TORONTO (Nov. 24) — Some random observations for a Tuesday night:
I will hardly break news by identifying the resiliency of the hockey market here in Toronto. While there’s a limit to just about everything in life, no–such boundary exists for the Maple Leafs, who could lose 60 games a season and maintain their enormous following — generation to generation — in a diverse, multi-cultural city. There is incessant reminder that the Leafs own the longest Stanley Cup drought (48 years).
Less, however, is made of the fact only one team in the history of the National Hockey League other than the current Leafs has missed the playoffs consecutively in 10 full seasons — the Florida Panthers from 2000–01 to 2010–11 (there was no season in 2004–05). Toronto has done it nine times (2005–06 to 2011-12; then, again, in the past two years) and is a solid bet to equal Florida’s mark this spring. Only in 2013, after an owners’ lockout and 48–game schedule, did the Maple Leafs qualify. Still, it required all of that mediocrity for Toronto to finally dip to third place — behind the New York Rangers and Montreal — on the Forbes Magazine list of most valuable NHL franchises. The Leafs had been on top for a decade, since 2005.
The NHL is usually quick to dismiss Forbes’ annual calculation, yet it creates a buzz in Canada. According to the magazine, the Rangers top the 30–team league at a value of $1.2 billion. Montreal is at $1.18 billion with Toronto at $1.15 billion. On Dec. 9, 2011, Rogers Communications and Bell Canada Enterprises agreed to purchase 75 percent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan for $1.32 billion. That deal, however, included all of MLSE’s holdings (the Leafs, Marlies, Toronto Raptors, Toronto F.C. and the Air Canada Centre). Kilmer Van Nostrand Ltd. (Larry Tanenbaum) owns the remaining 25 percent.
One can barely imagine what the Leafs would be worth after winning a Stanley Cup.
AT THEIR BEST: Though it resulted in a shootout loss, I felt the Leafs turned in their most dynamic performance of the season Monday night against Boston at the ACC. Having been outworked and out–skated by a sizable margin at Boston on Saturday, perhaps the Leafs caught the Bruins by surprise with their energy, puck–movement and shots toward the net. Neither James Reimer nor Tuukka Rask — phenomenal on Saturday — performed well between the pipes in the return match. Rask has habitually yielded three goals–per–game in the first quarter of the schedule while Reimer was overdue for a bit of a stinker (all three Bruin tallies in regulation time were soft). Otherwise, the Leafs played an up–tempo game and had their way, for the most part, with behemoth defenceman Zdeno Chara. And, when, in the past 10 years, have we been able to say that?… Imagine Chara and Chris Pronger playing on the same blue line. Had Pronger been drafted No. 1 by Ottawa in 1993 rather than Alexandre Daigle, he and Chara could have been teammates with the Senators from 2002 to 2006. Yes, it’s revisionist, but mind–boggling nonetheless… What a terrific story–line on Monday here in town with Bruins rookie Landon Ferraro registering his first NHL point (an assist) while his father, Ray Ferraro, worked the game at ice level, between the benches, for TSN. In another situation, it may have been a conflict of interest, but Ray is far–too professional for such a concern. In fact, it required prompting from broadcast partner, Gord Miller, to draw a reaction from Ray after Landon helped set up Brad Marchand’s second period goal. “Quite a moment, huh Ray?” suggested Miller. “Oh, it certainly is,” responded the proud papa, who later interviewed his son on the telecast. And, it couldn’t happen to a better guy. Ray Ferraro — once an elite scorer in the NHL — is among the finest pros I’ve met in my career… Memo to hockey broadcasters: It is “Nauzem Kahdri,” not “Nahzem Kaudri” — as so many wish to pronounce the Toronto center’s name. If you don’t believe me, ask the player. That’s how I found out… Also, and even with today’s composite sticks, it is impossible to shoot the puck “through” a goalie’s legs. Between the legs, yes, but not through them. This is another area in which Ferraro excels… How many of you are still burning mad at my blog of “quotes” from “Mike Babcock” and an “employee” at MLSE last week (http://bit.ly/1NFk0gY)? Even in a world where innocent people are slaughtered on sidewalk cafes, it is nearly impossible to have some good–natured fun involving the Maple Leafs. And, yes, for the thicker skulls, it was a parody…
Like many others, I was deeply saddened last week when Bell executed a wave of media dismissal. A number of friends; former colleagues and multi–talented individuals lost their jobs — among them Dan Matheson, Suneel Joshi, David Bastl, Todd Hayes, Mike Toth and Sheri Forde. I exchanged an array of text messages with Sheri the following afternoon (she might kill me for this). And, though justifiably distraught over losing her long–time position with TSN, she somehow maintained a sense of humor. After imploring her to call me when she had a moment, Sheri replied: “I will. I’m currently having a colonoscopy. LOL. Isn’t that fitting?” Forde will bounce back, as will the others… A bevy of good hockey books have hit the shelves in time for the Christmas season. And, I’m still working on former Leafs defenceman Jim McKenny, whose autobiography would show up in the Sports and Humor sections. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed harder than the time McKenny told me how he and an inebriated Tim Horton were going to “shave Foster Hewitt’s balls” on an overnight train between Toronto and Chicago. In the realm of hockey broadcasting, this would have been akin to shaving the Pope’s “balls” and it never happened. “It was Tim’s idea,” insisted McKenny. “I was a just a young buck at the time. We both chickened out.” Whew! I also cracked up when Jim recalled a story involving he and the late Bruce Gamble — the Leafs’ No. 1 goalie from 1967 to 1970. “We were in Oakland one night, having played the Seals, and were walking back to the hotel after having some drinks and a bite to eat,” said Jim, trying to suppress a laugh. “It was late at night and very dark as we crossed a road near the [Nimitz] freeway. Bruce was behind me, talking, when he suddenly went silent. I looked back and he was gone. I then re–traced my steps and found the poor guy crawling out of a sewer, all covered in gunk. There was an open manhole and Bruce had fallen in. Jeezus, was he a mess.”
THE TUESDAY VAULT
In this edition of The Vault, we look at 20 covers, from my collection, of The Hockey News between Oct. 15, 1971 and Apr. 22, 1977. Stories include the 1973 NHL All–Star Game at Madison Square Garden; Denis Potvin of the Ottawa 67’s prior to being drafted by the New York Islanders; the death, in a single–car mishap, of Leafs legend Tim Horton; Bobby Orr leading the NHL in scoring in 1974–75; Philadelphia becoming the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup; the Boston Bruins hiring Don Cherry as coach; preparations for the 1974 Summit Series between the Soviet Union and Canadian–born players in the World Hockey Association; Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts joining the NHL in expansion; Mike Marson of Washington being the first black NHL player in 15 years; the eye–popping trade of Phil Esposito from Boston to the New York Rangers; Orr leaving Boston to sign as a free agent with Chicago; the Kansas City Scouts moving to Denver and the California Golden Seals to Cleveland.
Also, I have posted contents from the Mar. 19, 1976 edition of The Hockey News: