By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 27) – It is hopeful that players on the Maple Leafs enjoyed the Christmas break with family and friends. It is doubtful that some fairy godmother cast a spell over the team while the National Hockey League paused for three days.
Therefore, the post-Christmas portion of the NHL schedule is not likely to unearth a renovated version of the Blue and White. Any such undertaking is in the hands of general manager David Nonis, and Dave will be the first to tell you that dealing in a position of weakness is a hazardous endeavor. The GM said as much in a pre-Christmas palaver with Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons – noting that rival managers were attempting to “pick at the carcass” of a team with one regulation-time victory in its past 18 games. That startling number alone indicates how consistently mediocre the Leafs have been since a deceptive 10-4-0 leap from the gate in October. If Nonis were a surgeon, he’d be scrubbing in as we speak – preparing for a long, arduous operation.
For perspective, let us reflect – once again – on the NHL prior to instituting regular-season overtime in 1983 and shootouts in 2005. If this were 1982, for example, the Leafs record over 18 games since Nov. 21 would be 1-9-8 (the latter figure representing ties). It would equate to 10 of a possible 36 points. Such figures were commonplace in the Harold Ballard era. They should be blatantly unacceptable today.
Question is: What to do?
THOUGH SALVAGING A POINT WITH A LATE GOAL AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, THE LEAFS WERE AWFUL AGAINST NEW YORK RANGERS MONDAY NIGHT AND WOULD HAVE BEEN SOUNDLY BEATEN IF NOT FOR THE HEROICS OF GOALIE JONATHAN BERNIER. RANGERS PREVAILED, 2-1, IN A SHOOTOUT. BRUCE BENNETT GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
Nonis vows he will not fire Randy Carlyle, whose bombast (as seen on the HBO 24/7 series) in the midst of a home-ice debacle against Florida, Dec. 17, was impressive and appropriate. Changing coaches is probably not the answer, given the Leafs have employed 18 such men since last winning the Stanley Cup in 1967 (equating to a different person every 2½ years). Another switch, however, could be made if Leafs miss the playoffs under Carlyle, and justifiably so. Such disappointment will undoubtedly befall the club if it continues to stagger at its current pace. To alter the lengthy downturn, Nonis might need to fire a jolt of electricity through the team. This can only be affected by changing the coach or pulling off a notable trade. Door No. 1 is apparently shut.
Is the Leafs GM alternately willing to swap one key component for another? And, is there a deal to be made? We’re talking here about a move that would change the composition of the team. Such a transaction would therefore have to involve Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf – undisputed faces of the Blue and White. Otherwise, Nonis would be shuffling deck chairs. Given the appropriate partner, both players are infinitely trade-able. Phaneuf has half-a-season left on his $6.5-million contract while Kessel is locked up at $8 million a pop for the next 7½ years. With the salary cap climbing north of $70 million (and likely much higher in the next half-decade), contending teams will be able to absorb such contracts. Big-time, multi-player trades – virtually non-existent, to this point, in the salary cap era – could easily come back into vogue.
Expecting the Leafs to make such a move this season is obviously foolhardy. It’s more than likely Nonis is waiting – and hoping – for the same result as so many fans of the Blue and White: That the return of centers David Bolland and Tyler Bozak will spark a renaissance. But, that pre-supposes two factors: a) that the Leafs will remain fully intact (without injury) over a period of time, and b) that the club will play – for the first time this season – a thorough brand of hockey. Let’s not forget that even with Bolland in the line-up in October, Leafs were prevailing on the basis of super-human goaltending. At no time – with any combination of personnel – has the club performed as it did a year ago.
Does Nonis have a jolt up his sleeve?
It may be the lone saving grace for the 2013-14 Maple Leafs.
DECEMBER 2, 1967
As part of my continuing series looking at NHL publications past, I present to you here the program contents from a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Oakland Seals at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday, December 2, 1967. It was the first year of the expanded NHL, which doubled in size to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season. Oakland was among the new clubs forming the West Division along with Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. Originally known as the California Seals, the club localized its name after two months of the schedule, hoping that “Oakland” would boost attendance on the east side of San Francisco Bay. No such increase prevailed at any time for the franchise, which moved to Richfield, Ohio – a village south of Cleveland – in 1976, becoming (for two seasons) the Cleveland Barons.
Pictured below are stories, photos and program advertisements from the Oakland at Toronto game of 46 years ago. Please enjoy:
AN ARTIST’S RENDITION OF THE “BIG M” GRACED THE FRONT-COVER (ABOVE) WHILE POPULAR BRANDS OF CEREAL WERE FEATURED (BELOW) ON THE INSIDE FLAP.
TEAM ROSTERS AND CENTER-SPREAD LINE-UPS…
IN THE 1960’s AND CONTINUING THROUGH THE 1976-77 NHL SEASON, HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA WOULD AIR TWICE A WEEK – SATURDAY ON CBC AND WEDNESDAY ON CTV. PROGRAM ADD (ABOVE) LOOKS AHEAD AT LEAFS-PENGUINS MIDWEEK GAME ON CFTO-TV CHANNEL 9 HERE IN TORONTO.
