Stanowski Stanley Cup playoff bonus from 1945 wouldn't go far today

Maple Leafs didn’t get much for 1944-45 win

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While Wally Stanowski would be hailed a hero today for winning one Stanley Cup (let alone four) there isn’t much he could have bought in downtown Toronto with his $1,700 playoff bonus from 1945. 

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“It’s such a different world,” his son Skip told Postmedia. “Six teams back then and not many jobs. Ticket prices were also cheaper. Now, you can hardly afford to go to the games.” 

Nonethless, in the wake of the Florida Panthers winning the Cup last month, Skip thought fans would get a kick out of the Leafs’ playoff bonus structure from 79 years ago when club management held most of the cards over subservient players.  

From his late father’s files — Wally died in 2015, at the time the oldest living Leaf — Skip sent along what each Leaf received for winning in ‘45, part of a dynasty decade during which they were five-time champions.  

We’ll first tell you the Panthers are currently splitting $6,539,375 US among players and chosen staffers, part of the NHL’s $22 million player fund from 2024 post-season revenues. Teams stop paying salaries at the end of the regular season. 

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The 1944-45 Maple Leafs collected a lump sum $29,492.23 from the league, for finishing third in regular season — $5,816.35 — then $11,632.70 for the Cup. After a contribution of $11,094.28 from Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. and converting it all to Canadian funds, 13 regulars including Stanowski, goalie Frank McCool and 19-year-old team playoff scoring leader Ted Kennedy got the highest shares of $1,700. 

That converts to .026% of what the Panthers got, and though it would also be about $29,300 in today’s coin, it’s not enough to retire on.

The 1945 final was just as harrowing as what the Panthers endured. The Leafs won the first three games against Detroit, let the Red Wings back in with three losses, and finally won Game 7 by the same 2-1 count as Florida edged Edmonton. 

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Wally, a 5-foot-11 Winnipeg-born defenceman, went by the nickname Whirling Dervish and had joined the Leafs as an NHL rookie in 1939-40 after a trade with the New York Americans. He had been part of the legendary 1942 Leafs, who had lost the first three games of the Stanley Cup final to Detroit and came back to win, the only time that has happened in a major pro sports’ seven-game final. 

“In the Detroit Olympia, the dressing rooms were side-by-side and my father said the Leafs saw the Wings bring cases of champagne into their room just before Game 4,” cackled Skip. “That really pumped them up. The Leafs won, the two teams took the same train back to Toronto and he could see from the Leafs’ car the champagne being loaded on again.” 

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The Leafs completed the comeback with a 3-1 win at the Gardens. 

“He said no one knew what became of the champagne; maybe Detroit drank it anyway to drown their sorrows.” 

Wally’s first contract in 1938 was for $7,900 with the clause of a $30 deposit to make sure he returned his one allotted home and away sweater in good condition at the end of a 50-game season. 

“Tim Daly, the trainer, had to keep stitching them up,” Skip said. “By the end of the year, you wouldn’t want to wash your car with it because it was so ragged, useless and full of holes. And no one my dad knew ever got their 30 bucks back.” 

Stanowski was eligible for a few hundred dollars for making the 1941 first all-star team and there was a $500 team bonus for exemplary play – to be determined by manager Hap Day.  

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”If you pissed the coach off, good luck getting that,” laughed Skip. 

Wally once enraged team patriarch Conn Smythe for sleeping at home with his own wife during training camp when ‘The Major’ wanted the Leafs sequestered.

When the season was over, bonus or not, there wasn’t enough money to sustain a family through five months of the off-season, so players took various full-time jobs. 

“Some guys sold cars, Dad got a job at Shopsy’s Deli on Spadina as sales manager. He also received a small amount of promotion money for ‘hockey tips’ that appeared on the back of a package of weiners. It was something simple like: ‘Keep your stick on the ice’ or ‘Make sure your skates are sharp.’ “ 

There were some benefits of the Shopsy’s deal for Skip. 

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“During The Exhibition, Shopsy’s had a booth across from old CNE Stadium where dad would sign autographs. I’d get free passes to the Ex and free hot dogs. I was like a king among my friends when I brought them, but then we’d all go up on the Ferris wheel and start vomiting because we ate too much.”

Stanowski went on to operate his own construction company after his hockey career ended.

Stanowski might have had more Cups and all-star recognition had he not stopped playing between 1942-44 to serve in the war as a Royal Canadian Air Force phys ed trainer in Trenton, Ont. 

“He was just coming into his own as a player, but what could you do then?,” Skip said. “Everybody was doing their part, such as (all-stars) Syl Apps and Turk Broda.” 

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Skip also played, hockey. He was a defenceman for St. Michael’s College School and Cornell University before a brief minor-league career. About to turn 80, he still watches hockey, but regrets his father and the Leafs weren’t on great terms after his retirement.  You won’t be surprised that Harold Ballard was at the root of it.

“The Leafs who’d won Cups were all given medallions, I think from (patriarch) Conn Smythe. On it was: ‘Good for entry to all events at Maple Leaf Gardens’, hockey, boxing, whatever. 

Stanowski 3
An old player contract from the Maple Leafs. Courtesy Skip Stanowski.

“Dad went down there just after Ballard took over (in the late 1960s) and showed it to an usher. The guy said he’d have to tell Ballard, who came down, took a look at it and told dad he’d have to buy a ticket like everybody else. 

“That left a bad taste in his mouth and he never went back until years later (post-Ballard) to drop the puck for a game.” 

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