Are Leafs Actually “Retiring” Numbers?

By HOWARD BERGER

VANCOUVER (Nov. 2) – Tonight’s National Hockey League game here between the Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs will be delayed for a ceremony in recognition of the most electrifying Vancouver player of all time: Pavel Bure. The “Russian Rocket’s” No. 10 jersey will be raised to the girders of Rogers Arena – never again to be worn by a member of the Canucks.

And, deservedly so.

It brings to mind the Leafs’ unorthodox and controversial method of honoring jersey numbers while keeping them in circulation – a policy that has led to estrangement, from the club, by its greatest living player, Dave Keon. Since Keon was sent packing by Harold Ballard after the 1974-75 season, a total of 11 Leafs have worn his No. 14 jersey: Dave Andreychuk, Rob Cimetta (good Lord!) Miroslav Frycer, Darby Hendrickson, Jonas Hoglund, Craig Laughlin, Mike Kaszycki (good Lord! again), Dave Reid, Matt Stajan, Ron Wilson (yes, that Ron Wilson), and Stan Weir. Only Keon and Andreychuk are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Oddly enough, however, just one player since Hogland’s final season of 2002-03 has worn 14 – Matt Stajan – and none since Stajan was dealt to Calgary in the Dion Phaneuf trade nearly four years ago.

Other Leaf jerseys have been accorded the same respect.

NO LEAF SINCE WENDEL CLARK, 14 YEARS AGO, HAS WORN NO. 17. DOES THAT MEAN IT’S RETIRED?

No. 7, for example, has been co-honored with banners at Air Canada Centre in commemoration of King Clancy and Tim Horton. Since Horton was traded to New York Rangers on Mar. 3, 1970, a mind-boggling 13 Leafs have pulled on his numeral: Kelly Fairchild, Jim Harrison, Derek King, Lanny McDonald, Dave McIlwain, Sergio Momesso, Jason Podollan, Mike Ridley, Gary Roberts, David Sacco, Rocky Saganiuk, Greg Terrion and Gilles Thibaudeau and Ian White.

There are more than half-a-dozen “good Lords!” in the group. McDonald is the lone Hall of Famer among them. But, no Toronto skater since Roberts in 2003-04 has been issued No. 7.

Then, there is No. 17, worn by such notables as Wendel Clark, Dick Duff (briefly), Bill Ezinicki, Bob Goldham, Harvey (Busher) Jackson, Rick Kehoe, Nick Metz, Jim Pappin (also briefly), Floyd Smith and Blaine Stoughton. But, no one since the beloved Wendel in 1999-2000 (his third go-around with Leafs) has pulled on the numeral.

No. 9 also appears to have been put aside, though not because Colby Armstrong last wore it. Banners honoring franchise legends Charlie Conacher and Teeder Kennedy hang at the ACC and No. 9 has arguably since been worn with distinction by only Duff, Andy Bathgate, Norm Ullman and Glenn Anderson – all members of the Hall of Fame.

OH JOY. SHOULD BE A PLEASANT STROLL ACROSS TO ROGERS ARENA LATE THIS AFTERNOON. IT HAS RAINED PRACTICALLY EVERY MINUTE SINCE I ARRIVED HERE ON THURSDAY. NATURALLY, THE WEATHER WILL CLEAR JUST AS MY AIR CANADA JET IS LIFTING OFF THE RUNWAY TOMORROW AT NOON (AS EVIDENCED, BOTTOM-RIGHT). HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA IS EXPECTING A KILLER AUDIENCE FOR THE LEAFS AND CANUCKS TONIGHT – IN PRIME TIME (7 P.M. EASTERN) ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

The goaltender’s No. 1 – forever belonging to the most popular player in Leafs’ history, Johnny Bower (and Turk Broda before him) – hasn’t been issued since Andrew Raycroft wore it in 2007-08. Nor should it. No. 22, made famous, most recently, by Rick Vaive – the first (and three-time) 50-goal shooter in Leaf annals – has also apparently been mothballed, and rightly so. Vaive is due a banner at the ACC.

No. 27 is gone and should remain so forever, in honor of franchise cornerstones Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler.

Leafs would be wise to remove No. 21 from circulation, though not because James van Riemsdyk is providing it disrepute. It belongs, however, to the most gifted defenseman in Leafs history – Borje Salming – and to the rugged blue-line presence during the 1960’s Stanley Cup dynasty, Bob Baun. To this day, there is no justification for Leafs failing to co-honor Salming and Baun. Only Salming’s No. 21 flutters on Bay St.

Just two numbers have been officially retired by the Leafs: 5 for Bill Barilko and 6 for Irvin (Ace) Bailey, though Ron Ellis – at Bailey’s behest – wore No. 6 between 1968-69 and 1980-81. 

GIVEN THE VANCOUVER PROVINCE SPORTS LAYOUT TODAY, IT APPEARS THE CANUCKS HAVE RE-SIGNED HENRIK SEDIN, DANIEL SEDIN AND CAM COLE. I’M FAIRLY CERTAIN ONLY THE FORMER TWO WILL PLAY FOR THE CLUB.

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