By the end of the 1964-65 season, the New York Rangers were no stranger to being out of the NHL’s playoff picture as the franchise had missed the postseason for the sixth time in seven years. Despite some promising young talents like Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, and Jim Neilson, Coach Red Sullivan could not get them back to being serious contenders. In the off-season, however, General Manager Emile “The Cat” Francis made a then-common inter-league trade to acquire an up-and-coming goalie named Ed Giacomin that helped change the fate of a faltering team.
Over the previous five seasons, Giacomin had starred for the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League and shared the same predicament as many goaltenders in his era in that there were only six starting jobs available with NHL clubs. While the league slowly started to implement tandems in 1964-65 with pairings like Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower in Toronto or Jacques Plante and Marcel Paille on Broadway, it was still tough to crack the roster. For the Rangers, getting a high-caliber starter was paramount after Plante was demoted mid-season and retired for the first time soon after. Paille had his fair share of struggles in net and bounced between the NHL and minors for many years and Francis offered him to Providence as part of a deal for Giacomin on May 18. 1965.
As the Rangers opened their season on home ice at Madison Square Garden on October 24 that year, the 26-year-old held his own against the visiting Montreal Canadiens. Making 26 saves, he came out on the losing end that night in a tight 4-3 battle. Less than a week later, he delivered his first career win against the Boston Bruins.
Quick Cardboard Debut
As Topps and their sub-licensor, O-Pee-Chee, filled out their 1965-66 hockey card release, it was an easy decision to put the rookie netminder into the lineup due to his early success which included back-to-back victories in November over the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. Much like the other cards in this colorful collection, Giacomin’s rookie issue features a head shot and has a cartoon on the back which would appear when rubbing the edge of a coin across it.
A somewhat underrated card in a set loaded with impressive debuts like fellow Hall of Famers Yvan Cournoyer, Phil Esposito, and Gerry Cheevers, it is absolutely essential for any New York Rangers-themed collection.
If this card is a bit out of your price range, there are two other options from the same year which are more affordable. First, we have his 1965-66 Coca Cola card that has a great black and white publicity shot where he makes a save.
It was part of a team panel which contained 18 members of the Rangers along with an offer for an album in which to keep your entire collection. As a result, they are more commonly found detached and can often have discoloration or indents from being placed in the album. The back includes Giacomin’s minor league stats. Except for truly high grade copies, it’s very affordable.
The other rookie-era issue of Giacomin is his woodgrain Beehive photo, which came at the end of the multi-decade Canadian promotion. This also has a great shot that likely was taken in practice and could be obtained over two seasons before St. Lawrence Starch stopped offering the photos to Canadian kids that sent in labels of Beehive Corn Syrup.
As the Rangers struggled on the ice once again, Giacomin was sent down to the AHL in February, 1966 and spent seven games with the Baltimore Clippers before returning for one more NHL game that year. Additionally, Sullivan was let go mid-season and Francis took over behind the bench to usher in a new era for the club.
Stardom on Broadway
Giacomin had something to prove in 1966-67 and delivered a fine effort in the last year of the Original Six era. Leading the league in several categories as he played all 70 games, his nine shutouts were a career high and helped the Rangers back to the playoffs for the first time since 1961-62. As a result, he was named to the NHL First All-Star Team and finished second to Chicago’s Stan Mikita in voting for the Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player. During this era, the Vezina Trophy was awarded to the goalie (or goalies) with the lowest goals-against average, and instead went to the Black Hawks’ (then the spelling) duo of Glenn Hall and Denis DeJordy. This season, kids were probably a bit disappointed to see his second card have the same photo as the previous one, but it was part of the standard 1966-67 Topps Hockey set which has a strong following among vintage collectors.
While NHL expansion was slow to appear on cards, the 1967-68 Topps Hockey set does have Giacomin on a standard player card and one commemorating his All-Star nod.
This season was once again a success as he led all goalies in games (66), wins (36), ties (11), saves (1,717), and shutouts (8) to earn a spot on the NHL Second All-Star squad. The Rangers finished second in the new East Division with a 39-23-12 record, but could not solve Chicago in the playoffs.
Despite some improvement again in 1968-69, Giacomin and the Rangers could only must a third-place finish. Giacomin was once again impressive as he won more games than any other goaltender with a career-best 38. The playoffs were certainly a struggle as they were swept by the Canadiens, but Eddie was hardly to blame as the Habs were on the way to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years.
The East Division was even tighter in 1969-70 as the Rangers narrowly edged out the Canadiens for the final playoff spot on the last day of the season with a 9-5 outburst against Gordie Howe and the Red Wings. Giacomin was occasionally spelled by the legendary Terry Sawchuk that year, but appeared in 70 games – winning 36 and coming away with a third straight Second All-Star nod. In the 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee set that came out the following year, he had a subset card which has two variations – one with a standard border and another where the black box extends to the bottom of the card. The latter variant is much tougher to find as it was corrected relatively early in the press run of that year’s second series.
In the playoffs, the Rangers managed to win a pair of games against Boston in the opening round, but it was not enough to defeat the eventual champions. In the offseason, there was the tragic news that Sawchuk passed away due to injuries sustained in a tussle with teammate Ron Stewart, but the Rangers would have to soldier on.
Major Success in 1970-71
The Rangers tried something different in net for 1970-71 and having Giacomin share the net with Gilles Villemure proved to be a tremendous success. Villemure, who at age 30 was only a year younger than Giacomin, was another goalie that was held back by a six-team NHL. While he had great years in the AHL, it was never enough to go to the next level as he always had another goalie ahead of him in the Rangers organization – whether it was Paille, Plante, or Giacomin.
