TORONTO (Mar. 4) — I begin today with an impassioned waiver: What you are about to read is neither an indictment of Dave Randorf, Leo Komarov nor the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is simply, and absurdly, a comparison of games played, points and scoring pace among two of the greatest all–time players in the National Hockey League; the most prolific, one–season performer in Leafs history… and good ol’ Uncle Leo.
Please have nothing but fun with it — as I am.
During a particularly zealous moment of Thursday night’s Sportsnet telecast from the Air Canada Center — as the Leafs were losing another tough game, 2–1, to the Minnesota Wild — a close–up of Komarov appeared on–screen. Randorf, an exceptional play–caller and even better person, exclaimed: “What a season this guy is having!” The remark was understandable within context: Leo is enjoying a career performance in the NHL with 18 goals in 60 games… and a team–leading 35 points. He ranks 62nd in the NHL in goals scored and 125th in points. If not for a prolonged post–Christmas slump, Komarov’s season would have been more impressive. Instead, he has one goal in his past 11 games and three in 27 dating to Dec. 22. He’s been limited to six points in 20 games since Jan. 13. Still, he sits atop the Toronto scoring list.
It is a virtual certainty that Komarov has never been mentioned in the same written or spoken sentence with any of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Doug Gilmour. Until now. And, that’s where the convivial absurdity of this exercise begins. Hopefully you’re still with me — and prepared to have an obliging chuckle.
Let’s start with Gretzky, who established — in 1985–86 — the existing NHL record of 215 points in a season. When writing, last week, about Komarov’s modest accumulation, I noted that Gretzky would have “put up 35 points by early–November” in his best years (I mentioned Komarov and Gretzky in different sentences). Quite frankly, I thought I was exaggerating. Until earlier today, when I found — in my newly–bloated collection — the Nov. 22, 1985 edition of The Hockey News. It was a solemn issue, as the NHL was reeling from a car accident that rendered Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh brain–dead; he would soon die of his injuries. The statistical section, however, showed that Gretzky had surpassed Komarov’s current point total during a 13–0 obliteration of the Vancouver Canucks, at Northlands Coliseum, on Friday, Nov. 8:
In a mere 14 games, Gretzky amassed the point total of the current Leafs’ scoring leader; Komarov’s feat requiring 60 games. But, all is not lost. Uncle Leo can still match Gretzky’s 1985–86 points total after 61 games. All he needs to do is strike for 24 goals and 105 assists against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at the ACC. It would smash Darryl Sittler’s single–game record by 119 points and irreparably harm Ottawa’s minuscule playoff hopes. Here was Edmonton’s scoring list in the first week of March 1986:
Now to Mario Lemieux. The current owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the third–best player I’ve ever seen (behind Bobby Orr and Gretzky), led the NHL with a career–high 199 points (in 76 games) in 1988–89. Somehow, he was deprived of the Hart Trophy, which went to Gretzky and his 168 points (in 78 games). Lemieux’s start to the ’88–89 schedule was even hotter than Gretzky’s in ’85–86. As you can see, below, he had soared past Komarov by Game 11: Wednesday, Nov. 23 against New York Rangers at the old Civic Arena. To match Lemieux’s total after 61 games that year, Komarov needs a mere 47 goals and 84 assists against the Senators on Saturday night, thereby breaking Sittler’s 1976 mark by 121 points:
And, finally, to Doug Gilmour, whose 127 points in 1992–93 remains the most by any player in Maple history. Neither the hockey club nor Gilmour enjoyed a particularly quick start that season. It wasn’t until after the new year that the Leafs moved above .500. And, Gilmour didn’t become arguably the best player in the NHL until general manager Cliff Fletcher acquired hot–shooting Dave Andreychuk from Buffalo in early–February. From that moment on, nobody could stop No. 93. As you can see, below, Gilmour’s total after 60 games was exactly 60 points better than Komarov’s team–leading amount this year. And, the “Killer” added three assists in Game 61 — an 8–1 rout of the Canucks in Vancouver. So, what about it, Uncle Leo? By comparison to the Gretzky and Lemieux numbers previously displayed here, you need a modest six goals and 57 assists against Ottawa on Saturday to match Dougie’s Toronto pace in ’92–93:
This nonsense clearly begs a question: What superlatives would Dave Randorf have summoned had he been calling NHL games in the late–80’s and early–90’s? Only his Thesaurus knows for sure.
