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Sam Pollock, 81; hockey executive crafted dynasty

August 16, 2007|From the Associated Press

Sam Pollock, who built a hockey dynasty as vice president and general manager of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960s and '70s, died Wednesday in Toronto. He was 81.

Pollock's death was confirmed to the RDS television network by his son, Sam Jr. The cause of death was not reported.

As the architect of the Canadiens dynasty, Pollock set the standard by which other National Hockey League executives have since been measured. During his tenure from the 1964-65 season to 1978, the Canadiens won nine Stanley Cup titles.

He was considered the shrewdest evaluator and dealer of talent of his era, pulling off brilliant moves to land greats like Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden.

"He always had the players ready and the coaching staff too," said Rejean Houle, one of his former players. "That way he helped us be a better team."

Pollock sent two undistinguished prospects to the Boston Bruins for the rights to Dryden, then a relatively unknown goaltender at Cornell University who would grow into a Hall of Famer. That was one of Pollock's best moves, but his acquisition of Lafleur, a high-scoring winger, cemented his reputation.

Among the first to recognize that the entry draft, inaugurated in 1963, was the key to team building, Pollock found fellow general managers from the six clubs that joined the NHL in the expansion of 1967 who were willing to take aging yet well-known players in exchange for draft picks.

In May 1970, he sent Ernie Hicke and a first-round choice to Oakland for the obscure Francois Lacombe and the now-defunct Seals' first-round pick. All the while, he kept his eye on the gifted Lafleur, who was tearing up junior hockey with the Quebec Remparts.

The following season, when it appeared that Los Angeles might finish last and claim the top pick, Pollock sent veteran Ralph Backstrom to the Kings to boost them ahead of Oakland. That allowed Montreal to choose Lafleur first overall in the 1971 draft.

Lafleur went on to become the best player of his era, and his No. 10 has been retired by the Canadiens.

Amassing draft picks also allowed Pollock to claim future stars like Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and current Montreal General Manager Bob Gainey to build the team that won four consecutive Stanley Cups.

Pollock left the Canadiens after the 1978 season when Peter and Edward Bronfman, who purchased the club in 1971, sold it back to the Molson family.

A Montreal native born Dec. 25, 1925, Pollock coached teenagers in the 1940s and managed a softball team that included some Canadiens players.

He was hired as a scout by the club in 1947 and within three years was named director of player personnel.

He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

He also served as chairman and chief executive of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team from 1995 to 2000.

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