This tandem provided the Rangers with enough bravado to finish second in the East behind a dominant Bruins club and had the league’s best defensive record – resulting in a Vezina and a second career NHL First Team All-Star selection for Giacomin. However, there was only minor playoff success for the Rangers as they defeated the Maple Leafs in six before losing a seven-game nail biter to the Black Hawks. With the score 3-2 for Chicago in the final minute, Giacomin was pulled for the extra man before Chico Maki potted the insurance tally.
In 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee, Giacomin would get two subset cards along with a standard one while that year’s Topps set went a different route by taking out the All-Star and Trophy Winner cards and replaced the with three League Leader cards which he shared with some of his peers. Giacomin’s career was also given an illustrated recap from O-Pee-Chee and Topps with the Booklets insert. The O-Pee-Chee edition can be found with both English and French text.
Giacomin also appeared in several other insert sets during this era, starting with the Stamps seeded into packs of 1969-70 Topps and OPC. These could be affixed to the back of his standard cards that year, but second series O-Pee-Chee packs also had him as part of a Four-in-One mini card with Eddie Joyal, Jean Beliveau, and Leo Boivin. More inserts followed in 1970-71 with Sticker Stamps (both Topps and O-Pee-Chee) and the black and white Deckle Edge card from O-Pee-Chee (in Series 2 packs). Most of these issues are fairly budget friendly.
The 1971-72 campaign was marked by 48 Rangers victories and the offensive prowess of the GAG (Goal A Game) Line combined with another big year from their goalies resulted in another second place result. Facing the defending Stanley Cup champs from Montreal in the opening round, New York won it in six before sweeping Chicago. Returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1950, they put up a challenge against Boston. After losing the first two games in Beantown, Giacomin made 32 stops in Game 3, but lost a close Game 4 before Villemure played the remainder of the six-game clash.
Over the next three season, the Rangers slowly devolved from contenders to a middle-of-the-road club. Giacomin and Villemure could not match their previous totals in net, but still put up strong numbers. Kids on both sides of the borders finally got to see Giacomin in action on hockey cards in the 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets, but the writing was on the wall heading into 1975-76.
The Trade and Subsequent Return
Early in this season, the Rangers were in a state of flux. With Francis moving upstairs to serve as GM full-time, there was a bit of a problem with the team having too many goalies. Late in 1974-75, the team had acquired Dunc Wilson from the Maple Leafs and picked up big John Davidson in a trade with the St. Louis Blues. It was only a matter of time before someone was on the way out and Villemure was dealt to Chicago on October 28, 1975.
It was not the first move for “The Cat”, though as fans were absolutely shocked to see the franchise’s then-all-time wins leader exposed to waivers three days later and snatched up Detroit. Collectors will also note that Giacomin’s Topps card for this season does not note the transaction, but it was among the first times collectors would see a notification on an O-Pee-Chee card (the prior set before that was 1970-71).
Rangers fans would not wait long to pay tribute to Giacomin as his Red Wings debut came two days later at MSG. Despite 46 shots from former teammates that night, he earned a 6-4 victory thanks to four first period goals from Detroit and the winning power play tally (and first NHL goal) from Barry Salovaara in the second stanza. Catcalls rained down from the rafters after this humiliating loss and a dark (but briefly dark) era for the Rangers began.
Sharing the crease primarily with future Hall of Famer Jim Rutherford this year, the Red Wings were firmly entrenched in the “Dead Things” era and did not make the playoffs. The 1976-77 campaign was even worse, as he went 8-18-3 with a 3.59 goals-against average.
Used only sparingly the next year, he kicked it off with a 2-2 tie against a magnificent Montreal Canadiens squad before winning battles with the Minnesota North Stars and Cleveland Barons. With Ron Low added to the roster, his starts were increasingly rare and his last appearance came in a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Detroit on Dec. 21, 1977. Less than a month later, he announced his retirement at the age of 38. Around this time, he also appeared on a trading card as an active player in the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets.
After his playing days, Giacomin remained close to the game for a while as a broadcaster, assistant coach, and goalie coach. While he was eligible for induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier in the decade, he finally got the call in 1987 – and the fans in New York never forgot his contributions to the team. Two years later, his jersey number one was the second to be retired by the Rangers.
When it came to cards, there were scant few to be found during the boom years with the most notable being from the 1991-92 Smokey’s Ultimate Original 6 collection. Interestingly. there were autographed versions issued that feature an embossed stamp. In 1995-96, he had a base card and coin that could be discovered in packs of the Parkhurst 1966-67 Missing Link release and savvy collectors would also get him as part of the mail-in promotional set depicting members of the 1966-67 NHL All-Star Team. Limited to 1,966 copies, not all sets were distributed at the time of issue due to the level of public response.
By the turn of the century, Giacomin appeared in card releases much more frequently and still shows up today. In 2001-02 Between The Pipes, we not only saw his earliest game-used memorabilia cards, but he was also part of first iteration of The Mask produced by In The Game. Here, we saw his Red Wings mask whose design from mask artist extraordinaire Greg Harrison coincidentally tied into his sponsorship deal with Champion Spark Plugs. While he had aimed to have a slogan on there at the time, the NHL squashed that attempt – but fans at least saw a subtler version with the sparks instead. Collectors would get a fantastic look at him wearing it as part of the base set from 2004-05 In The Game NHL Franchises West with a photo taken by Steve Babineau in Boston.
In the years since, Giacomin is still regularly a part of licensed and unlicensed trading card releases. There are autographs that are fairly plentiful and very inexpensive. With hundreds of contemporary cards to collect, there is something out there for everyone and he should be in products for years to come due to his continued popularity.
You can check out cards from throughout his career on eBay here.