BALLARD, SMYTHE AND BASSETT RAN THE LEAFS IN 1967-68.
FIRST-YEAR PLAYERS (ABOVE) IN THE NEWLY EXPANDED NHL.
AD’S (ABOVE) FOR COKE AND GORDIE HOWE’S LINE OF SPORTING GOODS, SOLD AT EATON’S. COKE ADD SHOWS MAPLE LEAF GARDENS CENTER-ICE LOGO PRIOR TO 1968.
STORY (ABOVE) BY HOCKEY WRITER PAUL DULMAGE OF THE OLD TORONTO TELEGRAM (1876-1971) ON MAPLE LEAFS ROOKIE FORWARD WAYNE CARLTON.
THE STORIED HISTORY OF JUNIOR HOCKEY IN ST. CATHARINES, ONT. (FIRST THE TEEPEES, THEN THE BLACKHAWKS) WAS EXAMINED (ABOVE AND BELOW) BY LEGENDARY ST. CATHARINES STANDARD WRITER JACK GATECLIFF, WHOSE NAME CURRENTLY ADORNS THE GARDEN CITY SPORTS COMPLEX.
NHL SALARIES IN THE 60’s DICTATED THAT PLAYERS – EVEN SUCH ELITE ONES AS DAVE KEON (ABOVE) – MOONLIGHT FOR EXTRA CASH.
STORY ABOUT COACHING IN JUNIOR HOCKEY FEATURED TEAM PHOTO (ABOVE) OF 1966-67 MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPION TORONTO MARLBOROS. FUTURE LEAF DEFENSEMAN BRIAN GLENNIE WAS CAPTAIN. ALSO IN FRONT ROW, WEARING SUITS, WERE (LEFT-TO-RIGHT) GENERAL MANAGER JIM GREGORY; OWNERS STAFFORD SMYTHE AND HAROLD BALLARD, AND COACH GUS BODNAR. IN SECOND ROW WERE DEFENSEMEN BRAD PARK (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND MIKE PELYK (FOURTH FROM RIGHT).
CENTER PORTION OF GARDENS PROGRAM WAS TINTED LIGHT BLUE. THIS ONE FEATURED A STORY (ABOVE) BY TORONTO STAR HOCKEY WRITER RED BURNETT ON THE STRUGGLING OAKLAND SEALS, COACHED BY ONE-TIME LEAF BERT OLMSTEAD. JOHNNY BOWER AD FOR ELMER’S GLUE-ALL (BELOW) WAS IN EVERY PROGRAM.
USED TO LOVE THESE SILLY DIAGRAMS (ABOVE).
AD FOR CBLT-TV HERE IN TORONTO ALWAYS FEATURED NHL STANDINGS.
TORONTO STAR AD (ABOVE) WAS A GARDENS PROGRAM STAPLE.
AD FOR NEW HOCKEY BOOKS FEATURED A YOUNG JIM (SHAKEY) HUNT.
CARS WERE RELATIVELY CHEAP IN 1967 (ABOVE). EACH GARDENS PROGRAM FEATURED A SCORE-CARD THAT COULD BE FILLED IN DURING THAT NIGHT’S GAME.
LEAFS’ MIKE WALTON AND RON ELLIS SOLD CARS FOR YORKTOWN MERCURY.
A POPULAR AND UBIQUITOUS FEATURE OF THE GARDENS PROGRAM IN 1967-68 (ABOVE AND BELOW) SHOWED NHL PLAYERS IN THEIR PRE AND POST-EXPANSION JERSEYS.
JOHNNY BOWER WAS AS POPULAR IN ’67 AS HE REMAINS TODAY.
AIR CANADA FLEW DC-8 AIRCRAFT OVERSEAS IN LATE-60’s.
A FLASHBACK BY HENRY ROXBOROUGH – THIS ONE FEATURING LEGENDARY LEAFS CAPTAIN SYL APPS – WAS ALSO A PART OF EVERY GARDENS PROGRAM.
THE “BIG M” EARNED EXTRA CASH WITH HIS TRAVEL AGENCY ON AVENUE RD. SOUTH OF WILSON. THIS AD WAS FOR A TRIP TO THE 1968 WINTER OLYMPICS IN FRANCE.
RON ELLIS AND WIFE JAN (ABOVE) IN AD FOR THE MALE SHOP.
PORTION OF 1967-68 NHL SCHEDULE WAS ON LAST PAGE OF PROGRAM (ABOVE). INSIDE-BACK FLAP FEATURED A TASTY LOOKING AD FOR HOT DOGS SOLD AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS WHILE BACK COVER HAD A NOW-TABOO CIGARETTE AD.
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