TORONTO (Jan. 20) — As the Maple Leafs build toward what could be a promising future, they must garner two obvious needs: a reliable No. 1 goalie and a legitimate stud on the blue line. Neither commodity is apparent with the current roster and the Leafs will not truly contend until both are in place.
The goaltending conundrum will be resolved when fans and reporters no longer wonder, on a game–by–game basis, who gets the nod from Mike Babcock. Such guesswork is not evident, for example, in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington when Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby are in the line–up. Nor will it be in Montreal once Carey Price returns from injury. Here in Toronto, it is a daily inquisition. Bernier or Reimer? Reimer or Bernier? This has overwhelmingly been the case in the post–1967 era. On only a few occasions — with goalies such as Mike Palmateer, Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour — has the daily riddle been absent (in the early–1970’s, Maple Leafs coach John McLellan had a delightful “problem” choosing between legends Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent).
WHEN FLAMBOYANT MIKE PALMATEER PLAYED GOAL FOR THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS BETWEEN 1976 AND 1979, FANS AND REPORTERS HARDLY EVER ASKED, “WHO’S STARTING TONIGHT?”
As for the blue line, it’s been proven beyond argument that teams do not win the Stanley Cup without a Norris Trophy candidate. You need to look no further than the past four championships, split between clubs that deploy Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. But, you can venture distantly into the past with such Hall–of–Famers as Bobby Orr (Boston), Larry Robinson and Serge Savard (Montreal), Denis Potvin (New York Islanders), Paul Coffey (Edmonton), Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens (New Jersey) and Nick Lidstrom (Detroit). As in life, there are exceptions to this rule but they are preciously few and far–between.
The Maple Leafs do not have a blue–liner, right now, that compares to the aforementioned. It was intriguing to hear Babcock, last week, refer to Morgan Rielly as a “real good” No. 2 defenceman. I’m inclined to agree. Though Rielly is an exceptional skater and often clever with the puck, he isn’t big or rangy enough to be legitimate “stud.” Dion Phaneuf does have the requisite size, range and salary ($7 million per season), but he’s neither an All–Star nor a trophy claimant. Which indicates the Leafs must acquire a defenceman to be slotted ahead of Rielly on the depth chart. Such players do not grow on trees and are frequently developed from within. Thus the argument from last June when the Maple Leafs drafted smallish–forward Mitch Marner instead of elite blue–line prospects Noah Hanifin (Carolina) or Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia).
We live in a world of metrics and advanced statistics. But, neither can compensate for the lack of a bona fide No. 1 goalie and a top–six NHL defenseman. Once the Leafs legitimately possess both, we’ll start talking about parade routes in downtown Toronto.
PAGES — MAY 3, 1967
I recently came upon a gift from a friend that chose to clear out his basement and present me items he had kept for more than 45 years. They are original pages from Toronto newspapers of May 3, 1967 — the day after the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup. The edges are frayed and the creases discolored, but the pages are in otherwise terrific condition nearly a half–century after they were printed. In 1967, Toronto had the Daily Star; the Telegram and the Globe and Mail. The Telegram (a broad–sheet newspaper) folded on Oct. 30, 1971 and was re–born in tabloid form, two days later, as the Toronto Sun.
Here is what readers saw the day after the Leafs beat Montreal for the ’67 championship: