PHOTO CREDITS: (bostonsportsdesk.com)
The Hockey Hall Of Fame – home to the best hockey players the National Hockey League and surrounding ice hockey leagues have ever seen. Players like the Great One Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Maurice Richard, and the list of greatness continues. 57 players or builders that wore the black and gold Bruins jersey are currently in the Hall as of 2017. However, there is one man who still remains out of the great distinction. Rick ‘Nifty’ Middleton.
Rick Middleton began his hockey career in 1970-1971 with the Toronto Nationals of the Metro Jr. B Hockey League (MJBHL) which was located in Ontario, Canada. His supreme scoring capabilities showed early, scoring 39-34-73 totals in only 42 games played. The following season, Middleton played for the Oshawa Generals in the OHA and he did not end the scoring touch he had in the MJBHL. After a 70-point campaign in the 1971-72 season, Middleton would have more goals than games played in the ’72-’73 year. In 62 games played, ‘Nifty’ scored 67 goals and helped the team with 70 assists, tallying up to 137 points.
At the end of that season, Rick Middleton was eligible to be drafted into the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft, in which he was drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round. The first round draft selection played the next 63 games with the AHL affiliate team of the Rangers, the Providence Reds. Rick completed the regular season with 36-48-84 totals and 14 PIMs. The performance that season gave him Rookie Of The Year honours as well as a spot on the AHL First All-Star team.
The performance nearly guaranteed him a spot in the National Hockey League, which he indeed got. The New York Rangers played Middleton in 124 games between the next two seasons, as Middleton scored ninety points in the two-year span. However, in the 1975-76 season, Rick had a terrible -38 plus/minus rating. This lead to one of the worst trades in the history of the NHL because Rick Middleton was heading to Boston.
On May 26th, 1976, the Boston Bruins sent forward Ken Hodge Sr. to the New York Rangers in exchange for the minor-league scoring forward, Richard Middleton.
Year one with the Bruins started off slowly. Scoring 42 points in 72 games played, Middleton found success in the postseason. The Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Finals after defeating the Los Angeles Kings in the Quarter-Finals and sweeping the Flyers in the Semi-Finals. The Bruins would then be swept by the 60-win Montreal Canadiens in the Finals, although, forced an overtime session in the concluding game four.
Boston would have to wait another year to see the all-star scoring that Middleton was capable of. As for the 1977-78 season, Rick would score sixty points for the Black & Gold, in 79 games. Again, Middleton scored seven points in 15 playoff games, staying average in scoring for the team.
Now to begin his professional NHL career, Rick ‘Nifty’ Middleton did not have the best of years. However, after the 1978 season ended, his point productions skyrocketed. For the next seven seasons, Middleton would never score less than seventy points. In the midst of the scoring spree, ‘Nifty’ netted more than 100 points on two separate occasions and more than ninety on three different occasions.
PHOTO CREDITS: (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) Left to Right: Middleton, O’Reilly, Bourque accepting three star awards.
During 1981, Rick Middleton played for the first time in International play, playing for Team Canada in the Canada Cup. However, it wasn’t until 1984 when he teamed with Wayne Gretzky and Michel Goulet, that we saw his scoring for Canada, netting four goals and four assists in only seven tournament games.
In 1981-82, the season in which he scored the most goals in his career with 51, Middleton also took home the Lady Byng Trophy for excellence and sportsmanship in the league.
Always staying consistent during the postseason games as well, Middleton found the absolute scoring touch in the 1982-1983 Road To The Cup with an incredible 11 goals, 22 assists for 33 points in the seventeen playoff games. His Bruins won the President’s Trophy with 50 wins on the season but fell short in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Islanders, who ended up winning their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
The Boston Bruins awarded Middleton for his leadership in the locker room with the prestige ‘A’ badge placed on his sweater in the ’85 season.
For the final three seasons of his illustrious career, Richard Middleton felt the wrath of injuries. In the 1986 regular season, Middleton took a hard puck to the temple during a shootaround in practice. He was sidelined for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs due to the concussion. Prior to the injury, Middleton played the game without the use of a helmet, a common practice in the NHL at the time. Learning from the mistakes, Middleton played the concluding years of his career with a helmet.
Never fully recovering from the concussion, Middleton was still able to score 31 goals the following season but was forced to retire the next season due to the constant headaches that plagued his playing talent.
Rick ‘Nifty’ Middleton stunned the world with his scoring talent and passing skill. In 1005 games, he finished with 448-540-988 as well as 100 points in only 114 career playoff games. His playing days are remembered in the record books as well. The following are the records that Middleton owns and still stand to this very day.
- Most points in one playoff series (19)
- Most assists in one playoff series (14)
- Highest playoff Points per game average in one series by a right winger (1.94)
- Highest playoff Assists per game average in one series by a right winger (1.29)
- Ranks 2nd All-Time in career shooting percentage among players with 400+ goals (19.7)
Bruins fans have been calling for the induction of Rick Middleton into the Hall for a long time now, but the league has yet to do so. Bruins fans also want the banner #16 that Middleton wore for the majority of his career with Boston up in the rafters with the likes of Orr, Bourque, Neely, Hitchman, Shore, and many more.
There is no doubt in my mind that ‘Nifty’ has done what it takes and more to be solidified as one of the best to ever put on a Bruins sweater, let alone an NHL sweater. Considering the goal-scoring talent that he possessed and the consistency he sustained throughout his career while only racking up a grand total of 157 penalty minutes.
So this leaves the following question, do you, as a fan of the Boston Bruins and a fan of the great sport we call hockey, does Rick ‘Nifty’ Middleton deserve a place in the Hockey Hall Of Fame? Or did his career lack something that should prevent him from being with the best of the best. Let me know!