of hockey's greatest innovations-the set play. To take advantage of the speed of the wingers and to minimize the problems of having a slow centre, the wingers would shoot the puck in to the opponents end after crossing centre ice. They would angle their shoot-in so that the puck would bounce off the boards and slide to the front of the goal where the other winger could get to it. That winger would either make a quick pass to Abel in the slot or take a shot himself. It was a brilliant play for the era because in those days goalies never came out of their net, so they never thought about cutting off the shoot-in or blocking the pass in front.

The famed Production Line 2 - Ted
Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio
The play worked to perfection, but it was one of many that highlighted their ability to read each other and play as a unit unlike any other in the league at the time. In 1947-48, the three were tops on the team in scoring. The year after, Howe suffered a bad knee injury, but Lindsay and Abel finished in the top ten in scoring. In 1949-50, the three finished 1-2-3 in NHL scoring, an incredible feat of offensive dominance. The year after, Howe won his first of four consecutive Art Ross Trophies. In fact, Gordie finished in the top five in league scoring an incomprehensible 20 straight seasons! By the time Howe retired in 1971, he held virtually every scoring record in the NHL.

Gordie proudly displays his 544th goal puck that tied him with Rocket Richard for first on the NHL's all-time goal list. Howe went on to score an additional 450.
Fans and media alike scrambled to come up with a catchy nickname for the threesome, in the manner of The Kid Line of Toronto or the S-Line of the Montreal Maroons. Soon enough, someone coined a term that described the importance of the line to the team as well as a reference to the city, the car-making capital of the United States. The Production Line was born.

Detroit finished first overall in the regular season standings for seven straight years in the 1950s, but Abel's last year with the Wings was '51-'52. Jack Adams sold the aged star to Chicago, but not without reason. There was another young centre in the farm whom he felt could replace Abel on the Production Line. His name was Alex Delvecchio, a guy who wound up playing 24 seasons with the Wings, an NHL record for continuous service to one team, and who would also become an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. And so, with Howe and Lindsay now in their prime and a rookie at centre, the Production Line II was born, a threesome equally effective and talented and blessed with complementary skills that could dominate a league.

- Andrew Podnieks is the author of numerous books on hockey including the current The Essential Blue & White Book. He is also a regular contributor to Leafs.com and managing editor of A Day In The Life of the Leafs to be published in the fall of 2002.