Leafs Empty-Seat Mania

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 26) — Imagine how destitute the tall foreheads at 60 Bay St. must be today. A paltry 18,366 tickets sold for Monday night’s meaningless National Hockey League game against the Minnesota Wild and the sky is crumbling at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Gimme a break.

All it showed, Monday, is that even corporate Toronto has a pulse and is mindful of the most lamentable team in blue and white since Harold Ballard had a pulse. For those unaware, Apr. 11 of this year will mark a full quarter–century since Pal Hal’s crusty heart stopped beating. The 1989–90 Maple Leafs were on their way to St. Louis for Game 5 of an opening playoff round and they died 24 hours after their owner. It was a time of not–so–sweet symmetry in the land of the unfulfilled. Which brings to mind a rather clear vision of that era from my perch in the Maple Leaf Gardens press box. Spanning the length of the old arena atop girders on the east flank, one could squint into the bright TV lights on the opposite side and take in the entire west flank. To this day, I recall empty seats in roughly 75% of corner Grey sections 96 and 84 (as per top of the map, below). Which probably indicates there were similar vacancies in corner sections 97 and 85 beneath my press box location. This occurred only for weeknight games late in the season against relatively uncommon opposition. Such as the Minnesota Wild today.

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Again, not exactly a heinous crime given how deplorably the club played through much of the so–called “lost decade” of the 80’s. It does, however, debunk the myth that every Leafs game at the Gardens in the post–World War II era (1945 to 1999) was a sell–out. Even the notorious scalpers along Carlton St. were left holding wads of cheapies back then.

You may notice the franchise did survive on occasional ticket sales of 15,500 in the 16,182–seat arena. As it will again, despite 500 or 600 vacancies for nothing games late in the schedule. In fact, the economic “recovery” could occur as early as tonight with Florida in town. As of 4:45 EDT this afternoon, the best “deal” for a pair of tickets on Stubhub.ca was $116.30 in the balcony Greens (as per the map, below) — Sec. 320, Row 10 — behind and to the right of the visitors’ bench. A pair of Golds at rink level between the benches — Sec. 119, Row 23 — was being offered for a measly $462.20. Want to sit in Sec. 119 (Row 12) for Saturday’s game against rival Ottawa? No sweat. Just plunk $660.00 onto your credit card at Stubhub. The season finale (Apr. 11) against Montreal? A pair of Golds in Sec. 119, Row 27 is going for $1,154.50.  

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So, I’m not convinced the marginally smaller turnout against Minnesota was the first step toward MLSE filing for Chapter 11 — as some in the media apparently were. If utter hopelessness can account for 18,366 tickets sold, imagine what a shred of anticipation might do?

Such as that generated by the top four draft prospects this summer.  

EXPANSION GLOSSIES — PART 3 — 1974 to 1976

Continuing with my series of team–issued photos (to media outlets) from the NHL’s early expansion era, I look back, today, at the merciful end of struggling franchises in Oakland, Calif. and Kansas City, Mo. — both of which re–located after the 1975–76 season.

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b. Mar. 3, 1949 — Peterborough, Ont. — Current Age: 66.

Scored 84 goals for the California Golden Seals between 1971–72 and 1974–75.

OCT. 9, 1974 — MAPLE LEAF GARDENS

Toronto Maple Leafs opened the 1974–75 season against the club that is now located in Newark and known as the New Jersey Devils. It began as the Kansas City Scouts in the two–team expansion of 1974 that included the Washington Capitals. After a pair of miserable seasons in K.C., the franchise moved to Denver (for 1976–77) as the Colorado Rockies. And six years afterward (in 1982–83), a second shuffle took it to the Brendan Byrne (later Continental Airlines) Arena in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, N.J., which the Devils called home until the Prudential Center opened in October 2007. The following Kansas City players made history in a 6–2 loss at Maple Leaf Gardens on Oct. 9, 1974.    

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b. Apr. 19, 1951 — Temiscaming, Que. — Current Age: 63.

Took the first penalty in franchise history at 3:30 of the opening period. Scored 39 goals in 274 NHL games with Vancouver, the Scouts and Atlanta.

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b. Nov. 23, 1941 — Saint-Odilon-de-Cranbourne, Que. — Current Age: 73.

Scored first goal in franchise history (on Doug Favell) at 0:56 of the second period. He and Favell had been teammates with the Philadelphia Flyers from 1967 to 1973.

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b. Dec. 28, 1949 — St. Thomas, Ont. — Current Age: 65.

Recorded first assist on Simon Nolet’s goal at 0:56 of the second period. Scored 59 goals in 409 NHL games with the New York Islanders, Scouts and Colorado Rockies.

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b. Oct. 3, 1949 — St. Paul, Minn. — Current Age: 65.

Recorded second assist on Simon Nolet’s goal at 0:56 of the second period. Scored 14 goals in 180 NHL games with Minnesota, the Scouts and Colorado.

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b. July 7, 1949 — Saskatoon, Sask. — Current Age: 65.

Scored second goal in franchise history (on Doug Favell) at 10:33 of the third period. Had 19 goals in 130 NHL games with Chicago and Kansas City.

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b. Aug. 16, 1950 — Creston, B.C. — Current Age: 64.

Assisted on goal by Lynn Powis at 10:33 of the third period. Played in 212 NHL games with Montreal, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Colorado (1972–1977). Cousin of ex–NHLer Darcy Rota. 

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b. June 1, 1948 — Montreal, Que. / d. Dec. 30, 2006. Age: 58.

Between the pipes at Maple Leaf Gardens in Kansas City’s NHL debut. Beaten by Lyle Moffat of Toronto for first goal–against (assists to Bill Flett and Dave Keon) at 6:06 of the opening period. Less than four years earlier — on Feb. 21, 1971 — Plasse had become the first professional netminder to score a goal. While playing for Kansas City of the Central Hockey League, he fired the puck into an open cage in the final minute against Oklahoma City, icing a 3–1 win.

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b. Nov. 1, 1948 — Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que. — Current Age: 66.

Wining goalie in the first game of the Atlanta/Calgary NHL franchise — 3–2 over the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, Oct. 7, 1972. It was also the Islanders NHL debut and first–ever game at the new arena in Uniondale, N.Y. Yielded first goal in Flames history… to Islanders captain Eddie Westfall at 19:29 of the second period.

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b. Oct. 25, 1948 — Montreal, Que. — Current Age: 66.

Scored Atlanta’s second franchise goal — on Gerry Desjardins of the Islanders at 2:12 of the third period — Oct. 7, 1972. North Battleford, Sask. native Morris Stefaniw had struck first for the Flames (shorthanded) at 12:48 of the opening period — his lone NHL tally in 13 games with Atlanta. Comeau played 564 NHL games with Montreal, the Flames and Colorado.

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b. Oct. 7, 1952 — Quebec City, Que. / d. Oct. 8, 2002. Age: 50.

Chosen second to Billy Harris of the Islanders in 1972 NHL draft. Assisted on Rey Comeau’s goal in Atlanta’s first NHL game. Did not realize full potential until 1980–81 when he scored 52 goals for Quebec Nordiques. Died in a single–car crash returning home from his 50th birthday party.

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b. Mar. 22, 1941 — Winnipeg, Man. — Current Age: 74.

His goal on Gerry Desjardins of New York Islanders at 3:17 of the third period — Oct. 7, 1972 at Nassau Coliseum — stood as the game–winner in Atlanta’s NHL debut. Had 98 goals in 447 games with Boston, Pittsburgh and Atlanta from 1962 to 1976. Wore a toupee late in his career. 

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b. Apr. 22, 1953 — High Prarie, Alta. — Current Age: 51.

Chosen second to Denis Potvin of the Islanders in 1973 NHL draft. Had 843 points in 919 games over 13 seasons with Atlanta and Chicago. Currently in a valiant struggle with Leukemia.

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b. Jan. 28, 1942 — Oshawa, Ont. — Current Age: 73.

From 1964 to 1970, took a regular turn on the New York Rangers blue line with Harry Howell, Rod Seiling and Jim Neilson. Played 48 games for Atlanta in his final NHL season: 1973–74.

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b. Nov. 28, 1941 — Big River, Sask. — Current Age: 73.

As noted above, was a regular on the Rangers defense in the 60’s with Arnie Brown, Rod Seiling and Harry Howell. After 12 seasons in New York, finished his career with California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons franchise. Captained the Seals during their final year in Oakland: 1975–76.

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b. Sep. 10, 1939 — Copper Cliff, Ont. — Current Age: 75.

Offensive hero (seven goals, 15 points) of Toronto Maple Leafs 1967 Stanley Cup team played 32 games with California Golden Seals in their final season, scoring six times.

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b. Aug. 23, 1952 — Toronto Ont. — Current Age: 62.

Prolific junior with Toronto Marlboros in 1970–71 and 1971–72 flanking wingers Steve Shutt and Billy Harris. Played 350 NHL games and had career–best 47 points with the Seals in 1975–76.

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b. Dec. 4, 1943 — Parry Sound, Ont. — Current Age: 71.

Key member of the expansion St. Louis teams that went to the Stanley Cup final in 1968–69–70. Had 21 goals and a career–best 49 points with California in 1975–76.

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b. Oct. 7, 1938 — Kenora, Ont. / d. Dec. 8, 2000. Age: 62.

Mainstay on the Detroit Red Wings blue line from 1964 to 1973 finished his NHL career playing 75 games with the 1975–76 Scouts. Also remembered as a key figure of the Canadian team that defeated Russia in the famed 1972 Summit Series. From that squad, Bergman, Bill Goldsworthy and Jean–Paul Parise are deceased.

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b. May 20, 1946 — Detroit, Mich. — Current Age: 68.

Father Lynn Patrick was the first GM/coach of the St. Louis Blues; grandfather Lester Patrick manager of the 1940 New York Rangers Stanley Cup team. Craig, as well, excelled after his playing career and is best remembered as GM of the 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup–champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Appeared in 401 NHL games, including all 80 for Kansas City in 1975–76.

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b. June 21, 1948 — Jonquiere, Que. — Current Age: 66.

Appeared in 192 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1970–71 to 1973–74. Then had the misfortune of playing for the expansion Washington Capitals in 1974–75 and the second–year Kansas City Scouts in 1975–76. Combined record of those clubs: 20–123–17.

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