Nels Stewart

Robert Nelson "Old Poison" Stewart (December 29, 1899 – August 21, 1957)[1] was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played for the Montreal Maroons, New York Americans and Boston Bruins in the National Hockey League. He is an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was the first player to win the NHL's Hart Trophy multiple times, and is considered the NHL's greatest goalscorer in the pre-World War II era, holding the league record for career goals from 1937 to 1952.[2]

Nels Stewart
Hockey Hall of Fame, 1962
Nels Stewart.jpg
Nels Stewart in a Montreal Maroons uniform
Born (1899-12-29)December 29, 1899
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died August 21, 1957(1957-08-21) (aged 57)
Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada
Height 6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Weight 200 lb (91 kg; 14 st 4 lb)
Position Centre
Shot Left
Played for Montreal Maroons
Boston Bruins
New York Americans
Playing career 1925–1940

Playing careerEdit

Stewart while a member of the Cleveland HC in the USAHA.

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Nels Stewart began play as an amateur at age 18 for the Cleveland Indians of the United States Amateur Hockey Association, leading the league in goals scored in four out of the five seasons he played before he and Babe Siebert were signed by the expansion Montreal Maroons of the NHL in 1925.

Nicknamed "Old Poison," and with Siebert and veteran stars Clint Benedict, Punch Broadbent and Reg Noble, he would lead the Maroons to the Stanley Cup championship that season. Stewart himself led the league in goal- and point-scoring that year, and became one of the few rookies in history to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player.

Stewart would later center the legendary "S Line", with Hooley Smith and Siebert, and star for the Maroons for seven seasons in all, winning a second Hart Trophy in 1930, having led the league once more with 39 goals in 44 games. As the Great Depression deepened, though, the Maroons had increasing financial problems — eventually folding in 1938 — and sold Stewart to the Boston Bruins for cash. His glittering play continued for the Bruins, finishing second in team scoring each of his three full seasons with the team, despite being moved back to defense a fair bit.

In 1935 he was traded to the New York Americans, with whom he played for most of his final five seasons in the league. Stewart starred through his penultimate season (in which he was fourth on the Amerks in scoring) with 35 points in 46 games at age 36. The season following, in 1939, his foot speed (never regarded as fast) deserted him entirely. He retired thereafter as the NHL's career leading goal scorer, a mark he set in the 1937 season and held until Maurice Richard broke it in 1952.

On August 21, 1957, he was found dead at his summer home in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, apparently of natural causes, possibly a heart attack.

Stewart was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1952.[3]

In 1998, he was ranked number 51 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.

Playing styleEdit

I cannot recall any great pro who seemingly put less effort into his play and yet who came up with as much success as this 200-pound star...I would have to rate Nels Stewart the brainiest player I have ever known.

Frank Selke describes Stewarts intelligence and reputation as a “coaster”[4]

Hampered throughout his career by sluggish skating ability, which was often mistaken for a lack of effort, Stewart was rarely prone to the end-to-end rushes favoured by the other greats of the 1920s and 30s. Unlike Howie Morenz, Frank Fredrickson or Aurèle Joliat, he resorted to – and perfected – a hard-hitting style of play, with emphasis on collecting rebounds and scoring from bad angles around the crease. Bruins goaltender Tiny Thompson claimed that Stewart was hockey's most dangerous goal scorer around the net – when the latter was 34 years old and near retirement[5] – while Art Ross referred to him as “the greatest inside player in the game”.[6] A few players from previous decades like Pud Glass,[7][8] similarly lacking in finesse or all-around talent but possessing strength, good balance and a hard shot, had made their living by playing a hard-nosed “garbage-collector” style. However, Stewart was the first to gain superstar status via this mode of play, and he paved the way for future garbage men like Gordie Drillon, Wally Hergesheimer, Phil Esposito and Tim Kerr.

Notwithstanding his reputation as a cumbersome skater, Stewart was used as a defenseman by the Maroons in his rookie season before making the transition to centre. For eight playoff games, including four in the 1926 Finals, Stewart served ably on the back end, where his physical presence and shiftiness kept the opposition hemmed in.[9][10][11][12] His skating was often described as “lazy”,[13][14] “careless”[15] and “lackadaisical”.[16] Nevertheless, as a defenceman Stewart was able to score 7 of his team's 11 goals during their Finals matchup against the Victoria Cougars,[17] including all four game-winning tallies, and several of his rushes were remarked upon.[18][19] In general, it appears that Stewart was at worst a middling skater, and at best quite an agile and deceptive one, using “long, swerving strokes” to deke opposing defencemen.[20]

