Hall of fame defensemen Ray Bourque and Brad Park were our top two former Boston Bruins players to never win a Stanley Cup with the Bruins. So who’s No.3? That would be none other than Rick ‘Nifty’ Middleton who just last season had his No. 16 retired to the TD Garden rafters but somehow still isn’t in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.
After the New York Rangers drafted Middleton 14th overall in the 1973 NHL Entry Draft, Middleton played the first two seasons of his career with the Rangers. He scored 22 goals in his rookie season and then lit the lamp 24 times in his second NHL campaign, finishing with 50 points. On May 26, 1976, with 46 goals and 44 assists in 124 games with the Blueshirts, Middleton was dealt straight up to the Bruins for forward Ken Hodge. After playing his first two seasons with the Blackhawks, Hodge had blossomed as a Bruin with 289 goals and 385 assists in 652 games in the Black and Gold. He hit the 20-goal plateau eight times, 30-goal four times, 40-goal twice and scored 50 goals once.
So why would the Bruins want a 22-year-old who hadn’t hit 25 goals in a season yet for Hodge? Simple: Hodge was ten years older and showing signs of declining. The Bruins ended up being right and that trade is still looked at as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
The younger Middleton would go on to score 20 and 25 goals respectively in his first two seasons in Boston but then had seven straight seasons with 30 goals or more. Middleton hit the 40-goal plateau five straight seasons and lit the lamp 51 times in the 1981-82 season. Middleton also surpassed 100 points in a season twice with 103 points in the 1980-81 season and then 105 in 1983-84. Middleton ended up with 402 goals and 496 assists in 881 games with the Bruins. He finished his NHL career with 448 goals and 540 assists in 1,005 games played. Middleton still ranks third in goals, seventh in assists and fourth in points for the Bruins.
Middleton reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Bruins in the 1987-88 season – his final NHL season – but the Bruins were swept by Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. Obviously, Middleton wishes he would have raised the Stanley Cup and skated around the old Boston Garden with it but that playoff run did include one of the greatest moments in Bruins history as the Bruins beat the Canadiens in five games in the Adams Division Final. It was the first time the Bruins had beaten the Habs in the postseason in 45 years.
“Beating the Canadiens was not only big in my era of playing against them, but for 45 years the Bruins had never beat Montreal in a playoff series,” Middleton told me once on the Bruins Beat podcast. “That was my Stanley Cup!”
Middleton will always be remembered as a magician with his stick – hence the name ‘Nifty’ – and that along with his hall of fame worthy stats as a Bruin is why he’s the third-best Bruin to never win a Stanley Cup with the Bruins.