Dale McCourt was a highly touted teenager. He was the CHL player of the year in 1977. The Detroit Red Wings selected him first overall in the 1977 Amateur draft.. He finished his rookie season with 72 points in 1977-78 and finished 4th in Calder voting for top rookie. The Calder was won by Mike Bossy that season. McCourt led the Red Wings into the play-offs and the team beat the Atlanta Flames in the first round before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Montreal Canadiens. It was a big turnaround for the Red Wings, but they felt like they were missing a key piece.
That key piece was a goaltender. In the 1978 offseason, the Red Wings sign restricted free agent Rogie Vachon. Free agency was quite a bit different back in the 1970 than it is today, it basically did not exist. A NHL team held your rights until they decided they didn't want you anymore. At the time Rogie was 32 years old and a 13 year NHL veteran. So when the Red Wings signed Vachon, they owed the Kings equalization. Which meant the Wings had to send players to Los Angeles Kings as compensation for signing Vachon. This form of free agency effectively negated the "free" in free agent. If the teams could not come to an agreement for compensation, then each put their offer into a NHL Arbitrator and live by the arbitrator's decision. The Red Wings offered Bill Lochead and Jim Rutherford. The Kings asked for Dale McCourt. Like everything else in the 1970s, the Dead Wings lost.
Except, McCourt would not live by that decision. McCourt was fiercely loyal to the Red Wings. McCourt refused to go to Los Angeles and filed a case that ended up with the Supreme Court in America. The court awarded an injunction that allowed McCourt to continue to play with Detroit until the matter was decided. The Red Wings and Vachon had a dreadful season. McCourt basically equaled his previous season, scoring 71 points. The debacle of compensation hung over everyone's heads for the 1978-79 season.
The Kings even offered McCourt a $500,000 a year contract, which would have made him one of the highest paid skaters in the game. Not to mention the chance to play with Marcel Dionne, one of the top scorers of the 1970s. Who ironically, forced equalization a few seasons before when the Kings signed him as a free agent away from Detroit. McCourt later claimed that he would have gone if traded, since trades are part of the game.
Eventually the Kings and Wings came to terms with alternative compensation. In August of 1979, the Red wings sent Andre St. Laurent, and two 1st round picks (Larry Murphy and Doug Smith) in exchange for the rights to Dale McCourt. Officially, McCourt was a Red Wing again.
Unfortunately, OPC/Topps didn't get the memo in time. So sure that McCourt would be forced to play with the Kings, they airbrushed into a Kings uniform for the 1979-80 set. Since the OPC set is released later, they had time to add in a "Now with Red Wings" to the card. It is certainly one of those oddball cards from the 1970s. It gives me a chance to correct that error.
|1979-80 OPC Dale McCourt (Corr)|
McCourt had a couple of point-per-game seasons with the Red Wings until the team attempted a shake-up in December of 1981. McCourt, along with Mike Foligno, were sent to the Buffalo Sabres for veterans Danny Gare and Jim Schoenfield. They lost in that trade as well. The Red Wings were one of the worst teams in the NHL until the Yzerman era.
McCourt never found his place with the Sabres. While skilled offensively, he was not a fast skater and did not fit with star forward Gilbert Perrault. He also clashed with Scotty Bowman over defensive responsibilities. In October of 1983, after scoring four points in five games, McCourt was released by the Sabres and made a free agent. Toronto Maple Leafs signed him, with no equalization needed.
Things seem to click for McCourt while in Toronto. After taking a few games to get adjusted, he had 22 points in 16 games. Then after that, he hit a wall. At one point, he had one point in 16 games. After finishing the 1983-84 season with the Leafs, the former 1st overall pick left the NHL at age 27 and took his game to Europe. He retired from professional hockey in 1991. His last NHL card was in the 1983-84 set. He never had a card in a Leafs uniform.
Dale had an interesting career. He was a highly touted player who fizzled out of the NHL at an early age. He had several good seasons but never made the jump to stardom. His biggest impact was challenging the NHL and refusing being awarded to the Los Angles Kings as compensation. The court battles and uncertainty took a toll on him. He became one of those "what if" players.
|1984-85 OPC #406 Dale MCCourt|
|1984-85 OPC #406 Dale McCourt|