Stewart's fame, however, rested squarely on his abilities as a clutch goal scorer around the net. He frequently had multiple-goal games, once marking 4 tallies against the Toronto St. Pats,[21] and was often at the top of the scoring race in his early seasons.[22][23] This was partially due to his exceptionally hard and “heavy”[24] shot, which was known to have injured several goalies due to its high trajectory. Notably, during the 1928 postseason, a Stewart shot caught Rangers goaltender Lorne Chabot in the left eye, giving him a hemorrhage.[25]

Stewart used his shot frequently from close-in, drifting around the crease and waiting patiently to receive a pass before burying it in the net. He had remarkable balance on his skates, as well as tremendous hand-eye coordination. This was demonstrated perfectly in his inaugural Stanley Cup Final against Victoria. In the first game of the series, Stewart was rushing the puck up ice when he was knocked flat by a heavy check from Cougars captain Clem Loughlin. Separated from the puck by five feet and sliding prone across the ice, Stewart nevertheless managed to hook the rubber with his stick and poke it past Victoria goalie Hap Holmes for the leading goal.[26] In the second game, Stewart was body checked by two Victoria players at once. Wildly off-balance, he managed to stay on one foot and fire another hard shot past Holmes.[27]

Thereafter, Stewart was notoriously difficult to knock off the puck, and could even propel it into the net one-handed – sometimes by steadying himself on the crossbar with his other hand and much to the irritation of opposing goaltenders.[28] This was aided further by his use of a heavy stick with a lie of 10", almost L-shaped, enabling him to keep the puck close to his feet.[29]

Notwithstanding Stewart's accuracy and power, his best asset – and one that added to his reputation as a coaster – was an ability to collect rebounds. In the second period of the fourth and deciding game against Victoria in 1926, Stewart joined a rush which saw Hap Holmes stop four shots in rapid succession, all from the left side. With the entire Victoria defence having moved over to block for Holmes, Stewart corralled a rebound, skirted behind the right side of the net and picked the top-left corner with a backhand shot. Sixteen minutes later in the period, he grabbed one of his own rebounds and repeated the feat, again hitting the left corner.[30]

I remember we had an old-timers game for charity, and I was playing with Nels. The puck came to Nels from behind the net, and he was out in front – where he usually was when he was playing in the National Hockey League. And what he did to that goalkeeper was just shameful, it made him look so silly. He just turned him inside out…it was a masterpiece, something I’d never seen before.

Ted “Teeder” Kennedy on Stewart’s net-front presence[31]

As a large, heavy centre who used his size and grit to complement his scoring touch, Nels Stewart soon developed a ferocious reputation as both a fighter and an effective pest. He chewed tobacco constantly, and while hovering around the crease would spit the juice into opposing goaltenders’ eyes.[32][33] Stewart would readily stand up for his teammates, and fought consistently as a result – he led the NHL in penalty minutes with 133 in 1927, edging out famed bruiser Eddie Shore by 3 minutes.[34] He was equally infamous for using his stick to ward off opponents, liberally dishing out two-handed slashes across the wrists and ankles of those who he felt were being too rough. This resulted in several famous bouts, including one with Hall of Fame defenceman and Maple Leafs strongman Red Horner.[35]

Influence on Ted KennedyEdit

After retirement, Stewart spent a period of time coaching the Port Colborne Sailors, where he encountered a young Ted Kennedy in 1942-43. As was the case with Stewart, Kennedy was not a particularly fast skater, but like Stewart he also possessed fine balance and stickhandling ability. Stewart confided in his young trainee that to compensate for his lack of speed, he would need to become an expert playmaker, learning how to work from the corners. He drilled Kennedy prodigiously in passing, as well as how to have an effective net-front presence.[36][37] These two skillsets would become hallmarks of Kennedy's game, leading him to captaincy of the Maple Leafs, a Stanley Cup dynasty and lasting fame as one of the greatest Leafs to ever play.[38][39] Stewart's use of an upright lie on his blade also seems to have had an influence on Kennedy, who used a similarly L-shaped stick.[40]

Career achievements and factsEdit

Career statisticsEdit

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1918–19 Toronto Beaches OHA-Jr.
1919–20 Parkdale Canoe Club OHA-Sr. 8 18 2 20 1 1 0 1
1920–21 Cleveland Indians USAHA 10 23 0 23 8 6 0 6
1921–22 Cleveland Indians USAHA 12 13 0 13
1922–23 Cleveland Indians USAHA 20 22 0 22
1923–24 Cleveland Indians USAHA 20 21 8 29 8 5 2 7
1924–25 Cleveland Blues USAHA 40 21 0 21 8 6 3 9 24
1925–26 Montreal Maroons NHL 36 34 8 42 119 4 0 2 2 10
1925–26* Montreal Maroons St-Cup 4 6 1 7 16
1926–27 Montreal Maroons NHL 43 17 4 21 133 2 0 0 0 4
1927–28 Montreal Maroons NHL 41 27 7 34 104 9 2 2 4 13
1928–29 Montreal Maroons NHL 44 21 8 29 74
1929–30 Montreal Maroons NHL 44 39 15 55 81 4 1 1 2 2
1930–31 Montreal Maroons NHL 42 25 14 39 75 2 1 0 1 6
1931–32 Montreal Maroons NHL 38 22 11 33 61 4 0 1 1 2
1932–33 Boston Bruins NHL 47 18 18 36 62 5 2 0 2 4
1933–34 Boston Bruins NHL 48 22 17 39 68
1934–35 Boston Bruins NHL 47 21 18 39 45 4 0 1 1 0
1935–36 New York Americans NHL 48 14 15 29 16 5 1 2 3 4
1936–37 Boston Bruins NHL 10 3 2 5 6
1936–37 New York Americans NHL 33 20 10 30 31
1937–38 New York Americans NHL 48 19 17 36 29 6 2 3 5 2
1938–39 New York Americans NHL 46 16 19 35 43 2 0 0 0 0
1939–40 New York Americans NHL 35 6 7 13 6 3 0 0 0 0
NHL totals 650 324 191 515 953 50 9 12 21 47

* Stanley Cup Champion.


  • Hockey Hall of Fame (2003). Honoured Members: Hockey Hall of Fame. Bolton, Ontario: Fenn Publishing. ISBN 1-55168-239-7.
  1. ^ Hockey deaths - August 1957
  2. ^ "Nels Stewart Stats and News". NHL. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  3. ^ Hockey Hall of Fame 2003, p. 23.
  4. ^ "Nels played with his brain". Montreal Gazette. 1962-11-10. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  5. ^ "Stewart Attains 300-goal Mark: Ready to "Start All Over Again"". Montreal Gazette. 1938-03-18. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  6. ^ "Nels Stewart, Classy Maroons Center, Goes To Boston Bruins Six". Lewiston Daily Sun. 1932-06-13. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  7. ^ "Wanderers Win". Montreal Gazette. 1907-03-25. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  8. ^ "Turning Back Hockey's Pages". Montreal Gazette. 1934-03-10. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  9. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 22, 1926
  10. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 23, 1926
  11. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 24, 1926
  12. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 26, 1926
  13. ^ Memories and Music – Samuel Rothschild interview (March 8, 1981)
  14. ^ "Legends of Hockey – Series 1, Episode 2 (Documentary)". Legends of Hockey. 2000. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  15. ^ The Morning Leader – January 26, 1929
  16. ^ New York Times – February 13, 1944
  17. ^ Memories and Music – Samuel Rothschild interview (March 8, 1981)
  18. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 31, 1926
  19. ^ Montreal Gazette – April 2, 1926
  20. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 31, 1926
  21. ^ Ottawa Citizen – January 12, 1926
  22. ^ Montreal Gazette – February 18, 1930
  23. ^ Montreal Gazette – January 1, 1929
  24. ^ Ottawa Citizen – April 7, 1930
  25. ^ Hiam, Michael C. (2010). Eddie Shore and That Old-Time Hockey, p. 127
  26. ^ Montreal Gazette – March 31, 1926
  27. ^ Montreal Gazette – April 2, 1930
  28. ^ "Legends of Hockey – Series 1, Episode 2 (Documentary)". Legends of Hockey. 2000. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  29. ^ Fitkin, Ed (1950). "Come on, Teeder!”, p. 66
  30. ^ Montreal Gazette – April 7, 1930
  31. ^ "Tedder Kennedy – Legends of Hockey (Documentary)". Legends of Hockey. 2001. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  32. ^ "Tedder Kennedy – Legends of Hockey (Documentary)". Legends of Hockey. 2001. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  33. ^ Fischler, Stan (2015). “The Handy Hockey Answer Book”, p. 71
  34. ^ Hiam, Michael C. (2010). Eddie Shore and That Old-Time Hockey, p. 127
  35. ^ "Legends of Hockey – Series 1, Episode 2 (Documentary)". Legends of Hockey. 2000. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  36. ^ "Tedder Kennedy – Legends of Hockey (Documentary)". Legends of Hockey. 2001. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  37. ^ "Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Ted (Teeder) Kennedy dies at 83". The Hockey News/Canadian Press. August 14, 2009. Retrieved October 3, 2009.
  38. ^ Shoalts, David (August 14, 2009). "Leafs legend Kennedy dies". Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 9, 2010.
  39. ^ Staple, David (February 18, 2008). "Gretzky, Howe, Lemieux Rank as NHL'S All-Time MVPs". Edmonton Journal. Retrieved October 5, 2009.
  40. ^ Fitkin, Ed (1950). "Come on, Teeder!”, p. 66

External linksEdit

Sporting positions
Preceded by Montreal Maroons captain
Succeeded by
Preceded by Winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy
Succeeded by
Preceded by Winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy
Succeeded by
Preceded by NHL Scoring Champion
Succeeded by