They weren’t really that old, but they were experienced and they played like they had been line mates for decades. Together they formed one of the Rangers most famous and effective lines of the 1960’s.
Actually each of “The Old Smoothies” – Bob Nevin, Phil Goyette and Donnie Marshall – came to the Rangers in two different blockbuster trades.
In one of his first moves as Rangers GM, Emile Francis acquired Marshall (then 31), Goyette (29) and goalie Jacques Plante from Montreal for Lorne “Gump” Worsley, Dave Balon, Len Ronson and Leon Rochefort in June of 1963. Eight months later, Francis made an even bigger deal sending the Rangers marquee player Andy Bathgate along with Don McKenney to Toronto for Nevin (26), Dick Duff, Arnie Brown (22), Rod Seiling (20) and Billy Collins in February of 1964.
These two trades helped turn the franchise around and set the foundation for the Rangers success for the rest of the 1960’s and into the 70’s. Not only did the acquisition of Nevin, Goyette and Marshall bring experienced leadership to the team but both Brown and Seiling were young defensemen who became mainstays on the blueline for years to come.
The line’s “Old Smoothies” nickname came from the way they passed the puck and worked together so smoothly. It was like each of them knew exactly where the others would be on the ice at any given time. However it was Goyette’s great peripheral vision and passing skills that made it look so easy.
Nevin once said it was like Goyette “had eyes in the back of his head.” But the fact is that all three were experienced forwards that came up through the Montreal or Toronto systems and were well schooled at how to play their positions at both ends of the ice. So in most cases, Goyette knew exactly where to look for either winger and was able to get them the puck.
Goyette (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) won four Stanley Cups with Montreal while being used as a defensive forward. But upon arriving in New York, Goyette took the opportunity to display his offensive skills, scoring 98 goals and adding 231 assists in 397 games as a member of the Rangers.
Goyette suffered a very serious injury the day after Christmas in 1965 when he was speared by Boston’s Ted Green, damaging his spleen. He developed pleurisy and missed about a month of the season. Rangers President William Jennings was said to have put a bounty of Green’s head and Ranger fans chanted “Get Green” whenever he and the Bruins came to town.
Goyette was traded to St Louis for a first round draft choice in June of 1969 and later played for Buffalo. Francis actually brought him out of retirement towards the end of the 1971-72 season when Jean Ratelle broke his ankle. Goyette played the final eight games of the season and 13 more in the playoffs as the Rangers reached the finals for the first time in 23 years. Unfortunately, they lost in six games to the Bruins. In an ironic twist of fate, both Goyette and Green retired after the series. Goyette later became the first coach of the New York Islanders in 1972, but lasted only 43 games.
Marshall (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) was acquired for his versatility and experience. He could play all three forward positions and won five consecutive Stanley Cups with Montreal from 1956-60. Francis, who needed experienced leadership to help him rebuild the Rangers, named Marshall and veteran defenseman Harry Howell assistant coaches while both were still playing, a first in the NHL.
Used mostly as a defensive forward and penalty killer in Montreal, Donnie, a great stickhandler and face-off man, became a two-way threat in New York. His best season was in 1965-66 when he scored 26 goals with 28 assists. In 479 games with the Rangers Marshall scored a total of 129 goals and added 141 assists while accumulating only 40 penalty minutes.
Marshall was claimed by Buffalo in the 1970 expansion draft and retired in 1972 after playing in Toronto for a year.
Nevin (6-foot, 190 pounds) was a hard checking right winger who won two cups with Toronto in 1962 and 1963 where he was used mostly as a defensive forward and penalty killer. Francis once called him the best two-way player he ever coached, but it took a while for Bob to win over the Garden fans. After all he was part of the trade that sent away long time fan favorite Andy Bathgate and Nevin’s long skating stride didn’t help either. It made it look like he was coasting, but in reality he was an exceptionally strong skater who was hard to knock off his skates or the puck.
Nevin finally gained the fan’s admiration when he scored 29 goals in 1965-66, his second full season in New York. He also became the Rangers captain that season after Camille Henry was traded to Chicago. Nevin would go on to top the 20 goal mark five times in his seven-plus seasons with the Rangers. One of his biggest goals was the sudden death winner that gave the Blueshirts a 4-2 series victory over Toronto in the first round of the 1971 playoffs.
Overall, Nevin scored 168 goals with 174 assists and 105 penalty minutes in 505 games as a member of the Rangers.
Nevin was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Bobby Rousseau in the summer of 1971 and retired in 1976 after a season with Edmonton in the WHA.
Throwing three seasoned veterans together doesn’t always result in the kind of chemistry that existed between Goyette, Nevin and Marshall. Witness many of the failed line combinations of the modern day Rangers. But with the right kind of players at the right time in their careers a little bit of magic can happen, and the rebuilding Rangers of the mid-1960’s needed all the magic they could get.
In 1966-67 the “Old Smoothies” helped the Rangers gain a playoff spot for the first time in four years. They lost to the Canadiens in four straight games but it was the beginning of a very successful run for Francis and the Blueshirts.