GREATEST DEFICIT? Heading into tonight’s NHL action, the Maple Leafs are 22 points shy of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — Pittsburgh holding down the second Wild Card position with 74 points. The largest playoff deficit in team history was last year, when the Leafs missed by 30 points (98–68). I suspect that gap will be about the same when all is said and done in April. For the record, the worst Toronto team of the modern era missed the playoffs by only 14 points. In 1984–85, the Leafs finished 20–52–8 for 48 points in the standings — dead–last in the 21–team NHL. But, the post–season format was much more forgiving than today. The top four teams in each of the four divisions qualified. The old Minnesota North Stars made the playoffs with a fourth–place record in the Norris Division of 25–43–12 for 62 points.
C’MON BURKIE! After an exceptional season a year ago that featured 97 points and a first–round playoff upset of Vancouver, the Calgary Flames couldn’t have imagined being in their current plight. With 18 games left, Calgary brings up the rear in the Western Conference (56 points) and has a frightful 1–8–1 record in its past 10 starts. Suddenly, it’s looking as if the Maple Leafs (52 points) will need to “hold off” the Flames in order to remain dead–last in the overall standings and preserve the best odds of selecting No. 1 in the 2016 draft. Calgary has fallen to 29th place, one point behind the surging Edmonton Oilers, who have won three straight. The Leafs are ably doing their part with a 2–8–1 record in their past 11. As a result — and perversely — the game–of–the–year here in Toronto could be on Mar. 21 when the Flames visit the Air Canada Centre. Imagine neither team trying to cross center–ice with the puck. This wasn’t at all the plan back in October for team president Brian Burke; GM Brad Treliving and coach Bob Hartley.
THE CAPTAIN RETURNS: The six–plus years in which Dion Phaneuf wore a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey will not be remembered happily by fans of the Blue and White. During Phaneuf’s captaincy, the Leafs only once made the playoffs and routinely folded late in the season. This, of course, wasn’t Dion’s fault alone. The hockey club, under several administrations, lacked character and leadership from top to bottom. It shrouded the appealing aspects of Phaneuf wearing the ‘C’ — in particular, how he proudly represented the team away from the arena with countless hours of charity work and hospital visits. Nor do I remember Dion taking off many nights at the rink. He wasn’t an especially good defenseman and he played for awful teams. But, he gobbled up big minutes and gave all of himself virtually every night. I’m hoping fans at the ACC will politely react to Phaneuf when he returns with the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
A QUICK PRAYER: I conclude today more–than slightly off–topic. Though crassly entertaining, the infantile war of words among Republican contenders for the United States presidency is a spectacle that I truly hope is not impacting any of our children. To think that the front–runner for the GOP nomination would hold up his hands in a nationally–televised debate and disavow the bromide that small hands equate to small male genitals is, by far, the low point in my recollection of politicking at any level. And, it’s not just Donald Trump’s fault. Florida senator Marco Rubio leaped into the gutter with Trump last week; among his suggestions being that Trump’s allegedly small meat–hooks left him deprived elsewhere. It’s a sad commentary that such gentlemen as Ohio governor John Kasich and retired pediatric surgeon Ben Carson have been blown away by Trump, in particular, and Rubio in the Republican race to the White House. Again, let’s hope our kids are paying attention to other matters.
TEXAS SENATOR TED CRUZ LOOKS ON BEMUSEDLY AS DONALD TRUMP MAKES HIS PERSONAL “PLEDGE” THURSDAY NIGHT DURING A REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE IN DETROIT. Associated Press